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It seems more and more lately that people on this site dislike subjective questions, as opposed to ones about narrow, technical topics. I don't understand this. I see two reasons as to why subjective questions should be respected:

  1. Understanding multiple points of view on a subject makes you more informed and allows for better decision making. I like to post subjective questions just to understand what the different arguments are. Yes, people argue, but a healthy debate is a good thing and attacking a point of view is not the same as attacking someone personally.

  2. They're fun.

Given the above, why does the community seem to hate subjective questions more and more lately?

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Feb 11 '10 at 1:19

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marked as duplicate by gnat, Tobias Kienzler, Lance Roberts, Hugo Dozois, hims056 Jul 23 '13 at 14:55

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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Read the FAQ. It very clearly states "Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion." It isn't so much a case of people disliking subjective questions, as people trying their best to enforce the principals of the site as specified in the FAQ. –  David Arno Nov 21 '08 at 23:18
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Then I think we should discuss whether this really makes sense as a policy. Please reopen. –  dsimcha Nov 21 '08 at 23:20
    
The place to discuss site policy is on the site's uservoice - stackoverflow.uservoice.com –  David Arno Nov 21 '08 at 23:22
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Can't we have just one little corner of the interweb that is objective? For everything else, there is Digg or /. –  seanb Nov 21 '08 at 23:27
    
@Arno: Yeah right, everybody here goes frequently to the uservoice to discuss... why don't just let the tags and votes decide what is or is not relevant here. And your decision IS INDEED very subjective, once you don't close every question like this, –  Ricardo Acras Nov 22 '08 at 2:52
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wowch, I didn't realize this was such an old question. I suppose there are probably several question on meta that should now be marked duplicates of this, assuming you go by age... –  Adam Davis Feb 11 '10 at 7:47
    
This is in itself a subjective question –  Graviton Feb 11 '10 at 8:28
    
This was true from the beginning, it's not the goal of SO to deal with subjective questions –  jmfsg Feb 11 '10 at 13:17
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6 Answers

Several big reasons, most stemming from the fact that subjective questions are, by definition, subjective, which means any idiot with an opinion can contribute. This leads to the following issues:

  • Because they are popular, they gather a lot of votes, and those that post them are often viewed as rep whores, even when it's community wiki'd.
  • Because they are popular they are always (seemingly) on front page, which irritates people - they don't want to see the same, "What if compilers had feelings" question every time they visit SO for a week.
  • Because they are easy to think of and post, and due to their longevity on the front page, if we let too many stay open then a significant number of questions on the front page are these silly subjective discussions.
  • StackOverflow is not a discussion forum - it's a place where you get answers to questions. Discussion may lead to an answer, but it isn't generally an answer in and of itself. If you must discuss technical topics at length, there are other forums where such discussion is welcome. StackOverflow is not this forum.
  • Programmers like everything to be in their proper places, and if the problem they are looking at is not black and white, they try to convert it into one that is black and white. While discussion is stimulating, and while some subjective questions have solutions, but everyone thinks a different solution is better than everyone else's solution, the reality is that there's no one best measurably and objectively right answer for a subjective question. And it irritates people, sometimes to the point of starting arguments and flame wars.

The site is designed to exclude such discussions. We let a very few through because, hey, we're not robots, but we all so very much want to be.

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+1 towards a Necromancer. I totally want to ask "What if compilers had feelings" on Meta now... –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Feb 11 '10 at 7:48
    
@cha - It was already asked on SO, and I believe the owner complained about it being closed here. I should go look for it... –  Adam Davis Feb 11 '10 at 7:52
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Ha, here it is: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/36786/… - the original was closed and eventually deleted, so the caramel goodness is only visible to 10k rep and above. I should have posted "It doesn't get pissed off, it doesn't get happy, it doesn't get sad, it doesn't laugh at your jokes IT JUST RUNS PROGRAMS " –  Adam Davis Feb 11 '10 at 7:56
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@Pollyanna I just watched 'Short Circuit' last night! :) No disassemble Number 5! –  Igal Tabachnik Feb 11 '10 at 8:04
    
@Pollyanna: Compilers don't run your programs. The OS does. –  GManNickG Feb 11 '10 at 9:43
    
@Pollyanna: I think there's a difference between "what if compilers had feelings," and "how would you design this program" or "what technology should I use in this case?" The first is completely speculative - the last two, while subjective, are actual technical questions. And while the answers may be subjective, there are still 'better' and 'worse' answers to those questions. –  kyoryu Mar 10 '10 at 4:38
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The ones that really are interesting and/or fun usually fare well, the problem is that there are lots of stupid/flamebait/boring/redundant ones popping up lately and the tolerance level for them has dropped as a result.

