This question has just appeared on Travel. It's the latest in a series of posts by the same author featuring poor photographs and asking for a location.

This one differs, though, in that the photographs don't actually relate directly to the location, and the description given is so generic as to apply to many places.

As with the others, the answer is likely to be of interest only to the OP.

At what point do we say 'off-topic', and formulate some guidelines that make a where-on-earth question both answerable and of general interest?

  • 1
    We have an amazing success rate in answering this kind of question, but many feel like they are of no use for anyone but the OP, (and that is not just this OP but most of the photo identification Q here.) +1, this is a question I had wanted to ask but could not find the right wording for.
    – Willeke Mod
    Jun 13, 2020 at 10:02
  • 4
    That specific one is awful. "I saw some stuff, here's unrelated photos, and um it's somewhere in a land mass the size of Colorado". Completely unsolvable :/
    – Mark Mayo
    Jun 14, 2020 at 0:58
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    Another similar question has just been asked - travel.stackexchange.com/questions/157738/…
    – user29788
    Jun 17, 2020 at 2:13
  • 5
    At this point, considering the new question @Moo notes, the root problem seems like more of a long-term sockpuppet situation involving one individual, which needs to be addressed by SE community management, rather than a broader policy issue for the site. The occasional "where on earth" questions we get from everyone else are of a totally different category than this ongoing series of obscurities from this one person. Jun 18, 2020 at 21:42

7 Answers 7


My problem with these questions is that I have significant concern they're not being asked in good faith sometimes.

For example, consider Where's this yellowish building in Texas? The photo is cropped unusually (a 56:125 aspect ratio that cuts off at least one of the subjects of the photo) for no apparent reason. The OP acknowledged that they are in the picture, and then asked, only after mkennedy's extraordinary sleuthing skills revealed the answer, "did you know my friend was in US Air Force because of the ribbon?" It's hard to imagine what circumstances would lead a person to pose next to their Air Force friend wearing an Air Force uniform at an Air Force base, to have no memory of where they were (even at the level of "I think it could have been a military facility of some kind"), and that the only picture they have to commemorate this occasion happens to cut off all of their friend except their shoulder. I can't think of an honest explanation for why this question didn't contain an uncropped photo and context that it was taken at an Air Force ceremony in Texas. If the OP knows useful contextual information, that should be provided in in the question.

Where's this water pier, with a rusty tower with staircase, in North West Pennsylvania? does at least include some geographical information to limit the search space, but it again is cropped weirdly, cutting off half a person's face without any apparent explanation other than making the location harder to identify, limiting the view of the tower to a tiny portion when any reasonable uncropped photo of this scene would include more context.

And Where's a road of McMansions in New Zealand that opens up to green flat field and mountains? is 327px × 200px for some reason. Why post a postage stamp-sized photo? Edit: I realize now that even the smaller photo is just one found on the web and that this question has no photos of the location at all. It's just asking where there are homes next to a road next to a field somewhere with mountains in the distance, which is an utterly unremarkable combination of geographical features.

The questions from this user get progressively more difficult, starting with a fairly reasonable scene of someone posing in front of a monument and ending with an extremely tiny picture of an unremarkable landscape feature. Apparently, none of these photos have any metadata, which could give an exact location with some cameras/phones, or at least include a date which could help pin things down based on one's travel history. These are seemingly recent digital images; are they not stored with other images from the same day that would provide at least some clues about where they were taken? What mechanism could turn a person's travel photo collection into such a jumble of oddly cropped mysteries?

"Where on earth" questions are fun mysteries, and it's fantastic to see the amazing skills people here apply to solving them. I like them. But they rely on a degree of trust that they are, in fact, mysteries, and that the OP is providing all known information to help solve them. This site is for "actual problems that you face," and not an opportunity to test everyone's puzzle-solving abilities.

These questions should be closed when the OP is seemingly not fully forthcoming about all information that could help answer them or when details have been obscured.

