I've been seeing a large number of questions lately getting shut down for being "opinion-based" - for instance, when asking for advice on whether a given framework or library or language is mature enough for production work. Now as it turns out, those sorts of questions are (often, not always) quite helpful - certainly to me, and I have to imagine, to a large number of other folks as well, and so it's been frustrating to see them shut down.

I totally get that it's received wisdom that StackOverflow should be about knowledge, not opinions. But I'm not entirely sure that emphasizing that dichotomy is the most useful approach.

I understand that it makes total sense to cut off religious and/or flame wars about languages, OTBS, and so forth, as they're not helpful. But there are lots of times when I'm just jumping into a new area, and I would find it really helpful to get the perspectives of folks who have been there, done that, and earned the scars - as I'd prefer to avoid earning some of those scars myself.

Beyond that, I'm not entirely sure that it's possible to make a clear distinction between "opinion-based" and "fact-based". Some of the most helpful answers (and questions) I've run across on SO are concerned with code structure, architecture, patterns, "code smell", and other issues that don't fit cleanly into the "fact-based" vs "opinion-based" dichotomy. They're knowledge in the sense that history or literary criticism is knowledge, not in the sense that physics or mathematics is, but they're still helpful.


EDIT: This post here outlines the current guidelines:

Closing changes: on hold, unclear, too broad, opinion-based, off-topic reasons, bye-bye to Too Localized

And it specifically lists this as reason for closing a question:

primarily opinion-based — Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.

That makes some sense, and I fully agree with the sentiments behind it. But I'm seeing it used as a reason to close questions that my gut (there's that opinion thing again) tells me are entirely appropriate, helpful, and well within the tradition of StackOverflow.

I'm not asking for a wholesale revision of the rules, which actually sound about right to me. But in practice, they seem to be applied over-zealously, and I'd like a bit more grace extended in their application, with the goal being allowing StackOverflow to remain a helpful and useful site for real-world programmers.

In addition, as a sheer practical matter, many of the questions which people have obviously found incredibly helpful wouldn't be allowed by the criteria as many people have been applying them. Take for instance:

"Thinking in AngularJS" if I have a jQuery background?

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    Sigh. Did you search for previous discussions here on Meta first? We've been over this subject so many times now. – Martijn Pieters Oct 5 '13 at 12:41
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    @MartijnPieters - Perhaps it keeps coming up because the answers continue to be unsatisfying :-). – Ken Smith Oct 5 '13 at 12:42
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    If you read the previous discussions and are not satisfied with the points raised, then do please refer to those in your new post and explain why the older discussions do not cover your concern. – Martijn Pieters Oct 5 '13 at 12:43
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    Bit confused about what type of questions you would like us to be more relaxed with. Questions about code structure, architecture, patterns, "code smell" are perfectly on topic on Programmers, provided they follow the infamous "good subjective" guidelines. On the other hand, questions about picking a framework or library or language have little to do with code structure, architecture, patterns, "code smell", more often than not these are just lazy questions (imho) from people not interested in doing even the most minimal research. – yannis Oct 5 '13 at 12:53
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    (cont...) Nevertheless, questions about evaluating different technologies can be perfectly suitable for Stack Overflow and/or Programmers, if you care enough to do at least some of the work yourself. Here's how: How can Stack Overflow help developers evaluate technologies? – yannis Oct 5 '13 at 12:55
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    @Yannis - The question that finally triggered my post above about the maturity of FunScript vs. TypeScript (stackoverflow.com/questions/19178978/…). It certainly called for some opinion, but in a helpful way, and was certainly not a "lazy question". I found the question helpful, I found the answers helpful and full of great experience, and didn't find it helpful that it got put on hold. – Ken Smith Oct 5 '13 at 13:04
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    That question is insanely broad and should be closed as that as well – Richard Tingle Oct 5 '13 at 13:06
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    @RichardTingle - I'm not saying the question is perfect, but I am saying that it was helpful. Are you saying the question should be closed because you don't find it helpful? Or because of some other criteria, which may be orthogonal to helpfulness? – Ken Smith Oct 5 '13 at 13:08
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    helpful != good question for stack overflow. Some helpful questions just don't fit the format – Richard Tingle Oct 5 '13 at 13:08
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    @RichardTingle - I guess the primary criteria for me on SO is "is this helpful?" And that question certainly was, and hence strikes me as a great use of the format. – Ken Smith Oct 5 '13 at 13:11
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    And the primary criteria for stack overflow is "Will this kind of question destroy stack overflow", endless arguing about opinions consisting of is x is better than y, etc drive out experts and leave a yahoo answers style website where you can hear everyones uninformed "reconnings" – Richard Tingle Oct 5 '13 at 13:16
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    @RichardTingle - Take a look again at that question. I certainly see why we don't want SO to turn into the sort of back-and-forth that (for instance) we're doing here. That would be nasty. But the question called forth some great comments, and at least one perfectly fact-based answer. I'm not saying the rules are wrong - I'm saying that they're being applied over-zealously. – Ken Smith Oct 5 '13 at 13:22
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    Maybe here's another question. Part of what feels frustrating to me about a question getting closed like that is that I don't have (know of?) any way to contest its being closed. Is that just because I don't have a high enough reputation? It would be quite helpful if I could vote for re-opening a question, to at least counteract what seems like a whole bunch of folks going through and applying the rules too zealously. – Ken Smith Oct 5 '13 at 13:25
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    If you edit it then it goes into the reopen queue where people can vote to reopen. If the fundamental problem isn't sorted its unlikely the reopen queue will find differently from the original close voters – Richard Tingle Oct 5 '13 at 13:34
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    @KenSmith but that linked question didn't just result in quality fact based results. It resulted in arguments that devolved into pointless name calling, unhelpful non-fact based debates, to which you were in fact a major part of the problem. A moderator had to come in and spend quite a bit of time cleaning up the question and deleting all but just a few comments. That's a fantastic example of why these questions shouldn't be allowed. – Servy Oct 5 '13 at 17:04

You can get your useful information without asking for people' opinions. It's just, frankly, more work than asking if something is "worth it" or "ready". All you need to do is some research into the possible issues, then ask simple fact-based questions.

  • How do I upgrade from X to Y?
  • Can I ship one version of A which will work for both versions X and Y of B?
  • Does library A work with framework B?

Once you have the facts, you can make a decision. Asking people for the decision will get closed. Putting in the work to ask the questions that will lead you to your decision will not.

See also https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/186562/147247 for "attracting opinion-based answers" or not and https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/185482/147247 for putting in the work to make your own decision while asking questions that help you get the facts you need.

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