I'm going to try and keep this short, because a lot of it has already been discussed. If you are interested in the history, you can find it here on Programmers Meta, but here's a very brief recap:

  1. Programmers started out life as "Not Programming Related." It was supposed to be a haven for all of those "soft" questions that Stack Overflow didn't want.

  2. Stack Exchange decided to change the scope of the site, when it became apparent that the "Not Programming Related" concept was not working. But they waited a little too long.

  3. We lost a high-rep user, largely because "people factors" are no longer considered on-topic. We lost a good mod, who was probably tired of fighting the good fight.

  4. We've argued over the site scope ever since.

Programmers is a site for professional programmers who are interested in getting expert answers on conceptual questions about software development.

This is Programmers' site scope, taken directly from the FAQ:

  • algorithm and data structure concepts
  • design patterns
  • developer testing
  • development methodologies
  • freelancing and business concerns
  • quality assurance
  • software architecture
  • software engineering
  • software licensing

That's it. Now tell me, how does a question like Where can I find a printed copy of the C++ specification fit within this framework?

I get the impression that the user community is asking themselves, "How can we make Programmers more friendly and more inclusive?" If that is the case, you're asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is

How can I make this site more friendly to experts?

I am a moderator on Stack Overflow. What I have noticed is that people sometimes ask their conceptual programming questions on Stack Overflow instead of Programmers; when I ask why, they usually say "there are more people here to answer my question." What they really mean is, "the experts are here."

Why are you here? Is it to talk about one of the bullet points above? Or is it to help people find books? Is it to help people design, architect and test their programs, or is it to talk about why end users are so unreasonable? Do you really think the experts care why c languages use curly braces?

There's a balance between helping people get answers to their questions, and keeping the site an interesting place for experts. There's nothing wrong with helping someone out, but too many questions that are only interesting to one person, or only interesting to non-experts, will drive away the experts.

Without experts, there is no site.

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To quote another high-rep user that no longer participates in the site: Yes, "the audience that remains has a higher percentage of experts in the field" - however, this trend may end up with a closed circle of experts who have nothing to ask, thus nothing to answer... :-( –  Rachel Mar 1 '13 at 17:51
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@Rachel: There is a real need for a site like Programmers. As Mathematics is to MathOverflow, as Physics is to Theoretical Physics, there needs to be a counterpart to Theoretical Computer Science that can answer conceptual questions about software development without requiring a PhD in the lingo, and Stack Overflow is no longer that site. Stack Overflow mostly answers code troubleshooting questions nowadays. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 17:56
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Also, I would like to correct "We lost a high-rep user, largely because "people factors" are no longer considered on-topic". Assuming your are talking our former top user, that is not why he said he left. And I can think of quite a few of our top users that have left the site without even trying. #1 - Pierre303, #3 ThorbjørnRavnAndersen, DeveloperArt, Lance Roberts, etc. You could probably even count me since I stopped participating along time ago. –  Rachel Mar 1 '13 at 18:00
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@Rachel: Noted. I mentioned people factors because that's what one of the programmers mods observed, and because I saw myself from Pierre's participation that this was his primary interest. No disrespect to Pierre, but his comment about disliking the culture of moderation is kinda missing the point. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 18:01
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I'm curious, if we batten down the hatches further here; do you think this will result in greater traffic for those conceptual questions you refer to seeing on SO? I'm inclined to think those are usually there because A) everyone assumes based on naming/site style that P.SE is for more subjective questions (I imeddiately thought so before knowing P.SE better), further SO just gets more traffic and is more well-known on the whole. Your argument for locking things down is the first one to actually sway me, so I'll stop answering crap. I just hope you're right and I'm wrong. –  Jimmy Hoffa Mar 1 '13 at 20:30
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How about adding a better description of what programmers.SE is for to the FAQ? Even after looking at the FAQ and reading quite a few questions, I don't get what kind of questions you want. –  CodesInChaos Mar 1 '13 at 20:33
    
@JimmyHoffa: The way you improve traffic to the site is by asking better questions. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 20:35
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@RobertHarvey Do you have a reference for your last comment? I would think it would be the reverse - improve traffic by providing better answers. Trying to improve traffic by forcing new users to ask "better" questions is more likely to drive new users away, as we can't force another user to know what constitutes a "good" question, and this will ultimately decrease traffic, not increase it. –  Rachel Mar 1 '13 at 21:11
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@Rachel: See blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/06/optimizing-for-pearls-not-sand: "We’re determined to keep question quality high, even at the cost of refusing a little sand. It’s true that you can’t have Q&A without questions, but having the wrong sorts of questions is far more dangerous. The fastest way to kill any Q&A site is to flood it with low-quality questions." –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 21:20
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@RobertHarvey are you suggesting I start asking a bunch of questions? I don't really have any, I kind of make my way just fine.. I think that's likely the case of a large swath of us here. You've been around here far longer than me and only asked 11 questions, why aren't you asking more high quality questions if that's what we should be doing? Perhaps there simply isn't rational scope for this site, you yourself have 135 Qs on SO. –  Jimmy Hoffa Mar 1 '13 at 23:47
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@JimmyHoffa - What I get out of this is that quality is more important than quantity. Asking questions just for the sake of asking won't really help, but editing and/or removing content that won't help grow the site is one way to ensure the content that is here is high quality and relevant. Hope this helps. –  jmort253 Mar 2 '13 at 5:40
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Here is another example question that illustrates the confusion about the site scope. It's a question about an algorithm to convert Excel column names such as "AA" to its numeric equivalent, and it got closed by 5 community members as Off-Topic. If it wasn't for me bringing it up in chat and a moderator stepping it to bring it back and it get reopened, I have no doubt the question would have stayed closed. With the community closing questions like that which are clearly on-topic, it's no wonder users are confused about this site's scope! –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 19:30
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@Rachel: Well, what makes user questions about Excel (even those involving code) specifically on-topic here? If you're going to take the position that everything is on-topic until it isn't, you're going to continue to go down this helter-skelter road of asking on Meta whether something is on-topic or not, getting a yes or no consensus, and adding it to the laundry list of things that are on-topic or not, without binding any guiding principles to it. This is why Programmers' scope confuses everyone. –  Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 19:35
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@RobertHarvey It's a question about an algorithm, not specifically about Excel. The FAQ says "algorithms" are on-topic, yet 5 high-rep community users voted to close a clear algorithm question as off-topic. I asked two who were in chat why, and they said they thought it was a code-question because of the edit which added some sample pseudocode. If our high-rep users don't read the question too closely and are voting to close clearly on-topic questions as off-topic, then there's part of your problem leading to additional site scope confusion. –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 20:02

16 Answers 16

As I've mentioned before, the blessing and curse of Programmers SE is that most all the allowed topics are interesting to most all the users. The curse part is that anytime there's a topic which not everyone is interested in, that topic gets pushed out, if not officially, then de facto by voting to close.

StackOverflow is teeming with questions about Microsoft languages and frameworks. For the moment at least, I have zero interest in those questions, almost zero direct knowledge about them, and find them a complete waste of my browser space. However, I recognize that those questions are valuable and interesting to a lot of other people, and happily go on using StackOverflow because those tags are in my ignored list.

However, that doesn't happen on Programmers. More and more, Programmers feels like StackOverflow would feel if only C++ questions were allowed. Any topic without a broad consensus is deemed off topic for everyone. I think this site would be better off if we broadened the scope considerably and encouraged people to use the tag system to filter out topics that are personally uninteresting.

Consider the big four controversial topics: books, career, history, and getting started on a new technology. These are all things that one time or another almost all of us have gone down the hall to ask the advice of a more experienced programmer. I've been programming professionally for 15 years, and as an amateur 10 years before that. No one would consider me not to be an "expert" programmer, but if I took a .Net job tomorrow, the first thing I would do is ask an expert programmer which of the gazillion books out there on the topic are actually worth reading.