  • 1
    In the case of that user and their many accounts, I share your concern that they are not being posted in good faith. The latest example in particular: the photographs provided aren't even of the actual location they want identified - they're just random photographs of mansions near fields that OP found online. Even somebody extremely familiar with the place OP is thinking of couldn't hope to verify it's actually the right place.
    – Chris H
    Jun 15, 2020 at 6:55
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    While your answer is spot-on, what do you mean by that the faces of the people are removed for no good reason? I would think it's a very good reason that one does not want their face on the Internet.
    – guest
    Jun 25, 2020 at 20:23
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    @guest I mean that the photos have been cropped in a way that makes no logical sense: nobody takes a picture of two people posing together and cuts off all but the shoulder of one person or puts the crop down the middle of someone's eyeball. That's not privacy masking (which the OP knows how to do)—it's just not giving us the full photo. I certainly don't object to the masking of faces for privacy, but it's unfair to the community here to post a "where-on-earth" question where the photos have been cropped artificially seemingly to make the puzzle more difficult to solve. Jun 25, 2020 at 20:33
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    I absolutely do agree with you that it is unfair. However, I clicked on the two first questions and can not in good faith say that the pictures are done in bad faith. If my mother (who has not much computer experience) would have to mask her face on a picture here, it would probably look worse than the one in the picture (and she would probably need a day to produce it). From the comment of Chris H I understand there is a problem user who does this, but the question you linked in isolation seems to be like somebody with not optimal computer skills, not a "bad" questioner.
    – guest
    Jun 25, 2020 at 21:00
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    @guest My point is that the OP demonstrably knows how to mask faces by painting over them, since that's been done in the first two Qs, so what's the reason why they are also cropped so weirdly? If two people are going to pose for a picture together, what process would cause this to be the only picture they end up with, as opposed to a wider shot that shows more details of the background? My concern is not the quality of the masking; it's that the photos have virtually all the clues that could help identify the location cropped out for seemingly no reason. Jun 25, 2020 at 21:30
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    @ZachLipton: Ah, okay. I understand you now and ageee with you. Sorry.
    – guest
    Jun 26, 2020 at 11:48

I see two options here:

  • An outright ban on these questions, completely offtopic
  • Measuring the answerableness of these questions with measurable limits and closing those without detail

Option 1: An outright ban for these questions

These questions are unlikely to benefit future readers (the exact same location and the exact same photo is nearly impossible).

There is even a point in How to Ask about this:

Make it relevant to others

We like to help as many people at a time as we can. Make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, and more of us will be interested in your question and willing to look into it.

If that is the article we link to when welcoming new users, we should surely follow it.

We can then even make a custom close reason for this, linking to this Meta post for reference.

Option 2: Measurable limits on these questions

Keep these questions, there have been several very successful question relating to this:

Have some measurable limits:

  • The question should be a building or landscape feature
  • The 'thing' in question must be clear, not blurred and the centre of the photo
  • The question must include some details, preferably a country and possibly even a region in that country. Try remembering some details (if you have been to the place in question), what was near it, anything you can remember
  • The photo must not be vague (e.g. just an ordinary tall building)
  • Multiple angles/perspectives will help
  • Doing some research on the question yourself (e.g. a Google Image search by photo)

I agree with Willeke's thought here:

When a question does not meet the rules we come to agree on here or elsewhere, a close vote (with a link to the rules) should be the norm. But if someone can identify, a re-open request should also be the norm, so an answer can be posted.

Questions can be locked as a 'content dispute' and be discussed here on Meta.

  • 2
    I’d personally support an outright ban, for the reason you suggest. Even the best examples - where the image is at least reasonably good quality and of something reasonably distinctive and recognisable - (the one linked here about a city in Burgundy, for example) are only ever relevant to the OP. Even if somebody else stumbles upon the same image and wants to know where it is, there’s no practical way they could find the question.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:22
  • But if they are to continue, I think the guidelines you set out would be a very good start to at least enforce some minimum quality standards. Perhaps you could separate the two options into separate answers to get an idea of how much support there is for the options individually?
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:25
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    I think the first one you link to about the gasometer is more of a What is this type of object and that seems to me appropriate but where is this I agree are not helpful to anyone.
    – mdewey
    Jun 15, 2020 at 12:45

I say that this kind of question is acceptable as long rules are met. I try to word the rules in the rest of my answer, but they are a proposal and open to editing or being ignored for a different set of rules.

