I've never really liked the pecking order that one finds on some forum sites, one famous one in particular. (It rhymes with "said it".) While I've found EL&U to be relatively civil, there is an aspect of meta-discussion and disapproval that I still see fairly often, along the lines of: "Is this forum really the best place for this question?" "I'm voting to lock this thread." "You could only come up with one example? Please come back when you can put in some real effort." First of all, there is the problem of tone. These are simply not nice ways to talk to people. When you consider that many users here do not use English as their first language, it's really quite presumptuous to blast them. After all, we are trying to be educators. No one here is anyone else's boss.

There is a bigger point, however, that has to do with the logic and working principle of forums like this one. Certainly, a forum can specify certain ground rules about format and content. Don't post spam, please stay on topic, etc. But this is, after all, a totally public outlet. (I don't need to remind users here about the meaning of the word forum.) As such, we should really expect some amount of disorder: some repetition of questions or parts of questions; some half-baked thinking; some rowdy discussion or argument. However, the online culture for these things seems to have diverged from that. Frequent users or mods can seem to have a mama-bear attitude, one that I find distasteful and a little weird. It can seem like these protective users expect the forum ledger to resemble a textbook FAQ or a committee's official minutes, rather than a somewhat messy, peer-to-peer exchange. (Consider the associations of that word too, as in the name of this website.) And, it isn't just unreasonable; it quickly devolves into waste and pettiness. To go back and forth, among several users, deciding whether a topic is worthy of our consideration can quickly approach bureaucratic farce. If it's really that egregious, someone with the authority should simply lock the thing, perhaps providing an explanation, and be done with it. Parading one's disapproval is nothing more than childish.

All that said, I do understand some of the motivating desires of many of these type-A users. If this is going to be a resource, it might as well look a little clean, and polished, and avoid redundancy and be perfectly on-topic, etc. My confusion is why you would ever expect a public forum to be that kind of document. And so, I just want to offer a suggestion-- or at least, see if anyone has an idea why this isn't the way things are done.

What seems to me most reasonable, would be to take the existing EL&U forum, use mods or veteran users or whatever, and then create a higher-order, curated stack. This would include the best questions and answers from the whole history of these records. It could be catalogued, alphabetized, never redundant and nicely cross-referenced. It would satisfy the housekeeping urges of many of the users here, while also leaving the main page to breathe a bit and just be what it is: an exchange or a forum. To my mind, there's a ridiculous expectation built into forums like these: because someone has already asked about who vs. whom, or participle vs. gerund, you're not supposed to ask anymore. People have been asking questions like these for hundreds of years, but we don't expect students in school to have read all the literature before raising their hands in class. Teachers of language, whether at the grade school or university level, are asked about who vs. whom many times every year they teach. Only a very bad teacher would get impatient about that.

What do you think?

