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The F.A.Q. doesn't actually forbid list questions, instead forbidding a specific subset of those questions. However, the fact remains that we are NOT a reference site. This format (Q & A) is never going to be a good reference site builder because of how the content is solicited. Any time one person could not reasonably be expected to answer the question, that's a fairly good indication that you just asked a bad question.

I'm not talking about hard questions. You know, the ones that there are only a few individuals on the planet, known by some as experts, know the answers to. I know previously people have declared that limited lists are okay. There are quite a lot of questions that deal with lists throughout a large amount of meta. I know that's a lot of reading to get through, but I know you can handle it.

We also have the additional provision in the above mentioned FAQ that questions should be asked from an actual problem and not from idle curiosity. It seems like many of the list questions may have a difficult time meeting this criteria.

So after a two years of accepting these kind of questions, the question we need to ask ourselves is "Are they generating good content?".

I have intentionally not called out specific users or questions in this post because I don't want us getting distracted in the conversation. I would say that you need to post examples in any answer that you give (I know I will be in mine) on either side of line.

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  • I tried to keep the question free of the taint of my own opinion, but I think somebody needs to edit to finish that process since I am clearly not objective on the subject. Thanks! – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 1:25
  • Since you asked, I've made some edits that I think may make this come across a bit more neutrally. Feel free to roll back or edit further if you disagree! – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 1:33
  • @Beofett thanks, I really was writing a much longer thing when I realized that the general case need to be looked at, and my opinions on the subject were powerful enough to override my normal filter :) – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 1:37
  • Honestly, I'm not sure I understand what questions you're talking about. Is this about the "limited list" questions? – user1027 Apr 3 '13 at 2:37
  • Okay, after seeing the examples in the original revision, I see that is what you're talking about. – user1027 Apr 3 '13 at 2:38
  • @Keen perhaps I was wrong to remove those examples. I believe "limited lists" are the only ones currently allowed? – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 3:03
  • Amusingly, I can see the reverse of one of the edited-out questions adding to readers' understanding of the characters and universe - the original, not so much. – Izkata Apr 3 '13 at 3:22
  • @keen limited lists are, as I understand it, the only list questions actually allowed at the present moment. Those limits are still quite broad, however, and perhaps the answer is to tighten them down farther or that everyone is totally happy with the content that is being generated in them. I'll be (hopefully) convincing on a different tack though. – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 4:02
  • @sarge_smith It's mainly a personal issue, when there are so many pronouns, I lose track of what they refer to. You used 'limited list' once, then only referred to them as 'they', 'these kind' etc. – user1027 Apr 3 '13 at 14:44
  • @keen limited lists are, as I understand it, the only list questions actually allowed at the present moment. Those limits are still quite broad, however, and perhaps the answer is to tighten them(limited lists) down farther or that everyone is totally happy with the content that is being generated in them (limited list questions). I'll be (hopefully) convincing on a different tack though – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 14:49
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TL;DR: Yes, allowing limited lists has generated some good content, and we should continue to allow them, but we should also continue to monitor them and edit to improve wherever possible.

So after a two years of accepting these kind of questions, the question we need to ask ourselves is "Are they generating good content?".

I looked through for some specific examples. I found some that I feel are good content, some that I feel are bad, and some that I feel fall in between.

Good:

