Before the "Six Subjective Question Guidelines" there were a lot of controversial, useless, funny rants around here. Hilariously angry people telling Dilbert-like stories. I understand that not everyone has the same sense of humour and it's sure nice to keep things in order, like having a platform for every type of topic. The biggest advantage of keeping topics separated is the quality of feedback you get, when people know exactly what they may ask/answer and what they may not.

But every 3rd question (that I have seen today) has Mark Trapp's comment in them:

Which of the six subjective guidelines do you think your question meets? – Mark Trapp♦ 1 hour ago

Do not take this as an offense Mark, you do a great job as a Moderator and that's fine. And you're right about the guidelines for Programmers.SE. But the fact that you need to remind many people of these guidelines makes me think that maybe the time has come for a page like


What do you guys think?

EDIT: Please, before you get angry about this, understand this: I'm fairly new to SE (some 3 months?) and I love every aspect of it. Technology, seriousness, quality, potential of fun. I know I'm questioning some fundamental principles of SE, but be aware of these two facts:

  1. I think I'm not alone, and SE lives off its community. So let's hear opinions, e.g. on Area 51
  2. Be fair about it. You expect fairness from your users, so be fair to your users as well. Your guidelines have been negotiated over time, they're not written in marble. And they will change again eventually, no matter for what reason. This is exactly, what makes SE so powerful!
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    To ask better questions, I'm interested in why this was downvoted. The downvote button reads This questions is unclear or not useful. I think it meets both clarity and usefulness requirements? – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 7:55
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    usually you are downvoted here by those who don't agree with your proposal. Don't be worry about the aggressivity. – user2567 Jan 17 '11 at 13:45
  • Lukas - when you get enough points it reads "This question is unclear or not useful, or I am a bully." – orbfish Apr 11 '11 at 2:44
  • Sorry, perhaps that was a bit harsh - I see from reading further down that people refer to themselves as moderators, so perhaps closing a lot of topics is legitimate. I look at people's profiles and they don't say moderator, though, so I guess I'm still a bit skeptical. – orbfish Apr 11 '11 at 3:12
  • @orbfish, never mind that. I've stopped using Programmers SE, as I personally don't see its point when fun is not permitted. But that's my opinion, not the creators'. So it's fair I stay away from it... – Lukas Eder Apr 11 '11 at 6:41

There is definitely some merit in the funny questions, but the goal of the site is to promote serious discussions about software development without turning into yet another forum flooded with poorly thought out posts. So I think the overall quality of questions on P.SE has improved over time.

If you aren't happy with it, you can always start a proposal on Area 51 and see if it gets enough traction. Alternatively, there are other places (such as The Daily WTF Forums) that may be more like what you're looking for.

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    Hey it's you again! I knew I shouldn't Google but ask Anna instead! :) Good point about Area 51. I should move my question over there, if I knew how. I know the daily WTF. They're not as well done as the SE sites (with all the voting, and reputation and everything) – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 18:41
  • :) You don't really post questions to Area 51 same as other SE sites. But you can create a proposal for a new site here: area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/create. – Adam Lear Jan 14 '11 at 18:47
  • +1 and thanks a lot! Hey this SE concept is really awesome! Kinda like direct democracy in Switzerland... – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 18:54
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    Except that this would be repeating history. There was once a "not programming related" proposal on Area 51, and it was bashed into "programmers", and then hit with an ultimatum from Jeff involving the six earmarks of good subjective questions. There seems to be no potential place on SE for the fun questions without any substance, like that or not. – David Thornley Jan 17 '11 at 22:04
  • @David: True. I just figured taking this off P.SE meta was a good thing. If the proposal gets the requisite following, whatever issues exist with it can be resolved there. – Adam Lear Jan 17 '11 at 22:39

A Serious Proposal

If you want a rants-and-fun Stackexchange, why not drop by your nearest phpBB host and create one? I'm not being snarky here.

Our goal is to build sites where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other forum. It sounds like we're being a whole bunch of no-fun "building an expert archive to canonical questions." Boooorrring, but that's what we do.

