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"Whining" seems to be a significant concern for the Stack Exchange team that is often a strong reason for opposition against various 's. For example:

Show all of my question/answers to me even if they are deleted

@hendrik it would lead to unbelievable amounts of whining. Will not get implemented as long as I am still alive to prevent it from happening. – Jeff Atwood♦

Make the FAQ clear on how a question can be reopened

@yannis I am strongly opposed to such a page, as I believe it is a recipe for endless whining and a manifesto for "I done been wronged" attitudes. – Jeff Atwood♦

Is "whining" really a serious problem? I understand that we don't want moderators and the community to be flooded with all sorts of complaints from users (mostly new users), but is this really an overriding concern that justifies not implementing features that can improve the Stack Exchange user experience?

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It definitely seems to be a concern for Jeff Atwood♦. –  Robert Harvey Oct 9 '12 at 15:13
    
@RobertHarvey: I understand, but what does the community itself think? I think that regarding matters like these, it would be best to have an open discussion between the community and the moderators and SE team so that the best Q&A experience can be provided to both new and veteran users. –  DragonLord the Fiery Oct 9 '12 at 15:15
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The real wtf is, that there is a tag named whining and it has 3 questions tagged... –  Toon Krijthe Oct 9 '12 at 15:16
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@GamecatisToonKrijthe Not any more. That's a useless tag. I've since removed it. There's really no reason for it. –  casperOne Oct 9 '12 at 15:24
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But I thought you wanted whining! –  Ben Brocka Oct 9 '12 at 15:24
    
@casperOne, thanks for clarifying on the [whining] tag. That tag wasn't really useful, and I initially used it simply because I thought it would be relevant. –  DragonLord the Fiery Oct 9 '12 at 15:29
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It's ok, because, it was there before, but yeah, on the other questions, it wasn't really legit. Oddly enough, this might have been the one question where it might have been legit, but I don't think we need to test that here =) –  casperOne Oct 9 '12 at 15:38
    
@DragonLordtheFiery: so much for open discussion. –  Chris Gerken Oct 9 '12 at 15:40
    
Oh, no! You used the W word. Prepare for an onslaught of comments and offensive flags from a certain user. –  Lorem Ipsum Oct 9 '12 at 15:45
    
@ChrisGerken: Serious, good-faith discussion is always welcome here. –  Robert Harvey Oct 9 '12 at 15:47
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Apparently whining is an effective strategy, at least for the mods. –  John Dibling Oct 9 '12 at 15:49
    
@RobertHarvey: You know, you're absolutely right. It was wrong of me to be sarcastic. Now that I really thing about it, I've never ever ever seen anything but thoughtful, serious discussion on this site before. I shouldn't have gone off the path like I did. sorry to all.. –  Chris Gerken Oct 9 '12 at 15:51
    
@ChrisGerken: Don't feel bad about it. People often forget that the the answer space is not a place to put comments. –  Robert Harvey Oct 9 '12 at 15:52
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@ChrisGerken Yeah, we're always thoughtful and serious indeed. ;) –  Bart Oct 9 '12 at 16:05
    
The thing we (or at least I) sometimes forget is that this is still the internet, an environment incredibly attractive to whining, even if whining is not our style in real life. I'm usually here after work, typically incredibly tired, and it's not that hard to start "complaining unproductively" to a bunch of random strangers, when something annoys me. I usually resist the urge, but sometimes... Well... –  Yannis Oct 10 '12 at 2:50

4 Answers 4

up vote 20 down vote accepted

I think that the Stack Exchange model has succeeded because its designers do their best to maximize the ratio of productive to unproductive activity. But we have to keep in mind that a site maximizing that ratio may not maximize other ratios:

friendly:unfriendly
welcoming:unwelcoming
playful:serious
... and so on

I'm not saying that Stack Overflow isn't friendly, welcoming, or playful, and I'm not saying that it shouldn't be. But I think we chose to be friendly, welcoming, or playful to the degree that those behaviors maximize productive activity.

Whining -- actually, I'll start with the more neutral term complaining -- is one of those behaviors that sometimes forces us to chose between friendliness and productivity. Time spent complaining and time spent addressing complaints is time not spent solving problems. Of course, sometimes it's necessary to complain and address complaints to fix problems with the site, so that we can boost productive activity. But other times, complaints are too narrow or selfish to be helpful to the site as a whole. Sometimes complaining is just whining.

So I think Jeff Atwood is absolutely right that if a feature will lead to more whining -- defined here as "unproductive complaining" -- without adding significantly to the site's productive activity, then that feature doesn't belong here.

However, I do sometimes wonder whether a given feature really would lead to more whining if implemented. It would be nice if there were a convenient "whining metric," so that declarations like "it is a recipe for endless whining" could actually be tested.

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Looking at it this way, the best thing to do is determine whether the benefits gained from a particular feature outweigh the amount of complaining that would result from that feature. –  DragonLord the Fiery Oct 9 '12 at 23:41

Just replace the word "whining" with "complaining that would have little value in improving the situation".

Sure, it's rarely productive to tell an adult they're whining, as they never think they are, and so they tend to assume you just don't get or like their position.

(Note that @Jeff Atwood did not accuse anyone specific of whining in the quotes above.)

But if you reframe the quotes as,

I'm against that, as I fear it would lead to a lot more complaining that would have little value in improving the situation...

I think you get the same effective meaning, without getting hung up on the pejorative connotations of "whining".

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Since the second quote is from a comment addressed to me, I must say I read it more or less as "complaining that would have little value in improving the situation", wasn't stuck on the (perhaps) poor choice of words and moved on with my day. –  Yannis Oct 10 '12 at 2:43

Yes. Yes, whining is a serious concern. People whine when they're unhappy about something and can't think of anything productive to do about it. There are other places for that; nowhere in the site description will you find the phrase "...where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth."

The goal of the system should always be to give folks the tools to fix problems they encounter. Not to rub their faces in problems they can't do anything about.

Bad

Unreadably long enumeration of everything that might possibly result in a question being closed.

Good

Instructions on how to fix a question and vote to re-open.

Bad

Constant reminders of deleted posts that you can't do anything about.

Good

Targeted notifications of problems on posts that you might be able to salvage.


Focus on features that solve specific problems, not those that create new ones.

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But nobody's advocating for "constant reminders of deleted posts"; you'd have to go looking for them in your profile. Further, one of the arguments in favor was that your deleted posts may contain useful information that you could salvage and re-post. –  Mechanical snail Oct 15 '12 at 22:25

Whining is reactive. Whining is negative. Whining does not make the world, the web or the StackExchange network a better place.

Posting helpful questions and answers is proactive. Posting helpful questions and answers is positive. Posting helpful questions and answers makes the world, the web and the StackExchange network a better place.

Is whining itself a really big deal? Probably not. Is posting helpful questions and answers a really big deal? Probably not. Is making a conscious choice to perpetuate an attitude that causes millions of users to favor a positive mode of being over its negative counterpart a really big deal? Maybe.

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