In the past 2 months, two new sites in the Stack Exchange network opened up and are now in Public Beta: Open Source and Law. A third, Software Recommendations, has been around for about 1.5 years. These are three topics that our Help Center's /help/on-topic page explicitly calls out that are well within scope of these sites, assuming the other quality measures for a question hold (emphasis mine):

If you have a question about...

  • software requirements
  • software architecture and design
  • algorithm and data structure concepts
  • quality assurance and testing
  • development methodologies and processes
  • software configuration management
  • software engineering management
  • software licensing

and it is not about...

  • general workplace issues, office politics, and job hunting (check out The Workplace instead)
  • implementation issues, such as code fixes (ask on Stack Overflow instead)
  • how to use specific tools
  • what language/technology you should learn next, including which technology is better
  • what project you should do next
  • where to find a software library, tool, book, research paper, blog, forum, or other resources
  • product or service recommendations
  • career or education advice, salary, or compensation
  • personal lifestyle, including relationships and non-programming activities
  • legal advice or aid

These topics appear to be well suited to these other sites, based on the questions that have been asked so far on them. It's likely that someone interested in any kind of intellectual property (copyright, copyleft, patents, trade secrets, infringement, and perhaps even closed-source licenses) or open source (philosophy of open source organizations, using or complying with open source licenses, working within the open source communities, choosing appropriate licenses) are on-topic on one of these sites.

Should Programmers make software licensing questions explicitly off-topic and redirect people to Open Source or Law, as appropriate, to be put in better hands to get answers to their questions?


Related discussions:

  • 8
    As a Law Mod (hello, Programmers! :) ) — please, please, don't migrate questions where the answer is "you need a lawyer". Those are off-topic at the moment (we are trying to make some changes happen with respect to this). Feel free to point them in our general direction, particularly to our help center.
    – jimsug
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:21
  • 4
    @jimsug - we currently burn those and I expect we would continue to do so.
    – user53019
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:50
  • 1
    Food for thought - I realize that beta sites are typically not allowed to be migration targets for close votes. However, we see a fair number of licensing questions that might be on topic elsewhere as suggested. It might worth determining if we can have the two beta sites as migration targets if we go forward with migrating these sections of questions elsewhere.
    – user53019
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:52
  • @glen excellent :)
    – jimsug
    Aug 17, 2015 at 22:01
  • 7
    @jimsug I wouldn't migrate those. In fact, I wouldn't even want a migration path ever formally set up between Programmers and Law, since I don't know if I would trust everyone to understand that Law doesn't take "go get a lawyer" questions. The connection between Law and Programmers should be in the Help Center.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 11:54
  • @ThomasOwens Cool :)
    – jimsug
    Aug 18, 2015 at 12:32
  • 2
    @jimsug I agree as well, we do not want to set up a crap cannon. Many of us regulars here understand what makes a low-quality legal question, but there are enough 3k+ users who are not active in chat or meta who might migrate a bunch of crap questions. I think we all know what can happen as soon as someone casts that first "migrate to Law.SE" vote that puts a bad question in the review queue for the lemmings.
    – user22815
    Aug 18, 2015 at 21:42

6 Answers 6


I think we should not change the scope at all.

There is no reason the sites (Law and Open Source) can't have overlapping scope with Progs. For example questions about algorithms are on topic both here and Stack Overflow.

I really don't see any reason for us to change our scope based on what other Stacks are or are not doing. We should want the questions we want, and we should not want the questions we don't want.

If it's time to get rid of these questions for our own reasons, that's an entirely different question and shouldn't be discussed in these terms.

As far as Software Recommendations is concerned, such requests have been off topic for a very long time (with good reason) and I see no reason for that particular bit of status quo to change either.

All making these questions off topic will do is result in a massive cleanup to close old posts which, IMO, is a complete waste of time, since most of the bad ones are already closed. We won't be able to migrate the good new ones to these sites for years at the earliest anyway because they're in beta. Lots of work, little reward.

Obviously, improving the help center to have better links to other stacks that may be more appropriate for typical off topic Programmers question goes without saying, and is why I did not include it in my original form of this answer.

