# The fourth place: Polling, Recommendations and subjective-ish stuff

Stuff like polls, recommendations based on subjective constraints, puzzles, webcomics etc. do not belong on the serious main SE sites, where professionals should be considered at work and having just a few spare minutes ("code's compiling") to answer questions, so they should not be distracted by such things. However, I'd also like to have a home for these things still using the SE engine. For the reason I mentioned before, this needs to be a separate place though. Let's call it four.[sitename-here].com.

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Hey, while we're at it we could implement listofx.stackoverflow.com, toolocalized.stackoverflow.com and notarealquestion.stackoverflow.com! All problems solved! –  Andy E Jul 16 '10 at 10:08
@Andy E's head: one place for all should really suffice. Just a "dump the too subjectives here" –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 16 '10 at 10:10
@Tobias: Approaching it from a "dump" perspective isn't going to gain any traction. These posts need a place to live rather than one in which to be thrown away. Personally, I'm not sure why some are trying to force that into the SE engine. –  Gnome Oct 4 '10 at 9:07
@Roger: I have tuned this feature-request since I wrote that comment. I agree creating a dump is the wrong approach, but for some sites (e.g. gaming) this would really be helpful. –  Tobias Kienzler Oct 5 '10 at 7:11
Would there be enough polls? –  Sicarius Noctis Nov 3 '10 at 5:40
@muntoo: no, and that's why extended this proposal to include recommendations and maybe also puzzles and fun-stuff that would distract when posted on the main SE while it were still nice to have around... –  Tobias Kienzler Nov 3 '10 at 6:10
@Tobias As long as there's free cheese along with the puzzles, I vote "YES!" –  Sicarius Noctis Nov 3 '10 at 22:45
I agree...and it would actually be the 5th place, Chat was the 4th - I believe. Regardless, I would like to have another SE area, the 5th dimension or 4th...where more subjective materials can be placed, Polling, comics, and something really big - team recruitment for projects, open source, game work, etc. The sites that have been doing this are changing formats and appear to be dropping the Help Wanted section. This is different than CV job recruitment. –  IAbstract Jan 13 '11 at 16:14
@IAbstract Chat was built on the principle of the third place. What did you consider to have been the 3rd place? –  Grace Note Jan 18 '11 at 18:15
@Grace: I think I was miscounting... –  IAbstract Jan 18 '11 at 18:37
–  gnat Oct 3 '13 at 17:06
possible duplicate of Could subjective discussions be supported using another format? –  gnat Jan 22 '14 at 6:03
@gnat Not really, I'm specifically asking about using the SE format even for the subjective part –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 22 '14 at 8:23
@TobiasKienzler feature to retract CV is implemented since Jul 15 '13 –  gnat Jan 22 '14 at 10:57
Some alternatives: opinions.[sitename].com, discussion.[sitename].com, subjective.[sitename].com, extended.[sitename].com, alternative.[sitename].com, broader.[sitename].com, relaxed.[sitename].com. –  Trilarion Jul 31 '14 at 10:11

I couldn't agree more. In particular, asking for product recommendations, rather than asking about specific products, is a recurring theme in many SE-2.0 sites, and controversial in many of them. Having a dedicated fourth place can be the perfect solution to satisfy both the fiercest opposers and the most ardent supporters for these questions.

Jeff's answer hints that his proposed solution is basically to create a parallel website for each of the existing ones. programmers.se is stackoverflow.com's parallel, and indeed there's also an area51 suggestion for a gaming.se's parallel.

One of the nicest things with creating a parallel site is that questions can be automatically migrated with the off-topic migration option; but on the other hand I think this trend is bad for the community at large, at the very least because it creates a different SE-2.0 site which addresses precisely the same crowd, and that can needlessly fracture the community. I've discussed this at length in a meta answer on gaming.se.

Do we really want to see a semi-subjective parallel SE created for each SE that becomes popular enough? Seems to me that having a specialized 4th place is a far more elegant and healthy solution. It does have its own problems, I admit, at the very least meaning that Google results will start showing semi-subjective questions under the ostensibly-objective stackexchange.com domain; but on the other hand that's exactly what is going on now with programmers.se.

