Questions like "Can you recommend some good pottery for programmers?" are an issue we need to figure out- to what extent are they allowed? I see a few variants on this:

  1. Questions that are clearly unrelated to programming in anyway, but have programming tacked on (eg, "Can you recommend some good pottery for programmers?" or "What, as a programmer, is your favorite legume?")
  2. Questions that are a middle ground: "What are some good movies for programmer?" is a good example- on one hand it'd be off-topic without "for programmer," but on the other hand, programming-related movies affect programmer culture, and are something that is, to my mind, worth discussing here.
  3. Questions that are somewhat clearly directly related to programming: "What are some good keyboards for programmers"- since keyboards are the tool of our trade, this is definitely worth discussing.

There have been a few discussions of this issue so far:

  • An answer in "What questions are on-topic and what questions are off-topic" starts to discuss this
  • In revision 7 on What should be in our FAQ, Mark Trapp rolls back a change I made to suggest that blatant "types of pickles" questions should be off-topic. He asserts that they are on-topic, citing a meta.SO post. This exchange is why I'm making this question- we should have an internal question deciding it one way or another to point people to in the future.
  • An early discussion took place in the comments for the programming fiction question.
  • Mark points out this answer on meta.SO

I've been out for a few days, and I have't payed that much attention to external discussion of P.SE on meta.SO, so I may have missed us coming to a consensus on this issue, but it seems we haven't, and we need to. What do you think- are 1, 2, and/or 3 on-topic or off-topic for this site, and how do we handle determining which side of the 'on-topic' line a question like this falls?

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    There's a difference between pickles and plants. The difference is that plants are on your desk and pickles are in the fridge. If I programmed in my refrigerator that'd be a different story. – Peter Turner Sep 21 '10 at 21:01
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    oh, man... I LOVE pickles! – Shog9 Sep 21 '10 at 21:14
  • My keyboard question is quoted wrong in each answer... s/programmers/programming/g. :) But yes, the non-existant version used here serves as a good example while I think that if it says programming (which coding is a part of) it's fine... – Tamara Wijsman Sep 22 '10 at 15:51
  • If you don't think it should be there, and the community agrees... ideally it'd get downvoted into oblivion. – Steven Evers Sep 24 '10 at 6:16
  • @Peter - I program in a commercial refrigerator. My company downsized in 2008. In the winter it's warmer in the fridge than in the office though (they also got rid of the heater). – orokusaki Sep 26 '10 at 21:01
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I propose the following criteria by which to judge such questions:

  1. Is it interesting to programmers in general? *
  2. Would answers be significantly different without "for programmers" added?
  3. Does the addition of "for programmers" seem like more than just an afterthought?
  4. Will the question produce useful and/or interesting discussion?
  5. Edit, from comments: Does this question make the internet better?

I see two major alternatives to dealing with pickle questions: a hard and fast rule ("ban 'em all", "accept 'em all"), or a guideline/moderation approach, where we have a general idea to guide what questions are truly programming related and which are pickles.

I'm proposing that second approach, using the above criteria, along with the common sense and good judgement of the people moderating and/or voting. The advantage of this approach is increased granularity (the ability to save good questions while still tossing the bad). The disadvantage is the increased subjectivity- a universal rule on these questions would be easier to enforce.

That said, I think we should put some faith in the community- a lot of the questions we're seeing now are the result of unclear directions. If we have a set of criteria (such as those I propose) posted in the FAQ, I expect we'll see a lot fewer people asking about the best type of wood for a programmer to build their porch out of.

*Borrowed from Bigown's answer.

