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A recent question on SO (Is C# starting to lose its way with version 4.0?) really had me going back and forth. The problem is that I wasn't vacillating on the question, but on the definition of "S&A":

  1. At first, I was thinking of S&A in the sense of Describing Close Reasons:

    It's impossible to objectively answer this question, and the question was asked in a confrontational, argumentative way.

    But I thought the question was provocative, yet that it was asked in a respectful manner.

  2. I then remembered that this is "not a discussion board", so the question didn't seem to belong on SO, no matter how nicely it was asked.

  3. I then thought that maybe the question should be made Community Wiki, but none of the criteria in What are “Community Wiki” posts on Stack Overflow? really seemed to fit.

Now, I may just be having a bad day, but can someone help me out here? Is there such a thing as a question that is Subjective, without being Argumentative, and without being a Discussion and under what circumstances should these questions be edited by a Wider Group of Users?

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I think that particular question really isn't an SO question, but rather one that should be asked on a blog post. It is very subjective, but more importantly speculative, which I don't think should be on SO. – Tyler Carter Aug 3 '09 at 23:39
I don't get how it is speculative. It looks at the past four versions of the language, and does not then project into the future, but rather asks for opinions on how the future will progress. Maybe you mean to say that the question calls for speculation? – John Saunders Aug 3 '09 at 23:46
Yes. I just consider it a speculative question if it involves speculation, whether it is asking for it or does it itself. – Tyler Carter Aug 3 '09 at 23:48
up vote 5 down vote accepted

It is very possible to have a question that is subjective and argumentative, but any subjective question is a discussion. The fact that it has no right or wrong answer means that it is open for discussion, and rightly so.

The question you posted as an example however, is purely speculative and based on personal opinion and not on any supporting facts. As a rule of thumb, you should be able to apply, at the very least, some supporting facts to support your view. A type of question that is purely subjective would be "What is your favorite color". If you can apply loose arguments to back up your decision like "usually x happens when you do y" then you can apply at least some valid reasoning making the question worthwhile.

I would agree that the example question you provided does not belong on SO.

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The question is about the design of C#. This topic has been publicly discussed by those who have been involved with the design. I think it's possible to find facts to discuss, and in fact, there are several links to information of that nature. – John Saunders Aug 3 '09 at 23:48
'Losing its way' is completely subjective as to what you personally believe 'the way' should be. I don't feel you can support the question with any evidence in the current context in which it is asked. – Ian Elliott Aug 3 '09 at 23:55
IMHO, it's the "losing its way" aspect that makes it unpleasantly subjective; a question asking for justification for new features in C# 4 might conceivably be answered by quoting the authors of the language, but who could be said to be authoritative when it comes to The Way of C# and What Isn't On It? Either the question has one trite answer ("The Way of C# is whatever its authors say it is, so by definition it can't be losing it.") or no right answer. – Shog9 Aug 4 '09 at 0:18
In fact... WTH, i'll give that answer. – Shog9 Aug 4 '09 at 0:21
Ok, so it's not because it's subjective and argumentative, it's because it's an open-ended discussion question. So, what category do we use to close it? I mean, imagine it had been subjective, but had somehow managed to not be argumentative, it still would have been an open-ended discussion question: which category should have been used to close? "not a real question"? – John Saunders Aug 4 '09 at 0:55
If it's subjective and has potential for sparking argument, i'll generally stick with S&A. If it's a straight opinion piece, i'll go with NaRQ. This is maybe straddling the line a bit, but i'm still leaning toward S&A due to the tone (Nissan Fan was polite enough, but the question itself still pretty much boils down to "i think C# 4.0 is a waste and the developers are on crack; what about you?"). – Shog9 Aug 4 '09 at 1:03
@Ian, @Shog9, @John The goals of C# aren't subjective at all. They are clearly stated in the international standard document. I don't think this question was subjective, nor argumentative, It might have prompted a long discussion but perhaps that's because it's just too hard, not because it's "subjective". Perhaps it should have been closed as too flipping hard :) – MarkJ Apr 24 '10 at 22:35

I guess I think that question didn't really belong on StackOverflow but I don't think it was subjective. Here's why.

The C# language definition is an international standard, which states the goals of C# - why the language exists. The goals are brief and clear, and enable entirely objective judgements about whether the language is "losing its way".

I imagine international standards committees work very hard to avoid anything that could be called subjective. I'm picturing experts working carefully and transparently, gathering evidence, discussing with many stakeholders (tool authors, prominent developers)... Like this.

I'm not sure the question belonged on stackoverflow but I'm uncomfortable describing it as subjective or argumentative or a discussion. Perhaps it just can only be meaningfully answered by engagement from all the language stakeholders (and with all respect to SO I don't think they'd do it there). Maybe we need too difficult as a close reason?

(I think the word subjective is used on StackOverflow rather differently from the dictionary meaning.)

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In the name of consolidation and simplifying the existing standard close reasons, we're changing this reason from "subjective and argumentative" to

not constructive

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

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Design problems beyond the trivial ones tend to have more than one satisfactory answer. The question of which among several satisfactory answers is "the best one" tends to be subjective or at the very least dependent on facts not included in the original problem statement.

I tend to focus on database design questions, but same could be said about application design questions.

Perhaps there needs to be a "discussion" annex to SO, just as there is a "meta" annex to SO where we are now.

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indeed, such an annex already exists:… – Jeff Atwood Jun 15 '11 at 8:58

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