Why is it such a big deal that questions have a very specific nature to them as stated in the FAQ's? What real problems/harm does it pose when questions are more discussion like or not very specific? Or are more abstract in nature and require more debate like responses? (BTW, I do realize that you have to keep things on the straight and narrow BUT just like the law you have to make intelligent decisions and not apply rules blindly.)

It's very hard to wrap my head around the very narrow minded mentality (the way I see it) of Stack Exchange's question/answer format. Maybe I am too used to the traditional forum like structure and tend to want either an very specific answer (for which I generally ask very specific question) or more general questions (for which I want general answers... and which usually get me into trouble).

For example, suppose I post an irrelevant question to TeX SE that is rather off topic but still vaguely related and a few people might find it interesting. What harm does it pose to let the question stand and not close it or delete it or whatever? If no one is interested in the question it will just die on it's own, and if some people find it useful then isn't that a good thing? Why would it bother someone to allow it when it has no real negative effect (as far as it effecting people that come to the forum)?

The layout/UI for Stack Exchange is like nothing else. Even in Microsoft's forums they have bugs they never fix with code quoting (well, probably designed only to work with IE) and it doesn't look appealing. I like Stack Exchange because of that but I tend to like more of a discussion/debate based approach to questions/answers. I am not the type of person just to accept on answer on faith or authority (it has to make sense to me or I have to "see it with my own eyes").

Anyway, I guess this is bad for Stack Exchange but unfortunately there doesn't seem to be any thing out there like SE for more discussion like and less strict (although within reason) interaction?

Maybe it would be possible to get SE to add a "Discussion" part (next to questions) that is more open? I see a lot of forums that have the ability to tag posts as questions or discussions nowadays.

  • About the "discussion" part: I highly doubt that this will ever be part of the site. The owners say (and I agree with them) that there should be as little discussion as necessary on the main site. The meta site and the chat is for discussion. – topskip May 18 '12 at 6:31
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    There is little to argue about here. The questions that you asked fit well in the category of what not to ask. That's just what SE is. In any case, it's clear that the community does not like your recent questions. Again, there's nothing to argue about. – qubyte May 18 '12 at 8:54
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    In addition, I'd say that this meta question doesn't belong here since it really pertains to SE in general, and not just TeX.sx. – qubyte May 18 '12 at 8:56
  • @MarkS.Everitt (not belonging here) true. I'll flag it for migration. – topskip May 18 '12 at 9:18
  • @MarkS.Everitt You're right. Not like I will change things. Just a waste of time anyways... – Uiy May 18 '12 at 9:25
  • Please don't take the wrong message home. What I'm trying to get across is that there is a strong community here, and it's going to take a lot of persuasion to change the way things are done, even a little. The kind of questions that are accepted in any given SE are usually established in the beta period, which was long ago for TeX.sx, and in any case you're suggesting a divergence that is probably not considered suitable for any SE. TeX.sx is an amazing resource and it'd be a shame not to use it. – qubyte May 18 '12 at 10:00
  • A side note, not directly related to your question: This community has established a code of conduct, both in terms of the kinds of questions that are asked and answered, but also in terms of the tone of voice and politeness. In my opinion, you have violated this code of conduct on numerous occasions, in a way that I hadn't seen on this site for the 18 months that I've been active here. It seems that you become abusive for no apparent reason very quickly, and don't try to put yourself in other people's perspective, while expecting everyone else to accept your opinion as superior. The community – Jake May 18 '12 at 12:06
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    might be more open to your suggestions if you were more polite and more willing to accept constructive criticism, instead of breaking into a rant about how everyone's too narrow minded every time you receive feedback that doesn't sit well with you. – Jake May 18 '12 at 12:07

Give it five minutes. Before you criticize something, give it five minutes and think about why it works this way. It is very easy to list tons of critics of the model here. And all those reasons you listed are quite valid on their own.

But this site has been here for quite a while and many people have got their answers for questions from really newbie to really advanced. And it works in such a way that many questions are answered really quickly. At least all my questions were answered in less than a few hours. When the questions were not specific enough people just pointed that out, and I improve the question. This is really doing a favor for both the one asking and the one answering.

In addition, if you google something and found a link to a Stack site, you know exactly what you are expecting. By reading the link text (the tile of the questions), you know what that link is about, if it is relevant to your problem. And if it is, you can expect an answer that has been examined by the original author asked the questions.

