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I don't really understand why my question, What is the difference between an array and a list?, was closed.

It's clear that there are a lot of different answers and the people aren't really sure what the answer to it is but that doesn't make the question "not real" does it? Really?

I still don't understand what "not a real question" even means. Can you tell me please.

Responding to "the question has no context":

I tagged my question with "computer-science terminology" so I'm asking what the difference is in those terms, that's the context. If there is no good answer to this question that surely that is the answer but nobody made such an answer. Also the guy who says my question is bad because its like:

What is the difference between a piece of wood and a baseball bat?

I don't see the problem. I can answer that question:

A baseball bat is made from wood. Wood comes from trees but has to go through some sort of manufacturing/refinement process to be a baseball bat of any quality. Technically speaking, however, any piece of wood that was used in a game of baseball to hit a baseball could be considered a baseball bat. Wood is just one possible material from which a baseball bat can be made.

See. And such an answer provide a great deal of clarification for someone confused enough (like me) to ask it.

If you still don't agree with me then what should I have asked?

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What programming language were you specifically asking about? –  random Oct 15 '09 at 2:56
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I deliberately wasn't. I want to know what those terms are supposed to mean in computer science. Say, if I was designing a new programming language with lists and arrays, what would the lists do and what would the arrays do and crucially, how would they differ. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 2:58
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So you made it deliberately vague and ambiguous? –  random Oct 15 '09 at 3:02
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@Ollie: why not just ask that? It's still uncomfortably vague, but already you've provided something for those answering to latch onto. Better yet, describe the purpose of the language, what you wish to accomplish with it, what sort of data storage and manipulation you see as being necessary for your users. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 3:08
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I deliberately didn't tie it to any specific programming language. I don't understand what is so difficulty about asking the difference between definitions of what sound like they should be standard terminology. The example I gave was actually pretty close to the reality of why I was asking the question. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:09
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I think this is where the problem arises: if you're asking a specific question, we can kinda work with you on it, put ourselves in your position and guess at what you're really trying to find out. When it's a big, vague, high-level question, you need to be much more careful to ask something that can be answered clearly; otherwise, everyone's gonna come away with their own, perhaps vastly different interpretation of what you're after. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 3:11
    
@Shog: Sure maybe. I don't really see how that's very different from what was asking. I think the thing that really bothered me about this is that my question is being prejudged against simply because it's difficult. It's vague because I'm confused and SO is now telling me quite loudly that my question won't be permitted if they happen to be difficult and I'm confused. What is the point of seeking answers but if for clarification. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:12
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But... You got clarification. You were told why your question was too vague! Shucks... I suggested two questions that could be answered in the comment I left. That's not prejudged, that's just... judged. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 3:15
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I tried again: stackoverflow.com/questions/1570215/… I hope that's better. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:59
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@Ollie Saunders that new question is a dupe of another question; so I voted to close. –  George Stocker Oct 15 '09 at 13:28
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@George: Consider how I'm feeling right now. I've had a question I wanted an answer to, closed. I come here to find out why. I still want an answer, so I ask it again (I didn't get an answer before), only this time I take heed of all the advice and feedback that has been given to me. Now you come along and deny me the opportunity (for a second time) despite me following all the advice of the community. You're basically saying that everything mentioned here doesn't matter; that after all that effort I'm still asking the same question and that nobody is allowed a second chance. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 15:41
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@Ollie: don't take it personally - it's not about you, it's about the question. @George: i'm not convinced it's a duplicate - the former was asking about the efficacy of arrays in modern programming, while the latter was merely asking for a definition. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 16:11
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@Shog9: You can't just tell me not to take is personally. That's not going to work. This is obviously pissing me off, do something about that! It's not like I have inflated expectations of quality like some stupid customer in a superstore you guys are actually labeling me as some kind of idiot who can't ask a question. In fact all I am is unable to follow your stupid rules (they are stupid because they don't really exist: see my answer). And as you can probably tell I'm not sure I care anymore. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 16:27
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I know you're frustrated. I'm telling you that it's not going to do any good - no one here has a vendetta against you. Granted, you probably brought a bit more critical attention to your second question simply by asking it here, but still - the voting targets the question, not the author. Reading through the replies here, I don't see this labeling you talk about; most answers seem to be honestly trying to help. Note that your second question was closed by a moderator: you might wish to flag it for review, including details as to why it isn't a duplicate... –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 16:39
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Most of you guys got here after editing Wikipedia, amirite? How many of you still edit Wikipedia? What do you think of studies showing that only a small group of editors are responsible for most of Wikipedia content because those editors basically run everyone off? Related. Why are comments at StackOverflow allowed to be flagged as noise? Not spam, or offensive, I understand those flaggings. But flagging a comment as noise? Who cares? Why bother? What value does it add? -- Why would you guys make it so hard for Ollie to ask a question and get a meaningful answer? –  Jerry Apr 1 '11 at 18:28
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8 Answers

