What is the difference between this question: If Mars and Venus were habitable, by when would they have been colonized?

And this question: How does Santa keep locations updated for all of his gift recipients?

One is closed for being "opinion based", despite 18 upvotes, 7 answers and 4000 views (meaning plenty of people found it to be a good, interesting question, adding good content to the stack), while the other is open and is about how Santa Claus updates his gift list.

My opinion is that both are perfectly fine questions. My other opinion is that they are both seeking out answers that are little better than brainstorming or opinions, but, if anything, one is probably a real worldbuilding question, helping someone figure out a plausible alternate timeline, while the other is just a bit of holiday cheer.

I feel like we've been having a small cabal of rules lawyers trying to close questions rather than trying to fix or answer them. I don't see where Worldbuilding has such a flood of terrible questions that we really need to be saved from it (there are bad questions, but these are not them), but I do see where rules lawyering is making this a less friendly place. My usual method is "try to find a way to salvage a question", rather than "try to find a reason to close everything that can be closed".

Perhaps we should abandon the rule regarding opinions since this seems to be the greatest offender, its enforcement is arbitrary, its definition is loose, and the nature of this stack is about 90% opinions. Does this rule do more harm than good?

(I don't think I'm cherry picking with the above two examples, either. These just stood out as two well-upvoted questions, one closed and one open, near each other on the list. The only questions on Worldbuilding that involve no opinion and no brainstorming are the ones that are purely science based and could probably be better answered in a science stack.)

Bonus example by request: Why would a staff increase the magic power of a mage?

109 upvotes, 26k views, 32 answers, absolutely brainstorming and opinion based, question never closed. If this question was asked today, by a new user, how many of you would be voting to close it as opinion based?

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    $\begingroup$ You should probably pick a question other than the one about Santa, since questions about Santa are an honored Worldbuilding tradition. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Dec 22, 2022 at 15:54
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    $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch It does further reinforce the idea that "this is an arbitrary rule", though. I think virtually everything is an example but I'll add in another one. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:01
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    $\begingroup$ I am not against discussing policies, but pick your battles... you can't take a question asked 5 years ago as a good reference of what we accept today $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Dec 22, 2022 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Why not? Did the rules change between then and now? If so, why? That could be exactly what we need to discuss. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 22, 2022 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, what the community accepts as fitting its scope changes over time. That's why we say over and over to look at the most recent questions to get an understanding of what is that we do accept here. $\endgroup$
    – L.Dutch Mod
    Dec 22, 2022 at 17:07
  • $\begingroup$ @L.Dutch Thus this post. It is not clear at all what is accepted, and what is not, or why, or why it has changed. What has driven this change? If there is no answer, then it sounds like we have drifted for no clear reason and need to evaluate why that is, and which Worldbuilding is better: today's, or the one we had 5 years ago. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 22, 2022 at 17:11
  • $\begingroup$ @JamieB More than that, perhaps don't take a question from a moderator for comparison if the other isn't from one of them. Whether we like it or not, diamonds have an effect on people ^^. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Dec 22, 2022 at 17:15
  • $\begingroup$ @Tortliena Still further evidence of the arbitrary nature of the rules, and therefore, that the rules are not especially functional (or else they would apply equally to moderators). Most importantly to me, though, is that, as someone once told me, "this is a democracy, if you don't like it, downvote and move on", yet that's clearly not what's going on, as well-liked, popular questions get closed by, basically, a shadowy oligarchy, based on personal interpretation of fuzzy rules, and the interpretation changes over time without explanation. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 22, 2022 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB If instinctive yet irrational trust (and the reverse, rebellion) in authorities is an issue for you, I'm afraid no rule or noone can't do something about it :p 🦋. I might come with a more throughout answer to the issue you're raising, though I need some time to find the words. $\endgroup$
    – Tortliena
    Dec 22, 2022 at 19:11
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    $\begingroup$ In my opinion the enforcement of the opinion based rule is rather opinion based $\endgroup$
    – Topcode
    Dec 22, 2022 at 19:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Tortliena This issue has been raised a number of times too (usually people's personal objections to their own question being closed) but really my feeling is that a handful of people with close powers (3k rep and up iirc) is running roughshod over community votes, and this has been getting worse as more people gain that rep. Now if you'll excuse me, I need to get into my X-Wing uniform! $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 22, 2022 at 19:58
  • $\begingroup$ This question, in various forms, has been asked over and over and over. It doesn't matter if you like or dislike the "opinions" aspect of the rules for two simple reasons. (a) Stack Exchange sets most of them, so we have absolutely no control over them and (b) No matter how much we want to ignore them, people won't. The only practical answer that years of experience has proven valuable is consistent policing. I know the difference between the meaninglessness of an opinion regarding magic and the meaningfulness of an opinion regarding science. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 26, 2022 at 21:22
  • $\begingroup$ Further, community votes are considered irrelevant by Stack Exchange when it comes to close reasons. Popularity has never, in all of human history, allowed anyone to ignore a law - mostly due to the high likelihood that the people voting are ignorant of the law. Drive with a hundred people exceeding the speed limit and then use your argument with a judge when you get caught. Same problem. If you want a worldbuilding site that has few or no rules, Quora and Reddit exist for that purpose. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 26, 2022 at 21:25
  • $\begingroup$ Finally, No stack in Stack Exchange allows any prior question to set a precedent for violation of today's rules. Not only do Stack policies change (those set by the community in Meta), but Stack Exchange periodically changes their rules. It's a fabulous waste of time to go back and close every question that violates today's rules. But that doesn't change the fact that they are not a precedent. $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 26, 2022 at 21:27
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    $\begingroup$ You've missed my point. You're free to discuss the rules all you want. It might even be cathartic. But discussing on WB what can't be changed by anyone on WB is a waste of everyone's time. Perhaps you're discussing the issue in the wrong place? $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Dec 27, 2022 at 1:00