Why there's so much confusion about this site's scope is that there are so many questions like that, that you would want to ask your colleague down the hall, but are inexplicably off topic here. So what if you might get 10 different answers from 10 different people? Those are expert opinions, and you've narrowed your options down considerably. The best answers get voted to the top, and countervailing evidence is expressed in the comments.

The biggest thing holding back this site is the expectation that the only on topic questions are those that have a single clear and definitive answer. On the contrary, the best conceptual questions have more than one good answer. We have tools and a process to filter out bad answers. We shouldn't throw out the baby with the bathwater.

We have a lot of questions that are deemed "unanswerable" or "not constructive" in the comments, then closed shortly after one or more excellent, constructive answers are posted. To me, that shows a fundamental misunderstanding about the kinds of questions both askers and answerers want to be on topic on our site.

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Oh, my, where to begin? How about the premise that the answerers are responsible for maintaining constructiveness? Unfortunately this doesn't work; see Optimizing for Pearls, Not Sand for the reasons why. Questions, not answers, have always been the gatekeeper for constructiveness and topicality. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 21:02
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if I took a .Net job tomorrow, the first thing I would do is ask an expert programmer which of the gazillion books out there on the topic are actually worth reading. -- Might be worth considering writing a canonical post, and then closing all other questions that ask this as duplicates of that post. Otherwise, you wind up with a front page flooded with book recommendation questions. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 21:03
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Anyway, book recommendations are covered exhaustively elsewhere on the Internet, and SE is not really designed for this; why re-invent Amazon reviews, badly? –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 21:08
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I like this answer. Don't try to build the site around the personal views of a few users - instead teach users how to use the site's existing tools to accommodate their own personal preference. If you don't want to see book recommendations, add the [books] tag to your ignore list. There are plenty of other users who are very interested in book recommendation questions, and who would find an peer-reviewed answer extremely valuable. Same goes for career, history, terminology, getting-started, etc. –  Rachel Mar 1 '13 at 21:09
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@Rachel: If that approach really worked, we would have adopted it already network-wide, instead of going through the hassle of Area 51 and bothering to develop site scopes. It doesn't. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 21:09
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@Robert, there are 19,571 .Net books on Amazon rated 4 stars or higher. Amazon reviews only help when you have already narrowed it down to your top five choices or so, the kind of information you'd get from asking a question here. –  Karl Bielefeldt Mar 1 '13 at 21:38
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And using tags to refine scope has been adopted network-wide. Area 51 is for defining broad scopes, and tags are for differentiation within that scope. SE sites can and do die from being too narrowly defined. Or are you seriously suggesting that a "programming book" stack exchange site would be successful? –  Karl Bielefeldt Mar 1 '13 at 21:40
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I just haven't seen book reviews work any better on SE than they do on Amazon, and I've been here awhile. The only time I've ever seen it work is The Definitive C++ Book List and Guide on Stack Overflow, and the C++ community aggressively maintains and defends that list. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 21:40
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@RobertHarvey, I'm astonished that "a front page flooded with book recommendation questions" is still cited as a problem that (apparently) can't be fixed. If certain kinds of questions are "flooding" the front page, isn't it possible to use an algorithm to prevent that? This was similar to why the "fun" questions were all killed off. What prevents someone at StackExchange from writing an algorithm that limits how often a question can appear on the front page, or prevents CW questions from appearing there, or some other such adjustment? –  Kyralessa Mar 2 '13 at 1:23
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@Karl Bielefeldt: Umm.. Wow! What an awesome answer! I really wish that YOU had run for moderator. –  Jim G. Mar 2 '13 at 1:45
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@RobertHarvey "why re-invent Amazon reviews, badly?" Because we trust people who participate on programmers.se more than the Amazon reviewers. –  faif Mar 2 '13 at 15:56
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Karl, your answer seems to have hit a nerve with a few people. Which, IMNSHO, doesn't mean it's wrong, it more likely means it's a little closer to the truth than they would like to admit. –  Peter Rowell Mar 2 '13 at 20:01
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@faif That's not the point, of course our good answers are superior compared to Amazon's reviews. The problem is that (so far) book questions on Programmers generate mostly crap answers. Yes, there's an awesome answer every now and then, but the norm is crap. On top of that, the community doesn't seem particularly interested to moderate said crap, link only answers that don't explain anything are getting upvoted instead of flagged and removed. I'd love it if we could find a way to allow book questions, but not if it means turning Programmers into a linkfarm. –  Yannis Rizos Mar 3 '13 at 14:16
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Agreed. It's the responsibility of us as users to flag/down vote useless answers instead of upvoting them which is nonsense. –  faif Mar 3 '13 at 15:23
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@RobertHarvey Before you continue throwing that link around, consider this: If there's no sand, there cannot be any pearls. Then reread this answer. –  Izkata Mar 8 '13 at 4:54

I noted a couple of minutes ago (before seeing this question on meta, believe it or not) that of the 50 questions that showed up in the "newest" tab, 18 of them had negative votes.

That is, 36% of the most recent 50 questions were deemed by one or more people to be a bad question or not to fit the site's scope.

To me, that says that the site is not doing a good job of explaining its scope.

When I open the site as a user with an account, I don't see anything that gives me any indication of what the site is about. When I open it and I'm not logged in, I see this:

This is a collaboratively edited question and answer site for professional programmers interested in conceptual questions about software development.

This strikes me as an extraordinarily vague scope. I think the site needs to be far more in-your-face about what kinds of questions are welcome here and what kinds are not. It seems obvious that people are not hunting for the FAQ in order to learn this.

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Jeff's recent introduction of Discourse has me speculating whether Programmers is a Q&A site in a space where a discussion site would be more appropriate and constructive. –  Kyralessa Mar 1 '13 at 22:35
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Do you think the problem is in explaining the scope, or deciding the scope? In other words, out of the 18 questions, how many do you think should belong here? –  Karl Bielefeldt Mar 1 '13 at 23:02
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Well, nobody likes to have his question closed. If I ask a question and it's closed, it was just a waste of time for me. (Please, no platitudes about how I learn more about what the site is about; it's a waste of time, pure and simple, because I'm no closer to getting the question answered.) So I have to think that people wouldn't ask bad questions if they knew from the outset that they were bad questions. Therefore I think they don't know. –  Kyralessa Mar 2 '13 at 1:20
    
@Kyralessa: All excellent points; and even though I think that Programmers.SE has the best SE moderators, I too wonder about its long-term viability. If Discourse is implemented correctly, I'd expect other SE sites with a weaker backbone (like Workplace.SE) to fall first. But that's a big "if". –  Jim G. Mar 2 '13 at 1:42
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I think SEO also has a role to play in the site scope confusion. Most of the P.SE Q&As that rank highly in Google search results would have me believe those questions are still ok. I once asked a question that was borderline enough for it to be closed and reopened twice and received almost as many down votes as up votes. The community couldn't decide if the question was ok or not. –  Adam-E Mar 9 '13 at 12:04
    
I took a look again just now. Of the 50 newest questions, 19 (or 38%) have downvotes. By way of comparison, of the 50 newest questions on StackOverflow, 5 (or 10%) have downvotes. –  Kyralessa Mar 11 '13 at 22:10

With more negative votes than positive on the front page and more closed questions than open, I think its pretty clear that this place is either a complete mess, or a haven for people who get a huge thrill from down voting and closing questions. I think my experience today of answering two questions that were subsequently closed and then having my own closed should hopefully be indicative of something. Whatever the opposite of a community is, that's what you have here.

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"a haven for people who get a huge thrill from down voting and closing questions" - There certainly seems to be an elitist core of people here who spend the majority of their time downvoting and closing questions rather than participating constructively. These people are strangling the community imo. –  MattDavey Mar 8 '13 at 18:00

Are you still confused about what Programmers is for?

