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Now I know meta is different from main sites, but there seems to be a big contrast between SE wanting to stick strictly to the Q&A format, and every single meta site out there.

The tag goes directly against the FAQ guidelines for main sites. No big problem is it, this is just meta?

But what if it is a problem?

Actually, everybody who adheres to the FAQ for the main site acknowledges part of the problem. Why wouldn't the same rules of the FAQ which have evolved so gracefully into its current form apply to a site which uses the exact same format?

Because there is no other solution available?

What is the problem?

  1. The Q&A format is not designed with discussions in mind.
  2. People have a tendency to stick to one opinion after they formed it. "People will dislike certain parts of a proposal, and then become vehemently against the entire thing, instead of trying to participate in resolving the issues they raise."

A possible solution?

Benjamin Franklin described a well-known decision-making process.

To get over this, my Way is, to divide half a Sheet of Paper by a Line into two Columns, writing over the one Pro, and over the other Con. Then during three or four Days Consideration I put down under the different Heads short Hints of the different Motives that at different Times occur to me for or against the Measure. When I have thus got them all together in one View, I endeavour to estimate their respective Weights; and where I find two, one on each side, that seem equal, I strike them both out: If I find a Reason pro equal to some two Reasons con, I strike out the three. If I judge some two Reasons con equal to some three Reasons pro, I strike out the five; and thus proceeding I find at length where the Ballance lies; and if after a Day or two of farther Consideration nothing new that is of Importance occurs on either side, I come to a Determination accordingly.

PROS | CONS
___________
     |
     |
     |

What would that look like on SE?

Pros/contras list example

Each pro or contra argument could follow a similar format as the current Q&A format. However, the question is replaced by an argumentation, which can be rated by others. Each post should contain just one argumentation. Answers make room to address issues with the argumentation, or express opinions about it. You are encouraged to participate in both sides of the discussion. Separate issues are discussed separately.

This website is a good implementation of the concept I'm explaining: http://www.proconlists.com/

My answer to this very question is an example of how I feel this discussion would be much more constructive in a pros/cons form (albeit with better formatting). I incorporated the entire comment thread underneath in a pros/cons format on which could ideally be voted separately.

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So what if I'm not pro or against? What if a discussion has no implicit statement I can agree to? –  slhck Mar 4 '12 at 14:54
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@slhck: Then you seem unfit to participate in that discussion, or the discussion isn't a 'discussion' at all. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 14:55
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I can very well participate in a discussion without being 100% for or against something. I can even bring up new arguments that drive a discussion in another direction. Also, a discussion can merely raise a question, "What should we do with XYZ?", rather than saying "I think we should ... what do you think?". In fact, it's proven to be easier to keep opinions out of questions and let the answers (and voting) deal with it. That's what we tried to do on Meta.SU and it works very well. –  slhck Mar 4 '12 at 14:56
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@slhck: Could it be that you misinterpret what I wrote? You're not restricted to only write argumentations in pro or contra, you're actually encouraged to participate in both. Your contra argument to this discussion seems to be there is no need for such a system, as the current Q&A is already fit for that? "In fact, it's proven to be easier to keep opinions out of questions and let the answers (and voting) deal with it." In what way doesn't my proposal follow that format? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 15:12
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The world isn't black and white, I really don't see the benefit in dividing answers like this. The part you quote was related to the fact that you said the discussion isn't a 'discussion' at all. If a discussion requires "pro" and "contra" answers, it must have an opinion stated already. Something people can agree with. What I think is that discussions that do the exact opposite are much easier to digest -- even if that means you answer your own question. –  slhck Mar 4 '12 at 15:20
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"The world isn't black and white, I really don't see the benefit in dividing answers like this." Now I'm certain you are misinterpreting me. The pro/contra format is exactly meant to address the fact that the world isn't black and white. You don't divide answers, you divide argumentations. You only specify one argumentation per post. Please reread my post thoroughly again. I understand the confusion given the Q&A background you have of SE, but please read the post with an open mind. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 15:23
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In which way is an "answer" different from an "argumentation"? Be more explicit there, please. I'm obviously not fully getting it. It would probably be beneficial for the whole proposal if you could take an existing Q/A where you think the old approach is flawed and turn it into an exemplary pro/contra argument list. –  slhck Mar 4 '12 at 15:28
    
