Proposal: Vi/Vim

We recently launched an Emacs site, and the Vi/Vim community quickly followed to have a site of their own. The show of support here was nothing short of amazing. It weighed heavily in our evaluation of this site, but we ultimately decide not to split off Vi/Vim from Stack Overflow and the other communities that support this subject.

A comparison between Emacs and Vi/Vim is inevitable. It's a good question, and we talked about this a lot. We were on the fence about creating the Emacs site in the first place, but the argument that there was an ecosystem of questions not suitable to Stack Overflow won over by the narrowest of margins.

We couldn't make that same argument for splitting off a Vi/Vim site. Long story short (yes, we discussed this extensively), there simply is not a lot of content here that doesn't already fit well on our existing sites.

I can understand that folks would love to have a "more focused" place to ask their questions. But Stack Overflow is already THE largest destination for these issues on the 'net. With almost 14,000 questions on that site alone, 27 MILLION+ times people have already found the help they needed here. The Vi/Vim community is already one of our stronger-supported subjects, and questions continue to get great answers daily. It's hard to envision that splitting off Vi/Vim to a smaller site would make this subject better or attract a larger audience.

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This is ridiculous. I had high hopes for VimOverflow. –  Nick Oct 8 at 12:40
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I agree with not splitting off that narrow a site, but I strongly disagree with treating one text editor different than the other. –  Raphael Oct 8 at 15:15
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What sort of questions "not suitable to Stack Overflow" are relevant to an Emacs site but not Vim? –  Kevin Oct 8 at 16:37
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What ecosystem of questions? This stuff? You mean you can't go on IRC or browse the web or play games or read email or play music in VIM? –  snailboat Oct 8 at 17:53
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I don't see an overwhelming volume of questions on the emacs site within this "ecosystem" domain; they mostly look like 'how do I use this tool' questions. It makes the rationale for closing this proposal look even more ridiculous. –  Josh Petrie Oct 8 at 18:34
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@snailboat Why don't you (time permitting) build upon your comment and post a full-fledged answer? –  Jubobs Oct 8 at 19:00
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I can see strong arguments to categorically allow or disallow sites about Vi/Vim and Emacs, but I don't see any strong argument that would explain why one works and the other doesn't. –  Mad Scientist Oct 8 at 21:40
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You have how many totally pointless and 100% opinion based exchanges now, yet you close something as useful as this exchange? –  SnakeDoc Oct 9 at 0:31
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So, @RobertCartaino, I'll repeat what I asked Abby below: it's been about a day without any real response from you or StackExchange on this issue. What's the deal? Can we expect the additional justification this action sorely needs, or are we simply meant to expect this sort of arbitrary unilateral action on a perfectly valid, committed proposal? –  Josh Petrie Oct 9 at 1:31
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I am very sympathetic for the fate of vim.se. –  Tim Oct 9 at 13:52
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you said "we decided". "we" => who? –  guido Oct 9 at 19:52
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This is about the worst thing you can do. Either both sites are appropriate or neither. 1 is and 1 isn't is completely ridiculous and makes everyone look like they have no clue what they're doing. –  slm Oct 9 at 19:55
    
@slm or that somebody (Joel?) is playing favorites... –  SnakeDoc Oct 10 at 14:40
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@SnakeDoc - I was speaking w/ another mod on that subject and he brought up the point that if we assume conspiracies then we're in a position where we cannot effect change. I have to believe that Joel and other's would not care one way or another, though I can sympathize w/ that thought crossing your mind on something such as this. –  slm Oct 10 at 14:53
    
This is a pretty ridiculous that emacs gets to split off and for some reason vi/vim is treated differently. Just because you use emacs and not vim is not a valid reason to not split. –  Dan Bradbury 2 hours ago

12 Answers 12

Well, that's very disappointing, to say the least.

I can't understand why you would let a community get behind a proposal, only to shoot the latter down just as it's about to enter the beta phase. You let the Emacs site start its beta, and it seems to be doing great so far. A few proposed community sites have failed during their beta, but at least they were given a chance. Why not, at this stage, give Vi/Vim the same opportunity and see how it plays out, instead of reading tea leaves?

The mind boggles at the preferred treatment received by Emacs.SX. This feels like a big

F*** y**, Vim users and developers. Emacs lovers can take shelter from the storm, but we're going to leave you out in the cold.

Did Joel (a fervent Emacs fan, as I understand it) weigh in on this? Fanning the flames of the editor war, are we, Stack Exchange?

More seriously... You write

It's hard to envision that splitting off Vi/Vim to a smaller site would make this subject better or attract a larger audience.

