Prompted by a couple of comments to this question as well as in response to my own question I'm reminded that the policy of questions not to ask, as stated in the FAQ is:

"You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page." (FAQ's bold)

However I don't feel this is actually conducive to a useful GIS.SE. If you look at the list of Highest Voted Questions you'll see that the vast majority of them are actual subjective discussion questions with no "right" answer nor in many cases even a "practical" one.

I appreciate there is a large subjective element, but given so many of GIS.SE's users find these questions useful (see the upvotes) I suggest the FAQ should be updated to reflect this.

Sure there's probably only one sensible to way programmatically set polygon feature fill colors and outline in ArcGIS (to pick one randomly), but that sort of question is only one small aspect of GIS. Much of GIS is subjective and doesn't have such clear cut solutions, not just the cartography aspect, but even analyses themselves, for example, when choosing which tool should be used for a Classification or how to pick a coordinate system.

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To answer GIS related questions... –  Mapperz Nov 23 '12 at 14:39
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I respectfully beg to disagree with the last paragraph. I believe you confuse "flexible" with "subjective". The former means that problems allow different methods of solution, while the latter means that the quality or correctness of the solution lies in the eye of the beholder. Most of GIS is the former, not the latter. Even the cartographic aspect, which appears to be subjective, has been informed by psychological research showing how to make maps that more effectively communicate their makers' intentions. –  whuber Nov 23 '12 at 15:22
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I restated the title to reflect the central nature of the discussion. "What is the purpose of gis.se?" is much broader than what's taking place. –  matt wilkie Dec 4 '12 at 19:35
    
In my opinion the example Q about upside down or vertical orientation of labels is a good question for gis.se. There isn't a definitive answer, but it is certainly a practical problem that you and many others face. –  matt wilkie Dec 4 '12 at 20:04
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3 Answers

up vote 1 down vote accepted

GIS problems are by default subjective--that is to say, there are usually a dozen different pathways to reach the same destination. To make things more convoluted, those destinations may be correct for one user and not correct for another user. Under this logic, I believe your example questions are indeed the best of the best examples here at GIS.se compared to a many of the generic questions that can be answered by a simple Google search. I argue that complex, well-worded, clear questions such as your examples should be the benchmark rather than interpreted as subjective.

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However I don't feel this is actually conducive to a useful GIS.SE. If you look at the list of Highest Voted Questions you'll see that the vast majority of them are actual subjective discussion questions with no "right" answer nor in many cases even a "practical" one.

Most of them are community wikis, too. Not really a good benchmark. They should have been closed, it's just that people found them useful and liked them so much that they decided to keep them and turn them into wikis. They are not necessarily good examples of what questions here should be. They feel like forum discussions. Useful, yes but not quite what the site was made for.

I appreciate there is a large subjective element, but given so many of GIS.SE's users find these questions useful (see the upvotes) I suggest the FAQ should be updated to reflect this.

Subjective questions are not all bad. There are good subjective questions and bad subjective questions. You might want to read that post on the StackOverflow blog.

Sure there's probably only one sensible to way programmatically set polygon feature fill colors and outline in ArcGIS (to pick one randomly), but that sort of question is only one small aspect of GIS. Much of GIS is subjective and doesn't have such clear cut solutions, not just the cartography aspect, but even analyses themselves, for example, when choosing which tool should be used for a Classification or how to pick a coordinate system.

Yes but opinion should still be backed by references and fact. Otherwise it might as well be a guessing game, or eeny meeny miny moe.

Open ended discussions are nice but this is not the place for that. This is a Question and Answer site, not a subreddit.

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Thanks for the reply. Most of those are indeed community wiki's, but they started as questions because someone wanted an answer. Sure the site could remain "pure" and only absolutely factual Q&A be allowed, but there's a demonstrably large number of users who benefit from the more subjective material. We've all asked and benefited from these questions - (i.e. in your case gis.stackexchange.com/questions/913/…) but SE answered them and quite a few other people found them useful. –  GIS-Jonathan Nov 22 '12 at 17:41
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Please read the post on good and bad subjective questions. blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/09/good-subjective-bad-subjective Subjective questions aren't all bad. One just has to walk a fine line when dealing with them. There's such a thing as being too subjective. As for my question, I was a new user then and didn't know about the rules. I just voted to close it myself. It's great that people find it useful but just because it's useful doesn't mean it belongs here. –  R.K. Nov 23 '12 at 6:49
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I had read that post and agree with it. The problem is the FAQ doesn't reflect that and nor do some of the comments to questions. I believe the highlighted question of yours was fine and clearly useful to people. The problem is, if we start removing anything that's not strictly objective we'll get fewer questions and answers, thereby less users and thus less people to answer the questions that are asked. This is the point of this question - if the purpose of GIS.SE is pure technical "how do I use this API" we'll get far fewer answerers than we have with a mix of subjective questions thrown in. –  GIS-Jonathan Nov 23 '12 at 10:11
    
Just because it is useful doesn't mean it belongs here. This is a Q&A site. We don't have to be strictly objective. The questions just have to conform to the Q&A format. Otherwise we might as well be on Reddit or a forum. –  R.K. Nov 23 '12 at 11:06
    
A big +1 for a great answer. –  whuber Nov 23 '12 at 15:18
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Subjective questions do get asked here, I'm responsible for some of them, and in time I'll likely spawn some more. However I still wouldn't change the FAQ or the policy of closing subjective questions. In my opinion there is room for subjectivity, but they should still be challenged and have to justify their existence.

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