I agree entirely with the decision to place the recent question regarding "general principles cookbooks" on hold. It's picking up a lot of repetitive answers and is indeed quite broad.

At the same time, I think there's some valuable information there, and I wonder if there's an applicable standard from a previous question. This question regarding books about the "science of cooking" was closed with an annotated list of recommendations in a wiki-style format that anyone can add to. I think that's a helpful approach to collect all of the information without keeping a running poll open.

However, Aaronut collated that wiki response back in 2010, and I don't know how policies may have changed around this type of solution as the community matured. I am entirely willing to do the work of collecting responses this time around (though I can't actually post a response since the question's on hold). Would we still consider this an appropriate response?

  • I would like to see that happen, if only because the recommendations are useful.
    – Jolenealaska Mod
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 16:44
  • I'll chime in and say that I personally learned of some new books I am interested in from the "general principles" Q&A
    – Preston
    Commented Jun 29, 2014 at 20:17

3 Answers 3


I don't think it's a great solution, but I think it's the best we can do. It means that we lose any ability to see how "good" each suggestion is, and takes some effort to maintain, but at least the information is there.

I personally think the ideal solution would be to give us ways to de-duplicate answers, and also make voting work better*, so that we don't have to manually smoosh everything together and try to give fair attention to each item. With too many answers, dups happen a lot (we already have at least one with only 11 answers). And normal voting strongly favors the oldest answers, giving newer additions to the list no way to compete, so you end up with something that's quite useful, but also semi-randomly ordered and difficult to read through. I do think this is a solvable problem, if StackExchange considers it high enough priority to devote some resources to. But since that's not our call... community wiki is probably the best we can do.

If you want to do it, I think you can probably just write an answer and let a mod convert it to community wiki.

*Google Moderator is the best example of this I can think of. The general idea (there's math involved) is to rank entries based not on upvotes, but on ratio of upvotes to total votes. This is combined with, essentially, a voting queue which asks users to vote on entries which haven't been voted on much so far, so that all entries get enough votes to rank them. I can imagine implementing something similar for community wiki questions.

  • I'll definitely draft an answer to collect the existing responses, but I won't be able to post that myself now that the question is on hold.
    – logophobe
    Commented Jun 26, 2014 at 15:20
  • I'm not sure that a different voting equation would be useful. The problem is that such questions (a) draw a disproportionate amount of attention, and (b) encourage people to vote based on favourites rather than quality of answer content. That breaks the SE model. In a "working" voting model, a well-maintained, annotated list should be the top answer, rather than a shoot-from-the-hip one-liner. In practice, that basically never happens. It's a people problem, not a technology problem - or, more accurately, it's a people problem within the context of SE's objectives and site design.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 0:20
  • Also, users don't need mods to convert answers to community wiki... the checkbox was only hidden for questions.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 0:21
  • @Aaronut The idea is that it's fine if instead of a single answer consisting of multiple items (relying on editors to put them in a useful order) there's a well-ranked list of single-item answers, relying on voting to put them in a useful order. (Of course, the single-item answers should still be well-written etc, and they can still be edited to accomplish this, same as a single answer could.) With the existing voting model, 100 answers is a mess. With a good voting model, they can be accurately ranked by community preference.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 1:16
  • I understand the point, but it's not just a matter of the voting model - nearly everything about the site design and community standards are specifically targeted against that kind of question, and the majority of arguments for keeping them ultimately amounts to little more than "but we likes them!" A good Q&A by definition has few answers, not dozens or hundreds.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 23:49
  • @Aaronut Yes, I agree, allowing them would be a change of standards. The reason we have our current standards is that they fairly reliably churn out good-quality useful Q&A content (i.e. "we like it"). If we can with some tweaks to standards and voting and such also fairly reliably churn out good-quality useful Q & many A content, the fact that it's outside the scope of our current standards and notion of Q&A shouldn't stop us.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 23:58

I think that the question is so broad that there's not much to be gained: you might deduplicate, but you'll still end up with a list of books which don't have much in common with each other: it's just that the list will be in one answer rather than several.

Perhaps a level of specificity at which the question becomes useful would be asking for books about techniques in traditional French cooking. That way the answers all address the same question, and the books can be directly compared.


Our Apple site has has been very successful (IMO) in handling "list" or "rec" questions in way that seems to ensure that they don't cause most of the problems that they can if not managed carefully.

