Since this discussion led to Reference - What does this symbol mean in PHP? to be closed again, I'll throw in my 2c in as well.
When I created the Operator Reference more than two years ago, the same fuss happening right here happened there as well. The question would immediately gain a notable number of upvotes indicating interest, then a flood of comments came in (now deleted) complaining about it. The question got closed and reopened and closed and reopened. Almost all of the arguments I hear right now I heard back then.
Let's look at the facts for a few seconds.
- it is not a real question
- it is not constructive
- it is not how Questions are supposed to be used
- it should be a tag wiki
I give you that. It's all true. And for both References in question. So by that definition, they sure should be closed and deleted.
But, at least for the Operator Reference, it is also true that
This is value!
I have no other numbers to back that, but my impression is that there is less new operator questions nowadays. And those new ones are closed against the Operator Reference, often with a specific question given as second dupe. Feel free to validate this claim.
Granted, this new Reference (not created, but supported by me) does not fix a shortcoming in SO's search engine However, given the vast amount of dupes we have about errors, warnings and notices, it doesn't matter that you can search for these. Because it is simply not expedient to go searching for these anymore.
Most of the existing questions are too localized and contain answers like "fix line 65". It is hard to find a suitable dupe among these because of the sheer amount of them. By the very same rules that got both References closed now, none of these other Questions should exist. But they do. They get answered over and over again. We are not closing them as too localized (well, I do) because they are easy reputation and not answering them would leave the OP with no solution whatsoever. So instead we pile up. Is that really the solution?
If this new Reference contains a general solution to common errors (not all, that's impossible) along with additional links to quality answer or existing Canonicals, we have a first line of defense against these questions. And we won't leave the OP in the rain. Yes, they still have to search the Reference then, but that is very little effort given that it is a) a filtered list b) containing relevant links and 3) the OP should have done so before asking anyway.
Even if we can't stop them from asking, maybe we can stop us from piling up.
Linking to References is not bad
One of the more common complaints here is that linking to a reference instead of a concrete question is bad. People won't find their answers in the Reference they say. I disagree, because people are not braindead. If anything they are too lazy to search. That's their own fault then. Nothing we can do will make them search. However, I wonder how you know that all the questions we closed against a real question actually did or didn't answer their problem at all?
I must have closed more than two thousand questions by now (most without the reference) and I can count the ones where an OP actually said "right, that solves it" on one hand. I got about three dozens cases where an OP complained that the dupe is not appropriate. The vast majority simply didn't say anything at all. They won't even upvote anything in the linked dupe. So how do we count this then? No feedback means dupe didn't help? Or did help?
Actually, it doesn't matter. Because if no negative feedback is the measure, then linking to References cannot be bad, because there is almost no negative feedback. If upvotes are the measure, then linking to a Reference is also not bad, because it has 389 upvotes and 271 favorites. And if positive feedback is the measure, then we have to consider the entire practise of closevoting as ineffective.
Let's talk about Form.
I have always been an advocate of the Digest Format for References for reasons outlined. When I was told about the new Reference in the PHP chat, I assumed it would be in that format. Digest is my favorite approach, because it is effectively a tag wiki on steroids:
- It shows up in the FAQ and Suggestions, which gives it much more visibility.
- It collect suitable dupes to close with
- It helps OPs to find possible Q&A for their problem more easily
- It helps contributors to find existing Q&A to turn into Canonicals
- It doesn't take away from existing questions
- It doesn't rely on quality content to be provided in the Reference
You could also think of it as a superdupe. When we close a question as a dupe, it will say: this is a dupe of X. The Operator Reference (since it has no answers, except for that one where there was no dupe for) is effectively like a closed question saying exactly that: "your question is a dupe of one of these. go find it in the list". In that regard, the Digest format isn't too far off from what we expect formally.
In case of the Operator Reference, I get no reputation from it (CW). I even was peer pressured to get it denormalized from me, so I cannot get any badges from it*.
* despite the day it took me to compile the initial list and the effort I put into maintaining it over the years and other, failed attempts at creating References gaining their creators badges for years. Note: after three years I've finally had it assigned back to me.
Cause and Effect
I absolutely agree that this Reference format is not a real question. But that's not the point. It wasn't meant as a question in the first place. That the Operator Reference exists is merely an expression of StackOverflow's failing processes and tools. The current tag wikis are a failure. The required effort to cut down on dupes is too time consuming. And "loving the dupes" doesn't help the situation at all. It makes it worse.
Also, keep in mind that we are developers. If there is anything we really know how to do, than it is self-organizing ourselves and improving our tools. This is exactly what is happening here. It's pretty much Agile. We are adapting to the realities in the PHP tag.
References are not real questions, but it doesn't matter because they don't intend to be. The Operator Reference has undeniably proven it's worth to the PHP tag. The Error Reference could achieve the same if given the chance. If anything, we should discuss whether it's current form should be changed to a different format, e.g. the Digest format.
The continuous attempt at creating References are symptoms of failing tools on StackOverflow. We should look at the root causes and either accept the References as the best cure to these problems or come up with better ways to solve them. Discussion about better ways should take into account that the people in the PHP tag likely know best which challenges they face in there and how they can be solved.