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This Question is similar but not equal to How useful must a question be to be allowed?

The point is: If we have a question that only 5 people on earth can answer, and maybe only one or even zero with an account on this site, is it still a valid question?

If this question was very useful to part of this site's community, e.g. everyone following a specifc tag, would this make a difference?

Personally I'd say: As long as the question hasn't been asked, there's no way of telling how many people exactly are able to answer, so it's always worth trying as long as the aforementioned point of usefulness is given.

So: How many people being able to answer a question does it take for this question to be valid? And how close does the asker have to anticipate that number?

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Rory Alsop, Martijn Pieters, ben is uǝq backwards, РСТȢѸФХѾЦЧШЩЪЫЬѢѤЮѦѪѨѬѠѺѮѰѲѴ, Flyk Feb 16 at 0:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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2.4 at least. But do you really expect a serious figure? If it's a good question that's on-topic, I don't see what the number of people able to answer it has to do with it. You might not get an answer if that number is low, but that does not necessarily make it a bad question. –  Bart Mar 24 '12 at 9:48
    
@Bart: Why don't you try that as an answer and see how people vote for it? I don't want to bias the answer by saying now what I do hope to see. ;-) –  cfi Mar 24 '12 at 9:50
    
So unique problem? –  Somnath Muluk Mar 24 '12 at 9:53
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@cfi Done. Now I surely hope this does not result in a "AHA, but then why was my question closed?" ;) –  Bart Mar 24 '12 at 10:05
    
@Bart: Someone here will think of a good answer for any such inquiries, I'm sure of it. :-) –  Cody Gray Mar 24 '12 at 10:07
    
@Bart: Of course there's a story behind every question ;-) Seriously, I wanted to ask this question independently of any such story. Real-life stories are often more complex and involved than such a simple question.. –  cfi Mar 24 '12 at 10:09
    
I have the feeling this is a trick question. –  Felix Mar 24 '12 at 13:55
    
@Felix: Not everything starting with "How many" has a "lightbulb" in it ;-) –  cfi Mar 24 '12 at 17:10

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

How many people being able to answer a question does it take for this question to be valid?

None. The suitability of a question is not evaluated based upon the number of people who can answer that particular question. There are other far more important factors we consider, all listed in the FAQ.

The benefit of using the factors we do is two-fold. First, they are decidedly more objective in judging the quality of the question based solely on its own merit, rather than the speculative merit of potential answers. Second, they aren't going to change as the site's user (and therefore knowledge) base grows.

The consequence of having a site intended for beginner- and expert-level questions alike means that there will probably be a non-trivial number of particularly difficult or tricky questions that can only be answered by a limited audience of users. That's perfectly okay. We do want all questions to eventually get answers, and we want to encourage the posting of those answers in whatever way possible, but we certainly don't want to create a rule forbidding or discouraging people from posting high-quality useful questions just because there might not be enough people [yet] who can answer them.

That said, certain questions that only a limited number of people can answer might still fall under the domain of "too localized", not just because of the limited number of people who can answer them, but because of the nature of the question itself. For example, if you ask a really tricky question about the behavior of the C# compiler, good money says that not very many people are going to be able to [correctly] answer your question—you'd better hope Eric Lippert happens across it. On the other hand, asking when C# 6.0 is going to be released is not a good fit for our site for entirely different reasons.

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I believe all three answers by Cody Gray, Bart & Lazy Badger are perfectly acceptable. Imho the important point about questions here is not by how many something is answerable, but if it is useful and does not otherwise violate the conditions as outlined by the FAQs. Thanks to all for your opinions! It helps me to clarify a point. –  cfi Mar 24 '12 at 17:19

I don't see how the difficulty to answer a particular question is related to its validness. That is, if the question itself is not flawed, leading to it being unanswerable.

If the question is a good one and does fall within the outlines of an appropriate question as stated in the FAQ, you should be able to ask it. If there is not enough expertise within the community, you might not get an answer.

But on the other hand, it might inspire others to go look for the answer. It happens to me regularly that I see an interesting question to which I simply don't know the answer. And as a result I go read up on what is asked, simply because it's interesting. (Only to be amazed by someone answering it off the top of their head, quoting some obscure paragraph within a certain spec...damn you knowledgeable people)

SO in summary, if the question is good, ask it. No matter how many people might be able to answer it. The worst thing that can happen is that you don't get an answer.

