Why has the meaning of community-wiki shifted towards "a way to stop your post being closed" from the original intent of allowing almost anyone to edit the question and provide answers so that the question itself becomes a reference document for the topic under discussion?

Just intrigued and making the question community wiki! (-

Some expansion

If you read many posting here on meta, you will get a consistent message. The purpose of community wiki is to allow collaborative creation of real answers to real questions.

When I look at the questions that end up community wiki, that is not what I see. What I see is that it is used to establish a gray zone between concrete questions with concrete answers (on the one hand) and opinion/discussion on the other. By and large, opinion/discussion gets closed as 'not a real question' or 'subjective and argumentative.' But some number of posts that are not concrete questions with specific answers are allowed to remain -- so long as they are cwiki. The justification for this seems to be 'well, this tripe is too tasty to discard, but no one should get any rep for it.'

I can't think of a single occasion on which I've seen a cwiki question or answer serving as a vehicle for collaboration, or allowing low-rep users to stick an editorial oar into the river of text.

People aren't editing the question or collaboratively editing a single answer to reach a high polish. They are all posting different answers. Dozens of answers. Hundreds of answers. TL;DR No one is going to read all that stuff.

Maybe this is a good thing, and maybe not. It certainly leads to some level of confusion and whining about unequal treatment. (See recent meta question about career questions, e.g.)

I end up thinking that what we need here is to get our story straight. Given the recent ex cathedra pronouncement about leaving some humor questions open, wouldn't it be less stressful to write up and stick to a policy that covers this stuff, instead of having a policy that talks about one phenomenon and a practice that does something else?

  • Can you give some examples? Jul 28, 2009 at 13:39
  • When I hit -3 I deleted my post to get the peer pressure badge. Please don't give in to the CWP, CW is not about whether your post is technical enough or fits somebody's niche, it's supposed to be about editing capabilities. Of course this is the problem with democracies (and why the US is a republic), majorities always impose their will on the community. Jul 28, 2009 at 15:41
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    The downside of you deleting your post Lance is that you also deleted the reasoning I gave for why you can't always assume that just because you are given something doesn't mean everyone is going to agree on how to use it. Every single facet of this system is open for community interpretation. There is no consensus on anything here from who/what/why to up/downvote, what is acceptable on any site, and what the "favorites" designation actually means. More than anything it sounds like you are more unhappy that people don't operate how you want them to, not because of the original purpose of CW
    – TheTXI
    Jul 28, 2009 at 15:57
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    @Lance: Nice to know your convictions are less important than getting a badge. And moving it into a comment has the bonus of eradicating all evidence of disagreement. Wait a minute, comments aren't supposed to contain answers! Since when you get to impose your will on the community and post your answer as a comment? That's not what they're for! In all seriousness, though, it's time to come to grips: Jeff himself has stated that this is the community's site to guide. We can't please everyone, so of course we'd opt to please the majority. Seems fairly obvious to me. Jul 28, 2009 at 16:09
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    @TheTXI, no I'm unhappy that people won't operate according to the way that it was originally designed. As soon as Jeff gives the official word that CW is now to be used as it's now being abused, then I will stop fighting the CWP. Jul 28, 2009 at 16:12
  • @Pesto, It only seems obvious because you belong to the majority. Those of us who have niche areas and been CWed before have a different outlook. Jul 28, 2009 at 16:13
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    Lance: Way to completely ignore the entire idea that just because something is intended to work one way or be used one way doesn't mean it can't/won't change over time as the standards of the community itself changes. Atwood has demonstrated numerous times in the past his unwillingness to put the hammer down and nail out hard guidelines. If you want to continue digging your heels in over it, that's your choice, but you'll probably end up with sore feet after some time.
    – TheTXI
    Jul 28, 2009 at 16:23
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    Lance: If you are looking for Jeff to be your benevolent dictator you are going to wind up being very disappointed.
    – TheTXI
    Jul 28, 2009 at 16:24
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    @Lance: I'm sorry you're in the minority, but there's nothing I can do about it. What's more, it isn't my fault. You're welcome to wait for confirmation from on high, but in the meantime the rest of us can deal with the implied consent that Jeff hasn't come down in opposition to such use of CW. In fact, some --if not all --of the mods seem to support this use of CW. Frankly, I don't know what you'd rather us do; often the only alternative is to close the question. Would that suit you better? Jul 28, 2009 at 16:32
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    @Lance, I'd like to edit my answer to incorporate your feedback. Could you post a point-by-point disagreement on my answer so I can fix it?
    – devinb
    Jul 28, 2009 at 16:34

4 Answers 4


A lot of people ask very broad/unanswerable discussion questions, and then reap the benefits of getting 20 upvotes on a question which really doesn't belong on SO at all. As a result of that behaviour, there are many people who close those questions very quickly.

The other side is that if a user makes the question community wiki, then they are gaining no reputation, and the close-hawks will be more likely to allow the question to continue to exist, assuming that it is in fact, some way programming related.

Those are the politics involved in why community-wiki evolved into a way to avoid getting your question closed.

I feel it is still enacting a behaviour that is correct. If a question is broad, and not specifically answerable, but still useful/important to programmers, it should be marked as community-wiki so that anyone can answer/change the question, and the community can collaboratively try and find a correct approach.

The politics have encouraged people to mark those questions as community wiki, but there's no way to force people to answer/participate in them in the correct manner.


