We are having an "interesting" chat in the Super User Root Access chat room, (Start from about here)

I Personally think that Why are the 8 bits per byte is a very good question and represents the sort of content I want to see on Super User.

This same FAQ rule is on Stack Overflow and I am guessing other SE sites. Whilst I feel that there will be a few bad questions, there is no reason people can not use their close votes on those ocassions, but I feel strongly that there are MANY good answers across the SE sites that are not actually directly about individual problems.

To add to this, I just mean to say, there are many on topic questions which are good fits to the sites, just not about actual problems - I am sure many can be phrased to look like a problem, but I just don't see why it should be necessary.

And another edit-- To clear up a little confusion, this is not a "Why was xxx closed" rant, I know why it was closed and I do agree that it should be under the FAQ rules, I just feel like there are many other questions that also fall under this scope and I would personally like them to be allowed.

Right now, we have rules that are up for interpretation. Some questions are allowed and active but clearly are breaking them, Where as we should have much stricter rules with no "wiggle room".

As a compromise, possibly just have an exception clause for "interesting questions of merit", I do not want to see "Why are 95% of power cables black", but I am interested in this in the same way as others were interested in A/B drives!.

4 Answers 4


Your linked question would be of more interest to the developers on StackOverflow than it would to the SuperUser community. Nevertheless, it is a speculative question, and not particularly meaningful from a programmer (or user) perspective.

The Wikipedia article on Byte has some pretty good historical information about this, so it qualifies (more or less) as a general reference question.

The reason that "based on problems you are facing" is important is that it weeds out a whole category of questions that are essentially unanswerable. Questions like, "What's going to happen to Java now that Oracle owns it?" How would we know that?

The Byte question is worse, because it is not only speculative, it is irrelevant (being mostly a curiosity question, and not information that would positively impact most users or developers).

Note: Compare with What is the origin of K = 1024?, which has actual, real-life application. (you don't get as many bytes as you think you do when you buy a hard drive!)

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    "What's going to happen to Java now that Oracle owns it?" is subjective/argumentative regardless.
    – mmyers
    May 23, 2011 at 23:23
  • @mmyers: True enough. It could be argued that "Why are there 8 bits in a byte" is S&A as well. But both questions are definitely speculative.
    – user102937
    May 23, 2011 at 23:26
  • Well, I agree and disagree... "a whole category of questions that are essentially unanswerable"... There are two types of unansweable - there are the subjective ones like you (and mmysers) said, but there are some which can have genuine answers such as the one I linked to - which are interesting... As I said in a comment on Jeffs Answer - I never gave it a moments thought but having that sort of informative content to me makes the site interesting... May 23, 2011 at 23:48
  • And to add.... stackoverflow.com/q/4362111/136745 as a very quick example - This wasn't an actual problem I had, but I was very interested in getting an answer... I am sure there are many people who have had non-problem questions that have posted questions on a SE site. May 23, 2011 at 23:49
  • @Wil Unfortunately, interesting does not always equal informative and useful. That's the reason each of these sites has very specific ideas about what they consider on-topic and off-topic. As a moderator I can tell you that there are a nearly unlimited number of ways that people can co-opt a Q&A site for their own purposes that have little to do with the site's charter. The Byte question was apparently not even an edge case, as it was closed with consensus by five community members.
    – user102937
    May 23, 2011 at 23:52
  • On the Console question, I see that the OP posted a comment that he didn't really need the answer to solve a problem, but the question was apparently of sufficient interest to the community to keep it open. I certainly think it could be useful to show console output in a window; some DLL's perform console output, and it would be very useful to be able to capture that output in a Windows application.
    – user102937
    May 23, 2011 at 23:56
  • @RobertHarvey: You have forgotten to count in the reopen votes. Why are bits and bytes more relevant to programming problems than they are to people that try to understand computer hardware? May 23, 2011 at 23:58
  • @Tomwij: Do computer users really care how big their bytes are? :) Programmers think all the time about the size of their, um, data structures.
    – user102937
    May 23, 2011 at 23:59
  • @Robert Harvey - it was my question (Please don't close it :P) - It gave me a very interesting answer and I have learnt a lot since, especially about Pinvoke which I got from that answer.... I personally did not even hesitate to ask that question as I felt like it was on topic (which I guess other community members felt) - in the same way as if I was to see the 8-bit question on SU, I feel like it should be on topic. May 23, 2011 at 23:59
  • @TomWij: How many reopen votes are there? I can't see that; I don't have enough rep on SU.
    – user102937
    May 24, 2011 at 0:00
  • @Robert: Apparently, they do care, else this question wouldn't have existed. And not every programmer does think that way, I could do quite a lot without knowing how many bits a byte is. There are 4 reopen votes... :) May 24, 2011 at 0:00
  • @TomWij , @Robert Harvey ... again, 8 bits are a computer fundamental on both sites, but maybe slightly more on support/IT Pro, you have programming, we have disk space, ip addresses/subnets... I am sure there are more! May 24, 2011 at 0:01
  • @Tomwij: Er, no, it matters to the OP, not necessarily to the community at large.
    – user102937
    May 24, 2011 at 0:01
  • @Wil: But you can't change the size of a byte, so who cares? Especially when it's a very short trip to Wikipedia to get a reasonably authoritative answer. Look at the quality of the answers: Two answers say "Look somewhere else." A third says, "Well, it wasn't always eight bits" and the fourth doesn't even answer the question.
    – user102937
    May 24, 2011 at 0:02
  • 1
    @Robert: It matters to Wil and me, and we tend believe it does also matter to others. It's not an OP only question... May 24, 2011 at 0:06

