Many questions get closed on Stack Overflow for having a broad scope or being subjective in nature - often with the motivation that these questions are not fit for the Q&A format.
I respectfully disagree that these questions are not fit for the Q&A format - that is saying they have no place on Stack Overflow or any other Stack Exchange site regardless of their focus.
Guess my confusion lies in the expression "Q&A format" - as it suggests the general idea of asking questions and getting them answered in a public forum.. to which I think broad and subjective questions are well suited and provided a IRL example. Can someone give an argument why broad and subjective questions are not suited for the Q&A format?
You're not thinking of Q&A here, you're thinking of an online forum or message board—perhaps the old-school phpBB forums or even Reddit. "Discussion"-based questions are perfectly suitable there, and even encouraged, as they're interesting for people to talk about. They also elicit a wide audience of participants, as all that's required is a minimal amount of domain knowledge and an opinion. So basically, anyone who with a pulse who stumbles onto your question can answer. (And I can't help but notice that you're participating here, and not there.)
But that's precisely why they are not good questions for a Q&A site. The reason we call ourselves a Q&A site is because we want to focus on two things: questions and answers. Perhaps it sounds harsh to state it explicitly, but the participants who contribute those answers are mostly irrelevant—largely a means to an end (although they benefit from the so-called "end" in many ways).
A Q&A site therefore lies in contrast to a discussion-based site. Good questions have answers. That's our motto. The About page, which probably introduced you to the site when you were a new user, explains all of this rather well. I encourage you to read it if you haven't already.
And by "answers", we don't mean "opinions". We're not about widening participation or letting everyone have their say about popular issues. We're about building a library of detailed answers to specific questions about programming. The Help Center (specifically, the section on asking questions) goes into even more detail:
You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.
Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.
If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about ______”, then you should not be asking here. However, if your motivation is “I would like others to explain ______ to me”, then you are probably OK. (Discussions are of course welcome in our real time web chat.)
To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …
- every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
- your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ______ for ______, what do you use?”
- there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
- you are asking an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”
- your question is just a rant in disguise: “______ sucks, am I right?”
That lays it out pretty clearly. Questions of the style "What's the best…" just turn into polls. There's no clear, objective, correct answer, which is absolutely required on a Q&A site. So critical, in fact, that we have two different systems in place to help the best, most correct answer rise to the top: voting and acceptance.
Aside from all that, the rules did used to be a bit more lax. We've tightened them up over the years as we've learned that it just didn't work out otherwise. Browsing around this Meta site will turn up lots of interesting discussions we've had about that in the past, and there are some interesting posts on the Stack Exchange blog about it. For example:
Well, turns out I was indeed confused about the phrase "Q&A format", as it does not mean that the question is not suited for a question-and-answer format in general (to which I object) but rather "Q&A format as we defined it with particular rules on what kind of subjective questions are allowed". If you'd ask me outside the stackoverflow context if questions such as the ones i've given is suitable for a Q&A format in general, I'd argue that it is.
The thing is, the Stack Exchange family of sites sort of defined online Q&A sites, and the format along with them. So yes, when we say "Q&A site", we do mean "within our particular rules about what kind of subjective questions are allowed".
But they're not totally arbitrary rules, either, as I've attempted to explain above. You seem to be thinking of questions and answers as independent entities, but they're not. A Q&A site requires both. The types of subjective questions that you're citing might qualify as "questions", but they don't have "answers", so they're not workable here.
I can see how the question may generate debate, but that is the fault of the people debating not the person asking the question. Is the problem that these questions are too difficult to administrate if they encourage heated debates? IMO, the discussions/debates should be removed not the questions themselves.
Commenters have already attempted to explain why the problem is the question itself. I suppose that makes some degree of sense: if you ask an open-ended, opinion-based question that obviously incites or encourages discussion, it's human nature to have and want to share your opinion. So it's kind of pointless and a bit perverse to blame people for doing exactly what you've invited them to do.
But the problem goes deeper than that, and is much more insidious. The issue is that these types of questions do not have an answer—that's why they generate debate.
If there were a way to fix or reword the question such that it would have an answer, it would be perfectly permissible under our guidelines. And then it would also be much less likely to generate debate. And if it did, then that would be the fault of the one or two debaters, and their contributions would be removed as unwelcome and off-topic clutter.
I'm fine with broad questions being closed on the basis of not being topical - Stack Overflow is for programming questions with a narrow scope.
Right, so…I'm a bit confused here. Do you think the question "What programming language is best?" is narrowly-scoped? Because I could write a whole book about that. And so could someone else. And someone else. And someone else. It's books all the way down!