What is the incentive for curl to release the library for free? (screenshot) was asked two days ago in Stack Overflow. In brief, it got an answer from the author of curl, made it to Hot Network Questions, attracted a lot of attention, was closed, locked, and, after a lively MSO thread, deleted.

Would that question be on-topic in this site, or is it subjective in a problematic way under the guidelines here? Do you feel it would be okay if it were migrated here?

(Meta-meta notes: I'm not expressing any sort of MSO consensus by posting this, though I have since posted a trial balloon answer over there. The whole thing is perhaps a bit moot now that the curl author reposted the answer in their blog; still, I feel it is worth it to ask here, for the sake of meta introspection if nothing else.)

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    I have just noticed this question from the main site, which might be a precedent of sorts (though at a glance I'm not quite sure what to make of it). – duplode Apr 30 '19 at 0:50
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    At first blush, I think an enumeration of answers for "What are the practical advantages that could motivate an author of open source software?" could be about as appropriately on-topic as enumerating answers for "How can you make money with FLOSS?" However, the latter might have a lot fewer answers (it's more or less variations on... three revenue models?), while motivaoand advantages could be vastly more numerous. I haven't thought hard about it, though, so I won't answer. – apsillers Apr 30 '19 at 1:41
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    @apsillers Well spotted -- though I only mentioned on-topicness and subjectivity, broadness probably should be accounted for as well. – duplode Apr 30 '19 at 2:18
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    the question has been undeleted BTW – Jean-François Fabre Apr 30 '19 at 21:33

Essentially, this question boils down to the fundamental question of free software: "Why open source it?" (or alternatively, "why free?"). There are plenty of different answers to that, but the overall themes tend to be pretty similar - if you asked the same question of the authors of most popular free software/libraries, I strongly suspect you'd get very similar answers.

Here on meta is not the place for me to go into detailing those answers, but... perhaps main is. If a Q&A site can't be the place to answer one of the most fundamental questions about its topic, where can that question be asked? I don't think it's a question that's too far out of our scope for it to be acceptable here.

As for migration... that's more sticky. Had the question been asked here in the first place, it wouldn't have got the attention nor the answer it got over on Stack Overflow, that's for sure. I haven't checked, but I suspect the moderators would be loath to migrate the question to us without community approval, and I suspect community approval might not be forthcoming. It's a question worth asking, if someone's willing to champion the cause, but it may not be plain sailing.

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    "It's a question worth asking, if someone's willing to champion the cause" -- As long as you folks are willing to have the question here, I believe it is as good a solution as we will get, so I'll be happy to do that. – duplode Apr 30 '19 at 23:50
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    Go for it, @duplode. The worst that'll happen is it gets a historical lock here instead, if the community ends up deciding against it. – ArtOfCode May 1 '19 at 18:26
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    I have posted an answer at MSO, which currently sits at +11/-2. I guess the next step in escalating the matter would be casting a custom flag that proposes migration with a link to both discussions, but amon's answer here is giving me pause. I don't want to force your hand about this, in any way. – duplode May 1 '19 at 18:51
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    @duplode Voting is hard to come by on such a small site with an even smaller meta. It's certainly worth leaving for a while to see how the votes settle, but if there's no clear conclusion, I'd be happy for it to be migrated over and we'll see how the community on main receives it. – ArtOfCode May 1 '19 at 20:58
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    That sounds like a good plan. I will wait for a few more days to see how things develop, then. – duplode May 1 '19 at 21:03
  • I don't think I'll take further action on this. 4-3 feels like a narrow margin, and now that the answer was featured in a Stack Overflow newsletter the odds of a migration being green-lit on the SO side are close to zero. Thanks for the feedback! – duplode May 29 '19 at 2:33

Some kinds of questions simply do not fit the Q&A model that Stack Exchange is built for. Questions that are asked on the network need to be somehow answerable, which includes requirements such as being on topic and being reasonably scoped.

  • The Stack Overflow questions specifically asked about the motivations of the author of cURL. There is exactly one person in the world who can reliably answer that. That isn't answerable in the general sense, so it was correct for the question to be closed.

    It happened that this one person wrote an answer. That is super cool but does not make the question on topic. Since then, the author's response has been moved to a better place – the author's blog.

  • A more general question about why people might contribute to open source is definitely better in this respect, but is too broad. There are myriad motivations, and the Stack Exchange model is not suitable to enumerate them all. Why do 'some examples' and 'list of things' questions get closed? on Meta Software Engineering explains useful background.

    Again, it is possible to write a great answer that summarizes and contrasts main motivations. But in my experience it doesn't make sense to judge questions by the best possible answer it could theoretically receive.

    It is absolutely possible for a Stack Exchange site to diverge from the normal SE model for questions and answers. For example, Programming Puzzles & Code Golf does not have questions in the usual sense. But it still has very precise criteria for how posts shall be written, for example that challenge questions need objective winning criteria. With such a clear criterion as to how an answer shall be accepted, questions that would otherwise be too broad can be kept manageable.

I would recommend that this community:

  • does not try to get that Stack Overflow question migrated here
  • does not encourage broad, list-style questions
  • if necessary, specify criteria under which an open-ended list-style question would be acceptable
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    Thank you for this answer. From my perspective, all arguments here, be them for or against migration, are welcome as useful input. (I feel like saying that explicitly because I won't vote, accept, nor make substantive comments here, in order to avoid interfering in your discussion.) – duplode May 1 '19 at 16:15

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