I was under the impression that Stack Exchange sites were forums, or forum-like objects.

If they are not forums: Why aren't they? What defines a forum?

  • I think having a authoritative answer to this question, given how often the assumption is made isn't a bad thing @Sha and it was Won't who added faq-proposed. I do think it works on MSE fine and the rollback wasn't really necessary. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 22:09
  • @ben well, think it's the OP's right to decide the scope of their question. We can start edit war, but not sure it's worth the efforts. Commented Mar 22, 2017 at 22:17
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    @amanaPlanaCAnalPAnaMA Is there anything that could be done to convince you to expand the scope of this question to something that is more useful to general readers, given that it does apply to all of the sites and the answers apply to all of the sites as well (and even explicitly mention the network in general)? SO is the same as the other sites in this regard, and expanding the question scope would make it a bit easier to search for as well.
    – Jason C
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 7:40
  • meta.stackexchange.com/tour
    – Fawad
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 11:21
  • 1
    A good answer to this question would be: Oh, I like it. It's just jot a forum. Have you figured it out? :) Commented Feb 11, 2018 at 6:56
  • This looks like a Q one can only ask in a ... forum.
    – curiousguy
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 21:04

5 Answers 5


Stack Overflow is not a discussion forum. Most Internet forums are largely discussion-based and tend to follow less strict rules about what posts can be like.

On Stack Overflow (and Stack Exchange in general), we require every new thread to be started with a question and every response to that question to be an attempt at answering it.

For example, on a typical forum you might ask how to run a game in windowed mode. You will get several responses, some of which will be nothing but "oh, I love that game!" or "I haven't played that in a while, wow." You'll be lucky if you get a relevant response. By contrast, on Stack Exchange you'd get practical responses that are 100% relevant to your question.

Stack Exchange creates communities that draw in experts in particular fields who are interested in communicating and learning at a professional level. This results in writing quality being an important aspect of the site.

  • 6
    Maybe also explain how perfectly fine questions on the wrong topic will be closed or migrated in order to keep the site focused?
    – tripleee
    Commented Jul 29, 2016 at 11:04
  • 2
    A forum w/ strict rules is style a forum, just not a laissez-faire one.
    – curiousguy
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 21:05

Stack Overflow (Stack Exchange, in the more general sense) is not a forum.

In a dictionary sense, a "forum" is a place where ideas and views can be exchanged. But in a larger Internet context, a "forum" is traditionally regarded as a place where issues (questions) are discussed in a threaded manner. A topic of discussion is posed where people can respond, and responses are allowed to evoke further sub-conversations… which generate still further discussion — ad infinitum until all possible facets have been discussed, or the participants lose interest.

In contrast, Stack Exchange encourages specific questions that have specific, canonical answers. A question is asked and respondents weigh in with a carefully thought-out response which is then vetted through voting and wiki-editing (improving on the answer).

The key difference is that each answer posted has to stand on its own. Stack Exchange neither supports nor encourages a "forum-style" of open, free-for-all discussion (many-to-many conversations). This is by design.

The advantage is that users can vote on the best answers which then float to the top. You don't have to worry about breaking the conversation thread, and answers are not buried deep down in the larger context of an entire, vast "conversation."

We prefer this Q&A format over the "forum"-style conversations typically found on the Internet. People who say "this is not a forum" are simply urging users to avoid the patterns that cause traditional forums to fail.

Stack Exchange is built on the premise that forums don't scale. All those open conversations mean that those forums only tend to get noisier and noisier. What inevitably happens is that long-time users get tired of the new users asking the same old questions. New users can't find useful information and feel ostracized. And most find that, the more they talk, the less value they get from the experience. In short, you stop learning.

The chat room/forum problem by Robert Scoble

  • 47
    What inevitably happens is that long-time users get tired of the new users asking the same old questions. For the record, that happens here too. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 16:46
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    @LightnessRacesinOrbit, but instead of answering or discussing a lot about what has been discussed, you can mark and close questions as duplicates. Forums don't usually have that available to non-moderators, if at all.
    – JMCF125
    Commented Apr 5, 2014 at 12:34
  • 6
    There should be a slideshow of this very post that you have to sit through before completing the subscription process to this site. I feel like in the last six months, all I've done here is flagging duplicates and dispatching bad questions.
    – Domino
    Commented Oct 8, 2016 at 5:25
  • I would not say that I prefer the stack exchange Q&A format over discussion forums, but they each have their place, and this is not the place for forum discussions. By keeping the concepts separate, one can know where to go when wants to discuss, and know where to go when one wants a quick answer.
    – Ed Grimm
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 5:46
  • 2
    I'm pretty sure the comment section under an answer is a forum. Not a general purpose anything goes one, but that's like 99% of forums on the Web. They all have rules.
    – curiousguy
    Commented Oct 27, 2019 at 21:06
  • If it's not a forum, then what is it?
    – drkvogel
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 13:46
  • 1
    It may not be the same as other fora, but it is "a place where ideas and views can be exchanged" and "a place where issues (questions) are discussed", even if the thread model is different. Given that there is currently no noun for exactly what SE and that "forum" seems to be the closest existing noun to describe it, I don't think you can expect people not to describe it as a forum - and "forum" even seems to be a good match given your definitions!
    – drkvogel
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 13:55
  • It seems to me that the motivation behind the "SE is not a forum" thinking is to remind people that SE is not like other fora - well, I think we get that; and that is driven by concern that if people somehow think that SE is like other fora, they will somehow misuse it and break the discussion model. But how could that happen? The software enforces it! (And the moderators, and the community). So that I think that SE is, broadly, a forum, by most accepted definitions of what "a forum" is, and that fears that using that noun to describe will somehow break its essence are unfounded.
    – drkvogel
    Commented Jan 29, 2021 at 14:00