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Tolerance is still much too high for my tastes. Too much subjective stuff is going on and degrading the quality of the site. –  Brian Knoblauch Feb 11 '10 at 15:37
    
@Brian: the problem with subjective stuff is that it's subjective. I see plenty of closed questions I wish were opened, while I see plenty of open questions I wish were closed. People are going to be dissatisfied at the grey areas no matter where you draw the line. –  Jimmy Mar 10 '10 at 6:11
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I think some questions are closed as subjective too quickly - the questionner should be given a chance to provide more details.

Debates like "Is C# better than Java?" are actually not subjective in the literal dictionary sense. There actually may be an objective answer, but it will be different depending on who is asking the question. Usually it depends on the project you are working on, and 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 (rather than "it depends, tell us more details") is probably argumentative and IMHO inexperienced. Those answers should be downvoted. But the questionners might be genuinely seeking guidance, and should often be given a chance to provide more background details before the questions are closed.

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+1 Because it's a reasonable argument, but the problem is (as Pollyanna points out) if we let these type things stick around they have a tendency to both multiply and stay active. In short, they're a sort of Q&A site virus, infecting good threads and turning them into virulent flame-wars. –  C. Ross Feb 11 '10 at 13:22
    
@C Ross, I do see your point, but it does seem a pity when someone appears to be genuinely seeking help rather than trying to start a war, and their question gets closed when IMHO they should be asked to make it more specific. –  MarkJ Feb 11 '10 at 17:56
    
I agree with this. Even a subjective question can have a good answer, laying out the pros and cons of the various options, and giving a good grounding in why someone might choose one over the other. I'd like to think that SO/etc. users are smart enough to upvote those answers over the flamebait ones. Edit: Of course, C# vs. Java is like having an argument over which is better, country or western music... –  kyoryu Mar 10 '10 at 4:34
    
@C. Ross again. I also think the "flame war" people might benefit from being exposed to Joel's argument. I honestly think that is an important development step as a programmer. If we just close the questions, the flamers don't have a chance to learn. Maybe we could keep these questions open, but downvote fiery answers (with comments)? –  MarkJ Apr 24 '10 at 22:21
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SO and similar sites are structurally unsuited for discussions. They promote self-contained answers that can float up or down the order depending on votes and acceptance. The only way you can effectively reply to somebody is in comments.

For discussions, a threaded model like Slashdot's is much better. It's not as good for getting good answers, unless you want to come back later and read only the highest-rated comments, because they tend to get buried in the other stuff.

Some subjective questions can work well in the SO format, such as the question about your biggest screwup. That provoked individual responses that didn't refer to each other. Something like "Which is better, X or Y?" not only provokes flame wars but is best handled in discussion form to hammer out misunderstandings. ("X has flux capacitors." "Yes, but Y can handle them with three extra lines like this.")

And, of course, flame wars are unproductive on any forum. Objective questions tend not to promote flame wars, since most of us are fairly rational, and are convinced by evidence. Subjective questions often do. After all, if I really like vim is better than emacs, and have no good arguments for its superiority, I might well make bad ones.

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In general subjective questions are upvoted more than others

This is due to the bike shed effect

People get pissed off cause someone seems to put in a small amount of effort (eg. "Is Python better than Ruby?", "Why does C++ suck?" and so on) and seems to get a reputation gold mine.

Hence the hostility.

alt text

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Clearly, a lot of words could be -- and have been -- written on this topic. But at heart, the issue seems to be:

SOFU's creators consciously chose to create a community just for objective questions, and there's nothing wrong with that. There's nothing inherently wrong with subjective questions, either; they're simply not the intended purpose of SOFU.

When people try to put subjective questions in a place that is marked "This area is not for subjective questions," chaos ensues.

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