Very Recent Case in Point. 130 reputation points for posting an XKCD comic

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    Ironically enough, it took me a second to figure out why I wasn't getting any rep from this.
    – devinb
    Jul 28, 2009 at 14:56
  • I agree that there's a problem with waste-of-time questions, like 'programmer-hero' which has nothing to do with anyone's programming, but I see no problem with broad questions, see my answer here: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9782/…. I think the biggest misconception involved with CW is that rep should be a measure of your technical expertise, as opposed to your level of involvement. Since 'useful' (to someone's programming) questions and answers help people, and show your involvement, you should be able to get rep from them. Jul 28, 2009 at 16:58
  • ...Rep should be a measure of how much you are willing to help somebody else (and additionally how skillful you are at helping them). Jul 28, 2009 at 17:00
  • @Lance, the questions that people are saying "Should be CW" are usually NOT technical questions that have multiple acceptable answers. They are questions about design, architecture, client-relations, deployment strategies, bug fixing strategies, and other such non-technical, but technically related questions. I should know, I derived most of my SO rep from those questions. The community backlash is against the fact that there is a natural imbalance between questions that everyone can have an opinion on, and therefore upvote/answer the question, as opposed to the really hard questions
    – devinb
    Jul 28, 2009 at 20:22
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    which require a lot of expertise to answer. The questions with expertise, that the person really COULDN'T answer for themselves, generate very little interest, and therefore few upvotes. The questions that the poster COULD have answered, generate LOTS of upvotes, even though they could have done their own work instead of farming it out.
    – devinb
    Jul 28, 2009 at 20:24

Here's a concrete example of why...

Common-mistakes questions

There were a few of these asked yesterday. They're entertaining, and potentially even useful for programmers new to the target language.

They're also huge rep-farms. Sure, some people actually put a bit of effort into their answers, providing code samples and lengthy descriptions of why xxxx is a mistake. But chances are, if you already know the language being discussed you'll show up and immediately recognize several common mistakes that you agree with. Rather than re-posting them, you up-vote them. End result: lots of easy reputation for whoever is first to post the most egregious mistakes, regardless of whether or not they put any real effort into the write-up.

And these are some of the best multi-answer questions! Further down on the list, you'll find polls, discussions, GTKY questions... Each emphasizing more and more the ability to post a popular answer quickly over any need for technical merit.

Don't get me wrong; i've no issue with a little bit of this. Reputation is not so holy that we must protect its integrity at the expense of all else. The problem comes in keeping them from overrunning the site... One popular thread begets many imitations - see again the link above.

Originally, we just closed them. That... led to bad feelings. Charges of inconsistency, as the immitations were closed more readily than the originals. "Why favor C# over SQL? Why allow 'favorite books' but not 'programming hero'?" Things got out of hand.

CW provided, at least for a time, a compromise solution: the questions can stay open and on the site, so long as they're marked CW. Not everyone agreed, mind you - but the general attitude seemed to be, "we'll look the other way for CW".

Now that appears to be falling apart as well. Suggestions - even polite suggestions - that a question should be CW may be met with derision. Name-calling ("CW police") has become more common. And that's inevitable - CW wasn't meant for this, it was never a solution that either side could really get behind whole-heartedly, and as the site continues to grow it becomes less and less practical to explain this to new users. The time of CW as a compromise may be coming to an end.

But the noise prompted by visions of easy popularity isn't going to go away. I'm starting to suspect the end result may be a site where the concept of "user-moderation" is abandoned in favor of an ever-growing population of official Moderators. But, this may be too negative. We'll have to wait and see...

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    Crazy out of hand with the easy repping over on SU. There's no metric or indication on low value rep score gained through such polling/GTKY type questions, as well as the endless, "must have" and product recommendations. It's sullying the waters there during the beta period. Closing such questions would be in the good of it all really.
    – random
    Jul 28, 2009 at 16:43

Taking the existing points further; yes, this (the (ab)use of CW to mean "look the other way, please") is a major problem on SU. I'd be tempted to wonder whether a zero-tolerance approach on SU might help stabilise things (combined with a none-too-forgiving purge of the existing questions). i.e. if it isn't an actual sensible computer question, then kill it. Regardless of CW or the person doing the asking. Even if it is Joel.

Since it is officially beta, I think it would still be OK to risk a little bit of pushback to get the site integrity up. At the moment, I have concerns...

But then; if SU, why not SO/SF too? Of course, then we have to avoid MSO becoming the dumping ground of "fun".

Don't get me wrong; I don't object to fun (I'm not a sourpuss, honest), but it maybe that these questions cause more problems than the levity it provides warrants.

One saving grace is that people are slowly running out of ideas that can't be quickly closed as duplicates, and most of the community are happy for such things to get closed. Or deleted; I had no guilt whatsoever in simply deleting this one (you'll need 10k or ♦ to see it) while it was still only 15 seconds old; and for those who can't see it... "What is your favourite XKCD?" (it wasn't marked wiki, but that wasn't really part of my decision-making process...)

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    10 flags a day for the mods of SU is just not enough. Burn that limit within a few minutes of looking at the questions page.
    – random
    Jul 29, 2009 at 14:54

Seems to me that it's a way to be nice and avoid bending the feelings of overly sensitive people who insist on cluttering up the site. There's an awful lot that turns in wiki that should just be closed and/or deleted.

That's a good thing if you want to promote it as a social forum. A bad thing if you want it to be a technical forum.

  • A balance needs to be achieved. Aug 23, 2010 at 11:57
  • @A Student - Not necessarily. It's not required to always choose the middle ground. Sometimes the appropriate decision is to forsake "balance" and choose one extreme or the other. Oct 22, 2010 at 12:56

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