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There's been a micro-burst of comments under a few of my recent questions referencing "PR puffery".

I'm still unclear on its meaning; if it refers to the claims in the popular press that I include as prior research, background or occasionally a "...and this got me wondering..." or if it accuses me of being the PR puffer themselves.

Check the comment chains below

Questions:

  1. What exactly is (and isn't) "PR puffery" in the context of my question posts?
  2. Where exactly is the harm to this site?
  3. How can I distinguish between "PR puffery" and simply adding prior research or background to a question or just plain catchy title-izing?

Arguments for catchy titles will include higher view counts for the excellent answers I facilitate. Remember SE is all about good answers to on-topic questions, and answers can not be posted without questions.

Modern search engines (SE's and the internet's) now look way beyond titles, so as long as a title is relevant I don't yet see why the inclusion of a catchy phrase causes harm.

I understand that Is the ISS a tennis racket was "One Step Beyond" but I don't think that's what's happening here.

Specific Examples Please!

In the Stack Exchange tradition, arguments against things must include both specific examples of those things and explanation of the harm they create.

Without specific and actionable criticism change (if warranted) is unlikely.

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    $\begingroup$ Those are two good and very recent examples of what Organic Marble called "PR-puffery", and I seconded the use of that term. There is no reason for the hyperbole. How many of your questions have I answered as of late? The answer is very few. You are turning off experts. You are turning the site into Quora. $\endgroup$ Mar 7, 2022 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Can you supply examples for "You are turning off experts"? Is there a group of experts who get together and grumble about me? Can you support this assertion? Can you also find three examples of insufficiently answered questions that would have been answered by real users if only the title were different? "Without specific and actionable criticism change (if warranted) is unlikely." $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 7, 2022 at 23:32
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    $\begingroup$ Re Can you supply examples for "You are turning off experts"? Me, for one. With 40+ years in the field I would qualify myself as an expert (and my employers agree). I suspect Organic Marble is another. I'm certain there are others. Re Is there a group of experts who get together and grumble about me? Only in comments, and we don't "get together". That said, I am not the first to complain that this is not your site. $\endgroup$ Mar 7, 2022 at 23:49
  • $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen unless we are Luis XIV, "me" is singular. In the 21st century first person plural should refer to more than one person. If the other user has actually withheld answers to my question specifically because of a phrase in the title or a reference to the popular press, that will be good to know about. But in the mean time can you identify three questions you could and would have answered but didn't because of the title? Without examples there's no way to judge the veracity of your comment. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 8, 2022 at 0:21
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    $\begingroup$ Words of advice: You do not handle criticism well. Perhaps you should try. We have not seen AtmosphericPrisonEscape for almost a year, thanks to you. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2022 at 6:17
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    $\begingroup$ I’ve simply asked for examples. In your link I see no suggestion of not handling anything well. But I will call out mythologizing and unsupported demonization when I see it done to any user (supported by substantial flagging for it) whether it’s about another user or me. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 8, 2022 at 10:40
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen if APE's activity is any kind of metric, check their top five sites; all together only four posts in the last 90 days. Once again you do not support your assertions about me in a reasonable way, and in this case have raised a false flag. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 8, 2022 at 14:32
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    $\begingroup$ APE specifically called you out in a comment regarding why they no longer visit the site. So have other users. I recall one who went so far as to cancel their entire StackExchange identity, becoming User<BunchOfDigits>. You do not handle criticism well. This thread is an example. Your citation of the exact number of close votes you have made is another (and do not deny that you have done this). $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2022 at 14:45
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Please don't forget in your calculation that there are also users who only came to space.se because of the incredible broad spectrum of questions uhoh asks. No matter from which background one comes, one can always find a question within one's expertise to answer amongst all of uhoh's questions. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2022 at 19:46
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    $\begingroup$ @samcarter_is_at_texnique.fr Yes, he does do a good job at SEO with some of his questions. But so do our answerers. A balance is needed. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2022 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen He doesn't only drive away experts. I'd say I'm a very interested enthusiast. He has certainly driven me away. To say he does not handle criticism very well is an understatement. He is incapable of even trying to understand the point someone else is making, and flat out told me my opinion on meta is worthless because he has more rep, more answers and asked more questions than me. "Space SE is one of the friendlier SEs" is touted here all too often. Is it? Not in my experience. $\endgroup$
    – Polygnome
    Mar 9, 2022 at 20:23

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What exactly is (and isn't) "PR puffery" in the context of my question posts?