I say the question has to be about one photo, painting or some such.
The picture should be of a building or landscape feature which is (likely to be) unique and should be main feature of the picture, not an accidental backdrop.
Additional pictures of the same object or location are acceptable.

And the feature should be unique, so not one photo of 'a house' or 'a mountain meadow' in an area where you can expect there to be many of those.

Many of the 'Where on earth' questions are unique and may not meet any rules, but if they are about a feature which is likely to be unique or at least stands out, they should be acceptable.

Use for others than OP is likely to be little in most of these questions, but if the photo is of such nature that the result does not add to general knowledge, that is an extra reason to close-vote.

When a question does not meet the rules we come to agree on here or elsewhere, a close vote (with a link to the rules) should be the norm. But if someone can identify, a re-open request should also be the norm, so an answer can be posted.

One reason to accept this kind of questions is that the community on TSE seems to like them in general (if they have enough quality) as a good puzzle. And if I see what kind of picture gets solved, some of us also like to puzzle out some of the poor ones.

One more good reason given to me by a very active Wikipedia editor: "Identifying historical photos for possible use in WP is valuable service."

  • I agree with most of what you’ve said, but I’m not sure about reopening bad ones if somebody identifies it. Something like this, for example, is a mind-blowingly terrible question that we should be getting rid of. The fact somebody somehow identified it doesn’t change that, but I’d be concerned that a policy of reopening in that situation would work as encouragement for posting similar future questions. A question that should be closed is a question that should be closed.
    – Chris H
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:33
  • @ChrisH, Maybe you can post an 'lets close all' answer.
    – Willeke Mod
    Jun 13, 2020 at 12:42
  • The question about gasometers to which Daniil links is different in my view because they are not unique but still on topic. Travellers must often see some apparently common object which they cannot identify and have never seen in their own country. The where is this ones are, it seems to me, a plague.
    – mdewey
    Jun 15, 2020 at 12:47
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    A bad question is a bad question, regardless of whether it has an answer. If we reopen bad questions it will encourage more of the same. Leave a bad question closed and let the system purge it as normal. It's always possible to add a comment.
    – user105640
    Jun 15, 2020 at 20:51
  • @Arthur'sPass: As far as I know, the system will never automatically purge questions that have an accepted answer, even if they are monumentally terrible questions. Jun 16, 2020 at 0:05
  • @GregHewgill Understood, but we might get rid of those that really have no credible answer.
    – user105640
    Jun 16, 2020 at 0:26
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    @GregHewgill I believe you're right on that. But there's at least one example in here where an incomprehensibly awful question would have been purged but now never will be, because it was reopened after somebody found the answer. That's why I argued against such a policy of reopening for people to post answers. The fact somebody found the answer doesn't change that it's very possibly the worst actual question (i.e. not spam or a misguided attempt to reply to another question/answer) I've ever seen on the site, but the reopening means that now it's here to stay.
    – Chris H
    Jun 16, 2020 at 7:16
  • Addressing the edit: I agree that the recent questions identifying images from an archive are certainly higher quality questions than those which have mostly been discussed here. But while “identifying historical photos for possible use in WP” may be a valuable service, it isn’t at all travel related.
    – Chris H
    Jul 12, 2020 at 12:46

It seems we have another question that has become the object of some contention. This question has been closed once, but subsequently answered in the comments. A moderator has re-opened the question with the comment 'I would like to see the question improved a lot more.', and it is now well on its way to being closed again.

There is already a mechanism for this. The OP (or someone else) edits the question, and it gets flagged to re-open. The community votes, and the question is re-opened or not. This mechanism has been completely bypassed by the moderator in question.

This isn't the first time that this sequence of events has occurred, and as a result we now have one of the worst questions I've seen anywhere, stuck on the site for ever more.

There are arguments here both for and against accepting this type of question. What is clear, though, is that the quality needs to be improved. Re-opening a bad question before that happens is not contributing to that aim.

  • 1
    I came here to write almost exactly this. A bad question is a bad question. It should be closed and should remain closed unless it is improved. Reopening without improvement just because somebody is able to answer despite its low quality only encourages further bad questions.
    – Chris H
    Jul 23, 2020 at 6:33

At willekes suggestion I’ll take the thoughts I’d expressed in some comments and turn them into an answer. My preference is that:

Such questions should not be allowed

The help section already says, under “How do I ask a good question?”