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If nobody can answer (and asking person know it), posing such question is rude, offensive, provocative behavior –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 12:05
    
Yes, I'm sure we can always find some imaginary case in which an evil-genius user asks a question which (though within the confines of the appropriate questions) he knows to be unanswerable. I do however base myself on the assumption that users asking questions here are genuinely looking for help on a problem/question they face. –  Bart Mar 24 '12 at 12:11
    
Bart - there are different classes of users here. Some want reputation, not answers. I can (try to) build a set of such unanswerable questions for rep-hunting in "Why if I do so, than such thing happens?" class –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 12:24
    
Do you have practical examples of such questions? I would honestly be interested in seeing them. –  Bart Mar 24 '12 at 12:26
    
No problem. Looking around... 1 "Why my VideoCard have 45C on delay in normal room conditions. I read it must have ~35C" 2 "Why starting Safari with blank screen increase momentally temp on 5 degrees" 3 "Why DrWatson dialogue will VCard not even more, than other windows" 4 "Why starting WLAN session in g drops WAN connection on my router and in n - don't drop" 5 "Why I can not get near-gigabit speed in my pure-gigabit net (all HW checked)" 6 "Why Worpress theme-writers use _e() function for localization of text-constants instead of more, more thrifty __()" –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 12:57
    
Pat two 6 "Why I can't use Gigaset VOIP-net behind NAT even with outbound proxy" 7 "Why Sipnet works behind NAT without proxy" 8 "Why my 800-watts UPS serve 350+520 units only for ~10 seconds with 3years-old batteries" 9 "Why accumulators in my DECT-phone on base show 'Charging' forever" 10 "Why RootExplorer on my rooted Android-phone disallow to rename this file" 11 "How to remotely non-resident can open bank-account in German|Swiss bank" –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 12:58
    
I'm assuming those are not actual titles, but your summaries of questions? Because a search for them reveals nothing. But even then I think most of the would be closed (although my SE view outside of SO is fairly minimal). And even if they wouldn't, I can hardly imagine them to be of significant value to rep-hunters. But perhaps you're right. –  Bart Mar 24 '12 at 13:54
    
@LazyBadger: While I do think I understand your viewpoint, imagine not so experienced users who may not be familiar with SO and the whole SE network and just get the idea of a site where questions are asked and answers are given. Not reading the FAQs, one would then accept that from that perspective your examples are perfectly valid questions. Actually I believe your examples may fail on some points in the fact, but not on the point of "being unanswerable". Some may need more specifications which a comment and an edit by the asker can fix. Sometimes the community here may need more patience.. –  cfi Mar 24 '12 at 17:15
    
@cfi - even with full spec you (read as "any") will not find answers. Only some speculations around theme. –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 17:19
    
@LazyBadger: Q11: Some may have done it already and provide a howto or answer that it's not possible. It's theme does not belong to SO, but to the "Finance" sister site and should be moved accordingly if posted here. But it's a useful, and valid question. Why would you think it's not answerable? –  cfi Mar 24 '12 at 17:22
    
@Bart - it's titles of non-asked questions, which I have (just I said - sawing around me). On non-MSO sites I asked one easy question, which I REALLY want to get answered from collective-mind and got *nothing!!. No answers, even *no comments. Questions from example-set are a lot harder, and I haven't any level of trust to million lemmings here anymore –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 17:26
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Maybe I didn't understand you correctly, but your answer to my request for "practical examples" is a list of made up questions? I was asking for real examples you have seen which would support your point. Anyway, this whole discussion is far beyond the point I tried to make in my answer. If you feel it's a valid concern, perhaps address it in yours. –  Bart Mar 24 '12 at 17:31
    
@Bart - no, when I said "I can build" I had in mind "get from air". It's my question, not published nowhere here. I just fix it in titles-texts –  Lazy Badger Mar 24 '12 at 17:39
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Erm, none of the example questions Lazy cited are on topic for Stack Overflow, which invalidates the entire point. –  Cody Gray Mar 25 '12 at 7:33

The literal answer to your question is that it doesn't matter. However, I will offer this observation:

Questions that start Why are both answerable by less people and less on topic than questions that start How

IF you are getting an error message you could ask "why am I getting this message?" or "how can I fix this message?" and those mean the same. But if you ask why a language has or doesn't have a particular feature, you either get the tautology "because the language designer chose it that way" or an avalanche of opinions, that is assuming the question doesn't get closed first. Also, just as "what have I got in my pocket?" can only be answered by you and is not a good fit for SE, so is "why did the person before me on this project choose this library?" and the like.

In this way, noticing that very few people could genuinely answer your question is a "red flag" that perhaps it's not on topic. But if you carefully examine it against the rules in the help centre and it's ok, then go ahead and ask it.

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Why is 'Why' less on topic than 'How'? I believe I understand why you caution against the use of 'Why'. Making it a universal rule is too strong a statement. 'Why' is often harder to answer than 'How' because it requires knowledge about the root cause versus just fixing the symptoms. As such a 'Why' question - especially when answered - should be a much more valuable question. Even if less people are able to answer. With >2 million users, we should become more tolerant to deeper questions. –  cfi Feb 16 at 8:41

How many people being able to answer a question does it take for this question to be valid?

One (besides asker). If question may be answered (with any quality), it's valid

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