I'm on SO pretty much every day researching something to do with programming, and over the last month or two, I find I'm growing frustrated and a little disgusted at how many interesting questions have been closed as "not a good fit" or "too subjective".

I think there is a confusion between "subjective" and "calls for judgement". To me one of the most valuable things about SO is the tremendous breadth and depth of experience of the members, and experience translates into smart decisions and advice, and that advice cannot always be asked for, or expressed in terms of, bald facts and data. It's going to be 'subjective'.

I don't think SO should be Wikipedia. I think that if I could ask a question to a group of skilled programmers sitting around a table at lunch, and get interesting, valuable answers, then I don't care whether the question or the answers are 'subjective', I think that question should equally well be fair game for Stack Overflow.

I would like to see a mechanism whereby people who vote to close a question lose reputation when somebody expresses interest in that question or its responses.

How can I, or can I, influence this aspect of SO?

  • 12
    I'm dropping the [feature-request] tag because even though you have a sentence that asks for a rep drop under certain circumstances, I feel like the rest of your question makes for a good, constructive discussion and I'd rather focus on that first. If the outcome of this discussion is some sort of technical solution, it's likely best posted separately and with more details.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 2:46
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    Your question would be aided by some examples: what do you consider a "subjective" question, vs. one that "calls for judgement"? Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 2:55
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    People can reasonably disagree--that's what makes some things subjective, even if those subjective opinions are well-informed, lucid, and relevant. IMO SO's purpose isn't to, say, discuss relative merits of two frameworks. I'm opposed to the proposed mechanism because interest in a question is subjective, and nobody should be punished because someone disagrees with their opinion on a question. Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 3:03
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    I don't get this. If you use SO for research then you'll have, ballpark numbers, 3 million questions to look at are on topic and not closed and at least 2 million good answers. If you keep running into closed ones then you are just using the wrong site to do your research. Fix that by finding another site, not trying to change this one. Commented Feb 14, 2013 at 3:41
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    The premise that these are "the best questions" is rather flawed. 2 of them ask for the "best X" with no criteria whatsoever, 1 shows no effort to solve the problem before asking, and the other is about meetings, which belongs on the Workplace or Programmers sites.
    – Wooble
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:38
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    Define "best". Best for what?
    – Oded
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:39
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    Please note that closing questions is not restricted to moderators and that members having reached a certain threshold of reputation can vote to close questions. As for the reasons, they are stated and explained in each question and I don't think that they can be more clear than that.
    – Jerry
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:40
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    It's really hard to not pull the deletion trigger after seeing some of those questions. "Are weekly status meetings necessary?" Seriously? Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:40
  • 4
    interesting != useful Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:41
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    "So what if it's not a definitive answer?" Stack Overflow advertises itself as a site where you'll find definitive answers. Allowing questions that have extremely little - if any - chance of generating definitive answers breaks that promise. There are plenty of other places on the internet where you can get answers to overly vague and broad questions.
    – yannis
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:48
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    I'm only interested in stuff that's useful to me - of course you are. But we don't care just about you.
    – Oded
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:59
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    @Oded, on one of those questions, 65 people clicked on a button that says 'This answer is useful'. Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 15:12
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    Popular doesn't mean it fits.
    – Oded
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 15:13
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    You might want to read A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy and the The Trouble With Popularity Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 15:17
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    @JasonOOO They weren't allowed to increase the traffic so much as it took some time for the community to realize the questions were bad for the site. At first, the community, like so many new users, just didn't think the questions were bad/problematic. When they began to realize how much of a problem they were to deal with, the decision was made that they shouldn't be allowed.
    – Servy
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 15:46

15 Answers 15



We already tried supporting those questions, we even gave them their own site. Sadly, it didn't work out. C'est la vie.

In 2010, a Stack Exchange site called Not Programming Related came out of Area51, the Stack Exchange staging zone. NPR was supposed to be a site where questions that were too subjective / broad for Stack Overflow would find a new home. The site was greeted with enthusiasm, and in theory it looked like a perfect solution: Stack Overflow would remain as laser sharp focused as possible, and NPR would host all those exciting and sometimes helpful (but not really answerable) questions.

However, as it usually happens, theory and practice are two entirely different beasts. NPR's promise proved extremely attractive to people who were more interested in posting joke answers, or just repeating earlier answers, or posting outright crap (Do you fart in the cubicle?). It didn't take long for everyone to realize that the site was not working, and most people just didn't bother with it. Here's what Quantcast tells us for the first year of NPR's existence:

enter image description here

Tons and tons of people visited the site after it went public, but very few decided to stick around. For over a year, the site experienced no growth to speak of. And even fewer people contributed worthwhile content. Turns out that while everyone loves those questions, very few are actually willing to spend any time to answer them (seriously), and maintain and moderate them.

Fortunately, Stack Exchange realized their mistake soon enough. First, Joel warned us that the site was "degrading into fairly stupid water-cooler nonsense" and then Jeff stepped in, and enforced the infamous subjective guidelines. It took more than a few months for people to realize that NPR's (by then already renamed to Programmers) scope had changed drastically. The site had been heavily advertised as Stack Overflow's toilet bowl, and naturally most people believed it was just that, long after the subjective guidelines were enforced.

To make matters even more complicated, there was a small - but solid - group of early members that were attracted to the site by its initial scope and were contributing high quality content. Unfortunately, they weren't enough to maintain a healthy site, and some - if not all - of them were (understandably) quite frustrated after the drastic change. They were doing everything right, and then suddenly the site they were originally promised was no more.