I think it actually would attract a larger audience. Stack Overflow can be a scary place, especially to beginners. Smaller sites tend to be more welcoming. To speak from experience, I don't think I would ever have started contributing to Stack Overflow, had I not first done a stint on the comparatively friendlier TeX.SX site.

Stack Overflow is already THE largest destination for these issues on the 'net.

Has Stack Overflow become too big to split?

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Joel had no voice in the discussions relating to either of these proposals. I'm pretty sure he wasn't even aware that this proposal was going to be closed until it actually happened. –  abby hairboat Oct 8 at 22:08
    
@abbyhairboat I was only messing with you (mods); I sure hope that Joel wasn't pulling strings. –  Jubobs Oct 8 at 22:19
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@abbyhairboat Given the responses here, can we expect any kind of clarification on or follow-up to this seemingly-arbitrary decision? –  Josh Petrie Oct 8 at 22:24
    
@Josh I'm not sure; I was about as involved in this decision as Joel was. I would imagine that there may be follow up to address the concerns on this thread but it may take some time. –  abby hairboat Oct 8 at 22:38
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Why would you censor "you"? :P –  Doorknob Oct 9 at 2:42
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@abbyhairboat how about you just don't close this exchange? –  SnakeDoc Oct 9 at 14:43
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@SnakeDoc - not my call, unfortunately. I might have argued this case if I hadn't been on vacation when the decision was made, but I make no assertion that I could have won. –  abby hairboat Oct 9 at 20:13
    
@abbyhairboat how about you make the case now? There is obviously far more support for this exchange staying open, than there is opposition. That is, unless someone over there is pulling strings behind the scene. –  SnakeDoc Oct 10 at 14:42
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@SnakeDoc I'd lose. Plus, I've never used Vim. Plus, my opinion on this topic is not as simple as "it should get launched". So I think I'd make a pretty terrible advocate. –  abby hairboat Oct 10 at 14:55

I am on the fence about the long-term viability of a SE site for Vim and/or Emacs. But I do think it's worth trying, because trying gives you, you know, real data instead of made up fluffy ponies.

Given that SE has committed to trying for Emacs, I think it is completely irresponsible and ridiculous to not try for Vim, especially given the "amazing" show of support for this proposal. It's hard to disagree with Jubob's implication that maybe there's some childish bias going on behind the scenes here, if you're into that conspiracy-theory sort of thing.

Honestly, I think the argument that SO is the largest destination for these questions cuts both ways. Its sheer volume means questions move quickly and are not nearly as visible as they might be a smaller site. A lot of that volume seems to be crap questions, too. Perhaps by continuing to narrow the focus of SO by drawing off more specialized sub-topics one might increase the quality on both sites.

Once again the Area 51 process has instilled in me nothing but disappointment and disgust. Good job, folks!

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It's hard to disagree with Jubob's implication that maybe there's some childish bias going on behind the scenes here, if you're into that conspiracy-theory sort of thing. To be honest, I was only teasing, there :p –  Jubobs Oct 8 at 16:22
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I am just being argumentative there as well I suppose -- if it's really true that such bias exists and can shut down a legitimate proposal I'd probably abandon SE on principle. –  Josh Petrie Oct 8 at 16:26
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I agree wholeheartedly. I love browsing sites like English.se and I think a vi/m.se would be the same. I dont see SO as a browsing site because of the sheer volume. Vim, like the english language, is something that you continually learn, so this makes sense. –  tjameson Oct 9 at 6:32
    
What's wrong with a bias ? We're talking tools for a job, some matches are better. As said above it was the narrowest of margins deciding to which tool SE would be better suited if isolated. As far as I can tell it's the community demanding equal consideration of different tools that is biased towards tool equivalency for no valid reason. –  Eric Oct 10 at 15:36
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@Eric We can argue whether or not Vim or emacs are equivalent (if different) tools, but claiming they're not without elaborating is not enough to explain why one site should live and the other die. –  Jubobs 2 days ago
    
@Jubobs you are absolutely right - but I would argue that saying emacs and vim are equivalent is much less like likely than they being different. And there's nothing wrong with that. I was careful not to address which would be better isolated on SE - I am merely pointing out that "equal treatment" in and of itself is pointless when talking about software. –  Eric 2 days ago

Ever since the creation of this proposal, I have taken note of a number of questions I would have liked to ask on the Vi/Vim beta site. I wouldn't know where to ask these questions and I have user profiles on StackOverflow & TeX.SE.