Here are some examples:




To my view, all those posts are extremely useful, but they can lead to all sorts of problems if you don't establish clear ways to control and manage em:

Limit the number and minimum usefulness required: They essentially limit the number allowed, so they can't overrun the more specific question, and so that they're generally very useful (since they are limiting to the top handful). In their case it can be highly formulaic (I think they basically allow one "list" of "most useful new features" in each major OS releast per year (which is 2 - iOS, and OSX), plus a couple of more timeless ones, like this one. You could do something less structured, like require them to be proposed on meta and require a certain level of community support, plus only actually put one up on main infrequently.

Corollaries: make it clear in the question that questions like these are only allowed after being vetted by the community on Meta, and don't be shy about protecting them if they attract too much noise and hassle.

Don't let them break the rep system: If you allow one, make it CW, so the person lucky enough to think of "How to Cook Evrerything" doesn't become a site demi-god with little justifcation.

Define the rules/structure for answering: Do things like making it clear in the question that each answer should be one example, and must include the speciifc reason it's useful, etc. Some sites have elected to roll those answers up to a single answer list, while others have chosen to leave them as individual answers (ususally makes sense if the answers have more descriptive content, etc.)

Accept that some questions like this can be kept up to date, and some can't: Some lists are short enough (or change so little) that communities can keep them current. Others can't, and for those, it's okay to lock (or close) them after a year or however long till that happens and say "this is here because it's still a great resource, but we no longer consider it comprehensive."

  • 1
    I'm sorry, I'm sure they're full of really great information, but those examples to me demonstrate why this doesn't work well. The two biggest issues with poll questions are duplicate answers and unrepresentative voting. These occur in all polls, regardless of structure, whether they're up to date, how many polls you have, and so on. Making it community wiki keeps the skewed voting from breaking the rep system, but it doesn't fix the underlying voting problem. You still have early popular answers pinned on the first page and late answers stuck where they'll ever be seen, regardles of quality.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 19:31
  • @Jefromi, I totally agree that if the best answer available now came in way late, they can't be kept up to date, which is what my last paragraph acknowledges, and some of them have to be marked "stale" eventually. But, in cases like these, our communities and engine still produce better versions of resources like this (at least for a good long while, usually) than anything else I've seen on the internet...
    – Jaydles
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 19:38
  • This isn't about staleness. I'm assuming every last one of those answers is as valid today as it was five years ago. But there's really no reason to think that everything good was thought of on the first day, or in the first 25 answers posted, especially to a question like "what are some tips for OS X?". When an answer comes in late, it has no hope of making it to where it'll be seen. So the answers are in semi-random order: yes, good stuff is at the top because people thought of a lot of good stuff right away, but good stuff is also at the bottom.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 19:42
  • For example, here's post score vs age for that first example: i.imgur.com/JzR4vfF.png. I don't think you can really argue that the scores are representative for the answers posted after the first bunch, and I think that's a fundamental problem, one you can't just paper over by marking it community wiki so it doesn't break the reputation system. The answers are still disorganized, no one has any idea how many duplicates are in there, and you could easily read pages of answers and miss out on some of the best stuff.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 19:49
  • @Jefromi, the release-based ones don't have that problem too much, as the "best" answers mostly do come in early enough to be considered and ranked decently, and they stop being too relevant by the time they'd go stale. But you're totally right about the first example - it does go stale, and sometimes that may mean it gets so stale it needs to be retired, restarted, etc. But until then (and sometimes even after then, the key question isn't "Are these in the right order", it's "In this order, is this list very useful?". In that example, I think it's still one of the best online.
    – Jaydles
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 19:54
  • 2
    I guess I just don't really like the idea of us hosting content that's really disorganized, not up to our usual standards, and justifying it by saying no one else has done any better. I'm not saying it's impossible, I want the content, and with a smarter voting system we could handle it, but the site/voting is honestly not much better than a forum for this.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 25, 2014 at 20:06
  • Yeah, sorry, those constant polls were actually one of the things that drove me crazy about the Apple site and spurred me to write a userscript to filter it from hot questions. They drew a lot of criticism on various chats and metas. They're really no different in concept or better organized than the "hidden features" questions on Stack Overflow that caused so many problems. Like Jefromi said, I'm sure there's some useful information, but the fact that the question has 366 votes proves that nothing's been improved upon - the votes have nothing to do with the quality of the content.
    – Aaronut
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 0:18
  • @Aaronut To be fair, I think there's actually a lot of quality content there, it's just not organized - a lot of the best stuff is stranded on later pages, and a lot of the stuff on the front page is unfairly pinned there because it gets more eyeballs and more votes. They'd be better if they were more specific questions that get 20 answers not 200 answers, but still, there are useful things.
    – Cascabel Mod
    Commented Jun 27, 2014 at 1:18

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