# Are "What are some intersting Foo problems?" questions off-topic?

Two recent questions from one user

From my point of view these are "make a list", so should certainly be Community Wiki, but moreover they don't seem to contribute very much.

They don't seem to fit any of the explicitly allowed categories, nor are they "practical, answerable questions based on actual problems". Instead the run to open-ended, collecting a book's worth of examples with no unifying theme, and they are a reasonable if inexact match for the "every answer is equally valid" category of bad questions.

Further, the generic formulation suggests that there will be no end to them and even if there are a few interesting ones, most will be pointless.

Comments on their on-topicness and or Community Wiki?

On one hand I can understand how these questions can be useful to people. But on the other hand, they strike me as forum topics. They have value, but they are not a good fit for the Stack Exchange model. (It is important to remember that SE is not trying to become a repository for every bit of useful information on the internet)

I have been thinking about these questions, and at this point I'm inclined to just close them as off topic. Perhaps we can refer the questioners to Physics Forums, which would be better able to accommodate these sorts of requests.

If these questions do wind up remaining open here, I don't particularly care whether they are CW or not. The point of making list questions CW is so that they don't contribute to reputation, because the answers typically don't require much knowledge of physics, but I'm not sure if that is necessarily the case here.

EDIT: We just had this question posted on the main site, which I consider to be very well written and which I am reluctant to close despite it being an example of a question looking for a list of interesting problems. Perhaps the distinction in my mind is this: a question which is looking for a list of problems about X needs to explain in detail what qualifications the problems should have (i.e. don't just say "interesting," explain what you consider to be interesting) and explain why existing problems about X are insufficient for the asker's purposes. I would welcome comments about this idea.

• I fully agree with your edit. The point is, that one needs to explain in detail what qualifications the problem should have. Dec 11 '11 at 9:59
• Perhaps we should encourage writers of questions about "interesting" problems to give more details. If they don't add the details we should close the question and refer them to physics forums. If they give the relevant details later on, it might be appropriate to reopen the question. Dec 11 '11 at 10:01
• In the case that the question includes the relevant details, the problem remains that it is a "list" question. Perhaps we should simply add the "big-list" tag in this case. Dec 11 '11 at 10:04
• Yeah, but adding a tag doesn't solve the problems inherent in list questions. big-list is a "meta tag" (doesn't help classify questions usefully) so I'd rather keep it off the site. Dec 11 '11 at 10:21

The questions are important for teaching, because they give a list of examples for classes. This is a pain to come up with. The difference in quality of teaching, assuming the instructor knows the material, is mostly in the richness and depth of the examples. If anyone thinks these problems are low-level, give an answer! It's not so easy to do. This is why teaching is hard, and this site is primarily a teaching area, not a research area (now that theoreticalphysics exists).

Why exclude them? They sound pretty interesting to me. They tend to be low-level, but we were all low-level once (& some still are :).

• See David's answer - the question isn't if they're interesting, or if they are at a high enough level; it's whether they are on topic and appropriate for a SE. It has nothing to do with exclusion, but rather maintaining the strengths of the format.
– wsc
Nov 30 '11 at 5:35
• @wsc: they serve a purpose for teaching, and they require creative thinking to answer. They are open ended, and this makes them a bad fit for standard format, but they are a good fit for CW format, which is designed exactly for this sort of thing. Dec 8 '11 at 10:17
• Well, actually CW was designed for community-editable questions, like FAQs. But in practice, people latched on to the fact that CW questions and answers don't produce rep changes, and used wikification as a hack to enable subjective, list, or poll-type questions under the justification that if they weren't generating reputation, it didn't hurt to have such questions on the site. But it later became apparent that those open-ended questions cause all sorts of problems anyway. They are now being phased out and the current wisdom is that we should very rarely (if ever) be making questions CW. Dec 9 '11 at 16:52
• @David: It's sad that the questions cause problems. Having been over on stackoverflow for about 3 years now, I've pretty much gotten all the rep I will need in this lifetime :) I do occasionally get downvotes, some deserved no doubt, but usually because I said something challenging the mainstream. Dec 9 '11 at 19:34