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See e.g. revision 1 here - 195 characters. I think the limit should be lowered.

Points in case:


Some data from the last dump - out of 590,635 question titles the counts for certain minimum title lengths are shown (maximum length is 250):

  min length |  # questions (of 590635)
-------------+--------------
        200  |    13
        190  |    29
        180  |    53
        170  |   106
        160  |   196
        150  |   387
        140  |   686
        130  |  1332

Excerpt featuring those with length >= 200:

250: I'm trying to build the first program in Aaron Hillegass's  book: Cocoa(R) Programming for Mac(R) OS X (3rd Edition) The problem I'm having is that I can't my Interface object to "spawn" for lack of a bette term unless I build and run the program. He   
225: Error externally testing WCF UDP Custom Transport Channel sample from the Windows SDK using WcfTestClient - What role does ITransportPolicyImport play in TransportBindingElement derivations such as TcpTransportBindingElement?  
219: What factors could cause the following SqlException: A transport-level error has occurred when receiving results from the server. (provider: Shared Memory Provider, error: 1 - I/O Error detected in read/write operation)  
217: asp.net error "tt is an error to use a section registered as allowDefinition='MachineToApplication' beyond application level.  This error can be caused by a virtual directory not being configured as an application..."  
215: Cannot convert string 'RenderTransform.(TranslateTransform.X)' in attribute 'TargetProperty' to object of type 'System.Windows.PropertyPath'. Property path is not valid. Cannot resolve type name 'TranslateTransform'  
213: How to Solve Intermittent error with Reporting Services: "This report requires a default or user-defined value for the report parameter '*'. To run or subscribe to this report, you must provide a parameter value."  
209: The message received from the server could not be parsed. Common causes for this error are when the response is modified by calls to Response.Write(), response filters, HttpModules, or server trace is enabled.  
208: What is a way to do a Generic Repository with Entity Framework 4.0 where I have function imports?  (I don't want just a generic "execute" function where I pass in strings for the function name and parameters)  
208: C# error1:The name 'DateTimeStyles' does not exist in the current context ..... error2:The type or namespace name 'CultureInfo' could not be found (are you missing a using directive or an assembly reference?)  
207: SQL CLR - Load assembly fails with error - Could not load file or assembly 'X, Version=1.0.3715.19636, Culture=neutral, PublicKeyToken=null' or one of its dependencies. Failed to grant permission to execute.  
206: In procedure to vb ,access the temp table values  from then procedure is worked in sql  & vb but the result set does not access and displayed the error that operation is not alloed when the object is closed  
205: What would be a good starting point for development of a 3D application for representation of structural elements and analysis (in structural engineering) with the least amount of reinvention of the wheel?  
202: Taking this strategy while developing .net win-based application : "get a new connection object, use it, close and dispose it each time you need", How to handle connection string within the application?  
200: .Net MVC - Restful URL's - The specified path, file name, or both are too long. The fully qualified file name must be less than 260 characters, and the directory name must be less than 248 characters.  

Even those that are error-messages could easily be shortened by stripping out useless parts, the rest are just prose instead of titles.
(Interesting side-note: There aren't any Objective-C/Cocoa identifiers in the excerpted titles ;)

I personally can't see any additional value in the questions with lengths >=180. All those question are either

  • the aforementioned prose
  • containing unneccessary parts like paths on the users machine
  • just informative notes in error messages.

I didn't really look yet below 180, but a rough scan leads me to believe that quality drops greatly when question lengths exceed about 140.

share|improve this question
    
You don't see any additional value in long titles, but you haven't made the case that a limit should be applied. Please explain how SO will be improved significantly by limiting this field. Note that currently the editors do a great job with too-long titles. Also note that they don't seem to hurt anyone or anything. Limiting them won't magically improve the questions. So... why? –  Adam Davis May 2 '10 at 2:40
    
@Pollyanna: Ah, i thought it would be obvious. At least for me it greatly messes up readability in question listings, which for me leads to them always having to be edited to some reasonable length (TM). –  Georg Fritzsche May 2 '10 at 18:53

4 Answers 4

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I'd need to analyze existing question title length to get a sense of what the maximum length should be. Suggestion of "one line". This of course varies per font and characters used, but for this post it is:

Length limit for question titles that have nothing to do with Unicorns (we don’t really

which is 89 characters.

Are there any good examples of very long titles that aren't abusive and/or wrong?

edit: I agree with the data presented here. When people enter > 150 characters in title, the odds of it being egregiously wrong are … high. The new question title length limit has been reduced from 250 characters to 150 characters.