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as programmers shows us, even that solution is awkward because we still have rules about what a constructive subjective question is, and the people who support this seem to want a "no rules anything goes" philosophy that we don't believe in. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 15 '11 at 8:21
@Jeff I don't believe in "anything goes" either, and I don't claim that stackexchange should simply contain anything - there are other websites out there. I understand that some questions are purged from programmers.se as well. But you can't deny that in general programmers is far more subjective than SO. I think that this mythical 4th place should try to be similar to programmers.se - i.e. a place for questions that in essence lack an objective answer, such as requests for recommendations, but still a Q&A site rejecting general discussions, and rejecting "bad subjective" questions. –  Oak Jan 15 '11 at 8:31
See also slant.co which is highly relevant –  Jeff Atwood Sep 5 '13 at 20:22
@JeffAtwood the slant resource is helpful. I do, however, keep finding myself turning to SO and other SEs for highly specific recommendations. It doesn't seem outrageous to ask for recommendations that are long-tailish: discussion on how to integrate system X with system Y on platform Z. Usually I am in this position because there are many resources on systems X,Y,Z, and I don't yet know enough about them to effectively root through the possible results. A response that says google term A, would, in this case, be useful! –  Ben Dec 10 '13 at 21:18
I think the real problem with this is that by closing the questions it actually makes them more worthless. Honestly, I don't see why "debatable" is so awful. The whole point of voting on answers is to take something debatable and let the community decide what is correct. What I would like to see is another site that doesn't allow answers to be accepted, since the questions are subjective and often time-sensitive. –  twiz Dec 15 '13 at 6:10

This is a very bad idea, let me explain why...

## Story Time

In the beginning people had questions and were looking for answers. So these people went to forums and mailing lists to find these answers from the experts. The system was imperfect though, some might say broken; questions were frequently repeated, it was difficult to know what the answer to a question was, and no one knew who to trust. Now moderators and Karma systems worked hard to correct these problems, but the people cried out: We want a better system!

So a man named Jeff teamed up with a man named Joel and they designed a new system. Where forums had been designed for people having a conversation, Jeff and Joel designed a system for Q&A. Drawing on their knowledge of of Q&A's, search engines and human behavior on the internet, the worked hard to create a system where people could find the answers to their questions. They emphasized good answers "floating," reputation and distinguishing between questions, comments and answers.

And all was good... until some people wanted to start using this software for something other than Q&A.

## The Problem

My endearing story aside, the StackExchange Engine is a very bad tool to use for things like: Recommendations and Polling (I'm ignoring comics and chatting for the moment). It suffers from a very large number of problems which have been enumerated before. A well designed recommendation system would profile characteristics and similarities and try to determine the relationships between them. This is very much at odds with a system designed to solve "needle in the hay stack" style problem. Instead of selecting the "right" answer, a recommendation wants to absorb "what" the relationship between A and B is, not the strength. While many people seem to think that the voting system will float the "best" recommendation, the reality is that it will float the "most popular" recommendation, not the one most related. What's worse, all those other recommendations don't gain the knowledge of "how" they are related, only the magnitude of that relationship.

If I were to design a recommendation engine based on crowd sourcing, I wouldn't index based on people looking for recommendations, I'd index based on discrete things (for example, in a video game recommendation engine I'd index on Video Games). From there I'd want users to assign characteristics that the games share: Metal Gear Solid is like Arkham Asylum because both are Stealth games. This way people don't see one and think they're both games about Batman. Finally, I wouldn't want to assign reputation to people based on agreement, but rather have a metric of how close one user's "taste" is to another user. Since the quality of a given person's taste isn't an objective value, similarity in taste is more important than correctness.

Ultimately the StackExchange Engine lacks the qualities of a good Recommendation Engine. It is designed to find the "correct" answer, a meaningless term when considering Recommendations have more than one correct answer and that they are correct in differing ways. Using SE for these things is like using Forums for Q&A, or using Microsoft Word to do a Spreadsheet: Just Plain Wrong.

So let's not repeat the same mistake our predecessors did, and try to abuse the engine into handling this content. I realize when you have a good hammer, how everything looks like nails, but let's try and use the right tool for the job here.