Kind-of. But I think the challenge there is that the field itself is exceptionally broad and that it can sometimes be difficult to discern good questions from bad ones. Not everything is black and white, and divining shades of grey can be challenging with English-as-a-second-language speakers or geek-typical lack of sufficient context. But those two aspects are accepted consequences of participating in an international community of geeks.

It should be pointed out that the site's scope is pretty dang broad as well. There are a number of exception cases (see licensing; freelancing; workplace if nuanced to programming; homework; etc...) that make it difficult for even the experienced members of the site to identify on-topic and constructive or not.

While a community's culture will shift over time, I don't see a clear mechanism for conveying that culture to others. The FAQ certainly isn't communicating it, and Meta doesn't reflect current aspects very well at the time of a question being evaluated. It's a bit useless to say since I don't have a suggestion, but we obviously need something better than what we (don't) have now.

That's it. Now tell me, how does a question like Where can I find a printed copy of the C++ specification fit within this framework?

Clearly the OP could have done more research. Wikipedia mentions their basis in the Standards in the first few paragraphs.

That having been said, the SO question that answered the P.SE version of that question led me to some interesting discoveries about Schildt and his annotated review of the Standard. That review of Schildt echoed some concerns I had with other works of his. Collateral "damage" of that question led me down an interesting research path.

I get the impression that the user community is asking themselves, "How can we make Programmers more friendly and more inclusive?" If that is the case, you're asking the wrong question. The question you should be asking is: How can I make this site more friendly to experts?

Well, maybe.

It's okay to be friendly. And it's okay for experts to be friendly to experts-in-training. That's partly what makes an apprenticeship model work. And Programming is a profession that fits and benefits from the apprenticeship model. I think that being friendly is part of what we need to do in order to attract more people that are knowledgeable to the site.

And it's okay to be inclusive. One of the reasons why I take exception to the "professional" tag line is that it unintentionally excludes people who aren't paid to program. Honestly, what I think we're looking for as a community are people who are passionate about programming and enjoy helping others grow in their understanding passion for programming. There are some great amateur (not-paid) programmers out there along with many horrible paid ("professional") programmers.

I understand that's a nuance upon professional | amateur that not many people delve into. Most use professional as "someone who is really good at something." And we certainly want those folk in our community. But I recognize we all started out not knowing jack about programming, and that people ought to have a place to learn. I'm not suggesting we start allowing homework questions, as that fails the (my) productivity test. But I am saying expert-in-training type questions are appropriate.

So yes, we ought to be more friendly and more inclusive but that's so we can bring in more, knowledgeable programmers.

There's a balance between helping people get answers to their questions, and keeping the site an interesting place for experts.

Absolutely; there has to be a degree of feedback and reward that encourages the experts to continue contributing.

The contributions to and returns from the site need to be productive as well, otherwise the site will denigrate into useless chatter which will drive off many of the experts.

But that leads me to ask, what is this site really intended to be?

  • By experts
  • For experts
  • or Experts only
  • Experts only doesn't seem to be the right approach. The volume of questions simply wouldn't be sufficient to attract repeat visits. And there has to be a decent amount of volume (ie. quality questions and answers) to provide motivation to return. I also wonder if there is a sufficient pool of "true experts" that such a site could be populated with and that are interested in participating. This is so exclusive that it's futile.

  • For Experts suffers similar challenges as Experts Only in that the volume of interesting questions and answers won't be self-sustaining. This is more inclusive, but doesn't create repeated draw.

  • By Experts seems to be the most reasonable approach. It allows for Q&A and provides for solid answers.

Why am I here?

First, it's to give back to the community. I have had some modest success as a programmer, and I'm happy to share my knowledge with others. I grow by teaching others what I have learned.

Second, the site allows me to learn from peers (seasoned veterans) who have explored other pathways that I have not.

The C braces vs. brackets question

It's important not to let ourselves be shackled by past precedent. Yes, we all have our favorite story to prove that point, so I'll skip mine.

This wasn't a great question by any means, but it led me to look at similar questions where I saw a discussion on the printf() function's use of the % sign and how C# determined that wasn't really necessary.

As that's my second example of using discovery spawned by a marginal question, let me be a bit more clear. My personal research from a marginal question doesn't transfer to an increase in value to the question. However, I am willing to tolerate some degree of marginal questions because of this, and because of the marginal question coming back with an outstanding answer. On a related note, the community needs a polite response for the marginal questions that are closed because they didn't make the cut. It's a subjective delineation, but I'm okay with that.


What I'll posit is that we can we accommodate both viewpoints, but we need to operate a little bit differently.

How so?

  1. We need better ability to handle marginal questions. Perhaps this means faster locking and / or protecting of the questions so a meta discussion can be opened up. Maybe that means more users are able to perform these tasks, or we need to train ourselves to flag for the lock and start the meta Q. This aspect also needs to be built into the review Q because it's too easy to click-to-close without an attempt at clarifying the question.

  2. We need to enhance our redirect block within the FAQ. We also need to request other sites to update their redirects. For example CSTheory's Where-can-I-ask? is really good except that it doesn't mention P.SE.

  3. Likewise, I think we need to update our redirect on off-topic close votes. Workplace should be considered, and CSTheory should be added although I'll admit we don't see many come our way that I think would fit well there. Computer Science is another potential candidate, although I'm unclear on the site scope difference between P.SE and CS.SE. I think the changes proposed in the MSO question on off-topic closes would be very helpful.

  4. Finally, I think we need some Canonical Q&As (owned by Community Wiki) for some of the recurring questions that are continually being closed. Just because they're off-topic or not constructive for the individual doesn't mean that the community can't create answers for those questions in general. No, we don't want to answer them over, and over, and over. But we could still answer them once. I think that the community can support the increased amount of governance that maintaining sets of canonicals would require, but maintenance is a very valid concern and counter-point.

Some example canonical questions:

  • Books for languages - No, we're not Amazon, and no, our focus isn't reviews per se. But we are a community of programmers, and we ought to have a more concentrated knowledge of those languages and can therefore better evaluate a review.

  • What language next - One question, a slew of answers highlighting the pros & cons of the languages. It would allow us to redirect all of those inquiries to the collective knowledge on languages. I believe that we can provide enough information that the askers can identify what should be next for them.

  • Projects / Skills enhancement - similar thoughts as what language next

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Needs a tl;dr, but +1 anyway for a thoughtful, well-reasoned answer. –  Robert Harvey Mar 4 '13 at 19:34
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@RobertHarvey - no doubt, it's LONG. Likewise, you raise some very important questions that the community needs to address. Inevitably, that translates into long answers. –  GlenH7 Mar 4 '13 at 19:36
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Theoretical Computer Science has nothing to do with this. Computer Science is a different site, and caters to all audiences and covers theoretical and applied topics alike, but not engineering. –  Gilles Mar 5 '13 at 21:12
    
@Gilles - Thanks! I yanked the whole section; my answer was already too long anyway and it didn't really contribute what I wanted it to. –  GlenH7 Mar 5 '13 at 21:40

Yes, I am confused. If I have a conceptual question on software development, why wouldn't I ask it on Stack Overflow?

Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it. We feel the best Stack Overflow questions have a bit of source code in them, but if your question generally covers …

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

I don't see a requirement for questions to be non-conceptual here. (What's a non-conceptual question anyway?)

As a professional programmer, I don't see Programmers.SE as a valuable resource for “conceptual questions on software development”. I mostly come here (not often) to answer questions that are really about computer science, where I notice that the “resident” community isn't providing good answers¹. I can't see a niche for Programmers.SE that's distinct from SO and CS.SE along these lines.

