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Prompted by this question, where a user (who happens to have edit permissions on the tag wiki) posted an FAQ as a question in hopes that people would use it to redirect common questions.

Is this an acceptable question for Stack Overflow? Or would it be more helpful if this were in the tag wiki, and we could mark questions as duplicates of the tag wiki?


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Then OP of that question should have made it CW. –  Joe Frambach Apr 13 '13 at 20:02
Should ask him to do so, and tell him the reasons why –  Hugo Dozois Apr 13 '13 at 20:03
Going the tag wiki duplicate route is not really a nice solution, I'd say. Especially given how extensive a tag wiki can get. I'd say this particular question might simply be better off closed. –  Bart Apr 13 '13 at 20:28
@Hugo and Joe, it's not possible for the poster of a question to make it CW anymore. That has to be done by a diamond moderator. –  Josh Caswell Apr 13 '13 at 20:39
There is a precedent for this kind of question: Setting up a FAQ for the C++ tag. The C++ SO users are generally considered to have established a strong sub-community that closely guards the quality of the questions in their tag. Given that php comes up on Meta most often under the "low-quality questions" topic, it looks to me like <del>the Colonel</del> YCS is trying to adopt one of the C++ group's tools. I'm not active in PHP, but I am generally in favor of this kind of action on SO. –  Josh Caswell Apr 13 '13 at 20:47
@JoshCaswell Correct me if I'm wrong, but in that case there are actual questions tagged c++-faq. Not a single list of questions with all the answers below it. That route might be more advisable. And if they really are FAQs, finding the canonical ones with answers (rather than authoring new ones) might not be all that difficult. –  Bart Apr 13 '13 at 20:49
Joe, you may be interested in Tag wikis need a size and functionality increase, if you haven't already seen it. –  Josh Caswell Apr 13 '13 at 20:52
@Bart: True, this is not exactly the same, and I don't know if it was posted unilaterally or based on discussion in PHP chat, or what; I just wanted to mention some relevant context. –  Josh Caswell Apr 13 '13 at 20:54
It looks like a lint bucket –  random Aug 13 '13 at 22:40
One thing to consider is how often do users, particularly new users who would be posting these kinds of questions actually take the time to read the tag wiki? I suspect that the answer is not very often since the tag wiki isn't exactly very prominent unless you are looking for it specifically (which is its own problem). –  Bad Wolf Aug 14 '13 at 3:35
Stop pronouncing it Ef-A-Q @JoeFrambach :p (sorry, hadn't considered that). –  Bart Sep 19 '13 at 15:40
How the FAQ do you pronounce it? –  Joe Frambach Sep 19 '13 at 15:42
Why "Fack" of course. :) –  Bart Sep 19 '13 at 15:49
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3 Answers

While I appreciate the significant effort the OP has put into that list, I agree that creating a list of questions and then answering them all below it, is not really a nice approach to a FAQ list. The whole format of SO does not lend itself very well to that approach. The site has after all been made for a single question and then one or more answers answering this single question.

That said, moving this to a tag wiki and then allowing closure against this is, in my opinion, a wrong approach as well. What do you end up closing against after all? Saying "Yeah, this has already been asked and answered within our tag wiki. Have a look" is not a great solution. It is a "somewhere over there" approach to closure. Of course the current question would suffer from a similar fate, given that the OP already states

If your question has been closevoted with this list, please find your question below and apply the fix to your code.

And of course this also applies to users who stumble upon the closed duplicate and take it from there. They are not lead to something that immediately answers their question at all. They'll have to root around to find their answer within a large list of content. That is not what duplicate closures are meant to achieve.

A better option might be to ask the tag community to come up with a list of canonical, answered questions already on the site. If they are truly FAQs, that should certainly be possible. These could then be listed for easy access in the tag wiki. Heck, perhaps even go the C++ route of creating a specific faq tag.

The advantage is that no significant effort is needed to write questions and answers. (At most you can spend some time cleaning the posts up) They are already there after all. And you end up with a list of actual questions you can close the new ones against.

