I believe it's a widely acknowledged problem in this community that the number of meta posts a new user needs to know to figure out all the rules has long got out of hand. We require certain answer formats, allow a large (but not arbitrary) set of I/O methods, have certain standard loopholes, special rules for counting interpreter flags, and then a bunch of exceptions to all of these. Sure you can probably get started without knowing most of these, but you'll miss out on golfing opportunities or violate some rules here and there, and it probably takes a while of being an active user until you've got an overview over all the relevant meta posts that we've accumulated over the years.
Even the well-known list of admissible I/O methods is somewhat losing its value in my opinion, because it might take a while for people to see new suggestions and there's just so much to take in. The equally well-known post saying that all answers must be full programs or function is even misleading because there's a later consensus that allows REPL answers if they're designated as separate languages.
Anyway, I believe this is a problem which presents a huge learning curve to new users, and I have a proposal for finally dealing with it:
Let's freeze all old, clear consensuses and consolidate them into one big FAQ post for answering rules.
Here is how I imagine that will work:
- We make a list of important meta posts whose answers are usually used as references for one site rule/policy or another.
- We record the current consensus on each of these posts and write up one big post that summarises all of them in a structured manner. This becomes a new faq meta post. It can link to the relevant meta posts for reference (and for people who want some further reading on how that rule came to be).
- We close all the old posts as dupes of the FAQ post and optionally lock them to physically freeze the votes.
This doesn't have to mean that our policies will be set in stone forever! If people want to propose new policies or changes to old policies, they can simply make a new meta post so we can have a fresh discussion about that specific change instead of people posting answers to old questions that will never gather enough votes to catch up with the old answers. Moving away from the polling culture that shaped many of our older policies would actually enable us to have more constructive discussions about the policies and it will more easily reflect the community's current opinion.
The clear benefit is that we'll have a single destination for people to review the rules, which we can point new users to and which can be mentioned in the Help Centre. I hope that in process of compiling the rules we'll also uncover any contradictions in existing policies and might be able to streamline some of them. Moving forward we should be able to make better decisions about policy changes because it will be easier to get the big picture.
I have started to compile a list of relevant meta posts, but it's doubtless incomplete. If anyone wants to have a look I've put it up in a pastebin for now. We can discuss the actual list once we've decided that we really want to do this. In the meantime, feel free to ping me in chat with any important posts missing from the list.
For now, I'd like to use this meta post to get some feedback for the proposal. Is this a good idea? Am I overlooking an issue with this that makes it a bad idea? Does it need any modification, can it be improved?
PS: This problem isn't limited to rules for answering. But I'd like to focus on one thing at a time, and for the majority of users the answering rules are more important (and I think there are also more of them). If this works out well, we can tackle a separate FAQ post for writing challenges.