Largely through inaction on our part, http://programmers.stackexchange.com has become a bit of a ... strange and undisciplined place.

We aim to fix this!

Our goal is to remove the bottom 15-20% of the "worst" programmers.se questions and disallow them as not constructive subjective questions. Robert is currently in the middle of composing a blog post about this, with a 4 or 5 factor test the community can use to determine if their subjective questions are either ...

  1. good, in the sense that they provide useful information of some kind that others can potentially benefit from
  2. bad, in the sense that they are amusing / entertaining but ultimately "junk food" empty experiences

So, please answer this question with:

  1. identify a "bad" programmers.se question, and tell us specifically why it is bad.
  2. identify a "good" programmers.se question, and tell us specifically why it is good.

(suggestion: check out the "back it up" policy of moms4moms which might inform your opinion on a general strategy for producing USEFUL subjective discussions; that's really what this is about)

this is now policy for subjective questions as documented on the blog: https://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective/

the cleanup of programmers.se begins this week and will continue:
The Six Subjective Question Guidelines -- Enforcement Notice

  • 9
    ::stifles manic chortling:: Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:26
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    Coming soon on area51: not "not programing related" related... Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:29
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    I thought programmers.se was supposed to be undisciplined. I thought it was a place where bad questions went to die. No? Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:55
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    Are we posting example questions, or actual questions? Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:59
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    @George: well, empirically speaking, three of us are posting actual questions, and one of us is posting example questions. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:09
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    I have a vision of someone trying to close the barn door after not only the horses, but also the unicorns and Tony the Pony have bolted.
    – Ether
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:11
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    belongs on meta.programmers.stackexchange.com
    – Kip
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 3:55
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    (seriously though, why is this on the main meta site?)
    – Kip
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 3:56
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    @kip because ultimately it covers "how to have a subjective site". We think there will be more. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 4:34
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    @Lasse, I read that entire contents of the page you linked. I don't understand the details of what LambdaMOO is, exactly, but I think I understood the gist of the thing. But if I'm interpreting correctly, you're saying that we should leave all the big decisions up to SOIS; is that accurate?
    – Pops
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 20:19
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    @Jeff, I've never used moms4mom, but that "back it up" policy is pure junk. In the first half, they say that "I'm a [insert profession here] and..." is bad because "there's no way we can validate who you are in real life." Then in the second half, they turn around and say "I had the same problem you are having when my little one was that age" is good, but it's equally unverifiable!
    – Pops
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 20:25
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    @popular I'm not sure you're understanding it. It's the difference between "you should do this because I am an accredited expert" and "I tried this, let me tell you a story about what happened and you can judge for yourself." Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:03
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    I'm tired of you all... you start building places which are not fun to be in. Policies, separation, orders (!) for selecting "bad" questions... I think you're ahead of time: robots still have not overtaken humanity, and we, the humans, are going to contribute to these sites!..
    – P Shved
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:09
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    @Pop: I had the same problem you were having when I was running a huge Q&A network, and...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:21
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    DISLIKE!!! There is too much discipline/moderation on SE sites in general, it's nice there's one site which isn't so heavily controlled.
    – Jonathan.
    Commented Sep 29, 2010 at 21:05

14 Answers 14


please don't stamp out ALL the fun!

I agree with cleaning things up a bit, but I was hoping programmers.se might be a nice place with a slightly looser dress code to discuss some fun things that won't be valuable academically but will be very valuable in making people laugh, bringing the community together, and making people's lives happier. Obviously this is not acceptable on stackoverflow, so I thought it might pass on this different site designed to be a slightly subjective.

If I am completely wrong and programmers.se was meant to be absolutely nothing but academically valuable questions, vote this post down and I'll delete it. :)

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    I think its more of people who have such a narrow minded view of SO, and any attempt to break that view/tradition is stiffly voted against. But what I don't like is that the community used the community tools to create a community site, and then a handful of people try to shut it down. Its sad really.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:17
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    we want to cull the worst 15% of the questions, like I said in the post. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 4:34
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    @Jeff Atwood: Isn't that what voting is for? The garbage will get voted down/voted to close. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 5:21
  • @user132214: Yes, but even on SO we do have close REASONS. Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:14

I haven't been a participant for very long there, but it is my understanding that there are actually several categories of questions that were meant to exist on Programmers.SE AKA "Not Programming Related", all of which make sense to keep.