In general I would define "PR puffery" as using hyperboles and other "inflated" word usage with the aim of attracting attention without adding additional information.

Where exactly is the harm to this site?

It adds noise, detracts from the question, and more importantly, makes questions less attractive. Here's the Google result for the "Woz in space" question (query: "woz in space site:space.stackexchange.com" on Google):

Google search result

The fluff ("Woz in space!") took away real estate hiding the core of the question title, making the result less attractive. Admittedly, the question probably wouldn't fit without "Woz in space!" either, but including it sure isn't helping.

(The titles are not truncated because I have a small screen or browser window. I'm almost full-screen on a 27" monitor. It just is how search engines format their pages.)

How can I distinguish between "PR puffery" and simply adding prior research or background to a question or just plain catchy title-izing?

From the help center:

  • be on-topic
  • be specific
  • make it relevant to others

"Woz" nor "CHiPS" are relevant to the questions. Including those references add noise and make the question appear less relevant (I skipped over them, for example, until this meta post came up).

Arguments for catchy titles will include higher view counts for the excellent answers I facilitate. Remember SE is all about good answers to on-topic questions, and answers can not be posted without questions.

Modern search engines (SE's and the internet's) now look way beyond titles, so as long as a title is relevant I don't yet see why the inclusion of a catchy phrase causes harm.

Catchy titles, while not my style, are okay if they do not detract. Including "Woz" and "CHiPS" do detract, because:

  1. they hide the core of the question
  2. they are not relevant to the question
  3. people may not know the reference (I didn't; I know who Wozniak is, but I didn't infer from the title that "Woz" == "Wozniak"; see (2))

You post many questions and many of them are good and interesting (many of them expose me to new topics or sources). But I can also spot a "uhoh question" from the title alone and have learned to skip them on mobile because I know that they are often a long read and media heavy. I may read them when I get home on a big screen, but it's more likely that I devote my screen time to questions that I have identified as "answerable by me" earlier on mobile. If more people filter like me, it means that people are skipping over your questions, which is my argument against catchy titles and question fluff.

I believe your rep points gives you enough exposure as it is. You don't need to fluff up question posts to attract more attention.

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  • $\begingroup$ Well, that was the fastest -1 I ever got... $\endgroup$
    – Ludo
    Mar 9, 2022 at 10:35
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    $\begingroup$ +1. I think between you and David, you've provided exactly what was asked for, and your write-up is more comprehensive (which is what uhoh has repeatedly said they wanted). $\endgroup$
    – Bear
    Mar 9, 2022 at 12:58
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    $\begingroup$ wasn't my dv, thanks for your clear explanation! +1 $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 22, 2022 at 22:54
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Woke up this morning to this spat. Thought about starting another meta thread about "uhoh" questions, but decided my material was too thin for that. I do, however, feel compelled to weigh in.

In defense of the "uhoh" question

I am a frequent lurker of many boards, including Astronomy and here. I also get sidetracked by the HNQ sidebar from time to time throughout the day. Sometimes something will come up and I will immediately think "that must be an uhoh question". This usually turns out to be correct.

This, perhaps, is the actual meaning of "PR puffery" in this context: it is your handwriting, uhoh.

There are positives to this style:

  • It is undeniably effective at hitting HNQ, which draws laypeople and the mildly interested.
  • It often presents as a quick, snacky trivia tidbit, but sometimes turns out to have surprisingly deep answers associated with it.

These two things together mean uhoh questions act as board ambassadors to the public. Paired with expert answers, we step in to science education: people learn new search terms to further their curiosity, and come away having learned something.

Uhoh questions have merit and a role in the ecosystem (though of course other styles of questions also have their place).

However

The aforementioned positives are a blend of the question and its answers. The snacky-trivia titles may catch my attention, but my attention wanders on to the next page if the answers simply present the bit of trivia and leave it at that. To achieve (as you put it) "the excellent answers I facilitate", uhoh, you need your answerers.

I have also noticed that you don't take criticism well, in many comment sections over the years. It makes me very uncomfortable because I generally like your questions and thus want to like you. When I see you aggressively and repeatedly demanding that your answerer explain their even-slightly-negative comment, It feels like watching my parents fight.

