Now that the private beta is over, I see that the community is more open to light hearted questions that don't have definitive answers. For example:



I posted this a while back. Does the community still frowm upon this type of question? I'm still curious to hear your answers :)



I like Aaronut's classification of questions of this type. I freely admit to having a low tolerance of these types of questions. My decisions are more or less along the lines of Aaronut's classifications, but often it's just my purely subjective interpretation of it being a good question.

Here is a list of some of the different criteria I use to vote these closed:

  • If it's too broad I vote to close.
  • If it's a dupe I vote to close.
  • If it's a GTKY I vote to close (e.g. what do you cook when alone?)
  • If it's a "Whats your favorite ____?" I vote to close. (some exceptions)
  • If it's a call for recipes I vote to close.
  • If it isn't marked CW I judge it harshly - minimally downvote it.

Here are some rather subjective things that I use to judge positively:

  • It was opened as a CW.
  • The author acknowledges that it is potential close-fodder and proactively justifies why he asked it anyway.
  • If I think it could provide some benefit or inspiration to an amateur or professional chef. The sushi combination one is an example.
  • If it's a call for recipe ideas. e.g. the sushi one, and the popcorn one
  • It is well defined (not overly broad)
  • The author demonstrates some knowledge of the topic, and even suggests some answers himself

I acknowledge there's a lot of gray area here, and that I don't give these questions the benefit of the doubt. They start out at -5 on the brownie point scale and have to demonstrate that they're significantly useful to keep around.

It's inevitable that as we grow more and more people will come and post these questions, often as the first thing they ever contribute to this site. These questions tend to explode with answers, upvotes and reputation much more quickly than a legitimate answer, often giving the questioner and top answerer a nice rep boost that they wouldn't get otherwise. This, of course, only encourages more of the same.

An interesting observation on the quality of questions was made when http://stackexchange.com/ was most recently updated to show the list of "hot" questions across all sites. The majority of them sucked. Of the top 10 hot questions, 3 were polls, 2 were lists, 2 were "religious wars", and one was a blatant meme play. The concern is that this page is "the network's business card to new users, advertisers and venture capitalists".

The same applies to our front page. Do we really want Gordon Ramsay to stumble across this site and be presented with the following list of questions?:

  • What is your favorite cheese?
  • What is your worst kitchen mistake?
  • How do I mayonnaise?
  • I accidentally the souffle
  • How long have you been cooking?

I don't.