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I think this question is extremely useful, and I find your points in opposition to be empty. The format does not lend itself? What does that even mean? The question is an index with jump links to the answers -- like an FAQ. I can link directly to the answer that applies to the question at hand, unlike a subsection of the tag wiki. –  Chris Sep 19 '13 at 14:50
@Chris And now you stumble upon a duplicate. What are you going to close it against? A question that's not really a question and only possibly contains an answer somewhere below it? That's a terrible approach. –  Bart Sep 19 '13 at 14:52
If it is a duplicate, that implies that the answer IS in that thread, not "possible". If the question isn't directly answered in that compilation thread, then I either a) wouldn't be looking at a duplicate and should answer the question, or b) can find a duplicate elsewhere. Your reply... he a strawman. –  Chris Sep 19 '13 at 14:56
@Chris not at all. You can't go closing as a duplicate against something that's not even a single question to begin with. If these are really frequently asked questions, it should be trivial to come up with actual questions to close against. Actual questions with answers that answer that particular question. Not a collection of stuff that a user will have to dig around in. And if you want to organize these frequently asked questions, put them in a nice list within the tag wiki for everybody to find, the closers included. And if you want, create a specific tag for them, as C++ has done. –  Bart Sep 19 '13 at 15:02
I think it IS in a nice list, and I think the tag idea is messy. :shrug: Oh, and I think the phrase "not at all" does not turn a strawman into a real boy. –  Chris Sep 19 '13 at 15:07
@Chris It's a wonderful bit of information and effort. But it completely misses its goal. Duplicate closures are meant to directly lead a user to the specific question theirs is a duplicate of, including its answers. This does not achieve that. It sends them to a collection they'd have to root around in. And this is equally true for users who stumble upon the closed question and take it from there. It's simply not a good approach. If you think it's absolutely excellent and recommended, by all means add an answer to that effect and explain why we're wrong. Now you're only discussing with me. –  Bart Sep 19 '13 at 15:10
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My impression is no one reads the tag wikis. And I am not sure references should be in the tag wikis anyway. Moving all our references into the tag wiki would make them explode due to the lack of pages. They'd more like dumps. IMO, tag wikis need an overhaul before we can consider moving more stuff into them. Also, we'd need to discuss whether frequently asked questions like in the reference question should go into a wiki at all, since technically they are questions with answers.

On Reference questions in general

Reference questions might not be a perfect fit for the Q&A format, but they serve a specific purpose. Compare the following:

1 - Reference - What does this symbol mean in PHP?

Solved a shortcoming in the SO search. Does not duplicate existing answers, but just links to them. IMO, the best format because it just organizes what is already available at SO. Of all the references, this one is the most successful (disclaimer: I created most of it, so I am biased).

2 - Reference - What does this error mean in PHP?

Solved the problem of questions asking for the same old errors people get in their code. There is a general answer for the most common error and links to existing q&a. Not optimal IMO, but for that particular purpose all right. It should be noted, that most of the questions this one closes are of the too localized "fix my bug plz" type where the OP is too lazy to search or understand the error message and just throws a wall of code at us.

3 - How do you parse and process HTML/XML in PHP?

A question hijacked and turned into a Canonical. This one had a couple of other questions merged into it, centralized most relevant answers into one page. While technically somewhat of a shopping question, this one was deemed necessary to combat the daily "how do I parse HTML with regex" and "how do I write a parser" questions. It's an entry point to the general topic.

4 - Reference: What is variable scope, which variables are accessible from where and what are "undefined variable" errors?

A self answered one. Unlike the others, this one is not a community effort. Personally, I don't like this one too much because it acknowledges that the question got asked previously, but then ignores any existing answers to it. Instead the OP provides one (thorough) answer himself, which leaves the impression that the OP wrote it mainly for his own good. I do not see why this required a separate question instead of hijacking an existing one as in Reference 3.

With the exception of the last one, all of these tried to organize existing content to fight common dupes. If these references help to cut down on these dupes, then they serve a purpose and - as long as we lack better tools to organize content - should be tolerated despite not being 100% real questions.

On the PDO Reference

I am not that familiar with the PDO tag, but I am sure there is a lot of repetition in that tag as well. However, IMO the reference suffers from a few problems:

1 - There is no links to existing answers

Basically the same problem as with Reference 4. If we already have existing Q&A on that, why not link to these? Chances are other people already provided good answers to these questions. A reference that doesn't take these into account, is taking away from previous people's effort. This is particularly bad when these are quality answers. IMO, the only reason to provide your own answers is when there is no good previous answers.

2 - The answers are inferior to a full page of Q&A

If you compare the answers with the amount of information you find on existing answers on the same questions, you'll notice that the existing Q&A contain much more insight into a problem. The reference does not look into edge cases or alternative approaches, effectively suggesting that the One True Way™ to approach the problem is in the given posts. This is not a problem in any of the other references linking to existing Q&A.

