Justification: The community of SO users is a self-selected community of experts. The collective opinion of those experts is extremely useful information for users and, before SO, was impossible to glean. Precise questions that are likely to solicit opinions should be allowed.

Proposed FAQ [unchanged, included for reference]:

[What kind of questions should I not ask here?

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!] Questions that will likely solicit opinions are acceptable as long as they are precise. For example,

  • Not Acceptable: Is Flash dead?
  • Acceptable: Has the lack of Flash support on the iPad impacted your technology decision in a recent Rich Internet Application project? If so, how?
  • 1
    Sounds like a job for... Ask Slashdot!
    – Shog9
    Aug 18 '10 at 16:58
  • 6
    I like to think about a Stack Exchange site like those old expert Q&A sections they hosted in magazines like "Nintendo Power". Maybe I bought all of the wrong issues, but I never once saw a question that was soliciting an opinion.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Aug 18 '10 at 16:58
  • Yes, I purposefully chose to use Flash to keep iPad users from using my application. Aug 18 '10 at 17:01
  • 3
    I like to think about SE questions as Tootsie Pops. Doomed SE user: "Mr. Owl, what's your opinion on the Tootsie Roll center of a Tootsie Pop?"
    – Shog9
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:02
  • 9
    @Tom Look, with all due respect, but you've been around for nine days. While that doesn't necessarily invalidate any suggestions you make, I still recommend leaning back and watching how the site works first for a while. I predict you will find that many restrictions that seem unfair at first are in place for a good reason, and that fundamental changes, while not out of the question, are more tricky and have more complex consequences than initially perceived.
    – Pekka
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:05
  • 2
    @Pekka, I registered nine days ago, but I've been using SO daily for over a year. There are opinions all over the place and I find them valuable (like in my recently discussed question). I'm honestly just trying to find ways to improve SO by limiting the collateral damage of "subjective, argumentative". Aug 18 '10 at 17:22
  • 8
    @Tom Subjective and Argumentative questions are the collateral damage of hosting a expert level Q & A site.
    – devinb
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:42

Provided Example Question

Has the lack of Flash support on the iPad impacted your technology decision in a recent Rich Internet Application project? If so, how?

I have four responses:

Who is an expert?

Consider these SO users. Which of them are experts, for the purposes of this question?

  • I own an iPad.
  • I am a prominent marketer for Apple working on the iPad.
  • I am a Flash Developer.
  • I wrote a Flash game once.
  • I'm new to the internet, I just learned C.

Obviously, none of them could be considered experts by the criteria supplied in the question ("made a technology decision for a project"). How do we stop them from answering? We can't.

What makes their opinion valid?

Ok, so having actually made a decision is rather limiting; each of these users could qualify as someone who has needed to make such a decision. But, their considerations would be wildly divergent.

Why is this question generalizable?

Anyone who is making technological decisions relating to a project has a myriad of factors to aggregate. For instance:

  • Available developer / team-lead / support resources
  • Time to design / implement application
  • Difficulty debugging / training / using this technology
  • Functionality planned / required / possible with this technology

Even if some small portion of such information is described in an answer on Stack Overflow, what makes you think that the information left out isn't relevant? Each of those factors will weigh differently for different users, and will have an enormous impact on each of the other decisions.

These items are not weighed in isolation, so excluding any of that information will hide some of the reasoning behind the information that was disclosed.

Why would they get voted up?

This is by far the most important part: it's the general populace, the people you wanted to exclude because they are not experts, they will be voting based on... whatever they feel like.

Generally, better formatted answers get voted up. Better written answers. Especially on subjective questions, presentation is everything. You must be more convincing not more correct.


So by encouraging these questions, you face the difficulty of only targeting experts, making sure they are experts, finding relevant information, and then convincing only relevant users to vote for it. And then you still have the problem that there is no one answer: the Stack Overflow format is designed around the concept of a question with a Single Correct Answer. Your suggestion completely ignores that, inviting in questions that are not well supported by the software itself.