All these won't work if people don't ask questions in a specific way. Any one used a mailing list or forum in the past knowing how slowly problems got solved, even in some very high traffic forums. That is not because people there are less eagerly to help, but it is more difficult to find help when all kinds of discussions are mixed up in one place.

The world is about making choices. You cannot have everything works exactly the way you want. Before you dismiss the idea of "asking specific question", think about these questions first for five minutes:

What is the benefit of this policy? Why things had worked this way?

It is easy to find reasons why things shall work in your way. Understanding why things don't work in your way is more difficult. I am not saying you have to accept things as they are. I am just saying they exist for a reason, and you shall understand this reason before you deny it.

The Stack model may or may not be the best. It is certainly not the best for everything. But it works very well so far for what it does: helping people getting things done. A general post without specific question certainly has its value. But it will have much greater value elsewhere than here. Here, a specific question and a clear answer has more values than a general post. First, it help a small group of people having that questions directly. Second, it helps other visitors who will have similar problems directly. Think about the alternative, if tons of general posts appear every now and then, with other specific questions mixed among them, will you find those question that are interesting to you and you are able to answer as easy as it is now? I don't think so. We all have too little time and too much to read. If I want to read something interesting without specific questions, I would turn to comp.text.tex or elsewhere. I come here because I have a question or I want to read some interesting questions and see if I can solve some of them. Other people may come here for other reasons. But one thing in common is that we like this place because it works in a unique way. And I believe people would like to keep it this way before there is a clear better way.

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    Great answer :-) – Joseph Wright May 18 '12 at 6:05
  • I do get what your saying BUT it is a matter of degree. Jake says basically my posts break the predictability... well, I'm not a predictable person. I can't help that. Most of my questions are going to be more vague and abstract because I don't care about asking questions like "If X = 3 then what is X + 2X" but what does "X + 2X" mean. The first "question" is just laziness. The second is a question about the abstract nature of symbology and mathematics. IMO, the second one has much more value because understand it will help you understand more complex equations instead of posting "X + 2X = 9"? – Uiy May 18 '12 at 9:10
  • Also, obvious things exist for a reason! There is nothing that doesn't exist for no reason. You say that if one allows general questions it clutters up the forum. Ok, but isn't this easy to fix by just categorizing them? SE could add to the table at the top where it says "Questions, Tags, Users,..." to "Questions, Discussions, Tags, Users, ..."? Discussions could be more vague, do not get mixed in with the specific questions, and discussions that people asked in specific questions could be moved over. To me, that is a better solution as it doesn't reduce knowledge but grows it. – Uiy May 18 '12 at 9:13
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    Kid, I am a Statistician, and we mathematician, statisticians, and other scientists are perhaps the people communicating the worst in the world. But even we never found that asking vague question helped anyone. There is a big difference between vague question and abstract thinking – Yan Zhou May 18 '12 at 9:17
  • @Uiy We welcome vague questions here, as long as they are questions that is on topic (TeX) and as long as we can give an answer. It is wrong to stat that we only accept mathematical question. – topskip May 18 '12 at 9:17
  • As I said in my post, I understand the importance of keep things structured and ordered BUT here, it is subjective to some degree AND it seems there is no other place like SE. Personally I find it more interesting to try and answer vague questions(but questions none the less and ones I have experience with) than just seeing cookie cutter questions time and again. I've always gotten more out of debating/discussing things and I guess that's just my nature. It would be nice is there was a SE like forum for people like me so I too could share in the knowledge. – Uiy May 18 '12 at 9:18
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    @Uiy Ok, lets say we add a page "Discussion". It seems solved the problem. But what if I want to see all questions about "font"? I click the "font" tag, right? And it will be cluttered again. Or shall we create two new page, one called "Question tag" another "Discussion tag"? If so, what's the difference from creating entirely new site? Like I said, think about the alternative carefully before you jump into the conclusion that the way things work now suck – Yan Zhou May 18 '12 at 9:28

The StackExchange idea is not that it's for everything but for a particular thing: questions with an answer, or at least questions which seem reasonably to be answerable. (Of course, sometimes it's not easy to tell if this is the case.) The concept is then that voting helps people visiting to find answers to see which of the ones given is the best/clearest, and also which one the person who asked the question felt was best. One of the things that certainly has been discussed in the TeX-sx chat room is why separation of questions from answers works and why it's encouraged here. The overall feeling is that it works because it's predictable for users: you get a question which is hopefully clear and one or more answers which are distinct from the question and from each other.

