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Stack Overflow has never been against subjective questions: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective

Yet it seems certain members are frequently close voting or commenting that things either Too Broad or Opinion Based and I am struggling to understand how they're coming to these conclusions.

Some of our best questions are of this nature:

In fact our top question of all time is arguably based on subjective qualities: What is wrong with Comic Sans?

Our 7th and 8th all time questions are more examples:


I'm struggling and frankly frustrated when people vote or comment to close things. I don't know if its because they don't know how to justify an answer to that particular question or are in a bad mood or what.

And while luckily many of these questions don't end up closed the comments and votes turn people away. Turns away new users, existing users, and casual users. It turns people away from answering because they figure it'll get closed.


In nearly every Meta discussion we've had on the topic as well as in chat long time members of the community have routinely tried for less "how do I do X in software Y" which often leads to questions like the ones I've posted here. Recently we lost a person that I felt was a valuable addition to our community and when asked in private he basically cited because everything gets closed. It's very frustrating.


So then the question is - why are those of you doing this doing it? Are you in a bad mood? Is it a topic you just happen to not know about? Are you unclear on whats on-topic still? Is there a better option for you personally to take, perhaps leaving the question alone for a few days? or asking for clarification without also casting a damaging vote initially?

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    +1,000,000,000,000 – user568458 Aug 6 '16 at 11:16
  • @user568458 if you feel that way why do I not see your name in the close Q voting to keep the questions open? – Mᴏɴᴋᴇʏ Aug 8 '16 at 17:08
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    @Darth_Vader Voting "leave open" doesn't do anything, does it? I went in the review queue once or twice and just saw an endless, depressing list of questions that some grumpy soul had plonked a close vote on for no obvious reason. – user568458 Aug 12 '16 at 9:23
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    @user568458 "Leave open" votes do make a difference. Enough and the question is removed from the queue, otherwise it stays there until it gets enough close votes or ages away. – Cai Aug 12 '16 at 12:13
  • @Cai huh, didn't know that, thanks – user568458 Aug 12 '16 at 12:20
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    @user568458 As Cai stated, it does matter when a question is voted to be open. Not doing it because some sole in their own mind felt it needed it could have changed wether or not that question were to stay open or not. As stated in my answer, if you want change then make it. If people think that their votes do not count then we will keep getting a sea of closed questions because no one is saying to keep it open. – Mᴏɴᴋᴇʏ Aug 12 '16 at 13:13
  • A year later and I'm still struggling to figure this out :( – Ryan Jun 25 '17 at 17:59
  • This question seems too broad. I think meta questions and discussions should surround specific questions/issues, not a whole list at a time – Zach Saucier Jun 25 '17 at 18:37
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    @Zach I deeply disagree with that statement. If we notice a trend, we couldn't discuss it here on meta because it'd be too broad? That's a close reason for the main site, but not fire here, imho. – Vincent Jun 25 '17 at 19:59
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The way StackExchange works is designed not to encourage overly subjective or broad questions. We have default close reasons to close them, which implies they are off-topic. Obviously that isn’t always the case but we do have the tools to legitimately close them, and people will use those tools.

People vote to close questions they don't want to see, it's as simple as that. If someone sees a question they don't like they will downvote or vote to close. Those are the tools given to us and people are going to use them.

As for myself, I’ll give you my take on them…


  • Subjective/Opinion-based questions…

    Especially in a field like graphic design there is a lot based on opinion. The kind of theory questions that most people seem to want more of inherently attract a lot of opinion, which is fine, but not all subjective questions are ok—"Do you prefer X or Y?" is not a good question for StackExchange, "Why is X better than Y?" could probably be ok... The problem is those questions could be very similar and new users aren't going to see the difference straight away.


  • Broad questions…

    Overly broad questions are a tough one. Honestly, some of our older top questions would probably be voted closed if they were asked now. The problem with broad questions is that they attract low-quality answer, even if good answers are possible…

    The only question I voted to close from your examples (How do I go about making more creative and engaging websites?) is, in my opinion, a perfect example of that. The question boils down to “How to I create good design”. I don’t disagree with anything in your answer but I don’t think it’s a good answer—it boils down to “Experiment”, which isn’t the answer to good design. It’s a great tip to get you in the right direction and theres certainly a good amount of experimentation going on in the examples given in the question but there is way, way more to good design than that.

