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We've been back and forth over the last few days over various incantations of "What do you think about Google+?" The first two were closed because they were considered too broad. A third has been asked, and has thus far survived:

What are the UX strengths and weaknesses of Google+?

While this question incorporates feedback from the previous two -- it has a reference to a review and a more analytical tone -- the scope is essentially unchanged. It's still asking about an entire product.

Is this question okay? And if so, would it also be appropriate to ask:

  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of Facebook?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of Pages for iOS?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of the Kindle 3?
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    I think these are wildly broad and not OK unless they are narrowed a bit more. "What are the strengths and weaknesses of the eInk screen in the Kindle 3" is more acceptable IMO. – Jeff Atwood Jul 14 '11 at 10:49
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    to be clear, I think "Let's explain the UX implications of {specific feature} of {product}" can usually be OK, whereas "Let's discuss the strengths and weaknesses of {product}" is not. – Jeff Atwood Jul 14 '11 at 22:01
  • Jeff, I emailed you but didnt hear back about that free lunch. Regarding he question, I respectfully disagree. – Glen Lipka Jul 16 '11 at 4:09
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It may be useful but it's not appropriate. StackExchange is a place to go for specific questions that can be answered in a way that will be useful later to other people with a similar problem besides just the person asking the question. The intention of SE is to address a gap on the Internet: there is no good place to go for answers to common questions about a certain topic and Google doesn't help very much because most of the existing sites don't practice good SEO or require arbitrary leaps in order to see content.

I think it's important to uphold the original design goals of StackExchange (as long as those are still the goals, which they currently are) rather than trying to make it into something else. Right now SE is a Q&A site with "stacks" for specific niche topics. Let's work to make UX.SE the best such site out there and perhaps once we've achieved that, we can talk about what other problems the site can solve. Right now I don't think being a discussion forum where we talk about products is very high on the list of priorities.

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    Rahul hits the nail on the head here - useful vs. appropriate. I would say we should all look at the other SE sites as examples. There are lots of questions regularly on StackOverflow that are useful and/or fun but are still closed because they are not appropriate for a Q&A site. We should be following the intent of the site, which is a Q&A site. – Charles Boyung Jul 12 '11 at 17:04
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I don't see how these are any different than critique requests, which we have always actively discouraged. They still fall into the "chatty, open ended questions" that Jeff just recently said are not appropriate for the system.

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Well, having edited the mentioned question into its present shape, I have no choice but say I feel they're acceptable :). That is, provided we're talking about UX strengths and weaknesses.

Yes, they are similar to critique requests, but I feel that an important difference here is in that we're not talking about "instruct me how to design my site", but about a professional analysis of an existing and "hot" product from a leading player, which is bound to affect the entire industry, create new conventions, maybe change existing paradigms. I'd love to have it analyzed here, just like I'd be interested in that review that Glen linked.

Since questions like "is the drag-and-drop circles management in Google+ good or bad" are definitely acceptable here, I think that the only difference between posting a bunch of those and one question that's concerned with the entire product is that it groups them. OTOH, the product is greater than the some of its parts, and one question may also refer to the UX of the product overall. If we discourage that, then we're going back to UI (focus on components) rather than UX. In general, I think that switching to UX implies a broader scope and more discussion-prone questions.

Bottom line - I think your examples are valid questions.