Good Topics

Subjective Questions about Software Development

These are questions that actually are, sort of, about programming, but are just too subjective/open to have a home on Stack Overflow. Examples are:

Personal Experiences and "War Stories"

These aren't appropriate for a Q&A site - they have no right or wrong answers or even really any good or poor answers, but they do sometimes have educational value. Canonical example:

I don't think that any further explanation is warranted or required for this category. Moving on...

Career Advice / Business of Programming

Highly contentious on Stack Overflow, many people don't want the questions there, and they fit great on Programmers.SE. Some high-voted examples are:

  • Job hopping, is it a problem?

    Great example of a practical career advice question, where particularly good answers might actually affect somebody's decision-making for the better.

  • I've stopped coding for fun, is this a bad sign?

    Not so practical, but at least relatively specific to programmers. I should note that this is a bit borderline as it could apply to many professions, but programmers are particularly notorious for having work-related hobbies; you don't find many doctors practicing medicine for fun or accountants filing tax returns for fun.

  • Why do programmers write apps and then make them free?

    Seems like a legitimate curiosity question that surprisingly didn't erupt in F[OS]S wars. The top answer, while rather trite, is actually a good one.


Technically, some of these questions might go on Stack Overflow, but Programmers is probably a better place for any new questions about "sites/books/authors/feeds to buy/read". Quick examples:

Gray Area Topics


I'm not sure if these should exist or not. There's an endless variety of topics and many of the answers really have very little to do with programming (or programmers) at all. Nevertheless, this category is probably half of what's attracting people to the site in the first place, so eliminating them could cause... problems.

Obvious examples:

Bad/Useless Topics

Work Environments

I find these useless because they're almost never specific to programming. Take questions like these:

Holy Wars

There's even a bloody tag for it. I know people love to argue on the internet, but frankly, I think they make the site look bad. You don't want people to visit the site and get angry.

I've gotta run now but I think that's a decent set of examples for the time being.

  • Good write-up! I rather suspect the last three categories are a huge part of the site's current popularity though...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 23:33
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    The jokes and cartoons definitely are related to programming and software development (any answers that aren't should be downvoted); I don't see why that's a gray area. Re work environment, do we really want all the various cubicle-hell pet peeves from any profession, plus any from jobs like secretary to delivery driver? "What version control practice do you find annoying?" would be more acceptable where "coworker habit" isn't. In contrast, "music while coding" is more bent towards programming, but not by much.
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:05
  • +1 for the "differentiates the exceptional programmers" example. Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:19
  • @Gnome: "music while coding" is about as programming-related as "snacks while coding" - which is to say, not very related. I'm sure there are some folks who think their setup is what makes them the Programming Gods that they are, and nothing but the right music, food, equipment, co-workers and ambient light will do... But I suspect most of these are just GTKY questions.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:20
  • @Shog9: I know where you're coming from, and I 99% agree (I qualified "not by much" about "music"), but there are fewer jobs that let you listen to anything you want and where creativity can be important than there are where you can eat while at work. (Of course, not all programming jobs let you listen to anything you want, but it seems to me—though I've only worked in a handful of professions—this is much higher than average for programmers.)
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:24
  • I'm not sure about the atheist question, though I know it could quickly degrade. Compare to other religious comparisions (about halfway down; post itself also deals with race).
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:28
  • @Gnome: I've only had a few different lines of work, so can't speak authoritatively on this... But the sole job where I couldn't listen to music involved answering phones (so, kinda obvious). Factory, farm, even janitorial work were all fairly tolerant of a radio or something at workstations, so long as it didn't interfere with work or communication. This strikes me as another instance of "programmer exceptionalism" - programmers thinking programmers are special because they're programmers.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:30
  • @Shog9: For my 1% disagreement, I'm picturing headphones and isolation—definitely interfering with communication and much less common in other jobs, rather than a radio an entire office can share, but I suppose this may reflect how I tick more than anything.
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:39
  • @Gnome: I prefer a good amp and great big speakers cranked up loud... Which probably explains why I didn't picture headphones. That said, "Can listening to music interfere with your job?" might actually make a decent P.SE question... though I'm hardly surprised that no one has asked it.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:49
  • Oh man, you wouldn't believe the amount of flak the locking of the atheist question got on Meta.Programmers.SE. It's the textbook case of how Programmers.SE has gotten derailed due to lack of discipline.
    – user149432
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:53
  • @Gnome: "Do we really want all the various cubicle-hell pet peeves from any profession, plus any jobs like secretary to delivery driver?" - No, that's why I listed it under the "bad" heading.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 3:07
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    @Shog: I suspect you're right about all of the "bad" topics being largely responsible for the site's popularity; the trick, of course, is finding a set of topics that can sustain some popularity without turning it into an intellectual wasteland. Once you eliminate all of the garbage GTKY-type questions, there still seems to be a pretty large number of real (albeit subjective) programming/programmer questions.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 3:10
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    @Shog: I think he was implying that everybody likes beer, irrespective of their vocation.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 3:30
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    I'm not sure I can say "fun" is a gray area on p.se. IF you buy that "programming culture" questions fit, then I think most of these fall into that.I think the work environment tag just needs more definition: "what colors for your ide" or "how much lighting is best" seem to be perfectly ok to me. But the questions you highlight are indeed lousy. If it were up to me, I'd also just auto-ban people who asked anything that smelled of holy war. One of the things attracting me to SO is the fairly neutral ground it stands on.
    – Jim L
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 19:43
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    I've just read Do programmers have higher tendency to be atheists than non programmers?. Risky topic, but without inflammatory responses, some quoted studies, some self references and others public references, it doesn't look a bad question...
    – user150068
    Commented Oct 7, 2010 at 16:41