Where I do see a niche for Programmers.SE is for the social aspects of programming. Among the bullet points in the FAQ, this covers:

  • development methodologies
  • freelancing and business concerns
  • software engineering (to some extent)
  • software licensing

How this has anything to do with algorithms, design patterns, testing, QA and architecture puzzles me.

Why C uses curly braces? A social question about programming, valid but boring. Should be on-topic but scored close to 0. Ah, well. 0 out of 2 is bad.

¹ Which is why I not only don't frequent Prog.SE (comparatively with my general SE presence on topics that do interest me…), but I actively don't recommend trusting answers there, much less than most other SE sites.

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would you mind if I note that I took a look at your top tags at SO (bash, emacs - correct?) and at U&L (bash, shell, linux) and found them boring? Not meaning these are somehow universally boring mind you, just that these are of little interest to me. Do you consider these tags interesting? –  gnat Mar 1 '13 at 22:55
    
@gnat That question is a historical detail. There's nothing to be learned from it, whether it's about the history or the design of the language. That's what makes it boring: it's trivia of no import. Some other historical questions are interesting because they make you learn something. –  Gilles Mar 1 '13 at 23:19
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I am at a loss for words here. It suddenly seems like Programmers is on trial. –  maple_shaft Mar 2 '13 at 2:23
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@maple_shaft You mean, I'm criticizing Prog.SE (I'm not putting Prog.SE on trial, I don't have that power). Yes, I am — more specifically, here, I'm criticizing its scope, which is what this thread is about. Yes, it's a harsh world out there: sometimes there are people who disagree with you. –  Gilles Mar 2 '13 at 2:56
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I actually agree with you about everything you're saying here except for the overly-condescending air. The way this reads you're not just criticizing the scope which is completely reasonable, but you're criticizing the knowledge and skills of people who actively spend their time trying to help others here. If you'd take out half the notated sentence and it's note I think you'd lose nothing from your argument other than the insulting tone. –  Jimmy Hoffa Mar 8 '13 at 19:31

I've dropped in a few times over the last few days to see if I want to become active on Programmers.

The first thing I see is that I'm technically excluded. I was a professional programmer from 1970 to 2002, but then I went back to school to get a doctorate and I'm now retired. My programming now is strictly amateur. If you want expert programmers, why not say "expert"?

The bigger problem is that some of the questions I found most interesting were closed. Yes, I'm very confused about what this forum is for.

=================================================

From the comments, at least one reason for the limitations on topics, and question closings, seems to be an objection to questions that are expected to have multiple correct answers.

On StackOverflow, many questions that are not in the prohibited categories, and that are considered acceptable, with no downvotes and no votes to close, actually have multiple correct answers. I rarely see a programming problem for which I can't think of at least two solutions, often more. So far, StackOverflow seems to be surviving despite the multiple correct answer questions.

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Were there any particular closures that confused you the most? One possible point of confusion - the forum aspect of your question. Programmers is no more a forum than StackOverflow, it just deals with a different set of programming questions that don't need the "show the code" aspects of StackOverflow (and that is overly simplified to fit in the comment box) –  MichaelT Mar 5 '13 at 7:22
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One example is How can I learn algorithms and data structures of any type?. I know the FAQ excludes questions about what books to read next, but they are some of the most useful and important questions for professional, and potential-professional, programmers to ask and answer. WHY are they excluded? –  Patricia Shanahan Mar 6 '13 at 3:46
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The "How can I learn" question is not off topic, but rather overly broad. There are classes and multiple books written on the subject of algorithms and data structures. Searching, sorting, hashing, trees, lists... the issue for the person trying to answer it also "where do you start?" If the question could be refined to a more narrow area or working on comprehending a given algorithm, it would likely be reopened quickly. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 3:51
    
Books present a different problem for those trying to answer a question. Everyone has their favorite book on a topic - a person asking for a book to learn C could get easily a dozen equally right different answers, which don't fit in the Q&A format well. With many new technologies, the answer of "what book" may change from week to week as things get published. Q&A is Hard, Let's Go Shopping gets into this a bit. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 3:56
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@MichaelT Many questions have multiple right answers. There is rarely only one possible solution to a technical problem, and which solution is best depends on the situation, or even on taste. How are books different? –  Patricia Shanahan Mar 6 '13 at 3:59
    
And some more links on books on Programmers.SE - Are book recommendations on topic?... and a bit of in this question "Anyway, book recommendations are covered exhaustively elsewhere on the Internet, and SE is not really designed for this; why re-invent Amazon reviews, badly?" up in Karl Bielefeldt's answer. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 3:59
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The site is arguably poorly (intentionally) set up for a question to have multiple correct answers. If it can have multiple contradictory answers that are equally right, then it isn't the place to get the answer, which is what SE set out to be. A relevant Meta.SO answer on this The halting problem - or - the fallacy of “real questions have answers”. The concluding statement in there is key - "You've asked people to provide a poor approximation of a search engine." –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 4:05
    
With many "what do you think" and "suggest an XYZ", the chat room (the P.SE one is called The Whiteboard) can be an excellent resource for such "not a good Q&A question, but a question nonetheless" with many people who are knowledgeable on a variety of topics willing to answer. With books and best framework or what language questions, these are questions that have problems behind them that have needed context. Comments and questions are a poor place to draw the context out (ask myself or gnat about that) where chat fits very well. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 4:09
    
@MichaelT At least on stackoverflow, where I have more experience, questions that have multiple correct answers are often posted, and upvoted. For example, see Java Square Root Integer Operations Without Casting?. All three answers were valid, though I agree with the upvote consensus that preferred both my answer and the IntMath answer to the table answer. Despite having at least two good answers, the question received 6 upvotes, no downvotes, and no votes to close. –  Patricia Shanahan Mar 6 '13 at 6:46
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Another point from The halting problem - or - the fallacy of “real questions have answers” is ""Real questions" don't necessarily have practical answers, but they do have authoritative ones." The Java square root question that you linked had an answer that provided an authoritative answer. A question on "what is a good book to read to learn C?" encourages polling and there can be no authoritative answer (unless one is of the school that the K&R is the only book on C). –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 14:39
    
@MichaelT The question I referenced had two well-supported answers. The trade-off between them is one of avoiding casts vs avoiding adding a library. How is that choice different from the choice between two books? –  Patricia Shanahan Mar 6 '13 at 17:43

I've hammered thousands of nails, but no one ever refered to me as a carpenter. Becoming a professional programmer has been a circuitous route littered with coffee stains, lots of books, bad code, and help from a lot of programmers. Maybe Im not there yet? It's been a long time since I've worked anywhere that had other developers. The SE sites have been very helpful.

SO provided quick and incrementally better answers to particular a problem. Very helpful. I started to answer a few questions. It was a great way to see if I knew what I was doing. Getting both positive and negative feedback helped me to learn a lot more, but there was something missing. Many interesting questions that gave insight into how programmers think were closed. There was a need to focus and the moderators did their jobs well.

Then programmers came along. What a relief. Programming jokes, cartoons, t-shirts, and books were on topic (OK, I hate book questions) as well as, how to do your job better. That requires a lot more than just writing code. It was a chance to lighten-up and enjoy being a programmer. I learned a lot about programmers and encouraged technical job recruiters and managers to go to this site and learn something about this culture, so they could manage and interact with them better. If my boss told me to go out right now and find a good programmer, I could do it.

I know all my points came in the good old days when you could get credit for answering inappropriate and off-topic questions. Having a sense of humor was appreciated, after all, we're creative types. With so many complaints about the quality of questions, I don't feel the top 20 users on this site set a very good example (Myself included.). The volume certainly isn't there. I don't now if I've ever Googled anything programming related and had a hit on this site like I get on SO.