It's clear from that description that the model does not work for everything, not would you expect it to. Mailing lists and 'traditional' forums have a place in parallel to the SE model and other approaches. In particular, anything discursive works badly, as there is (intentionally) no threading of either comments or answers. Statements of fact ('Here is how I did X') also work less well as they break the predictability, more than any other reason. We've had a few questions before where it's been clear that for example a blog post is the best approach: there is a community blog associated with the site which can be used for that sort of material.

  • Right, the voting is suppose to be a negative feedback loop where good questions rise to the top and bad ones are pushed down. BUT why the hostility to bad questions then? Why not just let the nature of the voting system do it's job? – Uiy May 18 '12 at 8:58
  • For example! If I asked a completely irrelevant answer, as seen by the moderators, and it is closed, what is the point? What does that accomplish? The question is still on the site BUT it can't be answered. What does that solve except to restrict knowledge(yet SE is suppose to be all about it)? What if someone come along that knows more about it and actually has a good answer that makes it relevant(well, that it wasn't as irrelevant as the moderators thought in the first place)? – Uiy May 18 '12 at 8:59
  • I used to do forums but the format is not really that well for discussions. Just like the way SE "looks and feels" and many times I have a question about something and I post it to get a quick answer while I work on other tasks. Many of my questions are relevant IMO but not necessarily written in the "predictable" format to make it easy for other to quickly answer. I guess I like to get people to think and not provide them with all the details. Many times I think MWE's are not needed because if you truly know the answer it will be obvious in the first place. – Uiy May 18 '12 at 9:03

I'd like to give a very subjective and personal answer. I don't like technical discussions very much. Sometimes I discuss things on the LuaTeX mailing list about implementation details but this is a rare case. All discussions about good, bad and ugly lead to nowhere and I feel that it is a waste of my time.

However, I do like to answer questions. For me this is a clear sign if I have a good understanding of a subject or not. So by answering questions, I see two benefits: the OP has got an answer to his/her problem, and I learn something anew from most questions.

Another aspect: when I come across a problem with another programming language or framework or whatever and I do a google search, I am always glad to get a result from a stackexchange site (stackoverflow mostly), because I know that if the question matches with mine, I can find an answer very quickly and I don't have to look through lots of posts. I think that this is a great and very valuable state and I wish to do support this site to be most useful for people like me that have a (Lua)TeX question.

I really like the "mark this answer as accepted" feature of the SX sites. It makes better answers than I have seen in other forums/mailing lists.

  • lol, I guess this is why we butt heads so much. I don't think anything that is an honest pursuit of knowledge is a waste of time. What else are humans going to do? On one hand everything is a waste of time... on the other what else is there to do? Obviously you agree that the way humans communicate is what sets humans apart? – Uiy May 18 '12 at 8:50
  • I know you like to answer questions and there are many that enjoy that aspects. I have done it too BUT that is not the point of sharing knowledge it really should have no influence in helping others. I could care less about points for the most part but of course I'm still human(no one is egoless). When you have an attitude about answering questions quickly do you not think it leads to having issues with more complex questions that you might not understand? You have a desire to answer but are frustrated because you don't understand? – Uiy May 18 '12 at 8:53
  • I've asked a few questions that, to me, were clear and precise IF you new what I was talking about but I felt they were shut down because no one took the time to really understand them. There seems to be an issue on SE(or at least TSE) of quickly judging a post as good or bad so you can move on to the next. It becomes all automated and in some cases knowledge is lost instead of increase. IMO, I'd rather have some bad posts get by than some good ones missed. – Uiy May 18 '12 at 8:55
  • @Uiy I have never said that I answer questions quickly. Sometimes a good solution takes me a few days or even months to develop (as time permits). In most cases it has still helped the OP. Please point me to a question that I didn't understand. – topskip May 18 '12 at 9:12
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    @Uiy "I've asked a few questions that, to me, were clear and precise IF you new what I was talking about but I felt they were shut down because no one took the time to really understand them." Please show as a single question that was a) a question b) closed and c) not an exact duplicate. – topskip May 18 '12 at 9:13

Adding to what other people already said: This site has a question and answer format. That's what people surfing this site expect: To see a clearly formulated problem at the top, and one or more solutions for that problem at the bottom. This predictable format, together with upvotes and accepted answers, make it really easy for people to find exactly the information they need, without having to read through pages of discussion.