Good questions

“Comments are a code smell”

Bad question for SO, because we've decided that SO's no good for extended, contentious discussions, but perfect for p.se - it's an issue all programmers run into, especially those fresh out of schools whose professors told them to comment every line. Really understanding good commenting/documentation practice will make one a better developer.

How do you learn your way around an undocumented project?

Old hands giving tips to the yung-uns. Anecdotes and stories that might end up being helpful to someone.

Bad questions

What programmer/geek/nerd stereotypes are true/false for you?

Because it's both a poll (often bad news), and contains no useful content. Pure junk food.

Could you recommend some interesting cities/locations that a programmer should visit?

This question might go in a good direction - computer museums, corporate campuses - but when "go to my town, it's got good beer" gets voted up, no. Again, just personal information, nothing useful to programming.

The answers to the "bad" question contain nothing that could improve my experience, skills, or knowledge about programming. Off-topic is one thing - that's why programmers.se exists. Contributes nothing that could be used for the betterment of the readership is another.

Possible close reasons:

  • Pointless
  • Does not contribute to the overall weal
  • This is not Facebook
  • Nothing here helps me do my job better
  • Not programming related (wait - dammit!)
  • Not related to programming or software development in the slightest
  • Not appropriate to yell over your cube wall
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    what's the general question class -- "getting to know you"? contains only personal information like "height, weight, age, favorite color.."? Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:36
  • @Jeff: Not sure what you mean - are you asking how to generally categorize these kinds of questions? How about "A/S/L"? "Contains nothing that might conceivably improve the practice of programming"? Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:38
  • @Jeff we originally called them "poll" questions on Programmers.SE. Then people started calling them "survey" questions. I get what "getting to know you" question means, but that might be a little too...insidery?...for a new user.
    – user149432
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:59
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    Poll questions aren't bad on Programmers.SE. If you look at it, all subjective questions are polls, which is exactly what the site was made for.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:12
  • @TheLQ: I tend to agree with you. More of the problem, I think, is "not related to programming or software development in the slightest" questions. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:17
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    @Jeff: Perhaps it's just an unfortunate side-affect of being a genius, but your comments are often indecipherable. Could you be less vague? Yes, many of us are morons, but we're trying to get smarter. You seem to think you can convey a message to us plebeians in fewer words than you actually need to use. Perhaps you've forgotten the size of the audience you're addressing?
    – raven
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 3:29
  • What's wrong with polls? They convey potentially interesting information. Moreover, what's with this "must help me program better" stuff? How about "must help me understand programmers"? Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 14:33
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    @raven: He's looking to generalize the undesirable traits of the examples given. These aren't really poll questions except in the loosest sense - there's usually no intention or effort made to compile the results, and there's no possible way to make them statistically valid. It's a form of question occasionally referred to as GTKY (Getting To Know You), intended primarily as a way of familiarizing yourself with other users of the site, like those little questionnaires that get passed around on blogs or Facebook. So are these inherently undesirable, or only when they veer too far off-topic?
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 15:04
  • @Michael I'm the poster of the question about the cities a Programmer should visit. Actually I've downvoted a couple of "come to my city" answers and asked to submit some links to enrich the answer too. Why are you judging a question from the answers given? Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:33
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    @system: Removing "cities" and focusing on locations would make that a much better question—and should eliminate any "come to my city" answers. (AIUI, focusing on that is what you currently mean, but "cities" just distracts.)
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:46
  • @Gno done Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:58
  • @systempuntoout: Relax, I'm not proposing that you be punished. Some questions inspire good, useful answers. Others don't. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:58
  • @Michael uh, I am relaxed. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 22:07
  • How about not programmer related as a close reason? The site is subjective, but it still has a topic/goal. Not useful ("pointless or noise" from here) could cover the stereotype question, but I'm undecided on whether it's a bad question in the first place. (The locations question isn't bad, but the "good beer" answer is for the reasons you mentioned; i.e. "might go in a good direction" as you said.) Argumentative (without subjective) could be another.
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 23:09
  • Hate away, but just gonna say... I'd rather drink good beer while discussing Turing's work with Portlandians than drink English beer while staring at his old job site.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:57