I get what this site is for and what the moderators are trying to do (I hope so, I've spent enought time here.), but that doesn't mean I like it. Maybe the new Discourse site is another option. Then we can change the name of this site to [closed].

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I don't remember programming jokes, cartoons or t-shirts ever being on-topic here; even the most inclusionist of us don't believe that kind of water cooler nonsense belongs here. –  Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 16:10
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@RobertHarvey "What's your favorite programming joke" is tied for #4 with "What's your favorite programmer cartoon" in the Area51 definition phase. In addition, some of the earlier meta questions defining P.SE scope like this one or this one has "that kind of water cooler nonsense" being listed as one of the top-voted on-topic items. So yes, those types of questions were originally meant to be on-topic here. –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 16:16
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Ahh here's the other link I was looking for, the P.SE meta question where Jeff personally said those kinds of questions were allowed. –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 16:24
    
Are watercooler topics, comics, jokes and the likes appropriate on any other .SE site? For UX.SE, is the question "What are a list of jokes where the punchline is 'Comic Sans'?" appropriate? On Sports.SE is "Please give me a list of jersey misprints?" proper? On Writers.SE would one ask "What is your favorite brand of #2 pencil?" -- with this in consideration, why should Programmers.SE be any different than the 98 other .SE sites? –  MichaelT Mar 8 '13 at 16:45
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@MichaelT Programmers was created to be different from other SE sites. I'm not trying to point out those are on-topic now, only that they were on-topic when the site was first created and were one type of question that this site was created to support. The majority of this site's history can be found in this question and the links it provides if you're interested. –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 16:55
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@Rachel Indeed. And it has evolved since September 8th '10. On September 29th '10, the subjective question guidelines were edited to it. Following that link and then to the 'good-subjective-bad-subjective' blog post it reads "The best subjective questions avoid the social pitfalls of “Getting To Know You” (GTKY) and mindless entertainment." However, that was two and a half years ago. This type of question does not appear to be what is causing confusion with users. –  MichaelT Mar 8 '13 at 17:17
    
@MichaelT - Early on it did not have the restrictions imposed on the sites you metioned. There were plenty of questions considered off topic from the very beginning; it's not like I think anything goes, but I also don't think it must adhere to all the rules of the other sites. Maybe that hinders the marketability of StackExchange as a whole? Programmers have made this whole thing go, so I think we deserve a little slack. –  JeffO Mar 8 '13 at 17:22
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I don't really agree with your comment about the top 20 users not setting a good example. Yes, there are a number of high-rep users that may not have the same amount of rep if P.SE didn't have it's origins. But quite a few of the top 20 are still providing solid answers to the questions coming through. That holds true with the top 50 and 100 too. They would still be high rep at this point. The past is the past, it's OK to let it go. Of the top 100 that are still active, and most are active, they've embraced the changes and are helping build the community. –  GlenH7 Mar 8 '13 at 17:44
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@JeffO The confusion that people appear to be having mentioned in the questions is not the topicality of the question but rather "why can't we ask questions that don't have an answer" - polling in particular. The answer to this question is "because it scales poorly because SE wasn't designed for it to work well because it explodes and causes too much noise to be useful." A question of "What does Dilbert mean in frame 4 of this comic" is not the problem - "What languages have a small set of keyowords" is. –  MichaelT Mar 8 '13 at 17:45
    
@Glen7 - The poor example is the quantity and quality of the questions they're/we're asking and not the answers. –  JeffO Mar 8 '13 at 18:00
    
@MichaelT - this site wants conceptual questions that interest experts and wonder why most users struggle. –  JeffO Mar 8 '13 at 18:10
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@JeffO this site wants questions that can be answered - not lists of books, lists of languages, lists of frameworks, overly broad to the point it takes chapters to answer, "why do you hate php?", "What should the user group be named?", "what design paterns do I need to know?", "shark vs gorilla!", "what should I learn next?" and "Is programming for me?" questions. Understanding StackExchange is the problem, not the topic. Look at this search and consider how many are not fitting in SE rather than P.SE. –  MichaelT Mar 8 '13 at 18:20
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@Rachel: I stand corrected. I still don't believe anyone today wants the "favorite programmer cartoon" or t-shirt questions, including yourself. –  Robert Harvey Mar 8 '13 at 19:01
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@JimG. Questions that solicit polling arguments or debate have answers that people don't agree with - this then leads to comments on those answers, and comments about those comments, and more comments about those comments. AskSlashdot and reddit are examples of what this can be. When there are more than a critical mass of users, conversations (which is what these questions want) become difficult - Metcalfe's law makes the entire mess unmanageable. SE attempts to limit that by making it difficult. Closing these questions tries to make these difficult questions from being even more frustrating. –  MichaelT Mar 8 '13 at 19:20
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@MichaelT: You're assuming too much. With the right moderation, things don't have to devolve into Reddit. –  Jim G. Mar 8 '13 at 20:09

Not really sure how to answer this, because I am not sure if you are looking to really discuss a solvable meta issue or if you just want to give a stern finger shaking lecture to certain users ...

I agree with mostly everything, except the following points:

Is it to help people design, architect and test their programs, or is it to talk about why end users are so unreasonable?

What can't it be both if the latter happens to be real question behind a real solvable problem with facts and experiences? Relating with users can have real problems that expert software developers have a lot of interest in answering, the problems with these types of questions is that they end up being a rant, or "BLA BLA BLA, my PM is *such a jerk!! Am I rite guys?!" They also tend to attract a lot of non answers, poor quality, opinionated drivel, and pointless anecdotes. It starts to turn into a Reddit discussion very quick and that is a problem.

Do you really think the experts care why c languages use curly braces?

Yeah I am sort of curious, and I do think experts would like to know or provide a factual answer if they can back it up with facts and sources. The problem here is that it is not a real problem that the OP faces. Even so, such a question can only really have one answer and that answer isn't going to be very interesting. After it has been answered correctly with a reference, there will be 327 additional guess and speculation answers like, "Probably because a curly brace resembles a muffin, and developers like muffins because they good with coffee, so curly braces make them happier when they code."

There's a balance between helping people get answers to their questions, and keeping the site an interesting place.

Prepare your downvotes ladies and gentlemen... My controversial opinion on this is that most developers aren't interested in asking conceptual questions about software development nor are they interested in answering them either. It is easier after all to scroll through a forum discussion, read the most vocal and loud members, and mistake their passion for righteousness and truth. Vocal, passionate and contreversial invoke heavy discussion and well discussion is conflict, and passion is emotion and conflict and emotion are sexy.

Well thought out questions and high quality intellectual answers about software development aren't very sexy to most people. Reddit Programming is sexy though.

So the choice is clear, we go back to what we once were as the dumping ground for StackOverflow Not Code Questions and become like Reddit, or we lose a lot of interest from people who aren't interested in our boring knowledgebase.

