Meta Stack OverflowWhy is there a double standard regarding non-programming related questions at Stack Overflow?
[+77] [15] Boon
[2009-03-10 08:46:32]
[ discussion ]

This is more of a curious question than a complaint. I have seen some questions being closed for being non programming-related, while others received high up votes. What's with the double standard?

This Poor guy [1] was just asking about what computer to get from the geeks, but the question was closed, poste haste.

I know Jon Skeet [2] is famous and all, but I wonder what would have happened to this question [3] if the poster from the previous question had asked it?


Just so people don't use Jon Skeet as an excuse for this double standard, here is another about " Your Favorite Programmer T-Shirt [4]."


Another example for something of the same nature:

See also:

Poll: Which types of “programming related” questions are appropriate? [7]

I have to agree. It's unfortunate that some questions get closed while others of the extact same nature get closed. If this person is not allowed to ask that question as it is deemed inappropriate then where else will he/she get their answer. - Sevenupcan
@Sevenupcan: you mean "while others of the extact same nature don't get closed"? - Dan Dascalescu
Ah yep. Sorry didn't notice the typo in my comment. - Sevenupcan
[+48] [2009-03-10 18:35:48] George Stocker

What you're seeing when you see 'Double Standards' is really the collision of three separate schools of thought: The Purists, Democracy-Advocates, and People who Just Don't Care Either Way.

Each School of thought takes its direction from a different aspect of the site:

The goal of a site like Stack Overflow is to somehow share the correct knowledge wherever it may be as it is scattered throughout the universe, and to cause that to be voted up and to be spread amongst us. There's this big universe of dumb programmers, and I'm one of them, and we all have a little bit of knowledge. I may know how to do this thing in VB6 which may be useful to somebody one day who's trying to maintain some ridiculously old piece of crap code. We all have these little tiny pieces of information and if we can just contribute a little bit, that information gets amplified, and maybe a thousand other dumb developers will benefit from my one little piece of good information. (Emphasis Added)

Later on in that same blog post, Jeff writes:

It's a place where a busy programmer can invest a few minutes with as little friction as possible, and get something tangible from the community in return. (Emphasis Added)

The Purists take this to its logical conclusion, and vote to close any topic that doesn't enhance the 'useful programming knowledge' of the programming community. Which include the questions you mentioned (The Jon Skeet Facts question was closed and opened many, many times over).

  • Democracy-Advocates - The Democracy advocates advocate (for lack of a better word) the practice of including everything on the site that is voted up by users.

Therefore, anything goes.

As you notice, the 'fun' questions get the highest votes, so they must be what the community wants, Q.E.D. This school focuses on the Reddit nature of Stack Overflow to let votes determine what ought to be on the site; and they point out inconsistencies in question closings vociferously (rightly, I might add, since there's an apparent incongruity).

This group also tends to be the same group that wants to severely curtail moderation powers, for two reasons (that I can see):

  • It's inherently unfair that some questions that garner 'easy' reputation and badges stay open, and others do not.
  • It's a community, and should be treated as such. It's not fair that only the 1% of users can determine what can stay on the site and what cannot.

This group permeates across all reputation levels. There are users with high reputation that hold this viewpoint, and users with lower reputation that see questions like this that are already posted, and subsequently think it's "Ok" to post more questions like this, much to the anger of the Purists.

  • Those that Don't Care - The third group simply doesn't care either way. They're just here to get what they need, and can tune out the noise rather easily.


For this problem to be resolved, we are going to need to have a benevolent dictatorship over top of the community driven moderation. Otherwise, you'll continually have these battles because each side has a valid point, and neither Jeff nor Joel have come out and explicitly supported one side over the other.

My opinion is that Jeff believes that this will 'work itself out' and that letting the community duke it out by itself is the best idea; but this pre-supposes that neither side is given an advantage. Right now, the Democracy-Advocate side has the advantage for the following reasons:

  • Closers can now only vote to close a question once
  • Questions default to an 'open' state, and need 5 people to close them
  • Closers only get 12 votes a day. Out of 637 users that can close questions, a lot of them would have to be active during the day to keep the fluff out

As a purist, I understand and sympathize with your plight. I would rather Jeff come down one way or the other so we could stop having these incongruities.