I can fully understand that you've fallen in love with the technology and the software; that you want to play and have fun when you're done with all our learning, and knowledge archiving, and getting stuff done bullshit. But we simply do not want to spend one hour building and supporting a system who's sole purpose is to become the low-hanging fruit of the system.

I'm not saying that there is no place anywhere on the internet where this should exist. I love noise and junk food once in awhile, too. All I am saying is, simply stated, that is not what we do here.

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    Duude. If SE had one single site I would understand such a strict opinion. But check out the bottom of this page. cooking.stackexchange.com, gaming.stackexchange.com. at least 2 out of 21 sites that are "noise and junk food". now I'm proposing a 3rd one. just proposing. don't you think fun and joy are the primary goals of cooking? do you want an "expert archive" on food?? why are you all so angry and serious? I didn't say that I find the other stuff boring once. that's your interpretation. I find that SE is great! but after work, I enjoy fun. I call it work/life balance. – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 1:10
  • ... but then again. I'm only proposing something that has been tried before, in a different manner (see discussion on Mark's answer). I really don't understand how you can be so angry when Mark himself told me that originally, Programmers.SE was an attempt to go exactly the same direction as I'm proposing, just with a more general (and maybe not well-organised) touch to it... to be fair, you should check out my ratio of Q/A's I have about 1/10 fun comments and 1/30 subjective questions. Mostly, I'm using SE for exactly the purpose you describe. – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 1:12
  • Bottom line, SE is supposed to be community-driven. And somewhat democratic (see area 51). Why don't you just give this (area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/27342/…) a chance and if no one likes it, I will be happily quiet about it... I understand the argument "this is not needed". But I don't understand the argument "we don't want this" (whoever "we" is) – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 1:22
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    btw -1 because Anna and Mark answered objectively and constructively, whereas your answer would qualify as a "rant" to me – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 1:37
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    @Lukas: I'm sorry, did you just call the cooking site "noise and junk food?" I don't see an account from you over there; have you even visited it one single time or did you just assume that because you don't cook, it must just be a big joke? Frankly I think you just destroyed any semblance of credibility you may have had with that one comment. – Aaronaught Jan 15 '11 at 1:44
  • I didn't. Robert did. that's why I put the quotes. I never meant this question to become so personal. I really don't understand the anger. Anna and Mark took the time to explain... This discussion here is exactly what SE doesn't intend to do – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 1:47
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    No, @Lukas, Robert did not refer to those sites that way. He was very clearly referring to the garbage "fun" questions and polls that have no lasting educational value. – Aaronaught Jan 15 '11 at 1:51
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    And you know @Lukas, amidst all this bluster in the comments, I'm left with one nagging question: Seriously, honestly, why don't you create your own phpBB forum where you can have whatever discussions you want? The answer is obvious to me - because then you have to actually attract members and compete with Reddit and the hundreds of other programming forums. And why do that when somebody else has done the work for you already? Except, those people who did the work, they own it, they get to choose the direction of their business. It's not a democracy, it's a republic at most. – Aaronaught Jan 15 '11 at 1:54
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    @Lukas. Either (1) you sooo totally misread virtually everything I wrote or (2) I so totally failed in communication, that I couldn't possibly cover it in TEN comments. First, no anger; I'm being totally light-hearted. I completely understand why you want this fun Q&A alternative and I am completely sincere that you should do it. It sounds like it would be a blast. I would probably use it now and again. It is simply not within our mission to create a site like that here. We just have a different vision for a Q&A network. ("We" is Stack Overflow Inc.) It's nothing personal. (cont) – Robert Cartaino Jan 15 '11 at 4:10
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    (cont) Next... "noise" and "junk food" are idioms and have nothing to do with Gaming and Cooking-SE. Those are 100% awesome sites. How do I explain the idiom? If Wikipedia is "healthfood" then icanhascheezburger.com is "junkfood". Both awsome; diffent purposes. I sincerely wish I had the space here to convey the hundreds of hours and volumes of material we've created to explain the total fallacy of why you feel WE should create this site. Somebody should, not us. Listen to the podcasts, read the blog, follow meta.stackoverflow. Other than that, I am out of room here. Enjoy. – Robert Cartaino Jan 15 '11 at 4:21
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    @Aaronaught: You're right. I admit, this would have been easy for me. I suggested something, I'm sorry and surprised, that my suggestion gets such "tough" feedback. I understand Mark's answer, because it goes well with the lines of SE. I must have misunderstood this one. Thanks @Robert for your clarification. – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 7:49
  • I, too, thought P.SE was intended to be more freeform and take some of the pressure off of subjective questions on SO. I guess I haven't seen the canonical expert side of this site yet. Hoping a P.P.SE is started soon, and the knee-jerk closers end up having too much to keep track of and some joy leaks through. – orbfish Apr 11 '11 at 2:54
  • @orbfish: You are right: when this group started out it was intended to be what Lukas Eder is talking about. It was changed to pretty much what it is now by edict coming from Jeff Atwood. Unless Jeff and Joel change their minds, there never will be a "fun" site on SE (as opposed to serious sites about fun things), and therefore such a site would have to be somewhere else. I agree with Robert that such sites are worth having, but they aren't going to happen here. – David Thornley Apr 13 '11 at 14:36