I don't like that question and I'd move to close it on the same basis.

Daydreaming, idle queries like "what if the sky was green?" or "why have 8 bits per byte instead of 6 or 10 or 12?" don't really belong on our sites.

If you can come up with a rationale and reason for needing to ask that, then fine. Otherwise no thanks.

  • 3
    That's a perfectly reasonable question about history. “Actual problems” has also caused a lot of friction on non-technical sites such as sci-fi: there there's no much correlation (perhaps even negative) between good questions and questions “based on actual problems”. May 23, 2011 at 23:15
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    Your answer doesn't seem authoritative. I tell people all the time that "I don't like the question" is not a valid close reason, and here you are saying "I don't like the question." :)
    – user102937
    May 23, 2011 at 23:31
  • 2
    I am personally really interested in it as it is a computing fundamental, and to be honest, I never gave it a moments thought - but it is something I really would like to know... To add to it, the same rule is on the Scifi Stack Exchange, but I doubt anyone is actually having an issue there? May 23, 2011 at 23:42
  • 1
    @robert Wil is objecting to the reason in the faq; the authoritative reason is because it is in the faq. It's just chatty BS that diminishes the value of other questions, so re-read that section for the rationale. May 24, 2011 at 0:03
  • 3
    @gilles well if you ask me, scifi shouldn't even exist on our network, so be careful what you ask for :) May 24, 2011 at 0:05
  • @JeffAtwood: Why are recent daydreaming or idle query questions like What is the difference between a kibibyte, a kilobit, and a kilobyte? and What are the Windows A: and B: drives used for? still open; and Why was the question “Why are there 8 bits per byte?” closed? Do you like the others? May 24, 2011 at 0:09
  • @TomWij: The first two questions you linked have practical application; the third does not.
    – user102937
    May 24, 2011 at 0:14
  • @RobertHarvey: Why does it have no practical application? Continuing on your answer... May 24, 2011 at 0:19
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    I agreed with @Robert; knowing about A:, B: or file size interpretation is practical. 8 bits/byte is not... May 24, 2011 at 0:29

This job is purely a documentation and bibliographic work. StackExchange sites are Question & Answers site, not encyclopaedias.

Sure it's a question of interest, but the community has nothing to add to this in the form of individual answers. This is best handle by a wiki page.

You may argue that we have a community wiki, but it is mostly used for question that are bound to evolve in time. The number of bit per byte is not in that category.

  • This is a valid question with a valid answer though. The blog post Are some questions too simple states that interesting questions are welcome... May 24, 2011 at 0:17
  • 1
    The blog post also states "please endeavor to make your questions more than a constant stream of no-duh underhanded softballs requiring nothing more than a quick cut and paste from Wikipedia, IMDB, or some other standard internet reference site." A valid question yes, but one that is easily read (no deciphering needed) from a reference site.
    – phwd
    May 24, 2011 at 1:38

Meh. I worked on a system with 9-bit bytes and 36-bit words. And then there was the mns-49, that had 7 7-bit bytes per word. None of which makes these questions valid. Maybe someone wants to propose 'computing history' on area51?


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