If the question were worded in such a way that while the (proper/correct) answer would be a list but that the list is strictly limited in scope, why is this a problem? I can think of several answers, but they all seem to indicate that awarding reputation is more important than questions being answered.

Here is a prototype question: Which actors have portrayed satan in Hollywood (or American indie) films since 1970?

This question isn't open-ended in that no on can dig up a 1928 Bulgarian film that only 3 people in the world knew about and hold it up as a (partial) answer. It's limited by release dates and scope, and unlike many lists Wikipedia (or similar sites) don't have a ready-made answer. The most I can find is some cracked.com top 5 joke list and the like, which is obviously far from comprehensive. The correct answer would be finite, and the nature of the question limits this to only high-profile films.

Would it cause problems to ask this?

  • 3
    The prototype question has other issues, like being trivially answered by IMDB.
    – user1027
    Jul 13, 2012 at 20:20
  • 3
    I disagree. For one, IMDB is almost always a worse reference than Wikipedia, and will include many false positives and miss quite a false negatives. Calling someone "the devil" is metaphorical, and IMDB only does raw keyword searching. And there are at least half a dozen synonyms. Wikipedia would (much of the time) actually have a comprehensive list, but does not for this particular question. So no, it's not trivially answered, not even where the list includes answers outside the scope that might have to be weeded out to arrive at the correct answer.
    – John O
    Jul 13, 2012 at 20:23

3 Answers 3


To answer the question in the title: the rule comes from bitter experience of how those questions played out on Stack Overflow---for a long time the inclusionists held sway on this issue.

So here is how it works: list questions are easy to ask and easy to answer so they get a lot of attention. A lot of attention means a lot of votes. So there are (1) a lot of them and (2) almost nothing else on the "sort questions by score" tab.

Now imagine a user who find the site from Google (across Stack Exchange it is the single biggest source of views). Assume she comes to the site after searching for the answer to a difficult or obscure question, finds an answer she like and decides to join up and be part of this wonderful thing we have going.

Now being an unusually good egg, she first reads the FAQ with loving attention to details and then decides to scope out the "good" content in order to be a good citizen from day one.

What does she do? She goes to the highest voted questions tab and gets a strong hint that make-a-lists are where it is at.

It doesn't matter that it wasn't what brought her here, that is what has been judged "good".

And so the site become primarily a place to make lists.


  • Can't we cap the list questions at some low score? Somewhere around 2 or 3 sounds good.
    – John O
    Jul 14, 2012 at 2:33
  • 2
    @JohnO If we would need to add a cap on the score because we don't want people getting too much rep from crappy questions - why should we even allow the questions in the first place?
    – Dason
    Jul 14, 2012 at 16:26
  • 1
    We had this problem when those questions we forced to be CW. It is not rep that causes it to happen, it is pure bikshed effect. List are easy. Jul 14, 2012 at 17:01
  • Because the point of this place is answering questions, not acquiring rep. What, can you trade it in for prizes from the Stackexchange catalog or something?
    – John O
    Jul 15, 2012 at 22:24
  • What about making list questions community wiki which should not appear when sorting by score?
    – vsz
    Feb 17, 2013 at 9:19

Usually list questions boil down to polling (i.e. List any works with X attribute). Your specific one doesn't exactly boil down to the same formula, but the results will be the same as a "List any works with Satan that were made after 1970".

  1. There are so many films made, and so many will reference or contain a character who is painted as being an ultimate supernatural evil, that we're talking an essentially unlimited list of works where everyone will know a few examples. People will inevitably contribute their own handful of works that they're familiar with as answers, and these will accumulate. "Me, too"-ism is a powerful force, which is touched on the by the 'not constructive' vote to close reason's mention of 'extended polling'.
  2. Almost no one ever compiles a complete list, if one is even feasible. By feasible, I'm referring to the 'not a real question' vote to close reason (i.e. 'overly broad'), along with one of the FAQ clauses:
    • "Your questions should be reasonably scoped. If you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, you’re asking too much."
  3. Is said list particularly valuable or useful? Is there some common need to know every film with Satan in it made in that particular time frame? I mention this because something that looks like a list question and walks like a list question will be treated like a list question unless there's something exceptional about it. This point is mildly touching on the 'too localized' vote to close reason.
  4. Is there a resource on the internet that has already compiled said list? IMDB has at least a superset of this available. But it's pretty unwieldy because of how enormous it is, and how particular your unspoken assumptions are. You apparently mean a literal Satan, but haven't clarified if this means the popular red-skinned fellow with horns and a tail, or if he's allowed to be in a human form. This point refers to the 'general reference' vote to close reason.

Now, take another list question:

  • List all of the Doctor's regenerations on Doctor Who.

This differs from your question in several key ways. Firstly, it's much more manageable. There are roughly a dozen entries in this list. Secondly, the issue of his past and future lives has an importance within the fiction. Thirdly, it like your question is pretty easily answered by checking a reference site, as Wikipedia contains the entirety of this list, so it would likely be closed for that reason. But, I hope it helps illuminate why your question would end up closed.

  • I think limiting this to Hollywood films will at most give us 2 per year. That's what, as many as 80 in theory (but in practice I bet the number is lower). Lately we've had the Imaginarium of Doctor Parnasus, and what, Constantine? That's not going to be many. No, I don't have some burning need... but all of these questions boil down to curiosity. As I said in another comment, IMDB is nearly worthless. It exists as some Hollywood marketing tool. When you can search it at all, it's going to bring in 5000 television episodes. Wikipedia should have this list, but it does not.
    – John O
    Jul 13, 2012 at 21:55

There are a couple of issues.

  1. People do not often post complete list answers.

    • Often you'll see a lot of single answers like "Bob Bobbert played Satan in "Satan's goes to the zoo." And then another answer will say "I remember Fred Walkabird playing Satan in the Muppets Christmas Carol"
  2. The open ended nature of the question makes it more suceptible to becoming outdated.

    • You post your answer with 10 actors who've portrayed Satan. Next week a new movie comes out with a new actor portraying Satan. Are you going to make sure to update your answer? After 1 year, 2 years, 3 years? Is someone else? This can loop back to the first problem. 3 weeks later someone comes along and adds another answer that says "Oh yeah and since Jack's answer there has been Satan Runs a Day Care, with Jabba the Hutt as Satan." And you're back to having a number of incomplete answers to an open ended (because of the progression of time) question.

Now obviously some answers are going to become out of date, but the open ended list question leads itself to this more than others.

  • Why not then insist that the question be closed on both ends? From 1970 to 2012. Also, shouldn't we just encourage users to edit the first partial answer so that a complete answer is built?
    – John O
    Jul 13, 2012 at 21:02
  • So were to have multiple questions asking the same thing for different time periods? Jul 14, 2012 at 2:09
  • Yeh, I think if Stackexchange lasts another 40 years, then someone revisiting the question and asking for a list of devil movies from 2012 to 2050 is fair and won't ruin this place.
    – John O
    Jul 14, 2012 at 2:20
  • It would be more like one for every year for the next X years. You're assuming that users would be satisfied with the one current to 2012 until 2050. This is simply a horrible idea within the boundaries of SE. Jul 14, 2012 at 15:33
  • Oh no, how would you deal with the flood of "1 question per year"?
    – John O
    Jul 15, 2012 at 22:31

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