My first attempt at posting a particular question on Stack Overflow got closed as "off topic" before any comment or answer could be posted. Although I'm a programmer and was literally trying to determine what port number to use for a server in development, the police department apparently felt the question did not "generally relate to programming or software development" and was not a "practical, answerable [question] based on actual problems that [I] face". How ironic.

Since it was a server question, I tried again at Server Fault, only to be immediately closed as "not constructive" (that is, it will "likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion"). I guess we'll never know if my question would have spiraled into generating that kind of horrible calamity.

I crossed my fingers and gave it one more shot at Super User. Immediately the police department began hovering over the question, threatening to skewer me once again (don't those people have better things to do?). Fortunately, an answer angel swooped in, and posted exactly the kind of informed response I was looking for. (He was also nice enough to post his answer as a comment on the two previously closed versions of my question.) So, in spite of the police and their attempts at squashing my question, a valuable (at least to me) question-answer exchange was finally able to take place.

Was the police department too eager? (Here I am policing the police!) Shouldn't a question be given a bit more time and a chance to prove its value before being declared guilty? Would it really kill the site to allow questions to live for at least a few days, receiving downvoting and a lack of answers, or actually demonstrating the ability to generate whatever it is the police feel is a threat, before the question can be closed? Isn't it premature to close a question to avoid "opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion" if a single response hasn't even been posted yet? (I know those questions have been asked before, but bear with me...)

In my case, I made the mistake of using words like "best", not realizing how subjective questions are considered so distasteful to the police. In trying to fend off the police, I pleaded for them to consider a statistically likely answer, and lo and behold the answer posted by the angel was indeed determined by a poll.

Bottom line: my experience above seems to me to be proof that apparently subjective questions can sometimes ultimately be answered rather definitively, but the site's current closing policies don't allow for that, hence those policies appear flawed.

(Yes, I'm expecting extensive downvoting on this post.)

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    Yes, I'm expecting extensive downvoting on this post. Perhaps you should consider changing your tone, even if your question was a good one, I have no interest in checking it out after reading this rant.
    – yannis
    May 30, 2012 at 22:08
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    There is no police, only other users.
    – örs
    May 30, 2012 at 22:08
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    Would it really kill the site to allow questions to live for at least a few days? Yes, yes it would May 30, 2012 at 22:12
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    The policies aren't flawed, we don't want subjective questions here because this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum where subjective questions are perfectly appropriate. Your question is impossible to answer because it is basically asking us to second-guess the firewall policies on an unknown number of networks simultaneously. THAT is an appallingly bad question for the site and that is why it keeps getting closed.
    – RivieraKid
    May 30, 2012 at 22:12
  • @örs: For "police", read "those users that can and do close". I think that's a small % of users. May 30, 2012 at 22:32
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    @RivieraKid: I think "joe snyder" showed the question wasn't really subjective and indeed could be answered. I certainly liked his answer and gave him credit. That's the whole point: apparently subjective questions can sometimes ultimately be answered rather definitively, so give them a chance. May 30, 2012 at 22:33
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    @mike: "I think 'joe snyder' showed the question wasn't really subjective and indeed could be answered." The fact that someone posted an answer that you like does not mean that it isn't subjective. Indeed, that's the whole point: the fact that you like the answer does not make it good. That's what makes it subjective. May 30, 2012 at 22:43
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    "don't those people have better things to do?" Yes, we do. Even counting only interaction on the sites, we definitely have better things to do. And dealing with marginal and out-right inappropriate questions keeps us from doing them and makes us grumpy. May 30, 2012 at 23:50
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    @Nicol: The opposite is also true: because a closer does not like a question does not make it bad. joe realized that by turning my subjective question into an objective "where is the data that shows...?" he could transform the problem and answer into something useful. This site needs more of that. May 31, 2012 at 0:12

5 Answers 5


I didn't vote on any of the original questions, nor will I vote on this one.

With that out of the way: your question as posed has no answer; there is no such thing as a "best UDP port." A port is a port.

After reading all three versions, I gather that what you're looking for is a port that is likely to have been accidentally left open, so that your server can listen on it. This is quite literally like asking whether you would have better luck trying to break into houses through the front windows or the rear windows. It's asking where security administrators are most likely to have messed up. We'd all like to think the answer is "none of the above". There's no good answer, even with this level of understanding; you're asking people to guess what sort of screwups are most likely.

