On "List Questions - Another Take?", in a comment thread, I asked why we should strive for one correct answer. Jouke van der Maas answered,
Because that's what the site is for. If you don't like that, you should go to some discussion forum. Trying to get the single best answer to a question is what this is all about.
Here at meta.ui, we're trying to decide what the site is for! Saying "that's the way it is because that's the way it is" is begging the question. So rather than working from the assumption that we should strive for a single answer, we should decide on policy (and a FAQ entry describing this) that best suits the users. Relying on notions of "site integrity" or citing the precedent of StackOverflow doesn't serve the users, and UX is all about user-focused design. Precedent is a useful tool -- but it can be harmful, too.
UX questions are subjective
The current FAQ says:
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!
The vast majority of questions on here (and about UX in general), however cannot be answered. For a little evidence of this, here are the (at the time of original posting) top 15 questions by votes, categorized:
These are the type of questions that are ideal for StackOverflow, and the FAQ and other StackExchange sites are geared towards.
These questions are ones that could have a correct answer, but that answer (like most things in UX design) is "it depends". Most of these questions have become discussion threads.
- For websites, is it better to have a variable width layout or a fixed width layout?
- Are radial contextual menus better than vertical list menus?
- Whats more user friendly local authentication or remote authentication (OpenID, OAuth)
- Do you need a search button with a search box?
- Is it better to prevent a forbidden action or display an error/explanation message?
- How to visualize the possibility of drag’n’drop?
- What can be done to make a long, multi-step wizard more user-friendly?
- What is an acceptable response time for my ajax ui?
These are the open-ended/list questions that "List Questions - Another Take?" was about -- questions that are of general interest but cannot have a single answer, and do not have a direct application.
- Must-read User Interface Book?
- Which are the best UI related blogs/sites?
- Common web app usability gotchas?
- Are there any good resources about designing touch screen interfaces?
- What systematic methods there are for designing user interfaces?
- What resources do you use to find good color combinations?
I'd say this is strong evidence that the one-question-one-answer model of StackOverflow will not work here. This site is being used for its intended purpose -- ex I was able to get an answer to an actual design question I had within a day. So are the users wrong for using the site as a discussion forum instead of a Q&A site? Or are the FAQ and zealots wrong in assuming it's a Q&A site.
(there's some blur between the categories, and you may disagree where a question should go -- I'm making this CW so y'all can re-catgorize them if needed)
Chat is not a solution
I've seen a few people suggesting that the right place for these questions is chat. I'd like to counter that argument right away, because I think chat is the worst possible place for them.
- Not persistent -- every time the user has the question, it must be asked (and answered) again
- Not searchable
- Not discoverable -- there's no way to find out what or how to ask
- Answers cannot be updated and refined
- In a live environment, people will spend less time researching/considering their answers
- Fewer users
- Badly organized -- comments are not tied to an answer
- Noise in environment
- No voting -- no way to recognize what answers are better
- No linking -- results can't be shared or blogged about
- No bookmarking
- Doesn't help our Google rank
If you're still not convinced, here's a scenario. Joe wants to know a good book to read on UX. So he goes to chat.
JoeThePlumber: what are some must-read books on UI design?
John_MC: About Face 3 by Alan Cooper is my favorite. It focuses on desktop apps but is applicable to web design too. But it doesn't have enough pictures, so it's hard to visualize.
SarahP: u shuld reed jurasic park it proves dinosurs lived with ppl and has a lot to do with user interfaze
AfricanPrince419: hi i am the son of a nigerian dictator and have 32 million dollars but need $1000 transfer fee you can get half the money
Joe has received two answers now, rather than the 20+ he could have. Both answers are of lower quality. He has no way to decide which answer is better. Then, the next day, Barrack wonders the same thing...
What can be done?
If this site is going to be successful we need to choose a different model than StackOverflow -- and we need to do it soon (before we leave beta). Here are some ways:
- Update the FAQ and remove the above-quoted passage, ASAP
- Stop the "one-answer-only" police from attacking harmless discussion questions.
- Give reputation for community wiki posts/answers (especially if no one else has edited them), to encourage more stuff to be CW
- Since fewer questions will have a single answer, don't nag users to accept an answer
- Don't show a user's accept rate
The tribe has spoken. Focused, discussion-centric questions can work on a Stack Exchange site! Perhaps this was not the original intention, and perhaps somewhere Joel Spolsky is muttering to himself, plotting his revenge. But we, the users, can make this site the ultimate community for user-experience experts. We will stand
</strong>. We will persevere. And we will be victorious. Viva La Revolución!