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    The only problem with your criteria is that they are prejudiced against new users. People are coming here with good intentions and asking questions they care about and think are uncontroversially within the scope of a site called 'Food & Cooking'. Before voting to close or 'harshly' downvoting because a question is not community wiki, I think users should simply be engaged in comments. Quick closes and downvotes are very off-putting to new users, and no matter how important it is to attract experts to this site, I don't accept the notion that new users and general users don't matter as much – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 0:57
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    We're not building a business card. We're building a community. Everyday users matter as much as experts, certainly more than Gordon Ramsay, and definitely more than venture capitalists who are plainly irrelevant to the site's purpose. – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 0:58
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    @Ocaasi: No, experts are of paramount importance to a Stack Exchange community. Now an expert doesn't necessarily need to be a professional, but the type of person who asks "What do you like to eat for breakfast?" is clearly in a different category. This has always been the credo of SOFU/SE: Attract the experts and the enthusiasts will follow. But pander to the masses and the experts will find some place to go where they don't have to deal with that bullsh!t. – Aaronut Aug 11 '10 at 3:17
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    And @Ocaasi, with all respect to your knowledge and skill and overall contributions here, if you are so opposed to virtually every principle that the site was founded upon, maybe you should start your own "all-inclusive" food site and see how that does instead of always trying to tell us what's best for us. I mean honestly man, debate is great, I love it when people question the status quo, but do you ever agree with any level of moderation? – Aaronut Aug 11 '10 at 3:22
  • @Aaronut See my other comment on your answer: I agree that 'soft and broad' questions should be heavily moderated. My comment was a specific response to hobodave's emphasis on the most popular questions list. I don't agree that the measure of a site is it's most popular answers. In many ways, they're a separate category of "community questions" and shouldn't be the measure of success. "Hotness" is always going to be biased towards un-expert questions because more people are capable of participating in them;; it's the nature of expertise that not many people can get ivolved with it. – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 3:28
  • @Aaronut I'm happy to question any effort if I don't follow its reasoning. For example, my appreciation of your 'broad-questions' argument changed dramatically when I realized you were advocating against certain questions at this early stage of the site and not categorically. This is a new site, and despite its strong heritage with SOFU, I assume most questions are at least up for debate. I am apparently one of the few opposing voices (though not the only one), so if I take a commonly oppositional position, it's partly to make sure that alternate views are being heard. – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 3:32
  • @Aaronut: I totally agree with your latest comment. – hobodave Aug 11 '10 at 3:33
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    @Aaronut In "always telling us what's best for us", perhaps you confused 'you' with this site. I assume my ideas about how things might work here are not on a different level because I didn't come from SO or partake in the private beta. I don't consider 'you' the site, and I consider questions about how to moderate it up for discussion. Also, I think users are important, possibly as important as experts, but not more. I'm happy to advocate for average users if no one else is. – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 3:39
  • @hobodave Why not just vote up his comment, or if not then direct it @ me? – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 3:39
  • @hobodave My biggest issue has been with your style of moderation, which seems to presume all these issues are settled and that new users should automatically know it. I don't have a problem addressing ingrained views if I think there's something that can be improved or handled differently. Often, though not always, I don't think the site's prohibitions are necessary to achieve the ends of a great experience for both users and experts. – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 3:57
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    @Ocaasi: Nobody is assuming that new users will know exactly how the site is moderated. New users never fully understand that, on any site. That's why one must accumulate rep (i.e. experience) before being given privileges to edit, close, reopen, etc. The difference is, we believe (actually, we know) that they learn over time, whereas you appear to believe that we should simply coddle them. The latter is not what "moderation" means. I spend (IMO) the same amount of time trying to help new, keen-but-inexperienced users as I do taking out the trash. Moderation should be polite but firm. – Aaronut Aug 11 '10 at 14:11
  • And @Ocaasi, in my comment from yesterday, "us" means "the community" i.e. the site. I would never presume to personally speak for everyone, as I've already been proven dead wrong in the past (i.e. alcohol). – Aaronut Aug 11 '10 at 14:12
  • @Aaronut Re: coddling new users. There is no reason to make the learning experience more complex, confusing, frustrating, or discouraging than absolutely necessary. You're coming from SO where people are computer geniuses. Everyone understands user interfaces, forum moderation, trial-and-error in new applications, etc. This is a site for cooks. Both novice cooks with little web experience, and the prized expert cooks with less web experience may find presumptuous moderation to be off-putting... – Ocaasi Aug 13 '10 at 11:07
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    @Ocaasi: You're missing the point. The team has repeatedly stated that a firm hand is necessary to keep the quality of questions and answers in check; it has nothing to do with the technical level of the users, and you need to stop conflating the usability of the site with its moderation. This quote came straight from the horses's mouth just the other day on MSO: We're not afraid to slap a few wrists and turn away folks who want to turn this place into yahooanswerfail.com (Jeff Atwood) – Aaronut Aug 13 '10 at 14:45
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    Again, I'm not advocating or even condoning blatant rudeness, by moderators or high-rep users or any users, but allowing poor or off-topic questions to stay simply to be more "welcoming" to newbies is not the correct way to grow the site. If I actually hear from one of these "prized expert cooks with less web experience" saying that we over-moderate, I might reconsider this position. Until then, I'll assume that expert cooks are like any other experts and prefer to answer well-written, challenging questions that are directly within their area of expertise. – Aaronut Aug 13 '10 at 14:48

I'm not opposed to fun questions, per se. The problem with so many (but not all) fun questions is that they're also incredibly broad/vague.

The difference between "Uncommon sushi rolls" and "What's your favorite odd combination" is that the former is still specific to a subject area, that being sushi. The question has a specific audience. The popcorn question has a more... well... un-expert audience, but still a specific audience.

The worst thing about totally open-ended questions is that they tend to attract bajillions of duplicates, because there are always a thousand different subtle rephrasings that sound like a different question, but really aren't. The more specific the question, the more obvious duplication becomes.

So, to summarize my position (which may or may not be the community's position):

If you want to ask a soft question, go for it, but make sure it has a reasonably narrow scope so that the answers aren't all over the map.

  • +1 for bajillions – Sam Holder Aug 10 '10 at 7:59
  • I like this analysis. I just disagree that it's so hard to manage duplicates about a favorite-combinations type question. I see a great use for one of those questions, a solid thread that can just keep growing with weird ideas. Why is it better to keep all threads like this out than just moderate them properly? – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 1:02
  • @Ocaasi: Here's the thing. Try to remember how many times you've uttered the words "Why can't we just have one thread for X?" If we consistently take this attitude, those questions become canon, receive massive upvotes (only on account of massive views, not actual value), and end up at the top of the top questions list, the net result being that many new users think that's what the site is primarily about and will try to ask the same kinds of questions. It's one of the single biggest unsolved problems with Stack Overflow today, and it happened because people did what you want to do. – Aaronut Aug 11 '10 at 3:10
  • For a partial analysis of the duplicates issue (which I emphasize is just one of the problems here), see: Are Duplicates creating broken windows? – Aaronut Aug 11 '10 at 3:11

There is a distinction between the two questions. Questions that are about "getting to know you" are still off topic. The appeal of these sites, according to the SE mission statement, is getting fast, expert answers. Asking about personal favorites is not an expert answer, not is it a question that can be answered. We are not here, again according to the mission statement, to build a typical chit-chatty discussion board.

