The FAQ for StackOverflow and many (all?) other stackexchange sites contains the advice:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face.

The community disagrees. The most popular questions on StackOverflow are the ones which defy this guideline. Some recent examples:

None of these questions are "entertainment" questions. They are all technical questions which recieved good answers. I'm not talking about the massively upvoted "poll" questions of the earlier days of SO.

int a[] = {1,2,}; Weird comma allowed. Any particular reason?

Is there a technical reason that C# does not issue the "tail." CIL instruction?

What are the implications of asking Reflection APIs to overwrite System.String.Empty?

Why are private fields private to the type, not the instance?

string.Empty vs null.Which one do you use?

When I `throw` something, where is it stored in memory?

Named arguments and generic type inference in C# 4.0

Parentheses altering semantics of function call result

Why is List.Sort() an instance method but Array.Sort() static?

Difference between covariance and upcasting

Why is an assignment to a base class valid, but an assignment to a derived class a compilation error?

Why not have all the functions as virtual in C++?

Why return object instead of array?

Those questions weren't about problems thier writers faced. They were about matters of curiosity. This type of question is consistently more upvoted than specific, problem-related questions.

So the community favors curiosity questions. Should the FAQ be changed to reflect reality, or should it continue to assert its obsolete ideals?

I propose the removal of the words "based on actual problems that you face" from the FAQ.

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    Trainwrecks are always entertaining to watch. Popularity doesn't denote quality. – random Aug 9 '11 at 15:28
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    Nine of the twelve you link to contain actual code, which would seem to indicate that they are at least partly based on actual problems. Still, I won't downvote you, since you at least had the decency to link to recent questions instead of cherry-picking the most popular posts from 2008. – Bill the Lizard Aug 9 '11 at 15:32
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    Every one of the questions you linked is still open. So what's the problem? – user102937 Aug 9 '11 at 15:36
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    @Robert: I'm not sure what you mean by that question. The fact that they're still open just reinforces my point. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 15:54
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    If the way the FAQ is worded was a real problem, those questions would have been closed already. If your question is good enough to get decent answers without endless discussion or argument, it will probably survive without being closed, faq wording notwithstanding. The faq wording, in its current form, is there to discourage chatty, bikeshed questions that do not add any substantial value to the site. – user102937 Aug 9 '11 at 15:58
  • Here is an example of a question that's well on its way to being closed as "Not a Real Question," because it is too open-ended. Note the comment that ChrisF posted below it. – user102937 Aug 9 '11 at 17:10
  • @Robert, of course that will be closed - it's a terrible question. You just keep making points that have no relevance at all to my question. I said nothing about closing or not closing questions. I'm sorry, I guess I just can't make myself clear to you. Never mind though, clearly my opinion is considered ridiculous by all, so there's little point in continuing to discuss it. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 19:27
  • Most of those questions you link to do concern an actual problem that someone faced... That's what spurred them to ask the question. The text of several of those questions actually says as much explicitly. – Cody Gray Aug 10 '11 at 5:11
  • @Cody: I guess it's a difference in interpretation. I re-read all the questions but didn't find any that seemed to be explicitly asking for help to solve a problem. There was one that was borderline (ambiguous) so I removed it. To me they all seem inspired by curiosity: "I noticed X behavior/feature and was wondering why it exists" rather than "X behavior/feature is causing a problem for me, how can I get around it?". – Igby Largeman Aug 17 '11 at 17:36

So the community favors curiosity questions.

No, the community upvotes curiosity questions, because everyone can understand them and people upvote things that entertain them instead of things that are useful. In an ideal world the best posts would have the most votes, but it's well established that that's not what happens. The FAQ entry was specifically added to try and cut down on these sorts of questions; I don't know whether or not it actually helps, but it certainly shouldn't be removed

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    Michael, did look at any of the questions I linked? I didn't link thngs like "what's your favorite weird language feature" or "worst code you ever saw". Those are entertaining. The ones I linked are informative and worthy of their votes. They're not poll questions. And they're not necessarily questions everyone can understand - some go well over my head. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 15:59
  • Define the difference between "favors" and "upvotes". – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 16:04

You must be used to more traditional forums, where anything goes.