    I also think there’s a distinction between questions with many possible correct (and distinct) answers and questions that have many parts to an answer. Questions with a number of possible answers are probably not as bad, but either way, broad questions lead to either low-quality answers, partial answers which don’t completely answer the question or walls of text that probably belong in a text book.


What can we do?

By the very nature of subjective and broad questions, I don't think we can say with any certainty that they are on or off-topic. There are good subjective questions and there are bad subjective questions. All you can do is judge them on a case to case basis.

If a question can be improved and brought more in to scope then edit the question. That goes for everyone: even if you don't have edit privileges you can still suggest an edit, and as long as you're improving the post it is welcome.

Also, closing a question doesn't need to be permanent. Closing a question as too broad or subjective isn't necessarily dismissing the question completely, it's an invitation to improve the question and bring it more in to scope. And that isn't a bad thing. If a question is closed (or voted to close) and you can see a way to bring it back in to scope, edit the question or at least leave a comment explaining how.

...

As for how others are voting, I don’t think there is much that can be done. We essentially live in a direct democracy. If enough people want a question closed then it will be closed, that's just how the StackExchange system works. Sometimes that sucks, but that's how it is.

If you see a question in the close vote queue that you think should remain open then vote to leave it open, if you think something should be closed, vote to close it. That's about as much as anyone can do.*

For what it's worth I share your frustration but theres not much anyone can other than vote how you think you should, improve the questions you can improve, and discuss it here if you think it's needed.



*I'm talking about regular 3k+ users though, obviously mods can hammer close questions on their own, which makes things a bit more complicated. In a perfect world mods shouldn't be closing anything that isn't 100% off-topic, spam etc. but we don't have enough regular users consistently close voting/working through the queue etc... which is another issue in itself.

  • Thanks for the answer! I guess the frustrating part is I am a mod trying not to hammer or reopen (I actually do far less than any other mod in those terms), and some of the users doing this aren't commenting or really making any effort to explain. What you wrote in the "What can you do?" portion suggests, "make an edit or suggest an edit" - I'd go even further than that and say, "Ask for specific details if you feel its too broad" because if even other members of the site aren't sure why someone thinks its too broad what hope does a new user have of guessing what details to add. – Ryan Aug 11 '16 at 13:51
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    Yeh I completely agree, that's kinda what I meant with "or at least leave a comment explaining how". Trying to improve questions people think are lacking and helping new users ask good questions rather than scaring them away is what we need to be doing. – Cai Aug 11 '16 at 13:58
  • "but we don't have enough regular users consistently close voting/working through the queue." Current queue is 58. It's been like that for over a year. I gave up in despair because I couldn't possibly keep up with it. – Lauren Ipsum Aug 11 '16 at 18:10
  • @LaurenIpsum it was over 100 not so long ago... – Cai Aug 11 '16 at 18:12
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    exactly my point. I'm not a mod, I have been asked and I have deliberately chosen not to be a mod, I don't have the time or mental space to deal with mod duties. I cannot go through a daily queue of 50–100 questions a day. And this isn't the only Stack I frequent. – Lauren Ipsum Aug 11 '16 at 19:55
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    @LaurenIpsum no thats completely fair enough, I'm not saying anything against anyone at all, no one has an obligation to do anything, it's just a fact that there isn't enough people who do consistently review etc. – Cai Aug 11 '16 at 20:02
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    @LaurenIpsum we don't expect everyone to go through all 50+ in a sitting nor do I even do that. I will glance at a few a couple times of the day, if I need a break from work or if I'm browsing the homepage of the site. That said, not doing it all doesn't really help the site and it's like avoiding how we can improve it and is why I left the answer I did as it seems people will only be fully committed or not do it period. – Mᴏɴᴋᴇʏ Aug 19 '16 at 13:15
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(this got too long for a comment)

I think it has to do also with the perception of what happens to a question after it's been closed. And this, unfortunately, varies. Some people will never come back to edit their question, others will make the effort in hopes of getting a much-appreciated answer. In the same way, some will close a question without reading it, others will try to understand and a bunch will try to EDIT it.

I think no question should be closed without a comment (that's a golden rule,) and no question should be closed with only one vote. Also, if the question is clear but the language is not, it should be edited for clarity.

It's just way easier to close than to edit, generating that completely unmotivating notification of "around 50 questions to review." But in any case... downvote to express your disagreement, comment to explain it, and by all means edit if you can. Unless the question really shows zero effort, editing is the best way to proceed. The best for the site, that is.