Then came the clean-ups. Changing the scope wasn't enough, we had to change the way we advertised ourselves to the world. Just saying that we were now a serious Q&A site about software design wasn't going to cut it, at least not until we cleaned up all the content that no longer fit the site's scope. After a few months of intense Meta drama, we deleted about 2K questions. And then some. A couple more months passed, but finally we started experiencing growth:

enter image description here

Whatever your opinion of the site's current scope might be, you can't overlook the fact that it only started growing when it became a vigorously moderated serious Q&A site. Growth aside, every other aspect of the site gradually improved. Hard questions that were once ignored in favour of the latest "let's build yet another list" question are now answered, correctly and relatively fast. More and more people have Programmers as their top site, the one site that they actively and regularly contribute. We are not there yet, but we are certainly on the right track.

The site you seem to want existed for more than a few months, and it failed. Horribly. I'm sorry but I see no reason to try it again.

Further reading

  • 8
    Possibly the unimaginable-hell-hole-exchange needs to exist so we can point to it and say "see!" Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 16:58
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    Wow... I never knew all that about Programmers' history! Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 17:28
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    Isn't that what Yahoo! Answers is for @RichardTingle?
    – yannis
    Commented Oct 10, 2013 at 8:33
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    Isn't it normal for a site to grow in visitors and regular users as it ages? It seems a bit arbitrary to directly link the change in scope with visitors when so many other factors play a role in how a site gains users, especially since if you graph user activity (votes) on Data.SE there is a steady decline. Or see my answer here for more details/stats/graphs regarding user retention
    – Rachel
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 12:26
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    Voting is just one aspect of user activity @Rachel, and if you look closely at your graph only the upvotes are in steady decline. Given that Programmers was plagued with bs upvotes early on (polls and fun questions tend to get extremely upvoted), that's actually a good thing.
    – yannis
    Commented Nov 1, 2013 at 14:12
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    This too was tried, @Thomas: meta.stackexchange.com/a/61526
    – jscs
    Commented Jul 16, 2014 at 19:37
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    To say that something is impossible to achieve is almost always incorrect. The attempts at having a website for subjective programming related questions that uses the stack exchange engine/format may have failed, but that does not mean it cannot work. We just need to keep brainstorming and trying different things. When something does not work, you should ask yourself how you can do it differently to make it work, not give up. Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 0:38
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    I think something like elite.programmers.stackexchange.com has a decent chance of working if it required you to have a certain amount of points on SO or programmers before you can participate. Or perhaps subjective or otherwise against the rule programming related questions should be allowed by people with a certain number of points, but only people with over a certain number of points are aloud to respond to them or comment about them. Part of the reason people want a site like this is just because of the format Stack Exchange websites have, which tends to be much better than other websites. Commented Feb 9, 2015 at 0:42
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    How does a site with a misleading name like "Not Programming Related" count as trying this development related concept? "Not Programming Related" to most people means OFF TOPIC. And you all were "shocked" when this resulted in a ton of off topic crap? Gee, I never would have seen that one coming.
    – Manius
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 21:42
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    NPR was a SE site @Crusader. It had a FAQ, an on topic and an off topic list, there was a lot more to it than just the name. And its main problem wasn't the crap questions, it was that the on topic questions weren't working.
    – yannis
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 9:54
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    Not sure it really matters. The name was misleading. You'll never attract serious visitors with a name like that. People that want this type of site are looking for a specific type of public forum, and "Not Programming Related" is not even close to conveying the purpose. Don't you think it would be a little hard to attract people looking for serious (but subjective) interaction if many potential serious participants (myself including) never even looked at the site because they assumed it was off topic based on the name? Now, if you can prove the name didn't poison the well, that's different.
    – Manius
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 21:32
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    I don't understand where this obsession over "growth" has come form? Who cares if the site isn't "growing"? Maybe the number of users has saturated - everyone from SO who wanted to use it by a certain time are already using it...? I do agree - what's the point of having a site full of what is basically garbage nonsense, but for more subjective questions? This could have been useful and is something we need. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 12:36
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    @Marxos you know what is really ridiculous is your totally unsubstantiated desire to twist and break approach that has been proven to work well for many years for over hundred question and answer sites for... what? for making it serve a need that has been already addressed perfectly well by myriads of internet forums. When I need opinions and discussion, I go to forums and have it done perfectly well, and when I need answer to a question I go to real Q&A site and I don't have any need to mix these, simple as that
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 8:16
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    And today it's called Software Engineering
    – gerrit
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 13:57
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    @PatrickSzalapski: a non-SE site such as HackerNews (superb), Quora, Medium, Twitter, Reddit or any of the many language-specific blogs, or the -devel mailing-list of a specific language/package. In all sincerity this is itself a good question for Meta, but a minority of people would nark about subjectivity.
    – smci
    Commented May 24, 2018 at 12:10

I think that if I could ask a question to a group of skilled programmers sitting around a table at lunch, and get interesting, valuable answers, then I don't care whether the question or the answers are 'subjective', I think that question should equally well be fair game for Stack Overflow...

Assuming it's like group sitting around "table at lunch" is exactly where you are mistaken.