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I find it an interesting question, so would not have voted to close, but I'm under 2k rep on SO, so I don't have a say in that. That said, you mentioned seeing different definitions of each everywhere you look. If you had listed those definitions, analyzed the contradictions and discrepancies, and asked for help in evaluating the relative merits of the various definitions, I think people would have approached the question very differently.

Further, "help me settle it Stackoverflow" sounds like you're expecting a debate of answers, rather than answer... this isn't a discussion forum, and it isn't for flamewars. But it sure sounds like you're wanting to watch one.

Do some leg work on it, give constructive analysis, then ask specific questions to clarify your understanding.

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I think what he was looking for is not a debate, but rather different concepts from different people, to help him form his own understanding. –  tomjedrz Oct 15 '09 at 16:38
    
Sure, but that wasn't what it sounded like, as the question was written. –  retracile Oct 15 '09 at 17:00
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It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous and vague, and cannot be answered in its current form.

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Looks like Mehrdad is being watched. –  random Oct 15 '09 at 3:01
    
Oh wow, I can't see that. How did you get that tooltip? Where are you hovering? –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:06
    
@Ollie Hover over the closed reason and it will elaborate. –  random Oct 15 '09 at 3:09
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@Random: Ahhh thank you. In my browser there's no visual indication that I can get that tooltip at all. Jeff, if you're listening, I really think you should look at this "not a real question" language you're using. It's kind of annoying and, ironically, as vague as what it professes to object to. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:16
    
deleting everything in profile and escaping... :) –  LeakyCode Oct 15 '09 at 16:35
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Did you read the comments? I thought they were pretty self-explanatory. The point is not so much that it wasn't a question, but that it didn't have enough context to be meaningful, i.e., not a real question.

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Edited initial question. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 2:50
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Obviously it wasn't self explanatory to me because I came and asked about it here. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:28
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What is the difference between a piece of wood and a baseball bat?

I don't see the problem. I can answer that question:

Except, you didn't. You talked about wood, and baseball bats, and noted the relationship between the two of them... But you didn't tell us what the difference between them is, which is what the question asked. I don't blame you; the question made no sense... and that was my point.

Ask what a list is. Ask what an array is. Ask how the two relate to each other even, if you're still confused after the first two questions. Why turn it into a riddle?

The Hatter opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, “Why is a raven like a writing-desk?”

“Come, we shall have some fun now!” thought Alice. “I'm glad they've begun asking riddles—I believe I can guess that,” she added aloud.

“Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?” said the March Hare.

...

“Have you guessed the riddle yet?” the Hatter said, turning to Alice again.

“No, I give it up,” Alice replied: “what's the answer?”

“I haven't the slightest idea,” said the Hatter.

“Nor I,” said the March Hare.

Alice sighed wearily. “I think you might do something better with the time,” she said, “than wasting it in asking riddles that have no answers.”