Apart from creating a "canonical home" for questions, I think that the Emacs and Vi/Vim sites are not only viable as successful Q&A sites, but have the potential of broadening the development and general knowledge about Emacs/Vi(m). (Of course, I'm sure I don't have to convince anyone here that Emacs/Vi(m) are more than "just another text editor".)

I have asked questions about Wordpress on SO and even got reasonable answers there. Questions about TeX are frequently seen on SO as well. Conceptually, a lot of questions fit on SO. Does the SE community team regret creating TeX.SE or Wordpress.SE as sites separate from StackOverflow?

I have been very much startled ever since I found this post, because this decision seems to go against all the principles of reasonableness, which I attributed to the SE community team over the course of my time as part of the SE network. In fact, I'm so confused that I have to ask,

Are you playing with open cards, or is this really about keeping SO your flagship, which (I guess) is related to SE revenues?

Are you afraid that the strong support of Vi/Vim users makes this proposal meet the numbers too easily, so that once in beta with top stats, there will be no good reason to fold it back into SO, although that's what you really want to do?

(I'm also asking because of this sentence on the announcement about the Emacs proposal: "So splitting off Emacs questions runs counter to our current thinking about what's best for our company and (we suspect) the users of Stack Overflow.")

From what I can see, you haven't given us any real reason for closing this proposal. (That Emacs lives in a "richer ecosystem" I can't count as real reason as per @snailboat's comment.)

I sincerely hope you reconsider your decision and give the Vi/Vim proposal a fair chance of proving its viability as Q&A site.

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+1, but especially for noting that the unilateral decision to close this proposal goes "against all the principles of reasonableness." –  Josh Petrie Oct 8 at 20:28
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I also don't think the "richer ecosystem" argument is valid; it's a weasel word that seems designed more to invoke the "editor war" and derail legitimate discussion. A site should stand (or not) on it's objective merits, and as far as is defined by Area 51 process this proposal appears to have done so, and so to close it down in this fashion is a touch dictatorial. –  Josh Petrie Oct 8 at 20:40
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I have been very much startled ever since I found this post, because this decision seems to go against all the principles of reasonableness, which I attributed to the SE community team over the course of my time as part of the SE network. Yes, very much so. I'm still shocked. Unless they plan to end emacs here and now this is total nonsense. –  Seth Oct 8 at 21:15
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I think if they let Emacs and Vim out then what's keeping Python, PHP and everything else inside the SO bottle is the real issue here. –  slm Oct 9 at 20:04
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@sim Well, for now we're all just guessing what the real issue is here. There's no basis for discussion, yet. –  Earthliŋ Oct 9 at 20:32
    
Until some editor can dynamically modify itself in realtime and capable of running itself in itself, it's not an ecosystem. See reddit comment. –  Amumu Oct 10 at 4:08
    
See also video editor in Emacs. –  Amumu Oct 10 at 4:12
    
@Amumu Can you prove that Vim can't do the same? How did you come with up that criterion, and who says it's the correct one to determine whether a proposal should live or die? –  Jubobs Oct 10 at 15:09
    
@Jubobs Could you prove Vim can do the same? Essentially, learning Emacs is Emacs + Emacs Lisp. Emacs is a virtual machine of its own language, Emacs Lisp and provides user an infrastructure to do many things. And the official manual is huge, over 1000 page each, one for the Emacs manual and one for Emacs Lisp. That's a lot to learn. That's why people say Emacs is an ecosystem, not an editor. Now, until Vim can emulate Emacs and ...become Emacs. Also, people could ask Vim question through Evil :-). People even wrote HttpServer framework in Emacs (think Node). –  Amumu Oct 10 at 17:34
    
@Amumu Emacs is just much better/richer/more versatile than vim. Is that your point? That just sounds like bias that's not going to go anywhere. –  Earthliŋ Oct 10 at 19:12
    
@Earthliŋ I meant to say, as editing text, Vim is more comfortable than Emacs, but Emacs is just too large to learn that it's reasonable to have its own site. 1000 page manual for Emacs and another 1000 page manual for Emacs Lisp is a lot. Not to mention learning usages of community packages. Actually, no one knows everything about Emacs, except the devs maybe. People start using Emacs, and they gradually customize until they start writing real packages to extend it. That's an unavoidable way of Emacs. –  Amumu Oct 10 at 19:18

I'd say that the strongest argument we have in favor of a separate Vim site is that Vim Q&A is already quite fragmented across the entire network.

First of all, almost any question at all about Vim can fit on either Stack Overflow or Super User. Indeed, I've searched for Vim questions on SO before only to finally find an answer on SU. This is a Bad Thing™.