Bad

In Between

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  • I'm removing that(good use of time) from the original question... It's obviously not a good standard by which to judge these or any other question's merit. – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 16:11
  • I've updated appropriately, thanks! – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 16:17
  • Also, I think that it is telling that a large amount of your good list is people asking for pointers off site to the information they are looking for. Plus the amount of straight copying from other sites. I think I would have much less of a problem if these questions didn't seem to be endorsing running to the nearest wiki and absconding with their content. – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 16:21
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    Pointing off-site for references is not inherently bad, if the content is summarized appropriately here. In fact, that's almost mandatory on Skeptics.se, and references and citations are actively encouraged on other sites. – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 16:26
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    @Beofett - IMHO, lack of votes and responses is not a good criteria of quality. Merely of level of interest. I wouldn't be surprised if very few people are interested in ST comics (given the level of quality of the movie). Just because Perl questions have a lot less views and upvotes than Java on SO, doesn't make them bad in any way. (and I am actually gathering material on SS comics, so may have an answer in a couple of months or so if lack of answer on that one bothers you :) – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 3 '13 at 16:32
  • @Beofett - would you mind adding the "facts from poems in LOTR" to your "good" list? It's linked in my answer. If you're interested, I can find you plenty more good Qs like that. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 3 '13 at 16:34
  • @beofett there was no value judgement there, I was just saying that it's almost like they realize that the format is unsuited to deal with the info. I'm all for pulling disparate info from multiple sources in to come up with a complete answer. Even well summarized info has its place. But is that the kind of content that these questions actually generate? – sarge_smith Apr 3 '13 at 16:35
  • @DVK No, I agree. That's why I listed that one as "in between". I mentioned the lack of votes and responses more as an absence of positives, than as a negative. – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 16:35
  • @DVK I added it. That is a good one. – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 16:40
  • There are approximately 81 billion fan fics on the web -- of course it's not a comprehensive list. Further, I reviewed the question again -- and I am really tired right now, so forgive me if I'm making a mistake -- and nowhere that I can see is there a request for a "comprehensive" list. The OP asks for 10 examples of foreshadowing. I'm not arguing with your overall point, but I did want to point out these two issues. – Slytherincess Apr 4 '13 at 5:29
  • @aSlytherin There is a combination of two problems here: the first is that I simply did not read the question as thoroughly as I should. The second is that, as other users have pointed out in the past, describing a question as a "list question", no matter what other qualifiers are used, tends to evoke immediate bias in some users, myself included. I tried to be objective in my list, and perhaps didn't succeed as well as I could have. I certainly did not intend to diminish the strength of your contribution (which I had upvoted). I will change my categorization. My apologies! – Beofett Apr 4 '13 at 12:07
  • @Beofett - Please, no worries. In turn, I'm sorry if my comment came across as brusque -- that was not my intention at all. I do see why that particular question could be seen as the kind of list question that is especially problematic; I think it's a unique question, so its presence here on the site could very well be confusing to some users -- like, "I thought list questions weren't allowed on SFF.se. What gives?" :) – Slytherincess Apr 4 '13 at 14:32
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    VTC this question is generating lists! <wink> – Izkata Apr 5 '13 at 2:23
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TL,DR Feel free to scroll to the conclusion section and read only that.

Here's the reasons I think list questions are bad:

I think that they run afoul of the idle curiosity clause in the FAQ. I can't remember a single non-idle-curiosity list question. Of course, that said, I don't have any examples since you can't prove the negative.

They tend to generate poor content. Most of the content that they generate could be found on other sites, more suited to list delivery.

They generate content that this Q & A site is poorly formatted to deal with. We don't have table support and it doesn't seem like it's likely to magically show up. I've see it asked for here with zero response from SE itself. Without table support, list formatting can become quite the chore.

Here's a list of every single list question that I could find in the range of today going back to the first of the year.

  1. Which actor has portrayed the most distinct roles in the Star Trek universe?
  2. What were all the occasions where the Star Trek Captains have met each other?
  3. Who are all the characters to have touched The One Ring?
  4. Is there any use of Claytronics in Star Wars lore?
  5. What neutral planets existed at the time of the Rebellion? (this is a question I edited to make a non-list question, the original question and the comments are pertinent to this discussion)
  6. How many people who weren't superheroes did Batman reveal his identity to?
  7. What else did Pa Kent salvage from Jor-El's son's rocket?
  8. Where else do we see James T. Kirk, computer hacker extraordinnaire?
  9. What characteristics does Alpha/Beta wolf have in Twilight Series?
  10. Are there any other weapons designed using lightsaber technology?
  11. What powers does Galadriel have?
  12. Who knows the truth about Jon Snow's parentage (father & mother)
  13. Are there non-weapon items in the Star Wars universe based on lightsaber technology?
  14. What five creatures were sacrificed in Barb & J.C. Hendee's Sister of the Dead?
  15. Dresden Files, TV show vs Books
  16. How many alien women has Capt/Admiral Kirk slept with?
  17. https://scifi.stackexchange.com/questions/33762/what-are-the-nerdiest-movies-of-all-time

If I missed any, feel free to add them, but for now I'm going to call this our data set.

