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I know this is long (and possibly controversial) Hear me out.

I know that a lot of thought and care goes into keeping Seasoned Advice from becoming just like any other internet forum. I have been thoroughly converted to this point of view after seeing what a great signal to noise ratio we get here.

There are two major ways Seasoned Advice is useful to me: The first is the intended one- concise answers to well encapsulated questions that are well indexed and easily searchable. This is good.

The second is trickier and much more valuable- A community whose opinions I trust.

In the context of StackExchange's strategy the word "opinion" seems to be a dirty word. Sometimes really phenomenal answers will cite credible resources- reputable studies or chef's or chemists whose research or personal experience can be trusted.

Usually though, really excellent answers are based on the personal experience or opinion of the user who answers the question. Sure- I can see that the community voted up the answer and that it was accepted but without a building trust in the community the votes are meaningless. Accepted answers are the worst- the person who asked the question picks the answer. Sometimes they are the least qualified person to do so.

The beauty of Seasoned Advice is that, over time, the community has shown that it consistently rewards people who know what they are talking about. Unfortunately this, by definition, is an averaging effect over time. Any particular accepted answer can still be completely wrong.

It is because of this that the track record of the user responding makes an enormous difference in how much I trust the response. For example- I know that I will believe anything that Roux says regardless of the answer's vote count because he (and many others) have demonstrated that they are not just pretending to know things. For me personally this trust in the community took some time to build.

There are a lot of good questions about cooking that do not have clear answers. They seem to be asked fairly regularly. Often I myself am inclined to ask some and have to bite my tongue. I wish that I could apply the trust that I have built in our community to ask questions like- "how would you go about preparing this cut of meat that I have?" There is no right answer but I care what your opinions are because I trust you.

I have seen the response to off-topic questions: "This isn't a forum; there are many forums; ask your question there" This is inadequate. I am not going to abandon my hard earned trust in this community and go searching again for some other forum community that I can believe in. On the other hand- if I did find a community that I could trust I don't imagine I would want to maintain active participation in both. Just to be clear- I like it here and this is not to be construed as a passive aggressive threat. :)

The community wiki was almost this but was awkward and didn't really fit. Meta has more relaxed conversation but obviously not about food. The chat doesn't quite work for me because I prefer the communication be asynchronous.

In the context of other internet communities a forum is the solution to this problem. Yes it would have a lower signal to noise but that is not as important for a conversation. If conversations there produced clear answers those could be moved to the Q&A just like questions for recipes could be moved to the forum out of the Q&A. The forum could be unindexed to keep from diluting the Q&A on Google.

So- In wanting this am I merely being overly sentimental and giving in to an ingrained human desire for sociability that I should purge from myself?

Is there a good way for me to get what I want out of this community that I haven't yet discovered?

Is it impossible because stack exchange wouldn't add a forum?

  • 1
    This recent question is a good example: cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/13374/… It's completely subjective and I won't be surprised to see it closed. I would still love to know what people's opinions are. – Sobachatina Mar 22 '11 at 16:55
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    With appropriate use of @-mentions and/or replies, the chat can be used as an almost-asynchronous communication medium. – Marti Mar 22 '11 at 17:26
  • @Marti- I agree but they still have to be attached to a valid question. – Sobachatina Mar 22 '11 at 18:17
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    No they don't. Chat works asynchronously. If you @highlight someone it shows up in their inbox, assuming they've been in chat before. – hobodave Mar 22 '11 at 18:40
  • @Marti- my apologies- I totally misread your post and didn't notice the word 'chat'. – Sobachatina Mar 22 '11 at 19:11
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I hear you. This topic comes up a lot on our mother meta and other site metas. Essentially the reasoning goes like this:

  1. Our mission is to provide great Q&A - something that few other sites do well. Anything that doesn't directly support that goal does not - in the eyes of the owners, at least - warrant serious consideration.

  2. Creating a separate discussion or polling forum is, arguably, contrary to the goal of having great Q&A for the same reason duplicates are; it allows potentially useful information to be splintered or buried.

  3. Moderating the forum would be taxing (as is moderating any other forum). Because the entire purpose would essentially be to have an anything-goes "runoff" for questions not fitting on the main site, it would become increasingly difficult over time to draw clear boundaries around what is considered acceptable discussion.

  4. The supposed benefits of more "social" features have to be weighed against the risks: Distraction, disorder, and of course drama, ranging all the way from long-winded pointless debates to full-fledged venomous flame wars. People tend to be overly optimistic about forums, when in practice, Murphy's Law takes hold in short order. Moderation is possible, of course, but is accompanied by all the problems in #3. Who is going to do it? Not me, that's for sure.

