Often on this site popular questions (either in terms of debate generated or upvotes) are closed for being against the mythical 6 guidelines.

Basically, the 6 guidelines do not currently seem to match what the community want to talk about. At the moment, mods seem hell bend on making the community respect the 6 guidelines when surely it should actually be the 6 guidelines that are changed to respect the communities wishes?

I appreciate that people are trying to ensure good content, but this is also a community site and do we not think that if the community indicate interest in something this should be respected?

To put this in a simple Q so this isn't closed; can we have a 7th guideline saying "Questions with high interest (indicated by debate or upvotes) will not be closed even if they breach other guidelines?"

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    Thanks for all the replies. I do appreciate there is a tension between what the community wants to talk about and what the site founders want, and sometimes the site founders try to steer the community. Personally I think it has got to unbalanced; almost all of the questions I've been really interested in discussing with the community have been closed recently. I wanted to see what response this issue got, and where the balance of the community lay. – James Jun 6 '11 at 9:14
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    My point to a mark below is an important one; as a regular user of stackoverflow and programmers.se I still feel like I had no input into the consensus surrounding the 6 guidelines. Are we sure we have true community consensus on this? Should we be listening to what users say through comments/answers/upvotes more? It's easy to to take cheap shots at "mindless popularity" but at the end of the day without all the thousands of users who spend time answering questions this site would be nothing, so you have to find a balance that includes popularity somehow. – James Jun 6 '11 at 9:19
  • The "mythical" six guidelines? I can assure you that they're real and that there's nothing mythical about them. – Jon Hopkins Jun 23 '11 at 12:36
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    The rule was not a product of consensus; it was imposed by Jeff. Whether this is a good thing or not is another question, but approaching the question in terms of consensus will go nowhere. – David Thornley Jun 23 '11 at 21:50

Just because something is popular doesn't necessary make it right.

Also questions often gain a lot of votes simply by virtue of being old. A lot of the highly voted question were migrated from Stack Overflow and were asked in the early days of that site so have been in existence for 2 years or more.

Having your 7th guideline will make it harder to close other off topic questions as people will point to these "grandfathered" questions and (quite rightly) ask

If this is allowed why isn't my question.

If we have rules we have to be consistent in their application.

Often the things the community want to talk about are really general discussions. These don't work well on the Stack Exchange system as it's geared to questions and answers, though they have to be tightly focused and kept to the point.

If you really want a general discussion - go to chat.

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    Welcome to Q&A for expert programmers interested in professional discussions on software development — check out the FAQ! – user281377 Jun 9 '11 at 18:46
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    i.e. maybe someone should change the welcome text for new users – user281377 Jun 9 '11 at 19:28
  • @ammoQ - that's not something the moderators can do. It would have to be the devs. However, I do take your point which is why I amended my answer. – ChrisF Jun 9 '11 at 19:29

While we can discuss the potential merits of such a change in guidelines (or "rules", if you want to phrase it that way), it appears this may be a solution in search of a problem.

Take the month tab on the main site: it lists the top 50 questions for the past month based, for the most part, on popularity.

Now out of those 50 questions, five have been closed. Two of them were closed entirely by members of the community (i.e. without moderator intervention), two of them were closed by a moderator after other members of the community voted to close, and one was closed by me as an exact duplicate of an even more popular question.

But even if you take a look at the week tab, you'll see the same ratio: five questions out of 50 were closed. Three were closed with public input from the community in the form of votes, and two were closed as a result of community members flagging the posts for moderator review.

Now if the contention is that even these questions shouldn't have been closed, community moderation—even by regular users—is being taken off the table. If that's the case, I'm afraid Stack Exchange might not be the best fit for you: the value proposition of Stack Exchange is centered around the practice.


The guidelines were written as a result of years of trial and error. O.k., mostly error, but darn it there was plenty of trial in there too!

The biggest problem I see with this is the following train of thought:

I know this is going to cause a disruption, but I want to ask it anyway. If I can word this just right, I'll get a get-out-of-closing-free card and that would be a serious accomplishment!

That's not the kind of thing we want, the resulting content is most decidedly not the kind of site we want (minus the few exceptions) and the example they present would be really, really bad.

The 7'th guideline would tell me that I could migrate every famous but subjective question from Stack Overflow over to Programmers. I wouldn't do that even if the guideline was added, I'm just wondering if you are sure you realize the kind of stuff that would be 'protected'?


In my case, when it comes to popular questions, I typically act on flags from people with less than 3000 rep, so if I end up closing them, it's usually not a unilateral decision. Flags are unfortunately not transparent to the community at all. I've opened a feature request on Meta.SO for better visibility of "duplicate of" flags, but perhaps I'll write up another one for any "it doesn't belong here" flag since they're essentially close votes.