In this case there is no simple yes / no answer to that question...

Remember this image from the FAQ?

We are different than just a forum, we are a Q&A site that is on the border of all these different types of sites.

  1. We have a forum aspect in terms of limited discussion in comments and on our meta.

  2. We have two blog networks, one for fourth place blogs and one for developing beta blogs.

  3. Our voting and view counts give the site a Digg / Reddit aspect, but only that.

  4. A lot of users are helping to build a canonical set of answers, which is the Wiki aspect of our network.

But in general, it's not about "discussion, blogging, votes, views or answering"; it is all about learning.

  • 1
    The question being whether Stack Overflow is a forum, and so the answer is just what you said: "We are different than _just a _ forum." In my opinion, SE sites are forums insofar as I can ask questions and recieve answers - all of varying opinions. Thus, SE sites are not just Q&A sites either - because Q&A means you get an authouritative question and an authouritative answer. But here, you get varying types and grades of questions and answers - and this, I think, borders on the nature of discussion, although it isn't discussion absolutely. In this sense, they can be called forums.
    – bgmCoder
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:28
  • 1
    Another way this place is like a forum is this: a forum is a gathering place for the community, and we have a community here, and we gather here. We also have chat rooms for gathering AND discussion. Also, a forum can be a marketplace. I come here to "go shopping" for answers. And I pay for my answers by making the effort to ask good questions, and by voting to "pay" my respects to the people who answer well.
    – bgmCoder
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 15:34
  • @BGM: Please read the FAQ which mentions how questions asking opinions are often not welcome, I can agree though that they are welcome on the meta sites (as long as it is about the main site). But glad that you agree with the first part... :) Commented May 8, 2012 at 17:17
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    I understand about the opinion thing (and the exception for meta) - but I mean to say that in a certain sense, since there are so many approaches to answer the question, an answer can be an opinion. Everyone has a different approach, and, especially with code, an approach is, in that person's opinion, the answer. But since there can be so many approaches, there is often no definitive answer - which makes more like opinions even if they do answer the question. I bet that is as clear as mud!
    – bgmCoder
    Commented May 8, 2012 at 19:46

Yes, for some definitions of forum.

fo·rum –noun, plural fo·rums, fo·ra  

  1. the marketplace or public square of an ancient Roman city, the center of judicial and business affairs and a place of assembly for the people.
  2. a court or tribunal: the forum of public opinion.
  3. an assembly, meeting place, television program, etc., for the discussion of questions of public interest.

One could speak very generally and claim that Stack Exchange sites embody a meeting place for the discussion of questions of public interest. More and more it's becoming a marketplace and place of assembly for the people - we have careers and chatting. Stack Overflow in particular aims to attract all the average and above average programmers in the world.

Strictly speaking, Stack Exchange is a Forum.

Colloquially speaking, however, one must take into account the connotation of the word Forum in connection with the internet. For many years "forum" software has been developed to encourage non-directed discussion. The format of most forum software encourages personal conversational style, and if there is a desire for direction it must be enforced by moderators, rather than simply by the design of the software.

Stack Exchange is very directed toward problem solving, and strongly discourages conversational style discussion. There is a question, and there are multiple answers, and there are comments. While comments are a bit more loose, the question and answers must fit very specific criteria to be accepted as part of the discussion.

Further, Jeff and Joel have spent some considerable time in branding their product as distinctly different than existing internet forums.

So whether it's a forum largely depends on one's personal definition of a "forum", however, technically speaking, the Stack Exchange platform is most certainly a forum, and as they expand it and add new features it only becomes more a forum than anything else.

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    Which is a good word that define StackExchange? Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 4:39

The questions and answers are really not a forum in any way, I think that's pretty easy to see.

I can see how comments could be thought of as forum-like, however, that's still not what they are. I use one simple rule for comments that helps me to remember how they are different from a forum:

Each and every comment should be made with the end-goal of wrapping up a discussion, not starting or encouraging one.

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