Recently I posted What does this symbol mean in JavaScript? and it set off a bit of a mini-bombshell, rocking back and forth between close and re-open votes.

Initially it was criticized for posting "answer" material in the actual question, so I moved the content to an answer.

The concern has been raised, though, that "reference" questions aren't really along the lines of Stack Overflow, though this PHP Reference has certainly taken off.

The concern is twofold; one, it is rather generic - seeking to answer a large subject matter (JS syntax/operators) in one question, instead of addressing specific issues, and two, it simply points to answers instead of actually answering them.

Should this community wiki be used for this type of reference material? If not, is a single "What do these symbols mean?" question and accompanying exhaustive answer good for Stack Overflow (i think this has been addressed before)

Some have suggested that the tag wikis be used for this generic reference material, but imo they aren't easy to find and not enough people know about them. Additionally, the tag wiki seems to broad to contain reference material on the more specific details of a tag.

Should exhaustive reference (whether pointing to existing answers or not) community wikis be posted?

  • @BoltClock'saUnicorn that would seem to say (see meta.stackexchange.com/a/62739/161220 as well) that reference questions are desired, (though perhaps not "reference" so much as "exhasutive"). Mar 3, 2012 at 23:21
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    The concern has been raised, though, that "reference" questions aren't really along the lines of Stack Overflow, though this PHP Reference has certainly taken off. Which kinda proves that it takes one crap question to derail any sensible conversation and consensus building... Argh...
    – yannis
    Mar 3, 2012 at 23:47
  • @YannisRizos sure, but the PHP reference example does demonstrate that the idea isn't totally frowned upon. See also meta.stackexchange.com/questions/62695/… which is sort of along the same lines. Mar 3, 2012 at 23:49
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    @ThomasShields The idea may even be popular for all I know, however that doesn't automatically make it a good fit for the Q&A format... I don't want SO to turn into a reference site, simply because it's not designed to be one. And SO is not the internet, no point in trying to fit everything here. All that makes SO great (principles, moderation, software) is tuned to work with a certain type of content, questions and answers. I get that everyone wants to contribute to this fantastic community, but we need to realise that stretching the system ad nauseam will be our downfall.
    – yannis
    Mar 3, 2012 at 23:58
  • @YannisRizos good point. What do you think about elaborating the tag-wikis to include links to SO questions and answers on the tag topic? Mar 4, 2012 at 0:00
  • @ThomasShields I think it's a good idea. However I have a very bad track record when it comes to tag wikis, for example I used to think people actually read them ;P
    – yannis
    Mar 4, 2012 at 0:06
  • @YannisRizos exactly, nobody reads them. They ought to be better promoted, somehow. Mar 4, 2012 at 1:14

1 Answer 1


Ideally, that kind of stuff should be in tag wikis. However, tag wikis aren't quite up to task yet. There's no way to link to a part of a tag wiki, so if you put too much stuff in them, it's difficult to locate the right section. And you can't close a question as a duplicate of a tag wiki.

So for questions like “What does this $language operator mean”, which are reasonable technical questions and whose only defect by Stack Exchange standards is that they are very broad (which would normally mean they should be closed as “not a real question”), I think a canonical reference question is a reasonable interim solution. I'm not a PHP guy, but I think the PHP example is working well.

Since it's not expected that a single person would write and maintain the repository, I think community wiki is appropriate, as a sign that everyone is welcome to edit. Note that I do think the tag wiki rules, where edits are reviewed (except for users with 20k rep), would be more appropriate, but again, as an interim solution, I find this reasonable.

I think it would be better to have a very short question and a single answer containing the list of links, to respect the Q&A format. But it's not a big deal here.


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