Just a quick note here on meta to let everyone know we will be enforcing these six subjective question guidelines.

Great subjective questions...

  1. inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.
  2. tend to have long, not short, answers.
  3. have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.
  4. invite sharing experiences over opinions.
  5. insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.
  6. are more than just mindless social fun.

This is just the title of each guideline; there's more detail about each guideline, with examples on the blog.

Fair warning, any questions on programmers.se that do not meet a reasonable number of these guidelines (let's say roughly 4 out of 6) will be closed... aggressively.

edit: the subjective/argumentative close reason has been changed to

Not constructive

This question does not meet enough of our six guidelines for constructive subjective questions.

edit: Description now enhanced to provide a TL;DR summary for the link:

Not constructive

This question does not meet enough of our six guidelines for constructive subjective questions. All questions should be practical, answerable, and of some educational value to the greater community. Chatty, open-ended discussion questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

and the official faq has been updated to reflect the above.

... now let the closings begin, for great justice.

  • 13
    @TGregory Meta is treated a bit differently from normal sites. Discussions of how the sites operate are perfectly valid.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 13:11
  • 4
    I wonder why great subjective questions need to have long rather than short answers. Perhaps there is a long-winded bias blowing here?
    – Jeff
    Commented Jun 17, 2011 at 10:52
  • For anyone interested in the objectively measurable effects this decision had (not just subjective opinions or complaints), see this meta post.
    – Wildcard
    Commented Dec 11, 2016 at 20:44

10 Answers 10


I've been grumbling about this for a while, so I've decided to try and post something constructive about this post and ask for clarifications that are not in the post or linked blog. You might argue that this isn't really an answer, but the post isn't really a question. I couldn't fit all this into a comment anyway!

Great subjective questions...

This list defines great subjective questions.

What should we do about questions that are not "great"?

I think it's fair to say that if a question met 2 or 3 of these criteria, it could still be good. I believe that being good should be enough to keep a question open. Being great should get it upvotes, unless it is now SE policy to only allow great questions. There should be a middle ground for a subjective question that merely gets it downvotes instead of close votes.

You mention that if a question meets four of the guidelines it's enough to keep a question open, but the criteria are flawed as four of the six guidelines refer to the qualities of the answers, rather than the question and two of them have co-dependencies, so can't really be counted separately. Let me go through the criteria:

inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”.

tend to have long, not short, answers.

Given that we do not yet know what the as-yet unposted answers are going to be like, shouldn't we give each and every question a fair kick of the can to actually see some of the answers before we close it? How long should that be?

have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone.

Agreed. But isn't this expected as a given for any SE question or answer, not just subjective ones?

invite sharing experiences over opinions.

insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references.

These two points really need to be combined as one, particularly if people are using a count of these guidelines as a reason for closing or downvoting a question. If you word a question to strictly follow the "experience" guideline, by definition you should not even need the "opinion" guideline, so it is impossible currently for a question to meet all six guidelines.

It should read

invite sharing experience over opinions; if opinions are shared without experience, insist they are backed up with facts and references.

Finally, we come to:

are more than just mindless social fun.

Once the few joke and quote questions are gotten out of the way (and I think they have already), I'm not sure if there are many new questions that would really fall foul of this that wouldn't just be closed as off-topic, but I certainly could be wrong about that.

  • 3
    w/r/t point #2, I do absolutely support seeing what the first few answers look like on a question that is right on the edge -- as the quality of answers can be the deciding factor. However, if the first few answers are short and opinion-filled.. the question needs to be shut down quick at that point to prevent a trainwreck. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 7:28

OK, now it's clear that "trust the community" and "we don't rule SE, the community does" was just mouth rhetoric.

If there's still some democracy on SE, we will be able to build our new place.


The proposal has been CLOSED! People who think that we need some democracy, please vote to reopen.

