I was thinking the other day about big list and other soft questions and had the following crazy idea.

It seems to me that what we want is to occasionally have good soft questions. The main thing that causes the close fights is the feeling that if we don't close soft questions there will be too many of them. We could have a thread on meta where people propose soft questions, and every week or two the one that's highest voted gets posted to main.

This would result in higher quality soft questions, fewer close wars, a consistent stream of soft questions for people who like them, and a cap on soft questions for people who don't.

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    $\begingroup$ Could be worth a try. I would however suggest that in each of these questions when posted this context is mentioned, otherwise observer will think they can just ask these things as they please. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 17 '13 at 15:22
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    $\begingroup$ To address @quid's concerns: here on Meta there are moderator-only tags (like e.g. "featured") -- would it be possible to make "soft-question", "big-list" and maybe some others moderator-only tags on Main? $\endgroup$ – Stefan Kohl Oct 17 '13 at 17:10
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    $\begingroup$ @StefanKohl thank you for the idea this could be useful, but alone would be too implict to address my concern, since the observers I have in mind ought to be ignorant about the meta pre-staging and thus presumably would be even more ignorant about fine details in tagging. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 17 '13 at 17:43
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    $\begingroup$ I think this is a really good idea. $\endgroup$ – Andy Putman Oct 17 '13 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ Keep in mind that this would give much more weight to users who regularly visit meta in comparison to those who do not. It will essentially create some kind of editorial board for soft-questions. By the way, what happens if someone directly asks a soft-question on the main site? Are we going to be migrate it to meta or just close it as off-topic? $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 18 '13 at 17:15
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    $\begingroup$ It is also going to be hard to manage the list after the first 20 or so questions. Newer questions posted in the thread are not likely to be read and voted on much. Aside from these technical issues I personally don't like the idea that a good soft-question would have to wait a few weeks or months before being posted on the main. The positive side is also not clear as it seems to me it would merely move the close wars to meta but with a different set of participants (in place of those with +3K rep anyone with +15 rep would be voting). $\endgroup$ – Kaveh Oct 18 '13 at 17:23
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    $\begingroup$ I have no doubt that Noah's suggestion has some merits and comes from a good spirit. But, for the reasons mentioned in my answer and comments of @Kaveh I have down-voted it. $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Oct 18 '13 at 18:04
  • $\begingroup$ I'm suddenly reminded that this is exactly what I did with my question about Neron on the old site. I wasn't sure if it was too soft, so I first proposed it on meta (now tea). tea.mathoverflow.net/discussion/332/a-borderline-question $\endgroup$ – stankewicz Oct 24 '13 at 11:02
  • $\begingroup$ only allow >500 rep users to use the soft-question tag $\endgroup$ – Christian Chapman Sep 21 '14 at 0:30

I really do not like the idea of a two-step process for anything, especially if it means creating a thread of unbounded length (after the first 4 screens are full, I doubt I will be willing to look at it any more pushing various ordering buttons to see what's new). Of course, we can hard-delete the bad questions and the moved ones every 2 days or so, but it is still a problematic solution.

The main problem is that we have just two streams: main and meta. If we could create some spin-off for "soft questions", "philosophy", etc., I would love it and, IMHO, it would make more sense than Noah's idea, which, in plain English, is called "collective censorship before posting". AoPS (using phpBB) is much more flexible in this respect and has multiple streams (subfora) some of which have even stricter rules for "side" content than MO and some of which are completely free of rules (except for obvious spam and trolling), but there is no point in lamenting now :-).

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    $\begingroup$ One possible solution to the unbounded length is to do as here: Once the fate of a question is clear, moderators clear up comments (maybe replicating them on tea), and the answer is recycled. It is a tad more to do for moderators, but maybe not, as they would not have to deal with so many arguments on main. $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Oct 18 '13 at 19:02
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    $\begingroup$ @Andres Caicedo Yeah, but didn't you just rewrite the last sentence of the first paragraph of my post in an expanded way? :-) $\endgroup$ – fedja Oct 18 '13 at 19:05
  • $\begingroup$ (I would have guessed not, but there you go. Anyway, perhaps the link I mentioned may be useful to some users to help them see in practice how the suggestion could be implemented.) $\endgroup$ – Andrés E. Caicedo Oct 18 '13 at 19:08
  • $\begingroup$ I was thinking about the "unbounded thread" issue, and had two possible solutions. First proposals are deleted after a certain amount of time, or second we have a separate thread each month and close them when the month is over. $\endgroup$ – Noah Snyder Oct 18 '13 at 21:53
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    $\begingroup$ An alternative solution is to create a separate "Best-Of" front page, some variant of the ideas proposed in this thread: "How to emphasize MathOverflow's best content?". In other words, create a third stream that (largely) does not contain the soft questions. $\endgroup$ – Joseph O'Rourke Oct 19 '13 at 1:41

