Related, but on a different site: meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/1627/… –  Tetrad Oct 11 '11 at 15:54
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I suspect part of it, is a desire to avoid asking list questions that would get closed - so people apply a totally vague criterion that should also get closed... :) –  Cyclops Oct 11 '11 at 16:41
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And what would you propose as an alternative? Most of those questions are severely flawed with or without the use of "best." –  Josh Petrie Oct 11 '11 at 17:40
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Hey don't blame me, I've been trying to vote them away for years... –  user744 Oct 12 '11 at 16:20
    
Incidentally, there is a system - if you write a question like "Best way to foo?" or "What's the best foo?" the site will warn you "The question you're asking appears subjective and is likely to be closed.". However, no one votes to close them around here, so it's just lying. –  user744 Oct 12 '11 at 16:22
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Ideally the term 'best' can be replaced with an adjective or phrase that describes a more objective and precise requirement, eg. "easiest", "smallest", "available on most platforms", "most fully documented", "with most shipped titles", etc. Eliminating subjectivity is going to be impossible but it can certainly be reduced. –  Kylotan Oct 12 '11 at 16:37
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It's too bad you didn't set the topic to, "Best solution for people using 'Best' in question?" :) –  Tim Holt Oct 13 '11 at 15:55
    
For what it's worth, I just went through and modified the questions in the title for a lot of those examples given. –  Tetrad Oct 22 '11 at 0:07
    
@JoeWreschnig no-one around here generally has enough rep to close vote questions. There are very few people with enough rep - it's quite depressing that a 650 (myself) is #18. Maybe we need another question about using a bell curve to determine rights on the SE sites... –  Jonathan Dickinson Nov 7 '11 at 10:19
    
Don't worry, @Jonathan, in the all time rankings you're only #172. Of course, we still only have 25 users with 3000+ rep. –  Ilmari Karonen Nov 8 '11 at 18:49
    
Best way to stop people from using "Best"? –  bobobobo Dec 13 '11 at 1:38

3 Answers 3

up vote 10 down vote accepted

Do you have any specific arguments as to why these questions are bad? Perhaps more importantly, do they negatively affect your experience of the website, your general quest for knowledge, or your reading of non-best questions?

Yes. Allow me to read from the faq:

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page.

"Best", for the vast majority of uses of that term, is not practical or answerable. Take this question: What is the best way to learn OpenGL?

Is that answerable? Absolutely not. Any answer given will be based entirely on opinion, because there is no best way to learn anything. I, for one, believe that the Superbible version 5 is not a particularly great learning guide because I disagree with its teaching methods. Does that make me "right"? Is anyone "right"?

By what criteria is the current accepted answer accepted? Indeed, I would say that the current accepted answer is fantastically bad, because learning from samples encourages copy-and-paste coding. Learning best involves real instruction, not "here's some code that does this!"

But that's just my opinion. That isn't "the answer", because the question cannot be answered definitively.

If there is no right answer, then it's not a question: it's an invitation for discussion. And while I believe that Stack Exchange does need a way to actually discuss things (and no, chat doesn't count. Way too restrictive. It's like trying to explain quantum mechanics over text-messages), that way should not be to ask a "question" that isn't really a question.

The Q&A part of the site needs to be sacrosanct. That's what makes Stack Exchange good: that it focuses on getting answers to real, answerable questions. And the vast majority of "best" questions are not answerable. They're debate. They're discussion. They're opinion. They're dialog.

Fine for a forum. But Stack Exchange is not a forum.

Every non-question that remains open is an invitation for others to post non-questions. Every non-question that remains open tells everyone that this is really a forum, not a Q&A site. And that will only lead to the death of gamedev as an SE site.

Stack Overflow works because they are ruthless about snuffing out this sort of thing. That's what allowed them to get where they are today. Anything that even smells of discussion is instantly killed and buried in a shallow grave. And while that can be off-putting to those who want discussion, it benefits the site overall.

Tolerating non-questions will only lead to getting more non-questions. And that means less actual questions and answers.

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Honestly my suggestion is to vote those questions down and explain why. "Best way to learn X" is subjective, vote it down. "Best performing Y" isn't specific enough, vote it down. "Best middleware that does X" doesn't explain use cases, vote it down.

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It's irresistable though! Us programmers are always searching for the best and most optimal solution to everything. Look all the way back to the hackers in the 60's, optimizing the crap out of their programs so that they would run faster than their peers'. Nowadays we're not so much into optimization of code any more, but there's a growing industry obsession with optimization of workflow - see for example Lifehacker. But there's always the tendency to always want the "best" anything, and unlike in the real world where "best" is usually not clear or things generally have downsides, in the computer world things are abstract and just made of data. Maybe you can't afford the best computer because you don't have enough money, but you can always figure out the best solution to a problem or (attempt to) write the best code.

And while best is generally opinionated, there's often a common opinion of what's "best", or at least agreement on some things that are not best. For example if you ask what is the best pathfinding algorithm, you'll get the answer of A*. It's generally agreed upon to be the "best".

As an user I like questions that seek out the "best" something, but as a mod I need to be careful not to like them too much. But mods represent the users, so if the users like "best" questions, then who are we to ban them? They're garnering valuable traffic and new visitors, and thanks to the Stack Exchange platform, a new answer or edit can always be added as information falls out of date.

Do you have any specific arguments as to why these questions are bad? Perhaps more importantly, do they negatively affect your experience of the website, your general quest for knowledge, or your reading of non-best questions?

Just food for thought...

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Like Cyclops said, "best" is too vague. Even "best performing" is too vague. They're bad questions because there isn't a specific problem to solve. "Best" style questions are just like gorilla vs shark questions, but without limiting it to a subset of answers. –  Tetrad Oct 11 '11 at 18:42
    
@Ricket: See my answer to understand why they are bad. –  Nicol Bolas Oct 15 '11 at 19:43
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@NicolBolas: It doesn't explain why they are bad, it explains why they are against the FAQ, which I already know. Like you said, Stack Exchange needs a way to discuss things. I know the questions don't belong here, but we don't really have a standard forum to send them to. As you said, we need to be ruthless (according to the FAQ anyway), but as I said, if the users like "best" questions, who are we to ban them? Note the 33 upvotes and 31 favorites, and only 1 downvote, on your linked question. –  Ricket Oct 16 '11 at 22:01
    
@Ricket: You are a moderator; your job is to enforce the rules of the site, even if the people on that site would have let it go. The purpose of a moderator is to ensure that the sites rules are being followed. I find it discouraging that you're taking this position even though it is in clear violation of what constitutes a good question. You may like it, and other people may like it. But that's not what SE is about, and moderators should be doing their best to enforce the rules, both in letter and in spirit. –  Nicol Bolas Oct 16 '11 at 22:11
    
@Ricket: Questions like these hurt the site. They let Help Vampires in and encourage their participation. They make the site about debates of what is "best" instead of answering real, legitimate questions. Every minute someone spends composing an "answer" explaining their opinion about some "best" issue is time taken away from that person composing an answer to a real, legitimate question. The more of these you let in, the less effectively the site functions as a Q&A site. –  Nicol Bolas Oct 16 '11 at 22:14
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@NicolBolas blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/05/a-theory-of-moderation You have to realize that the site is supposed to be community moderated. Diamond mods are "human exception handlers", and really should only intervene when the system itself either can't act quickly enough or when there are problem users who need to be communicated with on a personal level. It isn't necessarily a moderator's job to enforce their particular opinion of the goal of the site. –  Tetrad Oct 17 '11 at 1:55
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That being said, I do think it is appropriate to bring up the topics that being discussed here for certain questions. Just because a question is popular doesn't mean it's good for the site. We want the kind of questions that bring experts to the site, and subjective, vague questions don't help that. In the case of the "Best way to learn X", sure if you want to be pedantic there is no "best way to learn", but if the question was made CW (I just did this) and rephrased to be more of a "What are some of the better tutorials out there", then the Q and As still have some value to the site. –  Tetrad Oct 17 '11 at 1:58
    
@Tetrad I agree entirely, thanks for clarifying. –  Ricket Oct 17 '11 at 21:58

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