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@badp I upvoted him initially, but I feel this deserves a more fully explanation than just: No. –  tzenes Jan 23 '11 at 1:12
You make some very good points there. I guess you're right - Jeff&Joel made such a good hammer that it'd easily be able to drive screws... It's just, this hammer seems better than all screwdrivers I've seen so far –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 24 '11 at 10:37
Interesting point about recommendation engines, but while not ideal, StackExchange still works very well for a lot of those poll questions that are supposedly "low value" –  Casebash Apr 7 '12 at 1:06
@Casebash as we've learned that's only true for very small values of "well." The truth is, it's pretty bad for poll questions where the number of answers exceeds a handful (or maybe 2). The answers are too large, and people don't scroll very far; the highest voted answers tend to received the most vote; constant edits can change an answer from what a voter supports to something else; there are no summaries so you can see percentages. It's actually a pretty poor engine for polling questions... –  tzenes Apr 10 '12 at 1:04

Stuff like polls, recommendations based on subjective constraints, puzzles, webcomics etc

If this is really what you want, you need to do it on another engine. Ours simply cannot support these kinds of frivolous, pure entertainment based content.

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+1 because I believe there should be some limit. Puzzles and webcomics are not exactly Q&A. Asking for recommendations based on personal experience, however, are questions - just subjective ones. –  Oak Jan 15 '11 at 8:50
I guess you and @Oak are right, there must be a limit. So what about only recommendations? E.g. hardware.superuser.com and recomendations@gaming.SE. I mean the game recommendation proposal would basically be such a thing, it's just a question of domain naming... –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 16 '11 at 9:07
I agree about puzzles and webcomics being off-scope, but many of the polls are far from entertainment based questions and rather some of the most popular and useful questions on the whole site. –  Casebash Apr 7 '12 at 1:07
I agree that sometimes poll-based questions are some of the most useful on the site. I'd prefer not to see puzzles and webcomics anywhere. –  Chris Dutrow Oct 13 '14 at 1:21

I'd rather see people support the

"Not Programming Related" Area 51 site proposal
http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/3352/not-programming-related

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I should have mentioned I don't mean SO only, please note my edit –  Tobias Kienzler Jul 16 '10 at 10:12
–  Tobias Kienzler Aug 27 '10 at 8:39
@tobias these are to support moderator elections and meta-area-51 stuff. Governmental work. –  Jeff Atwood Aug 27 '10 at 8:52
technically you made it possible now, so it will only be a questions of time until someone requests this to be made available for citizens, too. Oh wait, I did... :p –  Tobias Kienzler Aug 27 '10 at 9:02
We all saw how that one worked out :P –  Ivo Flipse Mar 2 '11 at 14:32
That proposal did solve many of the issues associated with StackOverflow, but has simply lead them to repeat for all the other sites. I still believe that the forth place would be the best solution –  Casebash Apr 7 '12 at 1:09
it is worth noting that details for further "development" of a site created per mentioned proposal can be found here: Adding discipline to programmers.stackexchange.com –  gnat Sep 24 '13 at 15:47

I think Chat, the third place, would work fine for this. There just needs to be a way to persist threads and draw people's attention to them. You could use an individual room for each thread, but I think this would get cumbersome. Maybe they could create a way for someone to start a thread, label it with a question, and then have a list on the side of questions that are out there, and a way to filter to the question. Of course, this would be a little complicated and take some work to implement.

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Chat? I'd really prefer something more organized and less time-sensitive. Plus I like being able to vote and view sorted by votes... Your modifications suggest part of it, but how different would it then be from the basic SE principle? –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 19 '11 at 8:05
@Tobias, the problem is that the basic SE principles don't work well for subjectivy stuff. –  Lance Roberts Jan 19 '11 at 16:00
true, but something like hardware recommendation has one answer that the OP will have decided on and yet it is subjective. Same goes for "What game shall I play on my LAN party (+details of course)?" etc. And the votes give a nice indication of the communities preferences despite the fact that there may be not one single correct answer –  Tobias Kienzler Jan 20 '11 at 8:37