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Some questions need authoritative answer (and we like them in SE). Some others ask for alternatives and cannot be definitively answered (and we have big-list tag for them).

There is a third kind of possible questions: tendency survey. These questions ask for a tendency or for the opinion of the community on a specific point. This third kind of questions is not accepted today on TeX.SE (even if lots of questions masked as authoritative ones are, in fact, of this kind).

In my opinion, to know tendencies of TeX community is quite important: if I am interested by LuaLaTeX for example, I would like to know how many people use it. If I started using LaTeX for bibliography, I would like to know what system is the most popular between BibTeX, BibLaTeX, natbib, ... This information is epistemologically relevant. Knowing it avoids me to choose an outdated solution for which it will be difficult to obtain help.

You could think we have the, previously mentioned, big-list tag for opinion surveys. Indeed, this tag is used for these questions sometimes. For example : LaTeX Editors/IDEs. Let's study this example furthermore: when you read this topic, you believe to know that Emacs+Auctex is the more popular LaTeX editor. In fact, you can't know that for sure:

  1. Perhaps, there are anti-x (where x is an editor) who have voted down it (and it's the case in our example). So the results are false.
  2. Perhaps a solution (editor in our example) is the first but there are plenty of alternatives and it is, in fact, a very low percent of the community which is it. It is very different when 90% of the community used a tool and when 20% used another tool.

To sum up, there is no way in TeX.SE to handle in a proper way opinion polls. If we recognized there are important to decide what software used, we should find a way to treat them with statistics and correct polling methods.

P-S: The first solution to a problem is to use the correct tool to achieve our specific purpose.

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The StackExchange model is not really designed to handle 'objective' polling, nor would it reasonably be expected to handle this. Indeed, some of the questions which 'we' (TeX-SX users) allow would get closed on the 'main site' (StackOverflow): they would call them 'shopping lists'. However, the feeling on TeX-SX is that some more 'open' questions are acceptable provided they are structured in the right way. The IDE question is a good example of that: the answers have been put into a standard format to aid comparison.

Voting on answers will always be somewhat self-selecting. Regular TeX-SX users form a particular, small, subset of TeX users, and will have an outlook on TeX matters that isn't necessarily the same as the 'average' TeX user. WE also know that to some extent voting does reflect the timing of posting answers: the first answer tends to be at an advantage in voting terms. As such, 'opinion polls' here are best limited to somewhat 'fun' items, such as the occasional competition (Christmas trees, for example): even then, the model 'answer, delete, undelete all answers in one go' is needed to have any hope of getting a reasonable spread of votes.

Doing proper surveys is hard work, and really needs something different to the StackExchange model.

  • 1
    OTOH, what the asker wants isn't necessarily a mere popularity contest. If the idea is to find out which package they'll more readily find help for online, then the TeX.SE population is a better one to survey than the TeX community at large. Also, if you're starting a new project, you probably don't just want to know how many people are just using old packages because they still work; a more savvy group might better tell you what tools are most effective for a fresh start. (The first-answer advantage is still an issue, of course.) – Luke Maurer Mar 7 '14 at 23:19

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