Your idea, though nice, has a "big soft" problem! More often than not, the person who asks the question does not tag it "soft". Indeed, I have just checked the soft questions that are still alive on the main site, and I have realized that many of the nice ones haven't been originally tagged as a "soft" question. It seems that the "big list" questions suffer from the same problem; after all they become a "big list" after a while, and not immediately!

Update: Before getting more down-votes, I'd like to be clear about my stance. I don't like the idea and I think it is against the MO's spirit and motto: It's built and run by you. I strongly believe that "you" means "the users of MO" not the users of MO and meta.

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    $\begingroup$ I do not really see what the big problem is, but then you also said it is only a soft problem :-) Yes some people will be ignorant about this system, but so what. If we get a consensus on this, we close the question without much debate pointing OP to the pre-staging system. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 12:45
  • $\begingroup$ @quid Paradoxically, just checking the soft questions, I also reaized that the "ignorant" ones are mainly the more experienced users! Moreover, I think the idea somehow confuses the main MO and the meta function and purpose. $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Oct 18 '13 at 13:03
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    $\begingroup$ I do not see why it should confuse the purposes of meta and main. A main purpose of meta is precisely to discuss which question are and are not appropriate for main. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 13:25
  • $\begingroup$ @quid But, that purpose works well if the question has been already seen on MO. Considering that not many MO users are frequent users of meta, the idea puts the faith of such questions just in the hand of a few users $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Oct 18 '13 at 13:49
  • $\begingroup$ I am not so sure so few MO users read meta on a somewhat regular basis. The number of views of various meta post are reasonably high, and not significantly different from those of typical MO questions. Or just look at the question thanking Anton; 60 users voted in less than 48 hours. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 13:59
  • $\begingroup$ @quid "Thanking Anton" only shows that the ratio voters/viewers is much higher in meta than MO. Could you find any question on MO with about 60 up-votes and just 470 viewers? $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Oct 18 '13 at 17:09
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    $\begingroup$ It shows, and this was my point, that at the very least 60 actual MO users had a look at the post (while it is not quite clear to me what the "views" actually measure, this me referring also to votes). This is not an insignificant proportion already. Contrary to perhaps popular believe there are not that many people that actual take a continued active interest in MO and thus could and would reasonably participate in discussion on appropriateness of a question, also if posted on main. (For instance, only slightly more than 300 voted in the election, while the rep limit was not that high). (c.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 17:20
  • $\begingroup$ (c.) And thus I think that your objection that this would put the decision on the question(s) just in the hands of a few users is not justified. To the contrary, I think having a decision-process on such questions run over the course of a week or a continued form (as suggested) would allow more people to voice their opinion on questions and/or at least make the dicussion more independent of random events like who happened to be online when the question was asked, which in some cases can play a considerable role. (c.) $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 17:25
  • $\begingroup$ (c.) It is true that sometimes some users voice their opinions on controversial MO questions they just happen to notice and sort of like (or dislike), but who are not typically involved in accompanying meta discussions. Yet, frankly, these opinions are typically of very little relevance (and value) as often they clearly show little knowledge of the site's culture and standards. And, again, if they want, they could have more influence in a calmer discussion conducted in meta, instead of in a somewhat hectic open/close debate after the question was posted in MO. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 17:32
  • $\begingroup$ @quid It seems that we cannot convince each other. I see your points and of course I see some merits in them (in particular, I like "a calmer discussion" part). Yet, I don't think these reasons would be enough to have a mini-site inside meta. If the meta opens this door, who knows which other doors would be opened. $\endgroup$ – Amir Asghari Oct 18 '13 at 18:22
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    $\begingroup$ Hi @quid. In response to a reader who had trouble deciphering your second (c.), I did a little editing based on what I thought you were trying to say. If I got it wrong, please clarify -- thanks. $\endgroup$ – Todd Trimble Oct 18 '13 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you @ToddTrimble, I read what is written now and this matches exactly my intent. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Oct 18 '13 at 20:39

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