(1) @mmyers: Incidentally, I'd been typing this up for a blog post; since this question was put on the site, I thought I'd stick it here first. - George Stocker
(2) A mention of Wikipedia's inclusionists vs. deletionists might improve it further. Jeff mentioned them a couple of years ago: - mmyers
I lean more toward the side of the "purist" but I'm not a hardliner like others here. - Robert S.
@mmyers : Yea, I had thought about including that as a source, but wanted to make this 'mostly' my thoughts and observations on what I've found after being here for 5 months. - George Stocker
Some may disagree, but I do lean more heavily towards the purist view. I do believe the "fun questions" should be limited. However, I believe that some of the purists are instead just trying to impose their stylistic will on all questions and answers. I find that to be a bit much. But good answer. - toast
Wow, very insightful. I'm leaning towards the "anything goes" mindset myself. I find it rather annoying that in this incredibly nice nice and productive place I have to constantly be afraid of getting slapped for something I dont find inappropriate at all! - winsmith
@winsmith: Indeed; however people want to mold Stack Overflow to be what 'they want', instead of what it 'is'. And that's where the Purists and "Anything Goes" people clash. - George Stocker
I'm inclined to let the system (i.e. the StackOverflow software) sort it out. On the whole, I find it well-balanced and fair. That's why it irks me when I see the Community Wiki police constantly browbeat people to mark their questions CW, especially newcomers to the site, who haven't the first idea what CW is. - Robert Harvey
Benevolent Dictatorship? Wow... - one.beat.consumer
I don't think Jeff or Joel will come out on either side. This is something which the community will decide, shifting to favouring one or the other over time. Changes to the mechanics seems to me to be a balancing act. - roo
[+36] [2009-03-10 08:56:08] Toon Krijthe

Sorry, there is no double standard, there are 46865 standards.

(2) "The best thing about standards is that there are so many to choose from." - teedyay
There are standards in ? :) - Jarrod Dixon
(3) Better way to put it. There is one standard. There are multiple people implementing it. - EBGreen
The original number was the number of SO members. Seems more apropriate at the time. - Gamecat
[+19] [2009-03-10 09:16:50] Ólafur Waage

The "rules" our collective has set over time have changed.

Back in November the actual number of questions wasn't that much and in general there were a lot of "Fun" questions.

Now it's a lot more serious and we try to keep it programming related. But what is exactly programming related... "How long do you inhale and exhale while programming?" It's programming related but we must draw some sort of lines. (yes lines)

Rules evolve, as stated in the FAQ.