  • 8
    Stack* sites are going for that AppStore vibe, only instead of Steve Jobs, Jeff Atwood will decide what is closed and what is "fun and popular".
    – grok
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 20:40
  • 10
    I hope you noticed that the community closed the proposal.
    – user1842
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:12
  • 7
    @Lance: that's because only one kind of thinking is allowed. We've seen this already on SO. So we created Programmers. But people from SO came here and said: "we take this place too, we ban your questions, and we don't will allow another place for the questions we don't like". It's so sad. The death of the democracy. After all, this is "stack overflow internet services, inc", a corporation. But please avoid the hypocrisy of the "open and free community that runs SE".
    – Wizard79
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:23
  • 3
    @Lance Roberts: that bunch of "fast-closing-zealots" are not "the community". Closing a legitimate, non-spoof, non-obscene proposal so quickly is clearly acting in bad faith.
    – Wizard
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:32
  • 6
    -1 I hope you noticed that when someone says the community that they are talking about a majority, not a minority... We, the community, had problems with subjective questions. So, as we can't figure it out properly, it seems that a human exception handler is necessary... Hence, these rules came and the majority has chosen to vote them up. The minority has chosen to create comments/answers instead which have an effect of 0... Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:58
  • 6
    If you don't like the decision of the community of Programmers.SE then this might not be the site for you, if you don't like the decision of your bad proposal being closed then Area 51 might not be a site for you either... Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:58
  • 5
    @TomWij: oh I like your idea of democracy: the minority ha no right of speech and has to obey to the majority. Well done.
    – Wizard79
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:08
  • 6
    Then you might be misunderstanding democracy, as the "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy. Why should the majority behave to the demands of the minority, especially when those demands are considered bad? Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:12
  • 5
    @TomWij: I sincerely hope for you to never being part of any minority. But so you would understand what means being overwhelmed and flattened by the majority. And by instance, what you call "democracy" is in fact "the law of the strongest".
    – Wizard79
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:21
  • 10
    @Lorenzo, actually that's one problem with democracies is that minorities always get trampled on by the majorities. That's why our Founding Fathers created the US as a Republic and not a Democracy, so that everyone would get equal treatment.
    – user1842
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:28
  • 2
    @TomWij: you are right about giving up. This place is pissing me off so much that probably it is not worth all the time I'm investing to help shaping a good site and a good community.
    – Wizard79
    Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:32
  • 3
    @TomWij, actually, domination of majority is a property of authoritarian, not democratic regimes.
    – P Shved
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 20:47
  • 1
    Then you might be misunderstanding democratic regimes, as the "majority rule" is often described as a characteristic feature of democracy. Why should the majority behave to the demands of the minority, especially when those demands are considered bad? Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 21:14
  • 5
    @TomWij, perhaps, I misunderstand democracy, but what I surely do, living in Russia, is understanding authoritarianism. Highly-upvoted speeches of the supreme nation leader (here it's Jeff), which declare circumscriptions of various freedoms, is what it usually looks like. Anyway, this discussion is pointless: it was obvious from the very beginning that this so-called "Democracy" won't last long.
    – P Shved
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 21:19
  • 2
    I am disappointed. I would like to discuss some off topic subjects with people that share a background in programming. I would vote to reopen if I could.
    – snmcdonald
    Commented Oct 9, 2010 at 6:32

So there are 2 ways to interpret this post:

  1. All Subjective questions must adhere to these guidelines
  2. All questions must adhere to these guidelines.

After reading the blog post, I understand the rationale behind enforcing #1. Subjective opinions are valuable to the community if they are based on experience, well-thought out reasoning, etc. Subjective rants or one-liners are not valuable. So a policy to avoid bad subjective questions makes sense.

But enforcing #2 implies that all questions must be subjective.

Is that really the intent? Are there really no objective questions about the practice of programming that would add value to the site? I found these to be interesting questions

The first was closed as "not subjective enough". This makes no sense to me. How is this type of question detracting from the value of the site?

