Question [Closed]… and it's probably best that way

by Sam Brand

on November 30, 2011

If you’ve poked around our network, then you've probably noticed that we hate fun at Stack Exchange. Hard-line Q&A is in our evil DNA. And you know what, I kinda like it that way. But I haven't always been onboard...

Flashback to late September, when I asked the following question at our Skeptics site:

New York pizza is the best pizza, sure. But is it really because of "the water"? 

I would link you to the question, but it no longer exists; it wasn't just closed, but deleted forever by a moderator because the question did not improve the Internet. Or maybe it was because the question was “extremely off topic,” or because it was based on a false premise, or maybe because I did not prove with a hyperlink that anyone, other than myself, actually believes NY pizza is the best in the world. In any case, my lazy grab at an objective answer for a subjective question is now banished to the sewers of the Internet where only one of our savvy devs can retrieve it. It's probably best that way.

But at the time, I thought the moderator might have closed my question because of his own personal taste. His surname is spelled with double consonants and ends in a vowel. He must be, I thought, a hardcore pizza traditionalist. But now I know he's just a good mod.

I know this because the Skeptics site works. It is one of my favorite sites in the network. But I also know this because I've seen the light. Even as my questions continue to get shut down across the network, I've come to realize that the conservative school of community moderation is the right school of community moderation, at least for Stack Exchange.

When Joel & Jeff first sat around the campfire and dreamed up Stack Overflow, they did so with an insight in mind: They weren't going to just create a forum where a user can receive an answer. SO (and later, SE) would be a platform to encourage intelligent, invested answers deserving of links across the Internet and useful for generations to come.

Too local? Take it to Yelp. Too easy? Take it to Google. Too subjective? Take it to Quora. Too fun? Take it to Facebook.

Stack Exchange is about objectively correct answers that stand the test of time. There is little room here for questions that ask for something less correct or less permanent.

Of course, this focus on “canon” -- a word we find ourselves using a lot around here -- has its drawbacks. Try promoting Stack Parenting to moms who want to share personal insights about child rearing. Or try selling the Bicycles site to an overwhelmed blogger who seeks for his readers an online outlet where they can continue "the discussion" he started at his own site. Stack Exchange can do little to instantly appease these Internetters. And that makes my job hard.

But the toughest jobs are very often the most rewarding. (My job does kick ass.) And the most rigorous answer is very often the most helpful. (See here for just one of countless examples.) Hard human work isn’t necessary to participate in Stack Exchange, but power users and bursts of focused use are the biggest assets we’ve got.

Which brings me to yesterday. It was late afternoon. The sky was gray. And I watched over Joel's shoulder as he personally closed a question that was causing some buzz at the Travel site. Joel said the question was crude and intentionally provocative. I suggested maybe there wasn’t enough information available to make an assumption about the user's intentions. Joel said maybe, and he proceeded to close the question. I swiveled back to my desk and got back to whatever it was I was doing.

We’re pretty serious at Stack Exchange. And I'm pretty sure we’re better off because of it.