Since Andrew and Ray have been talking about the acceptability of certain types of questions, I want to broach the subject of using community wiki in order to have some "big-list" questions. What I mean is this: while questions that ultimately just solicit opinions are to be generally discouraged, I feel being too rigid about that can lead to chess.SE missing out on some questions that could be useful, popular, and just plain appealing to potential users of the site.

To give you an idea of what I mean by seeing it in action on another site, this was an exceedingly popular (and useful, and enlightening, and ...) "big-list" community wiki question that was asked over at mathoverflow (the only other SE-type site I've ever spent much time on). This grew to an enormous list, and as you can see from the vote counts (especially relative to mathoverflow's typical base level) this question and its answers were seen as a great contribution to the site.

Now, while we wouldn't want to encourage such a broad, useless question as "Who's your favorite chess player?" or other such nonsense, I honestly could see the following as being a potentially useful (and attractive, and engaging, and fun) question to have on chess.SE: a community wiki question that solicits a list of books that users have found personally useful for improving their chess games. The question text would stress these aspects for potential answers: (1) one book per post, (2) list any book you have used and found useful (and why), (3) if such a book already has a post, vote it up, and feel free to elaborate on its usefulness.

This mathoverflow question, being a request for textbook recommendations, gives a good model for the sort of focused question, and list of answers, that I have in mind in all this.

This sort of list could be a great resource for someone to get an idea of books that others rate highly, get a sense of the relative values of similar books, and see what people liked/disliked about them. And what I have in mind could be narrowed down quite a bit from how I stated it above. You know, the question could solicit feedback on general endgame treatises, for instance. (I would in fact like to ask that particular question.) I think that this sort of question could be a very welcome addition to the chess.SE landscape, so long as some of us are vigilant in guiding others toward a proper approach, both by modeling appropriate answers and offering positive/negative feedback on new ones. I for one am keen to do so. So:

Good idea? Bad idea? ... Great idea? Terrible idea?

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    +1, I think good subjective questions would really add a lot to the site right now, especially as community wiki. Later on it might be prudent to close them, but those are most likely the questions that will draw google users in to the site.
    – Andrew Mod
    Commented May 31, 2012 at 4:04

1 Answer 1


The FAQ explains What kind of questions should I not ask here?

The reason for even having this site in the first place is to create an "expert-level" Q&A. That's a pretty big ask — We specifically forgo these types of "generalized populous questions" to ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. It's that practical, low-noise approach to Q&A that drives experts to these sites.

Don't throw that away so early in your development.

The relative popularity of these "poll" questions is a fallacy. It doesn't drive quality. I could just as easily solicit LOLCats and get similar results. That's a bit dramatic, but these discussion-class questions are simply fodder for users who don't have a specific problem but only wish to open a dialog to discuss generalizations and relative merits of some broad issue.

There's nothing inherently wrong with those questions — they have been asked hundreds of times on every other forum on the subject — but in the context of a Q&A system like Stack Exchange, they should be closed as [not constructive].

This question is not a good fit to our Q&A format. We expect answers to generally involve facts, references, or specific expertise; this question will likely solicit opinion, debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion.

You cannot fix this problem by "making them wiki" or "cleaning them up later" or any of the other tried-and-failed strategies used by sites that are no longer with us. The questions you ask now will set the tone and topic of the site for a long time. "Drive traffic now, worry about quality later" — This sort of "bait and switch" campaign will not work.

What you are teaching your users is "Why should I ask hard, intriguing questions when the "What's your favorite book?" -mongers get all the 'reputation'?" Don't do it.

Real Questions Have Answers

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    This might be a bit much for a comment, but what would be the correct way to ask for a list or should it just not be done? For example, "What are good games for a professional instructor to teach a beginner?" Like that, it seems to be subjective, but for a chess instructor, there are probably 5-10 games that must be taught to new students. Is there a way to phrase that question so that it is acceptable and a single answer with those 5-10 games would be the "correct" answer? Or is that just never going to be on-topic?
    – Andrew Mod
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 16:09
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    I would certainly defer to your greater experience here Robert. I was definitely not thinking of driving traffic now at the cost of quality; I was intending something of quality. The instances I pointed to from mathoverflow, which I think functions very well, indicate that it manages to include good, useful questions of this sort. But maybe it can only handle them because the place really is swarming with experts, in which case I think your point is well-taken and, at the least, it's not a good time for this. Glad I asked; thanks!
    – ETD
    Commented Jun 1, 2012 at 16:51
  • Four years later, replace "Not Constructive" with "Too Broad", perhaps?
    – mattdm
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 21:47

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