  • The huge yellow This Question Is Closed banner already tells you of the close reason (or at least the majority consensus). What should a further comment add? (Noting that there are a couple of standard comments, which, by and large, may as well be put directly into the Close Vote dialog.) – usr2564301 Aug 11 '16 at 19:42
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    @Rad First of all, the asker isn't even notified when their question is closed, so most never even see that banner. Second, it's very often not obvious how that principle applies in any particular case, and people should be given a chance to address concerns before the question gets closed. – user568458 Aug 12 '16 at 9:21
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    For someone new to the network, posting is not as intuitive or easy. At least that was my experience a gazillion years ago when I first posted to SE. It sounds stupid, but it took courage to do it. You are asking strangers for help, it doesn't come as easily. Also, if you have a truly difficult problem, you kinda expect people to give you some kind of guidance. An automated close is a bucket of cold water. If the question is a one liner, fine. But if someone took the effort to write something, I will at least take the effort to explain what is missing. It's why we are here after all. – Yisela Aug 12 '16 at 13:07
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Im going to post this after thinking about this over the weekend.

I think this Q&A goes about it the wrong way. Every person has their own view of a question and I think they have a right if they see fit to vote on a question wether they believe it is too broad, opinionated or in scope. I can go back and view everyone of them and I can understand the mindset of why. If you want that break-down I can provide it just leave a comment to request it.

Now the issue that really should be addressed

I went through the close Q all the way to January and this is what I gathered:

  • Every mod actively voted from present time back to April and only an additional 6 participated in the close Q.

  • From April back to February an additional two members participated.

  • From February back to January you can add an additional six to that count. Three of those six I know why they haven't been active after January.

I will not share there names for reasons but when I view our all time rep members sorted by all at this time we have 47 members with over 3k rep. I'm sorry if you're gonna complain and not visit the Q then you're calling the kettle black. If you don't want questions to get closed then go to the Q and vote to leave it open. Same rule can apply if the question was closed. 47 people and any member that makes an edit can vote to re-open a question so why aren't we? If you think we are closing too many questions step up and vote to re-open, you have that right but not doing it doesn't help.

Myself, I dislike close hammering the Q after I saw I received the gold badge and how much I've voted. Moderators shouldn't be controlling this site and it should be led by the community. That said, you control the site and if you choose not to participate than that's on you.

Also, there is no reason the close Q has to be at zero, there are plenty of other SE sites I am apart of and we have the lowest amount of questions in the Q opposed to some that have well over one hundred.

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It's a good question and one that isn't easy to answer. If I had to pick a side (which I'm doing for the sake of arguing with myself), I would say that the SE network was designed for objective answers.

Yes, there is some wiggle room for the "purity" of the objectivity of an answer, but largely I think we all consider the network to work (essentially) like this:

  1. User A asks objective(ish) question
  2. Users B thru infinity give answers
  3. User A chooses the correct answer based on objective criteria

I think the rub comes when asking "what is correct?". I believe it becomes easier to choose the "correct" answer when the question is framed in a manner that positions itself further right along the subjective <-> objective line.

But, to take up an opposing position on my own argument, I'd say that some of the most useful Q&As I've seen on SE are very much subjective (similar to examples you've listed). They generate (mostly) intelligent discussion and it can be a great source for learning. The SE vision should be a constantly evolving thing as more and more users join the network and participate in the community, and many in our communities have demonstrated that we find utility in more subjective discussions.

Ultimately, I think it would be useful if there was more room for subjective questions. Avoiding duplication would still be important for making sure answers to the same question weren't fragmented across a given site, but as SE has grown and become one of (the?) largest Q&A sites for specific topics, it becomes harder to accept their original argument that there are other forums for 'these types of (subjective) discussions'. I would counter that those forums are likely not seeing the population growth of the SE sites and that SE is now the best place to allow such discussions to occur. I believe the simple nature of the community voting system aids this. People who contribute well to discussions get upvoted; those that give non-answers or poorly thought out answers get nothing (or perhaps down-votes). Top answers, as chosen by the community and asker, are voted to the top of the page. The most relevant answers are bubbled up to the surface as voted on by the actual users of the sites.

As I stated in the beginning, it's not an easy question to answer. I'd love to think there was a simple answer like "mark a question as subjective" that didn't mean it was a vote to close. Perhaps when searching we have the ability to include or exclude discussion-type answers. There is much to be gained from good, healthy discourse. That includes a better understanding of the topic at hand which ultimately allows us all to grow and learn. And I think that is the spirit of Stack Exchange.

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