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    +1 Well said! I agree that the sum here is much greater than its parts. – Matt Rockwell Jul 12 '11 at 15:48
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    We have a way to group a bunch of related questions. Why not just create a Google+ tag? – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 15:51
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    @Patrick, I feel that tagging would be completely the wrong way to go about it. Tags are supposed to be concepts from the UX world, not specific products, unless it's an OS-level product. We'd just be contributing to making the website more product-oriented, which is not something we want. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 12 '11 at 16:01
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    @Vitaly - if tags are supposed to be concepts from the UX world then there's no way you can say that this question is appropriate. How can you add a tag for a UX concept to a question about an entire product? You can't. The tags on the Google+ question aren't appropriate based on your criteria of what tags should be. – Charles Boyung Jul 12 '11 at 17:37
  • @Charles, are you not familiar with the UX concept of expert review? And you are more than welcome to remove the google tag and retag the question as you see fit. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 12 '11 at 19:38
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    @Vitaly - Expert review is just a fancy name for critique, which we've already stated is off-topic/inappropriate for UX.SE. – Charles Boyung Jul 12 '11 at 19:40
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    @Vitaly - also, tagging a question expert-review should only be done when the question is about performing expert reviews, not that the question is asking for expert reviews. We don't allow questions asking for someone to do a usability study to be tagged as "usability" and we don't allow questions asking for someone to make a button to be tagged as "buttons". Tags are supposed to describe what the question is about, not what the question is. – Charles Boyung Jul 12 '11 at 19:55
  • @Vitaly - I take your silence to mean that you agree with me here? – Charles Boyung Jul 13 '11 at 16:21
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    @Charles, no, when I agree with you, I'll say it (I swear). It's just that our discussions tend to go on forever and yet to never get anywhere. So at some point, when I see it isn't going anywhere, I prefer to call it a day. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 13 '11 at 17:06
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    @Vitaly - If you disagree, I'd like to see a counterpoint as to why you think the tags of google and expert-review are valid tags for a question. And also, how is an expert review (which you seem to want to allow on the site) different than a critique (which is not allowed)? There's no way you are going to convince me when you just make random statements with nothing to back them up. – Charles Boyung Jul 13 '11 at 17:08
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    @Charles, that's just the point, I don't care whether I convince you or not. I have absolutely no problem with us disagreeing. When I need to justify my actions as a mod, like it was on other questions, the discussion may go on for longer, but when I express my opinion as one of the users of the site - it's just not worth the energy of keeping up an endless and useless debate. – Vitaly Mijiritsky Jul 13 '11 at 20:43
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    I can't say I support this, as stated. How can this end up being anything less than an infinite list of opinions? I believe it needs to be narrowed a bit more beyond the "entire website" level. I don't mean talking about super narrow things like specifics of the Kindle's keyboard, per se, but perhaps focusing on pros and cons of the eInk screen for UX -- greyscale, hi-res, low response time, etc. – Jeff Atwood Jul 14 '11 at 10:47
  • @Jeff, then the site shouldnt be called UX. It would be better to make two sites. One called UI, which is focused on tiny details of a product and one called UX where it is more holistic. Saying its UX and saying the whole product is off limits is inherently a contradiction. – Glen Lipka Jul 16 '11 at 4:12
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    @glen that's fine, but I believe you are the only person I know of who feels this way. – Jeff Atwood Jul 16 '11 at 17:30
  • What about Matt...the guy answering right below this comment. Seems he is saying the same thing. – Glen Lipka Jul 17 '11 at 4:34
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I would say yes for a few reasons.

Google has changed the face of search as we know it, whether that's a good or bad thing is up to the user's discretion. They have now released a product that is taking on giants like Facebook and Twitter, and if all pans out correctly for Google again, they might change the face of social media as we know it as well.

Since right now they are in their testing phase, its initial users are all in way shaping the direction it goes, as well as providing feedback on the current implementations on Google+. Seeing as they do extensive user testing and research (including the current testing), their products reflect some of the newest and most up to date user testing that has been documented. (How many times have you seen 10+ year old studies posted on answers to questions on ux.se?)

We have some very talented people on this site, and I feel that their expert opinions/fact checking/observations would be very useful while taking an in depth look at Google+. While a bit on the "chatty" side, I think with Google's impact on the internet and widespread effects on internet standards and innovation warrant the survival of a question like this.

Update: In addition to the Google+ question, the questions about Facebook, iOS and Kindle should be valid, seeing as they have a great deal of market penetration and have become the standards (not the only standards, but major ones) in their own rights.