It's easy to be hyperbolic when it comes to the problems Programmers.SE faces: I've been guilty of it on a number of occasions. But the reality is that most people and most questions are on topic, and the so-called "problem" questions and users, to what everyone seems to reference when talking about the character of Programmers.SE, are a minority ( albeit a particularly vocal one).

It may seem like I'm laying down the law in every third question, but that's not the case. What you're likely seeing is the product of a selection bias: you might be drawn to the "problem" questions, so you think they constitute the majority of the site. I make it a point to look at every single question that comes into Programmers.SE; 90% of them are on-topic and don't require any attention.

The six subjective guidelines are a global policy, borne out of the problems Programmers.SE faced when it was created. The original formulation of Programmers.SE was the more-or-less "anything goes"-type site that you are proposing and it failed. There was very little redeeming about the site, and very little to distinguish it from other low-quality question-and-answer sites.

The six subjective guidelines were devised to allow for subjective Stack Exchange sites to exist without devolving into a useless website. It's unlikely to impossible for an Area 51 proposal to make it into and through beta without adhering to its principles. If you're looking for a place free of those guidelines, Stack Exchange is not the place for you.

But in the questions I have posted the quoted comment, it's not necessarily an indication that I think the question is off topic or should be closed: as a moderator, I can close questions that I think are a problem immediately.

The purpose of me asking that question is that it's not clear to me how the question addresses the guidelines for this site, and if it's not clear to me, it's likely that it's not clear to others as well. In many cases, a question needs minor editing or a brief discussion in the comments to resolve any ambiguity.

