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To me, StackOverflow (SO) is a Q&A site. But Meta StackOverflow (Meta) is really a discussion about SO that can begin as a question, but since there is no 'right' answer, the answers and comments are really a discussion thread like those evil PHPBB sites.

If Meta is really a discussion site, shouldn't there be a discussion-like format instead of a Q&A format?

Isn't this one of the complaints about PHPBB - that it gets used for anything because it can be?

Should Meta use the SO engine?

share|improve this question
PHP? Anyway, can you show an example of a thread in meta that doesn't quite work, and an example of how in your opinion it should look like? – Kobi May 5 '10 at 12:04
I don't entirely follow you on the PHP thing. What exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean, Meta is turning into a Forum? – Pëkka May 5 '10 at 12:05
I think the OP is intending to refer to PHPBB rather than the PHP language – mikej May 5 '10 at 12:13
Meta is not really a discussion site. – Daniel Daranas May 5 '10 at 12:29
What has PHPBB as forum engine to do with the culture/atmosphere of meta? I totally fail to see the point. Or do you mean "an average PHPBB forum"? But still, why explicitly PHPBB? Wtf? :P – BalusC May 5 '10 at 12:41
@Daniel It really really is. Discuss. – devinb May 5 '10 at 13:33
@devinb From About: "This site is for meta-discussion of a family of Q&A websites". Ok, you win, it is a discussion site. – Daniel Daranas May 5 '10 at 14:05
@ Kobi: I did mean PHPBB (showing my ignorance). Meta is about discussion. SO is a superbly crafted Q&A site - why not build a superbly crafted Discussion site rather than use the same format because it is 'good enough'? – philcolbourn May 5 '10 at 14:07
@ Pekka: (It would be great to be able to translate thoughts into text perfectly first go) I am asking whether the SO Q&A-style site is the best format for Meta. Does Meta deserve a custom-built site? – philcolbourn May 5 '10 at 14:28
up vote 3 down vote accepted

Meta is a discussion site, no question about it.

In that respect, the site's purpose is kind of shoe-horned into the format, but we make it work pretty well.

That being said, the format itself does have it's own advantages!

  • Native voting/polling system built right in. For example, you get almost instant feedback on a proposed feature request, or how to most effectively use your newfound editing ability when you reach 2k reputation.
  • A categorization system (tags) to find the information -- and related information -- you're looking for.
  • Since the format is the same, Meta is often used as a testing ground for new features.

Of course, the format has its disadvantages as well, such as limiting extended discussion, or other niceties that traditional forums have like private messaging (that's a good/bad thing I suppose).

You're right -- sometimes there isn't a "best" answer to a question on Meta. The topics on here are both highly varied and often subjective simply due to the nature of the issues we deal with. For example, while a bug report is a more or less objective topic, asking how to deal with users is more of a subjective, "soft" topic. There can still be a "best" answer produced from these topics, but it's not a requirement. (You will notice that accept rates on Meta are often lower than elsewhere.)

As I mentioned, there are advantages and disadvantages to using this format, but I think the bottom line is that if Meta didn't use this format, that says a lot about the ideal universal acceptance the management would like to see.

Even with all our subjective topics here, Meta has shown that the format can work.

share|improve this answer
@ Jon: Thanks for your kind reply. I agree that the SO functionality is there to build a discussion site, but for the same reason that StackOverflow was created - to make a great Q&A community by making a great Q&A site - shouldn't we take the advice on the SO FAQ that says "This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered". So why not make a great Meta site for discussions than 'shoe-horn' a Q&A site? – philcolbourn May 5 '10 at 14:16
@phil: The thing is -- Meta is also a Q&A site. Yes, we deal with subjective metatopics, but one major thing I forgot to mention in my answer is that Meta is the means of getting technical support for SO et al. That type of post does fit the Q&A model very well. – Jon Seigel May 5 '10 at 14:29
@ Jon: True. There are Q&A, but based on the discussion and feature-request tags, 70% could be classified as discussions. Could it be that two necessary functions (Q&A and discussion) have been unnaturally merged? – philcolbourn May 5 '10 at 14:44
@phil: It's possible. As I said, there are advantages and disadvantages of both formats. There's also that (a) they already had a full system created and ready to go, so doing setup was easier, and (b) using the same format made it easier to migrate questions that originally were asked and categorized on SO proper. – Jon Seigel May 5 '10 at 14:56

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