How did the topic of this site to change from "Not-Programming-Related" to "conceptual questions about software development"?

I've tried looking through meta questions to find where the change in site scope was discussed, but haven't found much. The biggest change in site scope I see on meta is the Six Subjective Question Guidelines — Enforcement Notice, which doesn't really discuss site scope at all other than rules for subjective questions.

If this was a community-decision, I would expect there to be a lot of meta questions related to the site scope change. If this was an executive decision, I would expect to see some kind of notice posted that got a lot of attention. Maybe I'm just using the wrong keywords in my meta searches.

Can someone explain the history of how this site changed from the original "Not-Programming-Related" proposal to be a site for programmers about issues not directly related to programming, to the current site scope of "conceptual questions about software development"?


Mark's answer provides the timeline I was looking for, along with some great links, however Walter's comment pretty much sums it up:

There really wasn't discussion on Meta about the site change, it was an edict from above saying this must change... and so it did

This can further be seen in the links Mark provides where site scope was discussed on P.SE meta, and the general consensus was not to change anything, other than to crack down on some of the nonsense questions that just had "as a programmer" tacked on. To quote Mark:

A few days ago, I created the question, "How can we avoid Programmers.SE from becoming the SE black sheep?". There, the consensus was to not change anything. Unfortunately, SOIS has spoken, and it looks like that sentiment will not be able to sustain the site.

While I am disappointed in this, at least now I know where the change came from.

I actually didn't realize the change in site scope went that far back, because I never saw any kind of announcement telling us that NPR was no longer going to be tolerated. The only thing I saw was an announcement about subjective questions guidelines, which I thought was the attempt to crack down on the "as a programmer" nonsense questions, and many subsequent battles on meta over site scope where it seemed the users had one opinion, and the moderators had another.

I did see the blog post when P.SE finally left beta, however I thought it was merely trying to advertise the more constructive side of P.SE, not that the NPR side was no longer valid.

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    The history is "not programming related" was a terrible, terrible mistake of wording from when P.SE had "toilet bowl status" – Ben Brocka Apr 5 '12 at 15:24
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    Rachel, you might also be interested in reading through all Meta FAQ questions, assembled in our FAQ Index – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 15:44
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    @BenBrocka I do understand that the original site definition was bad, however I'd like to know how it went from not-programming-related to "conceptual questions about software development", instead of some middle ground attempt such as Q&A on subjects that relate to their career-choice (or self-identity) as a programmer, but that aren't programming related – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 15:49
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    @Rachel That's not a Q&A site, that's a discussion forum. Stack Exchange sites are supposed to be sharply focused and full of experts answering questions that are within their expertise. Programmers' expertise is programming. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 15:53
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    @YannisRizos I'm not suggesting a change to site scope here. I want to know how we went from not-programming-related to "conceptual questions about software development", and where the community discussion was that made this change happen. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 15:57
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    @Rachel Hm? I was responding to your question on why there wasn't a middle ground attempt: The middle ground attempt you are describing is not a Stack Exchange site, there wouldn't be any point in it within the Stack Exchange network. Professionals discussing subjects that aren't related to their profession is not what Stack Exchange is about. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 16:02
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    @YannisRizos So your answer is there was no community discussion about the direction the site should take once it started getting off-topic? It was an executive decision to change the direction the site was headed to be about conceptual software development, regardless of the fact that programmers are not always software developers, and that the whole point of this site was for non-code questions that programmers face? If you post that as an answer, I'd accept it. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 16:15
  • While I don't actaully know (hence this is a comment) I suspect that questions How can we avoid Programmers.SE from becoming the SE black sheep? and What questions are on-topic, and what are off-topic? and their answers where at least part of the how it happened – Conrad Frix Apr 5 '12 at 16:16
  • @ConradFrix Thanks for the links, however I'm sure the decision wasn't entirely based on those questions because the answers supporting inane questions like favorite programming cartoon or good keyboards to program with outscored development architecture and design questions by 2:1 (9-3=6, and 6-3=3 5-2=3) – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 16:22
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    @Rachel I posted my answer, unhelpful as it may be. Comments are not answers, and gnat's answer sums up the history of our scope perfectly. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 16:35
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    @YannisRizos So you're saying the site scope changed because a founder called it "fairly stupid water-cooler nonsense" and an executive decision was made to change the site scope? Because the remaining two links gnat posted do not reflect our current site scope at all. One asked what topics we could merge with our site (and as I pointed out before, the silly programmer-related questions outscored development architecture/design questions 2:1), and the other put some limits on the type of subjective questions we'd accept. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 16:44
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    I posted my answer, unhelpful as it may be. Comments are not answers, and gnat's answer sums up the history of our scope perfectly (if you keep asking me the same thing, I'll keep answering with the same comment @Rachel) – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 17:04
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    @BenBrocka P.SE was a lot more fun then. – user1249 Jun 21 '12 at 7:56
  • Maybe it should be "Not Code Related"? – JeffO Mar 8 '13 at 16:37

The timeline of this was:

Within 29 days the site went from programmers hanging out and discussing their lifestyle to programmers discussing software development issues, now over 18 months ago, which is why I'm always surprised people still cling to that old proposal. I would've thought they'd all move on by now: the writing was on the wall almost immediately after the site left private beta.

