Since there is no explicit polling feature in GIS.SE, there is no way of asking subjective questions.

Sometimes, the answers to something like "what is your favorite [x]" reveals things that we did not know - and thus are useful for everyone. The voting mechanism in S.E. is an implicit popularity poll, so asking for an explicit polling feature is kind of overkill. Nevertheless, subjective questions get usually nuked by moderators.

My questions is:

Should we be less strict about subjective questions or should we add an explicit polling feature?


In my opinion, closing bad list-of or poll style subjective questions is a time tested method for improving overall question quality on stack exchange sites. This is opposite to what I thought when I first started hanging out here though. It's grown on me over time.

We do allow polls by the way, witness exhibits a & b, it's just that it is hard to get right (and I'm not sure that those two examples acheive that). There are structural problems with poll questions that Stack Exchange just isn't designed to address. They have a best before date, both in terms of what is best last year may not be best this year, and also in terms of user participation. The real problem I have with them best-before-wise is that they largely reflect only the opinions of those active in the few days/weeks of posting. It is very rare that a contribution made after the freshness period is over gets a fair viewing and voting in accord with it's merit. They encourage dozens to hundred of one-line answers that just aren't worth very much.

The Good Subjective, Bad Subjective blog post by Robert Cairtano is a distillation of community wisdom on the difficulties and constructive solutions to list and polls within the Stack Exchange network. It's long post, worth reading, but to get started here is a summary of the guidelines for Great Subjective Questions:

...inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”. The best subjective questions invite explanation.

...tend to have long, not short, answers. The best subjective questions inspire your peers to share their actual experiences, not just post a mindless one-liner or cartoon in hopes of being rewarded with upvotes for being merely “first.”

...have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone. The best subjective questions avoid the all too seductive route of ranting and flamebait. They set the right tone of constructive learning and collaboration from the very outset

...invite sharing experiences over opinions. Certainly experiences inform opinions, but the best subjective questions unabashedly and unashamedly prioritize sharing actual experiences over random opinions.

...insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references. Opinion isn’t all bad, so long as it’s backed up with something other than “because I’m an expert”, or “because I said so”, or “just because”. Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions ... or point to some research

...are more than just mindless social fun. Could an average member of our community reasonably be expected to learn something that makes them better at their job from this question?

  • Great answer, thanks.
    – whuber
    Nov 28 '11 at 23:04
  • I agree that most of the time, this is the case. But then, I see questions like this one gis.stackexchange.com/questions/3310/… where the topmost answer is - at least for me - information about a very useful feature that I did not know about. Nov 29 '11 at 18:39
  • @RagiYaserBurhum, that is an example of a good subjective question, better than the two I pointed to in fact. The answers tend to be longer than short and appear to me, not an R user, to contribute genuinely helpful information. It's a demonstration of the present system being successful. What itch impelled asking the question, since it appears to be already working to the stated desire? Nov 29 '11 at 19:24
  • @mattwilkie Well, I was posting a question that I had about ArcGIS 10, and when I was done, I auto-moderated myself, said this was too subjective, and deleted the question. Then I wondered why I actually did that since I may have learned something I did not know before. Nov 29 '11 at 20:09
  • @RagiYaserBurhum, given your experience with the site and the quality of your answers and questions I wouldn't second guess yourself so much. If you took the time to write it, it will probably be a useful addition to the site.
    – Andy W
    Nov 29 '11 at 21:06
  • To Matt, excellent answer as well. These are good to keep in mind when answering subjective questions as well (or at least are goals to strive for IMO). Maybe we should consider closing down some of the older poll questions, including my own Beautiful Maps question. It likely has outlived its shelf life in your analogy (and it is a bad subjective question to boot!).
    – Andy W
    Nov 29 '11 at 21:10
  • 1
    I think your Beautiful Maps question was great, @Andy, but I find it less than useful because respondents rarely say why the maps they show are "beautiful." We're left with a gallery of unrelated maps and little basis to compare or appreciate them. A technique I have seen other SE sites use is for mods to allow this kind of question but vigorously delete all replies that don't include an explanation or justification.
    – whuber
    Nov 29 '11 at 22:23
  • I love that Beautiful Maps question. So when I weight in what is gained by deleting any of those answers vs the benefit of keeping them, personally, it doesn't make sense - to me - to delete any of it. Even if there is not justification or explanation whatsoever. This is sort of why I asked this question. Clearly these types of question and answers are valuable for the community (see the votes/views/comments), except that they do not follow the "standard GIS.SE format" Nov 29 '11 at 23:06
  • @whuber, I agree in retrospect it would have been better to ask for commenters to explain why they feel the maps are beautiful. The chicken has flown the coop though on that one, and I'm not sure how effectively we could enforce such a standard at this point (do we go back and ask everyone who posted to add a further explanation?) It also still has the problem with the voting mechanism, it just isn't an effective tool to discriminate late answers at this point from the earlier answers (maybe that isn't a problem though).
    – Andy W
    Nov 30 '11 at 13:28
  • @AndyW, in the early stages of a question I often encourage people to expand and explain their answers to make them more meaningful. Take up on that idea is generally poor. It's just not a cultural norm. At least not yet, I'll keep trying. Maybe I'm just not very persuasive. ;-) Nov 30 '11 at 17:51

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