The question: https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/284881/25936

My initial reaction to it is essentially the same as the first comment it got:

This question pushes the boundaries of what is on-topic here in several ways (opinion-based, list format, perhaps even education advice), but I find it so fantastic that for once, someone responsible for portraying us to the outside world doesn't simply make stuff up that I hope it will get a lot of love. – Kilian Foth 6 hours ago

The question currently has four close votes on it, a couple fairly good answers, and I've seen it in the hot network questions list at least once. I haven't cast any kind of vote on it (since it has enough upvotes already imo).

I believe this question is valuable and worth keeping open. However, it's not like there's an obviously on-topic part and an obviously off-topic part; arguably every part of it is an opinion poll. So I don't know what needs changing to get those close votes retracted. Or maybe I'm just wrong and the question should've been closed ages ago.

So this is directed primarily at the close voters, but also at anyone who might be willing to cast a reopen vote should this question get closed. What changes do you think are required to make that question acceptable, or do you think it's unsalvageable?

A few ideas I do have:

  • Simply remove bullet point #5, as it's by far the most opinion-based of the five, and the best answers have either punted on it or devoted very little time to it.

  • Change much of the wording to something like "How would a professional programmer be expected to respond to this situation?", i.e. make it about industry best practices (like the good answers describe) rather than simply a poll for all of our l33t anti-hacker techniques.

  • If anyone thinks the main problem with this question is that it's too broad/asking too many questions, we could split the four "good"(?) bullet points into 2-4 separate questions.

I'm more than willing to do the actual editing, I just have no idea which aspect of the question needs editing to prevent closure without removing the spirit of the question (if that's even possible).

  • "What would be your biggest concern..." and ""What is your biggest pet peev..." parts read like polling for opinions
    – gnat
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 13:15
  • I removed bullet point #5. It doesn't even come close to being essential to the question.
    – yannis
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 13:43
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    It's not a programming question. It's someone seeking advice from a consultant. It's no different if someone asked "how much would this idea cost to be programmed?". The problem is that the "idea" part of the question is interesting. That's why it's getting up votes. The question should be moved to another stackoverflow sight that is more relevant.
    – Reactgular
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 13:51
  • @Yannis that's nice, but after this edit, all answers referring removed point (4 of 5) look like pulling stuff out of thin air. I considered for a while voting them down and commenting for authors to account for question edit, but given upvotes brought in by hot list lemmings, this will likely result only in rep loss for me
    – gnat
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 14:06
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    Just remove references to #5 from the answers @gnat.
    – yannis
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:00
  • This is what's wrong with stackoverflow....
    – AK_
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 15:49
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    @AK_ it would make a great discussion topic. I could certainly see interesting chat conversations based on those questions. It makes a poor Q&A topic and thus makes other Q&A topics harder to find. It is what Stack Exchange is based on and with a few oddball exceptions (WorldBuilding, I'm looking at you) is the value proposition of Stack Exchange. Not all questions fit here. Trying to make them all fit end you end up with lots of low quality posts with few experts answering and, well, that is what Stack Exchange strives to avoid by saying "discussions don't work here."
    – user40980
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 17:33
  • 1
    Original Programmers.SE scope, that question would have been great. Current Programmers.SE scope, definitely not. Too bad, I liked the original scope better :p
    – Rachel
    Commented Jun 1, 2015 at 18:48
  • @Rachel the ability to have a more lose scope as the original was is predicated on the community to curate and moderate the content that is produced in the answers - and down voting and deleting the material that is less than stellar. That people weren't doing this in the original site and still aren't doing this now demonstrates why the current community of people answering such questions and voting on the answers isn't disciplined enough to have such. Maybe if people down voted the answers that were short, poorly written or incomplete... but until that happens this is the scope.
    – user40980
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 18:27
  • @MichaelT I'm not sure if you were around when the site was first created, however the community's definition of the site was a lot more relaxed and we liked a lot of the questions that SE considered "less than stellar". Even when SE decided to change the site scope, they didn't communicate that change to the community very well, so it's no surprise that the community didn't downvote/delete items that SE considered unacceptable for the site, since we thought those posts were fine.
    – Rachel
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 18:47
  • @Rachel the problem is that today people continue to up vote material for such questions that doesn't completely answer the question or is just a one sentence answer to the sub question. In order to say that "yes, these questions might be allowable here today" one must demonstrate that they can produce content of high quality. People aren't participating in that moderation and curation of the content. It can work, MathOverflow routinely has big list questions - and they down vote and moderate the dickens out of their answers that aren't up to the quality standards. ...
    – user40980
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 18:50
  • ... Until people are willing to apply those quality standards here and down vote the poor quality answers so that they can be fixed or deleted, we see time and time again that people aren't willing to preform the necessary community moderation of the answer content such questions create. That is why the questions continue to remain off topic. When people are willing to moderate (which includes down voting) the material, it would be something to revisit and say "hey, look, we can keep the content quality consistently high." Until then, this question continues to demonstrate why we don't.
    – user40980
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 18:52
  • @MichaelT Yes, but Math.SE was probably a site that was created and defined by a dedicated community of users, not one that was created/defined by a dedicated community of users, and then had their scope redefined for them by SE. It also helps to have good clear guidelines for community moderation on meta, which you have done a great job at working on for this site. I wish you had been around when the site first changed it's scope/direction, instead of having to try and fill that gap in community education years after the site changed as you are doing now.
    – Rachel
    Commented Jun 3, 2015 at 19:01
  • By removing bullets, you've created a bunch of orphaned comments which no longer make sense, on topic or not.
    – Will I Am
    Commented Jun 8, 2015 at 21:26

2 Answers 2


I'm going to start out with "Too broad" does fit the question. There are five sub questions within it. The problem that this leads to is people answer one of them.