1 Answer 1


OPINIONS --- the Joy and Bane of Worldbuilding

I've been active here for a couple years and have often, perhaps to the point of ticking some people off, argued against the Closure for Being Opinion Based rule being applied too strongly. There is a reason for the existence of this rule; and there is also a reason for ignoring this rule.

First, we are not an independent worldbuilding Q&A community. We are part of a broader community, Stack Exchange, and we have to abide by their rules, norms, expectations, etc. AS BEST WE CAN!

Stack Exchange, as a broad community, follows the basic premise that we focus on 'single problem questions' that are 'focused' and that can be factually answered. A person can ask "why did Napoleon lose at Waterloo" and get the answer "X, Y & Zed". This could theoretically be checked against standard resources, source documents, contemporaneous accounts and military reports and thus the response can readily be known to be factually correct and thus 'the single best answer'.

The Problem--
At Worldbuilding, we have to ignore that because our material is essentially irrealia --- things that don't actually exist and events that didn't actually happen in the real world. Thus, I argue that 99% of all questions asked here in Worldbuilding are, in fact, opinion based. You provided two non-Santa questions for consideration.

  1. A question on the date for colonising Venus & Mars
  2. A question on the correlation of a wizard's staff and his magical prowess

On the surface, both questions are asking for opinions, simply because we have colonized nothing in space and magical staves and wizards aren't real. Thus both are questions open to speculation that would not be accepted on any other Stack.

But we have to understand that in this community we bend the opinion based rule in order to do what we do. In order to do this, we have to devise our own rules and expectations as to how we bend the SE rule and what we expect from querents and respondents alike.

Why the Second Question is Okay--
The question about wizard staves is okay. I read it and this is what I find: the OP asks for our opinion, but also focuses our efforts by laying out a basic description of the fictional world being considered and by laying out the various criteria with which magic can be described. Finally, the OP asks a spcifically narrow and focused question based on a single well developed worldbuilding problem.

Why the First Question is Bad--
The question about colinisation of Venus and Mars is bad. First it's asking two different questions that I have the feeling might require different economic, mathematical & technological approaches (I'm not a rocket scientist): two planets, two approaches. Here, the OP asks again for our opinion, but there's a problem: our efforts are not focused by the OP. The OP presents us with an entirely open ended discussion type question. We are not given any specific parameters or criteria to follow. Furthermore, the possibly correct answers are almost limitless. What's the real difference between 1998, 1999, and 2000 as potential answers? The problem is that any of those numbers is simply an opinion.

Our community has decided that Opinions are okay, but they need to be sought appropriately. We have decided to reject purely aesthetic opinions like "what colour dress should a princess wear to a party" and any kind of unrestrained opinion question like "when should X happen". We also reject open ended discussion questions, fishing expeditions, brainstorming questions, etc.

All of these question types are in fact valid, and they all have a place. Stack Exchange is not that place. The kind of open ended question about Venus colonisation would be perfectly fine at Reddit, because they do not have the same high expectations that we have.

I agree with you --- both questions are "fine". I actually left some comments on the Venus colonisation query that, I hope, might lead to an improvement, or at least provide some SE related food for thought for the OP. The only problem is that what we think of as "fine" does not guarantee that it is also a good fit for this community.

