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Problem: Questions are closed as subjective, even when they are interesting enough to merit an answer.

Feature request: Rename "Subjective and Argumentative" close reason to "Argumentative / Inflammatory", which more closely approximates the intent for this close reason.

Justification:

  1. According to this post, a big reason for the bias against subjective question results from these sorts of questions becoming too popular and cluttering up the front page, drowning out concrete questions that people would otherwise want to read.

    This reason is lousy at best since users can utilize to ignore list to filter out content they don't want to see. If users are irritated by subjective questions, they should add the subjective tag to their ignore list.

  2. The attitude that "there are other sites for discussion, take your question elsewhere" is anti-community and should be discouraged.

    Remember, SO is a community. Asking users to take their business elsewhere makes people feel unwelcome, creates more flamewars and open/close wars than it solves, and divides people into opposing factions. The strong, growing, cohesive SO community wouldn't be here if we didn't have so many of the discussion type questions that everyone frowns on.

    Additionally, Open-ended discussions, brainstorming, and getting collective input from others is a valid way to answer questions and discover solutions to problems. Discussion type questions should not be discouraged on SO.

    Users who aren't interested in discussion type questions should tag a question subjective and add said tag to their ignore list.

  3. Not all, but many subjective questions are poignant and of interest to programmers. More to the point, many of the best answers on the site are answers to subjective questions.

    Of course, a certain subset of users aren't interested in subjective questions at all, don't want to see them on the site. In that case, they should utilize their ignore list more effectively by adding the subjective tag to their ignore list.

  4. The "Subjective and Argumenative" close reason states that open-ended questions may lead to confrontational and heated disagreements -- but having read 1000s of subjective questions, and contributed to several dozen as well, the overwhelming majority answers to open-ended questions are not confrontational and do not lead to disagreements.

    In other words, closing questions as "subjective" discourages behavior that, by and large, does not occur if the question were left open.

    On the other hand, closing subjective questions results in the very same kinds of confrontational behavior that SO was trying to discourage in the first place! Case in point, see the disagreement here -- the strongly worded disagreement between users regards the legitimacy of closing the question, none of the disagreement shows up in the answers.

  5. Argumentative and subjective questions are not two sides the same coin.

    Compare "Why is PHP so badly design" to "How do I explain source control to my boss". One question is clearly inflammatory, the other is not. Renaming "Subjective and Argumentative" to "Argumentative / Inflammatory" makes it easier to discourage the first type of question without discouraging the other.

Please consider this request.

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I'm not sure I agree, but that's a very well thought-out post, so +1 from me. –  Dominic Rodger Apr 7 '10 at 6:11
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+1 - Well written and cannot agree more, esp. #1, 3 and 5. –  Kyle Rozendo Apr 7 '10 at 6:12
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On this basis, questions about "cookery" or "snail-racing" should be OK - people who don't want to see them can simply add those tags to their ignore list. –  nb69307 Apr 7 '10 at 8:08
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@Neil: Not true: questions must be programming-related to stay on the site. However, subjective and programming-related are orthogonal concepts. Only questions that fall within the intersection of the two are under discussion here. –  Chris Jester-Young Apr 7 '10 at 8:32
    
How are program in subjective? –  random Apr 7 '10 at 15:14
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3 Answers 3

Stack Overflow grew---nay, exploded---in user base, content size, and popularity because you can get good answers to programming questions fast.

That's what we do here. That's what makes the site different from slashdot and yahoo answers and that hyphen site and metafilter and boingboing.

Filling the site full of polls and best-of lists and worst-of list and favorites list and endless discussions of every topic under the sun which you can squeezed into a programming context does not help generate good, fast answers to programming questions. Turning the site into another slashdot does not bring users who can and will provide good programming answers fast. Turning the site into just another social network does not bring users who can and will quickly answer programming questions well.

The site is popular because it has a focus, and the community has been and should be organized to maintain that focus.

I know that all the lists and oddball discussions are fun. I enjoy them, even when I'm voting to close them. But they are a distraction from the core mission and competency of the site.

In short, extended discussion should be discouraged, and that means that the "subjective and argumentative" description should stay because it functions as a wide net to suck up stuff that doesn't go toward the site's mission.