  • 2
    Programmers and Software Recommendations can't have overlapping scope... I hope :)
    – gnat
    Aug 17, 2015 at 20:48
  • 1
    I would want to vote down but see no reason to (happy:). "getting rid of the overlap is probably the wrong direction to be going. It'd be like trying to de-overlap ProgSE and SO. The topics overlap; accept it and mark the natural boundaries" (Shog)
    – gnat
    Aug 17, 2015 at 20:56
  • 2
    Personally, my stance with licensing questions was that they weren't a good fit here, but they were justifiable. We, as software developers, download and integrate with open source software packages. Many of us also write or contribute to open source software, so it's something we understand. However, now, there's a better community that makes more sense for these questions. Perhaps some overlapping scope is good, since it's a different perspective. I think we'd be remiss not to help people get the best possible answer, though.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 0:32
  • 1
    I think I captured the essence of this and MichaelT's answer in my second answer to this question.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:52

For good questions of "is it legal", these were never on topic on Programmers.SE and if Law.SE wants to have them, by all means let them have these questions. This is especially true for questions of patent and trademark which are even trickier for a layperson to answer than copyright (which we deal with in licenses).

For questions of licensing, there are a class of these which we consistently close: "is there a license that meets these requirements." If OS.SE wishes to have the well written questions of this form, again, by all means let them have them as they would be closed as off topic here.

For licensing questions that we, as a programmer, have sufficient expertise to be able to properly answer, these should remain on topic here. This does make for that fuzzy line between P.SE and OS.SE to which the rubric that should be used is "does an expert programmer have knowledge to answer this, drawing from the experience as an expert programmer?" If so, it is still on topic here.

There are many questions however, where we, as programmers don't have expert knowledge in the area. Some examples of these include:

These are questions which delve much deeper than a programmer is expected to have expert knowledge in and needs an answer from someone who is intimately familiar with licensing and intellectual property rather than facades and mvc.

So yes, there are certainly licensing questions that are out of our realm and should be migrated to OS.SE given that they want them (just as there are questions that involve database design that go much deeper than the expert programmer is familiar which we migrate to DBA.SE).

  • For me, the problem is defining what an expert in software development must know about licensing. I think the answer may be "nothing". Realistically, I don't think that's true, but you can be an expert in designing and building software and not know anything about open source licenses. It's just not realistic in today's world where we use open source products often. It may be easier to be black and white than try to draw all kinds of lines.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 11:50
  • @ThomasOwens one problem may be, we know too little about Law.SE to take a scope change risk (yet). Do you remember how it was with Workplace? when they just started, there was only hope that they will be eventually able to handle career topics well - so we didn't change anything at our side. We tightened the scope only after we learned that they indeed handle these topics better than us. I wouldn't be surprised if something like that eventually happens wrt Law.SE
    – gnat
    Aug 19, 2015 at 18:46
  • @gnat Looking at the current vote breakdowns, that doesn't appear to be an issue. It appears that the current approach may be to have no scope change here, but to point people toward Open Source, Law, and Software Recommendations in the "and not about" section. The only change to the "about" section would maybe to better define what open source questions are OK for here and what ones aren't, likely with a Meta post here or on Meta.SE.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 19, 2015 at 18:49
  • @ThomasOwens agree, current consensus appears like you describe. I just think that things may eventually change so that we will prefer to tighten site scope and "offload" this stuff, as it was in your original proposal (just like it happened to career topics when Workplace matured). This likely won't happen soon but still a possibility we better keep in mind
    – gnat
    Aug 19, 2015 at 18:57
  • @ThomasOwens - I don't think you can go by what an expert in software development must know. It is a large field, and there is very little anyone absolutely must know for every job. Rather, I would ask if it is something that enough software developers would know, as part of their expertise in software development, that we have a reasonable chance of an expert answer. This isn't always easy to determine, but "boy, we never get expert answers for this type of question" can help be a guide. Anyway, by your logic as stated we would have to exclude, say, compiler questions.
    – psr
    Sep 1, 2015 at 15:53
  • @psr You're correct. Wrong words used on my part.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Sep 1, 2015 at 15:54

No, Programmers should not make questions about open source licensing off-topic. There is a subset (that we must define in a clear way) of questions that are on-topic on both Programmers and Open Source. However, we should update our Help Center to link to Open Source, Law, and Software Recommendation (specifically their /help/on-topic pages) to help indicate where people can go to get better answers to their questions.