  • I'm going to start calling you "El Duderino" if you keep posting answers this long.
    – user27414
    Aug 18 '10 at 18:39
  • @Jon If I'm going to get a nickname, can it be something more weighty? Something longer?
    – devinb
    Aug 18 '10 at 18:59
  • 4
    Hey now. Questions with Multiple Correct Answers are also OK. It is the ability to place answer firmly on a correct/incorrect or solves-problem/does-not-solve-problem scale that really matters. Polls fail because nothing is wrong. Reading the bones fails because the only right answer is "wait and see". Aug 18 '10 at 19:21
  • @dmckee There are often multiple ways to resolve a problem. But the accepted answer is the one that the OP chooses to implement. How do you select one piece of advice as "correct"?
    – devinb
    Aug 18 '10 at 19:39

The SO paradigm just doesn't support subjective questions. When would you vote up or down? Which answer would you accept? If you're looking for expert opinions, how do you qualify an expert?

I also think this would create a lot of argument about what is and what is not an expert-oriented subjective question.

Reading blogs written by respected gurus will probably yield a better result.

  • Well, your last sentence kind of comes full-circle. Define "respected guru". There are a lot of highly-traffic programming-related blogs out there written by people who clearly have no idea how the real world works and end up indoctrinating the less experienced into their distorted way of thinking. The recurring desire to get expert opinions on SO is partly a reaction to that -- SO seems, superficially, like a place where relative expertise can be quantified through reputation. Unfortunately, that's not what rep really does. Aug 18 '10 at 17:13
  • 4
    @Nicholas: indeed, and I suspect that's high among the reasons why so many here are down on these sort of subjective / discussion questions: they're a quick route to status for users who can write convincingly, even if what they're saying is no more than an amalgam of platitude and prejudice. Eventually, this drives out those who are technically skilled but less eloquent, and leaves us with yet another message board / discussion site.
    – Shog9
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:21
  • @Nicholas: "Unfortunately, that's not what rep really does" - That's exactly right. Upvoting an "expert" opinion is no more or less valid than adding to the traffic count on their blog.
    – user27414
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:23
  • You vote up when you agree with the answer an down when you disagree, just like with factual answers. You accept whatever you want, or nothing--just like with factual answers. When I read opinion-ish questions today, I automatically go beyond the green check and drill into the comments. I rarely do that with factual questions. Aug 18 '10 at 17:27
  • @Tom - then you just have a popularity contest for opinions. If you want to read the most popular opinions, you can pretty much just go by the search results for "programming blog".
    – user27414
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:35
  • @Jon B. You're right. It's a popularity contest, among experts (I consider the entire SO community to be experts), for opinions on my precise question. I think that's extremely useful. Aug 18 '10 at 17:44
  • 3
    @Tom - The SO community contains experts, but is not 100% made up of experts. I would argue that on any Q&A site there are far more novices than experts, as Q&A sites are an excellent place for novices to ask questions.
    – user27414
    Aug 18 '10 at 17:53

There is no need to change any Stack Exchange policy to try and solicit expert opinion.

If you do not wish to use one of the sites designed for recommendations (e.g. Software Recommendations, Hardware Recommendations) and have not been able to find a chat room where you can ask either then ...

For those who do not want to look beyond the Main SE sites when posting questions, my advice, if you are seeking recommendations, is to not ask for them directly. I think you will find that if you:

  • do your own research first,
  • say what you are looking for,
  • say what you have looked at,
  • say what your best candidate is, and
  • describe the single main concern you have with proceeding to test/implement that, and
  • ask about that specifically

then you will most likely receive answers that either alleviate that concern, or most professionals, recognizing someone on the "wrong track", will say "you may want to try XXX instead because it meets that requirement in this way".

As soon as you outright ask for a recommendation you are asking for the community to put together a list of options for you to choose one from i.e. most answers will be wasted effort by our volunteers. This is why I think questions asking for recommendations are unsuitable for the focussed Q&A sites of Stack Exchange.

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