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The relationship between two things is the difference, isn't it? When is it not? –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:01
    
The relationship between wood and a baseball bat is that the latter might be constructed from former. This is not a difference. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 3:05
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I meant to say relationship[s]. A single relationship, sure, doesn't give you a difference. All of them, or at least a good stab at the important ones, does. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 3:14
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Maybe, maybe not. You're making assumptions about the sort of answers you'll get, and they're not necessarily valid ones. You might easily come away thinking that a list and an array are fundamentally different things, when they need not be... Or that they are intimately related, as with wood and the wooden bat, without realizing the potential for the data-structure equivalent of aluminum or plastic. By failing to specify what you really need to know, you leave it up to chance and goodwill. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 3:19
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I know the answer to this now. My question wasn't closed for any single reason or because of any single rule. It was closed a bunch of reasons:

  • There are loads of people with the power to close (law of numbers).
  • Those people don't have to answer to any higher authority, so they exercise their power more lightly than they would otherwise.
  • They feel good when they're being decisive and particularly when they criticize someone else. They look for reasons to separate themselves from other people; why they are better SO community-members. So they look for reasons to close, not reasons to keep open. And once they start looking in that one direction they won't change their mind (that's just how it works for people, they don't want to admit they were wrong).
  • There is now an established culture for closing so people feel confident that closing is a safe decision.
  • They haven't learnt to use a light touch, in leadership.

People here have tried to answer why my question it was closed but I now think that's kind of funny. Some of the answers were really bad. Even from people who write well and sound really intelligent.

I think at the heart of the problem is this drug called "reputation". It's actually addictive! You make those numbers so big on the site. And now everybody is clamoring for it like popularity in high school.

Once a question is closed the justification hats go on and people put all their mental effort into convincing themselves that the right decision was made. "Surely, it must have been right because that's just how we do it here!", they're thinking. What would happen if people put all their mental effort into actually objectively questioning the kinds of motivations/decisions that influence such outcomes?

Of course the questions you really need to ask are difficult so people generally avoid asking them:

  • What is a question?
  • What isn't a question?
  • What is a vague question?
  • Do vague/difficult questions really harm SO?
  • What direction does SO want to move in?
  • What constitutes a healthy community?
  • What psychological effect do we need to be aware of?
  • How will people feel when we do x thing to them?
  • Why are duplicate questions closed?
  • Do those reasons apply to second attempts to ask a previously close question?

So, how could the situation be improved.

  • Fewer people with power.
  • People who have the power being more careful. They should routinely discuss how they use it.
  • Power being granted to those worthy of it.
  • More detailed rules on what constitutes acceptable and unacceptable questions on Stack Overflow.
  • Constitutional rules codifying the what SO aims to achieve and the direction it wants to move in, including the kinds of attitude it wants to foster and the kind of experience that it wants people to have when they come here. (I certainly don't believe this question has been sufficiently answered, otherwise when I came here to ask why, you would have all pointed me to specific extracts of a document that was guiding you and told me how it relates.)

The guise of SO being community-driven isn't serving the community. It's very glamorous and web 2.0 and everything but when you put power in the hands of the masses you get all the problems to do with psychology that I've outlined. Most people prefer not to think hard about decisions unless made to and, if everyone leads, nobody leads.

I've now had a number of annoying experiences on this website, which sucks because I really want to like it. I'm not sure where I want to go from here. Maybe I just need to learn what is acceptable. (Shame there isn't really a good definition of that.) Or maybe I just won't use Stack Overflow. I know in the past I've spoken-up about things, like this, and it has turned out, afterwards, that there were actually a lot of other people who felt the same way but didn't speak up.

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Actually, the question is closed because the moderators assume that because THEY are not able to give a good, conclusive answer that on one else will be able to do so. –  tomjedrz Oct 15 '09 at 16:37
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Ok, you have to remember: in normal circumstances, it takes 5 votes to close a question. That's not rogue, power-mad user. And moderators - the users with the little diamond symbol next to their names - can override any such decision, so it's not without oversight. If you see a problem, flag for moderator review - if you haven't done that, then you're just wasting time... –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 16:57
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To answer some of the things in your last paragraph: you'd do best to not assume that you're right and that anybody who does something you don't like is power-mad or dishonorable or something. You might also try the assumption that, when people thoughtfully answer a question in a way you disagree with, their answers are not necessarily bad. Heck, if you have the sort of talent where you can walk into an established community and immediately diagnose what's wrong and what needs to be done, why are you hanging with us mortals? –  David Thornley Oct 15 '09 at 17:25
    