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    No "accidental" openings are desired, just the statistically most likely. "53" appears to be the answer. May 30, 2012 at 22:35
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    @mike -- but it would be accidental. If a port is open at a firewall to some machine behind the firewall, but there isn't already a server listening on that machine, then that's a mistake. If the firewall allows connections on some port to any machine behind it, that's a mistake, too. And if a firewall allows clients behind it to connect to just any random DNS server, that's a mistake, too (although a more common one, and harder to avoid.) May 30, 2012 at 23:23
  • Instead of "desired" I should have said "particularly preferred". If the port is available deliberately or accidentally, I really don't care. I just want the port most likely to be available, to avoid making the customer have to go to his/her admin to ask for something to be unblocked. Your response appears to indicate that 53 is indeed going to turn out to be the most likely candidate, like the survey that joe found. May 30, 2012 at 23:34
  • @mike: Your understanding is flawed if a 'customer' is behind a corporate firewall they will have to go through purchasing and a change process to get the software installed on their end device anyway. The only correct way to do what you want is to negotiate an exception based on business need. If your product has value there will be no problem.
    – user147520
    May 31, 2012 at 5:45

Isn't it premature to close a question to avoid "opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion" if a single response hasn't even been posted yet?

No, it is not.

Let's say I ask, "What is the best text editor for Windows?" However useful that question might be, there is no correct answer to it. Everyone has their own personal preferences; the absolute best you'll get is people making long posts explaining their own perspectives on text editing. More likely, you'll get people just responding with their text editor of choice.

What good is that? How is it productive? All you're getting is everyone's opinion about what text editor to use. Even in the best case... their perspective is almost certainly not yours. And even if it is, questions here are also supposed to be useful to the "not you" demographic. What good is it if you are the only person who would be helped by the answers?

The question, by its very nature, solicits debate and opinions. It is a poll question. And, even though it may produce useful information, we do not want that here. If a question cannot be definitively answered, we generally don't want it on the site. It serves no purpose to us.

Therefore, if we see poll questions, we do our best to turn them off.

