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This is something that's been bothering me for a while, and is really impairing my use of the site.

Any competition needs rules in order to be fair, and this has been established repeatedly in Meta posts (e.g. this post talks about the need for objective winning criteria). It needs to be completely clear which answers are and aren't reasonable; because the goal is to maximise your score on the question according to some criterion, you need to know what corners you can cut, and what loopholes you an exploit, in order to achieve that. Not knowing whether a loophole is open means that it's impossible to determine the winner, as if a loophole is there, it's often correct to use it.

Thus, it would make sense that the same applied to the site as a whole (in terms of what questions are acceptable, what answers are acceptable, etc.). However, the site currently has no way to determine what its rules actually are! The closest it has is this Meta, but Meta has a question and answer format. This means that you can find the same question in multiple places, and get a different response each time. (A great example is this post, which links to several different posts on meta giving contradictory answers to the same question. It asks for a definitive answer. It has one. Unfortunately, that answer contradicts the list of standard loopholes, a much more widely seen post, so it's still unclear what the situation actually is.) Additionally, often you can find the question you want on Meta, but it's not definitive which of the answers, if any, are official.

So the current situation on PPCG as to "is something legal" is very close to asking people to "ask about the rules in the comments", which is apparently very looked down upon here. Our rules aren't objective, but subjective; and which rule actually gets enforced depends on the understanding of the people enforcing it (which, due to Stack Exchange's decentralised moderation, is often random users of the community). This means that it's very unclear what rules loopholes are acceptable to use, and which ones aren't.

So my question here is: should PPCG's rules be subjective, with high-rep users enforcing them based on their own understanding of what they are or what they should be? (This is the current situation.) Should the rules for a question be decided entirely by the person setting the question? (This is probably not the current situation, but many low-rep/new users believe it is.) Or should they be objective? If they should be objective, we need to provide a method of determining what they are (i.e. having an official "list of rules" somewhere), as it's impossible to enforce objective rules without awareness of them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Asking about the rules in the comments isn't looked down upon. Challenge authors saying something is forbidden in a comment when it isn't forbidden anywhere in the specification is frowned upon, because the specification should not need comments to specify what is and isn't valid, and comments are subject to removal at any time, so they're not a permanent record of the rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Dec 11 '16 at 1:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Somewhat related \$\endgroup\$ – DJMcMayhem Dec 12 '16 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ "... it's impossible to enforce objective rules without awareness of them" I would go further and say that it's not possible to enforce at all, because the SE platform is specifically designed that way. Write all the rules you want on meta, but you can't actually stop people from voting the way they see fit. \$\endgroup\$ – Geobits Dec 13 '16 at 2:01
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This is impossible

While I think your desire for an easy, definitive list of rules is understandable, this seems impossible to me. Some reasons why:

Rules change frequently

  • new languages / new scoring methods
  • new loopholes to be prevented
  • regulating new challenge types
  • changing opinions and consensus
  • ideas that have never been brought up before

PPCG is dynamic

Due to the nature of our site (not a QA site), there is not really a fixed set of rules we can govern by and set as standard for all time. It's not just the rules, though. The very essence of PPCG changes over time with the languages, the challenges, and the users spending their time here.

There will always be a learning curve

Again, this is not a QA site. Assimilating oneself into the culture of PPCG will never be as simple as reading a single page of information, whether it be:

  • getting to know the mods and other users
  • learning golfing languages and tactics
  • being active in chat and the community
  • understanding our memes and references
  • learning the rules
  • finding out what challenges have been done before

Summary

In conclusion, you have every right to want an easy list, and I want it too, but the overall structure and purpose of PPCG prevents this. PPCG will always be a dynamic and fluid community that conforms to the ever-changing culture and will of its users in order to be something more than a QA site.

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There should be a single entry point on Meta for determining the site rules

Currently, many users tend to act as though the site has an objective list of rules, and enforce based on their understanding of them, and yet disagree as to what those rules actually are. This leads to ridiculous situations sometimes, such as close/reopen oscillations (if at least 8 users think a post should be closed, and at least 8 think it should be opened, it gets closed, then reopened, then closed, then reopened, under SE's voting system; the vote-to-close system only works if there are objective rules as to which posts are closeable).