To find out why, consider studying Shirky's article A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy. The article is fantastic, it could profoundly teach the reader about the difference between a lunch group and large community, but for the sake of brevity I'll just quote the key point relevant to the mistake in your assumption:

"human interaction... doesn't blow up like a balloon"

Simply put, when there's a handful of colleagues in a group, a subjective conversation can go like this: first person asks a question, second answers it, third one answers from a different perspective, fourth sparks a joke, fifth adds a side note... and that's all.

  • In a setting like this, you get a reasonably limited amount of information, an amount your brain can handle... you've got something you can learn from.

At Stack Overflow, you better think of something like 1000 people sitting around the... world.

In such an environment, your subjective conversation will probably go like this: first person asks a (subjective) question, second answers it (so far so good huh?), twenty more add answers from different perspectives, fifty more attempt all imaginable kinds of jokes, hundred more add all imaginable kinds of side notes... and so on and so on, over and over again, until your brain explodes.

  • 10
    Wow, that "A Group is Its Own Worst Enemy" article is excellent, I can't thank you enough. One note - some supposedly 'subjective' conversations (on SO) go that way, but some don't, it's not a law. I understand though; To avoid drowning in bathwater, we have to throw out a few babies.
    – Spike0xff
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 18:49
  • @Spike0xff these thanks would better go to MichaelT: his rather heavy promotion of this article at Whiteboard made me curious enough to invest efforts into studying it. I think you got it right with the reasoning about avoiding "drowning in bathwater"
    – gnat
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 19:10
  • 1
    "The best way to learn something is when someone else figures it out and tells you: "Don't go in that swamp. There are alligators in there." Learning from experience about the alligators is lousy, compared to learning from reading, say." Beautifully put, Thanks for the article.
    – apaul
    Commented Oct 20, 2013 at 17:08
  • I can understand the perspective you're articulating; however, there's a problem waiting to be solved here. People want to ask subjective questions even if there are many perspectives and side notes. I can understand also that SO doesn't support this kind of things; however, that doesn't mean there isn't some implementation that could somewhat overcome the issues you describe.
    – Mario
    Commented Jan 19, 2014 at 21:19
  • @Mario right. The very article I am referring to ("A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy"), describes an example of such an implementation (MetaFilter)
    – gnat
    Commented Jan 20, 2014 at 5:34
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    I drink so much answer just for this question
    – Ooker
    Commented Mar 1, 2015 at 11:06
  • So to prove this, have you read enough of these answers to explode your brain? Pointing to that article as proof in itself would be an Appeal to Authority logical fallacy. The fire hydrant pic was hilarious, but I don't buy your argument here that there is zero value in being able to scan through as many viewpoints as you want. Just yet another theoretical/subjective opinion. I find reading subjective Q&A valuable, at times. (On a side note, I bet that guy was able to drink as much water as he wanted!)
    – Manius
    Commented Mar 22, 2015 at 21:49
  • 4
  • 2
    @Crusader - gnat has read enough to explode anyones brain, it's a wonder he can still function. The article citation wasn't an appeal to authority, it was a reference to an argument that is intended to be persuasive on merit. Subjective QA can be valuable, but it has proven hard not to have it degenerate to the lowest common denominator and drive away the knowledgeable. Which is quite unfortunate, as subjective QA can help solve a much broader set of problems.
    – psr
    Commented Mar 24, 2015 at 21:01
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    @gnat I disagree with the answer. It's very plausible, unless you can prove otherwise, that the title "Not Programming Related" simply made serious participants avoid even looking at the site. It's just a verbose way of saying "Off Topic". Personally I know I never even noticed it. If I avoided it for that reason, how many others also did? I think the name of this alleged "trial" of this concept poisoned the well. So basically I don't accept the premise of the argument here that "this was tried before". If this was the intent with NPR, it was a piss poor attempt... you have to see that.
    – Manius
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 21:41
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    I'm not sure why I even bother... it'll never be attempted again due to the rigid opinions (and quite possibly egos) of those in control around here, and that's that. For all I know the site was intentionally given such a terrible name (i.e. basically "Off Topic") so it would be doomed to fail and could be used as a "told you so" example against the people here clamoring for a subjective question site. I would hope nobody would be that petty, but developers seem to be known for their easily bruised egos after all. Funny firehose pic though.
    – Manius
    Commented Mar 28, 2015 at 21:49
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    That article is phenomenal. I'm sad I've never read it before today!
    – enderland
    Commented Apr 21, 2015 at 18:34
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    nice theory @Marxos and compelling assumptions. Guess Atwood thought about the same when he initially allowed such questions at Stack Overflow. Now ask yourself how come than few years later he forbid these and off-loaded them to separate site. Ask yourself, who in their sane mind would get rid of popular and entertaining content if it's as harmless and "filtered" as you seem to believe. Then take a look at Atwood's article The Trouble With Popularity, specifically part where he mentions "The stuff spreads like kudzu..."
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 6:12
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    @gnat: these problems have been experimented on since Slashdot started some serious work back in the 90s. The problem is simply that the voting model isn't adequate. Slashdot has the same problem, but don't ban users for the inadequacies of the voting model. Commented Dec 5, 2016 at 23:45
  • 1
    The link leads to viagra advertisment. Unfortunately I couldn't find an alternative source. Anyone else?
    – Neuron
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 12:22

I think that if I could ask a question to a group of skilled programmers sitting around a table at lunch, and get interesting, valuable answers, then I don't care whether the question or the answers are 'subjective',

That's fine. We care.

We care because subjective discussions will destroy this site. We care because subjective discussion is exactly why many of us are on this site instead of on many of the thousands of programming forums on the Internet.