Furthermore, fragmentation means you're not reaching your full potential audience. What if I have a question about Vim-LaTeX on Ubuntu? I only eventually decided to post on Ask Ubuntu because it got more traffic. This is also a very Bad Thing™. The people over on Tex - LaTeX don't get to see my question, so it gets less of a (specialized) audience. People from TeX - LaTeX might have the same problem, but give up because they can't find it on that site. Less questions + less answers = less happy unicorns.

Also, it's not as if I'm the first to bring this up. But yeah, any argument you can make against Vim hurts your Emacs site, and anything good you say about those Emacs people over there applies equally to us too.

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It's not a bad thing at all. If I'm a programmer, there's a place I can ask about using Vim for programming. If I'm a grandmother looking to check my email for letters from the kids, using my favorite text editor for some reason, I can ask about that on Super User. If I'm configuring my OS, I have my pick of sites on which to ask. If I'm writing TeX, I can ask editor questions about that too... Heck, there are actually even more sites that allow folks to ask Vi/Vim questions, as long as they're relevant to the target audience. This isn't bad - this is the hallmark of a flexible tool. –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 3:11
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@Shog9: This complaint is about searching for answers (to potentially ready-existing questions), not posting new questions. The former is much more difficult when you have a pick of nine sites to search across. I already have this problem with Meta.SE vs Meta.SO. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 9 at 9:10
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@Shog9 I thought the scope of sites was defined by virtues of the questions, not the people posing them. –  Raphael Oct 9 at 9:45
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@Shog9 This isn't bad? What about that Vim-LaTeX Ubuntu question example in the third paragraph? People who can answer the questions aren't seeing them, much less answering, which, if I understand correctly, is a full half of "Q&A site." Questions don't get answers, answerers don't find questions, and you're saying that's a good thing? Not to mention that's a completely inapplicable argument for the second paragraph, because often Vim questions will fit on either site anyway. –  Doorknob Oct 9 at 11:36
    
Most folks use Google for that, @Lightness. And if that's the complaint, adding a 10th site just makes the problem worse. –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 12:03
    
What made you think that, @Raphael? Questions have little virtue on their own; they need askers, and answerers, and editors and... Well, people. Eventually, the goal is to produce useful artifacts, but that's the pearl not the oyster and certainly not the sand. –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 12:06
    
So your solution to that problem is to create yet another site, @Doorknob? That's not gonna stop folks from asking questions on AU. Or looking for questions to answer on TeX. To the extent that this is a problem now, another site makes it worse; to the extent that it isn't a problem, it requires a distinct audience. That is to say, Vi[m] experts who aren't programmers, who aren't sysadmins, who aren't DBAs, who aren't academics, power users, etc... Why do you think the subheading for proposals is "who is this site for?" not "what is it about"? –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 12:13
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@Shog9 Yes. That's exactly my solution. That was exactly your solution when you went ahead and created Emacs. That's the whole point of having the "community-driven" Area 51 in the first place! The Vim people on TeX-LaTeX probably aren't looking over on Ask Ubuntu for Vim questions to answer, nor might they know it even exists. With a dedicated site, Vim experts who are programmers, who are sysadmins, who are DBA's and some or "all of the above" can all ask and answer questions without the clunkiness of separate sites, each with its own little mini-scope that we have to figure out. –  Doorknob Oct 9 at 12:24
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"With a dedicated site..." ...TeX-LaTeX-Vi[m] fans still aren't going to be looking over on Ask Ubuntu for questions to answer. Sorry, but if that's the problem you're trying to solve, you need to go back to the drawing board - yet another site does nothing to help with the confusion generated by multiple sites. And keep in mind... If I have a question about hammers, I search on DIY.SE, because those are the folks whose opinions I want; I don't propose a "Hammers" site hoping to draw folks out of the (heh) woodwork. Go where the experts are, don't force them to come to you. –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 12:41
    