If this is accepted, it should be done in two phases.

First, update the "is not about..." section to properly link to Law and Software Recommendations. Those would be pretty straight forward.

Second, launch a meta discussion for directing people to the right open source SE site. Link to this meta discussion in the Help Center.

  • Legal advice is not on topic on Law stack exchange. law.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic
    – durron597
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:54
  • 1
    @durron597 That's true. The phrasing of "legal advice or aid" would need to be changed somehow. Perhaps "the law or legal terms, language, processes, procedures, or dealing with legal professionals (visit Law instead)" would be appropriate - we'd work with the Law mods to have a one line short summary of what people may be asking on Programmers that should be on Law, and then link to their Help Center page for more details.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 13:56
  • 1
    I think that "Legal advice or aid" is sufficiently clear for explaining a category of off-topic questions for the site. Trying to come up with a more precise disclaimer strike me as oddly ironic, and I don't think it would provide much benefit.
    – user53019
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:51
  • @GlenH7 I was referring to the text used to point people to Law. Notice how there's a line that directs people to The Workplace - general workplace issues, office politics, and job hunting (check out The Workplace instead). If this answer is accepted, there would be a line that says xyz (visit Law instead)` where "Law" is a link to Law's /help/on-topic page. It can't say "legal advice or aid" since that is off-topic on Law as well.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:53
  • @ThomasOwens - Sorry about that; it wasn't clear based upon the order I was reading the answers. Yes, the suggested phrasing from here could use some re-wording based upon the Law.SE community's preferences. That said, even if we refer over to Law, I would like to see us keep our bullet point about excluding "legal advice or aid"
    – user53019
    Aug 18, 2015 at 16:01
  • @GlenH7 Absolutely yes. I think "legal advice or aid" should stay as well. I would probably ask Law to write their one line summary that we use to point at them.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 16:02

Allow me to introduce myself, I'm Zizouz212, and I'm a moderator over at Open Source.

I might as well recap what we cover as site scope:

  • Anything libre/open-source/creative-commons licensing
  • Anything to do with open-source project management
  • Any questions that ask the community to recommend a license for a project - We allow anything that is in the esteem of being open source (even if the criteria would render it impossible)

As far as I can tell, those three elements would likely be what overlaps between Programmers and Open Source.

A while back, I remember I had heard remarks about a conversation between both communities about possibly making open-source questions off-topic and moving it to us, while retaining a few examples that are highly-voted, and placing a historical lock on them.

I like the principle behind these suggestions, to take a look at the site scope here, and to determine whether to make something off-topic in hope of allowing another site to grow.

In terms of Open Source licensing, I'm fine with having site overlap. While I do think that such questions would likely be much better served at Open Source, the decision on whether to change scope or migrate must be a consensus with both communities.

I have yet to discuss the issue with the community at Open Source. I do not want to post up anything without having had a discussion, but I shall keep this community posted on any developments.


The community at open source doesn't mind having questions migrated, and having pointers to the site. They just wanted to make this known: don't migrate crap (Yes, we'll reject it). However, if migrations are to happen more often, we want to have a balance between licensing and project-management questions (i.e. Don't migrate just one or the other).

The community is quite adamant on, let them do what they want, but the decision on whether to make this section on/off-topic is totally up to you peeps.

  • 3
    Here is a link to the related discussion at Open Source SE if anyone is interested: meta.opensource.stackexchange.com/questions/576/…
    – Zizouz212
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:26
  • 3
    Other sites within SE have a measure of overlap. StackOverflow, Programmers, and Computer Science are three examples that come to mind. One thing that differentiates them is the nature of the answers that are provided to otherwise identical questions. I can foresee a similar overlap between OS and Progs regarding the types of questions you call out.
    – user53019
    Aug 18, 2015 at 15:54

I'm jimsug, a mod from Law. You may remember me from the comment on the question above :)

Personally, I'm fine with migrations from Programmers, and happy to work with you to give questions that would be on-topic for law and otherwise closed here a good home.