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    But why do you need to ask about the entire product to learn about these very specific things that you're mentioning? Why not ask something more refined like "How did Andy Hertzfeld come up with the Google+ Circles UI? What kind of testing was done?" That way there's room for references, insider knowledge, and the question is actually objectively answerable. Just asking "Is Google+ good or bad?" doesn't lead to anything other than people's opinions. – Rahul Jul 12 '11 at 15:45
  • But isn't all user testing essentially a way of gathering "opinions" or "perceptions" or how something should work and then making conclusions from that research? How is this different? – Matt Rockwell Jul 12 '11 at 15:54
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    @Matt Now that's a good question. You should ask on the site! – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 15:57
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    @Patrick - Thanks for the suggestion! This really got me thinking! Posted. :) – Matt Rockwell Jul 12 '11 at 16:13
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You guys know how I feel. User Experience is inherently a holistic discipline. Questions that DON'T take the whole product into account are not UX. They may be UI, IA, usability, graphic design, etc, not UX.

At Marketo, I am part of the new hire orientation. I teach people during that session about user experience with the line, "YOU are part of our customers User Experience." If you are rude to them in a support call (for example), they will form a bad impression of the entire company. User Experience is top-to-bottom. Yes, UX may be subjective, but its educational, informative and it will help people make better products.

Therefore, questions about a whole product should be encouraged, in my ever so humble opinion.

Possible suggestion: Have a standard format for questions "whole products". Make those "safe" (not closed by reflex) and acceptable and consistent.

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    Yes, UX is holistic, but it's also detailed. Design is about making a thousand tiny decisions, each of which must be considered in the context of the whole. I think of Stack Exchange as a place where those tiny decisions are brought to the surface. – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 17:58
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    I think it should do both. Sometimes you talk about the forest and sometimes you talk about the trees. I have never said questions you encourage should be banned. I am defending the forest questions that others seek to ban. – Glen Lipka Jul 12 '11 at 18:24
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    The forest is too big to fit in a question. A proper review of Google+ would fill enough pages to make a book. Instead, everyone who's answered the question so far has commented on a different aspect of the site. Why not make each of those aspects a separate question? – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 19:07
  • To me, it makes perfect sense. I am learning by reading the answers. To me, there should be BOTH. A question about the product collectively gives an exploration of the whole. Additional questions should drill down into specifics. They BOTH have value. – Glen Lipka Jul 12 '11 at 19:16
  • Do you think there should be a bidirectional link between the question about the product and questions about the specifics? – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 19:33
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    I think you need to look at Rahul's answer - he has the key phrase right there: "StackExchange is a place to go for specific questions". Jeff and other SE key players have gone on record about this multiple times as well, both on this meta and on other metas. – Charles Boyung Jul 12 '11 at 19:47
  • @Patrick: I could imagine something like that. Either manually, just stick the link at the top or some other more systemic approach. Maybe, it would be a good answer to have a standard "format" for questions about products as a whole? Sanction a specific way of asking. – Glen Lipka Jul 12 '11 at 19:51
  • @Glen Take the idea of a more systemic approach to its logical conclusion. Would it be significantly different from tags and tag wikis? If so, is it possible that the tag system could be modified so that it bridges the gap? – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 20:34
  • @Patrick: I don't think so, but I am not sure I understand the suggestion. In my opinion, we need BOTH a " whole product UX question" and a "specific feature of a product UX question". They are both perfectly reasonable questions. Linking them somehow makes sense, but not at the expense of eliminating one of them. – Glen Lipka Jul 12 '11 at 21:28
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    I'm suggesting that whatever content you think belongs in a product question (answers included) should be rolled up into a tag wiki. – Patrick McElhaney Jul 12 '11 at 21:34
  • I would answer differently for a specific feature versus the holistic product and so would many people. Additionally, I might vote differently thinking about the whole product versus the specific feature. A Tag wiki might be good for other reasons, but not to solve this problem. – Glen Lipka Jul 13 '11 at 3:15

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