Stack Overflow is not intended to be everything for everyone. You come here to ask objective, practical questions that have real, objective answers. If you want to have a subjective discussion about some programming issue, that's wonderful.

Don't do it here just because there happen to be a lot of smart people here. You'd be subverting the very reason why those smart people are here.

What you're asking is no different from wanting to read a book at a movie theater; what you want is at odds with why the place exists.

I would like to see a mechanism whereby people who vote to close a question lose reputation when somebody expresses interest in that question or its responses.

This is one of the most ridiculous suggestions I've ever seen someone seriously suggest for this site. The potential for abuse of this is so massive that nobody would ever close anything again.

How can I, or can I, influence this aspect of SO?

This is one of the founding aspects of SO. You can no more influence this than a fish can change the flow of the river. The anti-subjective bias is not merely part of the community, it is at the very core of why Stack Overflow was invented.

Again, it's like being annoyed that movie patrons ask you to turn off your reading light at the theater. You're not going to get them to change their views either.

SO is lenient in some respects to different opinions. This is not one of those cases.

  • "This is one of the most ridiculous suggestions I've ever seen someone seriously suggest for this site."OK, I get it, I misunderstood SO.
    – Spike0xff
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 17:45
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    Ironically, I picked this as the best answer, although @gnat - thanks, very informative. The hostility underlying this answer puzzles me though, and it exemplifies why, for me, SO increasingly feels like a bad neighborhood. I go there when I need something, but I'm not going to hang around any longer than I have to. Yes, I know, that just proves I'm not the right kind of people.
    – Spike0xff
    Commented Feb 15, 2013 at 18:25
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    I consider myself to be a reasonably intelligent person but yet I can't ask an intelligent question which even has a small element of subjectivity to it because it will get hostility and downvoted and delete requests until it's removed and I still didn't get anywhere. What's the deal with that? Why the extreme intolerance for a question which contains even a small amount of subjectivity? If you read the guidelines it says "of topic because primarily opinion based" - primarily being the keyword there. Commented Aug 24, 2015 at 12:42
  • 3
    If avoiding discussions is not appropriate for this site, then change it into a question and answer site with a voting system to weed out poor answers. Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 0:19

So far the only site that I've ever been on or heard of that removed questions such as those is the SE network, so to answer your question of:

Where should this information be exchanged if it's not on stackoverflow?

Literally anywhere else on the entire internet. Any forum, q/a site, or interactive site that allows one to ask programming questions. Virtually none of them will refuse to allow questions like this. There are lots and lots of places where people can go to ask these questions.

You might say that you're unlikely to get good answers on those sites, since SO has so many experts who may have more valuable information to give. That's not a coincidence. SO tends to have higher quality content, more experts, etc. specifically because it is restrictive in the questions that it allows. By prohibiting questions that have shown, over an extensive history, to cause problems and result in lower quality content, the remaining questions end up being (largely) of great quality, and it creates a site that experts want to be active on, as they don't have to deal with a lot of the lower quality questions, the bike sheds, and the arguments/flamewars/ranting/etc. that come along with questions like those you suggested.

  • 4
    You can ask them on SO chat too.
    – Linuxios
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 15:00
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    I'm not sure this is true. Sure, removing very low quality questions definitely helps, but I seriously doubt removing "subjective" or "too broad" questions like this one help. That "too broad" question has a simple, definite, one-sentence answer. Ridiculous. The real reason SO became so popular is because the voting system works pretty well, and the UI isn't utter shit (compare it to the mess of Quora for example). In fact the UI is very good.
    – Timmmm
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 20:33
  • @Timmmm There are lots of sites with voting systems. SO was emulating other sites with its voting system. Your example of a question that's "not too broad" is one that literally says to read a book, because it takes that whole book to answer that question. That's the textbook example of what it means for a question to be too broad. The help center literally uses, "would take a whole book to answer the question" as an example of a question that's too broad. That "answer" doesn't answer the question, it just tells you that an answer exists somewhere else.
    – Servy
    Commented Jan 18, 2018 at 20:36
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    No, the answer is "yes, see this book for details". The question wasn't "tell me every detail of how to do OOP in C" it was "can you do it?" for which the answer is a simple "yes". See? Also I'd be interested to see the sites that SO was emulating. I can't remember any with a similar voting system, and certainly none with a clean, modern, uncluttered UI like SO's.
    – Timmmm
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 13:48
  • @Timmmm And that answer isn't even useful. Just having a "yes" doesn't actually help anyone, and there's no information on which you can judge the accuracy of such an answer, as there isn't even anything supporting such a statement. It's just not of any value. That's why yes/no questions tend to not actually generate useful answers. If someone posted an answer just saying, "yes" and nothing else, would you be satisfied with that answer if you asked the question (not knowing the answer when you asked it)?
    – Servy
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:14
  • @Timmmm As for where SO was taking it's voting system from, the founders specifically referenced sites like Reddit and Slashdot as examples that they were following with their voting system, although lots of other sites had been emulating those (and other) sites' by having a voting system.
    – Servy
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:21
  • It is clearly useful - just look at the number of votes. And Reddit and Slashdot aren't for programming questions so how exactly would they have competed with SO?
    – Timmmm
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:31
  • @Timmmm This is a good example of problems with the voting system where you cannot equate votes to usefulness, for the same reason that this isn't actually one of the most useful questions on the site, despite having a vote score that would lead you to believe as much. Consider that around a tenth of a percent of the people that read that post indicated that they thought it was useful, and that that answer is shown above all others, regardless of its score, due to being accepted, and SEO's positive feedback loops.
    – Servy
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:37
  • @Timmmm As for Reddit and Shalshdot, they don't exist exclusively for programming questions, and yet lots of programmers asked lots of technical questions on those sites, and there were certain places on those sites specifically for such question. There were also other dedicated Q/A sites, like SO, that emulated voting behaviors from sites like those. Again, the founders of SO were specifically talking about how common voting was on their competitors when they created the site. It wasn't their innovation; it was them taking something from others that they thought was useful.
    – Servy
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:39
  • "lots of programmers asked lots of technical questions on those sites" - I don't think that is true. Before SO the first port of call for programming questions would have been forums, including general ones like CodeGuru and specific forums for the technology you are using (e.g. forum.jquery.com). Slashdot literally never had "How do I do X?" questions on its front page. Proggit I'll grant you, and that was cited, but along with Experts Exchange!!
    – Timmmm
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 14:57
  • @Timmmm I have never used Slashdot, so I couldn't comment further on it. I know Reddit certainly has places for programming questions that people ask. You're right that forums were also another one of SO's competitors, forums like, say, the MSDN forum, which had voting on posts, but yes, also competitors that didn't have voting. The point is simply that voting wasn't what made SO unique; the thing that it did that all of those other places weren't doing was having strict quality standards on questions and answers, and requiring posts to be useful to more than just the OP.
    – Servy
    Commented Jan 19, 2018 at 15:04