  • I agree with you; we're not forcing subjective here, the difference is that subjective questions are welcomed and allowed. However, we do think that objective questions can do better on Stack Overflow in many cases, though I'm not sure if that one would survive on SO, so you could make a case that it should be here. Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:48
  • I agree that #1 is what the guidelines are implying. As to whether all questions on P.SE must be subjective, I think that's a different issue. I expect we'll take that on a case-by-case basis (eg, as we're doing with historical questions here: meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/363/…) Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:00
  • This is a good example that objectivity tends to work out in history questions, I'm removing my answer to the related question: How can historical questions be on-topic? Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 22:08
  • @Jeff : a little late, but that first question will never survive SO and you know it.
    – Joris Meys
    Commented Dec 31, 2010 at 15:43

There are problems here:

1) The guidelines aren't guidelines

From Wikipedia: "By definition, following a guideline is never mandatory..."

But, as evidence has shown: they're treated as rule or law. Don't fit the guidelines, get closed regardless of how many votes it has received or how many quality answers it has received (in some cases, both are true, an answer has been accepted and it's STILL been closed).

2) The guidelines aren't defined for what they guide

As it stands, 2 (arguably 3) of the guidelines actually pertain to the question - that is 3, 6 (5). The rest are focused on answers (1, 2, 4).

Judging questions based on answers is preposterous. Given a place where (I hope) difficult questions to answer are asked, there should be and will invariably be very poor answers. In high quantities even, from those who want to participate but lack the ability to do so adequately.

Unless P.SE's goal is to grow into a fluff site, where only easily answered questions are asked, we should never judge the quality of a question by the answers it gets. That's what voting covers.

I'm not arguing that this is the case currently (I wish it were), but I'm arguing that using these criteria to judge questions is flawed because the premises that they are based on is wrong.

3) The guidelines don't promote the vision for P.SE

I voted on Area 51 for P.SE, and participated in the beta extensively. Let us recall:

... Q&A site for expert programmers interested in discussions that are only indirectly related to programming.


If you don't want the site to exist, then get rid of it, that's perfectly reasonable but allowing it to go beta and public while attempting to hijack and derail its intent the whole way is just rude to those who contributed extensively to support it and help create it (via content).

edit for a final note

If you can't tell, I do want good, difficult to answer, entertaining, thought provoking, constructive questions. I do think that we need criteria that questions must usually meet. But these aren't those criteria.

  • 1
    The original vision was scrapped within 17 days of the start of a beta that lasted more than 100 days. 83% of the time formulating the nature site had nothing to do with with the original vision, and in fact, you only joined on the same day the first official stance on the craziness of the original proposal was published. To say that people contributed extensively (via content) to the formulation of a site with the original vision is, frankly, a bit of a stretch.
    – user8
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 22:58
  • @Mark Trapp: I presume that you miss the whole part at the end where they went on to say "That said, we’re firmly committed to the ideal that the community itself has to make the ultimate decisions..." - which is what we're doing right now. And, yes, I definitely do consider 36 questions, 179 answers, 923 votes and a reputation putting me in the top 35 users on the site to be a solid contribution on my part. Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 23:20
  • @Snorfus none of which was done when the site was operating under the old definition: you joined the site the same day SOIS said the original definition was untenable. Beyond that, you had over 83 days to decide it wasn't for you: fool me once, shame on you; fool me 83 times, get over it.
    – user8
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 23:27
  • 1
    it is impossible to fully judge a question without seeing a few answers. There is a chaos factor here, which is, the tone of the first few answers and those people who saw and interpreted the question in their own personal way, affect all future answers. That's just the way the world works -- sorry. You can make an estimate based on the question alone but without context of a few answers you cannot be definitive. Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 0:27
  • @Mark Trapp, @Jeff Atwood: If I'm wrong, then I'm wrong and I'm willing to accept that the case may be just that. I want to be on the record though that I agree with the intent but believe that a better solution exists, even if I can't formulate it on my own. Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 18:04
  • 2
    @Snorfus: there's something to be said for revising a question while it's closed in order to prevent low-quality answers from accumulating. Indeed, it's probably the best reason for closing rather than straight-up deleting questions. However, because re-opening is exceedingly tedious, it often makes more sense to delete your closed question and post a new (revised, improved) version so that you can start off with a clean slate.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 20:10
  • @Mark: if you're gonna get hung up on dates, you might take the time to make sure they're correct. Jeff posted this topic the same day Robert posted the blog post with the guidelines - 12 days after Joel posted the blog entry you link to, 16 days after Snorfus joined, and well after the start of the public beta.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 20:12
  • @MrCRT: you might want to do the same. The policies for the six subjective guidelines (6SG) were published on Sept 29th, 21 days after public beta began. Public beta lasted for 89 days, making 6SG de jure policy for 76% of the public beta. However, it was de facto policy starting with SOIS's posts of which I linked on September 14th, just 8 days after the start of public beta. However pedantic way you look at it, the 6SG are at the core of what the site is, and weren't just added after people "contributed extensively to support it and help create it (via content)".
    – user8
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 20:20
  • @Mark: It was the de facto policy starting 15 days before it was posted? Heh... If you don't like pointless pedantry, then it would have sufficed to say, "The writing was on the wall as soon as RobertCC posted concerns on Meta - we may not have known how, but it was clear that things would change"...
    – Shog9
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 20:28