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    Thanks, this was the sort of thing I was looking for. I added the original NPR proposal date to it as well, since I think the 3 months it took to collect followers and commitments on the original proposal should also be noted – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 17:42
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    March 15, 2012 - [career] is blacklisted, thus ending the largest of the clean ups. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 17:52
  • Would you mind if I added something to 9/18 based on the quote in the linked question that ... the consensus was to not change anything. Unfortunately, SOIS has spoken, and it looks like that sentiment will not be able to sustain the site to clarify that the change was the result of Stack Exchange intervention, and not a community decision? I want a clear picture of what actually caused the site scope to change, and think that's the only thing missing from your answer. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 18:23
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    @Rachel Our discussion about our site's perception was on September 15th; SOIS speaking was Joel's blog post on the 17th: both are already on the timeline. – user8 Apr 5 '12 at 18:29
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    I think why the old NPR idea is still around is that there was never any announcement made on meta that this site will no longer be about non-programming questions programmers have, but will now be about conceptual software development questions. Sure the blog post exists, however A) not everyone reads the blog and B) it doesn't explicitly state that NPR is no longer tolerated. The FAQ also got changed, but again I see no announcement about it and from what I can tell, nobody really reads the FAQ unless they have questions about the site. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 19:09
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    Sure the blog readers, SE employees, and active meta users might know what is going on, but no big announcement was made to the large group of P.SE users that worked to build the site from scratch, telling them that the scope has changed dramatically from the original site proposal, so these users only find out about the change when they start having questions and go looking for information. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 19:10
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    @Rachel yes, there was an announcement. An active user who participated in NPR would have to be willfully ignorant of eighteen months of constant enforcement and posts discussing the scope here to even begin to claim that they didn't know the site scope changed a long, long, long time ago. The history is explained at length any time anyone attempts to claim this site is still NPR to boot. – user8 Apr 5 '12 at 19:13
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    @MarkTrapp I was referring to an announcement like that which explicitly states the change in site direction. That announcement only states a change in the subjective guidelines policies, not a change in site scope. To further the confusion, many of the discussions on meta about site scope conclude that we want an NPR site, not a software development site. The Black Sheep question you posted, and the on/off topic definition question both have top-voted answers stating that. But anyways, that was just my response to your final paragraph, not really something I want to debate you over :) – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 19:24
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    @Rachel Like I said, an active user would've had to have been willfully ignorant that the enforcement notice and "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective"—in addition to the 18 months of constant moderation—didn't indicate a drastic change in scope from NPR. NPR was tried, it failed: most people either got on board with the new program or moved on to other sites that better served their interests. – user8 Apr 5 '12 at 20:28
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    Wow, I'd forgotten about some of this... It's all coming painfully back to me now :) – Walter Apr 5 '12 at 20:34
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    @MarkTrapp It has absolutely nothing to do with the announcement, or how long it's been since the change. See this Q/A: meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/2948/… – Izkata May 17 '12 at 21:03
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    @Izkata I'm fully aware of that, hence me lampooning the idea that somehow the rug was pulled out from under the community. This has very little to do with announcements or timeframes and everything to do with a few people who can't accept that maybe this site isn't the one for them. – user8 May 17 '12 at 21:46
  • Mark, does it make sense to add this to timeline? September 23, 2010 — MSO announcement Adding discipline to programmers.stackexchange.com – gnat Sep 13 '12 at 14:26
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    @gnat added it. – user8 Sep 13 '12 at 16:02

September 2010 appears to be a turning point, indicated by Joel's blog post mentioning

Programmers Stack Exchange, which appears to be degrading into fairly stupid water-cooler nonsense...

which was further followed by What questions are on-topic, and what are off-topic? and The Six Subjective Question Guidelines — Enforcement Notice.