I don't think SO should be Wikipedia. I think that if I could ask a question to a group of skilled programmers sitting around a table at lunch, and get interesting, valuable answers, then I don't care whether the question or the answers are 'subjective', I think that question should equally well be fair game for Stack Overflow.

Some questions aren't really answerable questions, they are discussions.

Stack Exchange is a Q/A network, not a discussion board.

Interestingly, a Wikipedia type site seems to me the exact format you are wanting - because you can have more discussion of pros/cons to different things which is more applicable to an article than an "answer."


I understand why you and others ask this question. Sometimes questions with a fair amount of subjectivity do receive useful answers, possibly get heavily upvoted, then get closed.

The main goal of SO is that someone can use a search engine to get an answer about a topic, and have a really good chance of getting useful information. So, why sometimes close questions that have elicited useful information?

To understand that you have to understand the effort it takes to make sure answer quality is reasonably high. Even with the current, pretty strict, guidelines (which do sometimes rule out useful content) a lot of people volunteer (a very few get paid) what is collectively an enormous amount of time just trying to maintain the current standards - and are struggling to even do that (the backlog in the review queues is enormous).

So, like many matters in programming, you have to drop the ideal (in which hordes of knowledgeable and benevolent moderators and users spend the time needed to curate any number of subjective questions, deal with the many people who are upset that their question has been rejected while a similar one has not (because, you know, that's pretty much inherent in the whole subjective thing), and generally spend the large amounts of time needed to make things ideal) in favor of the possible (in which smaller hordes of overall surprisingly knowledgeable users and moderators spend an enormous amount of time curating the site but often come up with heuristics to save enough time to make completing the job possible).

Some of the time-saving heuristics include closing categories of questions that historically have taken up large amounts of curator's time and produced a disappointing quantity and quality of good content. I agree with you that some good content is lost, and certain categories of very useful content are nearly absent from SO. I think after a little time on the site this problem is readily apparent.

What is less readily apparent is how very hard it is to have that content without burying it under content of far lower quality. I would love to see some method of solving that. I'd complain too - it seems a shame that certain things are missing - but, unfortunately, I don't have a feasible solution that scales to the level of this site and uses the resources available. I don't think anyone has figured that out.

  • 2
    The backlog of the close vote queue is high. The other queues generally sit around zero...
    – Servy
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 20:22
  • 1
    You said: "The main goal of SO is that someone can use a search engine to get an answer about a topic, and have a really good chance of getting useful information." I would say that an encyclopedia is a better format for persistent, high quality information. If you want people to do research to get their questions answered, make them do research. If the documentation of a language or tool does not address something, you just have to experiment. There is no Q&A in a library. The Q&A format is where you went wrong. A new question every 10 seconds? Wow. I would never have signed up for that.
    – user291305
    Commented Aug 18, 2015 at 19:23
  • 1
    Finally, an answer that lets me empathize with the anti-subjectives instead of thinking they hate fun.
    – Noumenon
    Commented Nov 29, 2018 at 0:11

Even if they do become a bit of a discussion

Well, that's the crux of the matter, right?

We find discussion to detract from the purpose of the site - to be a repository of questions and answers.

Popularity and usefulness don't come into that equation.

  • 3
    so you're saying you don't care how useful the questions and answers are? Isn't that the whole point of the site? I for one only come here because I find it useful, not because I enjoy long discussions or debates. Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:46
  • @MattDarwin A discussion or debate is not an answer though. We want questions with answers. Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:49
  • 2
    @MattDarwin Stack overflow optimises for total usefulness. If a rule makes the site more useful for you but less useful for 100 other people that is optimised against. This is of course accross all questions; if a rule stops 1 useful question and 99 unhelpful ones then it is a good rule Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:50
  • 7
    No. The point is to have a repository of questions and answers. Not a repository of useful debate or discussion. We focus on our mission, @MattDarwin
    – Oded
    Commented Oct 9, 2013 at 14:51

Edit 5/16/2019:

I've realized this really just comes down to a misapplication of the original Atwood article. People applying it not recognizing how the nuances and abstract nature of programming make it a different case than cameras and graphics cards. I'm not saying Jeff was wrong. I'm saying the people that are taking an article written in the context of "superuser.com" with all hardware examples, are doing a disservice to stackoverflow.com by insisting programming components are the same thing.