SE seems to be going more and more the way of forum-type questions. Just scanning across the questions a moment ago about 1 in 3 don't really belong here.

These are typically of the type

  • Which are the best pickles for programmers?
  • What should the next step in my career be?
  • Why is language x better than language y?

We will obviously have more subjective questions here than on SO, but it just seems to me that most of the questions break down to arguments rather than questions. For example, have a quick look to compare the number of comments (and their content) to SO.

There's nothing wrong with programming forums, but SE isn't design to be that.

  • 4
    flag the ones you feel are egregious for moderator attention; if you have 3k rep, vote to close. Commented Oct 2, 2010 at 10:24
  • 1
    (for beta sites, that is 500 rep to vote to close any questions) Commented Oct 2, 2010 at 10:47
  • 6
    Please let the community here decide how the site should run.
    – Gulshan
    Commented Nov 6, 2010 at 18:10

Will these rules be applied to existing questions, or just to new ones? Specifically with regards to old, popular questions (Favorite Joke,What music do you code to, or Favorite Cartoon)?

Edit: Ok, a few of these were addressed here, but what about existing question in general that don't meet the new guidelines?

  • 14
    The son of spolsky will send out his angels, and they shall gather out of P.SE all things that offend, and them which are but mindless fun, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire; there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
    – Shog9
    Commented Sep 29, 2010 at 15:19
  • 2
    I would say the same guidelines apply to new and existing questions. Broken windows, and all that.. Commented Sep 30, 2010 at 21:59
  • 1
    Nah, we should just leave the existing questions alone -- I'm sure nobody will ever attempt to use them as justification for why future questions should be left open :) Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 15:05
  • @Michael, lol, that was exactly what happened in SO, and eventually these questions were closed and aimed to be moved guess where? here!
    – P Shved
    Commented Oct 1, 2010 at 21:10
  • 2
    @Pavel Yeah, I was joking :). That argument has been made on meta before, and I make sure to remind people every time it backfires Commented Oct 2, 2010 at 18:44
  • Any one guideline isn't mandatory, but some non-deterministic number of them >1 but <=6 is. So individually they're guidelines, but as a whole the give a defining aspect that we can judge posts on (though unfortunately for us deterministic people, it's still a subjective process).
    – user1842
    Commented Jan 6, 2011 at 21:21