Firstly, I'm glad that a couple of people have pointed out that legal advice is off-topic for Law SE. At the moment, we have a notice that states this (like the one you may have seen on Health SE):

Law SE disclaimer thingy

This notice links to our General Disclaimer page.

However, this is more targeted at readers and consumers of the content, rather than people who are asking questions.

Our help center's on-topic page links to our policy for questions that seek legal advice meta post. As always, the aim is to preserve questions where possible and I think it's been moderately successful, as we've had a few questions reopened after it was closed for this reason. This meta post might be a good one to link to.

Legal terms, language, processes, procedures, or dealing with legal professionals (visit Law instead)

I think this is acceptably phrased. If this prevents people from asking questions on Programmers and they instead go to Law, we'll treat them like any new question.

Migrations. As noted in the comments above, I think a migration path to law probably isn't necessary; users can just flag if they really think they belong on Law, and Programmers mods can always check in with us if they're unsure.


Yes, Programmers should make questions about open source licensing off-topic as well as explicitly point people toward Software Recommendations, Open Source, and Law in the Help Center.

First, the bullet point "software licensing" should be removed from what is on-topic. The other topics will remain as-is.

Second, reorder the "and is not about..." section:

  • implementation issues, such as code fixes (ask on Stack Overflow instead)
  • how to use specific tools (ask on Stack Overflow for tools commonly used by programmers or Super User for general software)
  • where to find software tools or libraries (ask on Software Recommendations)
  • general workplace issues, office politics, and job hunting (check out The Workplace instead)
  • open source licenses, philosophies, and communities (ask on Open Source)
  • the law or legal terms, language, processes, procedures, or dealing with legal professionals (visit Law instead)
  • what language/technology you should learn next, including which technology is better
  • what project you should do next
  • where to find a book, research paper, blog, forum, or other reference source
  • career or education advice, salary, or compensation
  • personal lifestyle, including relationships and non-programming activities

For each reference to an outside site, we would be linking to their particular /help/on-topic page and not to the site's front-page. Most sites appear to have a robust introduction to what content is and is not acceptable there.

Finally, celebrate.

  • 2
    If the sites never get out of beta and get closed down, will the questions come back? Aug 17, 2015 at 20:27
  • 5
    @whatsisname Before posting this, I pinged the Stack Exchange CM team. There's no indication that sites with picked moderators will be closing. Once sites both get out of private beta and have selected moderators, then that's a very positive indicator. I don't think that we should be changing topicality or suggesting other sites if those sites may be shut down in the future.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 17, 2015 at 20:29
  • is there a risk that communities at "targeted sites" will complain and demand us to wipe out the references to them?
    – gnat
    Aug 17, 2015 at 20:39
  • 2
    All this will do is result in a massive cleanup to close old posts which, IMO, is a complete waste of time, since all the bad ones are already closed. We won't be able to migrate the good ones to these sites for years at the earliest anyway because they're in beta. Lots of work, little reward.
    – durron597
    Aug 17, 2015 at 20:58
  • 1
    My main concern is how the migration would work. Because we can't have migration votes to beta sites, if we go this route, everyone who asks a previously on-topic licensing question here will immediately have to be flagged for mod intervention, and there's likely going to be a big delay before they end up on the "correct" site, during which time they might cross-post. Not to mention the sudden need for a "massive cleanup" as durron pointed out. For that reason I can't honestly support making these off-topic, even though I would support recommending OS.SE as the "more on-topic" site.
    – Ixrec
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:01
  • @durron597 as of now, you seem to have a solid point wrt cleanup. Next year or two, we would probably want to re-check if it still holds
    – gnat
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:02
  • I agree that migration would be a pain point, but do we really get enough of these questions to make it into a hassle?
    – user22815
    Aug 17, 2015 at 21:15
  • 1
    @gnat No. I don't think we should put references in the Help Center without first getting buy-in from the other communities. If they don't want it, then it shouldn't go in.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 0:29
  • @durron597 Users can't migrate to most sites, anyway.
    – Thomas Owens Mod
    Aug 18, 2015 at 0:29

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