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    Don't forget the fact that they generate a lot of upvotes for the questions and answers. This makes people want to ask them and answer them May 30, 2012 at 22:20
  • @Nicol: Closing a general question that immediately generates vast amounts of opinions and debates is not premature (although I doubt the poster would be "the only person who would be helped"). On the other hand, immediately closing an esoteric technical question that goes begging for an informed response is indeed premature, and what made it difficult for me to receive the useful answer I eventually got ("53"). May 30, 2012 at 22:42
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    @mike: What is premature about closing a question that is clearly subjective and polling, and therefore not appropriate for the site? It's no different from closing a question asking about raising honeybees. The rules of the site forbid them. May 30, 2012 at 22:45
  • @Nicol: "Even though it may produce useful information, we do not want that here". Great slogan! That's the unfortunate attitude of the police that to me makes the site less useful. I'd rather see the police apply a bit more patience (at least for the more technical questions) to give someone like joe a chance to post "survey x says y is the best". Close all you want, just don't close so fast. May 30, 2012 at 23:03
  • @Nicol: Instead of CLOSERS that say "which is the best X?" is forbidden and must be immediately closed, you need EDITORS to change the question to "where is the data to determine the best X?". Then people like joe can post "site y did survey z and determined the answer is 53". That way, everybody's happy, and no one's being shut out of getting and receiving useful information. One editor is worth 1,000 closers, but with the site's current policies and techniques, closers aren't giving certain useful questions a chance to generate useful answers. Perhaps closers should get editor approval? May 30, 2012 at 23:23
  • @mike: The data on inherently subjective questions are not reliable. They can--and do--change on a moments notice. Your questions was asking for the result of a study on how people configure their routers today. That's why I'd probably have selected "too localized". But I'm not upset because "study" in this instance just means "well conducted poll". May 30, 2012 at 23:53
  • @dmckee: Most of this site's answers on objective questions might not be reliable or always timely either. But, I'd rather get some kind of input than none at all, because I can always abandon a bad answer, but with no answer I'm still stuck. May 31, 2012 at 0:22
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    @mike: "you need EDITORS to change the question to 'where is the data to determine the best X?'." It is not the responsibility of people on this site to fix your question for you. It is your responsibility to ask good questions. Quite frankly, I, and many people on this site, have better things to do than play around with a question that the asker couldn't even be bothered to phrase correctly. That shows a profound disrespect for the rules of SO and its members who follow them. May 31, 2012 at 0:36
  • @Nicol: They wouldn't be "Fixing" the question for me, they'd be fixing it for the closers who can't comprehend, or don't want to take the time to determine, how the question might be useful. Editor-required approval would be good for closers. I think most posters are trying to ask good questions important or interesting to them, and probably have zero expectation of anyone improving their phrasing. "Profound disrespect"? No, it's probably just some harried back-to-the-wall programmer desperately looking for help. Cut them some slack with the attitude "the customer is always right". May 31, 2012 at 1:12
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    @mike: "Cut them some slack with the attitude 'the customer is always right'." No. Stack Overflow is successful because it removes worthless crap questions, so that potential answerer's don't have to deal with them. If a "harried, back-to-the-wall programmer" cannot take a couple of minutes to show some common courtesy when asking for help, why should we show courtesy to the discourteous?. Plus, the "customer" for Stack Overflow is not the person asking the question. It's the person who does a search and has their question answered without asking. May 31, 2012 at 1:19
  • @Nicol: "Why should we show courtesy to the discourteous", "the customer for Stack Overflow is not the person asking the question": more great slogans! Please keep them coming. May 31, 2012 at 1:43
  • @Nicol: I'm ALL FOR removing "worthless crap questions", I just don't want closers to be in such a rush to judgement of which questions are worthless crap. Look, the site is what it is. If the moderators feel (a) certain questions have to immediately be closed, even if useful information is sometimes prohibited, and (b) those policies and procedures aren't flawed so there's no room for improvement, so be it. But it sounds a little suspicious to me... May 31, 2012 at 1:44
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    @mike, you seem to have a fundamental misunderstanding about the SE network. The whole point is that they are community driven. so therefore, if the community is telling you that your questions are not a good fit for the site, then they are not a good fit. The policies eventually are modified to match what the community considers appropriate, and while they do tend to lag a little behind the current community feeling, but the simple fact is that it's the community that decides what they will tolerate.
    – RivieraKid
    May 31, 2012 at 12:45
  • @mike - It's OK to come to MSO to ask if something is wrong, or if you have misunderstood what a good question is, but to ignore the opinion and advice of those who are more experienced here than you demonstrates even more that you don't understand the point of SE.
    – RivieraKid
    May 31, 2012 at 12:46
  • @RivieraKid: "community driven"? to me, the community is not the moderators, nor vice versa. the questions and answers are "community driven", but the closing policies are clearly moderator driven, and moderators are a small percentage of the community (though they may have all the power). it's VERY clear to me what the moderators believe and want, i just think there's room for improvement. to me, all questions are "good", some are just better than others, and for a moderator to believe a question can't be prematurely closed seems sad and almost arrogant. Dec 7, 2012 at 8:01

Would it really kill the site to allow questions to live for at least a few days, receiving downvoting and a lack of answers, or actually demonstrating the ability to generate whatever it is the police feel is a threat, before the question can be closed?

Yes, it would kill it.

Stack Overflow has a large number of questions and tries to maintain a low signal-to-noise ratio. It's what sets Stack Overflow apart form all the other Q & A sites. It's why we have

  • Downvoting

  • Flags

  • Moderation tools for high rep users (closing, deleting, etc.)

  • Limits per time unit (for questions)

  • Question and answers bans

in the first place.

Allowing questions to stay alive for a certain amount of time would undermine the very purpose of closing questions:

  • Preventing the question from getting answered.

  • Deterring everybody from asking such questions in the first place.