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1  
IMHO if it goes onto more than one line it is too long. –  HAL 9000 Apr 29 '10 at 10:24
11  
I propose anything tagged objective-c gets twice the title limit. For questions involving UINavigationControllerWillShowViewControllerNotification (stackoverflow.com/questions/2725068/…) –  cobbal Apr 29 '10 at 10:46
    
@cobbal: Ah yes, the joy of the longest method calls i've seen so far. At least the method names often put more context in the title already. –  Georg Fritzsche Apr 29 '10 at 15:04
    
I updated the question with some data. –  Georg Fritzsche May 2 '10 at 0:21
    
+1, the new 150 character limit sounds good. –  Pëkka May 9 '10 at 9:43
    
Oh, great... :) –  Georg Fritzsche May 9 '10 at 16:24

Extremely long titles can be edited down to size. I don't think it's that big of an issue.

Extremely short titles can be considerably more difficult to flesh out however. "Java problem" doesn't really give us much to go on...

share|improve this answer
    
I agree with Shog here. I don't think it is that big of an issue. Also, 2k+ users seem to do a great job cleaning up questions and titles when titles are excessive. –  Troggy Apr 29 '10 at 16:03
    
I don't say limit it to e.g. 50 chars - as mentioned in another comment, why allow lengths that definitely will be shortened in the first place? –  Georg Fritzsche Apr 29 '10 at 16:38
    
@gf: As someone else mentioned, there can be a use for rather long titles: quoted error messages. That may not be a common use, but disallowing it outright shouldn't be necessary given how easy it is to edit out unnecessary length. Ultimately, it's a social problem; as Stephen C. Steel notes below, you're not going to cure stupidity. –  Shog9 Apr 29 '10 at 16:54
    
Hm, but long quoted error messages belong in the body, they are unreadable in the title anyway and just noise - is there any useful example for a 240 character title? Also let me emphasize: i am not advocating the opposite of extremely short titles, just a somewhat lower limit. This also doesn't imply the absence of content - thats what the question body is for. –  Georg Fritzsche Apr 29 '10 at 21:42
1  
@gf: if the message is the question, then not putting it in the title just makes the title useless: as tempting as it can be to edit it down to something like, "Why am I getting this error from Apache?" such a title is generic and useless - when you want help with an error, you search for that error not "error". Again, just because most titles should be short, doesn't mean the system should force all titles to be short. –  Shog9 Apr 29 '10 at 22:22
    
But with that argumentation you could say we need longer or unlimited title lengths so any error message may fit in there? Isn't it just a question of balance between readability in question listings and the comprehensiveness of titles? –  Georg Fritzsche Apr 30 '10 at 18:29
    
@gf: you could... But so far as I know, no one has. Ultimately, the onus is on whoever is suggesting the change to demonstrate that it is beneficial in some way, so presumably no one has yet encountered a real-world situation where a longer title was necessary. –  Shog9 Apr 30 '10 at 20:17
    
I updated the question with some data. –  Georg Fritzsche May 2 '10 at 0:21
    
Funny how you arrived at the 140 "twitter" length limit. I'm getting pretty sick of this whole, "forced brevity improves quality" theory - see, I've read twitter - in practice, even when imposed on people who actually know how to write effectively, it doesn't. By taking the focus off of the message and putting it onto the length, you distract the writer from the primary purpose of writing at all... –  Shog9 May 2 '10 at 15:11
    
Ok, i didn't mean to imply that theory, the quality thing was just an observation (and not twitter-influenced, maybe they made a similar observation?). As for taking off the focus, if you can't post because of the length you can always cut'n'copy into the body or write long prose in the body in the first place? I guess i seem stubborn now, but i really definitely don't see what e.g. lengths >=200 are good for - i mean, why do we have to force the work on the community in the first place if the asker could have taken a few moments to fix this? :) –  Georg Fritzsche May 2 '10 at 18:57
    
@gf: but that's always the problem - if the asker knew how to write a good question, then there'd be no reason to even have community editing: just close and delete poorly-written questions, as they're obviously the result of laziness. People write stupid titles, short and long, just as they write stupid questions (short and long). And that's not going to change just because the system enforces it: humans are just not that easy to control. Note also that the length limit on question bodies is something like 30K characters, longer than the vast majority of questions should ever be... –  Shog9 May 2 '10 at 19:17

In a way, if you reduce it a lot, you will have a case of people complaining they can't write their long exception/class name in it. And you will end with more "generic" titles.

If a title is really so long that it's disturbing everyone, I think any 2000+ rep user will edit it to make it shorter. No need to limit what the community can moderate by itself, in a way.

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Indeed, that's exactly what happened in gf's example. –  C. Ross Apr 29 '10 at 13:02
    
@C - though Meta is in another dimension. –  Gnoupi Apr 29 '10 at 13:16
    
In my opinion, if you need nearly 3 lines for a question title you should go back and think about what your problem is. Of course we will edit it to a acceptable lengths, but why do we need to allow length that always will be shortened in the first place? –  Georg Fritzsche Apr 29 '10 at 14:37

The existing mechanism of allowing long titles but encouraging people to use shorter titles is probably the best solution. A technological solution, in the form of a shorter hard limit, will just produce more stupidity than it prevents.

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