  • It's as if Mark crawled inside my brain and scooped out this answer, only his wording is much better than mine would have been. I could not agree more with Mark's points and how he goes about moderating (seeing I do the same thing). – Walter Jan 14 '11 at 19:47
  • Hey, no problem Mark. Don't take my question personal. SE needs moderators like you doing a good job. It's just that I still feel there is a need for that other site. If the two sites are cleanly separated, then both will make sense. AND your moderation will be easier. Just move a rant/off-topic/funny/witty/useless question over to area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/27342/…, and then there's no arguing whether the guidelines are met or not... And the ranty site may still have its own guidelines and off-topic questions such that ... – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 20:18
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    ... SE's high quality can be maintained. The two concepts (quality and fun) don't exclude each other... I guess. With guidelines put in place AND the up-/downvoting and reputation system, it is a lot easier for you guys than for the yahoo guys or any other forum to maintain a high standard even when the topic is supposed to be "fun" – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 20:19
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    @Lukas you're missing the point: Programmers.SE does not exist in a bubble; it's one site in a network of sites that has global policies and guidelines for what's allowed on the network. Your proposal, and indeed every single Stack Exchange site, has to fit within those guidelines. Programmers.SE itself started off as the dumping ground for Stack Overflow questions that were fun and off-topic, and it didn't work at all. That's when it was decided that "fun and off-topic" proposals, as you're describing them, can't work on Stack Exchange. – user8 Jan 14 '11 at 20:31
  • I don't know the history of SE as you do, but I'm asking why didn't it work? Because you created it with the "anything goes" rule? I'm not missing the point, I think. I understand the reasons for your guidelines. And guidelines are what were missing when you created an "anything goes" dumping site. SE works as a community and with enough traction in a fun site proposal, specific guidelines for a fun site could be created (note the difference between "fun site" and "dumping site"). Don't be disappointed by your first attempt of having a dumping ground. Why not try again, better this time? – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 20:38
  • @Lukas and for the record, Yahoo! Answers has reputation, too. Site mechanics aren't what makes a site low-quality: the content does. – user8 Jan 14 '11 at 20:39
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    @Lukas It doesn't work because the content sucks by definition: it's all the low-quality content that wasn't good enough for the "real", "good", or "serious" sites. There is no redeeming value to the content. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it's still a pig. There are virtually unlimited forums and forum systems that will allow you to discuss whatever types of content you can imagine: this one place, Stack Exchange, isn't one of them. – user8 Jan 14 '11 at 20:40
  • YEAH, but a FUN PIG! :D – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 20:41
  • Oh well... We'll see on Area 51. Maybe this doesn't get enough attention anyway. I'm just saying you tried with the wrong motivation. "dumping". now let's try again. You know there's high quality fun, too. Fun is nothing bad. I presume you can allow yourself the odd smile at a Dilbert strip, too? – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 20:41
  • @Mark, who really thought it wasn't working anyway? Not me and I'd like to change it back to how it was if at all possible. Do you think that the reason we haven't had mod elections is because we would elect more hands-off mods? – Peter Turner Jan 14 '11 at 20:41
  • @Peter we haven't had mod elections because they just finished building the election system, and they're having them one site at a time, in order of launch. I don't know who would be elected here. – user8 Jan 14 '11 at 20:43
  • Anyway. You chaps keep discussing. I'm gonna have a beer and some fun chit-chats! :) – Lukas Eder Jan 14 '11 at 20:44
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    @Peter: The Stack Overflow team thought it wasn't working, and they own the network and every single site on it. Yes, this is a community built by us, but the network is a business built by them, and if they're unhappy with the direction a site is going in, they can institute whatever changes they want. It's right there in the Terms Of Service. That's not to say we can't or shouldn't question their decisions, but many notable people have expressed their very vocal agreement in this instance. This is how it's going to continue to be. – Aaronaught Jan 15 '11 at 3:59
  • @Aaronaught: That's exactly what I did. Question the decision. And I got an answer. – Lukas Eder Jan 15 '11 at 7:51
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    @Lukas: It may seem that way when you look at the question in isolation, but when people get asked weekly or even daily to reopen the debate, it's exasperating. I'm sure you can imagine if, as a programmer, you determined that some design wouldn't work or some feature was impossible to implement, and every day your manager came back to you and asked again why you can't do it. – Aaronaught Jan 15 '11 at 18:05

I think the answer would be an "export" button. Rather than close a topic, so that everyone has to see so many interesting topics and find them closed; rather than close the topic, which can be hurtful especially if the asker feels it's not subjective; and rather than degrade the "purity" of the particular SE site by keeping it around and searchable, the question would be exported to a different system, where more of a gray area is allowed. Perhaps the other system would represent a dumping ground of very low quality. But if it were not a regular SE site, hopefully it would not require the maintenance and upkeep of the more formal areas. And if it these questions truly had no use, then the site could age out the questions.

If I have more time I'll try to put something more concrete together, though I'm not sure where the proposal would belong. Feeling hurt at the mo on others' behalf with so many closed topics.

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