  • Closing is fine, closing prematurely is bad, and editing is best. Closing ASAP seems guaranteed to sometimes squash useful dialog (like my "use port 53" example). Yes, you're often removing noise, but sometimes you're sacrificing the signal too. Noise is easy to ignore, so a way of removing it shouldn't have the side effect of making it harder to get answers. (Policies to deal with subjective questions are themselves subjective, so I guess this site will be chasing it's tail on that issue for a long time.) In the mean time, it seems glaringly obvious that there is room for improvement. May 31, 2012 at 0:46
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    Closing isn't definitive (question can get reopened), so it can't be done prematurely. If your question is salvageable by editing, do so and flag for mod attention, if needed.
    – Dennis
    May 31, 2012 at 1:02
  • Closing, especially immediate closing before any comments or answers at all, can indeed be premature because closing prevents posting answers (and probably also inhibits views and consideration by visitors), let alone the possibility that it was simply closed without proper consideration or understanding by the closer. You may believe the closing of the original "53" question was not premature, but I would have to disagree, especially after receiving the posted answer to its 3rd incarnation. May 31, 2012 at 1:28
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    @mike: We're not understanding each other. Closing is intended to prevent users form answering questions. The fact that you did get an answer to a question that was ultimately deemed unfit for that site is a flaw in the system. The question didn't get closed fast enough.
    – Dennis
    May 31, 2012 at 1:32
  • "The fact that you did get an answer...is a flaw in the system". Sounds like Nicol above is feeding me more great slogans! Yes, I understand closing isn't fast enough for moderators wanting to squelch junk. But closing is too fast for posters wanting answers, especially closing immediately (as opposed to your "ultimately", which implies something a little slower or more considered). The wall between too fast vs. not fast enough is the indication of the need for better policies/procedures. Ask not "how do we close faster?", ask "what can we do to avoid needing closing police at all?". May 31, 2012 at 2:11

Your question is wrong on many levels, because your world view is wrong.

On Server Fault your question was not constructive and closed as such. Had you rephrased the question so that it was constructive it would most likely have been closed as off-topic as you are trying to circumvent security policy which is specifically off-topic on Server Fault.

Your justification for wanting to do this is that you don't want your customers to have to beg over zealous system administrators to open a port. You do realise that the target audience of Server Fault is those administrators? They aren't being over zealous they are implementing policy and good practice.

You appear to have a product that you expect to sell to people who may not be able to use it because they sit behind a corporate firewall. If your product has business value then as part of its deployment the administrators will open whatever port it required to make it work as the business will instruct them to do so.

If though, your product isn't business orientated then have you considered how they are going to get this product installed on an endpoint? Many (most) well-managed environments don't let just anyone install software.

The question provided on Super User is subjective in that it is a poll. It's a poll of the users of one particular website which focusses on broadband speed, over clocking, etc. The users of that site are unlikely to sit behind a corporate firewall (like your customers), so why would you expect the results to translate meaningfully into that environment?

Stop being petulant. Learn how the world works, work with it, not against it to make $$$.

  • :"had u rephrased so that is was constructive it would most likely have been closed". constructive questions still get closed? is Nicol feeding u slogans? "u don't want customers to have to beg over zealous admins"? of course not. i don't want them to tangle with admins at all, if possible. "the answer provided is subjective": fine by me. "petulant"? sulky or bad-tempered? sounds more like the moderators than us hapless posters. look, i'm very happy with the answer joe eventually posted, + i understand why SO policies didn't like the exchange, but i still like joe more than the policies. Dec 7, 2012 at 8:24

No, your question was not prematurely closed, because by the standards of the site (although those standards are ambiguous, inconsistently applied, somewhat subjective themselves, and there are many examples of popular, subjective questions that aren't forced closed), you did not ask your question properly. Shame on you!

If you had asked "Where is a resource showing the UDP port statistically most likely to be open?", someone could answer "Site x, which says the answer is 53", and your question would probably have stayed under the radar of moderators and remain open.

However, your question was asked as essentially "What's the best UDP port to use?". Although an appropriate answer could still be "Site x says the answer is 53", framing your question in such a subjective fashion is considered taboo, since it invites more than a specific answer. The policy is to close the question as quickly as possible, even at the risk of preventing a useful answer.

In fact, some believe there's no way to appropriately ask some questions on this site, even at the cost of certain knowledge thereby remaining forever unreachable.

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    "your question would probably have stayed under the radar of moderators and remain open." No, your question would still have been closed because Stack Overflow is not your personal research assistant, nor is it a Link Farm or Search Engine. May 31, 2012 at 12:23
  • "In fact, some believe there's no way to appropriately ask your question on this site, even at the cost of certain knowledge thereby remaining forever unreachable." Google. That "certain knowledge" was perfectly reachable via Google. It's on the Internet. It may not have been easy for you to find, but don't act like it didn't exist. May 31, 2012 at 12:24
  • @Nicol: "SO is not your personal research assistant"! Another great slogan! Your list of all the things SO isn't and can't be used for has been very enlightening. Keep them coming. "Don't act like it didn't exist": I've changed "your question" to "some questions" to make it more clear I feel the police problem with SO extends to many questions, not just mine. (I love your debating style: counter a generalization with a specific, counter a specific with a generalization.) Dec 7, 2012 at 7:42

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