Damn, I had to upvote Kop. Jeff, you ruined my day.

I really do not know what the issue is here. People complained that SF and SU were used as trash bins for SO content. Well, they were, because there is a need for such a trash can. Someone was smart enough to propose such a can and now you want to clean it up? Are you serious?

Jeff, you are proposing community-driven sites all the time (even so we know it better). So let the Programmer.SE guys care about it. They know best, what to do with their site.

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    This. Watching the folk who pushed so incessantly for trashing SO split hairs over the relative inanity of questions on P.SE is irony so rich I had to pour myself another cup of coffee just to wash it down...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 20:08

I don't get it.

Programmers is by a HUGE margin the most successful area51 proposal ever. It has double the pageviews of any other proposal, and will soon surpass server fault.

What's the only difference between programmers and the other dozens less successful proposals? That it is, as you call it, undisciplined.

So why change it?

Note: to avoid being too verbose I'm replacing "with the most page views" with "successful". Whether it's successful or not is subjective, but let's not get into that. With the terminology of this post successful just means "having more views".

  • I'm going to have to compile the activity, it does seem much better than other sites.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:23
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    I'm on the fence about this. I suspect Jeff wants to retain the "professionalism" that the other sites exhibit, and avoid having p.se become a forum. His definition of successful is not (purely) pageviews. I dunno - p.se is kinda fun, like the occasional slice of pizza. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:25
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    @Micheal: exactly. It's one website, can't Jeff just leave it as it is? He often blogs about making the internet a better place, if a lot of people are having fun with an "undisciplined" website, then it makes the internet better. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:29
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    I don't see how having an undisciplined Q&A "forum" makes the internet a better place given the premise that Yahoo! Answers, exactly what you're looking for, is massively successful and doesn't make the internet a better place. If anything, a massively successful "forum" SE site is like Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen: categorically awful for everyone, but a massive cash-in.
    – user149432
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:34
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    @Michael The issue with that is Programmers.SE is a professional site. We (mostly) give legitimatize answers to legitimate questions. You have exceptions (XKCD, the entire closed list), but you don't see us giving mispelled and uncapitalized answers or questions most of the time. We are professional. Subjective doesn't mean not professional.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:12
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    @TheLQ: please define "professional" in this context. Keep in mind open questions like this and answers like this (he's right about Portland, btw. Great beer). Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:20
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    @TheLQ: Look. I like programmers.se. It's fun. But let's not fool ourselves. It's not a professional site, not in the normal sense of the word. Would you feel ok calling a meeting at work to discuss any of the topics on the site? If no, it's not professional. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:22
  • @Michael Perhaps because you don't call a meeting based on what some anonymous person said on a website? I don't think people call meetings based on SO, nor any SE site. But lets define professional: "engaged in a profession or engaging in as a profession or means of livelihood" Thats pretty much Programmers.SE, where we specifically talk about that. SO does that. SF does that. SU (sorta) does that. The only one that doesn't is gaming.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:38
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    @TheLQ: Wow, you sit around your office all day talking about beer and how you live in your mother's basement? Certainly different than my office. And I still challenge the link you're making between the definition of the word "professional" and much of the content of p.se. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:47
  • @TheLQ: Nothing inherently wrong with the site as it is. Nothing wrong with a site that's geared towards content of professional interest. Can't have both, though. If you want the latter, some of the content's got to go, and the rules around new content need to be tightened up. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:49
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    @TheLQ Are trying to say that Gaming is unprofessional because of its subject matter, or because of how the community conducts itself?
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:58
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    @Grace: by the definition he presented, I assume it's the former (subject matter). Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 0:01
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    @michael like I said in the post, we just want to remove the 15-20% of worst questions, and inject some more meaty topics like testing. The site is mostly OK, it just needs some stewardship and parenting, which we've been doing a poor job with so far on programmers.se specifically. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 4:36