Make it relevant to others

We like to help as many people at a time as we can. Make it clear how your question is relevant to more people than just you, and more of us will be interested in your question and willing to look into it.

These “here is a photograph, where was it taken?” questions in my experience don’t, and arguably can’t fulfil that. Even the best examples, which show a reasonably good quality image with a reasonable amount of helpful context to make the image reasonably identifiable (like this, this, or this, for example), are extremely unlikely to help anybody other than the person who asked. Even if somebody else finds the same photograph, or another photo of the same place, and wants to find out where it is, there’s no practical way for them to discover the question.

Take a look at this - it’s the list of all questions tagged . I haven’t played any games to just show or to prioritise the bad ones, that’s just all of them, sorted by date. And yet: it’s also a list of some of the absolute worst questions I’ve ever seen on any stack exchange site, with only a tiny fraction of exceptions. Even those exceptions, while more interesting and better written than the majority, fail the “relevant to more than just OP test”. Just banning the whole category of questions would, in my opinion, enable us to quickly get rid of a whole host of objectively bad questions, while losing the site very little - if anything at all - of value.

In summary, I'd advocate putting a stop to this type of question because they more or less inherently fail the relevance test described in the help section (I'm not inclined to be lenient as I personally consider them uninteresting and of no benefit to the site, although others are of course welcome to their own opinions on that).

However, I'd note that removing this one individual (and their numerous obvious sockpuppet accounts) would do 95% of the work already without requiring any policy change (although given what I've seen of their behaviour across various other network sites, I suspect said removal may become an ongoing task). And at risk of straying too far away from the point, this wouldn't be the only problem solved by doing so: non 'where is this' questions by that group of users are also regularly repetitive (see, for example, the series of questions best summarised as "help me find an excuse to sneak into business class" - 1, 2, 3), sensationalist, and/or just blatantly either paranoid or attention seeking.

  • 1
    This gets my vote. I wasn't sure that a blanket ban was the way to go until I saw the list of 'identify-this' questions. Even the community interest in solving the puzzles can't justify some of the junk that appears there. Let's be rid of the lot!
    – user105640
    Jun 13, 2020 at 20:08
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    "Make it relevant to others" is the key, I think. "Revant to others" is by itslef a reasonable, understandable, and modest criteria. We don't need to reinvent the wheel. Jun 15, 2020 at 1:39

“I want to know so I can go there” seems to me to make it on-topic, even if no one else wants to go. (And how would I know whether anyone else is interested?)

I once sent a picture of such a place from my work computer’s screen to Google’s image search. The answer came back “Windows 7 Screensaver.” But someone on SE gave me a better answer.

  • While I’ve argued for getting rid of the whole category, the consensus seems to be that the category itself is acceptable and banning all such questions wasn’t suggested in the meta question at all. What it does ask about is how to deal with extremely low quality questions, and specifically if we want to formulate requirements to transparently set out basic minimum expectations. This answer doesn’t seem to engage with that question at all (maybe not doing is an implicit “no”?).
    – Chris H
    Jun 21, 2020 at 9:53
  • On meta, discussion is accepted in answer fields. This is in response to the suggestion we can't ask "what is it" because no one else wants to know. If one person (the poster) is interested, who's to say none of the other (many) members is interested? How to do with low quality posts is downvote. If outright charter violations, delete or close.
    – WGroleau
    Jun 21, 2020 at 14:49
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    Then it sounds like the non-engagement with the question is indeed to be read as an implicit “don’t do anything”. I suggest making that explicit in the answer, because the lack of it is the reason that - before that comment - I genuinely couldn’t tell what point you were trying to make.
    – Chris H
    Jun 21, 2020 at 18:19

For me, two simple pieces of information will determine if the question is on-topic:

  1. The place is accessible, the general public can access it or see it. ie. not something inside a private house or property.
  2. Enough relevant details beside the photo, preferably the story behind the photo. Is the photo an ad or a flyer? tell us where and when have you seen it. Any piece of information will make it easier to identify. It's not a riddles website.

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