  • In principle guidelines are great, but guidelines 1, 3, and 4 are all incredibly subjective. Consider Do programmers have higher tendency to be atheists than non programmers? and Why are so many programmers arrogant?: both questions had people on both sides of 1, 3, and 4. – user8 Sep 21 '10 at 22:21
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    I agree with 4 items. The problem is. What is interesting ro programmers in general? How much is different? What could be consider afterthought? What is interesting discussion? We need a consensus. When we are near to end beta we need have just one voice, agreeing or disagreeing. Anyway, it worth to try this way. – Maniero Sep 21 '10 at 22:27
  • I agree that the guidelines are subjective. They're far from perfect- my point is that I think a subjective guideline would be better than an objective rule that closes decent questions. That said, I'm leaning more towards Simon Brown's suggestion. – Fishtoaster Sep 22 '10 at 2:23
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    +1 for "I think we should put some faith in the community- a lot of the questions we're seeing now are the result of unclear directions." – fearoffours Sep 22 '10 at 8:06
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    I think we must focus ourself on the FAQ and form it in such way that it can be understood by everyone (normal users, meta users that help manage the site and diamond users) without having things left unclarified... – Tamara Wijsman Sep 22 '10 at 18:54
  • Joel post this message "This question does not make the internet better." on programmers.stackexchange.com/q/6803/389 I think this type of question should be asked too when deciding if a question should be closed or not. All SE sites (should) follow this rule, so what do you think to add "5. Does the question make the internet better?" – Maniero Sep 23 '10 at 20:33
  • I think that #3 can be a measurable and valid criterium. – cbrandolino Dec 22 '10 at 13:29

I don't mind questions like:

  • What are good movies/fiction/TV shows for programmers

Movies and fiction relating to hacker culture, programming, etc. are likely to be of interest to many (most?) programmers, so these types of questions have answers that are specific to programmers.

Questions like:

  • What is a good chair/keyboard/mouse/desk for programmers?

These types of questions are OK too, since they directly relate to the day-to-day life of programmers.

But questions like:

  • What is a good plant/building material/pet for programmers?

are off-topic, since preferences for these are likely to vary widely between programmers, with little or nothing in common between the various answerers.

I think the criterion for deciding should be whether there is likely to be a lot of common ground between programmers.

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    Whether your first example question is on-topic depends, in my opinion, on how it's worded. If it's what are good movies/fiction/TV about programming, that is probably just about on-topic. If it's worded the way you have it, I'd say it is off-topic as it is a more general question that has no connection to programming and is based on the dubious assumption that most programmers have similar preferences in these areas. – Dan Dyer Sep 24 '10 at 0:43
  • @Dan: I'd say there is a definite subset of movies/fiction that will appeal to a majority of programmers. – Chinmay Kanchi Sep 24 '10 at 10:52
  • I'm disappointed that this question about a standing desk was closed. It doesn't have to be a standing desk for programmers: the topic of looking after your body while using a computer for long periods is both important to programmers, and more relevant to programmers than to people in general. To me that ranks far ahead fiction in relevance. – poolie Nov 17 '10 at 4:50
  • +1 for last sentence - that's it. The programmer-ness should be invoked in the answer, clearly. – djechlin Jan 18 '13 at 19:13

How about banning questions titles containin the words for programmers (possibly with something similar to the subjective warning) and instead asking people to explain why the questions are relevant to programmers? Examples:

What is your favourite "programmer" cartoon?
-> What is your favourite cartoon about programming?

What are some good keyboards for programmers?
-> What are some good keyboards for writing code?

What are some good movies for programmers?
-> What are some good movies about programmer culture?

It would (hopefully) be hard to write such a title for a WGTPP question.

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    It could be done but I presume it doesn't solve the main problem. Users will find out a way to use this badly. The idea is good to get better question text. – Maniero Sep 21 '10 at 22:13
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    I like this idea: if a question doesn't provide a reason why it's relevant, it's a pretty good reason to close as not a real question much in the same manner we close questions that possibly relate to programming but don't define what it is the author is looking to achieve on Stack Overflow. – user8 Sep 21 '10 at 22:16
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    @bigown: If it's misused, it will at least be more obvious that the question is off-topic. – Gelatin Sep 21 '10 at 22:22
  • I don't think it's big enough of a problem to require an automated solution. Besides, these kinds of things are always problematic. It's like removing goto from a language; there's always that one corner case that can't be solved reasonably without it ;) – Chinmay Kanchi Sep 22 '10 at 0:19
  • @Chinmay Kanchi: Maybe as a guideline then. The automation would just be a warning in any case. – Gelatin Sep 22 '10 at 1:20
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    A warning, like the "The question you're asking appears subjective and is likely to be closed" on SO is probably ideal. Something like "the question you are asking seems to be off-topic and is likely to be closed". – Chinmay Kanchi Sep 22 '10 at 2:19
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    @Chinmay Kanchi: Or more specific like "your question includes the phrase "for programmers", please describe what makes it for programmers instead." – Gelatin Sep 22 '10 at 16:23