On a side note,

On the other hand, closing subjective questions results in the very same kinds of confrontational behavior that SO was trying to discourage in the first place! Case in point, see the disagreement here -- the strongly worded disagreement between users regards the legitimacy of closing the question, none of the disagreement shows up in the answers.

has a little flavor of "If only everyone would agree with me we wouldn't have any problems." Which is true as far as it goes, but is neither helpful nor interesting. It is every bit as true that "If people would stick to asking questions with programming answers, we wouldn't have any problems."

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I don't think the OP was referring to those best-of, worst-of, etc. specifically. There are subjective questions that don't detract from the focus of the site; they're not "fun" questions (I'd throw the best-of and the like into the "fun" bucket). They just happen not to have a black-and-white answer. Is that so evil? –  Chris Jester-Young Apr 7 '10 at 7:18
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Fear, uncertainty, and doubt. That's what I hear whenever someone says "but you're turning SO into another Slashdot". Absolutely not. Slashdot is terrible because the sites culture is made up of tough guys vying to prove to everyone who has the biggest ego. Yahoo Answers is a cesspool because its a troll sanctuary and even the serious questions are answered by know-nothing amateurs. MetaFilter enforces its community norms by ruthlessly mocking and humiliating members in its admin area. And last time I checked, BoingBoing was a link blog, not certained around Q&A. –  Juliet Apr 7 '10 at 13:15
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@Juliet: see, that's the attitude that makes me uncomfortable: you seem to think that Slashdot, Y!, etc. could exist apart from their users but for whatever reason just don't... and so it's acceptable to push SO in that direction because SO currently has a different user base and perhaps this would continue to thrive even if the focus of the site changed. That may be true... but, I'm not very confident of it. As ugly as they can be, Slashdot and even Reddit do have a number of reasonably intelligent people posting intelligent answers; they just tend to get lost in all the noise... –  Shog9 Apr 8 '10 at 0:13
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Additionally, Open-ended discussions, brainstorming, and getting collective input from others is a valid way to answer questions and discover solutions to problems. Discussion type questions should not be discouraged on SO.

However, the official position is, and has been for over the past year (and maybe since the beginning?):

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered! [emphasis mine]

The engine is designed around answerable questions. The reputation system is designed around non-discussions (e.g. just look at all the CW noise inevitable for discussion questions asked by new users). The convention of not asking duplicates and voting to close duplicates are designed around non-discussions. ...

Everything currently about SO just seems to work better with answerable questions. SO is not my only programming resource, not even my only public and popular one, and I don't think it should be for other people either. I would much rather see people have these discussions elsewhere and get better results—and come back to SO when they have an answerable question resulting from those discussions! (Linking to the discussions while including relevant text in the question body being encouraged.)


Not all, but many subjective questions are poignant and of interest to programmers. More to the point, many of the best answers on the site are answers to subjective questions.

Do you have examples? That hasn't been what I've seen at all. However, I am reminded of the "best T-shirt/cartoon/wedding cake/..." or "best/worst/hidden/urban-mythical features" questions, but surely you can't mean those.

The "best" answers I've seen seem to come from questions that have a tiny bit of controversy, but addressed with the least subjectivity possible (some is inherent to certain questions). Too much controversy degrades into flamewar or is rightfully closed outright as argumentative, but hit the goldilocks sweet spot and you can discuss issues that most programmers find confusing, get conflicting advice about, and are generally unable to decisively answer alone.

For example, I tackled an often subjective issue and attempted to avoid subjectivity (and wasn't entirely successful); this lead to what I consider to be one of my best answers, certainly much more valuable (even if you disagree!) than my highest voted, which primarily parrots information found elsewhere.

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"SO is not my only programming resource, not even my only public and popular one, and I don't think it should be for other people either." - bingo. The best tools allow themselves to be used flexibly without trying to cater to every possible use; a jack of all trades is the master of none. –  Shog9 Apr 8 '10 at 0:21
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And FWIW, an example of how discussion fails: stackoverflow.com/questions/1754397/how-are-you-using-c0x-today –  Gnome Apr 8 '10 at 18:54
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In the name of consolidation and simplifying the existing standard close reasons, we're changing this reason from "subjective and argumentative" to

not constructive

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

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