In the meantime, voting to reopen, flagging for another moderator to review the closure, or posting to meta are the best ways to voice your disagreement with the closure of a particular question. As Pierre pointed out, sometimes that does result in the reopening of a question. (The reverse is also true - if you see a question that should clearly have been closed or you can make a case of it, post to meta and see if there's agreement.)

With all that said, the 6 guidelines apply to Stack Exchange as a whole, not just to Programmers and I don't think we're in a position to change them at the site level. I don't know if you've read the Good Subjective, Bad Subjective blog post, but if you haven't it might shed more light on the "why and how" behind those guidelines and take some mystery out of them. We also use Real Questions Have Answers to supplement the six guidelines for constructive questions.


There are hundreds of forums with broader charters. SE is experimenting with a more restricted format to see how it flies; popularity of some out-of-bounds questions shouldn't be interpreted as a mandate to become yet another unrestricted web forum.


You're right on this one, but you're not the first one to address this problem.

There have been dozens of people who tried to open a dialogue in relation to not just Pr.SE but to SO as well. They were all turned down.

And it's not just about the popular questions being closed. They've also deleted mega-popular and wonderful questions from Stack Overflow with the age of 2-3 years. Magnificent questions with a lot of wisdom and insight. They are all gone now.

I've read all the arguments in favor of deletion and I still find them wrong.

There is a need for a focus in the community. Absolutely. But it must not cross the border to become the dictatorship.

It's true that the site is effectively owned by one individual and it's his call how it should work. However the value of the project like it is with most of the social spaces is exclusively defined by the community which has its habitat here. And it's not quite up to the management to decide what community should look like.

For now it has a huge momentum but you should not deceive yourself. Community places have vaporized in the history of the web. In the beginning you have ridiculed the "experts-exchange" and how they pissed off their users. I say the history is repeating itself. You're going basically the same way. Not to quite that extent - yet - but in the same direction.

Most of the online communities have been destroyed by the management either leaving all of the spammers be or tightening the screw on their members. Recall what happened to Digg when they alienated their users.

I like this place. I really do. It's been a wonderful time first on SO then here on Pr.SE. I would hate to see it go down. And I mean it. But let us be honest to ourselves - it's not that challenging technically to recreate the site functionality, almost anybody can do it. And there have been many similar projects already. For a trigger to fire it only takes to continue acting against the community for somebody to come up at the right moment with the right attitude to take away the angry users. A little advertising in the right places and a new community is born and the old is gone. Recall MySpace. At the time people thought it was going to be eternal - but in a few years Facebook swallowed it by offering a better service. These things happen. Be careful.

And yes, I vote with both hands for the 7th guideline.

P.S. And the very fact that we're even having this sort of a discussion (and not for the first time, but again and again with ever increasing frequency) shows that we have in fact a real problem on our hands. And notice that it is not some disgruntled newbie user going on a rant after his malformed question was closed with the attitude "your site sucks" or something. These are old members, with lots of reputation, who have proven themselves to the community as being skilled both technically and socially and being able to stay focused who keep telling you you're going too far with the closing policy. You may not take me seriously if you want but it's not just me - as I have said there have been other people way smarter than me who keep reacting in the same way. Please listen to them.