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We can talk about the finer points of close reasons if you like, but the point of close reasons is to make the site more attractive to experts, and that basically means reducing noise which is, as you so eloquently described, is what the close reasons are all about. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 18:14
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@RobertHarvey That's a very different take on the site compared to it's early days, where my meta proposal to remove the word "expert" from the site's tag line was upvoted and completed because this site was meant to be for everyone, not just the experts. –  Rachel Mar 1 '13 at 18:21
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@RoberyHarvey I don't think experts like our site because half of the front page is closed questions. I hate that we have to close questions, and I don't like for people to feel angry, hurt or confused by it. It is what it is though. If we want to maintain quality per the FAQ and retain a healthy user base then we need to be polite as well as coach, direct and instruct new users. I commend the community for doing an AMAZING job at this over the past year really I mean it, you guys are stellar! . cont... –  maple_shaft Mar 1 '13 at 18:24
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... cont. It is human nature that we have an ego and it normal and expected for egos to be hurt when they see their question be downvoted and closed. If they want to scream their frustration on meta then good I say... they can get it out of their system and when they calmed down, we can hopefully instruct them what this site is about, and then tomorrow they are a valuable contributing member of the community. I was pretty angry the first time I had a close question too, but now I am a moderator, imagine that. –  maple_shaft Mar 1 '13 at 18:28
    
@maple_shaft: Math Overflow has a boilerplace comment for off-topic questions that they used on a question I asked there once. It basically combines all of "What Stack Overflow is Not" into a single comment, if you can imagine that. I didn't realize it was boilerplate, and I replied "I had some choice words in reply, but I think instead I will just chalk up your comment to monumental rudeness." They did apologize... sort of. –  Robert Harvey Mar 1 '13 at 18:30
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@RobertHarvey Which is why I think so highly of the Programmers Community :) I don't worry about the stagnation of our user base at all because we tend not to treat new users like an enormous inconvenience like I see on a LOT of other SE sites. Without the ranks constantly changing then cliques start forming, and then the community declines. New users are our lifeblood so it doesn't make sense to be rude or uncaring towards them. –  maple_shaft Mar 1 '13 at 18:42
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@maple_shaft: I won't downvote this answer because you made several good points. However... // So the choice is clear, we go back to what we once were as the dumping ground for StackOverflow Not Code Questions and become like Reddit, or we lose a lot of interest from people who aren't interested in our boring knowledgebase. - That's a false dichotomy. We can and I think should do better, and I think that Karl has offered some good suggestions. I really miss seeing Rachel, Pierre 303, and Wayne T around here. They were all-stars, and I really wish we could encourage them to come back. –  Jim G. Mar 2 '13 at 1:52

Nobody knows what this site if for, what is on topic or what is off..

From the front page:

Why are these on topic? (Based on what was listed above)

No programmer will build my semi-adult website. Why?

How to deal with too much pragmatism in the project?

Where can I find an example of a relatively accurate eigenface face recognition tutorial + sample code

Knowledge Transfer and software development

Why are these Off?

freelancing and business concerns Question: Software agreement for farming out development work

developer testing : Best Way to test Applications on Different Machine Configurations?

The fact of the matter is the that on/off topics are not enforced as they are described in the FAQ and it seems that the FAQ changes every time I look at it. Not to mention that classifying questions based on the FAQ is very subjective. This the cause of confusion.

Why not add a rule that every question must be tagged as one of the topics listed in the FAQ? I don't think it will solve anything but it will provide a tremendous amount of insight into why people are so confused.

Edit: Also an underwritten rule: topics that fit better elsewhere are off topic and migrated. SE continues to insist that there is no room for site overlap, which is complete Hogwash.

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The "Software agreement for farming" isn't off topic - its "not a real question" as it is difficult to actually determine what the question that is being asked is. The "Best way to test" is closed as "not constructive" as it is a polling question. Neither of these are off necessarily off topic. –  MichaelT Mar 3 '13 at 20:22
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The semi-adult website has specific people that can be asked - those that cast the reopen vote. The pragmatism question has a vote to duplicate it to another question. The eigenface thing, I'm not sure about at all. Knowledge transfer has a close vote for off topic and at least one flag to suggest migrating it to the workplace. Note that at least two of these were asked on a lazy sunday afternoon when people aren't attached to their screens as closely as during the week and may not yet have had time to address them. Claiming that something is on topic because it hasn't been closed isnt valid. –  MichaelT Mar 3 '13 at 21:07
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@MichaelT I'm claiming that the FAQ is not consistent with what is being enforced, creating a "Do as I say, not as I do" atmosphere. (Even if it is a Lazy sunday) My point is that this is a major cause of the confusion. –  Morons Mar 3 '13 at 23:38
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I was pointing out that the closure of things that were on topic was not for topical reasons (not constructive, not a real question). That things are still open that are off topic (lacking any relation to bullet points in the FAQ) are in the process of being handled. I do not perceive any lack of consistency between the closure for off topic and the questions that are identified. –  MichaelT Mar 4 '13 at 0:20
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Why not add a rule that every question must be tagged as one of the topics listed in the FAQ? That's actually a terrific idea; and it might be what it will take to keep some of these questions open. –  Jim G. Mar 4 '13 at 3:34
    
of questions you listed, "Knowledge transfer..." has wrong closure reason. It's on topic; should have been closed as NARQ or as duplicate of How do you go about training a replacement? –  gnat Mar 4 '13 at 6:39
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PS. I just flagged "Knowledge transfer..." for wrong closure reason and it has been re-closed as duplicate. as far as I can tell, currently none of the questions you listed are closed as off-topic –  gnat Mar 4 '13 at 9:27
    
@gnat what about the open ones? are they on topic? Why? –  Morons Mar 4 '13 at 14:24
    
@Morons of your list? all that are currently open ones look on-topic. As for why, it's pretty simple, "for professional programmers who are interested in getting expert answers on conceptual questions about software development" just as faq says –  gnat Mar 4 '13 at 14:42
    
There's a crapload of overlap between sites, a tradition dating back to the creation of U&L and Ask Ubuntu. Heck, even SO/SU/SF overlap considerably in some areas (you can ask some scripting questions on all three sites and not be off-topic). Progse's scope problems are its own, they're not caused by other sites. –  Shog9 Mar 9 '13 at 21:24
    
I see questions like #2 closed a lot, which is a shame. I think we as programmers need to be discussing that sites like this are a fantasy-land as far as about 75% of the programming world is concerned and come up with real solutions. So closing them as answered already closes off this discussion. –  Amy Blankenship Apr 15 '13 at 13:11

I posted this answer to a similar discussion about half a year ago. Since then, my participation on Programmers has dropped to practically zero. I tried, but the density of questions interesting enough to be worth participating in here has dropped below the threshold of making it a worthwhile site for me to visit. Hand-holding, positive-attitude remarks, question editing, it didn't really seem to make much difference, and the gamification system doesn't reinforce that behavior either.

In other words: from my point of view one reason that the experts aren't here anymore might be because there's pretty much nothing interesting left to do.

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What is interesting? –  MichaelT Mar 4 '13 at 14:44
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@MichaelT - that depends on each individual - for me it's having interesting questions to answer in my personal areas of expertise. At one point, this site had lots of them, now practically none. –  Joris Timmermans Mar 4 '13 at 14:52
    
Indeed it is... I assume we are not talking of The Areas of my Expertise ;-) - a guess based on your profile, it appears to be project management and process management (builds and quality)? Would you find this an interesting question? –  MichaelT Mar 4 '13 at 15:14

Yes I am puzzled. Not by the scope which is pretty clear now, albeit arguable. What is really puzzling is the name!

I gather that it might have been relevant at the beginning.

Now it's misleading and completely off-topic.

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This is not an uncommon question - and a fair bit of history is behind the name and scope. Consider this (and chase all the links to other meta questions). Without revisiting the entirety of that, how does the name not match your expectations? –  MichaelT Mar 3 '13 at 3:11
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Mostly that "Being a programmer", "Life as a programmer", "Everyone is a programmer", "Stress of the programmer" are off-topic here. I don't expect a SE site to cover objective matters only and I thought at first glance that programmers.se.com was going to cover the subjective topics related to our profession but specifically not technical. Psychological, sociological, philosophical. –  Arnaud Meuret Mar 3 '13 at 9:12
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I thought at first glance that programmers.se.com was going to cover the subjective topics related to our profession but specifically not technical. - some of that history that I mentioned is contained in the blog post Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. There are subjective questions out there - the challenge is that the line between good subjective and bad subjective is indeed, subjective. –  MichaelT Mar 3 '13 at 23:25
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Another bit to read is Q&A is hard, lets go shopping. On Programmers, these questions take the form of asking for books, application stacks, hardware options, technologies, frameworks, libraries, and languages (to name a few). While the questions may be on topic, the nature of the question makes it difficult for it to fit into the Q&A format of Stack Exchange (which language? Well, C will work, and so will Java, and so will etc... - not one correct answer, they are all correct). –  MichaelT Mar 3 '13 at 23:30
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Although I agree with this completely and have been trying to get them to change the site name for a long time, the official SE response is that they will not be changing the site's name. It's too bad, because it's extremely misleading and is probably the primary source most of the confusion. Seriously, how hard would it be to change the logo/title to "Programming" and do a redirect... –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 15:23

No, I'm not confused. I'm maybe a little disappointed to realize that it's not a site I can contribute answers to (not being an expert) and also that I don't have any high quality questions to ask that the experts here would find interesting.

