What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 133 Stack Exchange communities.

Right now there are 816 questions marked as (make this one 817), making it the 7th most popular subject on Stack Overflow.

I don't think most people understand what subjective means. It doesn't mean the same thing as 'open'.

An open question is one that has no single right answer, so for instance:

  • Closed question: "Will this work?"
  • Open question: "How does this work?" or "Why doesn't this work?" or even "Which is the best method and why?"

Almost every open question seems to immediately get flagged as "subjective", when it isn't.

The dictionary definition is:

Subjective - existing in the mind; belonging to the thinking subject rather than to the object of thought

While many open questions are subjective ("Is C# better than Java?", for instance) not all open questions are.

Just because a question has subjective answers doesn't make it an inherently subjective question.

In fact it's almost impossible to not be in some way subjective - that's just the human condition. I could probably, by the strictest definition, flag every question entered by a human (i.e. all of them) as subjective.

I have found some of the "Which is the best method and why?" questions to be the most useful here, and I think there's real value to them being here on SO - but almost all of them are flagged as subjective.

In the FAQ it states:

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion

I totally agree with this - but I think most people's interpretation is going a bit far. Is the ubiquity of the "subjective" tag an indication of how poor most questions are or an indication of how many users are desperate for that unattainable librarian badge?

When I see an argumentative question I just close it, is "subjective" being used by users without enough rep to close yet? If so are we looking at most questions being immediately closed once these users have caught up?

When should "subjective" be used? Most cases where it's really needed should, IMHO be closed instead. Most cases where it's actually used I can't see the value.

When I disagree (i.e. I don't think the question is too subjective) if I remove the tag someone else will add it back - leading to pointless edit wars. Surely this sort of difference of opinion is what votes (rather than moderation) are for?

This question will be closed after a week or so - I don't want to generate too much meta-clutter.

share

migration rejected from stackoverflow.com May 11 at 11:59

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers. Votes, comments, and answers are locked due to the question being closed here, but it may be eligible for editing and reopening on the site where it originated.

closed as off-topic by Undo, Emrakul, Martijn Pieters, 3ventic, psubsee2003 May 11 at 11:59

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question pertains only to a specific site in the Stack Exchange Network. Questions on Meta Stack Exchange should pertain to our network or software that drives it as a whole, within the guidelines defined in the help center. You should ask this question on the meta site where your concern originated." – Undo, Emrakul, Martijn Pieters, 3ventic, psubsee2003
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

    
Flagged as subjective? Or tagged as subjective? Interesting choice. –  Liam Oct 1 '08 at 11:19
    
You should link to some questions that you think have been improperly tagged as subjective. The ones that I commonly see tagged subjective are the ones that ask for an opinion (best IDE, best office layout, best keyboard, etc). –  Bill the Lizard Oct 1 '08 at 12:22
    
My point is that I guess the line is fuzzy. "What is the best IDE?" should be closed (argumentative) while "What is the best IDE for lang X and why?" could be really useful. –  Keith Oct 2 '08 at 12:32
    
My spin on this question is: does a subjective 'tag' imply a 'community wiki' (CW) ? Can there be a Q tagged as 'subjective' which is rightly not considered appropriate as a CW? –  Michael Easter Feb 18 '10 at 21:22
    
...I think this is a valuable question/discussion; but I can't help but notice that the 'week or so' deadline was missed, by some small margin... –  David Thomas May 28 '11 at 10:18
    
@David Thomas - I'd forgotten about it. This is a very old question from round the time of the beta; I mean just 817 questions were enough to make [subjective] one of the top 10 tags! Now that feat would take 60,000 questions! Back then we didn't have the meta or chat sites, and a lot of that clutter ended up on the main site. I guess this question is still of interest from a historical perspective, but the meta site is the perfect place for it :-) –  Keith Jun 1 '11 at 14:06

13 Answers 13

IMO subjective tag is 100% useless.

It simply doesn't add any value. 99% posts are subjective.

Basically I can separate SO posts into these categories:

  1. questions that can have a single answer
  2. questions that can have multiple answers (but it's not a pure discussions)
  3. discussions (questions that don't expect specific answer, just provoke discussion)
  4. polls (questions that ask to select an item from a list or propose such item)

First 2 categories are perfectly valid and don't deserve to be tagged with subjective

First type of questions is preferable but second type is valid too. There were some requests on uservoice about partial answers.