@Shog9: I agree! I just think your original comment missed the mark here. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Oct 9 at 12:43
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@Shog9 That's not the problem I'm trying to solve. I'm not asking Vim people from TeX-LaTeX to participate on AU too. I'm saying that the problem is that currently, we expect them to, because there are Vim questions there that they might have seen, but missed only because they were on a different site. Your analogy is flawed: Hammers are on topic on one site and one site only, and everything about hammers is on-topic for DIY. Neither are true for Vim. And you still haven't explained why you're not applying these very same arguments to shut Emacs down. –  Doorknob Oct 9 at 12:47
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If you want to discuss Emacs, go to meta.emacs.stackexchange.com - the tl;dr there is that it's a platform to an extent that Vi[m] is not, and we have a history of creating sites for platforms. Back on point: DIYers are not the only people who use hammers. Landscapers use hammers. There could be sysadmin hammer users who are missing out on important hammer questions right now. Why are you refusing to consider the idea of a Hammer SE? –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 12:58
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@Shog9 Really, Vim is less extensive than Emacs? I'm sure there's quite a few people who could say a few things to you about that. If you think hammers are 1.) A notable and broad enough topic to have their own site, 2.) On topic on several, separate sites (and no, a "retro rocket" challenge on PPCG does not support the Aviation site), and 3.) Not sufficiently covered on the existing sites, then by all means go right ahead and propose the site. Otherwise, your faulty analogy isn't going to advance this discussion any further. –  Doorknob Oct 9 at 13:47
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@Shog9 The fact that the opposite does not make any sense. My being a computer scientist does not make a gardening question ontopic on Computer Science. The idea that every person fits only one site is ... ridiculous. –  Raphael Oct 9 at 14:01
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@Shog9: If you want to discuss Emacs there is that it's a platform to an extent that Vi[m] is not. That shows a certain selection bias (and a real lack in understand of what vim is). I would argue that vim is as much a fully fledged environment that Emacs is. –  Loki Astari Oct 9 at 18:33

From the FAQ (emphasis mine):

How do I start a new site?

If your area of expertise doesn't already have a Stack Exchange site, propose it! Stack Exchange sites are free to create and free to use. All we ask is that you have an enthusiastic, committed group of expert users who check in regularly, asking and answering questions.

The creation of Stack Exchange sites is a democratic, community-driven process. That does not mean the majority of Area 51 users have to love your site idea. It simply means you have to recruit a community of users large enough so that questions get good answers quickly. Reach out to other experts to build support for your site; bloggers, enthusiasts, and support groups can all benefit from a world-class, canonical collection of expert answers to the hardest questions.

Unilaterally shutting down a well-supported proposal without any discussion seems the very opposite of a 'democratic, community-driven process'. Please either re-open this proposal or remove all references to 'democracy' and 'community-driven' from the FAQ.

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Not only well supported. But supper ethusiastic. It went from Proposal to 100% committed in under 15 days. –  Loki Astari Oct 9 at 18:35

We couldn't make that same argument for splitting off a Vi/Vim site. Long story short (yes, we discussed this extensively), there simply is not a lot of content here that doesn't already fit well on our existing sites.

It's hard to envision that splitting off Vi/Vim to a smaller site would make this subject better or attract a larger audience.

You did not explain why either of those points are different for Emacs?

  • Both communities have large followings.
  • Both editors take time to master, especially for those coming from "simpler" tools.
  • Both are nearly ubiquitous in Unix / Linux environments, maybe with Vi/Vim having an edge in default installations.

The primary difference in the tools is that Vim is mostly used as an editor, while Emacs is an "environment" that does many things (although there is an argument for specialization).

But to imply that the Vi/Vim SO community is both large and active would seem to make a case for it, not against it.

So why one and not the other, vs both or none?

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not to mention at all the universities i've had fiends at in the CS/CPE programs (multiple CSU and UC systems in California), vi/vim is the editor that is taught. –  SnakeDoc Oct 9 at 19:09
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@SnakeDoc +1 Same here. –  Jubobs Oct 10 at 6:25

@shog9 suggested I put together a list of questions scattered around SE that would have been successful on a vim.se site. Part of the motivation for this is that it has been suggested:

Shog9: The best argument for splitting off a topic is that there's no single site where the entirety of it is already welcomed.

Shog9: The next best argument is that there's a unique audience that isn't welcomed on any existing site.

rolfl: if I scan queries like: [vim] closed:yes duplicate:no on SO, SF, SU, ASkUbuntu, there are a number of questions that would be good for a general vim site.

Shog9: make a list

(in The Assembly - by Shog9 )

The links in this answer are evidence that Vim is a topic which satisfies that first argument: "... there's no single site where the entirety of Vim is already welcomed"

Parts of Vim are welcomed in many sites, and parts of Vim are welcome nowhere.

This list is not exhaustive, just a cherry-picking of content, but, in my estimation, all of these questions would be successful on a vim.se site, even though many of them were closed for various reasons on their askers site:

Questions that 'would have been good' on vim.se

(Selected Closed and selected Recent&Open questions)

Closed content comes from the search [vim] closed:1 duplicate:0

It is apparent that [vim] questions are asked in many places on SE, an that many sites welcome them....

