With all the discussions about how to handle "which language should I learn" or "which book now" questions, and the consensus being to close these questions, I wonder if there's room for a new SE website specifically for those questions.

I mean, there are so many questions like that, I think there's a real need to get those questions answered.

So is it worthwhile to propose a new SE site on Area51 for those explicit questions? Would such a site have a chance? Or are those questions fundamentally unsuitable for the SE format?

  • Stack Exchange has already spoke out against a site like the one you are proposing.
    – Ryathal
    Jan 22 '13 at 14:16
  • How would one attract experts to such a site? Jan 22 '13 at 19:05
  • @RobertHarvey Exactly. I never started a new Area51 site, so I wouldn't know where to find people willing to commit.
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 22 '13 at 19:08
  • Area51 proposals can (and should) grow organically from Area51 itself. There should be no need to embark on a personal effort to find outside participants. There have been a few exceptions, most notably Math Overflow, but Math Overflow predates Area51. Jan 22 '13 at 19:10

The problem with those questions is that they are subjective, and the answers should be kept updated for every new language/book, without to be probably useful for future readers.
Asking the next language to learn is clearly subjective because that depends from the user; in some cases, the next language could be go, in other cases, it could be Objective-C.

There are very few examples of questions about books that are kept open, and that is because those questions are aggressively maintained from the community around it, which keeps the question updated. One example is The Definitive C++ Book Guide and List.

Generally speaking, rather than asking about the next language to learn is better to ask a different question. For example, the user who is deciding about the next language to use could ask in chat; when s/he is evaluating a language to use, and tries to write code with that language, s/he can ask a question about code that doesn't work as expected, or about how to write the code (possibly showing what tried so far). Those are possibly better questions that could help future readers.

  • I can't disagree. But there's still this issue of the great many closed questions; if instead of closing them we could migrate them, this site could be kept cleaner, and maybe after a while people would learn to go over there immediately instead of asking here. Anyway, you've got me all but convinced that those questions belong anywhere on SE, so my idea would be a dead end from the start. Oh well.
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 21 '13 at 17:59
  • 1
    When Programmers was proposed on Area 51, it accepted more subjective, not-programming related questions; after a while, they noticed it has not been a good idea, and first they defined what good subjective questions were, and then they changed the topic for Programmers. That means that an eventual proposal for subjective questions would not have much support. Keep in mind they don't want to be Yahoo Answers II.
    – apaderno
    Jan 21 '13 at 18:19
  • Oh well, 12 votes in total, all against, and not a single voice in support. Accepting this one because this addresses my fears about subjectiveness better, although @ChrisF, your answer makes sense too.
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 22 '13 at 9:33

Personally I don't think it would work.

There is simply too much discussion around these topics and ultimately you'll just end up with a big list of answers each extolling the virtues of a language or a book but not really addressing the question.

We have found that these questions don't work with the Stack Exchange question and answer format.

However, if you disagree feel free to propose a site on Area 51.

I should also point out that this question is off topic for Meta Programmers, but I'll leave it open for a while (at least).

  • 1
    The problem is, if I'm the only one who thinks such an idea can work, I'll never be able to get it started. An Area51 proposal needs, quote, "a community of users large enough so that questions get good answers quickly" and I have no idea how many people would be willing. Oh, and I didn't know it was off-topic; I was trying to address the issue of the large number of closed questions here.
    – Mr Lister
    Jan 19 '13 at 13:39
  • 1
    @MrLister - all you can do is propose it, promote it and hope that enough other people agree with you.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Jan 19 '13 at 13:41
  • @Mr Lister: Well if you're the only one, then it definitely won't work. However, I suspect that you're not the only one. // FWIW - I agree with ChrisF.
    – Jim G.
    Jan 20 '13 at 0:10

There is a market in terms of "If someone was to create a website where this was the goal and allowed, it would likely find people willing to visit it."

Before you go off designing such a website (the Stack Exchange format doesn't go well for such a type of question - by design I believe, and a good choice), I believe the naive implementation it is doomed to failure.

Read A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy by Clay Shirky. Though a decade old, it has important truths about social software.

From this article:

And, finally, you have to find a way to spare the group from scale. Scale alone kills conversations, because conversations require dense two-way conversations. In conversational contexts, Metcalfe's law is a drag. The fact that the amount of two-way connections you have to support goes up with the square of the users means that the density of conversation falls off very fast as the system scales even a little bit. You have to have some way to let users hang onto the less is more pattern, in order to keep associated with one another.

Stack Exchange works reasonably because it makes conversations difficult. You have questions and answers which is not a two way conversation - it is a question and an answer and it's done.

When the code detects a conversation happening in comments, it suggests people take the comments to a chat room (where conversations of a small group work).

From earlier in the article:

The downside of going for size and scale above all else is that the dense, interconnected pattern that drives group conversation and collaboration isn't supportable at any large scale. Less is different -- small groups of people can engage in kinds of interaction that large groups can't. And so we blew past that interesting scale of small groups. Larger than a dozen, smaller than a few hundred, where people can actually have these conversational forms that can't be supported when you're talking about tens of thousands or millions of users, at least in a single group.

The question of "what language should I learn" or "what should I do next" or "what book should I read" requires a conversation to understand the context of what is being asked. The answer to "what language should I learn" is not "C" in every case. The correct answer requires that the asker and the answerer exchange a dozen messages each way.

The conversation that would need to happen is one that would be unmanageable (and thus, the reason why SE tries to prevent conversations in the Q&A part).

For an example of what this would become, head over to a forum that allows "shopping" type questions (deviant art photography forum springs to mind, though it may have changed since I was there last - Reddit may also be a place that allows this and consider what asking such a question there will result in) and look at the size and number of pages of discussion for a "simple" question.

As an aside, you may want to read Web Discussions: Flat by Design which does go into some of the difficulty with online conversations. Additionally, the M.SO post Is Stack Overflow a forum goes into the nature of what it is:

For example, on a forum you might ask how to run a game in windowed mode. You will get several responses, some of which will be nothing but "oh, I love that game!" or "I haven't played that in a while, wow." You'll be lucky if you get a relevant response. By contrast, on Stack Exchange you'd get practical responses that are 100% relevant to your question. 1
Stack Exchange neither supports nor encourages a "forum-style" of open, free-for-all discussion (many-to-many conversations). This is by design... Stack Exchange is built on the premise that forums don't scale. All those open conversations mean that those forums only tend to get noisier and noisier. What inevitably happens is... you stop learning. 2

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