I was looking over some of the old closed questions, and trying to rephrase them so that they can be more objectively answered. I received a comment that the edit would still lead to a list of answers, which isn't a good fit for the site?

1) Can someone point me to a meta discussion that explains why lists are not a good fit for SE?

2) At what point does a question lead to a list? (example: If I ask what is the best spell for a multiplayer drain deck, Drain Life, Exsanguinate, or Bond of Agony List? ; What is the best spell for a multiplayer drain deck ? Now is it a list? What is the best black multiplyer spell? )

Is 2) just a matter of degree? Does it matter if the answers are more/less likely to be opinion or supported by facts?

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Oooh, I got this. –  Grace Note Nov 16 '12 at 15:04
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3 Answers 3

"List question" is a very broad and unspecific term. There a lot of things that can be qualified as "list questions". But only some of them are unacceptable and don't entirely work. Even your examples in #2 I wouldn't consider the problem to necessarily be that they are a list, but perhaps one of scope. As for unacceptability, I refer to this post of mine that bwarner linked already as a good starting read.

But the problem you're trying to determine here seems to be more about when there are multiple possible answers to a question, and not that it is an endless repository of options. Let's lay down some ground points then.

  1. It is perfectly acceptable for there to be more than one correct answer to a question. This is why we even have a voting system at all, and why we allow multiple answers. This does not mean that "Of these three cards, which is the best for a drain deck?" should have three answers, though.
  2. If the answer a question needs is a list, then the list should fit in one answer. An example I use from Arqade is "Where do I find all of the subtanks in Megaman ZX?". There are exactly four of these - a proper answer will list all four. This should not get four answers, one for each location.
  3. The word "best" in a title is not an instant condemnation sign. Implicitly, any question asking for the solution to a problem is seeking the best solution to that problem. A question whose core is still fully legitimate, just the presence of the word "best" is irksome, that is still a legitimate question. This does not mean that this question should get a separate answer for every possible best option, though.

There's a resonating point that I made in all of these. Which is that a lot of questions will benefit a lot more from a comprehensive answer that covers multiple points, than one that just covers a single one. The conclusion can still be a single one.

Let us look at your two examples.

What is the best spell for a multiplayer drain deck, Drain Life, Exsanguinate, or Bond of Agony

A great answer to this question will cover all three cards, explain the advantages to each one, and either come to a conclusion of a single card being more universally useful or a conclusion on which scenarios will make which cards shine. A good answer will highlight one card and explain why it is more useful than the other two. A meh answer will just name a card and notate why it is good. A bad answer will just name one card.

Is there opinion? Yes, but the more opinionated an answer is, the less helpful an answer is. The more fundamental and fact-backed an answer is, the more useful it is to other people and thus the more rated it will be. What makes this still a helpful question is that there still is the room for fact-backed answers. At least, in theory. I don't know these cards so I have no idea, but my assumption is that the root question is as such.

What is the best spell for a multiplayer drain deck?

As we start cutting things down, what's happening is that the scope is losing helpfulness. When you reach this point, an asker should be thinking, "Is the answer too situational for this question to be helpful to others?" I don't know drain decks well, but for example, "What is the best set of Slivers for a Sliver deck?" is too broad. Sliver deck is a strategy, certainly, but it also makes use of other strategies. Do you go Shadow/Poison and go for direct player kill? Do you go stat-stacking and overwhelm by Power/Toughness monstrosities? The reason Slivers work is because you have a lot of options that all work with a core theme.

I hope this illustrates my point well enough. It's been too long since I played a deck that I know an example that isn't too broad. But the basic point is, you don't need to specify "What is the best out of these options" and can instead opt for "What are the best options for this strategy?" if the latter question is narrow enough in scope that the answers will be genuinely helpful. This can be the case even if there is more than one opinion on the answer - the ultimate core of the question is "How can I accomplish this strategy?", which you'll note the lack of "best" but it will still get the same answers.

What is the best black multiplayer spell?

This is when it obviously gets to be too broad. I don't think I need to cover this in more depth beyond what I said in the previous point. At this point, though, the scope is so large that it illustrates the problem most people think of with lists. That is, because there isn't a narrow guideline, all people have to go on in answering this is their opinions. Factual stricture like saying "Well, for this strategy, the best option is..." starts to get away from the question that was actually asked. Which, while the answer is useful, it doesn't handle the question itself. That makes the question bad.


