Just out of curiosity, I clicked to order the questions by vote count, and was surprised that 7 out of the top 15 questions were closed as not-constructive, duplicate, etc. While I wouldn't argue that these questions shouldn't have been closed under the contemporary definition(s) of what is (was) on-topic here, I would argue that philosophically all questions are answerable, and the replies to even so-called "unanswerable" questions are often incredibly useful. There isn't one type of answerable question, nor do answers necessarily come in prescribable forms.

The questions at P.SE are inherently unlike questions on StackOverflow because there isn't necessarily a particular coding problem to solve which either works or doesn't. To me, P.SE is the BA version of SO (vs. the BS). One is more pragmatic (even dogmatic), the other philosophical, well-rounded and open-minded.

I would argue that consensus is the true "right" answer and 500+ votes for an answer among 300 other answers is more valuable to me than a 5 vote answer out of 7 that is arbitrarily chosen by a stranger who often isn't competent enough to know the difference before asking. To me, the very act of asking a question eliminates the potential for authority sufficient to recommend a proper answer. I care more about the community answer (i.e. the vote count), which from time to time veers obliquely from the chosen answer.

When a question is answerable in the SO-style pragmatic sense, that system works wonderfully. However, I feel that for the 7 top-voted questions mentioned above that have been closed, the answer comes in a different, but no less useful, form. Perhaps more useful. To my mind, so-called open-ended or chatty questions are answerable, but not choosable, and maybe that's a good thing, and should be allowed, especially since almost half of the top 15 questions more or less fit this description.

Also, I'm not absolutely sure what a community wiki status is, how it comes about, etc. and I can't easily find any documentation on it.

The magnificent seven

Links to the 7 closed questions out of the current top 15

  1. I'm graduating with a Computer Science degree but I don't feel like I know how to program
    closed as Not Constructive
  2. What is the single most effective thing you did to improve your programming skills?
    closed as Not Constructive
  3. Is 4-5 years the “Midlife Crisis” for a programming career?
    closed as Too Localized
  4. Perks for new programmers
    closed as Not Constructive
  5. What should every programmer know?
    closed as Exact Duplicate
  6. Will high reputation in Stack Overflow help to get a good job?
    closed as Not Constructive
  7. Best Java book you have read so far
    closed as Not Constructive
Can you add links to those questions to your post? Top 15 will likely change over time and it'd be handy for us all to be talking about the same questions. – Adam Oct 28 '11 at 16:15
@PaŭloEbermann It appears that some aspects of that documentation are no longer current. Is there an endorsed/codified discription of what it is and how it works? – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 16:22
@tjb1982 that should be fairly up-to-date, actually... Is there something you feel is missing / wrong? – Shog9 Oct 28 '11 at 16:28
I have never seen the CW checkbox, personally. Also, after a second look, it appears to be a definitive answer, but its location is in SE meta (vs. easily reachable directly from P.SE), and it appears to be just another question out of many. It should be immediately understood, I would think, that this is the definitive answer. I guess SE has no definitive answers? Sorry, I guess I'm just not getting it. It's not the site's fault. It's the user. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 16:34
BTW, I don't mean that last part sarcastically at all. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 16:38
@tjb1982 The checkbox is not available on questions (other for moderators), only on answers (for users with at least 10 rep). Try to post an answer, and you will see it. Questions will only get CW by the automatic system measures, or when a moderator decides it. (The rules were different in the past). – Paŭlo Ebermann Oct 28 '11 at 16:43
This site is modded no differently than any other SE site, its all in your mind. – user29776 Oct 28 '11 at 19:55
7 of the top 15? Wow. Mods are off their game these days. Should be more. Welcome to P.SE. We don't take kindly to professional discussion 'round these here parts. – Steve Evers Oct 31 '11 at 17:47

Most of the closed questions have 200+ answers and are questions like "What should every programmer know?"

Some of these questions were closed as duplicates but most simply don't fit the format of a Q&A site very well. Q&A sites like programmers.SE are good for questions that have one or two finite answers or at least where one answer is considered "more correct" than any other. These questions, for the most part, were too open-ended and encouraged too much discussion.

Questions like these are great for the rep of those involved, but it is false rep, given for popularity rather than correctness or meaningful participation.