  • I haven't done extensive research into EE, but it always seems like most people raging against it aren't EE users. It's a closed community, so it's hard to say how active it is or isn't. What is certain, though, is that they're fairly opinionated about their approach to Q&A and their business model. So it Stack Exchange. All good platforms are opinionated. Jeff Atwood wrote about the whole "recreating Stack Overflow is trivial" thing here. Like you said, anyone can do it. But the devil's in the philosophy and details. – Adam Lear Jun 7 '11 at 18:29
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    MySpace is another interesting example. It did more or less perish, but why? Was it just that someone better came along, or did MySpace help see itself out by becoming a repository of utter crap? One could argue that by eliminating some questions and narrowing its focus, Stack Exchange fills the niche for serious Q&A of a particular kind. It's not trying to be everything to everybody, which I think is ultimately a good thing. As for whether or not it'll pay off, only time will tell. :) – Adam Lear Jun 7 '11 at 18:32
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    In response to your edit: there are experienced, old members with lots of reputation on both sides of the argument. Both deserve to be taken seriously and I believe they are. At this point, I think it'll take some of the SE employees weighing in to provide further direction. As moderators, we're more akin to maintainers and janitors than policy makers. – Adam Lear Jun 7 '11 at 19:06
  • @Anna Lear: The blog post your mention, I've read it of course. Sometimes I wonder if Jeff himself actually have read it... – user8685 Jun 7 '11 at 19:11
  • I agree completely. However, as much as I vehemently opposed the six guidelines and closing policy for as long as possible, the powers that be have spoken and the issue is closed. I help enforce the policies via votes and the minor 'mod abilities' that my rep permits mostly out of respect for the mods but I'd happily swing my actions the other way if the rules changed. – Steven Evers Jun 8 '11 at 4:11
  • I LOL'ed at the "it's not that challenging technically to recreate the site functionality, almost anybody can do it" comment. So you wanna write StackOverflow in a weekend. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 15:15
  • @Aaronaught: in a weekend - no, in 6-8 months - definitely. And it's already been written - look out, there are many clones out there already. – user8685 Jun 8 '11 at 16:54
  • Most of the clones don't even come close to the functionality or performance - they look superficially similar but that's about it. In 6-8 months a bright developer working alone might be able to pull off a crude approximation, but that's also not taking account the fact that SEI has a whole team working around the clock on improving the product. Of course, no business is immune to being knocked off its perch, but at this point it's an empty threat; show me the money. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 18:06
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    Honestly, I don't think this is a technical problem. Sure, SE contains a lot of features that are not recreated over the weekend. But you don't need all of that in the beginning. Once you have an audience that large, you should have similar features. But a knockoff could grow with, and possibly by the work, its community. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 18:52
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    (second comment because of the size limit) The current source of SE is 96.5k, according to the link. Well, one of my projects, which is very important for the company using it, has a source code of 240k. It has grown to that size over years, feature after feature. But the core part, which started its life as a skunk project and was already useful enough to justify and drive the whole project, was done in maybe 150 hours of work. I don't think that a ripoff needs all the features from day one. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 19:02
  • @ammoq: That is not the current size, that was the size as of 2 years ago, when the post was written. And that's just a LOC measurement; I'm sure there are some developers who could write 50 times that amount of code and not accomplish half as much. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 19:14
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    Yeah, maybe a lot of programmers couldn't do it. But to succeed, you need only a few who can. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 19:23
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    Another example: GIT. When Linus Torvalds became unhappy with bitbucket, he decided to write his own DRCS. I'm pretty sure that the first version of GIT did not include all the features of bitbucket. But within two months, it included all the necessary features to manage the Linux kernel source. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 19:35
  • +1 for "... Magnificent questions with a lot of wisdom and insight. They are all gone now." The number of up votes by community members, and maybe also views, should have some bearing on the closing of questions. Or it can be left as it is and see if the trend shown in these graphs continues meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/3136/…. – Bratch May 21 '12 at 21:54

For what it's worth, I side with James and Pierre, though I don't think it will change anything. I don't know exactly what kind of site you have in your mind, but it seems clear to me that it's not a social thing. Serious, humorless, with strictly enforced rules. In other words, boring. Not the kind of site that is driven by an excited community. IMO, that's a sad thing, because I liked the old programmers.stackexchange.com site before the big rule enforcement started. I liked the idea of community moderation, but now that part seems obsolete, like a parliament in a totalitarian state.

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    Yes, much better to have the sorts of mind-numbing, soul-crushing, trainwreck comment threads we routinely see on reddit, slashdot, and TDWTF. If you like that kind of thing, then... go there. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 3:10
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    Aaronaught: there must be a middle ground between the flame fests in /. and the übermoderation here. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 6:52
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    Even with this level of moderation, there is still an ungodly amount of crap content and even crappier voting. This place is the middle ground. But, the inclusionist and deletionist ideologues are just like the left vs. right wing ideologues; any policy that's leaning even slightly toward the other side inevitably gets publicly and viciously attacked, no matter how benign. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 15:25
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    You can never completely avoid crap content on a community driven site. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 15:49
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    Of course you can't, but that doesn't mean you just bend over. You moderate it. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 18:01
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    Sure, but at some point, some people (regular contributors) get the feeling that moderation has become too heavy handed, the fun is gone and contributing to this site is no longer rewarding and feels like unpaid work. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 18:47
  • There are always going to be some people who are unhappy, no matter how you run the site. Experience and observation has shown that on knowledge-oriented sites, the attrition is far worse when the overall quality has deteriorated than when a few potentially-good questions hit the bin. People tend to get all up in arms when a fluff question gets closed, but they quickly forget it, because it's fluff. But if the front page is filled with crap then the real contributors will permanently leave. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 19:13
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    Well, in that case, those some unhappy people include Pierre, Developer Art and my humble self. Judging by the reputation system SE is built upon, I'd call us "real contributors". – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 19:21
  • @ammoQ But then there are real contributors (such as myself, Tim Post, or ChrisF, judging by this post) who are happy with the site. I really don't think an appeal to authority is a good way to add weight to either side of the argument. – Adam Lear Jun 8 '11 at 19:26
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    Anna Lear: Sure, you are real contributors too. I just wanted to point out that in our case, those unhappy some people are not the usual whiners who are unhappy with everything. – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 19:41
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    ammoQ: I assign about the same intrinsic value to P.SE reputation as I do to Meta.SO reputation - i.e. not a great deal. Not to say that reputation doesn't ever indicate quality - sometimes it does - but it was, and often still is, far too easy to farm reputation here from telling people what they want to hear or just posting utterly mindless nonsense (people still upvote comics without a single character of accompanying text). Again, not to single out anyone in particular, but there are definitely many high-rep members here who have not helped to make the internet a better place. – Aaronaught Jun 8 '11 at 20:35
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    Aaronaught, Comics and similar stuff is usually community wiki, i.e. doesn't create reputation at all. Sure, being the first one to answer "yes, you should use version control for xxxx because you should use it for everything" might still be an easy way to gain 200 rep quickly. But I don't think that you can explain a 5 digit reputation that way. How can you confidently say anyone has not helped to make the internet a better place? – user281377 Jun 8 '11 at 21:05