The only problem I have with this statement is that if the rules weren't changing in a direction you liked, you would be on the other side of the fence. The "rules" seem to be more the whim of a certain minority with lots of time on their hands rather than the community at large. - toast
The community at large doesn't seem to care a whole lot. There are maybe 100 people who have ever discussed this out of the thousands of users in the community. - EBGreen
But we shouldn't be at the mercy of the bored either. - toast
Should rarely has bearing on reality. Anything that asks for community participation will always be directed by the parts of the community that participate. - EBGreen
The problem is that both sides have equally bored people. So we have edit/close wars. And it's harmful to the site. - toast
I think the number of times that we have open/close wars is relatively low. Steps are already being taken to reduce them anyway. - EBGreen
True, but most of that is to stop the bored minorities. - toast
@toast: How bored are you that you repeatedly attack any moderation? - GEOCHET
@Rich: I'm for close/open vote and edit limits. So I'm not attacking moderation. I'm attacking overzealous, needless edits and itchy trigger fingers. - toast
@toast: And yet you can never actually justify your stances. You just don't agree with people, so you argue. The FAQ very clearly tells us this is not a question for SO. - GEOCHET
There already Open/Close limits. As for edit limits, there are open suggestions on UserVoice. Discuss away. - EBGreen
@Rich B: How many people are you? It would actually explain some things. - toast
@toast: I am 2 people. 3 people on Fridays. - GEOCHET
@Rich B: Ah. So, in addition to TheTXI, I'm also dealing with the 2 to 3 people who comprise Rich B. Maybe Voltron would've been a more suitable username. - toast
@toast: Nope, TheTXI is me as well. In fact everyone on SO is me, except you. - GEOCHET
@Rich/TXI: Even Kev. Because that seems odd. - toast
Rich B isn't many people, he just as a posse: - Sam Hasler
@toast: Of course. I like to act like a drama/emo queen and purposely roll back edits to hurt SO. - GEOCHET
You say that in jest, but that's exactly what you do. - toast
@toast: Sure, just like you proved on the blog. You crack me up. - GEOCHET
@Rich: Well, to be fair, your intention probably isn't to hurt SO. But there is limited space. - toast
@toast: Seriously man. You just keep making the same lame/untrue accusations. Get over me already and move on. - GEOCHET
@Rich: It does takes two to tango. Or in this case 4 - 6. - toast
@toast: I am not the one following you from post to post trying to incite riots. - GEOCHET
Like how I followed you into this thread to keep attacking me? Oh wait, I started by commenting to Olafur, you came later. That's right. - toast
Bleh, badly worded sentence. That's what I get for changing my mind about the sentence structure midstream. - toast
@toast: I think you don't quite get the concept. - GEOCHET
Explain further. I'm genuinely interested in the question as I do see a double standard. The fact that we are both interested in this topic is due to our nature of being on opposite sides of the larger debate. - toast
@toast: The reason we are both involved in this debate or any of the others is that you threw false accusations and incendiary trolling into a thread and I had to refute it. - GEOCHET
@Rich B: You are so noble and full of self-righteousness. I've accused you of being an over-zealous editor. You keep being condescending, insulting, and dishonest about your actions. - toast
@toast: Not at all. You see see, I have a public facing history of all my edits that anyone is free to look through anytime. - GEOCHET
Yes, and when someone does, you just accuse them of stalking. When someone asks you to justify some of you minor edits, you simply claim that they are justified but fail to actually provide that justification. You just keep repeating your mantra, "I'm justified.", in the hopes that we buy it. - toast
@toast: I have answered every accusation of edit abuse. That is also on record both on SO and UV. - GEOCHET
I never said you didn't answer it, just that you answer it the same way every time with the claim that you are justified. Then you claim you have provided the justification. Then you ask the people against you to provide more proof. Never have I actually seen you provide an actual justification. - toast
@toast: I have justified each one. If you are making the accusation, you have the burden to back that accusation up. Given your past track record for false accusations and blatant lies, don't expect too many people to take you very seriously either. - GEOCHET
@Rich B: Really? Because I don't see it. Even when I asked you specific questions, you refused to answer them. Call me a liar all you want, but people can read. - toast
@toast: I made it very clear I was not going to respond to you there since you were clearly not responding to logic or reason. It is not my problem if you continued to ask the same thing over and over despite knowing you were being ignored. - GEOCHET
@toast: Also, other people disputed just about everything you said there repeatedly which /you/ ignored. So again, tell the truth or move on. - GEOCHET
No, a lot of the examples and questions I had were left unanswered by you. And I never ignored anyone, I tried to answer their claims with other claims and engage in a discussion. Note that I changed some of my opinions as time went on while you did not. - toast
@toast: I made the compromises asked of me. You made nothing but false accusations and lies. Various people pointed this out to you. - GEOCHET
@Rich B: Look, your other people don't count. One account, one voice. And I don't take TXI all that seriously, he just seems to parrot whatever you say. The only thing I see "Various people" say is that we should both shut up regardless of who is in the right. - toast
@toast: I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you seriously suggesting that anyone that doesn't agree with you doesn't count? Talk about some ego... - GEOCHET
@toast: I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you seriously suggesting that anyone that doesn't agree with you doesn't count? Talk about some ego... - TheTXI
@toast: I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you seriously suggesting that anyone that doesn't agree with you doesn't count? Talk about some ego... - George Stocker
@TXI: Ok, that was hilarious. - toast
@Rich B: Once again, apparently not clear enough. I was referring to earlier when you said you were actually 2 people, 3 on Fridays. I wasn't implying that everyone who doesn't agree with me doesn't count. - toast
I have no idea what you are talking about. Are you seriously suggesting that anyone that doesn't agree with you doesn't count? Talk about some ego... - Ólafur Waage
@toast: What in the world are you talking about? You believe and take seriously everything you read on the internet? I think I have identified part of your problem. - GEOCHET
RichB is big enough to be two people. On Fridays he goes to the all you can eat buffet for lunch. - TheTXI
@TheTXI: That is a fat joke! Otherwise known as an insult! You are obviously abusive! - GEOCHET
@Rich B: Ok now I'm confused by your confusion. I was making a joke. I thought that was somewhat obvious. Just trying to lighten the mood. - toast
@Rich B: Given our history, I honestly don't know if you are putting one over or are serious yourself. Plus see… I've decided, regardless of what I think of your edits, they are better than the alternative. - toast
[+8] [2009-03-10 08:50:50] Ferdinand Beyer

Jon Skeet's posts are programming related by definition.


I don't think there is a double standard. In my opinion there are large differences in quality between the links you posted. Generally, Stack Overflow should contain serious programming questions and nothing else. But from time to time, people ask "funny" questions that just work (maybe hitting a nerve at the time being asked) -- this is what the 'community wiki' option is for, I think.

Others try to imitate this by thinking of another funny question that simply does not work and it's too obvious that people try to achieve batches or something. To keep things in order, these question keep being closed pretty fast.