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You mean, that the close voters think experts would find interesting. Real experts vary so much and have such as wide range of interests that it is unlikely that there is any programming-related question that is uninteresting to all experts. –  Patricia Shanahan Mar 6 '13 at 21:15

Programmers is a site for professional programmers who are interested in getting expert answers on conceptual questions about software development.

The problem is this combined with a small army of mods many of whom I've never actually seen actively participating in any manner other than closing things who don't seem to understand that conceptual questions are inherently subjective.

They also don't seem to understand that closing questions based on qualities of the answers rather than the quality of the questions is completely absurd. We have a system for dealing with lousy answers. Lots of ugly answers is like code smell. It always indicates you should check for a problem, but it doesn't necessarily guarantee that there actually is one in the code in question.

Edit: Alright I did paint some overly broad strokes here and I can see how that would be obnoxious. Let me to try to get a better lock on points of frustration

It seems to me like too many questions get closed for:

  • Answer quality - If a reasonable-seeming question's been open for days and all the answers seem to involve some sort of front in a dev holy war, I get it. Better to close that one down as inherently explosive than sweat the details and add that to a list of topics known to incite rage. But if it's been a few hours, give somebody some time to be the voice of reason. But regardless the closure should be justified on the basis of the question somehow causing the problem even if it's just something like a historically explosive topic that no good shall come of trying to be mature adults about.

  • Being even vaguely similar to another topic - I see this a lot in JavaScript stuff, which is prone to change every two weeks and in UI work at least, deals with a lot of variation on specifics in a given problem domain.

  • Not having one perfect ideal answer - There never is one for best practice-type questions. I regularly necro answered questions because I felt some consideration or perspective was left out. I don't care if I never get the official answer. I don't even think I'm necessarily more right than the guy who got official accepted answer. I just think there's a perspective that should be added that wouldn't necessarily make sense in an edit. Am I doing Stack a disservice in this regard? I personally want to see multiple perspectives on more general/subjective topics.

  • Any hint of assessment of any framework/tool/language - General comparison questions I get. It's not a review site. But when somebody asks, "which of these tools would you recommend for my specific situation," I think that's appropriate and on-topic.

And to be fair I realize I'm not always the best behaved Programmers SE citizen. I do tend to provoke chat. I do occasionally answer questions I'm pretty sure ought to get closed. But the reason I'm here is because of the kinds of folks who show up here. I want to know what they think of my ideas earned through professional experience and I want to hear what theirs are too. That process stops the second questions get closed for reasons that strike me as trying overly hard to cram a square rod business strategy into a field of knowledge that's more of a circular hole.

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Nice. Silent downvote for criticism. That's a good way to make Programmers more expert-friendly. –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 13:39
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I don't care about rep and never will. I care about somebody communicating that they have a problem with something without actually stating what it is. –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 14:36
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@ErikReppen - they are communicating that they disagree with your post, and that in itself is worthwhile feedback. I understand that you may like to know more, but this discussion has come up before on meta, and consensus seems to be that there is no obligation to back up votes or flags with comments because it would add undue burden and make the comments too chatty. –  Joris Timmermans Mar 6 '13 at 14:52
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@MadKeithV So you find "You're wrong" as constructive as "That's fine in a context where the idea is to find the ideal answer but kind of pointless here?" –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 14:57
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@ErikReppen - I find "I disagree with you" as constructive a response to a subjective opinion (meta) as "wrong" is to a factual answer (regular SE). –  Joris Timmermans Mar 6 '13 at 15:06
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Your last paragraph is just an assumption, and it happens to be wrong. If anything, mods are criticized, not because they close questions due to the quality of the answers, but because they didn't wait to see if the question would get good answers before they closed it. –  Robert Harvey Mar 6 '13 at 15:28
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@RobertHarvey I'll try to dig up links when I have time but I've definitely seen a lot of justifications of closures that began with the words "well the answers indicate..." Answers straying off-topic should suggest a problem, IMO not prove there is one. I guess as a stack user I'm beginning to find all of these overlapping mechanisms and scopes a bit more confusing now than they have been in the past. And yes I do read FAQs but having to check a bullet point list before bothering to answer a question every time just to make sure it's not likely to get closed strikes me as a design issue. –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 16:46
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@RobertHarvey Actually that's kind of what I meant in the last paragraph but I see your point and put more thought into it. –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 17:40
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trying overly hard to cram a square rod business strategy into a field of knowledge that's more of a circular hole - I suspect many whiteboard denizens will go "oh no, not again"... there is an article out there - A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy that expresses much of the issues with social software (things you have to accept and things you have to design for). Much of what is perceived as frustrations with SE when looked at through this lens show well designed and precautionary measures to keep the community from suffering from scale. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 18:19
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@MichaelT: That article should be required reading for anyone who complains about their overly-subjective/chatty question being closed. –  Robert Harvey Mar 6 '13 at 18:20
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We have a system for dealing with lousy answers This is where your argument fails. Yes, it's absolutely true that we have a system for dealing with lousy answers, but that's irrelevant if no one is actually using that system. Next time you see a closed question you think should be re-opened, moderate the answers first. Use your downvotes on crap answers that attempt to answer the question and your flags on answers that don't attempt to answer the question. Questions can easily get re-opened if people actually did something about it instead of just talking about it. </rant> –  Yannis Rizos Mar 6 '13 at 18:45
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@ErikReppen I doubt that Robert was suggesting that you were - more of a support "this is something good to read" statement. It is not uncommon for people to post "why was my question closed" questions on various meta sites. One would hope that understanding of the underlying issues of social sites and scale would help them understand the difficulty in finding a place for such a question on stack exchange. I would even go so far as to say that this question shows the difficulty with discussions and scale. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 18:46
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I definitely agree with the concern. Without constraints a design doesn't really have an opinion. I'm just wondering if maybe SO's constraints are a less than perfect fit for Programmers and whether they can be adapted without nuking the value of the Q&A model. I would argue that they can and that they need to be in order for the kinds of questions experts want to see a variety of informed opinions on continue to be asked on Programmers, a unique place where you can get that without the attendance dependency of a chat room, or the inevitable tit-for-tat of a forum. –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 19:05
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@RobertHarvey wrt required reading, there's a simplified abstract of this article at MSO targeted at easier presentation of core idea, with less words, large font key point and funny picture. :) "I think that if I could ask a question to a group of skilled programmers sitting around a table at lunch, and get interesting, valuable answers, then..." –  gnat Mar 7 '13 at 5:44
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@gnat: I don't think the problem with programmers is highly-subjective questions... Those are easy to spot, and they do produce the firehose effect you describe. The problem with programmers is that it's impossible to figure out what is on-topic or not. All other things being equal, I'm leaning towards the idea posed by Rachel and others that the scope of the site should be relaxed a bit, while maintaining diligence by keeping questions "good" constructive. Questions that attract good information should be kept around; the bad ones should still be burned at the stake. –  Robert Harvey Mar 7 '13 at 5:48

I am still confused about what topics are allowed here. I read the questions here but would never ask a question. The number of closed questions, particularly ones with what seems to be an interesting answer, leads one to believe that you have to have some special "sauce" in order to know how to phrase your question.

