I recently revisited the following classic challenge: Showcase your language one vote at a time. The gist of the challenge is as follows:
- An answer is a set of program snippets, each with a unique length.
- The maximum length and maximum number of snippets are given by the answer's current vote total.
- As an answer gains votes, it earns to right to contain more/longer snippets.
- popularity-contest the highest voted answer will win
Also notably, there is no restriction on what the code does. You are allowed and encouraged to post "anything worth showcasing." Additionally, answers are not required to contain any code at all (and indeed, they aren't allowed to until the answer has an upvote).
I believe the Language Showcase, despite its popularity, is not within the current scope of this site, and thus it should be locked as historically significant. For reference, the historical significance lock reason is shown below:
This question exists because it has historical significance, but it is not considered a good, on-topic question for this site, so please do not use it as evidence that you can ask similar questions here. This question and its answers are frozen and cannot be changed.
In my opinion, if such a challenge were to be posted today, it would be closed. This challenge places a length restriction on code, yet does not provide any goal as to what the code should do, other than to be interesting.
Examples of similar challenges which have been closed
I'm referencing these early in the post because they are the basis for a lot of the existing meta literature.
- The Tweetable Mathematical Art [pop-con] challenge involved producing an interesting image with a code length restriction. Similar to the Language Showcase, the goal was simply to make an interesting image. There was little restriction on what made an image valid. This challenge has since been closed as too broad and locked as historically significant.
- Paint the Mona Lisa in 1kB of code [pop-con, deleted] involved producing an image with a limited amount of code. The goal was "visual resemblance of the output image to da Vinci's masterpiece." This is a stronger "goal" than either the Math Art or Language Showcase challenges, yet this challenge was closed as primarily opinion-based, and then deleted by a moderator.
Relevant meta posts
Guidelines for posting and closing popularity contests (12 Jan 2016)
This post was the first to introduce the term "objective validity criterion" as a requirement for all challenges. An objective validity criterion lays out the minimal requirements that each answer must meet. One important question is: does the Language Showcase have an acceptable validity criterion? I believe that the simple requirement, that snippets be of a certain length, would set the bar way too low as far as validity criteria are concerned. This opinion is backed up by this meta answer, which deals primarily with the Mona Lisa challenge. This answer argues that the Mona Lisa challenge does not have an objective validity criterion, and, even if you considered "output an image" as the criterion, then the challenge would still be considered too broad.
The state of the popularity contest tag (30 Jan 2016)
This this thread, the community decided to rewrite the pop-con tag description, leading to the meta post I describe below. The accepted answer points out the importance of updating the tag info given the recent evolution of site guidelines, particularly regarding validity. For reference, the Language Showcase challenge was asked an entire year prior to this meta thread, as evidence that site guidelines have changed significantly between then and now.
The second-most-upvoted answer states that "the specification needs to define what makes something worth upvoting" and that "popularity-contest does not make your challenge exempt from the standard rules of what is on-topic here."
Updating the [popularity-contest] tag info: suggestions (1 May 2016)
This is the thread in which the community rewrote the pop-con tag description. A couple very relevant phrases are the following:
Things that MUST be included in a popularity contest...
A clear specification of the goal that must be achieved. Questions like "do (this) the most creative way" should be avoided. Creativity should be the tool, not the goal.
...Qualities which should be avoided in popularity contests...
Asking to solve a vaguely defined task in any way that the entrant wants (this will probably make your question be closed as too broad).
We need to take an official stance on code trolling (3 May 2014)
Although code-trolling is just a subset of popularity-contests (a subset with its own, entirely unrelated issues), the accepted answer makes an important point that popular doesn't imply on-topic. I believe this is very relevant given the popularity of the Language Showcase, which currently sits at +419/-12.
...But just because it's popular that doesn't mean it's a good kind of question for this site. Even "because it may generate an amazing answer from time to time" doesn't mean it's a good kind of question for this site.
"But this is a community-driven site! If it gets so many upvotes, the community wants it, and it should stay!" Or should it? The StackExchange network prides itself in its high-quality content. In any case quality over quantity...
...There are both list-type and fun questions on StackOverflow which are massively popular and have amazing (and even useful) answers. Nevertheless, they are strongly discouraged and new similar questions will be violently closed and deleted.
Need for broader action?
This thread deals mainly with the Language Showcase challenge, although there are potentially several other challenges which fall into the same category. A large number of existing pop-cons predate the above meta conversations by a year or more. There does not appear to be much consistency in which challenges are open and which are closed. For several of the same reasons outlined above, I believe many of these challenges are long-overdue for their closure.