U&L CLOSED

U&L OPEN

apple.se OPEN

askubuntu.se CLOSED

askubuntu.se OPEN

superuser CLOSED

superuser OPEN

serverfault CLOSED

serverfault OPEN

SO CLOSED

SO OPEN

Tex.se CLOSED

Tex.se OPEN

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Updated to include tex.se - by my count, there are 7 graduated sites that welcome vim questions, and also reject vim questions. Many of the rejected questions would not be valid for any of the sites. Many of the open questions would be valid on multiple of the sites too. –  rolfl Oct 9 at 16:16
    
What is this list supposed to teach us? That Vim questions get asked on several sites? We already knew this. Can you identify a fragmentation problem (a problem, as opposed to “programmers ask on SO, sysadmins ask on SU”)? Are there questions that were unduly closed (as opposed to being closed as unclear, too broad, etc.)? –  Gilles Oct 9 at 20:31
    
@Gilles - updated the question to make the background here more clear. –  rolfl Oct 9 at 20:39
    
I still don't get it. You open with two closed questions on Unix & Linux. One was closed because it's unclear and the other one because it's a cross-post answered elsewhere. What is this supposed to teach us? It's obvious that Unix & Linux is not a site for all Vim questions since people use Vim on Windows too. The same goes for Ask Ubuntu, Ask Different, TeX - LaTeX and Server Fault. The only strong contenders are Stack Overflow and Super User. –  Gilles Oct 9 at 20:53
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On Super User, you list three bad closed questions (POB, POB and unclear). They'd be equally bad on VIM.SE. On SO, you list two bad closed questions and one that might fly at SU with a little edit. Ok, so what? –  Gilles Oct 9 at 20:55
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The "So what?" is that there are a lot of questions scattered over a lot of sites, where many are on-topic, and some are not. The ones that are not on-topic may be on-topic on one of the other sites. But, this is exactly the situation that meets the "best reason to create a new site" criteria: there's no single site where the entirety of it is already welcomed. The questions listed, together, prove that subsets of vim questions are welcomed in multiple place. I think you are trying to see too much in this answer. –  rolfl Oct 9 at 20:58
    
@Gilles - If you are concerned with the content in the list, feel free to edit/add/remove content. –  rolfl Oct 9 at 21:12
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Vim golfing ("What's the most efficient sequence of keystrokes to accomplish X") would probably be welcome on vim.se and off-topic everywhere else. –  200_success Oct 10 at 9:17
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@200_success Why would you think that? If you're doing it on a Unix OS then Vim golfing is on-topic on Unix & Linux. If you're doing it on a PC (running any kind of OS) then it's on-topic on Super User. –  Gilles Oct 10 at 15:26
    
I still have no idea what you're trying to prove. (Other than “the Vim site should exist”, but I don't know what the link before that is in the proof chain.) –  Gilles Oct 10 at 15:27

Since the Vi and Emacs proposals entered commitment so close together, it's inevitable that they would be compared to each other. But internally the conflict had nothing to do with the editors themselves1 and everything to do with Stack Overflow. Back in July and August, Shog floated a Stack Overflow Academy proposal. We are well aware that our flagship site is far too large to be a friendly place for people who don't know the culture. To us, that's a problem because we believe the site should be a long-term resource for the next generation of programmers. SOA was a vehicle to explore that issue.

On the topic of splitting support channels, I wrote:

We [community managers] are currently divided on the wisdom of launching this proposal. All of us have at least some reservations....We shut down 1 in 5 sites that reach beta. If this becomes a clone of MSO (or the help center), we'd hardly keep investing in it.

In other words, splitting off a topic only makes sense if the new site has something unique to offer. A couple of weeks later, we shut down our proposal. Despite really liking the idea, I just couldn't make an argument that it would be anything other than a small clone of Meta.SO.2 At best, it would be a "nicer" copy of the content on the meta site.

Shog recently mentioned in chat:

The best argument for splitting off a topic is that there's no single site where the entirety of it is already welcomed.
The next best argument is that there's a unique audience that isn't welcomed on any existing site.

The Stack Overflow Academy proposal failed to pass either test because we just couldn't come to grips with how such a site could work without an identical topic and the audience as our current Meta Stack Overflow.

When I first spotted the Emacs proposal, I was immediately inclined to close it on those principles. Over the weekend, the Emacs proposal passed from definition to very near 100% commitment. We added it as an emergency agenda item to our Monday meeting. My notes from that meeting:

  1. If this had been language split (Ruby, Haskell, Lisp, etc.) we would have shut it down immediately. But Emacs sits in a fuzzy boundary between language, platform, software package, and lifestyle. (I'm only slightly exaggerating on the last point.) As such, Emacs questions (especially those that don't have much to do with programming) are underserved on our network.