  5. A member's reputation is derived from their knowledge of the facts, but that doesn't actually necessarily imply any particular proficiency with the subjective elements. I may have extensive knowledge of food science but that doesn't guarantee me any success with choosing recipes. Reputation as a number would hold little meaning, and people would tend to go by familiarity instead - which in the end would hold little improvement over any other forum.

  6. Given the fact that our "entry page" is supposed to be Google, providing social features that primarily benefit insiders may actually become counterproductive. It's actually important for members to be aware at all times that they are writing for the entire internet and not just the regulars in their community; a comfy social environment may feel good but numbs people to the important truth. Forums have a long and sad history of being unfriendly to outsiders and claiming that we can do better is a risky conceit.

Is there some value in this idea? Yes, there is. Does it outweigh the negatives? That's a little harder to say.

I would make an analogy to ordinary camaraderie at work (the main site) and the occasional night at the pub (chat) vs. actually putting an open bar right in the office, tempting and distracting people at all hours. Not that Seasoned Advice is "work" for most of us, so obviously the analogy isn't perfect, but the lesson is that often giving people what they want will result in you getting less of what you need. If such a feature were ever to be implemented, the risk/reward would need to be high.

So far I haven't seen any serious proposal that takes all of this into account, so at least for now, the answer is simply "no". That's not my answer, it's Stack Exchange's answer; I'm just explaining it.

  • This answer is satisfactory and I appreciate your time in explaining the position so clearly. – Sobachatina Mar 23 '11 at 19:46
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This is precisely what chat is for. Chat is intended to be the so-called third place for a StackExchange community.

I don't see a need for a forum or any other form of "fourth place".

Chat can function asynchronously. Anytime you @highlight someone in chat, it will show up in their Inbox, assuming they have participated in chat before. If you drop in and ask your question in chat, then people can answer it whenever they want and give whatever answers they want without worrying about reputation or votes etc. You can still choose a suggestion based on that person's reputation, as well as have a protracted discussion about it.

I have seen the response to off-topic questions: "This isn't a forum; there are many forums; ask your question there" This is inadequate.

I agree. We shouldn't be telling people to go elsewhere. I have started to suggest that these types of questions be asked in chat.

The bottom line is chat functions like a forum, but better insofar as it can be used real-time. There are 4 regular users in there. We've fielded quite a few cooking/recipe related subjective questions, as well as plenty of meta-topics as well.

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    I can appreciate your point that yet another place could be overkill. The chat however is not a good solution; because of the lack of categories, topics, and threads it is impossible to separate multiple old conversations. Anything not on the page of most recent is lost. – Sobachatina Mar 22 '11 at 19:19
  • Your response, and Marti's make me feel like I may be alone in this and that you are ok with the chat's limitations. And that's ok. That's kind of the point of this question to run the idea past people. – Sobachatina Mar 22 '11 at 19:49
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The answers offered here are spot on. I'm not sure I can improve on them, so just a few quick points:

The fears that our Q&A is only suited to purely objective topics with mathematical-like precision has long since been alleviated. Please read this blog post: Good Subjective, Bad Subjective.

Most areas of expertise don’t have objective answers. there is an entire field of “expertise” and experience (and even supportable opinion) that makes extremely valuable Q&A.

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But we do insist that the information provided (the question and answers) be supportable, constructive, informative and helpful. It is that steadfast insistence that you are bumping up against a bit. But it is essential to the continued success of this site.

Our insistence that you stay within the strict framework of what makes this a great Q&A is also the source of that trust and enjoyment you built up in this site. The price you pay to maintain that trustworthy-ness and ontopic-ness is foregoing those off-topic posts and overly subjective discussion topics that have a tendency to water down other forums.

This is the very purpose for which we created Stack Exchange.

I'm glad you enjoy and trust this site; I hope you continue to use it. But the Cooking Stack Exchange is not here to fulfill every possible need for every possible subject of interest to cooking enthusiasts everywhere. We fill a very specific niche: a canonical source of long-tailed, specific cooking problems with expert solutions. Certainly subjective topics and on-going conversations can be informative and even entertaining. We just ask that they be conducted elsewhere. It's not part of our mission.

Don't forget, we provide chat rooms to fulfill a need that falls outside the strict use case of Q&A. But there are also many other venues to meet those needs. We don't purport to be the only destination needed for all cooking enthusiasts everywhere.

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