Some users do not read help manuals or FAQ so the context of the site title is what people base their decision on as to whether their question is in "scope". If the site title says /* Programmers */ then most people will assume anything about coding is allowed.

Edit: An example of a closed question I found interesting is My Company Wants To Get Into Mobile Development -- And Use Multi-Platform Frameworks .

My interest is based on my work for an organization that will be forced into mobile development sooner or later but with limited resources. I.nteresting to me, as a question I might ask in the future, but apparently not in Scope.

Edit: @MichaelT Thanks for that refreshing link about group and social behaviour. Still, the question was asked by a programmer about software. if that question is not a good fit here then is it a good fit anywhere on Stack Exchange?

If what you can ask here is circumscribed by a set of rules that is not inherently obvious from the site title then, perhaps, using the Stack Exchange technology is not a good fit.

Cue the eerie music, as Jeff steps in to suggest a discourse....

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Could you identify one of the questions which is closed that you consider has an interesting answer? –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 19:29
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The "My Company..." question was closed not for topical reasons but rather that it is polling for opinions ("What do you guys think about this?"). Such a question cannot have a right answer and is in effect asking for dozens of "I think..." answers. Such a question scales poorly (people come to SE sites to get an answer, not dozens) and thus doesn't fit well into the SE format. If it could be asked in a way that isn't asking for a multitude of opinions but rather a single answer to a problem it would likely get reopened. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 20:49
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Discussion questions in general don't work well in SE sites. They produce a multitude of answers that are all equally right and the answers to these questions tend to have conversations in the comments. This scales very poorly (and does so by design). On the other hand, asking such a question in a chat room would likely be well received. On this topic (oh, again?!) I suggest reading A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy and consider the implications of scale (beginning of section 2 and things to design for #4). –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 20:55
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Many questions are a good fit for the StackExchange Q&A format. A significant portion of the confusion that has been seen in this question stems not from the topicality of questions being closed but rather how Stack Exchange itself is designed to work. Other sites have this to some degree too, but being smaller don't have quite the issue of scale that we do. It would likely be a good thing for P.SE to have a "discourse.programmers.stackexchange.com" some day where we could migrate discussions there easily rather than closing as not-constructive. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 23:30

I would like to address one point I noticed in quite a few prior answers here:

  • conceptual question on software development, why wouldn't I ask it on Stack Overflow... 1
  • On StackOverflow, many questions that are not in the prohibited categories... 2
  • there is considerable overlap between Stack Overflow and programmers... 3
  • those questions are valuable and interesting..., and happily go on using StackOverflow... 4

Yeah you guys brag so much about how easier it is to pass through at Stack Overflow.

What you probably don't consider is that huge backlog in close votes queue makes (currently makes) close voting at SO somewhat... random, compared to systematic effort you see at Programmers.

  • I hate to be the one to tell you, but don't expect this to last forever...

    http://i.stack.imgur.com/Yxu4K.png

I think it will be very interesting to see what happens in about 21 months from now, when mentioned backlog is expected to be cleared.

  • One can probably get an idea of how it would feel like by observing current effort to Close all the typo questions. Watching their "live backlog" makes a strong impression: dozens of questions getting closed and deleted daily with ease, and don't forget that only a small percentage of about 10 thousands SO close-voters participate!

When close votes backlog is finally cleared, expect close votes processing to get to the pace at which other SO reviews are dealt with (think about something like 10x faster than at Programmers).

What would you guys say when it will become only a matter of few minutes between first close vote / flag and question closure at Stack Overflow?

If (when) that happens to your favorite "conceptual" questions at SO (as it happens already 1, 2 - just not that frequently), please don't forget to get back here and tell us again if it's that easy to pass at SO.

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Nobody's bragging about how easy it is to pass on SO. They're complaining about lack of clarity on scope and mod behavior on Programmers. If I had to guess, I'd say 3/5 questions I've felt merited an answer in the last couple months got closed. Damn near anything relating to JavaScript seems to get closed in a heartbeat. And I'm not sure if you're just waving your mod authoritie-stick around because I'm pretty sure you've actually just smugly characterized the participants at Programmers as the problem. SO becoming a lot more like programmers is something I would worry about. A lot. –  Erik Reppen Mar 6 '13 at 13:21
    
@ErikReppen well whatever, there's only 21 months to wait and see. For now I can just tell you that per my observations of CV queue at SO, rate of good conceptual questions voted / flagged NC feels frightening. They try to kick off questions that look good per strictest standards I ever seen here. I sure vote Leave Open or skip but I don't think this makes a noticeable impact against thousands voters used to mostly see questions with concrete code –  gnat Mar 6 '13 at 13:34
    
...don't get me wrong: I only want readers to avoid falling into illusion of SO being somehow friendlier to conceptual questions. Here is a recent example for those who still stick with that myth: one of the most level headed SO mods evaluates as "idle curiousity" particular question that would be 100% OK in my book at Programmers (as case study having long term practical purpose). –  gnat Mar 6 '13 at 14:02
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@gnat btw that question was migrated here. –  Yannis Rizos Mar 6 '13 at 19:13
    
@YannisRizos yeah I saw that (was going to flag for migration, referring to my earlier note on it at Whiteboard, but Robert was faster than me to push it through:) –  gnat Mar 6 '13 at 19:17
    
@gnat - you bring up some good points, but I'm a bit doubtful that P.SE will ever see the degree of churn that SO does. Yes, the queues will get deeper here and shallower there, but I think the general differences will remain. –  GlenH7 Mar 7 '13 at 12:20
    
I'm not sure if your answer is really accurate, because I'm fairly sure that the SO close vote queue sorted by date, and anything new that gets a close vote goes to the front of the queue. The main reason some conceptual questions have a better chance of survival on SO is because it's a bigger site, and the people who would vote to close it are less likely to see the question. Also, there is some overlap between SO and P.SE, so you may find some good Programmers questions on SO that are also good SO questions, and that's fine. –  Rachel Mar 8 '13 at 15:35
    
And look who's the top reviewer both daily/monthly. No surprise. –  JensG Nov 1 '13 at 15:23
    
@JensG UI is designed to show current user separately above the top list. If you check the numbers at screen shot, you'll see that those for "fake top guy" (me) are lower than those of "true" top 5 reviewers –  gnat Nov 2 '13 at 11:33
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@gnat and you've fallen to 17th place with about 1/3 the amount of the top three reviewers. Bill has done over 10k reviews since that screenshot. –  MichaelT Nov 4 '13 at 19:39

I think there is considerable overlap between Stack Overflow and programmers, and I scratch my head looking at what I consider to be really good questions consistently being down voted and closed. There are many a time (and I'm new) where I am in the middle of typing an answer and I get the notification the question has been closed.

I think that Programmers should be a place for developers to ask question about occupational issues specific to, or stereotyped to developers. This includes questions such as burnout (seen various closed topics - look at tag), questions about chairs and ergonomics. What I'm getting at is yes, there is Work Place now, but many questions are specific to programmers and not just office workers and I feel those sorts of questions should be welcome here.

There is an inherent amount of confusion, which you can see by people coming to the site, asking their first question and being down voted like mad and will likely never return. It's savage. The vast majority of questions that appear when browsing have a large number of down votes.

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Because you specifically mentioned burnout, many of these questions are either not applicable to all programmers and not the rest of industry (the most recent "How to deal with daily haze/fog/burnout" had nothing to do with programmers and could be applied to chefs just as easily) or are of the form "How do I..." which is a polling question. Polling questions do not work well on a Q&A site - everyone has a different answer. Such questions become unmanageable when you go and see 100 answers and are looking for just one - which is what people come to an SE site for. –  MichaelT Mar 6 '13 at 14:55

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