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Are questions such as How do I configure software X to use Tor? on topic?

I'd say no (see my answer for more details), but what do others think?

  • 1
    It seems like this type of question could become very common/popular, but it's the type of question that's usually easily answered by a Google search. – user96 Sep 26 '13 at 1:51
  • Hi Sam, if you're going to offer an answer, can you explain you're reasoning. It's much easier to understand your point if, well, you make your point. Good luck! :) – jmort253 Sep 26 '13 at 2:37
  • Updated: See my answer for more details and my potential solution. – Sam Whited Sep 27 '13 at 14:32
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If how to configure these products is an integral part of the Tor ecosystem, then I say absolutely these questions should be on topic. We should encourage these special interests to become part of the ecosystem of this site.

We get a lot of requests from project teams about how they can use Stack Exchange to support their communities. If part of the technical support for that product involves Tor, I see no reason why this site couldn't provide fantastic technical support for these questions. But just like the scope of Tor support provided here, this site should not be used for typical customer support issues for these 3rd-party products (e.g. bug reports, feature requests, etc).

This is really no different than the product-specific support we provide on Stack Overflow, and the top two answers from the link below are worth reading:

Is it okay to use Stack Overflow as the support forum for a product or project?

  • Well said; you've got me just about convinced. I'm still a bit worried that we'd be flooded with nothing but questions like 'How can I configure torrent client X to use Tor', but maybe we can deal with that if it ever comes to that eventuality. – Sam Whited Sep 27 '13 at 1:39
  • ...and every time someone searches for that information on the web, they'll find this site. It's really hard to envision having too many questions, especially if they're well-asked, long-tailed problems that people actually have about the subject. That's the entire premise that made Stack Overflow such a success. Not the generalized questions that have been asked on every other site on the subject... but those deeply detailed, real problems that aren't likely asked (or answered) anywhere else. Become THE source authority on the subject of all things Tor. (@SamWhited) – Robert Cartaino Sep 27 '13 at 16:29
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We don't really have an exact definition in the help center that defines the topic yet, but we do have this in the Area 51 Beta Proposal Page:

Beta Q&A site for researchers, developers, and users of Tor

Questions about how to use Tor are on topic

For a site that includes the users of Tor, it seems reasonable that users will have questions about configurations that go beyond just the basics. Therefore, a question about how to get Tor to work with Firefox, for instance, could very well be on topic. Asheesh's example of how to get Tor working with BitTorrent, for instance, could also be on-topic.

The best questions involve hitting roadblocks, not getting started

But just like any Stack Exchange Q&A site, the types of questions we want here aren't overly broad beginner-type questions that simply ask for tutorials, books, or complete comprehensive guides on how to get started configuring software X to work with Tor.

The best Stack Exchange question is about a real, actual problem you're facing. The best questions come from hitting roadblocks in the tutorials you've already found on the Internet through Google. For instance, while looking at a tutorial on how to get Firefox configured to use Tor, perhaps I hit a snag where pages stop loading because there's some obscure setting in about:config that the tutorial didn't mention because I've been using Firefox on this computer for 8 months and forgot that I changed that setting 7 months ago for some other unrelated reason that I can no longer remember.

That is a really great problem to ask a Stack Exchange question about, and it's a problem that would attract the experts, those with the real deep knowledge of how Tor works.

Help improve broad questions by narrowing the scope

So, if someone has asked a question that's a little broad, our goal during this private beta phase is to use the comments, and edits, to help them improve their posts. Use close votes if we need to, but only to put the post on hold so that we have the time to invest in making this a great site by taking raw material posted by brave users like Asheesh and then curating and molding that content into questions that expose the tough problems.

My suggestion for the How can BitTorrent traffic be anonymized with Tor? question, if Asheesh isn't going to merge it with the How do torrent clients over Tor affect the network? question, is to maybe describe a problem faced while trying to get Tor and BitTorrent running. Getting stuck on something leads to a better overall question than just merely asking how to get started.

This isn't a criticism of those asking questions though. Asking questions is tough. But most of us here are from technical backgrounds, so if we're going to ask a question here, we should go grab a copy of Tor. We should play around with it and try to do something with it. Inevitably, we're going to get stuck on something. When we hit that point, we'll have an amazing question that will help meet the goal of this private beta, which is to create great, expert level content that will attract more experts once the site goes public in the coming weeks.

Remember, Google is where you get started. Stack Exchange is where you come when you're stuck.

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While these questions can become a problem over time, I think they should be on-topic if they satisfy certain criteria:

  • If the OP is running into an error not covered in detail on the official site/blog, then the setup question discussing the error(s) should be on-topic.

  • If the OP is using a configuration which has not been explicitly discussed on the official site/blog, then the question should be on-topic.

In all other cases, setup questions should be closed, and the user should be politely pointed to the relevant page on the Tor site.

  • Be careful about closing questions simply because the information can be found elsewhere. If someone were to search Google for how to do something in Tor, I certainly would like them to find this site. Closing something because it's already documented in some obscure corner of another site is going to be seen as somewhat user hostile ("Didn't you read the docs?") – Robert Cartaino Sep 27 '13 at 16:34
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TL;DR — Point these questions to chat.

To answer my own question in a bit more detail:

While I see both sides of this as valid, I think I'm still leaning towards 'these questions should be off topic'. From the Tor perspective, the answer is always the same (setup your application to use a SOCKS5 proxy pointing at localhost:$orport). What these users want is how to setup their specific application; this requires knowledge and an answer that probably has nothing whatsoever to do with Tor (eg. in web browser X go to Properties -> Networking -> Proxy).

Questions such as How do I find my orport? are much more relavant to this discussion.

However, as people have pointed out, we still want people to be able to use their favorite applications with Tor. My suggestion is therefore to point users who ask these sorts of questions to Chat where people will hopefully be able to help them with their specific appliaction without cluttering up this site with non-tor related questions.

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