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Travel.SE often features "where was this picture taken" posts, and there's a horde of well-practiced regulars who quickly find even the most obscure locations. I find this to be generally dangerous and feel that such posts should be banned.

Where is the cityscape in this recent photo, probably in Malaysia? was the tipping point for me for the following reasons:

  1. The OP is a brand new account with an anonymous name.
  2. OP hasn't interacted with the post since creating it.
  3. OP's "friend" supposedly gave them a picture and can't remember where they took it but was able to provide some very generic pointers ("it is near a university").
  4. It doesn't look like a photograph - the blurriness and heavy compression suggest a video that has been heavily compressed (by say YouTube or a social media site).
  5. The image isn't a normal photograph's aspect ratio; OP has likely cropped someone/something out of it.
  6. Why would OP be so interested in locating this random picture that his friend took?
  7. Why wouldn't OP's friend remember being in quite a tall building to take this picture? This isn't something that I'd forget, and I'd only have to look at other pictures I took on the same day to remember.
  8. OP isn't asking what is in the picture - they're asking from where it was taken. They don't even care about identifying the Petronas Towers.

To me this looks like the balcony of a residential building. I believe that OP has cropped someone out of an image, wants to find that person, and Travel.SE has gladly helped them to identify the exact building from which it was taken.

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  • I'm quite confident this is not a residential building, but actually the "Centre for Executive Education", which is probably the "university" OP was referring to. I do agree that some of your concerns are valid, but I'm not quite sure what the mischief could be in this case.
    – jcaron
    Dec 2 '21 at 11:12
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    Well in this case OP could have an "interest" in someone who posts videos on social media, know that they go to university in Malaysia, and want to track them down. My point is more generally that we can never be sure, and whilst doing reverse image searching/Google Maps navigation might seem trivial, it's actually a skill that many people don't possess and could want for a variety of reasons.
    – Ben Watson
    Dec 2 '21 at 12:35
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    Purposefully being the devil's advocate here. Can't we extend this reasoning to all of the questions on Travel.SE? How can we reliably gauge the reason behind a question, and whether or not that reason involves illegal activities? For example, should we ban "what to do to get a visa" questions, as answering them teaches people how to game the system and maximise chances of obtaining (potentially) unwarranted visas? (See for example all our canonicals about UK visas.
    – JoErNanO Mod
    Dec 2 '21 at 14:35
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    @JoErNanO there's still a border agent between you and a visa and any illegal advice would be removed. Alternately there's no-one between you and a weirdo who's used this forum to identify where you live.
    – Ben Watson
    Dec 2 '21 at 16:40
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The suitability of questions like this has been discussed before, more than once (I'm fairly certain there were more than that, but those are the ones I found quickly).

I was quite vocal about the issue at the time those meta posts were made. To a degree it was prompted by one particular user (posting from many sock puppet accounts) who made a habit of spamming the site with spectacularly awful* "where was this photo taken?" questions. That user has since received a network-wide ban and it's been much less of an issue since then.

That said, as when it was previously discussed, I'm still firmly of the opinion that even the best questions of this type are not great questions for the site. I won't quote the full list of topics suggested on the 'What topics can I ask about here' page, I certainly don't see one that this question fits comfortably into. OK, that's not intended to be an exhaustive list - but it doesn't include anything that feels similar to me, either.

Looking instead at the help page for what you should avoid asking, the site is supposed to be a place for "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face". Some are certainly asked on the basis of "I'd like to see this place for myself" or "I visited Country X but don't remember exactly where I took this photo", each of which at least arguably falls into that category. But from many I get a very strong impression that it's more "ooh that's pretty I wonder where it is" without any real thought of or connection to... well, travel. And some fall outside even that. There was a spate of questions requesting ID of photographs found on wikipedia, taken around 1900, with absolutely no pretence of being even vaguely related to travel.

I don't think these are inherently bad questions, but I do think they're bad questions for this site. They can be a fun puzzle, but the purpose of SE sites isn't to provide fun puzzles (except Puzzling.SE, of course!). The site is supposed to be for practical questions relating to travel, which these aren't. And the SE network has generally always had a focus on questions having a useful focus, the idea being to build a knowledge base: if you have a problem, chances are somebody else will eventually have the same problem. All but the most carefully and precisely written questions of this type fail that goal: even if somebody else finds photos they once took on this beach and wonders where it was, what are they chances they'd ever find that question? The answers to that question will never be of any use to anybody other than the person who asked it.

So my personal feeling is that the site would be better off without them. As I said in the previous paragraph, I don't think they're inherently bad questions, but I do think they're bad questions for this site. There are websites and reddit communities which exist for exactly this purpose. Probably also facebook groups, twitter/instagram accounts, discord servers.. and I think both the question askers and travel.SE would be better off if these questions went there instead.

But as I said, even for me it's much less of an issue now that that one specific user (and their various sockpuppet accounts) has been banned. I don't feel especially strongly that they need to go entirely. But I do think there should at least be some clearly defined expectations to ensure they're not just a wild goose chase. I would propose at a minimum:

  • the target should be clearly visible and in focus
  • the question should include a reasonably localised area

the second point is intentionally subjective as "reasonable" depends on what's being identified - if an image is a high-up view over a large city then "in southern France" or "in Japan" might well be reasonable; if requesting identification of a specific monument you should probably at least be able to narrow down to a short list of towns/cities)

* for some context, to illustrate why I describe that user's questions as "spectacularly awful":

  • a photograph of a sunflower field OP already knew was in an area known for growing sunflowers, with absolutely no discernable landmarks to distinguish one field from another

  • an old photograph of an entirely unremarkable suburban apartment block, so overexposed and/or faded with time that it was impossible to even see quite where the building ended and the sky began

  • a photograph in which the building to identify is in the background, out of focus, and largely obscured by a person in the foreground

  • photographs of the inside of an apartment

  • a request which didn't even include an image of the place they wanted to identify, just a vague textual description and some stock photos they found online which fit that description but were not the place they had in mind

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    At this moment we have what I think of as a good photo location identification question, travel.stackexchange.com/questions/170018/… how about those? OP asks to get details on Wikimedia right.
    – Willeke Mod
    Dec 3 '21 at 14:22
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    @Willeke I'd certainly consider that one of the better examples. To be totally blunt I don't see how something asked "to get details on Wikimedia right" is a travel question, but I know some will see that differently. It has a clear enough image and provides a good level of information to work with. If all "where is this?" questions were like that one (or this other recent example which also provides good information to work with) they wouldn't bother me.
    – Chris H
    Dec 3 '21 at 14:57
  • I also agree, except perhaps with an exception for famous photographs (such as the Windows background hill) that more than one person might want to go visit. No one comes to this site "Hmm, where should I go on my next vacation? This rooftop in Malaysia looks nice" Dec 13 '21 at 15:31
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Just to quickly weigh in, the SE network is supposed to be about building a knowledge base for future readers. One of the most useful questions to ask is "Is this question + answer combo useful for only the OP, or also for other future visitors". Anytime the answer is a resounding no that's a good indication that it's a bad fit for the Q&A format of SE.

My recommendation (as a fairly inactive travel.SE user) would be to write a single canonical Q&A post about how to locate photographs and close posts with a link to the canonical Q&A.

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