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There is some blurryness to the definition of on-topic here that has existed for as long as I've been around. However, deciding where that line is has become a recurring problem as a moderator. So I want to get community input.

If somebody asks a specific question rather than asking for a review, is that off-topic?

As an example, we have: https://codereview.stackexchange.com/questions/31737/summarize-two-css-keyframes#question. He wants to improve the style of working code. But he's asking a really specific question, not wanting a code review.

Should we accept any attempt to improve working code (which is more or less what's actually happened) or should we only accept more strictly code review requests (which is more along the lines of what the site's FAQ and definition would state)?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Unrelated: I think this title should be more accurate, just like with the previous featured post. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 29 '13 at 6:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also, have you already came to a decision on that post? \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 29 '13 at 7:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jamal, do you have a suggestion for a better title? I'm trying to further nail down our on-topic/off-topic boundary before taking action making it happen. \$\endgroup\$ – Winston Ewert Sep 29 '13 at 15:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your updated title is good. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 29 '13 at 19:34
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It's worth remembering that the people answering questions here are mostly doing it for fun. I personally like to have questions that invite a variety of approaches: it gets a bit boring noting yet again that the posted code has no documentation or test cases.

So if you hedge the site about with rules that overly restrict the kinds of questions that can be asked and the kinds of answers that can be given, you risk making it less interesting to visit.

The linked question isn't all that great, but there are plenty of decent "improve this code" questions. For example, I thought this one was quite good.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point. The only issue I have with a post like that is that it may encourage code blocks as answers. In that case, we should encourage answerers to explain the code a bit so that others can understand. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 29 '13 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Pretty much every question here is asking to improve code. My concern is when you've got a specific question about how to do X in order to improve your code. \$\endgroup\$ – Winston Ewert Sep 29 '13 at 22:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ My point is that your question was not, strictly speaking, a request for code review, but I found it enjoyable to answer nonetheless, and I think it would be a shame if questions like this were banned. \$\endgroup\$ – Gareth Rees Sep 29 '13 at 23:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WinstonEwert: You mean like asking for code to be written? To me, "how can this be improved?" is different from "how can I do X to improve this?" The latter is off-topic, but the former implies that the OP doesn't know what should be done for improvement. That alone, in my opinion, should be allowed. After all, such improvements may only require an explanation and/or links, not necessarily a block of code. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 29 '13 at 23:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Jamal, its the latter type of question that I've got in mind here. \$\endgroup\$ – Winston Ewert Sep 30 '13 at 1:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @WinstonEwert: Oh, okay. So yes, I think that should remain off-topic. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 30 '13 at 1:15
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For as long as I've been monitoring this site (which hasn't been long), I haven't even thought about this. Yet another important concern that we need to address while we're still in beta.

If somebody asks a specific question rather than asking for a review, is that off-topic?

I'm going to start off with the "easy" response: no, because CR could be in danger of surviving if we're less of a Q&A site like the others.

The "harder" response: I'm still thinking no, as long as the question(s) is still on-topic. It may be a specific question, but it doesn't seem that specific. It still requires an examination of the code. It isn't a typical SO question that can (most-likely) be answered with a web search. Plus, with this specific question addressed, more reviews can be made. Yes, I still believe that, despite the scope of the question(s), answerers should be allowed to address anything in the post that may help the OP.

Should we accept any attempt to improve working code (which is more or less what's actually happened) or should we only accept more strictly code review requests (which is more along the lines of what the site's FAQ and definition would state)?

Going back to my very first point: I don't think we should be restricted to only code review requests. Whatever the answerer has to address, as long as it's all relevant (and the OP's code is working), it should be allowed. I really don't think we need to be too strict about something like this..

We must also keep in mind that no one is obligated to give a full review. There are tons of examples of this. Plus, if one answerer primarily addresses everything or nearly everything (guilty as charged), then that may leave little to nothing for others to address. If the first answer has flaws or has missed some important things, then the additional answers can address those things. My main (hypocritical) concern with this is that it may keep our answer-per-question percentage low. However, we're not like the other SE sites: we don't just answer specific questions. But that doesn't mean that we need to change our ways outright. I think we should still be open to specific (on-topic) questions and/or code review requests.

tl;dr: "no" and "the former" :-)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think the first part is written confusingly. You ask "is that off-topic?", answer "yes", but seem to argue for "no, it's not off topic". \$\endgroup\$ – svick Sep 29 '13 at 13:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @svick: Oh yeah, you're right. I kept thinking that the question said "on-topic." Thanks for pointing it out. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamal Sep 29 '13 at 19:29
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I perceive the question as more of a target-area/self-evaluation. For example, let's say I post working code--but I know that there's an area that needs more attention because either I'm weak in that particular area (e.g. regex, sql with partitioning, etc.) -- or I know what I created in that particular area is more of just a plain hack to get something to work. Even though I may have posted a specific question, I know (and appreciate) that the whole post is up for review/improvement.

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