Having objective rules would be advantageous because it means that people would not be required to guess at the rules before posting a question, meaning that the moderation burden would be lower (probably not that important), and people would be much less likely to get upset by moderation actions (much more important). Currently, the way that the site works – in which you're expected to optimize as far as you can on a question, but also unclear about what the limits for doing that are – means that you're often required to post a potentially rules-breaking post, because otherwise you risk being outgolfed by someone who breaks the rule that you thought existed, but turns out not to. This is a huge waste of time for everyone; the person posting the answer (or question, but it's usually an answer) spent their time for nothing, and the moderation itself (and any resulting arguments about it) wastes the time of moderators and high-rep users. And overall, everyone's spent a lot of time and effort and frustration to leave things back exactly where they started, which is the last thing you want when this is supposed to be a site about having fun.

The current situation on Meta is almost unusable, where you can ask a question, and by the intended functionality of the site get ten different answers, none of which are definitive. If this site as a whole were a PPCG challenge, we'd have closed and deleted it long ago as unclear what you're asking.

The best fix to this would be to have an explicit list of rules. As far as I can tell, the best way to deal with this via functionality which exists in SE would be to have a permanently featured question on Meta that lists what all the rules are. (It would probably be unwieldy to fit it into a single post, so most likely it would be best as a list of links to other posts, like this question is.) Alternatively, we could create a new "red tag" (along the lines of the current ), such as , that definitively marked which Meta questions were binding. Because frequent rules changes would be problematic, and allowing the rules to change via "normal community activity" potentially even more problematic (as it would lead to subjectivity and inclarity in the rules), I think either way the list of rules should be only controllable via a specific set of users (likely diamond moderators, via locking the posts in question).

However, it's also necessary to objectively know which of the answers to the question describes the rule! We could potentially edit the rule into the question itself (and lock it), but that goes against the way that SE "normally does things". Alternatively, we could use the accepted answer mechanism to show what the rule was, but this would require a diamond moderator to own the question (to prevent the user who asked it changing the rules arbitrarily).

Changes to the rules would be handled the same way that feature requests are currently handled (via or maybe , and moderators responding with and friends). I feel that it's important that explicit action is required in order to update the list of rules (and maybe even an announcement about it).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ So..., the FAQ/Help Center? \$\endgroup\$ – Downgoat Dec 10 '16 at 20:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ The FAQ isn't an official, objective list of rules. Many rules that get enforced in practice aren't anywhere in the FAQ; and it's impossible in general to determine if a rule is part of the FAQ or not (because faq applies to questions, whereas the rules are in answers). \$\endgroup\$ – user62131 Dec 10 '16 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ While I like the idea of having a single entry point for all rules on Meta, I don't think your suggestion(s) would really work (due to issues you pointed out). However, I do think that continuing to try to find a solution that would create a single entry point for our rules and policies would be good. \$\endgroup\$ – Mego Dec 11 '16 at 1:43
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I think the current situation is fine.

While different users having different interpretations for the rules can be bad, it is good enough for most cases. When it isn't, the specific case can be brought to meta (such as the recent controversy over the showcase) and be discussed at length here.

The exists for a reason and possible changes to our can be made when the community makes a consensus. At the moment, our search functionality is quite difficult if you don't know what you're looking for but in most cases, there is a policy that can be applied already.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Put it this way: I'm on the verge of quitting the site because when I want to post an answer, it can take hours to either a) work on the answer, or b) try to work out whether the answer would be allowed prior to working on it. At the top level of competition, there are almost always potentially shortcuts you can use to do better. We disallow subjective challenges for a good reason. With the rules as they are at the moment, all challenges are subjective. \$\endgroup\$ – user62131 Dec 10 '16 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ The other problem is that there are multiple locations on the site with different rulings of the same policy. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Dec 10 '16 at 21:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't say whether a good solution for our problems exists, but I strongly disagree with "the current situation is fine". It's not just the point that ais brings up that our rules are in some parts ambiguous, but it's also that there's so many of them scattered around meta for various special cases, it takes a lot of time to familiarise yourself with all of them. Like I said, I don't have a good solution for this, but I think it's definitely an issue that we as a community should try to find a solution for if we can. \$\endgroup\$ – Martin Ender Dec 10 '16 at 21:14

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