@slhck: Good idea, I could use this discussion as an example. Just look at the comment thread which is starting to form. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 15:31
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Attempting to counter political/social/biased thinking is a good idea. –  Jeremy Banks Mar 4 '12 at 15:41
    
Why don't you start by writing a pro-con list for your idea here? If it really is all that much better, you should be able to convince us with your list, no? –  Lorem Ipsum Mar 4 '12 at 15:49
    
@yoda: That's what I was working on. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 15:51
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The problem I see here is the mechanics of the list itself. The list would need to basically 'freeze' every single thing cited so that future changes (e.g. voting) doesn't obfuscate the intent of the proposal in the future. That's a lot of work, and I'm just not seeing the benefit. Keep in mind, everything changes, and proposals (rejected, ignored or accepted) do serve as historical references. Why could a pro/con list not cite data as it was when proposed, so people could see why it met some fate? And why do we need a feature to do that? –  Tim Post Mar 4 '12 at 16:36
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@StevenJeuris In order for the list to support or not support a proposal in ten years, those list items need to be able to show and be read exactly as they were when something was proposed. Who knows what will happen with vote counters and edits during that time? What about deleted questions / answers? Would the pro/con list under a proposal make sense in two years? Or should we CoW all linked questions and answers to those questions when someone makes a list? –  Tim Post Mar 4 '12 at 17:01
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@TimPost: Did you read my answers to those concerns you raised before in my answer? I don't see how that argumentation is any different than how meta currently works. How is it that meta currently solves that issue? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 17:13
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I love this idea but it's sadly never going to happen on MSO. We should talk privately Steven :-) –  The Unhandled Exception Mar 14 '12 at 22:03

4 Answers 4

To demonstrate why this would be more constructive than using the current 'Q&A' format, I'll use this very discussion as an example of how a pros/cons format could have been used to construct this discussion instead.

Discussion: Could we use a pros/cons list to format discussions?

You can't up or down vote on this topic, as contrasted with the current system where you up or down vote on the entire proposal.

Pro

  • (x up/y down) The Q&A format is not designed with discussions in mind. (Steven Jeuris)
  • (x up/y down) People have a tendency to stick to one opinion after they formed it. (Steven Jeuris)
  • (x up/y down) This can counter political/social/biased thinking. (Jeremy Banks)

Contra

  • (x up/y down) I can very well participate in a discussion without being 100% for or against something in the current system. (slhck)
    • Answer: (x up/y down) So? How's that different from what Steven proposed? Just put the parts of your discussion that are for the idea on one side and the parts of your discussion that are against on the other. Seems more organized to me! (Joshua Gitlin)
  • (x up/y down) Implementing this would require too big of a change. (Steven Jeuris)
    • Answer: (x up/y down) I find it worthwhile to invest in this implementation, given the positive effect it could have on forming discussions. A big part of the infrastructure of the current Q&A format could be used. (Steven Jeuris)
  • (x up/y down) The list would need to basically 'freeze' every single thing cited so that future changes (e.g. voting) doesn't obfuscate the intent of the proposal in the future. (Tim Post)
    • Answer: (x up/y down) How is that different from edits done to questions and answer currently? (Steven Jeuris)
  • (x up/y down) How should the front page be restructured? (Tim Post)
    • Answer: (x up/y down) Not every meta post is a good fit for my proposed pro/con format. There should be a clear difference between 'discussions' and other meta Q&A questions. Right now the tag is used for that. (Steven Jeuris)
  • (x up/y down) This is not a good fit for proposals. In order for the list to support or not support a proposal in ten years, those list items need to be able to show and be read exactly as they were when something was proposed. (Tim Post)
    • Answer: (x up/y down) Agreed, you are right it probably shouldn't be used for e.g. tags. I would restrict it to pure discussions. Conclusions from these discussions could be drawn and mentioned in feature requests. (Steven Jeuris)
share|improve this answer
    
