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Today, we had a fairly new user asking how to get from Douala, Cameroon to Brazzaville, Congo by land transport. This is a good, interesting, off-the-beaten-track, non-Googlable and really quite specific question that's entirely the kind of thing Travel.SE is meant for, and a good answer to this would quickly become the canonical answer to the (admittedly limited) set of people traveling this route overland.

But, horrors of horrors, he makes the mistake of saying "fastest and cheapest" (ack! two different things!) and compounds his unforgivable error by also asking about the "safety" of places along the way (oh, the audacity!). So we're merciless: not only is the question closed in minutes for being "too broad" (srsly?), but the comments fill up with this sort of asshattery:

The fastest would be to charter a private stretch of railroad.

Tip: There are no railroads between Cameroon and Brazzaville.

The cheapest would be to walk.

Ha-ha! So funny!

The whole of the DR Congo and Kinshasa in particular are places to avoid if you can

I'm sure somebody contemplating an overland trip across Congo appreciates this gem of rare wisdom!

And what's worse, not only do we not flag these comments, but they get upvoted. What a lovely introduction to Travel.SE!

So, at long last, my questions:

  1. Do we intend to tolerate this kind of thing?
  2. Can we make it a policy to default to answering what the user is clearly asking (in this case and many others, a sane compromise between cost and speed, without killing yourself along the way), instead of closing questions just to make uppity noobs grovel?
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    While I don't disagree with your points, side note - that user has been a member for almost a year and a half, so knows how the site works. – Mark Mayo Nov 12 '14 at 13:07
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    You misquoted my comment. The full text was “According to the people I know from there, […]”. It does happen that part of my family comes from the DR Congo and they are all quite specific about the dangers of going there, even for them or their own children, speaking the language and all that. I have the feeling that Europeans picturing themselves as roughed adventurers might not appreciate that it is quite a difficult place even by African standards. Why ask about dangers if you don't want to hear about this? It was just a matter-of-fact comment based on what little I know of the situation. – Relaxed Nov 15 '14 at 17:04
  • And then the OP answered with a silly come-back about asking about “dangers along the way” as if dangers in Kinshasa were not relevant… – Relaxed Nov 15 '14 at 17:07
  • (I do agree that answering “It's cheaper to walk or hitchhike” to any question mentioning price even if they clearly don't ask about that is annoying and I don't think I voted to close the question) – Relaxed Nov 15 '14 at 17:08
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    (Note that the OP does not want to make a trip across the DR Congo, even made of point of it when dismissing my comment. It's the other Congo he would be crossing and that's actually a reasonable idea. Only the last bit, crossing over to Kinshasa is something I would consider very carefully and I don't think it's irrelevant or snarky to point that out.) – Relaxed Nov 15 '14 at 17:17
  • One more thing: I just checked and I did in fact upvote the question even before it was edited and nominate it for reopening after it was. – Relaxed Nov 15 '14 at 17:38
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I've never been a fan of the snarky comments, and used to actually clean them off when I modded - chatty comments are best left to the chat. If a comment is rude, you can and should flag it for the mods to clean up, and the individuals do get the message.

I suggest comments like 'the cheapest would be to walk' comes from the sometimes tired response to people wanting 'the cheapest way' without actually thinking about it and wanting you to do the research for them. I prefer to clarify - would they accept hitching or walking, or do they want to travel by public transport? For example, hippietrail's latest question is about the absolute cheapest way, and he'd certainly consider hitching if it were possible, whereas others sound shocked at the idea of hitching.

Personally I voted to put on hold (remember, we're putting on hold, not closing) as there were too many questions in there. I also clarified and asked him to separate. It's a problem we unfortunately get more on travel, I suspect, than SO or other network sites where people have specific problems, often they haven't really figured it out yet so brain dump. As many point out repeatedly, this is a Q&A site, not a forum.

Safety is quite separate to costs, and again, separate to how to get there. Yes, it's part of a general question, but it's tricky to find a balance between closing every mis-worded question and leaving open poorly formed questions.

Where was I? Oh, your points to be answered.

  1. Without singling out any comment in particular, I agree, we should avoid snarky one-liners, and flag it when we see it. They're not welcoming.
  2. Answering a compromise between cost and speed - yes (although there's a line in there about visa costs for a Dutch traveller and I don't really know how that would factor in), although I still maintain the safety part should be separated out (and indeed, he's done so successfully)
11

In addition to what Mark said, sometimes those questions need a friendly edit. I would consider changing:

What's a good way to travel overland from Douala to Brazzaville/Kinshasa terrestrial public transport? Good meaning some fair balance of cheap and fast.

to

Are there buses, trains, or similar terrestrial public transport to take me overland from Douala to Brazzaville/Kinshasa ? If so, how long does the trip take and what does it cost?

Now a valid answer can be "I found this bus route" or "I found this train route" or "I found this shuttle service in private cars" or even "my relative lives there and reports there are no public transport options". If there are 5 ways to make the trip, perhaps we'll end up with 5 answers. I'm cool with that.

Just because the OP put some magic words (cheapest and fastest) in the question and brought out the snarkers doesn't mean your only option is to slap down the snarky comments. You can fix the question for them. It's what I do when I have time.

  • While we do risk some users getting upset at our edits with this method - 'changing' their question, I think more users would be more pleased that they're not getting closed, and are getting useful answers. – Mark Mayo Nov 17 '14 at 6:15
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    It would be worth adding a comment when one does so, explaining why, and with a link to the help. – Mark Mayo Nov 17 '14 at 6:15
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    I really push for editing too, sometimes we can see 10 comments debating if it is cheaper to hitch hike or walk, but no edit suggestion (i.e. too much criticizing, little help), while an edit, even modifying the meaning of the question (maybe the OP prefers to pay 1000$ for a private plane than 3 days of bussing, we do not know the expected ratio cost/time) is usually helpful. And the newcomer can edit/refine the question after he/she sees the answers not going the expected way. – Vince Nov 19 '14 at 23:55
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Just to let everyone know, I was one of the people who "bites" new users with comments.. some of the comments are removed and I can understand why. To be honest I do not think they meant to piss me off, even if they were lazy, it is not an enough excuse to bite them with bad comments.

Bottom line, I will stop posting such comments, and I will try to be more friendly with them. Thanks @Jpatokal for brining this up.

4

What I started doing not so long ago is to ask for clarifications using a comment in the form: What is cheap/safe/fast/etc. to you?. At the same time I flag as "unclear what you are asking" since I feel that useful information is missing from the question. This way we can receive one of two comebacks:

  1. OP replies to comment adding the information. This is the kind of user who initially came to TSE to solve a specific problem and cared enough to improve the quality of the question. They might not become top ranking users but they will have nonetheless contributed to the community with a question fit for TSE standards. Me like.

  2. OP doesn't reply and the question hopefully gets closed before anyone answers, to be cleaned up by the SE cron jobs thus disappearing forever. Me also like.

  • Asking if someone has a firm preference for such things is fine, and there's nothing wrong with asking for bonus information, but why treat it as essential? Suppose I ask for fast routes through the Irkeshtam pass, and I dislike journeys over 5 hours. The answer IIRC is 20 hours+ on a good day, slower without a private car. If that's too slow for me, that's my problem: the facts have been shared, if I don't like the facts, it's my job to rethink. If someone googles it who was expecting a 40 hour journey, they get useful info and they don't care that I was naive enough to hope for 5 hours. – user568458 Apr 25 '16 at 13:39

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