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Disclaimer: I am starting this question because one of my questions was closed under this reasoning. However, I will attempt to remain objective.

The question that sparks this one is here: http://electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/22286/best-sites-for-an-intermediate-level-learner

Questions that promote lists and that cannot be answered with a defined correct answer are inherently bad for Stack Exchange sites. However, I am of the opinion that there are certain exceptional cases where the popularity of the question and informational benefit it brings exceeds the benefit that the "no lists" rule provides. They are very few and far between, but (in my experience) usually involve "where can I learn about [subject]?".

There is a precedent of certain list-provoking questions being very highly upvoted, showing that they are useful to people. I would like to propose that certain list-provoking questions are to be accepted, as long as they fit a certain set of criteria:

  • The question has a provably high level of demand.
  • The question is formatted well, with clear goals.
  • The question is within the scope of the subject that the sub-site aims to cater for.
  • The question cannot be asked in a different way, i.e. one that does not provoke lists.
  • The question should not be something that can be split into separate specific questions, for example where there is no way that the asker (or someone else in their shoes) could gain the insight to be able to do that.
  • The question is original, not a duplicate and cannot be answered by existing questions.
  • The overall benefit of the question is considered to be greater than the benefit of the "no lists" rule. This is a general view that should really be applied for all rules.

Update: Thanks for the responses. It seems that there's a resounding "no" answer, so that's fair enough. I hadn't considered the moderation time required to prune all the extra answers. Anyway, I won't be following further responses and I think the major points have all been said, so if a moderator sees fit to lock this then that'd probably be for the best. However, keeping this question available as a point of reference for the future may be useful.

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marked as duplicate by gnat, hims056, Toon Krijthe, Mołot, mehow Feb 28 at 11:50

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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Did it make you smile? Did it catch you off guard? –  random Nov 15 '11 at 23:37
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Not sure I understand that response, @random, care to elabourate? –  Polynomial Nov 15 '11 at 23:38
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Just out of curiosity, how do you propose we measure "a provably high level of demand" and "the overall benefit of the question [compared to] the benefit of the 'no lists' rule"? –  waiwai933 Nov 15 '11 at 23:45
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@waiwai933 - A certain number of upvotes on the question is a way to prove demand and the level of benefit as viewed by the community. –  Polynomial Nov 15 '11 at 23:47
    
@Polynomial, random takes his name seriously. Just forget it for now... when he's being official and moderator-y, you'll know. –  Pops Nov 15 '11 at 23:50
    
@PopularDemand - Ahh, fair enough. Seems counter-productive but I'll let it slide. –  Polynomial Nov 15 '11 at 23:55
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I think that to this discussion should be added the fact that at the time of closing of the question named in this question, there were already open and up-voted questions about resources for high-school level electronics and resources for teaching children electronics. There's also an open question about basic electronics books, another one about books and hardware and so on. So basically we have a number of questions that cater to beginners and a couple of questions which talk about literature for experts. Now suddenly the question about intermediate level was closed. –  AndrejaKo Nov 15 '11 at 23:58
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@AndrejaKo, a plague in some cases that had just not been dealt with as our site came from an SE1.0 site. –  Kortuk Nov 16 '11 at 0:04
    
Don't forget to focus on the tiny delights. –  Farray Nov 16 '11 at 0:05
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@Kortuk Is it? Some of them are several "just" months old. If it is, then should they too be locked with appropriate message, like This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. we see sometimes at SO? The main point I want to argue here is that we should be consistent. –  AndrejaKo Nov 16 '11 at 0:08
    
@AndrejaKo, our current moderator team is only 6 months old and have been trying to keep improving the site as fast as we can and still deal with flags and current community issues. This is pretty off topic to this post and we can continue in chat if you would like. Consistent is hard to do when you have humans attempting to keep up. –  Kortuk Nov 16 '11 at 0:12
    
@AndrejaKo Other sites in the network, including the Trilogy (Stack Overflow, Super User and Server Fault) have undergone and are still undergoing cleanups where old, bad questions are deleted. This takes months. What issues are outstanding on Electrical Engineering is best discussed at Electrical Engineering Meta. –  Gilles Nov 16 '11 at 0:40
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@Polynomial “Did it make you smile? Did it catch you off guard?” is an allusion to some questions on Apple Stack Exchange. Ask Different is pretty much the exception; other SE sites avoid this kind of questions. The problem with these questions is that they have no lasting value: if you're looking for a new feature in OSX, slogging through 48 or 95 answers is not a useful way of finding it. This is a prime example of what not to do. –  Gilles Nov 16 '11 at 0:44

4 Answers 4

up vote 30 down vote accepted

Your question Best sites for an intermediate level learner? is probably the worst kind of list question you can ask. Here's what happens:

  1. The first 6 to 10 answers start out mostly ok because they're visible on the first page of the question and everyone can see if they're about to post a dupe link or not.

  2. The next 11 - 20 answers provide maybe one or two new additions but because no-one can be bothered reading the first 6 to 10 answers duplicates creep in

  3. After a month or so links start to rot on say 30% of the answers. Most of the folk who linked to dead destinations never respond to comments to fix the links. Mods are flagged to clean up these dead answers.

  4. When the question is flagged and closed there's a big fuss made over it on the meta site. Moderators and sensible users, who see these questions for what they are, spend valuable time defending the closure and re-explaining the folly of such posts.