This is a misapplication for a number of reasons:

There's nothing abstract in the camera example

If somebody asked "I need to capture a highly accurate image of a scene in a very low amount of time, would anybody balk if somebody said you need a need a "Kodak"? And before you say yeah, but that's a brand name, what if it's 1889? There's a time lag between when something goes from abstract to common concept. Just because we can take for granted that everybody knows what generalized component concept of "camera", does not mean we have the same thing in programming yet.

He asks a specific question about cameras. But in the case of programming libraries, we're either asking a general question, or we are asking a specific question with context.

For example, when somebody asks "What component can I use to dynamically create a PDF file?", they are really saying "How do I write a Excel document from this data I have?". The fact that they had the notion that the answer is likely an existing library and phrased it as "what component" does NOT make it a shopping question, but instead simply shows a very basic understanding of programming.

This misapplication is dated

In an age of EVERYTHING being modular in a NuGet or npm, "component" as universal as an "if" statement, even what would once have been considered "native" libraries.

**Rewriting "component" questions does not change the answers"

In Atwood's example of "which camera should I buy for low light photography", his rewrite of the question "which features should i look for for low light photography" will result in DIFFERENT answers.

However, in the case for programming components, if somebody says "How do I write data to an Excel file?", they are still likely to get the same references to components. So the guidance here should be to simply suggesting a rephrase of the question rather than closing it.

Asking what we should learn is EXTREMELY subjective, especially in programing

Jeff states: "Thus, when it comes to shopping questions, don’t ask us what you should buy — ask us what you need to learn to tell what you should buy"

I think this ok when a concept is well established. Cameras might be a good example. A question like ASP.NET vs. JSP is well established as dynamic web technologies. But what exactly is the conversion for most component questions? In the case of writing an Excel file, do I really need to learn the openXml standard? In the case of a reading a web response, do I really need to learn the whole TCP/IP protocol?

Dated answers are handled by the voting mechanism Atwood states that specific answers are only valid for a year. This decidedly NOT true for many component answers. Even if it was, the voting mechanism will take care of that for us, buy letting old answers sink over time.

Follow up questions don't really apply Jeff gives the following questions that would need to be asked in a true shopping question, but I can answer them all right now for all component questions. As further evidence, I challenge anybody to find any of these questions in the comments on ANY question on Stack Overflow:

What is your budget?

First off, have you really worked with so many of these components that you can give me multiple answers? In any case, I'll take the cheapest one.

Where do you live?


What are your preferences?

See tags.

Which alternatives will you consider?

Working code.

When do you want to buy?

Yesterday, I'm already behind deadline.

----End Edit---

My original answer:

My discussion on this was closed (Too many closed questions) referring me here to this question.

This is not an answer, but further support for the asker:

It would seem that if there is even the possibility of the question being subjective, it is closed. These days there must be a dozen ways to code something, yet those questions are allowed to stand. Yet the instant somebody asks a "what is a library that will do 'X' it is closed. The irony is that these questions, even in their closed and decaying state, are often the most valuable to me. Sometimes I'll test three or four third party components before I commit to one. This is a time consuming process that I would gladly augment with the vote-validated answers that others might have.

Examples include:

I'll concede that the last one is too general but I left it on there because even if it was free control that does 'X' it still would have been closed.

If these questions cannot be asked on Stack Overflow proper, which subsite should be considered (keeping in mind that the other sides hardly get anywhere close to the SERP rankings that Stack Overflow gets).

Does the asker need to explicitly ask the "subjective" guidance questions to avoid getting closed?:

  • Please explain “why” and “how”
  • Please elaborate
  • Please only share items that you have personal experience with.
  • Please post any data you have relating to your experience

Isn't that a mess? Shouldn't we be able to rely on the answerers to follow the guidelines instead and if they violate them make effective use of the down vote button beyond simply being wrong? Why does all the burdon fall on the asker when it's the answerers that should know the rules and how they can best serve the asker without turning them away?

Are these questions even subjective? It is a fact if a component meets a need. "Best" is subjective, but isn't that inherent anyway? Is anybody going to list the item they've already discarded for themselves? Are we really going to let a single adjective decide a questions fate? Isn't this easily cleaned up with comments?

I understand we're trying to avoid the wild west of a forum, but we're not debating politics here. Many of these questions could be answered with "here's what I did and here's why". We could restrict answers to things that are pulled directly from the examples on MSDN, but why exactly do we want to do that?

What is the guiding principle here? If we want to help programmers save time and create better software, then things that stop them from getting to page 17 on Bing should be included.


For those that chose to dismiss my examples as "shopping" questions please explain the difference between asking "How do I create an excel file from .net" (which there are dozens of un-closed examples of and "What is the best component for creating an excel file". Doesn't one question simply acknowledge that the best candidate for an answer is likely going to be a component?

If there is no place for subjectivity on Stack Overflow, what is the point of the voting mechanism?

