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Some Stack Exchange sites, while enforcing regular policies/limits, allow for a little fun now and then, either by letting some “fun” soft big-list questions exist, or by prompting them on specific occasions (I think the site on Judaism has regular fun/soft session near Pessach, but I cannot find a specific reference for that). As this SE blog post explains, it's OK to have some fun, we just don't want the site to be overrun with “fun questions”.

What should our policy be? Do we allow fun questions? Do we need specific occasions for that? Or if we accept them unconditionally, do we have some sort of tacit agreement to keep their number (active fun Q’s at the same time, I mean) reasonable? Do we want them to be community-wiki, as some sites do, so as not to game too much the reputation system? (or do we simply not care?)

Example of “fun” questions I could see, and which I would personally enjoy, would be something like (or subsets thereof):

  • what's your favorite research abstract? paper title? TOC graphics? conference title
  • what is the most bizarre/extravagant/longest position title you've ever encountered?
  • what's the most ridiculously harsh review you've ever received?
  • etc.
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    The Judaism SE allows for this sort of thing near Purim, and—for those of you familiar enough with Judaism to appreciate insider jokes—you can see the humor by perusing the "Purim Torah in jest" tag. – eykanal Sep 29 '13 at 2:24
  • I created a chat room for "fun". If it dies it dies. – StrongBad Sep 29 '13 at 15:43
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    More about fun on SE in general, including a specific mention of Purim Torah, occurred in one of the podcasts. – TRiG Nov 9 '13 at 1:04
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I quite agree with the blog post you mention, especially with the 3rd bullet:

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

In other words, it can be fun, as long as it is somehow useful. In this case, I think your first and third examples (what's your favorite research abstract? paper title? TOC graphics? conference title / what's the most ridiculously harsh review you've ever received?) are good ones, while I'm not entirely sure about the second one (what is the most bizarre/extravagant/longest position title you've ever encountered?).

The crucial point remains to decide when to allow for such questions. I'm not sure a fixed date would be good (e.g., the 1st of April), because we could have an overflow of fun questions on one day. Perhaps we could do something like around the anniversary of joining the site? Or every 100 days? It would also "reward" users who stick around.

Finally, I think putting them as community wiki is definitely a good idea, to avoid gaming the system.

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    I would recommend maybe once every one or two months, and would also follow F'x's suggestion of having a dedicated question here to allow people to nominate and vote on questions for the series. – aeismail Sep 25 '13 at 22:43
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There are two questions here, that are really important to separate out:

  1. Do we want to have fun?

  2. Do we want this to be the sort of site where people feel free to add frivolous material?

The first question is one of those meaningless questions like "do you want some free money?" It implies that we can get something good, without any negative consequences.

That is an illusion.

The second question is what this is really about. Stack Exchange sites have a successful identity, and a prosperous niche in the web ecosystem, precisely because there is so much level-headed professionalism about the questions and answers.

There are lots of places for fun. All of the fun questions suggested in the question above can be asked and answered on chat, to your heart's content. Or at a thousand other places on the web.

Academia Stack Exchange has a unique place, for its level-headed professionalism. If we start allowing questions that are outside the scope of the current guidelines, because they're frivolous, bad-subjective, and/or lack a definitive right answer, we will devalue all the content.

Not everything in life has to be frivolous, fluffy and fun. Some things are just better when they are sober and useful.

So let's keep academia.SE as the sober and useful place.

For the other stuff, get a kitten.