I'm going to post my humble opinion, that I know in advance many people are not going to like it. (Yea, come in and vote down).

A site where the main task is judging questions instead of answering them is nonsense. I have seen very few places on the net applying such a censorship. Actually, the only questions that should be closed are the ones containing difamation or insults, things like these. Or extremely off-topic questions, like coming to bicycles.stackexchange.com and asking something related to motorbikes.

The closing or not decission can't be in hands of other users, this is the task of moderators. And plain users should not be able to influence the moderators. Because we all know, marking a question to be closed is funny (more that answering them).

I'm going to reason this: the Human Being is blood-thirsty by nature, when in large groups. Take a few people and they will act with responsible attitude. Take a large group and they will loose the individual consciente. See the Colosseum in classical Rome, 50.000 people demanding for brutality. similarly, if a user sees a question that has been voted down many times, he will probably follow the pack and do the same.

  • You might want to take a look at this question, where the reasons behind community moderation is explained in greater detail. In short: moderation by trusted, regular users is the backbone of the SE concept. – user8 Aug 18 '11 at 7:58
  • @Mark Trapp: The problem is only for programmers. Other SE sites does not have so much controversy since their tematic is well defined. But programming is a broad area of knowledge and sometimes subjectiveness appears. – Mister Smith Aug 18 '11 at 8:15
  • Can you go further in explaining what subjectivity has to do with allowing or disallowing regular users the ability to close questions or down-vote? Programmers.SE isn't the only Stack Exchange site about programming, nor is it the only site that allows subjective questions. – user8 Aug 18 '11 at 8:19
  • @Mark Trapp: Sure. This site has been forced to cut the number of questions. The reason argued was to restrict some 'bad' subjective questions. The guidelines to identify a bad subjective question are subjective (since it depends on the reader's interpretation). Supported by this ambiguous law, some regular users abuse on this policy just for fun. And yes, programmers is the only SE site about general programming. I'm not proposing a radical transformation on the entire SE, just a tweaking on programmers. – Mister Smith Aug 18 '11 at 8:40
  • @Mark Trapp: Note that to vote down or flag, or request deletion, there is no need to be a regular nor experienced user. A few reputation points are enough. – Mister Smith Aug 18 '11 at 9:02
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    This site is definitely not hurting for questions. It's getting close to Server Fault traffic levels in spite of these "cuts". Complaint dismissed. – Aaronaught Aug 18 '11 at 12:28

Quite a few of us had a big problem with the way the site was headed back when it started, I haven't been around much lately, but I had a question pop into my head yesterday, which I asked, got some good responses and had closed.

I believe that the site really should be an interface to a discussion, if we can't understand that then we're not programmers. Q and A is a structured discussion consisting of Q's and A's.

So this is how I see things

IQandA = interface;
    function Ask(const Question : String) : TList<TAnswers> ;         

TDiscuss = class(IQandA);
    function Ask(const Question : String) : TList<TAnswers> ;         
    procedure Discuss(var PSE : TProgrammersSE);

TProgrammersSE = class(IQandA);

StackExchange Inc has implemented TProgrammersSE, but there is nothing preventing us from passing it into the TDiscuss Object, and doing so would not even be a syntax error.

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    Or you could just build your own site and implement your own rules. – Walter Jun 21 '11 at 17:17
  • @Walter, I've always followed the rules here, except one time, but then I said I was sorry. Just because a suggestion gets downvotes doesn't mean it's a bad suggestion, it pretty much just means a clique has deemed your opinions as anathema and is no better here than in junior high. Fortunately, I'm not an idiot or a person who takes these kinds of things personally. But, maybe I should, because after my hiatus from this site, I've noticed that nothing has changed and the viceroy is still in charge of the trade federation. – Peter Turner Jun 21 '11 at 17:41
  • I didn't mean to imply that you don't follow the rules. It was just a suggestion since you feel so strongly about including discussions and SE Inc feels as strongly to the counter. – Walter Jun 21 '11 at 18:09

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