Who decides what works and what doesn't? The voters and the guys with enough rep points to close a question.

If you ask me: This is working.

Currently, Stack Overflow is a great collection of interesting questions and high-quality answers, spicked with humor every now and then, without being just another joke wiki.

LMAO! Is Jon Skeet your boss? - Boon
If you need to ask, you aren't a real programmer ;p - johnc
(1) At one point this stops being funny and starts insisting upon itself.. - Yuval A
But we still haven't reached that point. - Ali A
We just post and rely on the whims of strangers. What 'just works' for you might not for me, so lets avoid the aggro offer clear guidelines. IMHO many of these questions are acceptable if community wiki'd. - CJM
So who decides what works and what doesn't? The voters and the guys with enough rep points to close a question. It's democratic and I think it's OK the way it is. - Ferdinand Beyer
(1) Democracy is two wolves and a sheep deciding what to eat for dinner. - Boon
(1) No that's nature. Democracy would be 100 sheep and 1 wolf voting on what to eat for dinner and having grass - 1800 INFORMATION
...forcing the one wolf to break the law. - Ferdinand Beyer
[+8] [2009-03-10 09:11:12] zendar

Let's not forget my favorite question: When to drink when listening to Stack Overflow? [1]

This is so an important issue that Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky commented on it in the Stack Overflow podcast, while stupid questions about reasons for Visual Studio crashes are, of course, not programming related and consequently not really suitable for this web site.

Here is one question that really should not be closed, especially not as "Not programming related": Fun with SQL (games, painting, puzzles) [closed] [2].

Question closed as "not programming related" by Orion Edwards, erickson, David B, Quassnoi Feb 19 at 22:13

Drinking information and cartoons are OK, but this one with interesting code samples is not programming related. Come on.

This one: Reinventing CMS [3] was closed as "Not programming related", but it was since reopened.

I'll check my comments for some more examples.


My favorite is this one…. You should relax a little. Try not to take things so seriously. Or you know, ask for your money back - 1800 INFORMATION
I don't have anything against those questions. I am just unhappy because some really interesting ones got closed with explanation "not programming related". - zendar
Point to some examples, and some people might vote to reopen them. - Daniel Daranas
If you see a closed question and you want to reopen it, go ahead! Others will propably follow you. - OregonGhost
Yeah. I can't find a way to search for comments I left in last month. There was 4 or 5 closed questions where I left comment. I can see comments other users wrote on my answers, but I don't see a way to find my comments. - zendar
Ever stop and think that maybe the last person who voted to close picked the wrong option, or that the four other people who voted chose "not a real question"? - Robert S.
@Out: Did you even look at those two example questions I linked? Can you really tell they are not programming related for at least 10 magnitudes more than drinking and t-shirt questions? - zendar
I think you didn't understand my comment. Just because the reason listed is "not programming related" doesn't mean that everyone voted for that reason. "Fun with SQL" isn't a question: I would have voted for close as "not a real question," for example. - Robert S.
@out: ROTFL. One of Jeffs ideas is to use SO as personal micro blog. By your standards, if post here does not end with question mark, it is to be closed, no mater what is written. Why don't you vote to close some of notorious questions other posters mentioned in this thread? (skeet, shirts, ...) - zendar
How do you know I didn't vote to close those? And SO is not "a personal micro blog." Show me where Jeff said that it is. - Robert S.
@Out: No kidding. Where did anyone get the idea this is a place to submit their blog posts? - GEOCHET
@Out: It would not surprise me that you closed that question, since most of your reputation came from subjective questions. That reveals your area of expertize. - zendar
@out: Re Jeffs intentions on SO use as "micro blogs", listen to following podcasts: 025 with S. Yegge, 022 with Metafilter guy, 018 with M. Pryor. There are much more of that in earlier podcasts, I'll check them and add more references. - zendar
@zendar, yawn at your ad hominem. - Robert S.
@out: Well, I didn't expect any intelligent response from you anyway. - zendar
[+7] [2009-03-10 09:13:05] ChanLFC

I absolutely agree man. Real double standards for "non-programming-related" questions here. Speaking from self experience.

It's more with the mentality of the people who tag a ques. as to-be-deleted. And they think different at different times based on their moods. It's all about point of view/ difference in opinion.

More to do with the trend also. Sometimes, for such questions, if first person tags ques. as to-be-deleted and rest follow the same. If first person votes up the rest vote up. That's the difference.

[+6] [2009-03-10 08:50:37] Patrick

One is funny and directly related to this forum, the other is best asked on a PC forum... I kind of agree with you from other questions I've seen though but these decisions are always going to be subjective.

