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I tried to get a rather interesting question answered yesterday, What is the value proposition of commercial databases like Microsoft SQL Server, DB2 and Oracle? Sadly, the question was swiftly closed. Four of the close votes came from users heavily involved with one of the mentioned commercial products.

I'm not trying to start a flamewar here. This information is not readily available anywhere. If I need to take a decision on which of these products to use, there seems only to be marketing materials to go on.

So, is there a way a question like this can be protected? I'm pretty sure I'm not the only one who would like to see some hard data or real experience brought into a question like this, but the vote-to-close model is heavily tipped in favour of closing questions not liked by a certain group, and getting it reopened is almost impossible, since you have to know the specific URL to find the question and reopen it.

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What do you want to say with the insinuation in your title? That somebody must have gotten a call from Redmond - "Somebody's questioning commercial databases. We can't have that. Close that question right now."? –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 10:37
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Nothing so sinister. But there is a general dislike for having the weaknesses of your favourite whatever pointed out. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 10:44
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I think the majority of Stack Overflow users is more professional than you're willing to give them credit for and won't close stuff only because they don't like it. :) (although of course, one is always more inclined to close a weak question one doesn't like than one one does like, no doubt.) I'm fairly sure it would have a chance to survive either on SO or programmers.SE if it were more specific - see kiamlaluno's answer for some ideas –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 10:48
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Yes, that was my point. The system is tipped to heavily in favour of conservatism. You just need to find five people amongst the thousands of people on StackOverflow that dislike a question, and it's gone forever, with almost no chance of being reopened. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 10:57
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it is indeed (tipped in favour of conservatism), and thank goodness for that! With 4,000+ new questions a day, there is no other way to do things. If we let everything live just because it's interesting but doesn't conform with the rules of the system, Stack Overflow would be a Yahoo Answers-like trashpile within weeks. (For the record, I think your question is a very good one and I would like to read some good thoughtful answers to it from both "sides". But it still isn't a good fit on Stack Overflow.) –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 10:58
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Well, I think it's a shame, given how the StackOverflow community is heavily tipped towards .NET and related technologies. No one challenges the consensus and lives… –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 11:01
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that, with all due respect, is codswallop. Again: your question was not closed because it questions commercial technologies or the Microsoft stack; it was closed because it does not fit the Stack Overflow format which is explicitly against soliciting opinion of any kind, no matter whether it's pro-Microsoft or pro-Linux or anti-Apple or whatever. –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 11:02
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In the question, I expressly state that I'm asking for “performance, system or feature benefits”. That's not opinion if you ask me. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 11:17
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the question is essentially "which is better - A or B?" and even with the added sentence, still invites opinions of all sorts. To me, asking for "performance and other benefits" is just window dressing to a subjective question. I've seen it happen on hundreds of similar questions, and I'm glad they get closed quickly nowadays. Asking something more specific and substantial (like a specific aspect of the comparison between free and non-commercial) might work better. –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 11:23
    
“the question is essentially "which is better - A or B?"” – besides the fact that there are more than two things in question, I'm not asking about “betterness”. Call it window dressing if you like, but I don't think that's a reasonable interpretation. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 12:00
    
fair enough - it's your right to criticize the community's interpretation of the rules. I myself often see really interesting stuff get shot down because of that (but I have come to accept that it's the price you pay for having a consistently high-quality Q&A resource with these amounts of questions and traffic.) What aggravated me was the insinuation of a Microsoft/.NET bias, which I can absolutely not confirm from my two years of activity here, much of it in Linux and Open Source related tags. Questions that don't fit the format get closed mercilessly, no matter which "camp" they're from –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 13:23
    
It seems to be canon that Stack Overflow would not work if interesting questions like these are not shot down mercilessly. I beg to differ. Some moderation is necessary, but I think Stack Overflow has gone off the deep end here. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 15:22
    
I think you're asking in the wrong forum. SO is not for open ended questions like this. Maybe you should be posting this at Quora.com or even LinkedIn groups? –  laura Dec 9 '11 at 17:38
    
I think that SO is heading down the wrong path by continually adopting stricter interpretations of the rules. I still think my question is perfectly valid, and within the rules, but given that the current regime at SO thinks otherwise, there's little I can do. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 20:26
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5 Answers 5

The involvement of those users in any related products is irrelevant—it is abundantly clear that that question falls squarely in the middle of the "soliciting opinion" questions that are clearly outside the scope of Stack Overflow.

