A "list question" recently came up. This is not asking for a list of options which satisfy as set of requirements, that's a "shopping question". They were originally allowed on SF, and still are on SO.

We have been locking old questions with the "Historical Significance" message, so we can still use them as a reference, but new questions can't use them as justification. However, this new question could be of value just the same.

The problem lies not in having multiple options for Answering such question, but in the question of how much detail belongs in the Answer. We could edit in the most minute details and easily hit the 32k character limit given enough time and effort. This would quickly degrade into a useless checklist; akin to using a telephone book for an address book by crossing off the people you don't know.

So, what does the community think? Should we allow these questions and expect an intelligent level of contribution from our professional patrons? Or should we just kill it now and leave future professionals to the same devices we had (trial, error, and learning from our mistakes)?

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    Aren't list questions the "polling" part of the not constructive close reason? – Shane Madden Dec 16 '12 at 5:39
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    @ShaneMadden I always interpreted " polling" as "what's your favorite / the best / the widget you use for some task?" myself. List questions could fall under NARQ ("Overly Broad") or just plain "Off-Topic" (we don't generally do questions where the answer is a "list-o-things", pile of links, something you could get from Google in 10 seconds, etc.) though. – voretaq7 Dec 16 '12 at 5:56
  • I think your reference to SO allowing list questions is somewhat outdated. I can't find a reference right now but I don't believe they currently accept list type questions. IIRC 'the no loss of rep if content >60days old gets deleted' rule is a direct consequence of the uproar caused by lots of old questions many of which were lists being deleted. The recent one you link to on SF being made CW also indicates that its on fragile ground. List questions are (generally) poor subject matter for SF and shouldn't be allowed. – user9517 Dec 16 '12 at 7:30
  • This is a newer list question question - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/79835/… there are probably more. Perhaps we need a community driven blog to put this type of information into. – user9517 Dec 16 '12 at 8:01
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    Related: Good Subjective / Bad Subjective – voretaq7 Dec 16 '12 at 18:34

From le FAQ:

Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much.

List questions seem to be, if not dead ringers for that FAQ sub-section, very close to it.

Also 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.

Lists seem a bit too chatty. Rather open ended. Potentially unanswerable.

It's also too much of a moving target IMO. The proper answers to many list questions will change over time. "What do you do when building a server" will change with time. Perhaps that specific question will stay relevant for a decade, which might be acceptable, but it will change. Eventually.

I say: Burninate. Kitty kitty does not like.

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    I solidly disagree on your first point. That section from the FAQ is meant to imply that the topic is so broad that common books already exist. You could take almost any topic and write a book about it if you really wanted to. The second point, I'd like to think that part of the FAQ is more of a guideline, but I admit it's an arbitrary distinction that one line is a guideline to me where another is infallible law. SO and every SE site has that same line in their FAQ, yet they allow such questions. Who decides if a question is Practical or Chatty? On what empirical basis? – Chris S Dec 16 '12 at 5:07
  • I don't know that this particular question is "reasonably scoped" - "What do you check/look for/need when building a ne server" covers such a broad gamut that any real, thorough answer is going to be a novel (or endless bullet list). I DO think the answer is related to a problem the asker (and indeed, every sysadmin) faces, and it's certainly answerable (with the caveat above). – voretaq7 Dec 16 '12 at 5:19
  • What about if I narrowed it down to x type of audience? One topic for Small Business users, one for Enterprise users? – Canadian Luke Dec 16 '12 at 5:21
  • @ChrisS The terms "Practical" and "Chatty" define themselves outside the realm of empiricism anyway, so I guess it's just cultural consensus... ? – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 5:22
  • @Luke I think this general question is a good one. If I were to narrow it further I would say narrow it by server role ("What should I consider when building a {mail, database, . . . } server?"). Getting down to that fine a level of detail would invite controversy though. Obviously not all servers are created equal, and as you specialize they get substantially "less equal"... – voretaq7 Dec 16 '12 at 5:54
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    I'm honestly quite sad that the community wants to be nothing more than "Mr. Fix it for Free"; that we can't formally discuss preventative measures or continuous improvement (I didn't like when we eliminated Career, Training, and Personal Development topics either). I think we've stepped over the line, we're not even talking about what a Good SysAdmin is supposed to do anymore. We're only talking about how to fight fires... That isn't the type of SysAdmin I want to be, and I hoped the community felt the same. I'm not sure if I want to be a part of that community. – Chris S Dec 16 '12 at 15:43
  • @ChrisS To say that we're nothing but Mr. Fixits seems like a bit of a rash comment. Remember that scene in the Michael Keaton Batman movie? "Alfred! This soup is cold!" "It's gazpacho, sir." "Oh." The purpose and point of StackExchange was to ask objective questions and get objective answers. – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 16:29
  • The community does not appear to be snubbing the topics of Career, Training, Personal Development, or lists. Rather, I think we're acknowledging that the Q/AAAAA format of the StackExchange software does not lend itself as well to that form of discussion. That's why SE is not my only means of talking about SysAdminly topics. I have forums that I like to hang around on where the technical format allows discussion better than SE's application. I also blog and partake in other peoples' blogs where true peer review takes place. – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 16:31
  • Yes, if the community was truly snubbing those topics I wouldn't want to be a part of it either. Any body of people who are uninterested in career, training, development, etc. are just shy of toxic and will be a bad influence on anyone that frequents them. Fortunately, that's not ServerFault or any of the StackExchange sites that I'm aware of. (Also, I think lists are relatively easy to fit into the Q/A format, so could be allowed as long as people show discipline and don't pursue conversation, but that might be a little difficult. Hence my dislike of them on SF thus far.) – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 16:31
  • Truly, it seems like a wiki would be more of a fit for these kinds of subjective, but profitable topics. I know Community Wiki options in the Stack Exchange software appear to have been implemented years ago for that purpose, but in practice it just didn't seem to ever work well with the rules that developed around contributions as a result of low quality Qs and As. Wasn't there a SysAdmin-Wiki that someone made a while back? I think it was www.sysadminpedia.com but has apparently died the death. Maybe that's a telling sign? =/ – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 16:34
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    TL;DR StackExchange does what it does, but doesn't do what it doesn't do. Don't go away mad, Chris. =( – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 16:35
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    @WesleyDavid I don't intend to sound mad, a limitation of the medium I suppose. I truly am disappointed however as it's becoming more apparent that the community and I are on divergent paths. My quip about "Mr Fix It" might have been poignant, but I still think it accurate. The statistics are undeniable as well; SF has not grown since it's inception. Every other SE site has. Further we close more questions now than ever before. I wonder how our close rate compares to other SE sites. – Chris S Dec 16 '12 at 17:02
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    @ChrisS Well, to be fair, you didn't really give the community a lot of time to weigh in. Midnight Saturday to noon Sunday are not exactly my prime interwebs hours, but I do agree with your perspective more than anyone else's. This strikes me as being essentially the same as any number of our canonicals (or could be with a little editing), and it seems a shame to cut it off at the knees. – HopelessN00b Dec 16 '12 at 17:03
  • As for "snubbing those topics", please see the FAQ: it is not about… Career, salary, personnel, employment, or formal education, maybe stop by The Workplace and check it out. – Chris S Dec 16 '12 at 17:04
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    Maybe ServerFault needs a "SysAdmins" to parallel StackOverflow's Programmers. – Wesley Dec 16 '12 at 20:47

It's funny that this came up today: all day I've been pondering how to ask a subjective question and worrying that it might be considered a list question.

For this question, there are a couple things that make me inclined to close it:

  • As it is, it's actually so broad that it's Not a Real Question. He's asking for a checklist for "quoting, building, installing and servicing" servers. The two answers there now (his and voretaq7's) are lists of some of the things you would think about at different stages in the life of a server, but they're nowhere near covering all of the stages.

  • Even if you limited the question to just one stage (e.g. "a checklist for commissioning a server"), I think you'd still want to close it as "Not Constructive."

The thing is, there are endless details that are critical in some environments but not others, and you could always argue for including them on the list. If you did a poll of everyone's top 10 "Things to check on a new server," you'd come up with something 20 items that are the most common, and a huge long tail of other items that are critical to someone.

(Now I've got to figure out why I think a question asking for strategies or approaches to a problem is ok ("Good Subjective.") even though you could make similar arguments about it.)


TL;DR: "It really depends on the question."

GENERAL CASE: List Questions Suck

List questions off the form "What X do you use for Y?", "What products exist that do Z?", and the like are crap questions. They can almost always be answered better by Google, and Google will do a better job keeping its answer up to date than we could ever hope to.

Possible Exceptions

  1. Checklist Questions
    A good checklist / Best Practices question that can be used by others to develop their own checklists can be a Good Thing. If nothing else it provides a canonical destination for newbies so we don't have to keep closing the same thing over and over as "not constructive" and leaving pointer comments.
    (The key here is we're NOT aiming to provide a comprehensive, permanent answer: Just a list of considerations that won't change as a base for someone to make up their own list that will evolve over time.)
  • (I expect there are more possible exceptions so I'll take suggestions ;) – voretaq7 Dec 16 '12 at 6:06
  • If you allow one (or more) based on some subjective 'it depends' criteria then you create 'broken windows' and other people will use them as justification to post their list questions. As you know we already see this line of reasoning with other types of questions that are now considered off topic. List questions are the epitome of NC and should be dealt with as such. If Content like this has value then it really should be a blog post. – user9517 Dec 16 '12 at 7:39

After reading both the question being discussed and what is being discussed here I still can't understand why anyone sees it as a legitimate and answerable question. In my opinion it is definitely not a worthwhile question and has absolutely nothing to distinguish it from the numerous others we close. I'm voting to close it and can only wonder why this is even being discussed.

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