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I have recently seen several examples of highly subjective questions which were made community wiki by a moderator, presumably in order to give them some semblance of propriety. The most current example is Who is your favourite game designer?

Now, to some extent I sympathise with the problem the moderators face. You don't necessarily want to just close these questions without any community support, lest you face the accusation that you are being too heavy-handed or authoritarian. You may expect the community to eventually deal with the question. However, in the interim, the question continues, people get points, and it seems unfair. Or maybe you just have a more liberal outlook on subjective questions, and feel that more site content is basically a positive thing. So, CW, and where's the harm?

In this situation, it may seem reasonable to convert the question to community wiki. No one gets any rep any more, the close votes can continue to accrue, and if the community feels strongly enough, it will eventually be shut. Also, on Stack Overflow, there is a history of users pressuring others to convert subjective questions to CW, normally with the threat of close votes if they do not comply (the so-called 'Wiki police'). This is a norm that many users feel they understand.

There are four problems:

  1. Subjective questions are not inherently evil. But they are much harder to write well. Most of them are poor questions, and should not exist. This is described in detail in the blog post Good Subjective, Bad Subjective. This is official Stack Exchange policy.

  2. Converting a post to CW requires moderator intervention. It therefore sends out a strong signal. It says "I am a moderator on this site, and I think this question is ok, because I haven't stopped it, and in fact I am encouraging it to exist." This is harmful. Most users are not very experienced with the Stack Exchange engine, and they are looking for guidance about community norms. This sends the message "lousy questions are fine, as long as a mod can stop by and fix them up with CW."

  3. Community Wiki was recently banished for all normal users. Why was this done? Why can only moderators set the CW flag? It happened to avoid exactly this situation - weak questions being protected from closure by the nullifying of reputation gains. CW was originally intended only for the situation where you have an answer, and would like to explicitly dilute your ownership, and encourage the community to improve it. It is a signal that says 'this content is jointly owned - please improve it'. The reputation feature is just a side-effect. Preventing reputation increases is not the purpose of community wiki.

  4. It is no longer reasonable (if it ever was) to pressure users into making questions community wiki. This is also official policy. The line is now much sharper; for almost all questions, they either should exist, or they should be closed. There is no CW limbo space. And it's not sufficient that a user request their question be wikified either; the reason for the CW needs to be clear and valid.

Please can we stop hitting poor questions with the community wiki flag without careful thought?

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    Perfect! StackExchange has evolved, old behavior from old times of SO isn't applicable anymore. – Maniero Nov 23 '10 at 17:13
  • I'm not sure if you're saying we should stop CWing questions and just leave them alone, or stop CWing questions and close them – Michael Mrozek Nov 23 '10 at 19:22
  • @Michael Mrozek: I'm saying these questions shouldn't be made CW. Whether a moderator should close them is not clear. I would argue not. If the community judges them to be unsuitable, they will eventually be closed. I'm certainly keen to hear other's thoughts on this as well though. – ire_and_curses Nov 23 '10 at 19:47
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    I think the question linked at the top of this one should be closed with a vengeance, before it starts spawning other similar questions. – bwarner Nov 23 '10 at 20:09
  • @bwarner I was shocked when that question didn't close instantly – Michael Mrozek Nov 23 '10 at 20:48
  • @ire_and_curses - I take mild offense at the implications of "over-enthusiastic" and "without careful thought", but otherwise I see your point and I'll take that into consideration. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir Nov 23 '10 at 23:58
  • @Michael Mrozek - I'll admit I made an error in judgment in changing the question to CW, but if you were shocked to see it still open, why didn't you vote to close it? Not being hostile, just curious. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir Nov 24 '10 at 0:08
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    @littlebobbytables give the man another 100 rep and I'll bet he would have. :-) – Pat Ludwig Nov 24 '10 at 0:12
  • @Put Ludwig - I misread the rep requirement as 250; I was one line off on reading the requirements. It still could have been flagged for moderation attention in that case. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir Nov 24 '10 at 0:14
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    @LittleBobbyTables Exactly what ire described in #2 happened; I was about to flag it, and I realized a mod had made it CW and figured that meant you were already aware of it and decided not to close. I don't blame you for making it CW or anything; the rules about CW and subjective questions on this particular SE are really fuzzy – Michael Mrozek Nov 24 '10 at 0:26
  • @Michael Mrozek -- I see. I can't speak for the other mods, but if you think we made a mistake, I'd be of the opinion to go ahead and flag it anyways. The worst thing that happens is we have one more message to read. And I do agree, the rules for what is subjective here is very fuzzy. – LittleBobbyTables - Au Revoir Nov 24 '10 at 0:27
  • Sorry I am traveling and doing too much on my iPad will drive me crazy. Which other recent posts have been made CW? – Pat Ludwig Nov 24 '10 at 4:13
  • @Pat Ludwig - Using this search it looks like there's only one other: Describe your favorite game in one sentence. – ire_and_curses Nov 24 '10 at 15:10
  • Ok, so it isn't quite an epidemic yet. Good discussion though! – Pat Ludwig Nov 27 '10 at 16:29
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"Who is your favourite game designer" vs "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective": go!

Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”: I thought it was made pretty clear in my question that I was looking for, not just the name of people's favourite designer, but what qualities they brought to the table that made them a good designer. Sure, some people's answers were just "I like designer X because he designed game Y". But the question itself asked for more than that.

Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers: Again, I specifically asked to see the reasoning behind people's picks for the top designers working in the field today. It would have been nice to get more of that, but what can you do?

Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone: If you can find "ranting and flamebait" in either the way the question was asked, or any of the answers that were provided, then colour me amazed.

Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions: Once more. The question asked people to say what qualities and strength they'd discovered over all the games in a designer's career that made that designer a favourite. If people didn't provide such, then they weren't answering the question as posed.

Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references: As above. How can you nominate someone's design work as great without reference to the unique mechanics and flair they've added to the mix?

Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun: Was this really a "so, what did you have for breakfast this morning?????" type question? If you can't acquire a deeper understanding of boardgames by investigating what the best designers are doing and how you are doing it, then I just don't know how else you can.

I accept that some of the answers given were, in practice, less useful than they might have been. The aforementioned "I like designer X because I like game Y". I do however resent the allegation that "the question obviously fails all the criteria in Good Subjective, Bad Subjective". It wasn't a lazy, thoughtless question designed to snag a hundred replies and some free reputation - or at least, that very much wasn't the intention! Yes, I'm new here, perhaps the question wasn't phrased as well as it might have been, and maybe on balance it's better off closed.

Nevertheless, I'm finding these sites rather frustrating due to the lack of obvious rhyme or reason as to whether a question is allowed or not. Currently popular and highly rated question on the boardgames site: what game would you recommend to someone who wanted to play Monopoly with you? HOW is that any more subjective than "what game would you recommend to someone who is looking for a game by a truly great designer (please show your workings)"? Don't get me wrong, I like the Monopoly question, I'm just finding people's idea of "excessively subjective" questions, um, excessively subjective! And I don't really understand why a few loud voices huffing and puffing about how awful a question is trumps at least as many people enjoying, upvoting, following and politely and (reasonably) intelligently debating the issue.

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    An interesting read! I think we both agree the answers are not what you wanted. My take on this is that there is a reasonable question there waiting to get out, but the execution could have been better. Specifically, I would not use the word 'favourite', and would have cut down the individual Q's you ask in the main body, which give a lot of wiggle room for not providing the detail you clearly wanted. It's also extremely broad; if you'd stuck to mechanics rather than designers, you might have found the answer to "what the best designers are doing" easier to achieve. My opinion. ;) – ire_and_curses Nov 24 '10 at 15:18
  • Re: "Huffing and puffing" - The issue is not about what volume of people enjoy a question. Interesting subjective questions always get lots of upvotes. This is an issue in itself (disproportionate reward). See e.g. the top SO questions. People like them. But people like forums too. Bottom line; if it improves the objective content of the site, and doesn't detract from other questions, it's good. It's taken Stack Overflow a long time to reach this point of view, and they've tried a lot of alternatives along the way. – ire_and_curses Nov 24 '10 at 15:33
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    Anyway, this has been discussed to death on meta. Related meta posts you may find interesting: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/65128/…, meta.stackexchange.com/questions/65437/… There are many more. – ire_and_curses Nov 24 '10 at 15:34
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    Don't get too hung up on "Currently popular and highly rated question on the boardgames site" defining questions that are actually good. I think it's true on most SE sites (certainly SO) that the graph of reputation vs. if a question is "good" is a bell curve; questions with no votes are generally not great, but the questions that get an absurd number of upvotes are almost always not great either -- they're massively subjective, and everyone who reads it thinks "hey, I know the answer to that!" (because everyone knows the "answer" to that) and upvotes it – Michael Mrozek Nov 24 '10 at 15:54
  • The object is to ask specific questions on boardgames: strategy, rules and design in a Q&A format. It isn't designed for list or poll type questions (and doesn't work well for them because of that). It's so you can find the answers you need when you need them. Not have to hunt through hundreds of posts like at Boardgamegeek. – Lance Roberts Nov 24 '10 at 17:18
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That question should just have been closed since it isn't a specific, one-answer question. Stack Exchange is designed for one-answer questions. Having said that, the official Stack Exchange policy is that list type questions should be CW, as per here. Since the no CW for questions policy has been implemented (which I think is great), there is now some ambiguity I believe over how to handle these questions. Maybe one of the mods can get Robert Cartaino to chime in here.

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    I believe that the SO mods are watching each SE to see how/if CW is used. To my knowledge not a whole lot of guidance has been given. – Pat Ludwig Nov 28 '10 at 22:52

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