Let's consider a question I asked on the Stack Exchange site Travel as an example - Choosing a tour of Europe. I knew asking which tour to choose would be too subjective, so I tried asking about what to consider, but it was still marked as too general. I don't want to focus too much on this specific example, as I've seen this happen on many other Stack Exchange sites, but I think that Stack Exchange should handle these kinds of questions better.
If you read the answer I received before it was closed, you'll notice that it is possible to provide a good answer to this question. Rudy lists several points to consider including noting that tours with older people might slow the pace down too much and tours with children might result in an overly noisy bus. I think that it is a shame that we disallow questions like this that "teach a man to fish".
Here are some other kinds of questions that are very general, but for which it would be nice to have something to refer people to:
- What should I consider when deciding which programming language to write my website in?
- What should I consider when deciding which Python web framework should I use?
- What should I consider when deciding which whether I go native or write a HTML 5 application for mobile phones?
I don't think it is reasonable to assume that these people are asking these questions because they were too lazy to use Google. These are inherently difficult questions, that aren't currently addressed well by either forums or Stack Exchange. What I am proposing is that we need a location (such as a wiki) to explain what the major tradeoffs are when making such a decision so that the person can decide for themselves, or ask a more specific question. For example, the programming language question, might have information on what language major websites use (and growth), major gotchas for major languages and an outline of framework availability. The scope of these question means that it would be better to have multiple people collaborating to answer the question using something like a wiki post.
- Allow these questions on Stack Exchange - the main disadvantage is that this are "easy" questions to ask that can gain quite a large amount of reputation. Unfortunately, questions can't be marked as community wiki anymore
- Unofficial Wiki - official support would be much better, but this is a workable short term solution
- Blog posts - unfortunately, blog posts tend to be written once, difficult to collaborate on and rarely updated
- Questions on Meta - This is my preferred solution in the short term. I would advise filing these questions under a [topic-summary] tag. This would not be a free-for-all mechanism for getting any subjective or overly broad question into Stack Exchange. Rather, it would be reserved for providing general guides to topics that teach people how to figure answers out on their own or figure out which questions to ask. I know this stretches the definition of meta, but "what should I understand before I ask a question on this topic" is kind of metaish.
- Integrated wiki - The Wiki posts could show up the the "Questions with similar titles" and "Similar questions" section. The wiki posts could have tags and people should be able to upvote a Wiki page if they think that it is valuable. People could request the creation of a Wiki page and these requests could be closed or deleted like normal questions. Needless to say, the development effort would be rather significant.
I think that this would solve many of the biggest issues facing Stack Exchange.
- User acquisition - by answering these questions we could draw a lot of users in and by redirecting users to these answers, closing questions would be much less off-putting
- Too many non-reusable questions - if well written, these resources could answer many questions before they need to be asked
- Questions overly subjective - these resources could help people form more specific questions
- Reduced tensions between inclusionists and exclusionists - this would be a compromise between keeping Stack Exchange "pure" and loosening the restrictions
The original example used was "Which programming language should I use to build a website?"