It is becoming quite apparent that many people who find their way here have no idea what the Internet of Things is, and more importantly, is not.

Surprisingly, when I look around the site, I can find no obvious direction or guidance. There isn't even any list of qualifications for on-topicness presented if I start the process of posting a question.

This seems to lead to questions that have absolutely nothing to do with IoT, for example

As well as others that are at most tangential, and better handled elsewhere, because while they are about a technology that could be used for IoT, the actual question is not about IoT or in any way unique to potential IoT usage.

How can we have new users click through an explanation of site mission before being allowed to post, or otherwise make it clear what does and does not belong here?

  • 2
    Given that neither this site's community nor any other community of IoT professionals has any consensual definition of what IoT is and is not, I find the complaint that askers don't know what IoT is rather presumptuous. Jan 11, 2017 at 22:12
  • @Gilles the actual subject here is there's no effort made by the site to inform them. A stack exchange site can't exist without a unique purpose - without some guidance, this just becomes a dumping ground for anything related to common networking, embedded systems, electronics, arduino, ****pi, home repair, and apparently, video games that a new user feels like putting here rather than somewhere else. That is not a site mission that would have ever been approved. Jan 11, 2017 at 22:18
  • wrt the effort to inform the users: the help center text will be filled in asap when pro tems are appointed. no guidance for new users is simply not true - the user base discusses all Q's in chat/meta and gives comments/close votes to provide exactly this guidance. wrt missing the sharp edge of this sites mission: your opinion as a subject matter expert and a vivid SE user is highly welcome to define it properly.
    – Ghanima Mod
    Jan 11, 2017 at 23:14

3 Answers 3


About that guidance in the help center

The following are preliminary suggestions from the chat events and holds input from all participant of those events. This or something of the like will be added to the on-topic page and subsequently kept up to date to indicate fitting questions. It's very much an iterative process.

The Internet of Things Stack Exchange targets usage and development of anything Internet of Things. This is site is for everyone from users, to enthusiasts to professionals that concern themselves with the Internet of Things. Questions on the following topics are welcome here:

  • Interconnected devices, their infrastructure and enabling services
  • Protocols to and interfacing such devices
  • Security and privacy of these devices
  • Organizations and regulations regarding these devices

Please do not ask about the following topics, as they are considered off-topic:

  • Asking about the shipping of IoT devices from a consumer perspective

About "forcing" users to read something before posting

In short it doesn't work and does not fit into the Stack Exchange model. People can ask and answer as guests for one. Secondly virtually nobody who writes unfitting questions reads any help anyway. Aurora's answer already shows that the tour page is barely accessed. While I have no data, my gut says the on-topic page is read even less often. It's a common problem and often discussed on SE metas. Just look at Compulsory introduction video (ELU) and Separate question page for new users (Meta.SE). Basically every site and the network has the problem of questions that are either a bad fit or just plain bad.

Across all those posts there is one realization to be found. There is no foolproof way to have only polite users provide good questions. Certainly not on a free page on the Internet where people provide content freely. Once someone wants to post a question they won't read anything anymore. When people want to install software, they only spend 6 seconds on EULA screens (scientific). Also, no one on a mission reads stuff (XKCD).

So, for good reasons, the start pages of every Stack Exchange site is made to look inviting for new questions for good reasons. Because we want questions!

Of course we also want primarily good questions, but every SE site gets questions that without any doubt can be called blatantly off-topic. We even have the option to flag questions as such. If you basically ask the Internet to ask you stuff, then there will be bad questions. We do have the tour, the on-topic page and there is actually an additional site before you ask your first question. Still there will be people who don't bother to read any of those and still ask bad questions.

So all is lost? No!

In my opinion there is one page that new users see before deciding to actually ask a question. Our start page. The picture below is how it looks for someone who has never been to the site and isn't (logged in) on any SE sites. As you can see there is a banner explaining SE which also contains our description as it has been set on Area 51. There are our ten most used tags. And, of course, a bunch of questions. You will notice that the questions that on hold or closed are not on there. Even if they've been recently active. Those are excluded.

