I think it's useful to define our community, not just in terms of content and procedure, but also by defining who we are and why we are here. I propose that we address the latter goal by articulating our values explicitly.

This will also help distinguish us from other sites that use the same format and software.

Proposed format:

  • Contribute just one value per answer, but feel free to add many answers.
  • Answers voted down should not be deleted, to record the community's rejection of the proposed value.

This is inspired by Wikipedia's Five Pillars.

  • As an aside, I'm contributing several answers, but my intent is not to dominate the discussion; it just happens that I've been musing about this for a few days and have several ideas ready to go. – Reid Aug 10 '10 at 1:41

Be collegial. Basically, be friendly and respectful to each other, and assume that we are all working towards a common goal.

Screwups are inevitable: if you have been uncollegial, apologize; if someone else has, don't take it personally, and forgive.

This value is particularly important when dealing with newbies, as only one bad experience can drive away a potentially valuable contributor forever.

  • I would vote for this twice if I could. – ex-ms Aug 10 '10 at 3:00

Assume good faith. Most people have legitimate questions and are here to help, even if they may express themselves poorly or are ignorant of our community norms. So assume these people are here in good faith when responding to their questions or behavior.

This value is unrealistically idealistic; obviously, there are many people out there who have bad faith. However, if we are highly resistant to making that call, it is much more difficult to escalate a dispute.


Vote heavily. A complement to Moderate Lightly. The community determines the direction of moderation, and votes are the voice of the community.


We seek the best answers. Suppress your wish for reputation and think how to improve existing answers. Prefer commenting, editing and voting to adding another partial answer that has no way to acceptance.

Update your own answers when new ideas surface or you see relevant questions being asked. Your answers are the textual version of your reputation.

  • I've always wondered how appropriate it is to add large sections to other answers. E.g., this question: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/2379/… Both are good points, but I'd be reluctant to (basically) double the size of a previous answer to add a fairly-unrelated extra point. Maybe it's sort of a 'community wiki' thing, just really small? – ex-ms Aug 12 '10 at 20:12
  • 1
    Quoting FAQ: "Like Wikipedia, this site is collaboratively edited, and all edits are tracked. If you are not comfortable with the idea of your questions and answers being edited by other trusted users, this may not be the site for you." For me it's vice versa - I'm comfortable other people editing my answers, but I've felt not so comfortable editing other people's answers. – Karel Aug 12 '10 at 23:41

Moderate lightly. It's very easy for people to become resentful or feel unwelcome because of the actions of those with greater power, even when such power is exercised carefully. Thus, those with power should exercise it very carefully and explain their reasoning whenever possible.

Another way to put it: It's very easy for power to appear to be abused even if it's not actually being abused. And a community where people perceive abuse of power is dangerously ill.

  • 1
    I would add a modifier of "but moderate early (as possible)". Light moderation doesn't necessarily mean waiting for a problem to develop (or to reach a particular threshold), but rather eliminating problems with the least bad feeling. Breaking up a fight is often seen as a personal reprimand (to be fair, it often is, and is usually deserved), which can generate a worse feeling than if known problems are averted early on. – ex-ms Aug 10 '10 at 2:56
  • I actually don't agree; I did intend "moderate lightly" to mean responding to demonstrated problems rather than trying to anticipate them. The reasoning is that (for the time being at least) I don't think we are going to have many problems that require quick action, so the decision to take quick action is likely to be a false positive (which would not be the case if there were lots if the rate of such problems were higher). – Reid Aug 11 '10 at 3:20
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    For the time being, I agree with you. But with 10k members, I don't. I would rather upset the (typically) two people fighting or one person posting a trolling question, than alienate the larger audience by letting existing holy wars continue. There is little more discouraging as a visitor than every thread you visit devolving into personal bickering (cf. photo.net). – ex-ms Aug 12 '10 at 20:18
  • Sure. We should let community norms evolve. Just as we shouldn't run today's 500-member community as if it has 10,000 members, we shouldn't run the (hopefully) future 10k-member community as if it had 500 members. – Reid Aug 14 '10 at 17:13

Let's be the best. There are tons of information resources on photography on the Internet, but I believe that we can be the best one. So let's do it.


The prime goal is to share appropriate knowledge about photography. Questions of procedure, and even other values, should be judged in terms of how they serve this main goal.

This value is often articulated as answering questions, but I believe this specificity is not needed; we are an information resource, and the format is Q&A, but answering questions is not a core value. Sharing information is.

  • I am wary of this as it's stated; see my answer about relevance below. Briefly, sharing information, even good information, isn't the be-all, end-all in our situation, and there are aspects to answering questions that remain very valuable. – ex-ms Aug 10 '10 at 2:50
  • That's a fair point. What do you think of my edit - I added appropriate. (I chose not to add relevant because the former seemed to better permit reading between the lines.) – Reid Aug 10 '10 at 18:15

This is not a proposal, but a commentary on the idea that (hopefully) might lead to some other brainstorming.

There's a set of ideas in the philosophy developed by Paul Grice that relates directly to the assumptions made in order ability to have a rational conversation. I should emphasize these are not rules; flouting the maxims is entirely possible, and in the theory is what gives rise to sarcasm, irony, and many other forms of speech. Briefly, they go like this1:

Cooperative principle - Contribute what is required by the accepted purpose of the conversation.

Maxim of Quality - Make your contribution true; so do not convey what you believe false or unjustified.

Maxim of Quantity - Be as informative as required. Do not be more informative than is required.

Maxim of Relation - Be relevant.

Maxim of Manner - Be perspicuous; so avoid obscurity and ambiguity, and strive for brevity and order.

I think these are interesting to think about, because the site is inherently conversational. One person asks, other people answer. So, do we manage to do these things?

On the whole, I think so, but I'd like to highlight the idea of relevance, where I think we do slip a little.

It's important to remember that we are answering questions, and an answer that is not relevant to the question isn't a very good answer. Information can be true – even excellent – without being relevant, and sometimes is actually quite wrong in the context of the question2.

1 Anyone particularly intrigued can the good overview at Wikipedia, and more thorough treatments in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries on implicature and pragmatics.

2Just for emphasis, such answers do exist on the site (at least in my opinion), but I don't think it's relevant here to point fingers specifically. I've already done my part and voted them down. :)


Community matters. Our goal is to provide useful information, but operating our resource in a way that makes people feel welcome and makes them want to come back is a powerful tool in growing this information resource and the pool of people available to answer questions.

Thus, let's make sure we grow a good community as well as good information.

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