I made this CW, please feel free to add any pro or contra argumentation/answers to the list. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 15:52
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This is looking more and more like a Rube Goldberg machine to me. Voting on Meta has worked quite well, I don't see how this could improve it. I see what you're getting at, and the hour+ it would take me to go through an entire list without simply saying 'No, oh no, please no!" would basically prevent me from participating at all. –  Tim Post Mar 4 '12 at 16:48
    
Additionally, how should the front page be restructured? –  Tim Post Mar 4 '12 at 16:49
    
@TimPost: You don't find this overview of what has been mentioned in the long comment thread above more constructive? I (or you) can't even down vote comments which you leave behind, so the only way to state disapproval or concerns with an argumentation is adding yet another comment in one long unorganized thread. Isn't that why the Q&A format isn't fit for discussion, to prevent forum kind threads? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 16:51
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The fact that you're very passionate about this, yet .. ill received tells me that some kind of mock up (image) would better illustrate what you hope to see. While I can be dense at times, I keep reading this over and over and drawing the same conclusion. And yes, I'm reading it with "He's really determined with this, what am I not getting?" eyes. –  Tim Post Mar 4 '12 at 17:22
    
@TimPost I believe why you are not seeing it is because you simply don't like the concept, of which this statement is a perfect expression "and the hour+ it would take me to go through an entire list without simply saying 'No, oh no, please no!" would basically prevent me from participating at all". That's exactly the kind of attitude mentioned in the 'pro' arguments this solution would address. You seem to prefer to be able to down vote an entire idea, and not discuss it, over analyzing the positive and negative aspects of an idea, and discuss those points separately. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 17:38
    
How that can be done is depicted in this answer here. Almost every argumentation mentioned in the long comment thread above is incorporated into this answer. Granted, it would greatly benefit my cause to create a nice mockup, but with your current attitude I'm afraid it wouldn't make a difference. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 17:40
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That is a bit of a fallacy. I explicitly said "I don't see it" and asked you to show some kind of mock up that might better explain it. You made no edit, you just used my statement to continue fueling support for an idea that is still quite ambiguous. As I apparently have no idea what you're talking about, despite reading your idea and answer multiple times (and follow up comments), I'll just exit. –  Tim Post Mar 4 '12 at 17:49
    
Sure, I'll make the mockup when I have time. But this answer is the mockup (and heck, this entire Q&A post is a perfect example of how the current system fails). It's just not in a format as depicted in my question. I'll do my best, but as I said, due to the current way the system works, I'm afraid any effort I put into it will simply be down voted to hell and get lost in the system. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 18:11
    
@TimPost: Here you go! Hopefully it clears things up then. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 19:32

Well, this is an interesting idea, and I do like the format for certain discussions - if anyone wants to use this as a format for establishing consensus (perhaps via a Community Wiki post), they're welcome to try.

But I think there's a bit of a misconception here about how voting and discussion generally work here...

See, this was a hack. The original "meta" was a tool called UserVoice - you can still find it here if you're interested in the historical data. The basic idea was, someone posts a short description of a bug they'd like fixed or feature they'd like to see, others vote on it if they also want it, and maybe leave comments if they've concerns or criticisms.

It worked well enough when the site was very small (during the private beta), but as it grew larger its limitations became increasingly obvious. So the idea was to take another instance of the (then) Stack Overflow engine, and abuse the heck out of it to simulate UserVoice in a more flexible, scalable fashion. Things like tags, Markdown formatted text, editing, and image embedding made it a far nicer system for reporting bugs and proposing features. Mandatory tags (bug, feature-request, discussion, support) and moderator-only tags (status-*) were added to support categorizing and tracking the status on these things.