Secondly, you find answers that start out "Some opinions" which also leads to an indication of an issue with the question.

Both of these would need to be addressed to have the question fit well into the expectations of Q&A on Programmers.SE. Otherwise it becomes a bike shed question that seems to be one that would be more applicable to WorldBuilding.SE than Programmers.SE. I would suggest mods doing the mod thing and chatting up the WorldBuilding.SE mods to see if they want the question.

The problem posed in the question is a "how to make the plot more believable" and that... it really stretches the bounds of the topicality for the site. Its not a bad question and can be quite interesting (having a technical advisor for a movie is a good thing). But everyone is offering advice and there is no right answer.

This is the type of question that really needs the dense two way communication to understand the back and forth necessary to understand the nature of the question (and the plot) to be able to provide the proper technical background.

The bigger issue is that any significant changes to the question would likely make most (if not all) of the answers invalid.

Breaking it down question by subquestion:

  1. If you were to notice something was not working in a unique program, a bug, what would be your next step in correcting?

This is too broad and not specified well enough to be answerable.

  1. What would it take to corrupt a full program to give "worse results"? Just a small change of a number on the 54th line? Is that even how you would say it?

The OP should try getting a moderately complex and tinker with it. There are lots of Javascript and php programs out there.

  1. Would you have physically printed out your code after creating a unique program?

Opinion. That said, the moderately complex programs (I'm just pulling up Kittens Game as an example) has on the order of 24k SLOC. At 50 lines per page, gives on the order of 500 pages to print out the source... That said, in a single class file that was solely responsible printing out receipts for a point of sales system I've dealt with similar sizes (1M SLOC isn't uncommon for software projects). How much do you want your toner company to love you and your purchasing department to hate you?

  1. What would be your biggest concern after creating a unique program? How do your safe guard?

Opinion poll again.

  1. What is your biggest pet peev about how Hollywood has depicted anyone behind a computer? In contrast, who has nailed it?

Removed, though again, completely an opinion poll.

This really shows the problem with the question - it is comprised of polls that are infinitely answerable and everyone has a suggestion about what color to paint the bike shed.


This question is asking for opinion based answers, and if the rules are strictly followed in theory it should be closed.

However, this alone isn't particularly important. What is important is what sort of community we want.

Specifically; does anyone actually want a community full of pedantic "enforcers" who are too inflexible to bend the rules a little in rare cases where it's clearly justified?

For the sake of the community; I vote this question remains open despite the rules.

  • 1
  • 1
    I will absolutely grant you that it is an interesting question. I will also point out that it is one that doesn't fit in the Q&A format. There are other sites that are better designed to this type of question. Note the title of the question gnat linked to - "How can I encourage Stack Overflow to rein in the 'subjective' vigilantes?". Also, here on meta, On discussions and why they don't make good questions goes into this more. Stack exchange cannot answer all types of questions and maintain its focus. Losing its focus, it becomes a forum.
    – user40980
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 22:55
  • Yes, and if there were lots of questions that were interesting enough to justify bending the rules a little then being worried about the site losing its focus would be a valid concern. This is not the case here - the site's focus is not so fragile that the sky would fall if small exceptions were made in extremely rare circumstances.
    – Brendan
    Commented May 25, 2015 at 23:46
  • We have a long and sored history of such subjective and interesting questions on Programmers.SE. I would strongly suggest that you read the link that gnat provided (along with the other answers in the question). As a site, we wren't able to grow and prosper for answering the design and architecture questions until we stopped answering the interesting discussions. I certainly admit they are interesting discussions - but making exceptions because they are interesting isn't something that we can do until the community shows it has the discipline to not give poor answers to bike shed questions.
    – user40980
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 1:37
  • Gnat's link provides reasons why the rules exist and why frequently bending them is a bad thing. For extremely rare cases it's entirely irrelevant; and to be perfectly frank, mindlessly following rules is likely to do more harm than it prevents.
    – Brendan
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 4:02
  • 1
    Until it is shown that the community will provide good answers to such questions and down vote poor answers, leaving such questions open is problematic. One only needs to glance at some of the questions and answers in this query to find examples of situations where poor quality answers have been provided and up voted. When this doesn't continue to happen regularly, then one might consider tacking a new course with how such questions are handled. Until then, we as a community don't have the discipline to leave these open.
    – user40980
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 16:30
  • @MichaelT: Why look at answers to irrelevant questions when it's easier to look at the existing answers to the actual question that we're discussing? This is like saying "Several people have cut themselves while washing dishes, therefore it should be illegal to wash dishes, with no exceptions for rare/exceptional circumstances".
    – Brendan
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 22:00
  • 1
    @Brendan over half the answers to it gave single or two sentence answers answers to the sub questions. That is not high quality. People are up voting the popular answers rather than down voting the poor ones. I am certain that if it was still open it would easily have a dozen answers with diminishing quality. This is not what we want on the site. It may have been manageable if people were voting based on the quality instead of the popularity - they aren't. Thus it is closed. Until the community is willing to show it will curate and moderate the question and answers, it gets closed.
    – user40980
    Commented May 26, 2015 at 22:09
  • I am perfectly fine with leaving the occasional interesting but off-topic question open. This question, however, would require a whole novel to answer and we would still be arguing about it. That makes it a bad question, so the "interesting" bit does not even come into play.
    – user22815
    Commented Jun 4, 2015 at 18:13

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