On of the few fears I have for this site is broadness. For instance, "How do I [do X]?" questions aren't like jigsaw puzzles: There is never just one solution. Such a question leads to many, many answers, and eventually, one starts to wonder whether the question was too broad in the first place. Trust me, I have plenty of first-hand experience with this problem on Worldbuilding.
I'm a fan of the make-your-question-as-specific-as-possible approach for this site. Sure, questions belong to the community, and they're supposed to help more people than just the OP. But we also have to fight The Broadness Problem, and part of that means a focus on the person who asked the question. That's why details are important, and that's why we often look only at specific cultures and often tag accordingly (though not always).
Here's why, in a nutshell, I think that we need to really rein in answers:
- If you try to help everyone, you help no one. Let's say I write a general answer to a question that's pretty region-dependent. I ignore the specific tag used. Given how much certain practices differ across the world, the odds that my answer will help everyone is pretty darn slim. Everybody loses.
- Talking about a different country might not help anyone. If I ask a question about Y in, say, Trinidad, and someone gives me an answer about Y in Indonesia, then there's no guarantee that that answer will ever help anyone else. Who knows if an Indonesian will ever have this problem? That's my counterargument to the fear that limiting questions to one country will lead to an explosion of questions on the same topic but for different places - the odds of people in so many different regions having the same questions are slim.
- Fight the Broadness Problem. This should be self-explanatory. If we allow answers that look at any possible variant of the situation, then there's absolutely no way to limit them or, more importantly, rank them against each other (objective ranking has been talked about in a different context before - see Good Subjective, Bad Subjective).
I've been using examples where someone mentions a different country, but the same logic applies to the other cases mentioned in the question.
So how to we deal with them?
People are still going to write these answers, no matter whether or not we like them. If we have a policy against them, though, then we have cause to - and should - delete them. Obviously, a mod can delete these answers, as can 4k-ers if the score < 0. Most of us - currently, none of us - are nowhere near 4k reputation, though, so we'll have to resort to flagging.
There was a discussion in the comments under NVZ's answer about whether or not the Not An Answer flag is appropriate to use in such situations. Part of the disagreement centered around this Meta Stack Exchange post, and whether or not Not An Answer flags are usable if an answer is trying to answer a question that simply happens to be a different one than the one asked. That Meta Stack Exchange post has two answers.
The first one contains the phrase
Do not use this flag when
. . .
- You have to consider the question, other answers, or even the comments on the answer itself in order to determine if an answer is not-an-answer
which supports the idea of not using the flag in these cases. However, the second (newer) answer states
You can also use this flag for the following reasons, if you include a comment below the answer explaining the specific problem:
. . .
- answers that attempt to answer another question or are just a general dump of unsolicited information, for example:
Question: What is the capital of Brazil?
Not an answer 1: The capital of Argentina is Buenos Aires.
Not an answer 2: Brazil is a state in South America.
Not an answer 3: We went to Brazil for our honeymoon.
This supports the idea of using the flags. The discussion basically got caught in whether or not each interpretation was right.
If we decide that these more general answers are not allowed, then flaggers have two options, either using the Not An Answer flag (the other set answer flags are nowhere near appropriate) or a custom flag.
Two things come to mind:
- Many other Stack Exchange sites already use flags in the second way (i.e. use NAA flags when an answer answers a totally different question).
- Custom flags are annoying to handle. As a mod, I know they break my routine during handling.
We lose nothing by using the Not An Answer flag, so long as we define an "answer" to be something like
A response to fully addresses the given question and offers a specific solution.
(essentially). It's clear that a more general answer is, therefore, Not An Answer.
We as a site have some leeway in deciding what is and what isn't an answer. We've been given tools; we need to shape them to fit the needs of our site. Let's use them like this.