Also, since it's still a Q&A site, it worked great for support (which UserVoice) was terrible at. We moved the community FAQ here from Stack Overflow and expanded it with actual questions folks were asking.

But there are two aspects that are... Just plain hard to understand for those unfamiliar with the site because of how it was shoehorned into the SE format: discussion and voting.

Discussion, with two-level threading, is handled by answers and comments. It's not perfect - if you end up going back and forth with someone for more than a few rounds, it falls apart badly. Fortunately, we have chat to serve the need for lengthy conversations. Still, that's not totally obvious to folks who haven't spent much time here - indeed, it briefly tripped up one of our own staff the other day.

The problem with voting is more subtle though. See, the engine already supported voting. It just didn't mean quite the same thing:

  • Support requests are again the closest to the sort of question that gets asked on, say, Stack Overflow, and voting tends to work the same way: common questions get up-voted, helpful answers get up-voted, lazy / unclear / unhelpful gets down-voted.

  • Bug reports are similar to support requests, and in fact the two are often converted back and forth.

  • Feature requests are the furthest from what you'll normally find asked. They're not really questions at all. Folks up-vote them if they like the proposed feature, and down-vote them if they don't. It's a pure popularity contest, with all the usual benefits to pandering. These may or may not even need answers, and when they do get answered all bets are off as to what they'll look like: agreement, disagreement, alternate implementation suggestions, unicorns... With voting being similarly confused.

  • Discussion is anarchy. Maybe it's a feature-request where the details haven't quite been hashed out yet. Maybe it's a rant, or a straw-poll, or a short article or announcement. Voting is done according to whatever arbitrary criteria the voter feels appropriate.

But here's the dirty little secret: voting isn't actually binding, not ever. The number of folks who'll ever see and vote on even the most popular of Meta posts is tiny compared to those using Stack Overflow every day.

So while it's a good way to get a feel for how the community's opinion sits on an issue or suggestion, it will by its very nature be somewhat skewed.

That doesn't make them worthless... But it does mean you need to be careful about attaching too much meaning to them.

And it also makes creating a more rigorous voting system fairly pointless. The most valuable artifacts to come out of Meta aren't the votes. They're the discussions. And they're messy, and hard to find, and hard to follow, and frequently require someone like me to come in and summarize them for the folks who aren't here every day... But they are the actual history of the site, and the reflect far better than voting ever can how opinions are formed and changed over time.

Again, be my guest to use the pro/con format to lay out arguments on any of these posts. I think in some instances it might actually work fairly well. But simply as a means to structure arguments, not as a framework for voting.

share|improve this answer
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Well at least you agree with the problem: "Discussion is anarchy.", " The most valuable artifacts to come out of Meta aren't the votes. They're the discussions. And they're messy". All I tried to do is formulate a format to address those issues. I never said it would be "a framework for voting". The very title says "to format discussion". Take this discussion. At the moment the question has (+4/-12), how the hell do you interpret that? Imagine those votes would have been spread across the different arguments as depicted in my answer? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 18:41
    
"And it also makes creating a more rigorous voting system fairly pointless." In its heart what I am proposing is a more elaborate discussion system, making votes more representative of an idea is only part of that. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 18:43
    
A slightly better link for those who are curious about UserVoice: stackoverflow.uservoice.com/forums/1722-general/status/10395 –  Jon Ericson Mar 9 '12 at 18:52

By popular demand, an improved mockup of the idea. As content for the mockup I used this very discussion. It includes only several of the arguments I was able to identify. A list of all them can be found in my other answer. Hopefully you can 'imagine' them inside the currently presented mockup.

enter image description here

Key concepts:

  • You can't vote on an entire idea, but only on defined arguments. E.g. this proposal would never have gotten (+5/-13 votes), you would have to vote on either pro or contra arguments you agree with.
  • You can participate on both sides of the discussion, and add as many arguments as you see fit. (No duplicates of course.)
  • Extensive discussion of a certain argument takes place inside a separate discussion, instead of how they are currently grouped in one long comment thread.
  • The voting mechanism (as it also works now) doesn't result in a final answer. It's just meant to give an indication of the positives and negatives of a discussion and the votes act as a form of 'weight' to the separate arguments.
share|improve this answer
    
P.s. for those people "who don't see it". Why do you down vote? If you don't understand the proposal, what are you down voting against? –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 19:37
    
I can understand people downvoting if this is what they don't want to see. Even if they don't fully understand the proposal. –  slhck Mar 4 '12 at 20:31
    
You seem to be eliminating discussion: all I can do is vote on micro-arguments? I can't develop, improve, reformulate, comment or anything? (Or maybe you didn't mock-up that bit?) I just don't see how any useful discussion can be reduced to a binary choice, decided in advance. And what are currently (admittedly unwieldy) discussions would have to be artificially split into separate lists. I.e. for this question you would have "Is there a problem?" "What is the problem?" "Is this a solution?" And presumably n other lists for all the other proposed solutions. –  Benjol Mar 6 '12 at 7:20
    
PLEASE keep coming back. Of course it's disappointing when your proposals get turned down. But us 'meta-heads' are genuinely trying to work together to make this place better, it's just that the better things get, the more room there is for accidentally making stuff worse. –  Benjol Mar 6 '12 at 7:21
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The more I think about this idea the more I like it (or something similar, it might be tricky to get it right). In particular, there have been many times where I thought a post got a large number of upvotes not because users strongly agreed with its core point, but because it was padded with very-agreeable-but-not-entirely-relevant points. Better voting granularity (by point instead of post) could help a lot. –  Jeremy Banks Mar 9 '12 at 15:28
    
@Benjol You still have comments. They seem to be working fine now right? You can always raise new arguments which need to be addressed, e.g. the one I am addressing now. Via the add argument buttons. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 9 '12 at 16:13
    
The point is an argument is either agreed on, or not. You replied in a comment my argument wasn't valid, and I pointed out it was. If we can agree on that we can eliminate the argument from the discussion, but leave it as a useful artifact. This argument can no longer be used until new concerns with it arise. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 9 '12 at 16:17

I'm terribly disappointed in you meta ... :-( As a final reply I just want to leave you with this so hopefully you'll understand why I'm disappointed.

discussion diagram

Source: http://thoughtcatalog.com/2011/how-to-have-a-rational-discussion/

Just some irrelevant sources with relevant quotes:

It's About Questions Rather than Information. Any good discussion is dependent upon the questions. A good study will include open-ended questions that require more than a yes or no answer.

...

if you are so anxious to provide an answer that you don't allow discussion, you will kill the effectiveness of the question.

...

What makes a good discussion is when 2 sides are able to debate in a rational and reasonable discussion, providing evidence and theory, and both sides are able to be swayed to a certain point of middle understanding.

What makes a fun discussion is when 2 sides are able to debate in a rational and reasonable discussion, providing evidence and theory, and each side thinks the other is out of their mind.

... but hey, carry on. I know how much more you like to down vote this answer.

share|improve this answer
    
Oh right ... those down votes won't happen. This question won't ever see the light of day again. –  Steven Jeuris Mar 4 '12 at 20:14
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I don't think you should take it too personally. Downvotes don't mean that people totally disagree with you about the problem, they're just not convinced by your proposed solution. That's my interpretation anyway. I think many people agree that discussion (and issue-handling) has been sort of shoe-horned into the Q&A format, but it 'sort-of' works ok right now. And that is preferable to a 'might work ok' which would take many hours of development and risk the wrath of other users. –  Benjol Mar 6 '12 at 7:10

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