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Not opinion. Facts. Experience. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 10:40
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@mikl either way, it's definitely off-topic on Stack Overflow. It may be on-topic on programmers.stackexchange.com (but I'm not 100% sure, and it's surely a good idea to wait for what one of its mods have to say) –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 10:42
    
@mikl That is what you ask for, but most likely not what you'll end up getting... –  Bart Dec 9 '11 at 10:42
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I think you have an irrational fear of questions that might be controversial. Why not let the question have a few answers, and if it turns in the the flame-fest everyone assumes it will, then it would be reasonable to close it. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 10:48
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@mikl consider the possibility that that fear isn't irrational, but comes out of experience. –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 11:21
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@mikl: Experience falls under avoid asking subjective questions where every answer is equally valid. –  Dennis Dec 9 '11 at 11:31
    
@Dennis I see a lot of questions on SO that in some way involves experience. In fact, none of the questions here would be answerable without experience. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 11:57
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@mikl: Experience is always required to provide an answer, yes. You are asking for experience. There is a difference. –  Dennis Dec 9 '11 at 13:33

You tagged the question with so users which are frequenting that tag showed up...what did you expect?

Also, we'll play my favorite game: Check the FAQ:

  • a specific programming problem ➔ No
  • a software algorithm ➔ Not even close
  • software tools commonly used by programmers ➔ Kind of
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession ➔ Nope

That's 0.5 our of 4. Additional quote from the FAQ:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

Your question is open-ended, a discussion and destined to become an inferno. The only real answer to that question is:

Well, it depends...

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These are software tools commonly used by programmers. And to my knowledge, questions need only cover one of the four things to mention to be valid. “Destined to become an inferno”: Well, how about you let the question be answered first? If it does turn into an inferno, it can always be closed. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 10:55
    
    
You still dodge the other part, though. What's the harm in having a few answers instead of just a summary execution? –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 11:15
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The question does not belong here. If it doesn't belong here, it should be closed and/or deleted. Why should some people with maybe biased POV be allowed to answer it? After the question gets closed and no counter-arguments can be added, the question would only represent that biased POV, which renders it essentially useless. It's also not the policy to let people answer off-topic/non-constructive/argumentative questions first and see how that turns out. That did not work in the past, it will not work today. There's the FAQ, there're the guidelines and rules, stick to them. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 9 '11 at 11:29
    
So that's your POV. There's nothing in the FAQ and guidelines that prohibits questions like these, only in your narrow interpretation of them. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 11:55
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*coughs* Common...in the common narrow interpretation of them. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 9 '11 at 12:20
    
Well, I think narrow interpretation of rules are a sign of a dysfunctional community. If you only want questions with 100% objective answers, you should say so clearly in the FAQ. And delete ~10-20% of the existing questions that would violate that rule. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 12:35
    
Uuuuhhhh...they did. Also, if you have questions which violate that, feel free to flag them. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 9 '11 at 12:43
    
Oh, but they didn't. They qualify that statement by several examples, and none of them seem to apply to my question. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 12:46
    
Grrr...so you think your questions does not fit there is no actual problem to be solved or we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question? And those are, as you said yourself, are only examples. The point is: Don't ask subjective questions. –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 9 '11 at 13:03
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@mikl Stack Overflow is a big city now. I don't think that makes it a "dysfunctional community" - things just work (and have to work) differently than in a cozy, small forum. –  Pëkka Dec 9 '11 at 13:27

I don't think that the question has been closed because who voted to close is involved with one of those commercial products: The question is effectively not constructive.

I don't think it is possible to define what the value of commercial databases is, when you are not describing a scenario about a possible use. Your question seems to ask what the value of commercial databases is, in any case; it is too generic, and the answers you get would be completely different from each other, basing on the experience of who answers. The answer could vary from "they have no value" to "they are the best," and each user is free to add another opinion to the already existing ones.