Posts like https://tex.stackexchange.com/questions/56279/new-include-replacement-for-optimized-compilation hurt the site, because they break the predictable pattern. One way to rectify this would be to "make up" a question, like "How can I include only files that have changed?" and then add your code announcement as a self-answer. If you're seeking assistance with a specific part of your code, post that as a question, but don't hide it in the code announcement.

  • This site is still not an announcement forum, even if you make a fake question out of it. Q: "What is new on CTAN today?" A: "mwe, l3whatever, newpkg" - So a question such as "How do I do this" and a lengthy self-answer and self accepted is not contributing to this site very much, although other users have the chance of putting their own solutions there. But they will never be accepted as an answer. – topskip May 18 '12 at 6:15
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    @PatrickGundlach: Of course it's not an announcement forum. But if a particular solution fills a gap, and there's no question on the site, posting the question yourself (or getting someone else to post one, as we've done with tex.stackexchange.com/questions/14769/… or tex.stackexchange.com/questions/31548/…) and then answering it can be quite valuable. Of course, the question should still be "honest" in the way that if a better answer pops up, the OP should accept that one instead. – Jake May 18 '12 at 6:21
  • True. The questions you've linked are excellent and clear in contrast to the discussed ones [That's my very own subjective personal opinion ;-)] – topskip May 18 '12 at 6:28
  • You can still post some announcements in this meta site, as far as they are related to the forum (like Martin Sharrer did recently). – yo' May 24 '12 at 8:58

For a start I'd like to collect some links to this question. After that I think we can give a more detailed answer.

  • "Most forums and chat rooms have a scale problem. As in, they don’t. The more people that join the discussion, the more noise each of those connections bring. So the forums get progressively noisier and noisier, and suddenly one day … you stop learning." Hence my questions should be ok. They are not subjective and they do not introduce noise(not any more than any other question on average, except for the constant bickering). – Uiy May 17 '12 at 20:04
  • "Because we believe so deeply in learning, we are willing to go to great lengths to suppress the discussion, debate, and opinions that — while plenty entertaining — cause most forums to inevitably break down." Again, my questions tend to go hand and hand with this... I to care about learning and have spent my live pursuing it. I've also spend 15 years studying mathematics and have a masters degree in applied mathematics so I do know a bit about rigor. BUT, this is not a mathematics forum and IMO doesn't require the high level of structure one needs one discussing mathematics. – Uiy May 17 '12 at 20:07
  • The biggest problem in limiting question to complete concrete objective answers is that most questions then must be simple. Why? Because most non-mathematical questions have no ideal answer... in fact, there are some mathematical questions that have no answer at all or, so far, is unknown. – Uiy May 17 '12 at 20:10
  • Anyways, is the true nature of stack exchange is about learning then I would think that any post that contributes more to the learning process than distracts from it would be of value and considering that, unlike a forum, they can not as easily bog people down in pointless discussions I don't see the issue. Stack Exchange has a stack like format and useless questions will fall to the bottom and only show up in search engines for those that actually might get use out of them. – Uiy May 17 '12 at 20:12
  • Also, one point that I think is extremely valid, is the issue with the questions "audience". I've had several questions closed because they didn't not have a wide enough "audience". YET, to me those questions are much more valuable. It's very easy to find answers to common questions that most people know with just a google search. It's those questions that are very specific and hard to find that are have the most useful answers. I ultimately think it's very subjective anyways and it should be since this is not mathematics. Even in mathematics there are very subjective matters that exist. – Uiy May 17 '12 at 20:16
  • I just want to say that I really do understand the need to keep control of the situation. But what I see happening is what is happening is things are being controlled just to be controlled(not necessarily intentionally). An analogy is where some people in law [enforcement] do not understand/comprehend the nature of things and apply the law blindly. This obviously does more harm than good. Mathematics is great BUT mathematics cannot explain emotions(well, it may but virtually no one will understand it). Trying turn everything into a mathematics problem will lead to major issues IMO. – Uiy May 17 '12 at 20:23

I would like to add one good reason why questions that does not fit into the forum are being closed. It is that we tend to keep the number of unanswered questions to a minimum (now it is only 1.77% of all questions).

This is not only about having good statistics and feeling "we are good since we can answer 98.23% of all questions". This is about the fact that various experienced users come to the Unanswered questions list and try to put their effort to answer these questions. There are even monthly meetings in chat to discuss these questions extensively.

To keep the list of unaswered questions clear, it is a good policy to close bad questions, close questions that OP solved himself and said that in comments, etc.

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