Takeaway. If it invites a list, that doesn't make it bad. If the list isn't useful because it's too broad, that is a problem. If the list isn't useful because the scope makes a non-opinionated answer difficult to spring up properly, that is a problem. But if there's multiple options and perspectives to solve a problem, it can still be a valid question. I recommend this post I wrote as just some further reading on the subject of this specifically.

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Thanks for taking the time to write this here. It's very helpful. –  ire_and_curses Nov 16 '12 at 16:29
    
I disagree with your middle point. The first question helps the answers avoid lists and focuses their attention on comparing and contrasting why certain cards would be better than others(with possible differances due to situation). the last qestion is overly broad. the middle question is just like the first, but doesn't list all the spells considered. I think you could ask for which cards will effectively help you win in MP whether the strategy is Slivers, or Drain Life, or etc. –  user1873 Nov 16 '12 at 18:39
    
@user1873 I don't know if drain multiplayer is narrow enough - that's why I explicitly avoided judging on it and used an example I did know would work. If the implication of that passage was that the given example was too broad, that was not my intent - I just wanted to explain what happens when trending in that direction. I also did not specify "for multiplayer" in the question about Slivers, just to ensure that the scope would be too broad. –  Grace Note Nov 16 '12 at 19:48
    
@GraceNote, I realize that you didn't specify the format for the sliver deck, but that doesn't mean that that cannot be clairified in the question, or perhaps the answer list which slivers would be more relevant in which format (EDH, multiplayer FFA, Legacy, 2HG, ... I do understand your overall point though. I just disagree that someone asking about "best sliver deck" isnt necessarily too broad (although it runs the risk of lists if answers). It might be that poison is less effective than sliver-geddon, or sliver-combo, or ... –  user1873 Nov 17 '12 at 3:57
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While you covered what the 'great' answer does, I feel you missed what the 'greatest' answer does. Most often, when I see a list provided by the asker (even when I'm one doing the asking) he haven't stepped back far enough to answer the fundamental problem. So while the great answer does give the advantages of each one as you describe, the greatest answer, I feel, provides the formula by which the cards are evaluated. Then as an exercise, evaluates the cards given. This is going to be most beneficial to future readers. –  corsiKa Nov 19 '12 at 20:36
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Don't have time for a long answer right now (and this probably deserves one).

For me, the main difference between a good subjective list and a bad subjective one is:

Are the answers likely to be voted on by their merits, or because they mentioned a popular game?

When people vote for well written, reasoned opinions then few people object to it.

When they vote for a one word answer, say, Dominion because the voter played it, is familiar with it and it legitimately answers the question, "What is the best game for XXXX" (for most values of XXX) then we've devolved into list-ville.

Experience has shown that most questions of the form, "What is the best XXX for YYY" devolve rapidly into short answers. The votes follow based on what people are familiar with, rather than a good assessment of the merits of the answers.

Early on, you could get 10-20 or more upvotes just for being the first person to type Dominion into any recommendation question. No further explanation was needed. That cheapens the whole reputation system, we want to reward people who give great answers, not the quickest on the draw.

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So essentially, it is to discourage new users from gaming the system, and flooding the SE network with subpar content. I don't think I have the power to make someone else's question a Community Wiki, so I suppose it could just remain closed. –  user1873 Nov 16 '12 at 1:28
    
Unfortunately, I guess that is the problem with this type of question. Unless the community has been conditioned to downvote terse answers that provide little value, you cannot leave thee kinds of questions in the hands of users (we are our own worst enemy) +1, but maybe because your answer should have been longer... –  user1873 Nov 16 '12 at 1:30
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There are a number of great discussions about this topic on Arqade's meta. Here's a few links to ponder

http://meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/997/handling-game-recommendations-how-can-we-solve-these-two-problems-of-quality

http://meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/2453/list-of-blogs/2455#2455

http://meta.gaming.stackexchange.com/questions/475/best-favourite-subjective-list-type-questions/486#486

I think the volume of traffic on Arqade forced this issue to be dealt with more so than it has been here so far. But I think the lessons learned there apply equally here, and we'd do well to learn from them.

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