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    To respond at a high level, and really only to two points: (a) on StackExchange in general, beyond just EL&U, the word "forum" tends to raise hackles, precisely because it has the conversational implications you indicate; (b) I don't often see members here, high-rep or otherwise, going after askers for "poor English". In general I see a lot of sympathy for non-native speakers. What I don't see a lot of sympathy for (to put it mildly) is askers who put no or little effort into answering their own question before asking us to do so [cont'd].
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 13, 2015 at 8:02
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    [cont'd] Again, this is a general ethic on SE and not specific to EL&U: we do not expect askers to be experts on the topic of their question (that would be a bit paradoxical), but we do expect them to know how to ask a question properly, as an adult would ask a question of another adult (i.e. not as a child would ask his parents). And that includes the courtesy of trying for oneself, first. We get a huge number of questions here which could immediately and conclusively be answer with a dictionary, but this doesn't even seem to occur to many askers.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 13, 2015 at 8:05
  • @Dan Bron Well, I can tell from your tone that I rankled you, and that's not what this was supposed to be about. About (a), that's exactly what makes no sense to me. If you had a select membership, that would be one thing. You're soliciting anyone who has an email address. Why the heck shouldn't a language message board be conversational? Oct 13, 2015 at 8:06
  • On (b), I don't know, I find that very subjective. A truly lazy question would be asking for a spelling check. I've never seen anything like that. Also, it's near impossible to tell exactly how much effort someone has put in. I've been accused of just that thing you say on other sites, and the reality was, I had spent an hour or more researching online before asking, and still needed some help. If you are disturbed because you think someone is trying to waste your time, just move on. I for one don't mind helping people, and I don't try to guess how many hours they put in first. Oct 13, 2015 at 8:08
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    No, you didnt rankle me. My sincere apologies if my tone came off that way. Re "forum": the point is to abolish the conception of SE as a "message board" at all: to see it as a site not for discussing, not for back-and-forth, but for people to simply ask questions, get answers, and move on. Of course I find people's insistence on that idea as an absolute to be silly. You and I are having a conversation right now. But nevertheless SE is less "forum-y" than other, similar, sites, so we try to set people's expectations from the outset. Also, we offer chat rooms.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 13, 2015 at 8:10
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    Well, I think that's a noble cause, but at least where language is concerned, it's doomed to failure. There are so many uncertainties and peculiarities in the English language, you absolutely must hold a discussion in many areas to get any ground. Also, if that's the case, I still don't understand why you would have free and open membership. At the very least, you'd have to screen your answerers first, and perhaps your questioners, too. Without that, again, I don't see how it can be anything other than what I find it to be: curious banter and discussion. Oct 13, 2015 at 8:13
  • In re: "if you don't [like a question for whatever reason], skip it and find one you do", that's ok for the individual question, but has troubling implications when you view the site holistically, as a library people can come to to find good questions and great answers. Many of us are trying to build something for the longer term here, and that takes a measure of curation, which in turn takes a measure of pruning. No one likes to close questions, but we can't be everything to everyone or we'll end up being nothing for no one.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 13, 2015 at 8:15
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    Actually, as I'm pondering this, I see a paradox: The only questions that have easy, straightforward answers are the kind of questions that we're not encouraged to ask on SE, i.e., ones that you can probably get the answer to in five minutes somewhere else. The more difficult and satisfying questions require some head-scratching and discussion among users, thus, they are really discussion-based and not simply Q&A. Oct 13, 2015 at 8:16
  • That's an interesting point. Let me mull it over before I come back to you.
    – Dan Bron
    Oct 13, 2015 at 8:16
  • Sounds good, thanks so far for the conversation. Oct 13, 2015 at 8:17
  • @Albatrosspro Re your paradox, that's not universally true. My raunchy question does not have easy, straightforward answers, but is not really discussion-based either.
    – Andrew Leach Mod
    Oct 13, 2015 at 8:48
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    @TimLymington: I'm been here a bit longer than Albatrosspro, and from what I've observed, comments on meta seem to be de facto places for discussion. How and why am I supposed to know better? Chatrooms are not an equivalent substitute; they are less permanent and less visible.
    – herisson
    Oct 14, 2015 at 5:36
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    @TimLymington There is a discussion tag for meta, that I believe is the most used tag. The sneering tone you used was unnecessary and rude both to myself and your colleagues. Oct 14, 2015 at 7:49
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    @sumelic Wading through a long train of comments, is not ideal either.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:39
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    @Mari-LouA: Well, I've seen it been acknowledged in various places that the Stack Exchange software is not well-suited to Meta sites, but still, that's what we're stuck with.
    – herisson
    Oct 14, 2015 at 8:47

1 Answer 1


What do you think?

I think you can't please all of the people all of the time. That's not meant to be particularly dismissive or snarky; it's just a fact. Some people like their coffee black, some with cream, some with sugar, and some don't like coffee at all. It doesn't matter if it's free.

Forums or question and answer sites are no different.

If you want to understand why Stack Exchange sites are structured the way they are, and why they are an imperfect fit with your expectations, it might help if you went straight to the horse's mouth. This is an enlightening video on the formation/philosophy of Stack Overflow and later Stack Exchange. The vision of the founders of SE (and I'm understating a bit here) was to create a useful place for good questions to get helpful - and whenever possible, expert - answers to make the internet a better place.

The Stack Exchange model is not discussion based, but a straightforward Question and Answer model:

Ask questions, get answers, no distractions

However, people have struggled with the etiquette of the site for years (myself included.) I would like the site to be a bit more welcoming. But I'm just one of hundreds of regular users, and even on my best days do not like "gimme deh codez" questions. If you're not a native speaker and don't know much about the language, at least look at English Language Learners.SE first.