Stack Exchange offers an alternative: What would happen if we provided a tool where people could ask real questions and get real answers, without having to wade through an endless sea of "Me too!" "I have the same problem," "Have you found an answer for this?" and "I like turtles?"

There are plenty of other places on the internet where you can have this, if you want it. Here, we favor quality over popularity. To do that, we require community members to have a little more focus.

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    Are you answering my question, or is this a knee-jerk response to what you think I probably asked when you say the title? The questions I linked were good questions with good answers. Please Robert, read what I wrote and read what I linked to. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 16:03
  • I am pointing out that the way in which the Stack Exchange network handles questions and answers is a fundamental feature of the network; it is not subject to popularity vote. – user102937 Aug 9 '11 at 16:04
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    If "ask questions about problems which you actually face" was a fundamental feature of the network, then it would be an enforced rule. It's not enforced, it's largely ignored. There isn't a close reason for "this doesn't seem to be about a problem you acually face". – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 16:16
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    "Ask questions about problems you actually face" is a guideline that helps community members ask questions that do not run afoul of the actual close reasons. This guideline is used all the time as a justification to close chatty, open-ended questions that do not add value to the site. As you pointed out yourself, all of the questions you linked are not chatty, open-ended questions, which is why they are still open. – user102937 Aug 9 '11 at 16:22
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    Right - they're not chatty, they're good questions, but they aren't about problems their writers faced and yet people consider them the best questions on the site. Therefore the majority of people voting do not agree that questions should be about specific issues their writers face. I don't know how I can be more clear about this. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 19:31

The practical questions guideline is just that - a guideline. It's not a hard and fast rule and as you have noticed, it's open to interpretation.

There are far more questions that break that guideline and are outright bad questions or discussion topics disguised as questions than there are questions that only violate the guideline. Those are the cases that are supposed to be caught. When a good question happens to be asked, it clearly stays open and the wording of the guideline is not an issue.

  • I completely agree with this answer. But you're sidestepping the fact I described: the questions deemed good by most voters which are left open (because they are good) are in opposition to this guideline. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 19:35
  • @Charles It's a guideline, not a rule. Things that go against it aren't automatic candidates for closure. The questions you listed have a lot of votes in part because they are good questions and they are kept open because they are good questions. A bad question with a lot of votes would still get closed. – Adam Lear Aug 9 '11 at 19:37
  • Wow, you too. I must really write terrible questions. I never said anything about closing these questions - they are GOOD. I'm suggesting keep the questions, lose the guideline. I really thought that was clear when I said "I propose the removal of the words "based on actual problems that you face" from the FAQ". – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 19:56
  • @Charles I read and understood your question. I just happen disagree with your proposal. I think the guideline is serving its purpose with the questions that are bad and break it. – Adam Lear Aug 9 '11 at 20:00
  • @Charles It's clearly not harming good questions, so removing the guideline would, in my opinion, cause problems in exchange for very little payoff. – Adam Lear Aug 9 '11 at 20:06
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    Different parts of the same guideline serve that purpose by specifying "practical, answerable questions" and saying "chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site...". It's the ones which break those aspects of the guideline which are being closed (as they should be). Removing the part about "problems you actually face" wouldn't stop those bad questions from being closed, just as including those words isn't stopping those base questions from being asked. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 20:07
  • It's not harming good questions, but it could well be preventing some people from asking good questions they have - because they don't want to oppose the guideline. – Igby Largeman Aug 9 '11 at 20:09
  • @Charles My perception as a moderator (on Programmers) is that people who'd ask bad questions don't read the FAQ anyway and people who ask good questions use common sense and/or respond to direction from the community. I don't know how many questions might not be getting asked, but the guideline was not always there. It was only added in January of this year and I think it was well-justified at the time and still is. – Adam Lear Aug 9 '11 at 20:18

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