In my opinion, discussions should not be posted in SO. SO model simply doesn't work well. Discussions on SO looks like crappy linear bulletin board.

I tag them "discussion" and close eventually :)

Polls - that's the most evil type of questions. They totally break meaning of voting. Instead of "helpful"/"not helpful" it becomes "hot" "hot hot".

Polls tagged accordingly - "polls"

When I disagree (i.e. I don't think the question is too subjective) if I remove the tag someone else will add it back - leading to pointless edit wars.

That's why I created "Separate the husk from the grains" topic.
Root cause of these re-taggin and close/open wars is opposition of interests. Some people want to keep site focused on first 2 categories of questions other people like to see questions from last 2 categories.

Instead of countless re-tagging/re-opening wars, community should have an options to separate content into few categories.

For example we can have "categorize" button with 3 choices:

  • question
  • discussion
  • poll

When 1 high rep or multiple people will click on this button question will be moved to appropriate tab\category.

Think of it like high-level tagging.

share

I have seen a fair amount of questions closed for what seemed like no good reason, but I understand the need to keep the site from drowning in irrelevance. This should fizzle out over time, but I am also worried about what is going to happen when there is a significant population of users that can Edit/Close questions.

I have seen enough ego to know it may not be good. Perhaps if closing and re-opening questions was tied to reputation somehow it would prevent people from wielding that sword too quickly.

share

I assumed (perhaps wrongly) that "subjective" was being used to flag questions that at heart reduce to matters of taste. There's never going to be a satisfactory answer to "Does chocolate taste better than vanilla?" and we know that up front. Personally, I don't see the point of these discussions.

Unfortunately, many poorly specified questions end up in a similar state-- asking "What's the best way to do XYZ?" without specifying what is meant as "best" in this context ends up reducing to a question of taste. This can easily be rectified by specifying "best" in measurable terms.

So, it seems to me that the "Subjective" tag can be used for the former case (which would warn me, for one, to avoid the sinkhole) and as a re-tag to warn the questioner that they have slipped into the latter case (which would give them the opportunity to rephrase the question to get a more useful response).

share

You're completely right about the difference in English between open and closed questions, however those terms have a different meaning in SO (closed questions are no longer accepting answers).

It would make sense to have an open-question tag instead of a subjective tag if it weren't for that. If we can come up with a better name for questions that are supposed to have multiple correct answers, then that would be a step towards correct usage/deprecation of subjective.

share

It seems to me that we need a way to categorize these two kinds of questions:

  • What is an object-oriented way of doing so-and-so with this-or-that language?
    There can be many correct answers to this valid question. It is obviously subjective.

  • What are the most efficient sorting algorithms?
    There is basically only one correct answer (list of the O(N log N) algorithms). There is no judgment involved. It is obviously objective.

Note that this is not the same as an "open-question" because some open questions should have no clear answer: "How do you evaluate a candidate?" is both open and subjective.

Furthermore some "subjective" questions can spiral down to a flame war. E.g. "I need to write a cross platform application. Is there any particular reason why Windows CLI programs not conform to Posix standards?". By explicitly marking it subjective we can try to avoid holy wars.

share

@Michael Dorfman,

I don't see the point of these discussions.

Some SO users just love to posts such kind of questions :(

Unfortunately, many poorly specified questions end up in a similar state

This is not a problem usually. We have 2 tools to overcome this problem - comments and posts (aka answers).

A lot of people can't clearly formulate their needs.

But if question is not well defined, people would ask for clarification.

If question author is not an idiot he/she will reformulate question.

I think that badly formulated questions should not be tagged with subjective or similar tags.

Very often I see SO users tag such questions with useless and often offensive tags like "vague", "deleteme" etc.

I think that reputation requirements for re-tagging should be raised.

share
    
On the first point: I see that some users love these questions. I don't, and that's why I avoid anything tagged with "subjective". Even still, the signal/noise ratio is still dicey. As to the second point, I agree that comments are probably a better way to spur users to refine their questions. –  Michael Dorfman Oct 1 '08 at 15:50

aku give very good overview on the types of questions we have here. I think that closing discussions is pointless, if people want to restart c vs c++ war or anything else it's their problem and the best way to fight this is ignore this, to ignore this it should be properly categorized as aku suggested.
In additional i would suggest not counting voting from such discussion to reputation. I personally got a biggest bunch of my points on stupid answer to stupid question that was eventually closed because it was stupid :).
So if we don't count votes from discussions and polls all voting system will be a little bit more objective.

share

@Ilya,

...think that closing discussions is pointless...

