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https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/1040/the-ages-old-question-in-an-encounter-between-the-federation-and-the-empire-who

I asked that question very much on purpose. I'm sure if I look at the definition for the site it will be one of the top 5 off-topic questions. My point here is, why?

Stack Exchange communities have so far been very serious. I would go so far as to call them stodgy. They aim for an air of academics. This is all good and well when its a Q&A for a serious subject that has definite answers, such as Programming or Physics.

But that isn't Science Fiction. Science Fiction has also been called Speculative Fiction, and I think this moniker is a much better explanation of what Science Fiction is. It's speculative. The whole point of it is to speculate about what is possible. What may happen, what might happen, what could happen. There is no definite answer for these questions. That's the whole point of Science Fiction.

Now some are using this to argue that we therefore must have a small scope and relegate ourselves to Sci-Fi trivia. Questions that do solve some problem or have a definite answer. Or else that we shouldn't exist. That a Stack Exchange to actually discuss Sci-Fi, as in speculate about the universes, stories and questions posed by Sci-Fi, wouldn't work.

But why wouldn’t it work? Why does a question have to have a definite answer to be valuable on a Stack Exchange? Because people vote on it and get reputation from it? The reputation on a science fiction Q&A is meaningless anyway. I’m not going to get a job at a publishing company or a book deal because I have a high sci-fi reputation. Why can’t we just vote on the one we like the best, find the most convincing or that made us smile the most? Sure that’s not the vision Jeff and Joel had for Stack Exchange, but isn’t this our community? They’re just the hosts. If we find enjoyment, use and value from it, then there is no reason we shouldn’t do it.

Granted, this particular question is an extreme example of a speculative question. It is very silly and definitely one I’ve rolled my eyes at from time to time. But, you know what? If people get enjoyment from discussing it and they keep it civil, why do we have to stop them from using this platform to do it? Why can’t we just roll our eyes and not enter the thread? If the community doesn’t enjoy the question, it won’t get voted up and it will fall off the bottom of the page. People will stop asking them. Afraid of being overrun by them? Well, there are only so many “X vs Y” questions that can be asked. And sure, there are a lot, but eventually they will all have been asked and we can just point em out as dupes.

We don’t fit the existing model of Stack Exchange. So why try? Let us be an experiment in a less serious and somewhat light hearted Stack Exchange. Where we speculate, joke, geek out, wonder and dream. Where we fulfill the purpose of Science Fiction and wonder at what could be. Where we let our hair down a bit and relax with a little escapism. We don’t have to be better than PhPBB, we can just be different. And if the community enjoys it and finds it valuable then that should be a good enough reason to let it exist.

If it doesn’t enjoy it or find it valuable then we won’t get traffic, we won’t exist and we can quietly die. We’re struggling for scope. Lets just leave it wide.

  • You make compelling arguments. Will answer later. – MPelletier Jan 19 '11 at 20:35
  • I wish I could give you +10 ups for this. Very well stated. – Rodger Cooley Jan 19 '11 at 23:40
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    At first glance, I disagree with much of what you say, but very well said. You present a good case. – neilfein Jan 20 '11 at 0:57
  • and you can´t get a job at a publishing co from your sci fi rep because writing and business related questions are being closed. sigh. – MatthewMartin Jan 20 '11 at 13:00
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This is unlikely to work because the Stackexchange software and moderation process are optimised for Q&A forums, not general discussion forums. Discussions need different processes from Q&A -- for example, better threading, the ability to promote comments to main posts, and so on. The reputation system would need an overhaul as well. General discussion needs to happen somewhere that's designed to handle it.

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    Part of the point of an experiment is determining whether it could work. Discussion seems to work well enough in meta. So why not use a similar style in main? Good points are voted up, they can be collected in top voted posts through editing and cw. The reputation is meaningless anyway, so ignore it. Where there is a debate at hand, have two or more posts, one for each "side". Vote for the side that is most convincing. To add a point to one argument or the other, edit the post. This could work. It might take some finangling, but the result could be better than other formats. – Daniel Bingham Jan 19 '11 at 21:06
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    I've been thinking this approach would work fairly well, even for those pesky "subjective" questions. Let the community up/down vote what they think is the best "answer". BTW, the same thing is happening over at some of the other StackExchange sites, like Atheism, for example. Can you imagine how subjective those questions are? It's like herding cats over there, and it's driving off many users. – Rodger Cooley Jan 19 '11 at 23:40
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I agree that the best rules for a Q&A site about programming may not be the best for a Q&A site about programming. So we should make our own rules.

I also agree that questions do not have to “solve a problem”. That's a good approach for a technical subject, not for interacting about SF.

The problem I have with your question is that answers are likely to attract a lot of contradiction, hence a lot of comments, and voting for subjective (dis)agreement rather than for some metric of correctness. That's something the Q&A format is not good at.

Basically I agree with your approach but not your particular example.

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    We do have to follow the rules that the site owners have set, and right now, that includes the rule that questions have to be solving real-world problems. Perhaps there's a way to do this? – neilfein Jan 20 '11 at 1:01
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    @neilfein: list questions are neither explicitly allowed nor explicitly forbidden by Jeff's blog post. They're quite different from “favorite X” questions, as they have objective ratings, and in principle can have a definitive answer (although they're unlikely to get it here). – user56 Jan 20 '11 at 20:59
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The formula has worked over and over again on many a Stack Exchange site. You say we're struggling for scope, but the site is brand new. The scope will come within the existing framework. Is there room for levity? Sure. Should the questions and the answers reflect that richness of what Sci-fi is, a created object for others to enjoy? Yeah. Is it going to sound different than a site where people ask how to make PHP do XY & Z. It will. Should we let it devolve into a discussion forum?

Then it's a discussion forum, and not a Stack Exchange site.

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The genesis (as I understood it) of StackOverflow was that Joel Spolsky (et al.) wanted to create a community of programming experts. Spolsky stated on his blog that he basically did so originally as an attempt at finding top programmers for FogCreek, his company. It was a recruitment tool, or at the very least that was one of the objectives. Still, the idea was to create a community of experts, a living one that would attract people and would serve as a reference.

If we take the Venn diagram aspect of the SE sites, there are 4 components. An SE site which would allow for speculation and discussion at large would be:

  • a forum
  • a blog
  • a digg/reddit type

but would not be:

  • a wiki

It would be a reference to nobody.

So in my mind, there would not be a space for pure speculative discussion, despite the nature of the topic which we all love (sci-fi). The community building is still happening, and there may be a chance to latch onto it, but in a side entity, not the actual Q&A format. Even the chat room would be a better place.

There might be something to suggest to the big papa meta, a side forum. That could be a thing, and it would live off the community quite well.

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