I'm making no such assumption. I came here and asked a question and listened to the responses. They aren't consistent you can see that if you read them; it's evident. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 20:19
    
"if you have the sort of talent [...] why are you hanging with us mortals" -- I don't know really. That's why I'm considering not using Stack Overflow, as I have considered abstaining from so many other communities. People never seem to take me seriously or understand. I used to think that was because I was wrong but since then I've gotten much better at reasoning and more confident (I met someone else like me, which helped a lot). Now I just have to accept that I see things that others don't. None of this makes me immortal or always right. I love being corrected. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 20:25
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Final note: Don't underestimate the unique advantage that an outsider has. Everyone inside is steeped in the cultural norms. They can't see them because they have become them. I haven't, so I can see them. This is probably more the case than me being divine or anything like that. The only thing that makes me different is that my brain doesn't immediately try to conform as soon as it realizes that it doesn't fit in. Instead, when it realizes that, it tends to question. That's why we're here now. –  Ollie Saunders Oct 15 '09 at 20:29
    
Sigh. Of course the answers are not completely consistent. There are lots of people with >3K rep on SO, and I doubt any two would judge exactly the same. That doesn't mean any of the answers are bad. And, yes, you will see things others won't, and others see things you won't. Getting confidence in yourself is generally a good thing, but if you had real confidence you wouldn't be dismissing all the answers in that way. They're generally good answers from the point of view of the existing structure, which you are apparently deciding needs extreme change because you don't like it. –  David Thornley Oct 16 '09 at 14:25
    
Excellent answer. This is the only answer here that I voted up. I wish it was on top. And for the record, I think the original array-vs-list-question was excellent. It's truly a shame that SO rejected it, especially considering that it had a very Google-friendly title and that the answers are actually quite good. –  aioobe May 28 '11 at 21:55
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I would like to point out that, while your question was closed it was also answered by several people. Closing your question isn't necessarily a judgment on you nor is it necessarily an insult.

Why was it closed:

My guess, of course.

Some questions that are extremely naive, or based o misconceptions can be very hard o answer in the Stack Overflow format. Certainly Stack Overflow isn't going to set the authoritative definition for "list" in a programming context, and that word doesn't have one definition in the world of programming: in some languages it is a language construct with well defined semantics, in others it is the day-to-day meaning and is supported by classes or data structures. So we can't compare lists to arrays in a language agnostic way. Sorry.

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My definition of "not a real question" is one where I don't know if a proposed answer answers the question or not. I would count this one as borderline. Should I answer that the terms are used in lots of different ways and let it go at that? Should I point out that we can't settle the meaning of anything? Should I throw out a few common definitions?

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The Real reason it was closed, was because it was subjective, and, it wasn't made Community Wiki.

There is a (mostly) unwritten rule that subjective questions, on Stack Overflow, should be made Community Wiki. That way users don't get tons of rep on the questions that everyone can take part in. There are early questions which gave exorbitant amounts of rep, in less than a day. (That was before there was a daily rep limit.)


That's not to say that it wouldn't have been closed anyway, it's just that it was likely the main reason it was closed.

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I don't agree that it is subjective - a "List" is a data structure that allows access to its members (search/find), addition, and deletion of those items. It can be implemented any way you want, as long as it has those characteristics. A 'true' array is a primitive data structure that holds in memory consecutively-labeled items of the given type. Yes - an array can be a list. but a list does not have to be an array. –  warren Oct 15 '09 at 6:18
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Warren: You're providing a definition of "List" that isn't universally used. For example, in Lisp a "list" is explicitly a certain representation of a nil-terminated linked list. Nor does an array have to be a primitive structure, although it usually is. –  David Thornley Oct 15 '09 at 13:55
    
Well, it was subjective, but only because of its vagueness... Again, I think you could ask, "What is a list?" and reasonably expect a decent answer describing the various meanings that term can have in various contexts... SO as a programmer's dictionary. –  Shog9 Oct 15 '09 at 16:08
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