So: If we were to do totally away with lists, how would that affect the questions in this data set? How many fail the idle curiosity test? What other commonalities can we find?

Q1 : We have a lot of scope dancing, the OP spends more time limiting his question than asking it. We have a good answer, that's up-voted and we have a couple of also rans in the answer column. The OP admits its an idle question in the first sentence. It could have been phrased as a non-list question and still gotten the same response. Very few comments. Viewed 524.

Q2 : Again, huge effort limiting scope. Post improperly reopened by moderator instead of the normal five votes required. Few up-votes. One answer which may or may not be complete. 44 comments between the question and answer, plus however Keen deleted during version control. Again, sparked by another question, although not explicitly stated IC. Viewed 209.

Q3 : A perfect list question, concrete scope. Great answer and an additional answer. Only flaw is that it's an exact duplication of somebody else's content, although it is proper accredited. (It also must have been a stone cold bitch to make that table) Viewed 378.

Q4 : An example of the just-give-one-example question. Low votes, no answers (because the answer is "of course not" and everybody knows noes are a waste of your time.) Viewed 98.

Q5 : In which I erroneously edited the question and thus got reminded to make this post. Few comments, no answer. As originally worded, a ton of correct answers. Didn't have much of a chance to build up comment steam. Viewed 67.

Q6: Once again, lots of limiting of scope. One answer that is poorly researched and admitted to be incomplete. Low votes on question as well. Few comments. I won't make any guesses about OP's motivation. Viewed 223.

Q7 : No artificial scope limiting. No answers. A few comments. Low votes on question. Viewed 78.

Q8 : Scope limited by answerer to TOS, however it is another one example question, in which there could multiple correct answers. Answer could be straight copypasta from a wiki, who knows. Viewed 334.

Q9 : Here we have a question in which is phrased poorly, but where the OP wouldn't be helped by a list at all. He asks for one, but really wants an explanation on how a wolf gets to be in charge in Twilight. Viewed 151.

Q10 : Another fine example of the one example genre. Few comments. Couple of answers. Again, answer sourced directly from a wiki. Viewed 413.

Q11 : Asked like a list question, gets two good answers instead. This may not belong in this data set, but I added it as an edge case to be on the safe side. Viewed 839.

Q12 : Straight up list question in which we get one great answer and two other normal list responses. The great answer goes far above the OP's request, however. Viewed 451.

Q13 : High voted question, answers fall into the no trap. Also a one example question. Viewed 739.

Q14 : Great, well-sourced question; great, well-sourced answer. If every list question was like this one, I wouldn't have spent my day on this post. Viewed 66.

Q15 : List question, answered comprehensively. i.e. The kind of list question that could have been reformulated to get the same answer. Viewed 141.

Q16 : High voted question, also on the edge of the dataset. Sadly, answer is mostly copypasta of somebody else's work. Plus side, it is complete copypasta and it is nicely formated and the answerer did add a few outside sources in. Call it a wash. Viewed 378.

Q17 : The outside bound the other way, something everybody can see as unwanted content.

So... conclusions. There is a subset of these list questions that the community is already not voting up. I think the correlation is the idle curiosity metric. List questions also seem to invite a lot of copying from other sites. The gimme-one-example questions are really bad and should probably get nuked from orbit. I think that the restriction on list questions should probably be tightened to remove the subset that the community is already mostly ignoring