A plea to both sides, uhoh and answerers: you have an audience, even though most of us are usually silent. We like what you do. Everyone is a volunteer here, so obviously it's not worth continuing to do it if it's not enjoyable. Please: don't hurt each other's enjoyment and keep the excellently-answered uhoh question alive.

~Bear

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    $\begingroup$ Every other answer answers the question. This is what needed to be said, all of it, verbatim, +1. - I see their Qs other places that I'd think trivial for someone who knows as much about space as this, and just assume they're playing SE, which is fine. DV if you must, but move along. Also, if you haven't learned by now, stop ever defending a DV. 99% of the time that turns into a hissy fit on all sides... and sometimes that means a suspension.... cough $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 10, 2022 at 2:05
  • $\begingroup$ Not very nice to talk about if they can't respond for another six days. But perhaps that reprieve will teach them to troll like I do.. I mean, um... To know when you've crossed the line, delete a bunch of your own crap posting, and take a break for like 24h. Otherwise you get a week off minimum. I should probably be on like my tenth, but I'm still at zero, because I know when to disengage. - And y'all should too, unless the goal was to rile them into a suspension. $\endgroup$
    – Mazura
    Mar 10, 2022 at 2:13
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    $\begingroup$ I'm another lurker, and I think Bear put this very well. $\endgroup$
    – mgarey
    Mar 10, 2022 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ well explained, very actionable and much appreciated +1 $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    May 22, 2022 at 22:55
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What exactly is (and isn't) "PR puffery" in the context of my question posts?

The two very recent questions you yourself cited are perfect examples. There was no reason for the "they're bringing back CHiPS!" parenthetical remark, or for the "Woz in space!". That's just a turn off.

Where exactly is the harm to this site?

You are turning off experts. I am not the first to complain. While good questions are essential, so are good answers. We do not want this site to turn into yet another Quora where bad questions and bad answers are the rule rather than the exception.

How can I distinguish between "PR puffery" and simply adding prior research or background to a question or just plain catchy title-izing?

Please refrain from the "catchy title-izing". That is the essence of "PR puffery". So is over reliance on videos and imagery.

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  • $\begingroup$ "We do not want this site to turn into yet another Quora where bad questions and bad answers are the rule rather than the exception." Can you find some examples of my questions that have attracted bad answers that were not swiftly dealt with? In Stack Exchange any question might occasionally receive a bad answer and SE has mechanism to deal with it. Without examples that mine do more than average this is just more unsupported demonization $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Mar 8, 2022 at 0:31
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh You're countering a “this is how I feel” answer with a “show me the data” comment. David Hammen hasn't claimed that your questions have attracted bad answers, so you (imo) shouldn't be asking for evidence of that. (I don't have an opinion on the validity of the criticism, btw.) $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 8, 2022 at 16:47
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    $\begingroup$ @uhoh When I google something and see hits at Quora I tend to skip over those. While there certainly are some good answers at Quora, answers there are far too often wrong. Expertise has vamoosed from Quora. This is a plea to you: Don't chase our expertise away. $\endgroup$ Mar 8, 2022 at 17:12
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    $\begingroup$ @DavidHammen Okay, that's definitely a step too far. For one, it's not constructive: the best that can possibly achieve is making uhoh feel bad. For another, one user cannot single-handedly “chase our expertise away” unless there's a site culture enabling that, and here there very clearly isn't. Please try to stick to the specific if you can't, or the generals if you can't, but avoid whatever that is. $\endgroup$
    – wizzwizz4
    Mar 8, 2022 at 21:32
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Almost all the problems I have had with your posts, @Uhoh, are the emphasis on loads of pictures, long passages, quotes etc., which between them hide the question or answer.

In the main, that core of your posts is good - you research the mathematics, you run the simulations etc., but it can get very difficult to get to that core because of all the fluff around it. You and I have spoken about it on numerous occasions, but in the end I gave up having the discussion, because you would always fight it in comment threads and it just ended up being too much effort. It dramatically reduced my activity here, and I only started to visit regularly again after taking a conscious decision to try and avoid answering your questions, or commenting on your answers - which isn't how the site should be.

If you remove the "fluff" I'd probably start upvoting your posts again, as I'd be able to read them.

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