To notice also that the FAQ says you should ask, "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face." Your question doesn't seem asked because an actual problem, but rather to ask opinions, or see if other users think like you. If you have an actual problem, then you should write the question describing what your problem is.

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You give examples of things that would be bad answers regardless of the question. There must be facts involved, features that can be compared. Metrics that can be use. Like “Oracle’s feature with compression of data stored in memory makes it much easier to fit your dataset in memory” or whatever. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 10:51
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The fact there could be facts involved doesn't mean the question is automatically constructive. I could ask "What is the best programming language?" and somebody could even report facts, but the question is still not constructive. If I scope my question, it could be acceptable, but it would still be not constructive. The last part I quoted from the FAQ is not about the answers; it is about questions. –  kiamlaluno Dec 9 '11 at 11:01
    
I think I have scoped my question fairly carefully: “what are the performance, system or feature benefits that offset the license costs?” –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 11:02
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That is not scoping the question, IMO. If you provided more information about for what you would use the database, and for which purpose, then the question would have been more scoped. That doesn't assure the question is constructive, though. –  kiamlaluno Dec 9 '11 at 11:05

Putting aside the matter whether or not your question belongs, as this has been discussed in other answers, let me address something else.

Four of the close votes came from users heavily involved with one of the mentioned commercial products.

[…] there is a general dislike for having the weaknesses of your favourite whatever pointed out.

One of these sentences is from your question, the other one from one of your comments on it. What you quite obviously seem to be suggesting is that djacobson, Remus Rusanu, jonearles, and DaveShaw voted to close your post because you dared to question the awesomeness of their holy cow.

An accusation like that, not backed up by any fact whatsoever, is something that makes me really angry. Without the community moderation process, Stack Overflow would drown in crap. In no time.

Users who volunteer to help keeping Stack Overflow as the useful resource that it is deserve our deepest appreciation, and not ridiculous unfounded accusations of abusing their privileges for their own agenda. And even if a question gets closed although it shouldn't have been, there's such a thing called "benefit of the doubt", which should in every case be considered, before claiming that the only possible reason for a particular decision is fanboyism, astroturfing, or worse.

Once in a while people come ranting here on Meta about .NET bias, censorship, Microsoft-centrism, brainwashing, and whatnot. Well, guess what:

Most of those rants come from users who have had one or several questions closed by the community.

There is a general dislike for having the inappropriateness of your question pointed out.

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“not backed up by any fact whatsoever” – what facts would those be? There is no way to document their motivation. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 15:15
    
“there's such a thing called "benefit of the doubt", which should in every case be considered” – and how about considering that before brutally suppressing every question that might be the least bit subjective? “dislike for having the inappropriateness […] pointed out” – a subjective judgement, suppressing freedom of expression, applied inconsistently tends to do that. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 15:19
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@mikl - Let me back this up by saying that, as someone who predominantly works on Apple's platforms, not once have I felt oppressed or treated badly by the developers on Stack Overflow who work on other systems and technologies. Before BoltClock was elected, not a single moderator had significant experience in my areas, yet they did a great job in keeping things clean while preserving good content. The burden is on you to present evidence for your attacks on the professionalism of those involved. –  Brad Larson Dec 9 '11 at 16:11
    
@BradLarson presenting evidence for what exactly? That the persons in question have an interest in the mentioned products? You just have to look at their Stack Overflow profile. They might have had the best of intentions, but they're still partial. –  mikl Dec 9 '11 at 20:18

I agree with mikl not regarding his specific question but in general. Voting down is one thing but closing because people don't like it is inappropriate. The reasons for closing are far fetched but cannot be disputed for some reason.

In the relationships qa I wrote about stealing someone's elses girlfriend. It was closed as off topic. I laughed when I read that.

Closing should be generally forbidden, there is no avail of closing.

I am serious.

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And yet, you have no proof that something was closed because people don't like it. There are rules here about what kinds of posts we permit. You can't just post whatever you feel is appropriate because you feel it is on topic. –  casperOne Mar 5 '13 at 12:17
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If you're that serious, then perhaps you should create your own network of Q&A sites where questions are never closed. –  Jack Maney Mar 5 '13 at 23:59

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