  • 5
    Why does all the burdon fall on the asker when it's the answerers that should know the rules...? Because the asker should know the rules as well? Because the question helps shape the answers? Because a bad question pretty much (but not always, I'll concede) guarantees bad answers? Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 13:42
  • 1
    @LBT - I'm not suggesting that the asker shouldn't follow the rules. I'm suggesting that in the context of the set of solicitations that automatically qualifies a question as a valid subjective question, that answerers are likely the more experienced of the two and should know to include the responses to those solicitations without explicitly been asked.
    – b_levitt
    Commented Aug 6, 2013 at 15:41
  • @b_levitt Yes, this is just common sense; but people don't like using [or have any] common sense these days. So we have to think for them.
    – Jase
    Commented Apr 3, 2015 at 5:50
  • We've already seen others argue the, "Everything is modular now, so we have to allow recommendations" angle. It doesn't change anything about why we disallow them.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:19
  • They are allowed, only if proper specification is provided in the question such that an answer can be provided with supporting evidence as to why said thing is the way to go. "because it's popular" or "because it's clean" isn't useful reasoning.
    – Kevin B
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:31
  • @fbueckert - and you didn't comment on one of the other FIVE reasons because...? Can you point me to an article listing those reasons? I was originally directed to the above mentioned Atwood article.
    – b_levitt
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:33
  • The last M.SO post arguing this stance is here, I believe; meta.stackoverflow.com/q/369946/1197934 I see no reason to re-iterate those arguments. None of your other arguments are persuasive enough to overcome the core point, and some are borderline dismissive of dissent. I suppose I'm basically dismissing your dissent, so as my response go, that one's pretty weak. Second attempt: the core argument just feels like a misunderstanding of why they're off-topic.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:38
  • And throughout all of this, there's nothing stopping someone from recommending a library as an answer; good answers can do that, and would also explain how to use the library to solve the problem. It's questions asking for recommendations that are closed for their problematic aspects.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:46
  • It's all the same arguments. But what is the basis. Where does it say that stackoverflow.com does not allow these questions to begin with? All I know of is the Atwood article. And frankly i've already agreed that the questions can be reworded to fit more of a technical question format without eluding to a component (even if it's obvious), it's why do they have to be closed, instead of simply asked to be rewritten?
    – b_levitt
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:47
  • It's in the help center. It needs to be closed because editing of that nature changes the intent, which only the asker can do.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 16:52
  • who said the asker can't edit it?
    – b_levitt
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 17:19
  • They can. But you vote on a post as it is right now. Not what you think it can turn into.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 17:34
  • You're argument is entirely circular...you are using the very vote category we would like to reduce or eliminate as the reason you can't eliminate it. DON'T vote...ask the user the reword the question instead.
    – b_levitt
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 17:57
  • How you vote is up to you. For most curators, there's much less confidence that users will attempt to fix their question, and have no time to guide them to do so. So they, and I, vote right away, and move on.
    – fbueckert
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 18:19

Design questions call for judgement

Very often the kinds of questions of the "how do you design X?" variety call for judgement. Often, that judgement comes with experience. Providing a satisfactory answer (possibly among many such answers) usually requires the kind of background that comes from having solved a similar design problem in the past, and seeing the aftermath.

There are two wrinkles in this.

First, there can be many satisfactory answers to a design question. Choosing among those answers can, in fact, be subjective. But that doesn't mean that the satisfactory answers, as a group, don't add value. It also doesn't mean that the question itself is subjective to the point of lacking merit.

Second, the asker usually doesn't recognize their case as belonging to a given design pattern. The only people who see the pattern are those who are acquainted with one or more of the satisfactory answers. So the question usually lacks the definition that will make it obviously belonging to a pattern.

The result is that design questions are often marked as subjective and closed prematurely. Those of us who see a pattern in the question need to respond, even if there are votes to close in progress. I'm not saying this applies to all questions with votes to close. Just the ones where there is a non obvious pattern at play.


Some of these questions are very old. Over time, Stack Overflow has become more strict on what is allowed.

And these strict rules are there for a reason. There are enough places where people talk about which tool is "the best". Stack Exchange sites aim at giving definite, objective answers.

Questions also need to show prior effort. This prevents the site from being overrun by "help vampires". But also, when I have a problem and look on most other sites, I see a list of things that I've already tried myself. When I look on Stack Overflow, I find someone else who has also tried these things - and failed. Then (hopefully) an answer follows that shows a new insight, that I have not yet tried myself.

So, even though there may be informative things in the answers, questions asking for "the best product" or questions that show zero effort should be closed. It may seem harsh, but it is necessary if we want to keep a high signal-to-noise ratio.


SO has some standards for questions to be welcomed... the FAQ has detailed information about what you can ask in here and what you cannot ask.

  • JPA Implementations - Which one is the best to use?: SO expects questions to be answerable. That question is opinion based and also the answer can change according to your requirements. This is not a discussion site, you can ask your questions and get direct answers.

    Also probably it will not offer much as a future reference since requirements differ and choices change too. If some application is the best choice at present, that does not mean it will be the best in 3 years time.

  • How to read a large text file line by line in java?: SO is not a place where you can make other people do your job. You must try and search before you ask something in here. You must have some specific problem to be solved, not a whole concept to be written for you.

    Closing an answered question is necessary because if it is not closed, then it will encourage people keep doing the same thing. If SO do not close an answered question which do not fit its format, then people keep asking them since they will think "No problem, we got our answers".

  • Are weekly status meetings necessary?: SO is for programming questions. SX has many sites for many Q&A formatted questions and this is not the right place. Visit programmers for such questions.