  2. If the site mostly consists of Elisp questions or is duplicating content on Stack Overflow, we'll close it down in the private beta.

  3. We aren't interested in starting dedicated sites for each and every text editor out there. ... I'd be surprised if we got an Eclipse or TextMate site any time soon.

The next day, I wrote up a more extensive summary of what we'd decided. But notice that we didn't have any hard numbers yet. In essence, we were making decisions from our gut, which isn't a good idea as a rule. So I put some time into answering the question Does it pay to spin off sites? I wanted to know if questions got more and faster answers, and more views when asked on a site other than Stack Overflow. This is the baseline:

Tag/Site         questions views score closed answers accepted answer TTA
                          median   avg      %     avg      avg      %   *
-------------------  ----- ----- ----- ------ ------- -------- ------ --- 
Stack Overflow     8032148   248   1.6    4.5     1.7     57.5   88.4  24 

And here are the Vi/Vim and Emacs tags:

[elisp]               2884   160   3.2    1.9     1.9     77.8   97.1  55
[emacs]              11505   227   3.6    3.3     1.9     68.9   93.5  68
[vi]                  1087   289  11.1    6.9     2.9     71.7   96.2   9
[vim]                14637   260   5.1    4.4     2.1     73.6   96.1  22

The astounding thing to me is that by nearly every measure Vi and Vim questions are in better shape than the median question on SO. If you ask a question about vim, 96% of the time you will get an answer with a non-negative score and 74% it will be the answer you were looking for. Half the time you'll wait 22 minutes or less to get an answer. Half of vim questions will be seen by 260 people or more. Compared to many topics (including emacs) these results are exceptional. Shortly after that, I wrote on this proposal:

How many non-programmers use vi or vim? Or to put it another way, can we expect this proposed site to serve a broader audience than folks who already know and hangout on Stack Overflow?

When we looked at the example questions, it was difficult to find questions that could not be asked on Stack Overflow. The few off topic for our programming question site are on topic for one of the handful of operating system sites (particularly Unix/Linux). Vi[m] is a hardcore programmer's editor; the learning curve is too steep for mere mortals. Splitting off the topic could only make it harder to find the answers to most user's questions.

Because of the ancient editor wars the expectation was that if we launched Emacs, Vi/Vim would follow quickly. And there's nothing I can say or do that will make y'all feel like you got a fair shake. Maybe the silver lining can be that Emacs, as it is wont, got a bloated Q&A site while Vi/Vim just works in a handful of Stack Overflow tags. More relevantly, we think the future of Stack Overflow involves the formation of real tag-based communities. In the years to come, we expect that creating a separate site, as we just did with Emacs, will have no particular advantage for a community of users.


  1. I once wrote:

    For the purposes of full disclosure, I must say that I am an XEmacs user. It stands at one of the twin peaks of Unix editor evolution. (On the other peak stands Vim.) With a little work you can make it do nearly anything, including sort mail. It's also darn good at editing documents.

    This was shortly after what might be the final official release of XEmacs. So I might not be the best at picking winning horses.

  2. Shog's not kidding about team meetings, by the way:

    Everyone involved on both teams has very strong opinions about how these sites should operate. So when a new feature is proposed - even very trivial changes to how some bit of the system works - it is extremely likely that the need for the change will be challenged.

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You write here that splitting off a topic only makes sense if the new site has something unique to offer, and yet you wrote, back in 2010: the best place to ask Emacs questions—Stack Overflow. What changed since? –  Jubobs Oct 10 at 6:32
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By the way, I think Stack Overflow Academy was a terrible idea, if only because it invites infinite recursion: Welcome on Stack Overflow Academy Academy, where you can learn how to ask good questions on Stack Overflow Academy! –  Jubobs Oct 10 at 6:42
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Jon, can you tell me whether the way I advertised the proposal on Stack Overflow was a factor in your decision to close it? –  Jubobs Oct 10 at 12:50
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Finally something at least sensible. I don't agree with you, but it's better than "because reasons, now get over it" which seemed to be SE's attitude before. The main reason I wanted this proposal to succeed was the hope that some kind of community would form around it that I could be part of, something that is extremely hard to do with just a tag on SO (which I hardly participate on anyway). Oh well. –  Seth Oct 10 at 14:19
    
Jon thank you for breaking at least some of the decision making process down for us. This is exactly what we wanted to see, even if the message isn't what vi/vim users want to hear, at least this shows that there is a method to the madness! Your logic and reasoning I can live with. –  slm Oct 10 at 15:01
    
