After some small amount of discussion on this meta post and here in chat, I have a question for the community here.

What are our goals?

As a Stack Exchange site, we're here to answer on-topic questions about free/open projects to the highest quality possible. But is that all we are?

kdopen suggests that as Open Source Stack Exchange, perhaps our ultimate goal is actually to foster and encourage FLOSS adoption and development.

Now, that doesn't mean we start doing things that are wildly out of our scope just to persuade people to get into FLOSS. However, our goals do affect what's on-topic: at the above linked meta post, we discuss whether questions about integrating with other software and platforms are on-topic; at this meta post it was some while ago discussed whether "getting started with open source" questions are on-topic.

If our ultimate goal here is to encourage FLOSS development, perhaps getting started questions are actually on-topic?

Without trying to make too much of an example of one type of question being on- or off-topic, I'd like us to work out what our collective goals are - and then apply them in how we run the site. It's run by us - let's run it in the best way possible for what we're trying to do here.


8 Answers 8


Other than to strive to provide the best answers within our determined scope, we should be goal-free.

Overarching project-wide goals are not beneficial to being a great Q&A site. The quality of questions and answers does not increase through soul searching for goals, nor by having them.

Overarching project wide goals can be detrimental to being a great Q&A site. Defining our common goals as a community is a divisive act. When we exist to, in the end, promote Open culture, we exclude from our community those that don't share those goals. It is quite possible that Worlds Greatest Open Source Hater would be an excellent community member, providing great questions and factually informed answers. Excluding such people, even implicitly through stating shared goals they don't agree with hurts our Q&A community.

Overarching project wide goals will not fix our scope discussion. Testing a question against our goals is possible for a single asker and a single question, but will not answer whether or not making some class of question on topic furthers those shared goals.

Overarching project wide goals are unverifiable and unenforceable, making them hollow. We can't check each others goals, we can't enforce anyone holding them, we can't even know if other community members are aware of them.

We should explicitly try to be the most useful site possible for our core audience: people involved in open source.

The experts that attracts should make us useful to our peripheral audience: people with an interest in open source. Our scope should be wide enough for those people to be welcome here as well, unless it significantly degrades the experience for our core audience.

Our goals, other than being the site that does the above does not factor in to the equation.

As a single data point, I believe I'm clearly in the broader scope camp, goals or not.

Investigating or stating our goals does us no good. It can do us harm. It doesn't fundamentally help us with our scope. It can't be checked. It can't be enforced. We don't need it.

  • 1
    I'm inferring you think our goal is simply to be a good Q&A site, then?
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 20, 2015 at 17:29
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    Yes, excellent analysis :)
    – Martijn
    Aug 20, 2015 at 17:33
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    But it begs the question of "What is a 'good' Q&A site"?
    – kdopen
    Aug 20, 2015 at 17:37
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    @kdopen it not only begs the question, it also begs the answer: primarily usefulness to our core audience and secondarily usefulness for our peripheral audience. But what it means is not relevant to the question on whether we should define shared goals for the community beyond that.
    – Martijn
    Aug 20, 2015 at 17:47
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    This. My goals are probably very different to half the other people in this community. In fact some of my goals are probably to try and stop other people from achieving their goals. Rather than defining what our goals are, I'd like this site to be neutral territory. Lets be a place where people can get help trying to achieve their goals, without pushing our goals on them. Aug 20, 2015 at 23:40

I'm going to tangentially answer this question. Instead of defining goals for the site, I'd like to talk about the spirit of this site and the kinds of questions I would personally like to see here.

OpenSource.SE's primary purpose is to connect people who are interested in (and have questions about) FLOSS with experts and veterans of the community, the people who can answer those questions. And oh boy is that a wide variety of questions and topics.

  1. Licensing
  2. Remote Collaboration
  3. Project Management
  4. Development problems
  5. Computer Hardware
  6. Indoor Farming (Yes. I'm serious.)
  7. Collaborative Arts

Just to name the ones I can think of off the top of my head. The possible questions are as boundless as the people and ideas behind all things Free & Open. I beg the community to not define our scope by what is off topic elsewhere. Let's define our scope with the purpose of being the place to get an answer about any and all things free and open.

This means we'll overlap with some other sites, but this certainly isn't unheard of in the SE network. If I have a question about my Arduino project, it is likely to be on topic both on Electrical Engineering and Arduino. Where I ask will depend on the question and the type of answer I want to get. Yes, there will be technical questions here that would also be on topic for StackOverflow or Programmers, but you'd get a different kind of answer there than you would here. On those sites, you may get an answer from someone who has never struggled with the very real and specific problems that open source projects face. Distributed teams, differing environments, non-existent budgets, etc. Here, you can receive the benefit of real world experience working with this unique set of hurdles. Being on topic elsewhere doesn't make anything off topic here. We decide what is on topic here, and I say we welcome all things FLOSS with open arms.

Okay. So, that's my spiel, but there's something else I think is important about this site. It's neutral ground. We all know that there's a holy war between the Free and the Open Source folks. We welcome both here (so long as they remain civil =;)-

  • 3
    Even when I disagree with what a holy war participant will say, I'll defend to the death their right to say it here - as long as they say it nicely. You're right, this is neutral ground and I'm not letting holy wars happen here.
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 20, 2015 at 23:19

In another answer I argued for the fostering stance from a business perspective. In this one, I'd like to address the "philosophical" side of the question.