I can't agree more with every single word. My opinion about what is on-topic can be solved asking "Is it interesting to programmers in general?". Not people in general, but programmers. Not as chit chat, but as a good recommendation to programmers.

  1. These questions just have the word "programm*". Nothing related with programmers.

  2. The example is identical to 1. But some questions affect or get interest on programming world. The problem isn't the question, but the answers. Some can be related to programming but others can be just a recommendation to people in general.

  3. On-topic. Ok, it's related to computer users in general, but it has great value to programmers.

Some questions are hard to decide. Unfortunately I get more lost today than yesterday. But we have time yet.


Fishtoaster's type 1 questions are off-topic, and I'd be very happy to see them banned outright. Fishtoaster's type 3 questions are on-topic, and the site would be less valuable without them.

Fishtoaster's type 2 questions are one of the key types of questions this site was originally proposed for. I'd like to see them kept, and I believe them to be on-topic. But knowing where to draw the line is difficult. (which is a type 2 and which is a type 1 question?

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    Yeah, thats pretty much the issue. We've got a big old statespace- by what rule may we properly divide it? – Fishtoaster Sep 22 '10 at 15:49

Don't forget your Area51.

During your Area51 phase, the feeling-out of what kind of questions that should, and shouldn't make up P.SE was determined; I'd like to encourage you to use them, as that is what Area51 is all about.

Regardless of what others may think, expect, or migrate to P.SE, I think it would be wise to use your Area51 as a guide to what P.SE actually should be, in it's Area51 proposal, as that proposal is the one that the community passed, and is this site right now.

That being said, I'd like to pull a few examples from your proposal. The only opinion here I'd like to present is to use your Area51 as a guide.

8th place off-topic: "Is Ruby better than Python?" 0/9/0 (on-topic/off-topic/NAGE)

9th place on-topic: "Should I work for a company that makes you wear a suit?" 13/0/0

16th place on-topic: "What's good music for programmers to listen to?" 6/0/0

Please go here to see more...

  • PSE was redefined months ago. – Maniero Dec 22 '10 at 18:07

I am going on a flagging rampage.

Some things are relevant. Things like keyboards. Hand care. Chairs. Stuff that is seriously relevant to our daily work life. Even if yes, they are more office-worker relevance, they still relate to our working life and practice.

Things like plants for programmers? Don't be stupid. Take it to IRC.

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    Please don't go on a rampage until we come to a decision here. The plants one, I'll grant you, falls on the far side of category 1 (I voted to close it as well), but there are a lot of gray-area questions that should be left as they are until we come to something approaching a consensus. – Fishtoaster Sep 21 '10 at 20:42
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    Boo hiss, plants are important to some of us programmers, as are fish. – Peter Turner Sep 21 '10 at 20:56
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    @Peter: Relevant is different from important. Programmers.SE is something I want to be able to read and learn from. Not the "Lounge" of SO. – Paul Nathan Sep 21 '10 at 21:18
  • @Paul As do I, that's why there's an "Agriculture" tag, you are free to place it on your "not for me" list. – Peter Turner Sep 21 '10 at 21:58
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    Why plants or fishes are important/interesting to programmers in general? Why this specific beens could improve our work? Answers like "lots of plats refreshing my work environment" or "aquarium relax me on work" on pertinent questions I think it could be ok, but I don't care if anyone prefer a Golden fish or a Kingyo or a Betta on your desk. – Maniero Sep 21 '10 at 22:21
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    @bigown: absolutely. That is so non-specific to programmers as to be rendered negative value on a programmers site. – Paul Nathan Sep 22 '10 at 2:09

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