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    Your dichotomy is also an illusion, if I reuse your lexicon: the illusion that the choice is Manichaean, between black (“sober and useful”) and white (“people feel free to add frivolous material”). I do not want the second one, but I do not really want the first one either. Hence the suggestion that we allow for something in-between. – F'x Sep 26 '13 at 14:16
  • I don't think the point was to have questions to talk about one's favorite movie or equivalent. I fail to see how having a subjective but interesting big-list question every once in a while will devalue all the content. – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 14:19
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    @CharlesMorisset but why does it need to be on the main site? Why not chat? – StrongBad Sep 26 '13 at 14:30
  • @DanielE.Shub: I think you can already do it on the chat if you want. The idea would be to have subjective yet interesting questions on the site, for the benefit of all the community, and which could perhaps attract some users. – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 14:32
  • @CharlesMorisset big-list questions are broken windows. That's why they're discouraged across all of Stack Exchange. I don't understand this urge to muck about with a proven successful recipe, as if we were somehow magically going to be immune to broken windows. – EnergyNumbers Sep 26 '13 at 14:44
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    @EnergyNumbers: And yet, 11 out the 15 most popular questions on CSTheory.SE are big-lists questions. Of course, such questions should be controlled, but I don't understand the urge of eliminating, closing, deleting questions as soon as they don't fit a perfect format. This is the Internet, if there is something you don't like, you can ignore it, you don't have to delete it. – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 14:51
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    @CharlesMorisset attracting users with questions that don't really fit the SE format is what bothers me. The whole community can benefit from the question in chat. We could even flag it up on the sidebar to let people know. – StrongBad Sep 26 '13 at 15:11
  • @CharlesMorisset thank you for making my point for me. That's exactly the problem with them. They're populist tosh. And that's not what we're here for. There's plenty of other places on the web for lowest-common-denominator material. – EnergyNumbers Sep 26 '13 at 16:23
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    @EnergyNumbers: Really? We should ignore the posts with the highest votes from the community on a site based on community voting? There are also plenty of places where you only can define what is Interesting, for instance, your website, where you can moderate everything in the way you like. Obviously, I'm not here for the same reasons than you. – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 16:43
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    @EnergyNumbers read the blog post I linked to, by Jeff Atwood, on good fun and bad fun… and look at the example question he gives, “Strangest language feature”… it's clear that it's not exactly “discouraged across all of Stack Exchange”. I'd say it's to be handled with care, that's all. – F'x Sep 26 '13 at 19:16
  • @F'x and you too have made my point for me: look at the lock notice on that question: "This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here." – EnergyNumbers Sep 28 '13 at 12:10
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I wanted my question to be relatively neutral, so I'm posting here (as an answer) one argument I can think of for allowing fun questions (in addition to, well, having fun): it can help us attract some more traffic and possibly some of the users who discover the site through these questions may stay on.

Also, on possible way we could use to avoid being overrun is to make a selection here on Meta: we could suggest ideas of fun questions, and say post one of them every Friday. That would be regular at enough, yet one question a week (at most) is not going to be too much.

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    I had the same idea of having a post here on Meta to propose the questions. I disagree with the frequency, though. Approximately monthly might work better. – aeismail Sep 25 '13 at 22:44
  • I think the idea of managing a list of fun questions is theoretically good, but might be practically complicated to manage. But if you volunteer to take care of it, that's fine with me :) – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 14:21
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I disagree. One thing that I like about AC.SE is that it is not "fun". There are already a to of academic forums where fun questions can be discussed. Our questions are already on the soft side and I think blurring the lines further would be bad.

What about a monthly fun chat room? It wouldn't be as archival, but I think that is not only okay, but maybe better. I like the concept of a fun chat better for a number of reasons. I think one of the hopes of doing "fun" things is to attract new people. With questions we are attracting new people in a deceptive manner since fun questions are an exception. I also like the idea of a chat room since I think the questions will benefit from more discussion which the QA style isn't great for. It also might get people to use chat more which would be good for us. Finally, once we allow/encourage fun questions, going back will be hard. If fun on chat flops, we can then rediscuss the issue and then potentially try questions on the main board.

  • I disagree that the lines would be blurred. One can always the tag "fun" if wanted, and I'm not sure how more questions would impact the previous ones. – user102 Sep 26 '13 at 14:16
  • @CharlesMorisset If we go this route, big list questions will be next. For example, should we bring back questions like the highly up voted but deleted bibliography software question. I just see a blurring of the lines. – StrongBad Sep 27 '13 at 8:26
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I'm not against this, so long as:

  1. There's some semblance of structure to the fun, and
  2. It's constrained to a certain time period.

My recommendation would be to hold such an event near the semester demarcations, when there's an air of "time to relax for a bit" in the air already. Personally, I would aim for two or three times a year maximum, with those times being end of April/early May (end of semester) and late August/early September (beginning of year), with the optional third being near beginning of January.

For those periods, I would use the tag "Aca-dumb-ic" (I just made that up) and allow anything in that tag, so long as it relates to academia in some tangential way. If it gets too out of hand we could add more restrictions to ensure the site still looks like a professional Q/A site with a fun undertone, rather than the opposite.

  • Is your proposal to also close them soon after the fact like Purim Torah? Would we then vote to delete them like regular questions? If so I don't see how this is different from chat. – StrongBad Sep 29 '13 at 15:36
  • @DanielE.Shub - Is that what they do on Mi Yodea? I know that some of the older ones (e.g., this one) are still around. Either way, I don't think that's necessary here; the questions would be around for posterity. – eykanal Sep 30 '13 at 2:27
  • I would like to point out that "end of semester" is a very relative term, as academic year planning varies quite a bit between countries – posdef Oct 3 '13 at 15:07

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