I recently asked a poll question on SO: What do you call the punctuation marks { and }?.

The question was created as community wiki, seemed (to me) concise and unlikely to spark controversy, and was at least peripherally programming-related. I seeded it with a few very brief answers, hoping that would encourage others to do the same. (I'm a relative newbie. I may have failed to establish it as a poll at first.)

In SO FAQ terms, I felt that it

  • was not a duplicate
  • was detailed and specific
  • was written clearly and simply
  • was of interest to at least one other programmer somewhere
  • was most certainly subjective
  • was not argumentative
  • did not require extended discussion

It was closed fairly quickly as "subjective and argumentative". I'm not arguing that it should have been left open, nor asking that it be re-opened. If the community feels that a question is not interesting or useful, then it ought to be closed.

I'm afraid I still don't 'get' the social mores that govern SO polling. Nearly all of the most popular questions are either polls or call for highly subjective discussion. (Take a look at the "hottest questions this month"...) There would appear to be right and wrong ways of conducting polls--I'd like to hear from some SO natives.

Thanks for your thoughts.

P.S. Despite my own involvement with this question, I'd rather not see SO become a poll- and opinion-based site. SO's main strength lies in its ability to distill the experience of its many users into clear, concrete solutions to real problems.

Edit: A follow-up question: What kinds of polling questions do belong on SO? Should all polls be discouraged? (Please don't read that as sarcasm--it seems like a reasonable option.)

I suppose at its root this becomes a question of SO as programmer resource vs. SO as programmer community...

  • 2
    That question was not good...It should have been closed as "pointless"
    – jjnguy
    Jul 11, 2009 at 22:25
  • Given my above statement, I was still interested in what people had to say. But I believe that that question had no place on SO.
    – jjnguy
    Jul 11, 2009 at 22:26
  • @jjnguy: I've found that there is more variation in terminology than one would expect. Compilers don't care what terms we use, but the programmer on the other end of the phone line does. I think the interest you admit in your second comment is fairly common. This experiment has shown me that programmer interest is a necessary--but not sufficient--requirement for a SO question. (For the record, I predicted less consensus on the question; I'm glad that most people gravitated to "braces" in some form.) Thanks for your responses.
    – TSomKes
    Jul 12, 2009 at 3:01
  • this question should be rephrased as a poll :-P Jul 13, 2009 at 1:13

4 Answers 4


While I'm sure there are certainly "wrong" ways of asking poll-like questions, I don't see that you particularly made any mistakes. It's possible that people thought it too trivial a question and chose "subjective and argumentative" as the closest fit.

An awful lot of SO is subjective - it would be hard to argue otherwise. A solution that I find elegant may not appeal to someone else, etc. Personally I'd prefer if if the close reason of "subjective and argumentative" were renamed to "inflammatory or trolling" or something similar. Just because something is subjective doesn't mean it can't be valuable.

There's a certain amount of luck in asking a question, IMO. I believe that in some cases people (possibly including myself!) will vote to close something where if they'd happened to see it 20 minutes later, they'd have appreciated value in some of the answers. It's somewhat inevitable, to be honest.

Being explicit about how you'd like the question to be answered is generally useful, although you run the risk of appearing to be bossy.

  • I decided to stop typing this answer as it was turning into waffle. Not feeling terribly well...
    – Jon Skeet
    Jul 11, 2009 at 19:11
  • Well shouldn't the situation be recognized as a problem?!! Shouldn't there be a place for potentially useful poll questions? I heard that programmers stackexchange is one. It'd be good if superuser had one.
    – barlop
    Oct 2, 2010 at 17:24

If you want a poll to be accepted by the community you must be VERY up front that it's a poll, and give instructions so people use it properly.

I almost always add something like this to my polls:

This is a POLL type question. Please read all the answers and do not add a new answer unless it is substantially different from the remainder. Otherwise just vote up and/or comment on the answer(s) which most closely match your choice. If you have a substantially different answer, please add a new answer, and only add ONE choice to your answer.

You can see immediately on your poll that there are several duplicates that should have been made into comments, and a few "aggregate" answers where someone put several options in their answer. If you don't make specific instructions, then you'll find your poll is VERY subjective, but more importantly unproductive, and people will be more annoyed by the scatterbrained answers to the poll than interested in the resulting discussion.

Please note, however, that the community doesn't generally tolerate "fluff" polls. You don't gave ANY reason in your question as to why it would be important for a programmer to be interested in this information.


Polls were from the beginning a proper use of StackOverflow, see this post and this one.

  • except for the badges side effect which many, many people object to. Jul 13, 2009 at 9:56
  • both the links don't work any more..:D Nov 13, 2009 at 1:09
  • 1
    Thanks, they'd been migrated to Meta, fixed now. Nov 13, 2009 at 16:48

I voted to close this particular question for a number of reasons:

  1. What you call [pick your name for curly braces] is not programming related; and
  2. I'm not a big believer that SO should be used for polls at all and as such my standard for those that cut the mustard is very high.

Not sure why the reason ended up being "subjective and argumentative". To me, that's not the appropriate reason. Either "not programming related" or "not a real question" is.

  • @cletus: I don't completely agree with your first point, but I think it's a legitimate point of view. I do agree with the second point. Thanks for your response; I appreciate the explanation.
    – TSomKes
    Jul 12, 2009 at 1:50

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