background January 4, 2010

Stack Overflow: Where We Hate Fun

I noticed that the Stack Overflow question Strangest language feature has been closed and reopened several times now. The text of the question is brief: What is in your opinion the most surprising, weird, strange or really “WTF” language feature you have encountered? I agree this is not exactly an ideal question for Stack Overflow,…
Avatar for Jeff Atwood
Co-Founder (Former)

I noticed that the Stack Overflow question Strangest language feature has been closed and reopened several times now. The text of the question is brief:

What is in your opinion the most surprising, weird, strange or really “WTF” language feature you have encountered?

I agree this is not exactly an ideal question for Stack Overflow, per the FAQ:

Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. This is not a discussion board, this is a place for questions that can be answered!

I think some members of the community have gotten the idea that Stack Overflow is strictly business — unless your question fits our rules exactly to a T, it is absolutely disallowed. That, here on Stack Overflow, we hate “fun”.

This is not entirely true.

In my mind, there are three broad guidelines that determine whether a question is appropriate for Stack Overflow:

  1. Does this question match the criteria provided in the Stack Overflow FAQ?

  2. Is this question accepted by the community, as reflected in upvotes, favorites, views, and answers?

  3. Does this question teach me anything that could make me better at my job? Can I learn something from it?

How does the “fun” question Strangest language feature fare?

  1. Does this question match the criteria provided in the Stack Overflow FAQ?

Not really, no.

  1. Is this question accepted by the community, as reflected in upvotes, views, favorites, and answers?

Yes. Lots of upvotes, views, favorites, and many detailed answers.

  1. Does this question teach me anything that could make me better at my job? Can I learn something from it?
    Yes. These odd language corner cases bite programmers all the time, and the more programmers that are aware of them, the better.

As Meat Loaf once said, two out of three ain’t bad. It’s guideline #3 that ends up being the pivotal decision in most borderline cases.

I should clarify that we absolutely do not want the site overrun with “fun” questions. There’s no way we’re sacrificing our core Q&A; mission to turn into a brainless LOL-fest like Reddit or Digg. But, there is a certain balance we’re trying to achieve. A world without fun is like a world without waffles and ponies. And what kind of monster would want that?

I know that we’re all programmers, so we love thinking of the world in absolute, binary terms — either fun questions must never be allowed, or fun questions must always be allowed. Well, I hate to be the one to break this to you, but the world is more … floating point. We will sometimes allow fun questions that meet the three broad guidelines I outlined above, but even then, only a limited amount.

On Stack Overflow, contrary to popular opinion, we don’t hate fun. But only a certain amount of fun will be tolerated, and always with steely, businesslike frowns. 🙂

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