...in additional i would suggest not counting voting from such discussion to reputation...

That's exactly what I propose in my post "Separate the husk from the grains".

Closing is very inefficient measure. Recently we have a case when some high rep user blindly re-opened all closed questions.

It's almost useless to apply closing functionality to popular open-ended discussions and polls.

Instead of trying to fight against them, it would be better to separate them from the main content.

Also I strongly believe that "Reputation" is meaningless if it can be obtained from cheap talks.

share
1  
In additional to that, the reputation is meaningless if it's disconnected from subject. If one is php/java-script expert he can easily reach high reputation, but this does it make him expert in embedded programming for example ? –  Ilya Oct 2 '08 at 7:16

This is rather subjective in my opinion.

share
    
It's kind of difficult not to be, given the topic. –  Keith Dec 17 '08 at 9:59

It purely depends on the intellect of the individual answering the question. it might be a one liner, crisp and precise, or else it can lead to wars.

Tagging the question as subjective does categorize it but it certainly wont defy the users viewing / answering the same if they are willing to do.

Let commonsense prevail !

share

There is no harm in adding it, so why are you lobbying to restrict its usage?

  • If there are 5 valid tags, then no, don't add it.

  • If there is space to add it, and the discussion truly is subjective, then yes, please add it (I will explain the reasoning below).

  • If it's applied inappropriately (ie, the discussion is truly about factual information, and does not depend on individual experiences/beliefs/gut feelings/desires/etc) then change it, and hope others learn when to apply it.

But at the end of the day, I think you need to just accept the fact that the word "subjective" is merely the easiest, shortest word to describe the questions it applies to, whereas "open" or "no single great answer" is either to dilute, or too long and annoying. Besides, by definition, an open question (one with many answers, none of which is correct for most situations) is subjective - it depends entirely on the circumstances surrounding it. In this case, subjective isn't the exact opposite of objective, although it does have elements of anti-objective.

The reason to add it is so that advanced tag searches in the future will allow you to exclude subjective questions from your searches. For instance, I might choose to search on IDE, find that it's cluttered with stupid subjective topics, and search on "IDE -SUBJECTIVE". Even now I occasionally do search on subjective as a time filler -0 find out how people think about various topics.

So yes, there are very good reasons to have it, and so far your reasons against are "It doesn't add value" when it actually does. However, if it doesn't add value for you, don't think that everyone else is the same and thus it doesn't add value for them. If your main complaint is that it's being applied inappropriately, then you might consider the idea that perhaps subjective means something different on this site than the dictionary definition you're pushing.

-Adam

share
    
I guess what I'm worried about is that the next generation of moderators will include a large number that close (rather than tag) anything they consider to be subjective. I'm not lobbying - but I do find it frustrating when others edit my posts back and forth. –  Keith Oct 7 '08 at 10:17
1  
There is harm in adding it. People auto-vote-to-close anything tagged subjective, despite the close reason being "Subjective and argumentive" not "subjective" –  Macha Sep 2 '09 at 19:51

the FAQ says

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion

Yet subjective questions are numerous and popular, many argumentative questions can be informative and funny, and quite a few that require extended discussion reveal wisdom that otherwise would not appear.

So much for the FAQ!

Back to the original question: yes, we need the 'subjective' tag. We also need the 'poll' tag. And the 'off-topic' tag. We don't need the 'dogfood' tag.

share

Yes, we need a tag for these questions, and we probably have to stick with subjective because it's established. Personally I would prefer it-depends in many cases.

Debates like "Is C# better than Java?" are actually not subjective in the literal dictionary sense. There are answers to the question, but it-depends. Usually it depends on the project you are working on, and above all the people. To quote Joel, who as usual said it well:

How do you decide between C# and Java? The only real difference is which one you know better. If you have a serious Java guru on your team who has build several large systems successfully with Java, you're going to be a hell of a lot more successful with Java than with C#, not because Java is a better language (it's not, but the differences are too minor to matter) but because he knows it better. Etc.

Anyone willing to give a definite answer (other than it-depends) is probably argumentative and IMHO inexperienced. But the questionners might possibly be genuinely seeking guidance on how to choose a technology. Subjective just isn't the right term.

share

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .