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On a few occasions I've wanted to know about experiences in a certain situation, only to get close votes because the question resembles a similar question answered by hard facts.

On other occasions those same questions are shot down because they are non constructive.

Programming often is not an exact science. There are multiple solutions for a problem and often those solutions all have their pro's and con's.

I do understand why those type of questions can run against some opposition, they do tend to end up in a meta-discussion, actually exactly why meta.stackoverflow.com exists.

My question however is: How would one ask a question of which the answer is highly debatable, even though the opinions of people is actually the answer you are looking for.

Typical examples of this types of questions: - Use REST or SOAP for for a webservice - What is currently the best IDE of choice? - What programming language would currently be best to learn.

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Probably at Programmers. (No, don't hit me Yannis!) –  mikeTheLiar Dec 13 '12 at 15:39
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ask questions like this in SE chat –  gnat Dec 13 '12 at 15:47
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Old blog post of interest here: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. If you post on Programmers and work very hard to be Good SUbject the odds of Yannis hitting mike go down. –  dmckee Dec 13 '12 at 16:15
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The typical examples you've given...aren't solvable questions. –  user7116 Dec 13 '12 at 16:25
    
@sixlettervariabls That depends on what you define as "solvable". There is often alot of gray between right and wrong and quite often the answer isn't "white" either, but it can still solve the question. –  damienovereem Dec 13 '12 at 18:37
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Also, aside from being rather "Bad subjective", all three of your example questions need to be reasked every six months, which is part of the "not constructive" definition. We really don't need twenty-five instances of "What programming language should I learn now?" "Okay, what about now?" That's the forum-like behavior that SO was built to eschew. –  Josh Caswell Dec 13 '12 at 19:12
    
Another blog post that's quite relevant to the end of the question: Gorilla vs. Shark –  Jim Dec 13 '12 at 20:13
    
"What are the pros and cons of REST vs SOAP for webservices" might lead to constructive responses on p.se. The other two are not solvable questions. –  AakashM Dec 18 '12 at 8:58

5 Answers 5

up vote 10 down vote accepted

No one is saying these aren't valid questions. The only problem with these questions is that they aren't a good fit for the QA format that SO is built on. There is no definitive answer to this question, since you would have to weigh the pros and cons of each approach and make a subjective decision.

That said, some of these questions sort of sound like they might belong on Programmers. Here is an idea: you could visit the Programmer's meta site, and ask whether a question you have in mind would be a good fit.

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You should asks these types of questions on other sites. They are explicitly disallowed as per the FAQ, which states:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

If a question is "highly debatable", or people's opinions are actually what you want, then this is not the right network. The purpose here is to ask a question and get an answer, not hold a discussion.

The Not Constructive close reason states:

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or specific expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, see the FAQ for guidance.

Since there can never be a real answer to such a question (more and more people can come along and throw in their opinions), the question will just attract a lot of commentary and disagreement, without being helpful to anyone else.

Note: In addition to the FAQ page, there is a nice diagram on the About page that illustrates what Stack Exchange is intended to be.

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To use the example Rest vs Soap: "What is better to use: Rest or Soap". The question is quite simple, though the answer will very likely end up in a discussion. The question itself however is requesting a fact in the proper format. Will "direct"("What is better to use: Rest or Soap") approach be the better format then actually asking for peoples experiences? Even though the outcome will probably be the same?.. –  damienovereem Dec 13 '12 at 15:45
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That wouldn't be any better, actually, since you are restricting responses to two answers, both of which can be correct. There will be a slew of "REST is better" and "S0AP is teh best!!" (non)answers and comments, along with variances for all sorts of situations. A more constructive way to ask would be "In situation XYZ, what are the advantages and/or disadvantages of REST over SOAP?", where your explanation of XYZ is detailed, and indicates at least basic understanding of what REST and SOAP are and how they work. –  Jim Dec 13 '12 at 16:18
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@Damien: The other recommended way to convert a "Which is better, zombies or ninjas?" question into a constructive and useful state is to ask for guidelines on evaluating zombies and ninjas for your needs: "What do I need to know when choosing between zombies and ninjas?" In other words, rather than asking for others' opinions, you are asking for expert factual information which can be used to alter or establish your own opinion. –  Josh Caswell Dec 13 '12 at 19:16
    
@Josh Sorry for the late answer. I missed your comment. Thank you for it though, changing the format to "what do i need to know" would exactly accomplish what I wanted from the question I asked. Indeed without asking for opinions. Your comment was enlightening :) –  damienovereem Jan 29 '13 at 8:28

The best suggestion I would have for those kinds of questions is Chat

As others have already stated, that style of question is not suitable for the SE framework, however many users hang out in the site's chatrooms, and are quite happy to give their opinions on anything (although in some quieter rooms, you may need to wait a day or two to get an answer)

If you're asking for experiences because you're trying to decide between A or B for yourself, then you can probably also rephrase the question to make it suitable for the site by focusing on your specific situation instead of asking for experiences in general.

For example, asking "Is A or B better" would probably get closed fairly quick as not-constructive for the reasons already mentioned in other answers, however if you phrase your question more like "I'm trying to decide if I should use A or B. Here are the factors I know of that will probably influence the decision. Based on these details, is A or B better for my situation?" then you will probably be fine

I actually have a question like this asking if I should use WPF or ASP.Net on SO as an example

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Just ask the question not on a Question & Answer site like Stack Overflow. It is against the scope of that site declared in the FAQ, no matter how you spell it.

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2 of the 3 example questions you asked are bad questions.

Use REST or SOAP for for a webservice

This is a legit question, provided you formulate the question with enough detail that an answer can be given. You can't just ask "REST or SOAP"? and then throw your hands up. What are you trying to do, then a recommendation can be given.

What is currently the best IDE of choice?

Totally subjective

What programming language would currently be best to learn.

Totally subjective, depends on your current skill set is, what you want to do next, what projects you are going to embark on

So in short, whenever you're asking for opinions like this, you're just going to start a flame war, which is why these type of questions get closed on the site. They are Not constructive and Argumentative.

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