"Little better than brainstorming" --- a perennial problem here! The issue here is that we do not allow pure and unrestrained brainstorming that might occur elsewhere. We require all our brainstorming efforts to be constrained by the Stack Exchange model.

"Small cabal of rules lawyers" --- welcome to the cabal! We love it when new members accept our invitation to join! Seriously, you're doing exactly what I've always asked people to do --- join in the discussion. It may very be that you'll inspire some kind of change in how WB.SE operates!

"Abandoning the rule regarding opinions" --- I think you'll find that you and I possibly agree on this issue more than you might think! I've been railing against the strict application of this rule in all its forms for years. I've found that in almost every case, the issue is one of the perspective of individuals. Some people are strict. Some people are lax. Some people feel overly empowered. Some people just don't care.

The long and short of it is this: I hold that since WB exists within the SE network, we become responsible for maintaining SE rules and norms within our community. We therefore can not actually abandon this rule on opinion based questions. If we do, then SE is well within rights to shut us down. What we can do is discuss, create and enforce our own rules and norms that will serve as work-arounds to the network wide rule.

If anything, I think that the rule as it stands is an improvement. It allows us to ask for opinions, but filters out questions that just don't fit the SE model. This is a win for us because we are doing due diligence in maintaining SE norms, but are also establishing our own norms to allow the widest array of questions we can.

"If this question was asked today, by a new user, how many of you would be voting to close it as opinion based?" --- I would not vote to close the wizard' staff question. I also note that you wrote a pretty respectable answer! I actually upvoted the query, because I think it's a good question, is useful for others, and is well composed.

I would vote to close the colonisation query because it is not well composed. I suggested a way to improve it, because I think it is an interesting question and is of potential use to others. Just not in the way it's written.

  • $\begingroup$ The problem is you're giving your opinion on why one opinionated question is good and one isn't. Rules shouldn't be this severely opinion based. I'd also argue that the Mars question is by far the better question, since there is real historical data to draw from. NASA had a plan, they just didn't fund it, so "what if" is suddenly an easy game. IMO, you should downvote a question if you don't like it. Voting to close should be for flagrant violations. Currently, it's people with 3k rep using their power to usurp the majority opinion. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 23, 2022 at 0:06
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB SE was designed with close voting as a distinct and separate act from upvoting.This is made clear in every exchanges help center. SE is not like other sites. More structure more rules. If that doesn’t appeal to you, there are plenty of less structured worldbuilding sites out there. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 23, 2022 at 3:04
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB -- Yep! I'm giving my opinion! It is based on fact, however. I like both questions. One question, however, is written poorly which makes it a poor fit for this forum. That's not an opinion. That's a statement of fact. $\endgroup$
    – elemtilas
    Dec 23, 2022 at 6:34
  • $\begingroup$ @sphennings I like how any discussion of rules invariably leads to "if you don't like it, go somewhere else". How about we make Worldbuilding better, instead? Voting to close is essentially "super-downvoting" by a small group, and we need to discuss how it should be used for extreme and obvious cases. Ignoring and overriding community upvotes really is abusing the system. And no, elemtilas, your opinions are not facts. They are opinions. I can't stop you from abusing the power the site gives you, but I can point out when you're doing it and hope we can do better tomorrow. $\endgroup$
    – JamieB
    Dec 23, 2022 at 19:59
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    $\begingroup$ @JamieB Downvotes and closure are orthogonal. No amount of downvotes will ever close a question. Unlike downvotes there is no penalty for question closure. Every time a closed question is edited it automatically gets entered into a review queue for being reopened. I'm all for improving this site. However this site exists at the pleasure of Stack Exchange. We only exist because we proved that we could (barely) fit within their structured QA model. That model includes closing questions, that are too broad, too opinion based, or have too many valid answers. Those are all boilerplate for SE sites $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 23, 2022 at 21:52
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    $\begingroup$ If you take the site tour, one of the first things it says is "We're a little bit different from other sites. Here's how", it then goes on to describe the structured QA format, including saying "Not all questions work well in our format. Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers. Questions that need improvement may be closed until someone fixes them." This is the fundamental promise of this site. To remove that structure is to remove what makes us distinct. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 23, 2022 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ You could try to petition Stack Exchange to divert engineering resources to remove close voting from across the network, or take on the maintenance burden necessary to add custom code that removes VTC from just this site. You wouldn't be the first to propose it. It's just unlikely to have any impact. Since you're dissatisfied with a core feature of this site, perhaps this site isn't the best fit for you. Try Reddit or Quora, they both have worldbuilding without VTC. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    Dec 23, 2022 at 22:35

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