[+5] [2009-03-10 08:49:41] Shoban

What kind of questions can I ask here?

Programming questions, of course! As long as your question is:

  • detailed and specific
  • written clearly and simply
  • of interest to at least one other programmer somewhere

The Jon Skeet facts question was a Community Wiki question and the other one was not!

I don't think the first question in your question received at least one up vote!

It's only a community wiki because so many people have got involved - Patrick
Even this question should be a CW or usrvoice! :) - Shoban
I think that question like "Blond celebrity with big boobies you like most" would also fit those three conditions: detailed and specific, clear and simple and I bet that there is more than one programmer that would be interested. - zendar
Here's a non-community wiki question for you:… - Mystic
@zendar It's a shame we don't have this question yet... - Sergey
[+5] [2009-03-10 08:53:02] user131311

I think the first few people to view/answer/vote on the question have can have a big pull on the outcome, after the first few votes I've noticed a tendency for people to just up/down vote based on the previous votes.

[+4] [2009-03-10 18:27:15] Ant P

There is no double standard. Some people just choose to make insulting edits using "The FAQ" as a crutch instead of closing posts because people would have to actually agree with them on the latter.

(1) Care to provide an example of an 'insulting edit'? - GEOCHET
(1) That's not an example - 1800 INFORMATION
(1) @1800: Indeed, but this is the typical ridiculous accusation being placed against myself and other mods. - GEOCHET
(1) @Ant: have you even read the FAQ? And cite one example of a "useless" edit and we'll show how it's not useless. - belgariontheking
[+3] [2009-03-10 08:56:45] 1800 INFORMATION

I don't know. Why is there so much questioning about the collective actions of a group of individuals. It seems kind of pointless to me. Stack Overflow is you after all.

[+3] [2009-03-10 09:55:20] starblue

Some non-programming related posts are ok IMHO, as long as their value outweights the distraction.

There is some value in fun. I don't get it for Jon Skeet facts, but I enjoyed the t-shirts [1], the cartoons [2] and the harmless practical jokes [3] very much.

Since specific computer models these days are about as perishable as vegetables, the value of comparing two specific models approaches zero, especially since these days any old computer is good enough for most programming tasks.

I also don't enjoy the whining undertones in this kind of discussion, so IMHO it should be closed and downvoted.

Hey, before voting came along even a programming related question [4] could get closed, I assume by mistake.


I don't think a question should be down voted or closed because you don't enjoy it. That's the double standard that has caused so many threads closed and others opened. Eventually, this site will just become another groupthink. - Boon
If I would enjoy it that could be a reason not to close or downvote it, even though it is off-topic. Now stop whining about double standards, be grateful that I even explained the single standard I apply. - starblue
It's not groupthink if a bunch of people independently decide that they don't like a question - 1800 INFORMATION
[+2] [2009-03-10 09:12:40] Wedge

There is a grey area of "off topic" subjects that are still unique to the programmer community and thus should be tolerated because they help foster a sense of community and do not significantly detract from serious programming questions. Some questions that obviously fall into this category: favorite programming cartoon, jon skeet facts, favorite programmer t-shirt, etc.

There is an area of off topic subjects that are not unique to the programmer community at all and do not belong on this site. Questions about changing the oil in your car, cooking beef brisket, feeding paper into your printer, or deciding what laptop to buy certainly fall into this category.

This is hardly rocket science.

@Wedge : nobody contests the fact that "how should I cook my beef" questions are not programming related and should be closed. But there are numerous examples of closely programming related questions (for example on visual studio" that are still closed. - Brann
[+2] [2009-03-10 10:02:25] duffymo

Having spent a fair amount of time over on Sun's Java forum, I can tell you that SO is a big improvement. The self-policing aspects of the site tamp down a lot of the nonsense.

Sun earmarked a few individuals of good reputation to act as monitors last year. They have the power to close down questions that get out of hand. Even that has helped to keep some of the threads from running wild.

There are times when I get a little annoyed at closed questions, excessive grammar policing, arbitrary or unjust down votes, etc. But these are minor annoyances.

I can't recall who said it: "Capitalism is a terrible economic system, but it's better than everything else we're tried." That's kinda how I feel about SO. It may not be perfect, but the originators have done a pretty good job of coming up with something workable.

(2) I think it was Churchill :) But then he also said "I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilised tribes", so take it with a pinch of salt... - Joel in Gö
[0] [2009-06-19 21:58:38] MicTech

I like subjective and not-programming-related question, because answers at them inspires me.

Programming is not only all-day hard-work, it's fun first of all.