In the world of FLOSS (i.e. software) there appear to be two camps - OSI and FSF. There are also the people creating non-software, but nonetheless open, content and products. But whichever camp(s) you visit, there appears to be a general agreement that "open is better".

To me, it seems to follow that those people most committed to maintaining and growing a site like this, with the concomitant investment of time and knowledge, are also likely to be firm believers in the open approach.

Thus, making this site a vehicle for fostering the growth of open development rewards them emotionally for their investment. It also forwards a philosophy in which they believe.

One of the biggest hurdles to the continued growth of the open approach is the basic problem of "getting started" and gaining traction in a world still (and for the foreseeable future) dominated by proprietary products.

As content providers, we need a market: even if we 'give away' our product. It takes a lot of money to create that market for us, and that money is generated by corporations selling proprietary products. For software, the market is largely created by PC manufacturers (a Mac is basically a PC with different peripherals) and the default OS providers for those machines. There are also the providers of other platforms such as tablets and smartphones.

I think we need to answer beginner questions and provide advice on the best way to break into that market.

  • 2
    This. I can't find a single sentence in this I disagree with.
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:29
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    Want me to add one? What would you like me to add? :)
    – kdopen
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:31
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    IM(NS)HO, this is the path we should go with. Leave this answer as is :)
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:32
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    Yep, this is my real reasoning ... but it doesnt hurt to remind people of reality occasionally.
    – kdopen
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:38
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    We can't be answering beginner questions, nor should we just be asking questions for the sake of asking them. It's important that we strive to ask based on real-world situations, and that we just slowly build a user base through site promotion and other marketing tools.
    – Zizouz212
    Aug 20, 2015 at 17:46
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    Beginner questions yes, but they need to be focused. "How to get started" is too broad. At the very least they'd need to indicate the type of contribution they want to make. Aug 20, 2015 at 21:25

Be a place that definition stewards and license stewards (de facto experts) would feel welcome and productive.


I have posted more than one answer to this, from different viewpoints.

First, from a purely business PoV, I think there's a good case for us adopting a goal of 'fostering' open development.

SE incurs a significant cost in providing the servers etc for running any given site. Their business model seems to be based on attracting as many visitors as possible to a given site on a daily basis. If the numbers don't add up, it may begin to make sense from a purely financial perspective to close the site.

So, the implicit deal is "SE provides the site, we generate the visitors". The broader our appeal, the more visitors we are likely to attract.

If we accept that proposition, the question becomes which stance is likely to attract more visitors?

I would argue that fostering an increase in creation and adoption of open source projects of any kind (software, hardware, knitting patterns, books, data, whatever) broadens the audience from which we can attract visitors.

Closing too many classes of question as off-topic, on the other hand, narrows the available pool of visitors from which we can draw, and thus limits our site's value to SE Inc.

  • 1
    Slightly mercenary, but the reasoning here is sound. That said, there are probably better reasons to be fosterers.
    – ArtOfCode
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:18
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    I think 'pragmatic' rather than mercenary :)
    – kdopen
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:23
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    There is a premise here that a broader scope will attract more visitors. This is not necessarily true.
    – Martijn
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:33
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    No, the premise I was trying to convey is that a broader scope expands the pool from which we can attract visitors.
    – kdopen
    Aug 20, 2015 at 16:35
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    SE's own business needs should never enter our thoughts concerning our site's purpose. Aug 20, 2015 at 21:26
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    @curiousdannii Right up to the moment when they shut the site down?
    – kdopen
    Aug 20, 2015 at 21:37
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    "I have posted than one" -> more than one
    – Air
    Aug 20, 2015 at 23:15

When I started finding out about free/open stuff, I had a lot of questions. Could I include an X in a Y? What was the difference between Q and Q-or-later? If I contributed to a B what would happen if later they made it a C? If it could be applied to software/art could it be applied to Z, and if so, how?

It took me a while to learn to stop worrying about edge cases that could only be resolved in a court of law, and instead focus on practical outcomes :)

Regarding so-called "holy wars" I eventually made up my own mind about these, but still see no reason why they should interfere with practical questions. Apart from simple reiterations, I see the same behaviour in others ("I can't answer for open source, but when it comes to free software...").

So, I think that any question about making, distributing and modifying/building on free/libre/open works, in any medium, should be included. This could include quite specific questions "Can I do X with the Linux kernel?" or historical/rationale "Why is the Linux kernel GPLv2 not 3?" but not go so far as to be about implementation detail (for example, "How do I do X with the Linux kernel?" is a programming question, not a permission question).

  • 2
    You make great points, but I don't feel this answer answers the question.
    – Martijn
    Aug 21, 2015 at 7:47
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    @Martijn yeah, I thought so too in retrospect; I'll think about it some more
    – lofidevops
    Aug 21, 2015 at 8:05

Even-handedly answer potentially inciting questions ("Is copyleft anti-commercial?")


To help newcomers identify edge-cases that have only legal answers (i.e. could only be tested in a court of law).

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