I don't know how common this sort of thing is, but in the comment discussion on this question, the OP (who's actually been a member for over three years!) defends his position that the question is on-topic by repeatedly pointing to the FAQ and insisting that his interpretation of it is "the" correct interpretation, and that the FAQ itself is in some way the "definitive" resource for determining what's on-topic.

It seems to me that this is (1) not an unreasonable assumption and (2) completely incorrect. As I put it in my most recent comment on the thread:

the FAQ, while certainly the most immediately visible/useful resource for newcomers, is not "definitive", while community consensus is definitive.

In other words, the nature and content Stack Overflow itself is determined by the users. (This is true of all Stack Exchange sites and, more generally, all websites. Heck, in a generalized form, it's true of all communities and essentially all ideologies. It's true of every communal undertaking.) We need new users to understand this and to respect the wishes of the community. I don't mean that they need to defer in all things to the whims of those who've been around longer or have higher rep or are mods or anything like that; indeed, we should encourage them to be an active part of the community and to help continually refine the definition of what Stack Overflow is or is not. But they do need to understand that the FAQ is not some golden standard of rules that are set in stone, and that they need to be receptive to the consensus of the community. So perhaps we should add a disclaimer to the top of the FAQ pointing this out? Something like the following:

This FAQ represents our best effort to characterize and explain the goals of this site; it is our sincere hope that following the advice on this page will help you become a valued and productive member of our community. It does not, however, define Stack Overflow; we as a community do that, and because it is a continuing discussion, our site continues to evolve in terms of scope and focus. We encourage you to take part in this discussion on Meta Stack Overflow, and we hope that you will respect the opinions of other Stack Overflow members regarding what types of questions and answers are or are not a good fit for this site. In particular, we would like to remind you that the final arbiter of what constitutes a good question or a good answer is a matter of community consensus, not FAQ interpretation.

This is quite a bit more wordy than it ought to be, but it gives the general flavor of what I'm imagining.

  • 3
    Change "software tools commonly used by programmers" to "software tools primarily used by programmers" and see how much wiggle room is left
    – random
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 0:16
  • 4
    Community consensus is not definitive. At the end of the day, Stack Exchange Inc. has final authority over what is on-topic/off-topic, good/bad, worth implementing/not worth implementing (not that there is anything wrong with this). That the FAQ is a reasonably good indicator of their rules should be obvious, and adding a disclaimer like that just waters down an authoritative resource that we can point new comers to.
    – user200500
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 0:29
  • 2
    @random I agree that that would be an improvement; "software tools primarily used for programming" or similar might be even better. But that kind of misses my point. Commented May 12, 2013 at 0:50
  • @Asad I suppose that's true, though arguably Stack Exchange is just a particularly powerful segment of the community. The site is able to exist and thrive because a large number of people have shared ideals about what it should be; if the community consistently went in a different direction than the owners, the site would fall apart. Commented May 12, 2013 at 0:51
  • 2
    Unrelated: "Inkscape can save files in SVG format, SVG is code and therefore programming-related, thus on-topic". Wow. Just... wow.
    – user200500
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 1:14
  • @Asad right!? I mean, I want to give him the benefit of the doubt, because some of his comments really are very conciliatory, but... Commented May 12, 2013 at 2:05

2 Answers 2


In my experience, giving folks who are already prone to arguing semantics more words to (mis-)interpret doesn't tend to lead anywhere good.

We're in the middle of reworking the FAQ right now. As always, the goal is to distill a huge amount of information - some of it born from lengthy policy discussions here on Meta, observations as to what the community allows, etc - into reasonably clear, succinct answers.

As far as the on/off-topic descriptions go... They're very broad, high-level guidelines by design - while they've been refined over the years and will certainly continue to be (note that the SO /about page currently reads, "Software development tools"), when it comes to specific questions there's almost always room for interpretation and discussion.

Next time someone does this, just tell him to take it to Meta... and then walk away.

  • Will the reworked FAQ have a more prominent link to Meta? That alone would probably achieve something like what I'm talking about, since it would be a fairly clear indication that there's always ongoing discussion about Stack Exchange itself, and that that's the place to do it. As for the particular question, someone did open up a question on Meta about it, and as you can see from the comments, that didn't really help. (Pekka was a trooper, though.) Commented May 12, 2013 at 0:58
  • Don't really have a design for it yet; Laura's been cranking away at new/revised topics and Sklivvz is working on the underlying infrastructure, but it remains to be seen how that'll all fit together. Meta links should feature in there somewhere...
    – Shog9
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 1:04
  • As an aside: I wonder why the FAQ's What kind of questions should I not ask here? is no longer mentioning "list questions", while nowadays "Don't ask about..." in the About does?
    – Arjan
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 9:26
  • It's never mentioned "list questions", @Arjan. The sorts of problematic questions generally referred to by this term are outlined in the bullet list under "avoid asking subjective questions where..."
    – Shog9
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 13:23
  • Okay, despite my memory failing me then: a few days ago someone asked for a list of GUI guidelines, and I couldn't easily explain what part of the FAQ disallowed for that. (Oh, I now realize the "subjective" part covered that as well. The OP meanwhile deleted it anyway.)
    – Arjan
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 13:32
  • 2
    Biggest problem with that question was that it lacked specificity, @Arjan. Most platforms do have official UI guidelines of some sort, so a question targeted at, say, iOS or WinPhone wouldn't necessarily be either subjective or result in a list of things. Looking for globally-applicable mobile UI principles is another matter though; glad he found out about ux.se. BTW: read this.
    – Shog9
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 16:27
  • (Agreed, @Shog9, and thanks for the reference!)
    – Arjan
    Commented May 12, 2013 at 16:31
  • I'm also somewhat opposed to the "point [user] to [resource] and walk away" mentality. I appreciate the fact that we make a lot of really good resources easily available to users, but I think we rely on them too much to do our teaching for us. Commented May 13, 2013 at 0:59

Hmm. Call me crazy, but I'm seeing this as an answerable question.

If I distill it down to a level which I could approach it (since I don't know much about Inkscape, despite it being on every system I've owned for five years), then the question reads something like this:

How do I assign my glyphs to the Private Use Area section of Unicode?

I think that it's answerable, since the Unicode Consortium mandated that this space be reserved for third parties. And any developer within spitting distance of the Internet is a third party.

As for the disclaimer on the FAQ? It should be realized that the FAQ is a good, general guideline of what is acceptable on SO, but the final say lies with the company. I don't see the purpose or benefit to the disclaimer - if you have to add a generic "this is the intent of the site, but don't take it to heart" disclaimer to the most commonly asked questions, something very bad has taken place.

We're what makes Stack Overflow great, and what makes Stack Overflow not-so-great. We should realize for ourselves that a certain question has a certain level of answerability/quality on the site, and strive to that goal, not fervently flame others for a hard-line stance.

  • The problem with the original question wasn't that it's unanswerable but that it's off-topic. It has been migrated to Super User, which is an appropriate place for it. Commented May 12, 2013 at 0:54

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