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  • Regarding your first reason why you think they're bad, I listed several limited list questions that do not fall into the category of "idle curiosity": the questions about Stargate and X-Files 'arc' episodes, LotR poetry, and Superman comics in particular, but really (arguably) all of the questions I listed in my answer, (good, bad, and in between), with the sole exception of the Wesley Crusher romance question. – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 18:58
  • Having gone through your examples, and read your conclusion, I'm left with a big question: how, exactly, do we identify new questions as falling into your subset that should be removed (i.e. "the subset that the community is already mostly ignoring")? What, exactly, do you mean by mostly ignoring? I'm assuming the number of views plays into it, since that's the only metric you consistently included, but that seems flawed since the subject will influence views more than the wording of the title (i.e. bad Star Wars Q's will draw more views than good Q's about Sister of the Dead) – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 19:16
  • @beofett Honestly, the only ones that I think can be objectively discarded are "the does this exist/give-me-one-example" subset. I never really intended this question to fully solve the problem, I just feel like it's something we really needed to talk about. Just like we should be talking about how many user deletions we have. Honestly, it wasn't on my radar when I started this, but now I think the number one bad thing is the fact that list questions are almost always answered with the ctrl-C, ctrl-V key. I think our community is better than that, although I appear in the minority. – sarge_smith Apr 4 '13 at 1:44
  • Oh, I agree that we need to talk about this, and I am glad you asked this question. On the "are there any" subset, I am fond of PearsonArtPhoto's answer from a previous discussion, although I don't believe the discussion drew enough attention to qualify as a consensus. Regarding copy/paste answers, if they are from a variety of sources, and provide appropriate citations, I consider it an improvement over what already exists, but I do prefer that an overview be custom written for the answer, with citations to acknowledge sources. – Beofett Apr 4 '13 at 1:53
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    It's hard to swallow the general acceptance of C&Ping swaths of Wikipedia/Wiki material as thoughtful, meaningful answers -- no, you are not alone in the belief that we should expect so much better than that. For many many months I would put a request in my questions for no Wikipedia/Wiki answers; I'm sure I got a lot of downvotes for that. A lot. And when I finally caught the clue that -- seemingly -- more people here would defend the right to mediocrity over the goal of excellence, the purpose of the site became fairly irrelevant to me. I look at the site much differently now. – Slytherincess Apr 4 '13 at 21:16
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It could make sense to allow list questions, but make them CW and build the list inside one answer. This would remove the problem of an increasing amount of answers and allow the OP to accept the single correct answer, if they're satisfied.

List questions are easily identified so it would be trivial to enforce the rule. This is a compromise between banning them altogether and allowing non-constructive questions.

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    For once, I disagree with you. CW is a fix that will hide the problem under the carpet. Experience show we are bad at maintaining those lists and I think the are better suited on Wikipedia and other universe specific wikis for 2 reason. 1. The discussions that is required to correctly manage the changes in those lists is more suitably handled on those wikis site. 2. The way question are indexed on the site tend to let those question fall into oblivion so they are poorly updated. – DavRob60 Apr 3 '13 at 13:47
  • @DavRob60: Hmmm, you make a good point. It's a similar dilemma as with "no info in canon" questions which can get outdated. The motivation here was that there are some list questions that might actually be interesting and would readily get good answers but we have to close and discourage them due to the no-list-questions rule. Bad questions can still be NARQed or NCed, and good questions that need updating can be bountied (if we drop the general rule). – bitmask Apr 3 '13 at 13:59
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    My point is not against or for those good list question. My point is that making them CW will not help. It hide some of the irritating issues with list questions, but not the core problem. – DavRob60 Apr 3 '13 at 14:25
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    I agree with DavRob60. Community Wiki is not a band-aid to bypass problems with question formats. CW bring enough baggage to the table with its own inherent flaws that any use of CW should be extremely rare, and reserved only for very popular and frequently viewed, canonical questions. – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 15:23
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  1. Barring a very specific and wide analysis of a majority of such "limited list" questions (and not just 2 that you cherry-picked to make your point) clearly showing that they actively harm the site, generate bad content, and are worth banning - the burden of proof that such questions are worth banning is on you.

    So far, you have not provided even a shred of proof aside from your own opinion that for all of them, "one person could not reasonably be expected to answer the question".

    Well, you are wrong to make such an assumption. Proof: I asked such a question (list of content of poetry in LOTR) -... and an expert rose to the occasion and DID answer it, exhaustively.

