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What to do with questions about design reasoning that require an authority?

The C++ chat room started a debate on the open/close state of this question*. Should it be closed as "Not a real question"/"Not constructive"?

Some say "it's hardly answerable- you're talking about one random implementation decision by one random guy, a very long time ago. Ask yourself how many people in the entire world know the answer to that question", and thus it should be closed.

But on the other hand, others held that it is theoretically answerable, even if nobody on Stack Overflow happens to know the answer, and thus it should remain open.

*we eventually decided to close as "too localized," I think.

  • Upvotes = do not close as "not a real question"/"not constructive" I guess. – Mooing Duck Nov 2 '12 at 19:18
  • I would have gone for too localized I think. Even though it's closed as "not constructive" now. – Bart Nov 2 '12 at 19:29
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    My vote was "Too Localized". I think it's also not constructive, as this whole affair probably illustrates... (it's generated lots of discussion) – Andrew Barber Nov 2 '12 at 19:31
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    Which of the four points in the FAQ applies here? I don't see any. We can quibble about the close reason, but the fact of the matter is, this is better as a blog post on someone's site, or Wikipedia. We aren't responsible for curating interesting things related to programming on the Internet. – casperOne Nov 2 '12 at 23:21

I don't think a question deserves to be closed merely because it's difficult to answer, or unlikely to be answered. Unlikely does not imply "unanswerable" and in and of itself does not mean a whole lot.

The effect of it might be however that the question generates debate or extended discussion, with answers being nothing more than speculation. Which would make the question as a whole not constructive.

And perhaps one could argue that this particular question has such little interest for the "worldwide audience of the internet", and does not go much beyond a trivia status that it's too localized.

So yes, the question might end up being closed for those reasons. But it just being difficult to answer or unlikely to be answered without any of the other motivations is not enough for me.

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This question has two issues stemming from the fact that it's a trivia question:"Hey, why did Guy X do Thing Y? Why didn't he do Thing Z?

So that's the first problem: It's a trivia question.

Second is that because it's a trivia problem, it's going to invite discussion and arguments or, as we like to call it "Not Constructive". Let's say we get over cast aside those problems.

We now have other problems to face before this question to be useful:

  • Has this caused a specific programming problem that you face now?
  • Is there a likelihood that answering the question will make the world a better place somehow?

The answer to both those questions should be yes, if the question is going to be suitable for Stack Overflow.

In this particular case, that's not likely to happen, but we have an increasing likelihood of seeing the following:

  • At worst, the answer will be, "We don't know why, but let's guess (Not Constructive),

  • At best, you may get an answer from the language designers that could be interesting. But interesting does not a good question make.

    If it did, Boat Programming, and dozens of other 'interesting' questions would still exist on Stack Overflow.

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    Someone made the decision to name it that: it didn't happen ex nihilo. So the question is answerable in principle and your worst-case scenario doesn't apply. If we closed every question that had the potential to get bad answers, we'd close all of them. You say this wouldn't make the world a better place, yet there doesn't seem to be any difference between this and the hundreds of other quirky-aspects-of-language-that-require-inside-knowledge questions—often answered by insiders—that line the top of the Hot Questions list on a continual basis. How is this question any different from them? – user149432 Nov 2 '12 at 22:59
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    @MarkTrapp Aspects of language are pertinent to programming. "Why is creat called creat and not create?" isn't. It may be an interesting question, but it's not a question suitable for SO. If there are many of that kind (I haven't seen many yet), those should be closed too. – Daniel Fischer Nov 2 '12 at 23:49
  • @MarkTrapp It has little to do with questions that have bad answers (although that's typically indicative of a bad question), and much more to do with the fact that not every question belongs on Stack Overflow. Trivia Questions that don't deal with a problem a programmer actually faces are an example. And no, the naming of a file once upon a time will not make the programming world a better place. It does satisfy a curiosity; but Stack Overflow is meant to be more than that. – George Stocker Nov 3 '12 at 1:34
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    @GeorgeStocker That's your personal belief, sure. But to quote you, "In some cases, the language experts do come around to talk about a language design decision. Normally, they get a lot of upvotes. In some cases, language designers and maintainers don't come around to talk about their language. That's ok, they're busy people. That's why they have us. Does this mean the question should be closed? No. [...] The community can sniff out those occasions where no one will ever be able to give a canonical answer and deal with them as they arise." – user149432 Nov 3 '12 at 1:39
  • @GeorgeStocker The community reopened the question three times only to have it unilaterally closed twice by two separate moderators and then deleted while a meta discussion about it was ongoing. I'm not sure why the sudden change in course on these questions, but the George Stocker from last month was on the ball. – user149432 Nov 3 '12 at 1:39
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    @MarkTrapp You'll notice it was closed and deleted by the community once, and almost deleted by the community another time. It was also closed twice by the community. You'll also notice that the sheer number of comments it raised plus the yo-yo effect of the opening and closing adds credence to my point that it's not a good fit for Stack Overflow. As far as you quoting me out of context: What I said was there was no need for a rule that they could be handled on a case-by-case basis. And you'll notice: They are. We don't need a rule one way or the other. – George Stocker Nov 3 '12 at 1:58
  • @GeorgeStocker What I noticed was that the moderators didn't give the chance for the community to handle it on a case-by-case basis: the community reopened it, and a moderator immediately closed it again, the community overrode that close, and you came in and immediately closed it. The community was in the midst of discussing it on the question and on meta, and it gets deleted. What was the clear and present danger that made it impossible to allow the community to take a few hours to resolve the question on its own? – user149432 Nov 3 '12 at 2:10
  • @MarkTrapp We became involved after it had already yo-yo'd twice. There were also multiple flags (read: More than 10) generated by the question. Again, the community is all over this one. The community decided to delete it. All it's generated it a lot of rubbernecking. If you've feel any of this was done in error, perhaps emailing the community team at team@stackoverflow.com is your best bet? – George Stocker Nov 3 '12 at 2:15
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    The "more than 10 flags" statement is very misleading; eight of them were comment flags and one was a Community user generated flag. There were two real flags on the post. – NullUserException อ_อ Nov 3 '12 at 5:15
  • @NullUserExceptionอ_อ If it weren't for the question, those flags wouldn't have been generated. Comments need something to refer to. They don't stand on their own. – George Stocker Nov 3 '12 at 13:07

The answer to this question is not a solution to a real, practical, problem of anyone. Thus, it is off-topic. If the answer to this question, however, unlikely to emerge, shed any real light on a real, practical, problem, there might be a reason to keep it. Not so in this case.

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