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A user on another question I posted wrote (slightly précised):

it's easier to keep professional in a programming related site, other sites tend to "try too hard" and fail, latest is the dating/relationships site which reached private beta and died due to trying too hard to fit Stack Exchange rules.

it's harder to keep the "Stack Exchange spirit", as I call it.

I'm curious to know if other people share this opinion. Do you think that in general, non-programming topics — such as cooking, gaming, English Language & Usage, chess, etc. — are generally less suitable for the Stack Exchange format than programming topics? I'm aware that Stack Exchange was built on Stack Overflow, and so there is likely to be a bias towards programming, but I'd like to know if there are good reasons as to why non-programming SE sites tend to fall out with the ethos of SE.

  • There are some statistics about the average number of answers a question gets. The less technical sites tend to have more of those than the technically oriented ones. Make what you will of that. – Oded Jul 14 '14 at 12:26
  • I don't know; as you point out, that fact is open to interpretation. I would read it as "Those communities are less popular because SE users typically focus on programming topics." – Lou Jul 14 '14 at 12:31
  • typo there (now fixed). The less technical sites have a higher average number of answers per question that the more technical ones. – Oded Jul 14 '14 at 12:32
  • Oh, sorry, I misread. I thought you were saying non-programming sites have less answers than programming sites. – Lou Jul 14 '14 at 12:34
  • Well in that case, no, I don't know what to make of that. – Lou Jul 14 '14 at 12:34
  • less in line... approach was experimented with in the past. "We already tried supporting those questions, we even gave them their own site. Sadly, it didn't work out..." – gnat Mar 10 '15 at 19:30
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At Arqade, I think we fall right into the SE spirit. We have Good Subjective questions (which are the bread and butter of our site), and we maintain a pretty tight focus on playing games.

Much of the struggle that happened at SO also happened at Arqade; we eventually banned an entire popular subset of questions due to the incapability of not matching the SE ethos. Granted, we have a small, specific exception to that subset we do allow, but we had to clear away the entire group before we could do that.

Much of what happens at any site has to be a balance between welcoming new users, and keeping your focus tight. Too welcoming, and you lose your experts due to the vagueness of what your site allows. Too tight, and you're the crotchety old man and get off mah lawn!

Are we trying too hard? I don't think so. If anything, Arqade's become the go to place to find the expertise needed to answer your questions about games. We've got users who play mainstream, popular games, and love those questions. And we've got users who play the obscure, niche games, and your questions can still get answered.

Are there questions people ask that we don't allow? Yep. We do our best to keep the salvageable ones, but just because we're the gaming site doesn't mean we allow any question related to gaming. We have our focus. We're not here to be the be-all end-all gaming site. We're just a bunch of people who love video games, and love sharing knowledge.

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SE sites do well when questions can be answered in a way that others can ratify. This isn't about programming versus not; it's about being able to explain why and how, about being able to back up or demonstrate what you say in an answer. It's about methods, not topics.

For example, many cooking questions are going to be more science than art. "What should I serve with my lasagna?" is a terrible question (and would be closed on Seasoned Advice) because it's too subjective and opinion-based, not because it's not technical. "What's better, a hashtable or a map?" is technical but would, similarly, be shut down on Programmers or SO. In both cases, if you added enough detail about your constraints, you might produce a question whose answers could be evaluated by means other than "yeah I like that" or "oh, ick".

One example of a site that works very well in this regard is Mi Yodeya. It gets a mix of technical questions (about Jewish law, not about code), practical ("how do I?") questions, and philosophical questions ("why does God...?"). You might think that the latter two would produce bad results, but, in fact, the site has a strong culture of backing up what one says and writing objectively rather than subjectively. This works, even though religion can be a touchy subject.

I've found, in my activity on several sites on the network, that there is a challenge with topics where everybody has experience. "Oh, I have a job -- of course I can answer any question on Workplace with my opinion", or "I use software so I understand UX", or similarly for writing, board games, music, parenting, and probably many others. But this doesn't mean sites like that can't work; many work quite well. It just means the community needs to be attentive and ready to help newcomers formulate better questions and answers. We need to help them go beyond "this is my opinion" to "and here's why it's credible".

"Stack Exchange spirit" is about the approach, not the topic.

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It depends on the site, and how it's defined.

For example, on travel, if you ask how to get from X to Y the answers are giving links with travel schedules etc. so they are quite in spirit. English.SE also usually provide external resources to prove your claims. In Sceptics, even the question must be documented with external references!

On the other site, SEs like Workplace specialize in giving vague life advices, and they tend to reject any post asking about facts and opinions... You must keep in mind that the communities are living their own lifes and it's hard to control them in any way. Once some set of rules is defined by the community itself, it's self-replicating.

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