  2. Also, as @JohnO noted, SFF.SE is not StackOverflow. We are here to indulge in our curiosities to know more about the fictional universes we like. "I am curious about X" is a perfectly sufficient justification for asking a question. YOU personally may not take anything out of that question or its answer, other people will. "Not useful for me" is NOT a criteria to ban specific kinds of questions (and if it is, let's start by banning "guessing game", aka "story-identification" ones since they aren't useful to some of us).

  3. To answer your questions:

    "Are they generating good content?".

    Yes. See my example of poetry in LOTR question.

    Also "Are these questions the best use of this community's time?"

    Totally and completely irrelevant.

    • If you as a member of the community don't find such questions rewarding to answer or read others' answers - ignore them.

    • If you are miffed that specific experts in the community spend their time answering such questions instead of "better" ones, feel free to use bounties to incentivize those experts to answer the questions you like better.

    • If such questions present a clear and present danger to the site in that they are crowding out better content - prove it. Such questions are tiny minority of questions on the site, and not the most highly voted either (unlike joke lists on SO).

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    I think it is perfectly valid to raise this question here on meta, and I appreciate the OP's desire to try and minimize their personal bias when opening the discussion (as well as the request for assistance in further reducing the bias). As such, I think all but your points #2 and #3 come across as a bit unnecessarily harsh. – Beofett Apr 3 '13 at 15:19
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    @Beofett - sorry, my patience withe people whose main idea of "improving" the site is to start bashing whole classes of questions based on zero evidence that they cause harm to the site (as opposed to annoying a couple of users, or contain a portion of genuinely bad specific posts) is wearing rather thin. I tried to be as gentle as possible as it is. – DVK-on-Ahch-To Apr 3 '13 at 16:36
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    to address each of your points 1. I put the other necessary meta questions in the question, I did not answer my own question there. See, I understand that to have an actual discussion, you have to lay out what you want to talk about and then offer a suggestion IN THE ANSWERS! The proof part of things should, of course, be apart of that answer. Yes, that is a great answer. Look at the question though. Couldn't it have been answered in two lines? All you actually ask for is a link. That's not good sand, however many question votes it got. – sarge_smith Apr 5 '13 at 2:15
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    2. by problem I mean, I didn't understand this this, or why did this happen. Yes, in scifi the problems are going to be different and sometimes more subjective than in, say, physics. That's cool. But if most of the "idle curiosity" questions got turned into something different, I feel we would asking questions that people would want to click on. How much better is "If they have lightsabers, why hasn't the technology spread to other tools" than "Is there any tool that uses lightsaber tech". On the topic of story-id, I hated those things for a long time as well, mainly because I felt they (cont) – sarge_smith Apr 5 '13 at 2:23
  • fell into the same sort of category. I wish there was a way that we could hide them from any user that doesn't already have 200 rep actually. For the exact same reason. A list of them doesn't invite you to get involved at all. However, I do like the service we are providing. The human brain is way better at figuring out those puzzles than a search engine is, and I think it's great that there is a place where you can go and ask that sort of thing. Plus our format is sort of designed for it. So now, I can sort of see both sides of them. – sarge_smith Apr 5 '13 at 2:29
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    just addendum, I should have asked, are they consistently generating good content. For reference that good sand thing I'm talking about is located here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/06/optimizing-for-pearls-not-sand – sarge_smith Apr 5 '13 at 2:32
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We are purely a "curiosity" site. There are no "problems" to be solved, this isn't superuser or stackoverflow.

If anything, we need to reconsider allowing all list questions once again, after crafting a policy that would make them as un-obnoxious as possible. For instance, some say that it messes up the popularity of other worthy questions, but I'd be happy if some technical fix were implemented to keep them from dominating the active sorting order or what have you.

Finally, I want to point out that if I've guessed which question inspired this meta post, it's not really a "list" question, so much as it is a "please give me an example of" question. The two are different both in intent and acceptable answers. While I am for list questions, I disapprove of give-me-an-example-ofs.

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