And one more thing, this is a community moderated site. If there are no strict lines for moderating, then everything will be a mess. There are thousands of people in here who can access moderator tools and there must be guidelines for them to follow.


The simple answer from reading many of the replies here is that the current infrastructure wasn't made to accommodate subjective discussions. The best way SO could reign in the "subjective vigilantes" is to provide infrastructure to support subjective exchanges. In this way the subjective and objective questions could be dealt with differently.


I personally sort of agree with you, and I searched this question up before I was going to ask it myself. To me it seems like some questions are unnecessarily closed for the sake of being stubborn about enforcing the rules, because I think they can be very useful questions, and others undoubtedly believe this too. For example, what if I wanted to ask "What is a good Java dictionary library?" and I couldn't find the answer to this elsewhere? Should I use a different site just to ask this? I know there won't be as many responses on different sites and they won't be as "good," so I'm naturally inclined to ask them on Stack Overflow. But don't interpret this the wrong way, I'm new to Stack Exchange and these are only the truthful thoughts from a naive perspective, and I'm sure there are reasons for closing subjective responses.

  • 5
    I'm sorry but your question fails on more than one point. Besides being subjective, it's also a list question, a poll, and one that's likely to be rendered obsolete over time. There are likely several options for books on this. If you really need this, find a chat room and ask there. You'll likely get some good recommendations. SE does try go cover a lot of ground but really subjective content doesn't really fit our format. There's nothing wrong with your question in general but the SE Q&A format isn't optimized for this.
    – Catija
    Commented Nov 13, 2017 at 23:15

As of 2017, there's a few sites, both established and in beta where answers are somewhat subjective, and have covered subject material one might consider a little too subjective on older sites. In a sense, the trick's really to propose, and build up sites that can handle subjective topics well, rather than try to shoehorn a traditional forum structure of "anything goes"

The advantage of the 'traditional' Q&A site has been that the format, for most part has been designed to minimise noise. Quite a few original design decisions, were focused around that, and site norms have evolved over time - we have Product Recommendation sites (for software and hardware) - which are arguably subjective, that probably wouldn't have existed before.

We also have fairly dedicated sites like workplace and IPS that cover subjects that by nature that are subjective.

I find in many cases, that these sites often have fundamentally different dynamics from more traditional Q&A sites. There's a little more drama, and a few issues we'd never face.

Many of the sites often need to find their feet as far as scope goes - SR had the "You're doing it all wrong" post for example. And while I find "what's the best tool" to do "bar" makes for a terrible question - there's little loss when you're getting answers that include the process and not just the tools on more traditional, purely non subjective sites.

In both cases - there's never been a total ban on subjective posts- there's been rules of the road for these since 2010, and many of these work brilliantly even on sites which are purely subjective.

  • Could you add a link to your reference to "Product Recommendation sites"? Thanks. Commented Nov 15, 2017 at 17:03
  • per my observations Workplace (and to lesser extent IPS since it's still actively evolving) look fairly close to "classical" Q&A, with sufficiently strong and objective quality norms. As for perception of these sites being more dramatic this seems to be effect of (usually artificial) popularity caused by advertising in the hot list. I think same "dramatic" effects would be observed even on canonical Stack Overflow if system wouldn't push their questions out of HNQ - bursts of upvotes and answers, heated debates in comments etc etc...
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 9:35
  • ...in fact that's just what I usually observe in Stack Overflow questions that get organically popular to the extent sufficient to overcome system protection keeping these out of HNQ - this just happens too rarely to make an impression similar to one made by Workplace / IPS
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 16, 2017 at 9:35

Stack Exchange is by now a failing product that doesn't serve the needs of those asking questions, but rather a handful of 20k+ rep members gaming the system to feed their own egos. It's like Facebook and the toxic social media only 10x worse.

I've been calling on the site to fix itself for years and only received downvotes, closes/on-holds in exchange.

The best way to "encourage" Stack Overflow to change is to create an alternative, preferably one where there are no downvotes and moderators are held to account for every single mistake.

  • Considering SO in many ways was a reaction to perceived flaws with another Q&A ... Maybe you might be on to something. That said - there's been a few attempts that haven't worked. Maybe you might have better luck. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 6:19
  • I've been looking for other Q&A sites (specifically something that doesn't have a downvote button and is focused on helping people instead of throwing bureaucratic rules intheir way. Can you recommend one? (Found a list at en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_Q%26A_sites ) Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 15:37
  • 1
    Nope. I like it here. Commented Aug 28, 2019 at 15:38
  • 1
    Re "that doesn't serve the needs of those asking questions": What percentage of those ask very simple questions that are duplicates? Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 1:59
  • 1
    You can probably find a site where the Eternal September event hasn't happen yet, and it will be great. What will you do when that happens and the regulars get very tired of answering the same questions over and over again? Move to the next site? Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 1:59
  • Quora works surprisingly well for a site that allows everything that ends with a "?", but you can't really post code, the question is limited to 250 characters, and it doesn't really have downvotes for questions (only technically). Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 2:01
  • 2
    Quora also has a moronic "real name" policy and it suffered an embarrassing hack 1-2 years ago that leaked info from massive numbers of users. I'm not using them until they abolish the "real name" policy. Then again, Quora was founded by a bunch of ex-Facebook engineers, so no surprises they demand everyone's personal information and have no qualms about incompetently leaking. Commented Sep 9, 2019 at 20:13

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