If you like the site, you stay. If you really like the site, you stay and try to have a hand in shaping it by contributing, welcoming, commenting, asking questions of a new user that might prompt a better question, do rep-level appropriate decision-making, etc.

What I haven't seen much of (though it's not completely absent) is:

"Is this forum really the best place for this question?" "I'm voting to lock this thread." "You could only come up with one example? Please come back when you can put in some real effort."

Links to actual comments you found unfriendly would be more helpful. I interpret the first question as "Is there a better SE site for this question (e.g. ELL?)" That can come from a genuine desire to get the user to the best place for their question to be answered. The second is just following the rules set up by each community individually (for example, you would probably hate Skeptics or Health. This place is absolutely hand-holding compared with those.) I haven't personally seen the third/fourth comment. I do see (and ask) "What have you found when you researched this question?", because a question with a bit of research presented will have the approval of most of the members of this site, and will make for a more pleasurable new user experience overall.

For a more discussion-type experience,

Chat is an informal environment where pretty much anything is allowed and the only moderation done is for spam and offensive content. You can discuss off-topic questions, alternate endings for the Star Wars trilogy or exchange pleasantries.

While what I say next might be the very embodiment of your "mama bear" attitude (I'm not altogether sure what you mean by that), I do feel discouraged when new users come in and want the established site to change to suit their needs or expectations.

Some people I love are like that. Within three weeks of starting medical school - which he was grateful and ecstatic to have been accepted into - my son was agitating to change the entire first year curriculum because it didn't fit his ideas of what a good medical education should consist of. I admired his youthful enthusiasm, however I spoke from experience when I (frequently) reminded him that medical training in the US changes very slowly. In his third year now, he still agitates for change. But it's more informed and less self-centered now.

You're new here. You can agitate for change, but likely you're not familiar enough with the site to know what can change and what won't. Stick around, observe, seek to understand (read meta posts). You may come to find you like the model, or you'll be better prepared to fight your battles.But right now, I think you're coming at this a little out of left field.

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    Neither "this forum", nor "this thread" have any place in comments anywhere in SE, since we try very hard to avoid the discussion model that OP appears to be assuming. Without actual references, it is hard to give a better answer. Oct 13, 2015 at 18:26
  • @TimLymington - I agree, however that aspect was already addressed in comments. It's also not crucial to the answer. Oct 13, 2015 at 20:18
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    Thanks a lot for that. I've pondered it quite a bit and even wrote two separate long responses, both of which I decided not to post. But perhaps it's for the best, because I came across this. In the context of this scathing post -- which did, by the way, get 52 upvotes -- I don't know how you can call my remarks "left field". Actually, given my relative noobiness, I'd say I was pretty on the money, or at the least had my finger on the pulse. Oct 16, 2015 at 6:52
  • @Albatrosspro - That post comes from a respected, contributing member of almost 5 years. As in my analogy above, he is coming at this from an informed and less self-centered position. You can claim to have your finger on the pulse of a site you barely know, but because you barely know it, you won't get upvotes for arriving on the scene and proclaiming it damaged. Oct 16, 2015 at 11:46
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    This has nothing to do with my getting upvotes. It's about these baffled and somewhat miffed responses. "Yes, this has been an old topic around here." "Oh, so you noticed..." These are responses that would have made sense given what I understand to be the history around here. To dock me for making a true statement because I lack sufficient seniority to make it is a logical fallacy at best, and suggests insularity and groupthink. And really, self-centered? I'm explicitly advocating for things like inclusivity and openness. Consider what you yourself observed in the post you linked to. Oct 17, 2015 at 7:55
  • You're making good points, and it may well be fallacious, but the wiser person - in my opinion - gets to know a situation/organization/team/workforce before making suggestions to fix it. Your comments are about forums and voting to lock posts - something we are not and don't do! Link to those comments. Again, because you barely know it, you won't get (upvotes/a lot of respect/the action you seek/whatever your motivation to post is for arriving on the scene and proclaiming it damaged.) Oct 17, 2015 at 12:39

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