So really long things short, the best thing we can do is keep our front page looking in a way that invites the questions we want.


  • "Interconnected devices" may be problematic as it can be taken to mean anything with a network. But IoT clearly does not encompass routine networking of PC's, servers, printers, or presumably streaming movies or online delivery of content like video games - rather it's about devices where being interconnected is (for lack of a better quick summary) unique and novel. Jan 11, 2017 at 22:23
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    "So really long things short, the best thing we can do is keep our front page looking in a way that invites the questions we want." You couldn't be more right. :)
    – Ana
    Jan 13, 2017 at 18:28

It is becoming quite apparent that many people who find their way here have no idea what the Internet of Things is, and more importantly, is not.

We have a draft of a list what should be on-topic ready that will be posted on the sites helpcenter. It has been discussed at a major chat event to gather multiple opinions. You're free to discuss what is on or off topic on meta and/or chat as it is obviously an ongoing process.

We will post it as soon as the pro tems are appointed - as they can easily edit that page.

I however realize that many new users do not take the tour and do not read in the helpcenter.

As well as others that are at most tangential, and better handled elsewhere, because while they are about a technology that could be used for IoT, the actual question is not about IoT or in any way unique to potential IoT usage.

An overlap to other sites such as Electrical Engineering is expected as IoT is a very wide field. We've discussed that before - without a definitive conclusion however. I think that questions should be redirected to other sites if they could be answered in a more general sense over there, i.e. when IoT is not the central part of the question. However, it would be fatal to redirect all in depth technical question elsewhere as it would render this site a little useless and boring.

  • It would probably be wise to get something up immediately, even if it then needs revision. At present, off topic questions seem to be equaling or even exceeding on-topic ones. But while making it possible to find some information is better than having none posted, a link that has to be followed is still not the equal of having something that is part of the new question flow itself. Jan 11, 2017 at 16:22
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    We expect the appointment any time soon (some might say right away (tm)).
    – Ghanima Mod
    Jan 11, 2017 at 16:24

I agree completely that we need some guidance, even if it's not perfect, so that people can quickly decide whether their question is on-topic or off-topic. Iterating will be key here - if the guidance we provide doesn't work, we can easily switch to a different wording to try it out.

When the Pro Tempore Moderators are elected, they will be able to edit the Help Center (and Tour) to some extent. Hopefully, this will provide a little bit of direction as to what is on-topic here.

Of course, you might point out that very few people read the Help Center, and quite a few don't even bother to read the Tour, which (if I recall correctly) is presented to you on sign-up if you're new to Stack Exchange. Judging by the badge, only 12.5% of users actually read the tour, so it's doubtful that they had any guidance at all about what's on-topic.

It might be helpful to leave a comment if someone's asked an off-topic post, to this effect:

Welcome to the site! Your question doesn't seem to be on-topic here, because _________. Take a look at the [tour] for a quick introduction if you haven't already, and don't forget to edit your post if it's closed, so that it can be reopened.

(note that I used the [tour] magic link, which will automatically link to the site tour in the comments)

However, don't harass people just because they haven't read the tour. I occasionally see comments on Stack Overflow saying things like:

Why should we help you if you're too lazy to even read the [tour]?

That's clearly not what we want here - flag things like this if you see them, and comment more constructively (in other words, Be Nice!)

I think it's inevitable that some people will misinterpret the scope, even with all the resources we provide. In these cases, all we can do is close, comment and encourage the user to find out what we accept here.

I am a little concerned though that this is a rather fundamental problem with the site scope, and we're having to close a lot of questions as off-topic. Over the whole beta so far, we've closed 8% of questions as off-topic. In the last two weeks (essentially the entire public beta), we've closed 11% of questions as off-topic. It will be worth monitoring this to see if it gets any worse - if so, further action might be needed.

We could ask if it's possible to get an advice screen before asking a question, like Stack Overflow has. I don't think this is implemented at the moment (but I may be wrong!)

An alternative idea could be to create a custom 'new user guide' like Mechanics.SE did. Although a lot of people don't read the guidance, if we are keen on providing more information, this could be the route to take.

So, in brief:


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