Ok, here's one example. Now, as I noted in chat, I could think of a couple of reasons about the "why's" something happened instead of something else. All of them are sound, and even logical, yet none is definitive and I could even be wrong about it. So, it boils down to "what everyone thinks about why X happened and not Y?" kind of question, which IMO doesn't have a definitive answer, one of the primary requirements of asking a question in SE.

Is a question of trying to explain choices on the line of "why is preferred X and not Y when fooring the bar?" that just happen to be that way really answerable?

Note: I know at least one, "Why Xorg is being replaced by Wayland?" but it doesn't strike me in the same category of above. BTW, is answerable and the answer is in the FAQ.

  • Oh, btw, because XKCD is always relevant
    – Braiam
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 0:24
  • I know this is supposed to be a generic question, but the title looks like "why was the X windowing system not replaced with the better alternative?" :). Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 0:46
  • Darn... someone figured out, huh
    – Braiam
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 0:52

3 Answers 3


Yes those questions are answerable. Whether they are good or un-opinionated answers, or whether the question should be closed (for whatever reason) is a different matter and sometimes involves some thin ice.

The system allows us to close questions when we think the answers will be primarily opinionated. However you can give an opinionated answer to every question (whether the opinion is relevant is another matter altogether, if an answer is too opinionated there is of course a chance of mod intervention ). You can also try and give a factual answer to a question that would primarily invoke opinionated answers because of the way it was asked.

For that particular question I think the ice is thick enough, and an answer that includes some factual information about e.g. when man, info and the newer browser based information system came into being, can be useful. That answer can include a time-line of gestation and a gentle reminder of the circumstances for the younger generation (like Gilles already started to do in a comment).¹ There might be some guesswork involved, but if appropriately indicated in the answer, that is IMO fine (clearly indicated guesswork can always be confirmed or rejected at a later stage, and most importantly readers do not get confused by mixed fact and guesswork).

Such an answer is not necessarily hard science, but you can say that as well from a history thesis, if you compare it with physics' one. Having some historical information around can help us do a better job solving similar issues. And as such this particular question can be valuable.

¹ Sometimes you just have to have been there to experience it.

  • SE doesn't consider a question to be answerable if it doesn't get answers but opinions.
    – Braiam
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 10:56
  • @Braiam But the problem is the upfront judgement that a question will primarily get opinions or could get non-opinianated answer. As always there is a grey area. And Qs get often closed before any answer that might be factual and helpful has a chance to get posted.
    – Anthon
    Commented Oct 9, 2014 at 11:59

With respect to the question that you referenced, I thought it wasn't answerable, and so I originally had closed it as such. But one of our regular users thought that it should be re-opened as he had an interest in seeing it answered.

I told him that if others thought it was of interest that I would be supportive of it being re-opened or he could get a group of 5 to VtR it.

I personally find these types of questions unanswerable or rather that their answers are loaded with a lot of opinions, and so serve no useful purpose on this type of site.

However SE sites do need to be some what flexible in the type of content that is allowed, and in looking over this particular question, it would represent unique content about the subject matter that is likely not pulled together anywhere else on the internet. It's likely that some aspects to any high quality answers that it might generate would be useful as reference material when answering other questions that are related to the subject matter.

So in this particular case, I say let it be. But with respect to your main question: "Why replacement of X didn't replace X", I agree as you, that these should likely be closed, perhaps initially, until individual community members step up and identify the question as being worthwhile.


In my opinion, no they're not answerable. A question asking why X did not replace Y is essentially asking "why do people not prefer Y to X?" and that is pure opinion. How can we give a conclusive answer to why something is more popular than something else?

The only way would be to conduct a poll of many users and ask each their reasons for their choice. By definition, such a thing would boil down to an opinion. The best case scenario would be that such a poll has already been carried out and the results are available. Even then, however, we could only say something like "75% of users asked said they prefer man because it has more unicorns" or whatever. Again, it would be an opinion.

This type of question can only be answered if it is made much more specific. For example, "Why did Ubuntu abandon upstart"? is actually answerable because

  1. It is asking for the reasons of one, specific organization which can, at least theoretically, be known.

  2. The answer in this case is actually known: http://www.markshuttleworth.com/archives/1316. The head of Canonical has published a blog post explaining why the decision was made.

However, in general, such questions will not be answerable since they will depend on the personal opinions of all the users who've made a choice.

  • 1
    +1 Anthon's answer is very good, but it doesn't change the fact that the question itself is soliciting opinion. One way around it would be to substantially edit the question, which in this case would be justififed, IMO.
    – jasonwryan
    Commented Oct 10, 2014 at 6:15

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