3 - There is only five answers

That makes the reference hardly worth keeping in my book. I mean, yes, the questions might get asked frequently, but the justification for creating a reference should be based on the amount of dupes it can help close. Given the problems outlined in 1 and 2, it would make much more sense to attempt to create Canonicals for these five questions like in Reference 3.


Tag wikis are insufficient to provide the same value as a reference due to the way they are implemented. References should be uncommon though and yield a justifiable benefit for not following our guidelines for acceptable questions. Large references should either overcome technical problems or provide a first line of defense against dupes in a particular narrow enough topic. When creating references, these should build on or include existing quality Q&A to make sure previous efforts don't get lost. Community created Canonicals are preferable to references since they do not have most of the problems references have and are generally much less controversial.

To prevent the repeated opening and closing of references and comment storms, I suggest anyone considering to open a reference in the future to ask on MSO first to get the approval (and help) of the community.

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Couldn't agree more. The first three references are decent in the absence of something better. As long as they are not used themselves as the duplicate to close against. But especially the PDO one to me misses its goal. I have to say I do like the C++ solution though. Together with the tag wiki content. It's what I'd consider a decent solution as well, given the tools we have now. –  Bart Aug 14 '13 at 9:11
@Bart Thanks. Tbh, I don't mind if they are used to close dupes. That shapes awareness for the references. Defering folks is okay given that they likely ignored doing research in the first place. In case of the Operator and Error reference, chances are the OP will ask about another operator or error as well and then it helps if they know we have something like that for them to visit. I do like the C++ FAQ tag. I suggested introducing something like a canonical tag but it didn't get much attention or approval. –  Gordon Aug 14 '13 at 9:19
I can accept the argument that reference questions are useful in some circumstances, but then I would expect that these references never contain any answers. What makes some questions so special that they are included as answers to the reference question? One person gets to decide the canonical answer and nobody gets to propose alternatives? Sure you could edit the answer if you have enough rep, but the community doesn't get to vote on the best edit. That's not how SO is supposed to work. –  James Holderness Aug 14 '13 at 10:24
@JamesHolderness the community picked the "special" questions by upvoting the questions/answers or by view count. Pick those links for inclusion. Since references are CWs, there is no reason why the community cannot participate in adding relevant Q&A. This is what happened in the Operator reference. I had compiled an initial list, other people would help adding more. You don't get that at all if you rely on one person providing his answers only. Granted, we can still edit his answers but that still leaves takes away from existing Q&A. It's why I think Ref1 is the best format. –  Gordon Aug 14 '13 at 10:29
@Gordon Are you saying the existence of upvotes on these hybrid question/answers automatically makes them special? Would you encourage people to add more of these question/answers and then decide whether to let them stay based on the number of votes they receive? Can I add a new question/answer that is a duplicate of an existing question if I think my answer is better than the existing answer? If I think one of the reference questions is answered better elsewhere on SO, how do I get that answer to compete with one of your hybrid question/answers? –  James Holderness Aug 14 '13 at 11:13
@JamesHolderness I think we are talking past each other. IMO, Reference 1 is the best format because it has no answers, followed by Reference 2 because it only has broad general answers in addition to linking to existing Q&A. The choice which Q&A to link to in these is best made by looking at the votes on the existing Q&A. –  Gordon Aug 14 '13 at 11:29
@Gordon It's possible we agree more than we disagree, but Reference 1 has 8 answers, not none - what I was asking is what made those 8 so special? And the answers in Reference 2 don't seem to me any more "broad" than the answers in the linked questions (in some cases they may be better - some worse). But they've become the de facto "correct" answer just by virtue of being included in the reference. Anyway, I've had my say - I won't argue the point any further. –  James Holderness Aug 14 '13 at 12:21
@JamesHolderness actually, the answers on Ref1 are not supposed to be there at all. The "question" clearly says it's link list and not a substitute for existing q&a. Some people (not you) just can't read. –  Gordon Aug 14 '13 at 12:31
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I agree.

This type of thing should be on the wiki and should not be a question on Stack Overflow.

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No, it should not. It should probably be 5 different answered questions, though breaking it up now (and then updating all the links to it) would be a bit of a hassle. –  Shog9 Aug 14 '13 at 1:50
@Shog9 I think the point was that the question list should be in the wiki - not the actual questions. I agree that the questions should be split up. –  James Holderness Aug 14 '13 at 2:10
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