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The designed scope of ham.stackexchange.com (ham.SE) and a few other other Stack Exchange sites overlap somewhat in what are often called "gray areas". (Or "grey areas", if you prefer.) One such gray area exists between ham.SE and electronics.SE. ham.SE questions should be about Amateur radio specifically, or the technology of radio (or Morse code) [source]. Questions in electronics.SE should be about electrical and electronics engineering topics primarily [source]. So if someone wanted to ask a question about radio design, e.g. "What are the advantages of the phasing method of generating SSB?", such a question would land squarely in the gray area, potentially equally at home in either site, because the question is about both radio and electronics design. Another such gray area exists between ham.SE and dsp.SE, where questions are about signal, image, and video processing. Other gray areas exist also.

Some "gray area" questions could be considered closer to one group than the other (or others). The arguments seem to get louder when the question being discussed is primarily about theory, rather than practice. For instance, questions about the best way to hoist a large antenna up a tower rarely attract arguments about scope in ham.SE, but questions about the nature of the electric and magnetic field components of a radio wave sometimes do, because such questions are answered by referring to Maxwell's equations, which many people would argue are a better subject for physics.SE than ham.SE.

Should gray-area questions that are primarily theoretical be allowed here?

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    $\begingroup$ Would someone please consider writing an answer that dissents from @MarcusMüller's opinion, so that the community can weigh in simply by voting? $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3 Mod
    Nov 4, 2021 at 1:29
  • $\begingroup$ I agree, that would be desirable. I tried to do so constructively, so that we have some alternative. I must admit I was having a bit of a hard time find good arguments for the thing my "proper" answer argues against, because I can't mentally separate this well from the question / my comments and votes on it, from which this arose. I'm converting that answer to a community wiki, to encourage you to extend / improve. I hope I identified correctly to which of my points you wanted an opposing opinion (and I guess it's that I said low-effort marginally related questions should be closed). $\endgroup$ Nov 5, 2021 at 21:10

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What are the advantages of the phasing method of generating SSB?", such a question would land squarely in the gray area, potentially equally at home in either site, because the question is about both radio and electronics design.

Absolutely, this question is both formally on-topic, and in spirit, at home in both worlds, err SE sites.

Some "gray area" questions could be considered closer to one group than the other (or others).

Agreed! If it's not 100% clear whether a question is about Amateur Radio or the Technology of Radio in the strict, direct sense, the "in spirit" criterion gains more weight.

That is a humongously soft criterion (and, without saying this is a bad thing, especially for a hobby-focused SE site), and ham.SE has of all communities I know the largest scope when it comes to that, it would fit the spirit of the site to be rather "tolerant" here :)

Should gray-area questions that are primarily theoretical be allowed here?

decision tree:

is it formally (stric-sense) about ham radio or the technology of radio?

  • If yes, discussion over: yes.
  • if not:
    • how much merit to the community has the question, actually. "Hi, I'm not sure how to multiply two numbers and what the result means" is not as valuable as "I've tried to build a pulse-coded modulation and here's the formula I used to calculate what I should do, is this sensible?" conveys both a much better (question effort)/(answer effort) ratio, as well as possibly something where a community member (or a googler-happen-byer) would learn something.
      • high merit: If applicable, welcome the asker, point out that you're not sure this is the perfect place, but make clear that the question seems interesting, and they're most welcome
      • low merit/nearly no shown effort: close. Nothing won, nothing lost.

Especially in the case of high-effort questions, we (I) often find our(my)self in the situation where I know, "oh, this is a really good physics question", or "oh, that's an interesting engineering problem" or such, and can heartily, with the best intent of my heart recommend a different site, without necessarily thinking it is fully off-topic here.

In the case of low-effort, do-my-not-well-specified-homework questions, I'll be honest: we can be much more rigorous in closing. If a question is two lines and not unambigously about ham radio or the technology of radio in that, asking a new, improved version is "not much work", worst case.

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We should try to accomodate as many askers as possible – even short, low effort questions that only share a tool, method or scientific discipline with radio (but aren't about radio themselves) should be allowed, to attract a wider audience.

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    $\begingroup$ Thank you for trying Marcus! You motivated me to write my own answer ;) $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3 Mod
    Nov 6, 2021 at 19:19
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In my opinion, ham.SE is slowly dying: there are only 1.3 questions per day coming in on average (source). In order to get as many people as possible to participate, to reverse or slow the decline, I think taking a liberal view of where our boundaries are is justified. If a student who does not speak English as her first language asks a question here that might be better answered in dsp.SE, but still is about the technology of radio, what harm has been done? Besides, I think it is more up to the OP to decide where they want to ask the question. Perhaps our users are more patient with student questions.

In summary, I think we should accept any gray-area question, as long as it is about amateur radio, the technology of radio, or Morse code, and has enough quality, and is not a cross-post.

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  • $\begingroup$ but: this is not an opposing position to mine: we both say that if it's about amateur radio, or the technology of radio (and Morse is, kind of well enough), and has enough quality, we should keep it. I think we fully agree on that! $\endgroup$ Nov 6, 2021 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ You're right @MarcusMüller, I can find very little to distinguish our philosophies. Our disagreements only seem to be about how much quality is enough. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3 Mod
    Nov 6, 2021 at 20:12
  • $\begingroup$ maybe the core of the difference is: if I catch the "drift" of this answer correctly, you say "HAM.SE is dying, let's not do that: let's rather lower our standards to attract more questions" whereas my answer's drift is more "let's keep the quality; quantity won't make for a sustainable community alone". $\endgroup$ Nov 9, 2021 at 12:10
  • $\begingroup$ I would characterize the "drift" of my answer as "Let's not be so strict about where we draw the line between our site and other neighboring sites to attract and keep a larger audience." I don't view that as lowering our standards, just being not as quick to tell people to go somewhere else, for questions that are still about the technology of radio. Would you consider such a policy to be lowering our standards, @MarcusMüller? By the way, I agree with you that such a policy would be unlikely to be much help in keeping our site alive. $\endgroup$
    – rclocher3 Mod
    Nov 23, 2021 at 0:59

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