  5. Peer pressure sees the question re-opened because of faithful promises to keep the question well maintained and as a canonical reference. The reality is that this doesn't happen, the question accretes more duplicate links and more links rot over time. Users and mods spend more time flagging, deleting, chasing to have links fixed, and what have you.

  6. The question is forgotten about and 5-10 more "Best sites" questions are asked, no-one can remember the canonical question and these new questions either get closed as "not constructive" or slip through the radar being upvoted and answered by users who should know better.

  7. And on and on and on it goes...until eventually after about two years the question is finally closed, locked and then thankfully dispatched, and you know what? Nobody cared or noticed.

What a huge waste of time.

These questions appear to be popular because they're easy to answer, everyone has an opinion and a favourite they want to show off.

As the months and years pass they degrade into sad, forgotten and unloved content just cluttering up search engine results with their uselessness.

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Why not just have a rule that says "lock when there are enough good answers"? –  Polynomial Nov 16 '11 at 0:06
    
@Polynomial They specifically removed that lock reason; mods were discouraged from using locking for that purpose, it's only supposed to be when something is going crazy with the post (e.g. an edit war) –  Michael Mrozek Nov 16 '11 at 0:08
    
@MichaelMrozek - Perhaps there should be a specific lock reason, such as the one suggested by AndrejaKo's comment on the question itself. –  Polynomial Nov 16 '11 at 0:13
    
@Polynomial - and when do you decide "lock when there are enough good answers" - what happens when the next great tutorial site goes online? We'd be locking and unlocking willy nilly. These are not maintainable questions. –  Kev Nov 16 '11 at 0:15
    
@Kev - Perhaps having it locked when the asker accepts an answer would solve a large percentage of these issues. –  Polynomial Nov 16 '11 at 0:16
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@Polynomial - it wouldn't because there is no right answer. The links in the accepted answer are just as likely to rot as any other. That is precisely why these questions are not welcome. It's also why link-only answers tend to be downvoted and given the boot on normal answerable questions. –  Kev Nov 16 '11 at 0:20
    
Not to mention @Polynomial how often I have seen a user accept an answer far too soon, or an invalid answer they though was correct, even though votes will smash it to the negatives shortly after. The lock strongly supports one user overriding the community's right to decide by vote. –  Kortuk Nov 16 '11 at 21:41

Nowhere in your criteria does it appear that the question is likely to attract useful answers.

You do say at the end “the overall benefit of the question is considered to be greater than the benefit of the (…) rule”. Yes, I can get behind that, but you've failed to demonstrate the benefit of the question.

The worst thing a question that asks for a list can do is ask for or incite one item per answer. This is guaranteed to make the answers completely useless. Votes on the answers are more about who answered first than about which item is more popular, and more about which item is more popular than about which item is more useful. So one-item-per-answer ends up being a jumble from which it is hard to extract any meaning.

Ok, your question doesn't particularly incite one item per answer, so it's not to be shot on sight. In fact, it's more of a resource recommendation question than a resource list question. Now resource recommendation questions can work, sometimes. But only when the requirements are sufficiently precise, and, generally, only when there is a well-identified purpose. “I want to know more about X” is not a precise enough purpose. “Help me design a class curriculum, here's my general approach” would be an example of recommendation question that can work; you need more focus and less expectation of generality. (Even then, recommendations are delicate because they're subjective; they work in a questions-and-answers format only as long as they're not prone to leading to “mine is better because it just is” arguments.)

A far better venue for your question would be chat. You can give people an idea of where you're at, and they'll suggest things for you to read, and they'll criticize each other's suggestions, and in the end it'll be up to you to decide who to trust. The next person to come along will probably have a different background and different expectations, so they'll ask again, and get different answers. This is not the sort of situation that lends itself well to the part discussion forum, part encyclopedia nature of Stack Exchange Q&A.

P.S. Everybody thinks their question is an exception. The harsh truth is that no, your question is not special. The way to maintain a high-quality site is to encourage high-quality questions and reject low-quality questions. Even when the low-quality questions are yours.

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If this is to stand a chance, I'd think you'd have to add:

  • The list does not already exist elsewhere on the Internet.
  • The list will be fairly static once compiled. (Once an entry is added to the list, it is very unlikely to ever be removed. Think "list of Nobel prize winners" or "published sci-fi authors who also have advanced degrees in a scientific field.")

I'd also like to add:

  • The OP has to stick around to periodically maintain the list.

I've always thought the "no list of X questions" rule could be relaxed a little bit for exceptionally good questions, but since there's no way to enforce that last one I don't think I can throw my full support behind it.

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Seconded, though I think the second one could be relaxed for posting lists of long-standing sites of repute in cases of "where can I learn about [blank]?" questions. –  Polynomial Nov 15 '11 at 23:48

Upvotes do not necessarily mean a question is good for the site. Hell, a bunch of the highest-voted questions on SO are closed and locked, with a message to the effect of "This question is here because it has historical value...don't use this question as evidence that you can ask similar questions here."

There are two different sets of votes for questions on SE sites:

  • Upvotes and downvotes mean that someone liked or disliked the question, for whatever reason. Funny, interesting, or otherwise notable questions tend to attract upvotes whether they belong on the site or not.
  • Close/reopen/delete/undelete votes (and flags, for the people who can't vote yet) are a measure of whether the question belongs on the site. Questions that aren't a good fit for the site can be closed regardless of who likes them (unless that someone happens to be a mod and locks the question).

List questions simply don't fit well within SE's format, so they tend to be closed.

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