"These questions encourage too much discussion!" - had to chuckle at that. – MoominTroll Nov 2 '11 at 15:40
All SE sites have one thing in common: We want questions that can be answered clearly, concisely and correctly. We don't want vague questions, questions with multiple answers, "shopping" questions etc. There's a very good reason why comments suggest you "take it to chat" after they get too many layers deep. – David Perry Nov 2 '11 at 16:08
I know, it's just the way you phrased it. Answer questions about programming? All good. Discuss the subject amongst a group of expert peers? Phaw! :) – MoominTroll Nov 2 '11 at 16:22
That's why all SE sites also have chat ;) – David Perry Nov 2 '11 at 18:44

Of that list:

  1. I'd consider to vote to reopen if it was worded differently. It's potentially a common issue, especially in a theory-heavy CS curriculum. Tips on things to do to hone practical skills would be valid, but the way it's worded and the generated answers are very list-like. Changing the question would probably invalidate most of the answers at this point.
  2. This is asking for a list. There is no single right answer in this instance and everyone would come up with something different. There needs to be enough detail to provide very specific, isolated tips. "How to become a better programmer" is pretty generic. "How do I become a better X programmer" where X is "embedded systems" or "web" or "user interface" programmer might be better. Asking about how to learn specific technique Y is much better.
  3. I agree with the too localized - it's very specific to a single individual.
  4. Unanswerable. Too many variables. It's also not specific to programmers. Replace programmers with "mechanical engineer" or "secretary" and the answers don't change that much.
  5. Another list.
  6. I'd vote to reopen
  7. Another list.
I guess I'm playing the devil's advocate here by asking: what's wrong with a list? We have a community here, right? This is sort of like limiting the right to assemble. Sympathetic answers will resonate and rise to the top. A variety of subjective opinions about a very general question is informative in a different way than a question which tends to cultivate authoritative answers. Authoritative answers can be found in books. I'm not looking for the book answer here, unless of course I'm asking for a book recommendation. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 17:13
@tjb1982 To put it simply, lists aren't what Stack Exchange is designed to do well. The Q&A model here encourages a few comprehensive answers and the network's philosophy further backs that up: we want people to be able to find answers to their questions without having to sift through lots of posts. So, questions that ask for lists but can be definitively answered in a single post are fine. Questions that attract answers that are individual items on a list are not. – Adam Oct 28 '11 at 17:16
@tjb1982 This is somewhat captured in the FAQ where questions where every answer is equally valid are explicitly marked as "questions that should not be asked" across the Stack Exchange network. – Adam Oct 28 '11 at 17:17
Also, if so many people are voting a "too localized" question up and "favoriting" it, how can it be, by definition, too localized? – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 17:18
@tjb1982 The point of SE is to generate answers and share experiences in response to specific questions and to solve specific problems, not to produce new work. On multiple occasions, I've linked to lists that are updated and maintained by authorative sources, such as the top 25 most dangerous software errors. Generating lists is just noise on the site that doesn't help anyone understand something or solve a problem. – Thomas Owens Oct 28 '11 at 17:19
@AnnaLear I agree that the faq addresses this. I'm more arguing against that appraoch. I figure that's what Meta is for, right? – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 17:20
@tjb1982 That is because some people might like it. But that doesn't change the fact that all questions and the answers generated here are supposed to be relevant to all programmers (or at least a very large subset of all programmers, such as all programmers working on embedded systems, or all programmers working in the aerospace field). Upvotes/favorites and something being on-topic are two disjoint things. – Thomas Owens Oct 28 '11 at 17:21
@tjb1982 Sure, that's what meta's for. It is relatively unlikely, though, that we'd be able to relax one of the rules that defines what Stack Exchange is and how it works best. We have a certain amount of creative freedom in defining a site, but ultimately we still have to play within the system. – Adam Oct 28 '11 at 17:27
@ThomasOwens I disagree. The value gained from specific and localized questions is richer in meaning because so much context is provided, and can be useful because it can be deconstructed and aspects of it extrapolated to other situations. That is indeed how we learn in real life. How we acquire a language for instance. It would be interesting if we could have a separate public ratings system for defining dimensions to questions rather than closing them when they are so popular. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 17:27
cont. -- what I mean is to rate a question on the dimensions we're talking about here (and that influenced why these questions were closed), and then users can filter based on that. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 17:33
@AnnaLear this is an example of a public grievance. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… . I do realize this document has no jurisdiction here. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 17:35
@tjb1982 I'm sorry, I'm not sure what point you're trying to make. – Adam Oct 28 '11 at 18:57
@AnnaLear I was responding to your two points. Your first point seemed to be arguing against posting here because the subject is covered in the FAQ. Your second point seemed to suggest that there wasn't a good reason to post about something that's unlikely to change. – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 19:16
@tjb1982 Ah, I see. I'm sorry I wasn't clear enough. My first point about the FAQ simply didn't fit into the comment preceding it. It was supposed to be a part of the explanation why list questions are looked down upon on SE. I'm not sure how to clarify the second point, but it wasn't to tell you that you shouldn't have posted -- just that there likely won't be any major changes coming out of your grievance. – Adam Oct 28 '11 at 19:29
@AnnaLear that does make it clearer – user25791 Oct 28 '11 at 19:44

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