I couldn't resist:

alt text

  • Tim are you in campaign already ? ;)
    – user2567
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 15:01
  • 2
    @Pierre - half in and half out. I've been a SO user for over 2 years now, and I've seen the fallout of what happens when really bad questions are entertained. But, some sites .. well, won't ever be able to satisfy this. I.e. parenting, every kid is different and users want 'wisdom' over 'experience'. At the same time, Stack Exchange has a business to run, and I'd hate to see a SE site that looked like Yahoo Answers. I'm beginning to think sites like EE went members only just so they could justify allowing anything from a paying client.
    – user131
    Commented Jan 5, 2011 at 18:39

These are not guidelines, they pre-justifications for any moderator to arbitrarily close any question that bothers them or that they simple do not "like." They are completely subjective, open to wide interpretation, and just not suitable basis for rules and procedures of any community. They are so vague that they are practically meaningless. I think it's fair to say that anyone who believes that these "guidelines" are basis to fairly "enforce" anything is deluding themselves.

  • 3
    It's a set of 6 guidelines by which you can score a post. The lower the score, the more likely the question should be closed. There's still an element of judgment involved, but there are rules and guidelines to go by. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 7:37
  • 3
    @Jeff, right and Justice Potter Stewart famously said that hard-core pornography is hard to define but "I know it when I see it." These "guidelines" are rules for when my question will be closed or not the way my astrology chart rules for whether I will be a great software engineer or not. Why don't you just say what you're really doing - exercising editorial control over the site. Saying that you're following some vague guidelines is a cop-out.
    – T Gregory
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 16:51
  • 3
    of course we exert editorial control. You thought this was "anything goes?" That's not what programmers.stackexchange.com/faq says, or for that matter, the FAQ on any site in the Stack Exchange network. Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 19:53
  • 1
    @Jeff, ok then if you're the editor you don't need some vague guidelines, do you? You are simply exercising editorial judgment. Which gets back to my original point: the guidelines are a farce.
    – T Gregory
    Commented Jun 16, 2011 at 22:04
  • @JeffAtwood: It's a long way away from "anything goes" when you have a voting model -- it's how wikipedia works too. There, people vote by graduated acceptance of edits. Voting can curate 1000s of responses if you combine it with reputation or use a probablstic chooser for how you display answers. The former is more robust, but the latter is easy to implement.
    – theDoctor
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 0:43

This site is apparently 1/2 full of closed questions because we can't discuss anything that shouldn't already be on SO.

If many interesting, useful questions with dozens of posts and votes are getting closed non-stop, maybe there should be a place for those questions. There is obviously a demand for questions such as this:


Is there a different SE site I should be using or is are questions without one concrete answer beyond the scope of SE?

  • 2
    That question does not meet enough of the six guidelines to survive. You should try reformulating it so it does. Commented Jan 4, 2011 at 16:25

There's no need to "close things aggressively". In evolution, genes aren't just deleted that seem bad -- because they actually may be highly specialized and simply do not apply in 99.9% of the cases. You need to think in terms of memetic evolution. It's silly to have heavy-handed moderation when you can just fix your voting model -- because it may be that 1/1000 question or answer that ACTUALLLY gives insight. 99.99999% of answers on SE/SO are irrelevant to 99.99999% of it's users.

I know many sites deteriorate because they don't know how to do it, but SE/SO is halfway there. This is real value to the net because every community site has to solve this problem and develop the ideas to do it well.

SE/SO could solve this by having too more buttons on their voting model. Besides up/down, they could have "move to top"/"drop to the bottom". Consider up and down double-chevrons for the symbol, like a tape recorder uses for fast-forward and rewind.

Now, you'll have to figure out how to rank these votes from users so that quality questions don't sink because some newbie hits "drop to the bottom". You have to incorporate reputation. This is a solvable problem. I know because I've done it, on paper. I don't have a website to try it and I'm glad there a place like quora and SE that are implementing the net's solution to this problem. You just need to take it further.

It's not a crime to admit that you don't know how. It's more of a crime to censor the community.

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