Is there a problem with Stack Overflow when extremely useful, massively upvoted/favorited questions get closed?

I'm specifically thinking about What is your single most favorite command-line trick using Bash?

That question currently has 155 upvotes and is on 250 favorites lists. I found it tremendously useful in getting up to speed on the bash tricks that everyone should know, and now the question has been closed because it's "subjective."

I know Stack Overflow only wants to provide answers to questions that have a clear best answer, but if people find this way of using the site to be very useful, why not modify the rules of SO?

As an aside, where is one supposed to go to get answers to questions that can present novices with a list of the most important things to know about a new tool/technology, to get a solid foundation of the most important tricks of the trade?

EDIT: Here is a list of a bunch of similar questions:

  • This question is a rant, but it contains some legitimately relevant information.
    – Pops
    May 27, 2011 at 21:27
  • 20
    I think the real question is "Is there a problem when a massively subjective question gets upvoted/favorited more than any 10 useful questions put together?" May 27, 2011 at 21:30
  • 1
    Junk got closed. Looks like it's working, albeit rather late.
    – random
    May 27, 2011 at 21:31
  • 1
    @Michael: you are claiming that the question I am citing is not useful?
    – jonderry
    May 27, 2011 at 21:32
  • 2
    @jonderry I'm claiming that it's subjective, which I think is probably indisputable. SO isn't made for subjective questions, that's why there's a whole close reason dedicated to them. May 27, 2011 at 21:34
  • 6
    @Michael, that's the point of my question. If many people find a lot of value in such questions, why not change the rules, rather than follow precedent blindly. If the rules forbid such questions, I think the rules themselves are wrong.
    – jonderry
    May 27, 2011 at 21:36
  • 8
    @jonderry Because it would make SO like basically every other forum in existence; it was designed from the ground-up to not be that way, and that's the reason many of us are here. Reddit is perfect for stuff like "what cool things exist in bash"; it's probably already asked there May 27, 2011 at 21:38
  • 3
    @Michael, If you don't like those questions, why not just ignore them, or merely tag them as subjective? I'd like to know what SO loses by having such questions when would be easy to filter them out from search results or feeds without closing or deleting them. Reddit is not as good at SO at answering these kinds of questions in my experience. I would geniunely like to know where else to go this this type of question, since it seems that SO is in the process of locking down.
    – jonderry
    May 27, 2011 at 22:20
  • 3
    reddit used to be. But then people kept on posting things like this and it no longer is the place to be.
    – random
    May 27, 2011 at 22:25
  • 3
    @Robert, nothing is wrong in this particular case since I've already learned the content in question, and it is still there, at least until the question is deleted, which may occur sooner rather than later judging from the feedback on this question. It just bothers me that a source of useful information for me is getting cut off, and I want to replace that source of information if we are going to lock down the site so that democratically determined best practices in software engineering no longer have a place on SO.
    – jonderry
    May 27, 2011 at 22:30
  • 4
    @jonderry The problem is that not all questions have a home on the SE site. Just because it's off-topic on Stack Overflow doesn't mean it has to be on-topic elsewhere. Programmers.SE is not the default catch-all for everything subjective. See Don't migrate crap and Please stop using Programmers.SE as your toilet bowl. This question is in no way suitable for Programmers.SE.
    – user149432
    May 27, 2011 at 23:38
  • 4
    @jonderry Popularity is not relevant here. There are a million other places on the internet where you can generate a list of stuff like that, and I'm sure they'd be very popular. But that's not what Stack Exchange is about. The questions that work on Stack Exchange are the ones that have actual answers: not ideas, opinions, or items.
    – user149432
    May 28, 2011 at 0:40
  • 1
    That question is a prime example of what belongs on somebody's blog. That question solves nobody's actual problem.
    – user7116
    May 28, 2011 at 0:43
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    @Mark, In that case, please just list the top five alternatives, preferably that include a reasonable measure of coverage and peer review, and I'll happily delete both of my questions. What worries me is that everyone on this question claims that SO and SE are not the place for such questions, but I can't find another equally good source of information on the internet compared with the questions that are on SO. It just concerns me that this value is being removed from the internet. If that's not the case and there are real alternatives, please let me know.
    – jonderry
    May 28, 2011 at 0:47
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    @jonberry not being able to find a place to post and consume lists doesn't really make a compelling argument that Stack Exchange should change its focus. It's like trying to make a case that a car should have wings because you want to fly to you destination and can't find any planes nearby. The internet is full of places to find the information.
    – user149432
    May 28, 2011 at 0:55

5 Answers 5


This post is from the early days of [Stack Overflow|Server Fault|Super User], and while we recognize its historical significance, we also recognize that the current community of users will likely close similar posts. Please feel free to read and learn from this post, but refrain from creating similar posts just because this one exists.