  • Nice, I was looking for that. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 15:40
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    Huh, I always thought it started as a site for fairly stupid water cooler nonsense and degraded into a good resource for questions about design patterns and practices. – Ben Brocka Apr 5 '12 at 15:44
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    Although that points out one of the problems with the original P.SE definition, it does not tell me how this site changed so dramatically from not-programming-related to "conceptual questions about software development". Surely there was some discussion about what we could do to get rid of the inane questions such as whats the best X for a programmer without completely changing the site's scope – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 15:46
  • @BenBrocka An alternative description of the original intention would be offtopic.StackOverflow. But that soon degraded to crap.StackOverflow. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 15:47
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    @Rachel good question. it would be easier to answer if FAQ would have a publicly visible revision history, just like almost everything else at SE does. Then one would be able to find date of the particular change (like "conceptual issues -> questions") and search meta discussions around it. Unfortunately this is not the case as of now. – gnat Apr 5 '12 at 16:23
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    @gnat "conceptual" made it into the FAQ Jun 23 '11, replacing "subjective". The on-topic list though has been pretty much the same since Dec 29 '10, when "code golf" was replaced by "programming puzzles", which in turn was removed on Jun 27 '11. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 16:41
  • @gnat You can view some revisions of the FAQ using the Way Back Machine. For example, here's a snapshot from 7/16/11, which defines career questions as on-topic within reason – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 16:49
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    gnat pretty much got this one right, as my memory recalls. There really wasn't discussion on Meta about the site change, it was an edict from above saying this must change... and so it did. – Walter Apr 5 '12 at 16:50
  • @Walter Thanks. It would have been nice if the community had been involved in the decision since we're the ones who participated and maintained the site, but at least now I can send people here who tell me that the site scope changed as the result of a community-decision. – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 16:59
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    @Walter thanks - your explanation certainly carries an authority to me – gnat Apr 5 '12 at 17:02
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    It is interesting that the direction of a "community-run" site turned on a dime based on a side comment in a blog post by one of the bosses. Guess that clarifies exactly what "community-run" means. I understand they're the ones paying the bills, etc., but it's good to be reminded who's really in charge, and not buy all this "it's all about the community" pablum. – JohnMcG Apr 27 '12 at 16:07
  • @JohnMcG well per my reading of step by step events breakup in another answer this doesn't look like you describe. What you call a side comment feels more like a tip of the iceberg, an indication and acknowledgement of the issue raised and driven by Programmers community – gnat Apr 27 '12 at 16:17
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    @gnat This question was a request for evidence of this groundswell of opinion in the Programmers community, and it seems there hasn't been much. What there have been is evidence that the bosses did not care for the direction of the site. Again, which is fine. They're the ones who set this up. But it does make all the "community" talk ring hollow. – JohnMcG Apr 27 '12 at 16:27
  • @gnat Following the links, I see a lot of use of the word "we." When I follow links from those, they inevitably trace back to a post or question from Joel or Jeff. e.g. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/65439/… – JohnMcG Apr 27 '12 at 16:31
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    @JohnMcG I see. In that sense, consider me lead by that water-cooler quote, too - because I like it and vote at Programmers accordingly. Guess that disqualifies me as community member and drops into some big conspiracy scheme but oh well. The truth is out there – gnat Apr 27 '12 at 17:15

During the whole of a dull, dark, and soundless day in the autumn of the year, when the clouds hung oppressively low in the heavens, I had been passing alone, on horseback, through a singularly dreary tract of country; and at length found myself, as the shades of the evening drew on, within view of the melancholy House of NPR. I know not how it was --but, with the first glimpse of the building, a sense of insufferable gloom pervaded my spirit. I say insufferable; for the feeling was unrelieved by any of that half-pleasurable, because poetic, sentiment, with which the mind usually receives even the sternest natural images of the desolate or terrible. I looked upon the scene before me --upon the mere house, and the simple landscape features of the domain --upon the bleak walls --upon the vacant eye-like windows --upon a few rank sedges --and upon a few white trunks of decayed trees --with an utter depression of soul which I can compare to no earthly sensation more properly than to the after-dream of the reveller upon opium --the bitter lapse into everyday life --the hideous dropping off of the veil. There was an iciness, a sinking, a sickening of the heart --an unredeemed dreariness of thought which no goading of the imagination could torture into aught of the sublime. What was it --I paused to think --what was it that so unnerved me in the contemplation of the House of NPR? It was a mystery all insoluble; nor could I grapple with the shadowy fancies that crowded upon me as I pondered. I was forced to fall back upon the unsatisfactory conclusion, that while, beyond doubt, there are combinations of very simple natural objects which have the power of thus affecting us, still the analysis of this power lies among considerations beyond our depth. It was possible, I reflected, that a mere different arrangement of the particulars of the scene, of the details of the picture, would be sufficient to modify, or perhaps to annihilate its capacity for sorrowful impression; and, acting upon this idea, I reined my horse to the precipitous brink of a black and lurid tarn that lay in unruffled lustre by the dwelling, and gazed down --but with a shudder even more thrilling than before --upon the remodelled and inverted images of the gray sedge, and the ghastly tree-stems, and the vacant and eye-like windows.

Is probably how Edgar Allan Poe would have described it. If he was a programmer (on a boat).

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    O_o I think the pressures of being a mod has finally gotten to you. Anybody who quotes Poe relevantly is in a dark place. – maple_shaft Apr 5 '12 at 14:53
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    While entertaining, how does that answer my question at all? :) – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 14:55
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    @maple_shaft Coincidentally this is the 666th [discussion] question. – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 14:58
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    @Rachel It doesn't, obviously, at least not directly. I humbly accept your down vote. ;P – yannis Apr 5 '12 at 15:00
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    @YannisRizos Yes, that was my down vote for not actually providing an answer to the question :) It is currently countered by someone else's upvote who I guess likes your answer, because it certainly can't be because "this answer is useful" like the tooltip says :p – Rachel Apr 5 '12 at 15:12

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