Apparently, the community feels that asking about uncommon sushi rolls has valid expert answers.

While we can argue about what is and what isn't too discussiony, overly discussiony, or "fun", questions are offtopic.


No fun questions!! Fun is dependent on cooking. It's meta. Cooking isn't supposed to be fun. I want bechamel, unbroken, no smiling.

(This is a parody. I support fun questions. You can too.)

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    Sarcasm on the internet is like winking on the phone. – hobodave Aug 7 '10 at 20:16
  • You mean you didn't get it? Show me an internet without sarcasm... or humor. – Ocaasi Aug 7 '10 at 20:41
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    There's just no way to interpret the votes to your "answer". They could have got it, and voted up because they found it funny, or they could have missed it completely and agreed with you, and up-voted. Purely sarcastic answers are just meh. – hobodave Aug 7 '10 at 20:50
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    If you have that little faith in the intelligence of the readers, you should just abandon all hope. The sarcasm is obvious, and you easily identified it as such; why wouldn't others? – Ocaasi Aug 7 '10 at 22:10
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    I'm just trying to help you be aware that sarcasm is hard to pick up in text alone. It's compounded by the cultural differences, and whether it's in the readers native language as well. It has little to do with intelligence. Anyway, it's not a big deal, I'm just trying to help. – hobodave Aug 7 '10 at 23:06
  • I have to agree with @hobodave here that its easy to say 'you got it why wouldn't everyone' but the fact is that with a culturally diverse, worldwide audience these sort of answers will be misunderstood and they really add nothing. Its made worse by peoples tendency to upvote if something makes them smile, not necessarily because it's a good answer. This has been played out on SO and examples are in hobodave's answer. The main aim of the *.stackexchange sites is to get quick professional help, and we have to build the community within that framework. – Sam Holder Aug 10 '10 at 7:59
  • I generally agree, and would be less quick to do the same on a food-related question. This is meta, and my comment, however sarcastic was not only a joke. If you prefer, you can call it a parody of the attitude that seriousness is necessary to success, at the expense of so-called fun. I don't think these are in conflict, and my post emphasizes that. Communication sometimes involves a trade-off between accessibility and effectiveness. I went with the punch of sarcasm over a plain reiteration that 'fun is ok too'. It's rhetorical, humorous...dare I say, fun? – Ocaasi Aug 10 '10 at 8:14
  • @Sam Holder Much talk about building the community: building the community without bringing in food generalists, building the community without rehashing old stackexchange debates, building the community without letting humor get in the way of content answers. Why assume that things people are trying to avoid don't build community. General enthusiasts, renewed debate, and humor, are fuel for community; they add to the core content. I agree you can't have the first without the second, but I disagree that the first is not an enhancement to the second. Smiling is good. For community! – Ocaasi Aug 10 '10 at 8:21
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    @Ocaasi. I'm the fun police. There will be no fun on my watch. Look i'm not saying there should be no fun, but I think that humourous comments should be that, comments, not answers. There are the normal caveats of 'there will always be exceptions to the rules' etc, but in general rather than having answers which get upvoted because they are funny and distract from the real answers, why not just have funny comments instead. there is the 'pundit' badge for good commentary if they get upvoted. – Sam Holder Aug 10 '10 at 9:10
  • if funny answers get upvoted and become highly visible on the site this will only encourage new users to follow in similar lines, and down this path madness lies I believe. No one will mind an occasional fun question, but the question is how do you allow that be also keep it in check? @Aaronut's suggestions are good ones I think. – Sam Holder Aug 10 '10 at 9:13
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    @Sam: Do you have a fun police badge too? @Ocaasi: You seem to be taking my comments on your sarcastic answer as an anti-fun stance. It's not at all. I'm not advocating a need to be serious all the time. I make silly comments frequently, and might even include it in some answers. I was just stating that an answer that was completely sarcastic has a rather high probability of not being understood by everyone, and thus it's vote count is difficult to impossible to interpret. Yes, it's meta. No, it's not a big deal. You just should be aware of it. – hobodave Aug 10 '10 at 15:21
  • what @hobodave said... – Sam Holder Aug 10 '10 at 15:38
  • @hobodave It's good advice. I just thought that response was so completely thoroughly obviously sarcasm that there wasn't any risk of that happening. The fact that people could interpret that comment seriously and vote for it on that basis is kind of scary. – Ocaasi Aug 11 '10 at 0:20

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