What should we do with old, very popular closed questions?


Closing doesn't remove the question. It simply removes the ability to add new answers.

With so many answers people do not review existing answers before adding their new answer and many duplicates accumulate.

The list will remain (indeed, it would require an act of Mod to delete) once closed. But it will remain preserved in memory, unchanging.

Which is as it should be for all questions of this ilk.

  • 5
    Also note for questions with more than pagesize answers require a js alert warning clickthrough before we will show you the answer input form at all, as of maybe a month or so ago. May 27, 2011 at 22:17
  • @jonderry Sorry, I hit the wrong button when reviewing your edit - it's CW now, so feel free to edit away.
    – Pollyanna
    May 27, 2011 at 23:03

Sometimes policies seem arbitrary. They most often seem arbitrary when we are focusing on one specific situation. In the local context of a single question that is very popular, it is hard to argue that the right thing to do is to close or delete the question. And if it were arbitrary, we would have a valid complaint. But there are very good reasons; it is not arbitrary.

An analogy might be a plane doing acrobatics over Central Park. This is bound to be wildly popular because it is great entertainment. And when the pilot lands on Fifth Avenue to a deafening applause, the officers who escort the pilot away will be greeted with loud booing for "the machine" that doesn't understand what the people want. But the peace-keepers are working hard to keep chaos at bay. And yet their efforts are widely criticized.

In the bigger scheme of things, some small things have to be sacrificed in order to prevent a descent into madness. If we lose sight of why Stack Overflow is the premier site for questions with definitive answers, we might forget about the big picture and lament the loss of a handful of subjective questions as arbitrary.

  • 1
    Nice analogy...
    – user102937
    May 28, 2011 at 1:39

The internet is full of places to generate "best of" or "favorites" lists: it seems every blog on the planet generates them because they're easy to do and are popular.

But that's not what Stack Exchange is about. This one place on the internet is for generating real answers to questions that need solving. These questions might not be the most popular, but the answers to them provide a specific type of value to internet, not found in a sea of "best of" lists.

It's not much different than any other site which serves to differentiate itself from its competition with a specific value proposition. Not every site needs to cater to every type of content or every type of audience.

So, if you're interested in asking and answering questions that solve a specific problem, Stack Exchange is probably the best place to do that for the topics it covers.

But if you're interested in creating and consuming these types of lists, Stack Exchange is not the place for you. That's not what it's designed for, and it's not its focus. Changing its focus to include these types of lists merely because they're popular would diminish the value Stack Exchange brings to the table in the first place.

  • As I mentioned in an earlier comment, the problem with blogs and best of lists is that the elements of the list are not voted on like on SE. I'm just looking for a place that has such lists for technical topics.
    – jonderry
    May 28, 2011 at 0:56
  • 3
    @jonderry if none of the multitudes of places to find best of lists are suitable to you, you might want to consider starting your own: I'm sure such an endeavor could prove to be quite lucrative. It's still not an argument that SE should change its focus.
    – user149432
    May 28, 2011 at 0:58
  • I'm not saying SE should focus on these questions, I'm just saying they are the most favorited and upvoted questions on the site that bring a lot of value to a lot of people.
    – jonderry
    May 28, 2011 at 1:51
  • 2
    @jonderry: If people were to start successfully making money by posting questions on SO then I'm sure that would bring a lot of value to a lot of people, too. But that would be frowned upon, also, as it's not what we're here for. Sep 7, 2011 at 13:11

We want SO to be only about direct questions with clear correct answers, but we still permit limited open-ended questions of that type under the special label 'hidden features'.

Please exercise extreme discretion though, as we intend this only to be used in very limited circumstances.

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