First, let me say, thank you. A cleanup is sorely needed.

Bad Question: The lifecycle of "cool"

It's bad because it takes 271 words to expand upon a flawed premise (that people only use Textmate and jQuery because of herd behavior) only to ask two questions that essentially amount to "aren't I right? Why am I right?" There are a lot of questions like this on Programmers.SE, and they only serve to provide an outlet to people who want to rant.

Good Question: Job hopping, is it a problem?

It's a question about programmers that isn't programming, doesn't pre-suppose a worldview in the question, and can elicit dozens of good answers without having a definitive one. If only all questions on Programmers.SE were like it.

Basically, beyond the "getting to know you" style questions, the bad questions on Programmers.SE are the ones that pre-suppose a worldview and ask for confirmation or reasons why that worldview is correct. The only thing they succeed in doing is re-hashing the talking points for the position the asker espouses and pissing off everyone who doesn't agree.

  • I do think some questions end up being rants, but we mostly close those as "Not a real question" anyway. And besides, it is a subjective question since people are looking for alternatives to their view. And such alternatives might change their view for the better, which is our end goal anyway.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:18
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    @TheLQ the goal of a SE site isn't to convert people to one's cause. It's to provide useful information (in the form of questions and answers) to visitors. Subjective or extended questions can be useful to people: they can find out how complex an issue is by the diverging answers. But the rant questions only serve one use to a passerby, and that's to inform them that the question asker is an a-hole.
    – user149432
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:22
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    The given bad question is bad because it's poorly phrased. There's a good question lurking in there (and in far fewer words). The question of why tools get popular, and some get extremely popular, is an interesting one, and not really suited for SO. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 14:44

...so you go and cull the "bottom 15-20%," whatever you determine that to be, and then what? It's not going to change the people on the site, and it's not going to change the nature of the questions that get posted there, and even if it did, how much notice would people take?

When I was growing up, a friend's mother always thought that the TV was too loud whenever we were watching TV. Now, kids tend to like to have their TV and their music a bit louder than they probably should, but this was not rooted in any objective criteria. She just had it in her head that the TV was too loud, and she'd make us turn it down. And then, maybe 15 minutes later, she'd notice it again and say the TV was too loud, and make us turn it down further, and so on and so on until we couldn't hear a thing. (Even though we had not been turning it back up when she didn't notice. She'd do this even if she was watching something together with us.)

If people start to get it in their heads that the bottom 15-20% need to be cleaned out, I guarantee that they're going to come back later and clean out the bottom 15-20% of whatever's left. And there's only so many times you can do that before all those percentages start to add up to a significant fraction, and suddenly you've detroyed the most successful Area51 community ever.

Programmers was designed explicitly to be a place where the normal rules are inside out, and it's been a huge hit. That's a pretty good sign that it ain't broke; don't "fix" it please.

  • 3
    Eventually, you only have one question left... But it's the best question ever asked!
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 4:59
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    so "it ain't broke" also means "so perfect it is impossible to improve"? I think not, my friend. Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 5:29
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    @Jeff: Not "impossible to improve" so much as "unnecessary to improve." We're getting deep into "premature optimization" territory here, especially considering the heavy-handed behavior I've seen so far by mods locking productive discussions that the participants even cared about enough to reopen after they'd been closed. No actual improvement is taking place by trying to "clean things up." Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 5:35
  • 1
    @mason well, we'll have to agree to disagree on this then. We will be cleaning up the bottom 15-20% of questions and setting guidelines for productive-yet-subjective questions. If you find that disagreeable, perhaps there might be other sites on the internet, somewhere, that are more to your liking? Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 5:56
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    @Jeff: All I'm saying is that you're really focusing your efforts on the wrong thing. As Kop points out, this is "by a HUGE margin the most successful area51 proposal ever." Programmers is the only one that's come anywhere near duplicating the runaway success of the original StackOverflow. Instead of trying to clean it up, you'd do a lot better to try to figure out how to quantify what makes it so special, and see if you can't add a little bit of that to the other StackExchange sites. Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 13:42
  • 3
    @mason we're not interested in popularity; that's a thread full of XKCD cartoons. What we are interested in creating professional sites that make the internet better. So expect more discipline on programmers in the very near future, and the bottom 15-20% of useless, non-professional questions on programmers.se to be closed mercilessly and with extreme prejudice. Commented Sep 26, 2010 at 2:18
  • 1
    @Jeff Atwood ~ Then can we have a watercooler.se?
    – jcolebrand
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 20:23
  • 2
    @Jeff Atwood Is this an answer that follows FAQs guidelines? We will be cleaning up (...) If you find that disagreeable, perhaps there might be other sites on the internet...
    – user150068
    Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 19:02

I think that the main problem with Programmers.SE is a lack of shared vision.

  1. A lot of people see it as flowing from the original definition. For example, of the top five on-topic questions, one is way too broad ("What are common mistakes in Software Development?") and two are joke questions. I think P.SE has more or less expanded straight up from there- anything that isn't egregiously unrelated to programming (eg, "what are some good beers for programmers?") flies. Until recently, the effort in meta.p.se had been going to defining exactly where that line was.

  2. Mr. Atwood and co, on the other hand, see the future of Programmers.SE as a professional resource, and less of a stack exchange tavern. A blog post mentioned a distaste for "stupid water-cooler nonsense" and a need for meatier discussion.

Either of these options are fine by me, and it looks like the latter is going to be imposed from above.

My point here is not to argue for or against a culling, but rather just to point out that the best way to raise the quality of questions on programmers.se is simply to present a clear vision for what the site should be like.

  • I applaud you. That's a fair, balanced and sane answer without emotions dripping from every letter.
    – Joris Meys
    Commented Sep 29, 2010 at 21:13
  • If that's imposed, you know somebody's going to start an Area51 proposal for #1. I'll probably do it if nobody else does. Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 13:41
  • @David Thornley area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/21841/… Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 23:41
  • This is a good and thoughtful answer . One point to add is that if you look at old stackoverflow questions, there were a lot of subjective / not programming related questions there originally and the community figured out over time what was allowed and what wasn't. Now questions on SO are closed quickly by the community, when they are off-topic but it took a while to figure out what "off-topic" meant. Programmers.se will find its voice, people just need to be patient. As long as the most active participants ask, answer and vote on questions that are good, the noise will disappear over time. Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 18:23

OK. Trying to take the topic seriously (and not currently a participant on programmers):

Meta rule:

If an xkcd comic is the highest rated answer the question is junk, but you won't be able to get rid of it. Too much fun.

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    XKCD comics being upvoted heavily is not because the question is junk, its because voting on Programmers.SE is an issue. I've seen many commeters saying they'll upvote later because they ran out of votes. People vote for what they like, and funny is something that most people like
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:14
  • The xkcd thing applied on SO ages ago. It's a occupational hazard. That's why you'll never get rid of them. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:19
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    xkcd is often relevant to what programmers talk about, much like Dilbert used to be. The author is often capable of saying things more eloquently than I can, and in some cases is saying just what I want to. People quote Knuth; why not Randall Munroe? Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 14:37
  • 1
    @David: Sure. I read xkcd religiously. Hell, Randall has physicists nailed too, which I really appreciate (And it makes him by back-up source of science humor when Sid Harris lets me down). But once he makes an appearance people's mouse fingers start clicking by reflex. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 15:33
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    I'd quote Munroe more often if he had a pipe organ in his home.
    – Gnome
    Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 21:21

I think it's ridiculous to be having this discussion here. As much as you feel that there is some indiscipline on programmers.se, the fact that you are having the discussion here on meta is just stupid.

It's one thing if you want to hash out some guidelines for all stack exchange sites here, but you don't. You are specifically asking for good and bad questions on another SE site that has its own meta which means that the people participating actively on programmers.se are not being asked for their opinion, but are being treated like your red-headed step child.

If people want to make programmers.se better, they should join in, ask and answer questions and use their votes. If people aren't interested in joining, that's not a problem, but we shouldn't be interested in non -participants opinions about what makes a good question and answer on another site, because it doesn't matter. Ironically, while I am an active participant on programmers.se, I can't even vote on these answers here because I don't have reputation on meta. So even though I am (or should be) part of your target audience for this conversation, I cannot cast my votes.

Jeff, if you view programmers as your indisciplined child, then do what a good parent would do: model good behaviour. Encourage others to model good behaviour, by asking good questions and giving good answers that will over time drown out the questions that you, personally, don't like. Don't do a drive by punishment by closing and locking questions to which the community have given time and upvotes. Eventually, these questions will stop being asked as the community grows and finds its way.

Please migrate this discussion to programmers.se where it belongs.

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    we did -- meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/350/… Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 18:29
  • 2
    No you didn't. You posted the six subjective guidelines. That is not what you are doing here. You are asking for a poll of good and bad questions from one specific site that has its own meta. Why aren't you doing that on the site in question? Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 18:35
  • I actually compiled a (non-exhaustive) list of all the times we discussed it on Meta.Programmers.SE. Needless to say, but almost every single question on Meta dealt with this problem.
    – user149432
    Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 18:46
  • 1
    Thanks Mark. I still genuinely don't get why the poll question from Jeff asking for examples of good and bad questions from programmers.se happened here rather than on meta.programmers.se. Commented Oct 6, 2010 at 19:03


What's your experience with female programmers?

At best, a pointless trading of anecdotes. At worst, an incubator for stereotypes. Can we expect "What's your experience with [Frenchmen|Jews|poor] programmers" to follow?

What's the most absurd myth about programming issues?

At best, pointless chit-chat. At worst, flame-bait. And entirely too general ("programming issues"?) in any case.

Worst coding standard you've ever had to follow?

Chit-chat. And, The Daily WTF does it better.



“Comments are a code smell”

Not terribly well asked, but an honest question. Hopefully the author has some good counter-arguments to his co-worker's assertions now.

How to respond when you are asked for an estimate?

A common problem for working programmers, and one often overlooked during training.

There are very, very few questions on Programmers that I think have any real value to them, apart from being somewhat fun to participate in. Of course, this was the point of Programmers.SE - it was proposed as a place for all the inane "what do programmers like?" questions that kept cropping up on SO! But if you're determined to get serious about this, I think aiming for the worst 15% is entirely too conservative: skim off the top 10%, and let the rest disappear.

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    If the decision is made to get serious about Programmers.se, the best thing to do would be to shut down the site entirely, and open SO up for more subjective questions. Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 14:36

A bad example

There are actually quite a few questions of this type, which I really dislike. This question is not interesting, because most people would find it rather obvious that a desktop computer is faster/more ergonomic/more functional than a laptop computer, but that laptops have the advantage of being mobile. What more is there to say, really? I get the feeling that the OP sort of wants to post a very general question hoping it to become highly popular and heavily up-voted. The answer with the highest score says

Assuming you have an external monitor and keyboard to connect to your laptop the difference is small.

which anyone could have come up with.

Generally, "do not post questions that have predictable answers".

A good example

There are many good examples, so I feel it'd be silly to give examples, but here is one at least. I choose this particular one, because I think that many would not consider it a "good" example:

This is good because it is fun (and no, the answers are definitely not predictable!). It is not bad to have fun once in a while. This question would not fit on StackOverflow.com, but I think questions like this are fun enough at programmers.stackexchange.com (I refuse to write "programmers.se" because I live in Sweden, so for me, ".se" is a TLD).

Also fun enough: What things are essential on a programmer's desk?

For completeness, I also give

The ideal questions

  • Got a bone to pick with "essential desk things" - the top answers are "monitors" and "writing instruments"; how does this not fit into the "obvious answers" category you established above? Heck, a good many of the answers are just standard office-worker paraphernalia...
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:23
  • Well, there are definitely obvious (bad) answers to this question. But there are also a few non-trivial things like three monitors, a whiteboard, (non-alcoholic) beverages, and a hairbrush. OK, it is just barely "fun enough", I give you that. First I considered using programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/2577/… as the "fun enough" example, but the problem with this is that not all geeks are programmers. Still, I like the question, and would not want it removed from programmers."SE". Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:29
  • Beverages? Really? And... whiteboards are pretty standard office equipment.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 0:34

Here is an answer that isn't entirely responsive.

One of the puzzles of subjective questions on an SE site is reputation. We're all seen it -- subjective questions are vote magnets, and it warps the rep system.

If, by some means, the rep disparity could be controlled, it would remove one of the incentives for posting the questions you want to get rid of. Would that make a significant dent? Only an experiment would tell for sure -- if there was an alternative voting mechanism to try out.

OK, how about this? It's very different, but I think it would be better on a subjective site. Instead of everyone getting to vote up or down, and adding them all up, let everyone rate, and average them. The simplest rating system would look just like the voting system: -1, 0, 1. In other words, people go ahead and vote, but what results is the average, not the sum. Even if 500 people think that the question is totally rad, the resulting score is '1', and the reputation gain matches.

A more radical change would allow five possible ratings instead of three.

  • Sounds like the CodeProject forums... Only without the helpful threading.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 26, 2010 at 21:24
  • No. 99% of all P.SE questions are not asked to be rep whores, and neither are 95% the answers. Changing the entire rep system for that 1% of questions and 5% of answers is stupid. Besides, many have tried to change the reputation system, and all have failed.
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 27, 2010 at 11:36

A bad example:

Vi vs. Emacs?

This is a bad question because it is flame bait as well as extremely subjective. There is virtually nothing useful to be learned from such a question.

A good example:

Practical Differences Between VS2010 Ultimate and VS2010 Express?

This question is seeking factual advice for product differences. Nobody can contest facts and there is plenty to be learned from such a question.

  • needs more detail than this; just "can be contentious sometimes" isn't enough. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:38
  • @Jeff: Okay. Give me a sec. to fix it up. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:55
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    I thought these were precisely the questions that get booted to the cesspool of programmers.se. Wasn't that the entire point of the site? Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:56
  • 2
    I disagree. This type of debate is valuable to people like me who are new to both. We can't say a question is bad because we don't think people won't read the useful information contained in it. Whether the question is too broad is another issue. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:57
  • @Jeff: There. I fixed it up a lot. Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 21:58
  • Its not flamebait people. meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/299/…
    – TheLQ
    Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 22:09
  • 5
    There is virtually nothing useful to be learned from such a question. => Except maybe all the pros and cons of both choices? Commented Sep 23, 2010 at 23:33
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    I see this (vi vs emacs) as a precisely on-topic question for p.se. Subjective, sure, but that's why the site's there. Talks about the tools programmers use. Presents reasons to use both. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 0:13
  • @Michael: I still say flamebait. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 1:02
  • You have the right to, @George. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 1:17
  • @Michael: As I see it emacs vs. vi in general is mostly flamebait. Pro and cons of implementations of specific features is another matter. Also possibly cultural differences promoted or supported by them. They is room to discuss these matters, but... Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 5:17
  • Questions like Vi(m) VS Emacs can be seen as good if you change it in such way that it provides people with a clear overview of why to choose for one editor, this way people can learn from the differences and thus the question could have an useful purpose... Maybe we should have rules against flame baits on such question or a rule on how such questions should be posed. Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 11:43
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    Is there any reason why I shouldn't ask about significant differences between VS2008 and VS2010 on Stack Overflow itself? If "good" programmers.se questions are the ones that fit on SO, what's programmers.se for? Commented Sep 24, 2010 at 14:39
  • I think the motive of the asker also needs to be weighed in flame-bait questions. IF the question is "what's better", then it's likely just a rep gamer. If the question is "I need to pick java or c# for a project, which should I choose?" Then I think the asker is likely to actually be looking for some opinions, not just trolling for rep.
    – Jim L
    Commented Sep 25, 2010 at 19:57

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