@Jubobs: To be honest, I'd completely forgotten about your comments on Stack Overflow. I had to go look at your SO profile to be sure that's what you meant. I still think SO is the best place to ask Emacs questions and will be for the foreseeable future. If the new site fails to get traction, it has the potential to kill the tag on SO and fail to replace that resource. Splitting a topic is a bit of a gamble and Emacs might still lose. –  Jon Ericson Oct 10 at 15:07
    
Is Vi, or even Vim, really a programmers' editor, and not a sysadmins' editor? A lot of Vi(m) and Emacs questions that get asked on Stack Overflow are off-topic because they are not related to programming (not any more so than questions on installing Windows or tuning desk chairs). –  Gilles Oct 10 at 15:29
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So vi(m) is too much of a programmer's editor to deserve a site separate from SO? What happens to people like myself, who don't use vim for programming? Is the official policy "try your luck on SO" or "we don't actually care where on the 8 or so relevant sites you ask your questions"? –  Earthliŋ Oct 10 at 17:34
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@Earthliŋ: It's dangerous to use words like "deserve" when talking about the site creation process. Please look over the bottom of this list and consider which of these topics deserve a Stack Exchange site. The fact is that each one made a strong-enough argument on Area 51 to get a site and then showed something in the private beta to get a chance in public. And even so, they are objectively struggling now. Beer and Ebooks are effectively splits from other sites. They probably ought to be folded back into Homebrew and SO + a few other sites. –  Jon Ericson Oct 10 at 18:10
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I'm just pulling your leg, as I feel my leg's been ripped off. (Again, only in jest.) Of course, I understand that the process is much more involved. What I don't understand is why a strong proposal should be closed artificially after full commitment. A previous comment of mine was deleted 5 minutes after posting. In this comment I pointed out that ELL was closed (for "expertise" reasons), then reopened, and now is ready for graduation. The beta phases are supposedly there to test whether the site is strong enough to attract visitors and maintain a healthy level of questions/answers. –  Earthliŋ Oct 10 at 18:24
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@Earthliŋ: Funny you should bring up ELL. I've long thought the topic should have been teaching, not learning, English. EL&U has, in my opinion, become a site for pedants while ELL focuses on more practical matters. I think that split falls under Shog's "unique audience" criteria. But I wasn't a part of that decision, so I'm just guessing. As for a canonical place to ask about vim, it really depends on what you plan to use the tool for... –  Jon Ericson Oct 10 at 20:55
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@Jubobs: It's median Time To Answer. It counts any non-negatively scored answer whether accepted or not. Here's the query. –  Jon Ericson 2 days ago
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You should have killed Emacs while you had the chance. That would have led to a lot less disappointment and anger all around. But the fact is you let it get not just to private beta, but to public beta. That shows you (the team) think a site like that is viable. –  Kevin yesterday
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And I think your numbers actually show a dedicated site would benefit vim more than emacs. Look at the closed percent - vi questions have a huge average score but a high closed %, and vim is essentially average. That shows people are asking great vi questions that happen to be off-topic on SO. Emacs, on the other hand, has close percents significantly below average, suggesting that a much higher proportion of emacs questions are on-topic. More SO users ask vi/m questions, more look at them, more upvote them, and yet they are more likely to be closed than Emacs. Who really needs that site? –  Kevin yesterday
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@evilsoup I hope everything's not lost for this proposal, yet. The team's decision caused an uproar: this is both the most viewed and most downvoted "question" ever on Area 51 Discussion Zone, and it's only a couple of days old. Surely, that will give them pause. Besides, I'm still not satisfied with Jon's reasons; like Kevin (see his comment above), I'd like to see a comparison of the rate of SO questions closed as off-topic in the four relevant tags. –  Jubobs yesterday

These were the numbers from the Emacs proposal:

source - Why do we need a separate site for Emacs?

source - These are the numbers from @doornobs post:

  • Stack Overflow: 15221
  • Super User: 2671
  • Unix & Linux: 790
  • Ask Ubuntu: 373
  • And even TeX - LaTeX with 156

So the decision must of been because of something else? The numbers seem pretty consistent between the 2 proposals, IMO. Now I understand the comments about Emacs is a platform, and Vim is not (though this seems a stretch having seen people use Vim as a full IDE Debugger).

Mind you I thought it was foolish to allow Emacs to propose a site in the first place but I'm missing what other distinctions could have warranted the decision to not allow Vim, and I'm feeling like Vim's being treated like Zoey Barns from the television show House of Cards.

      ss#1

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errr... spoiler alert! And after they hurt you, they discard you. –  Jubobs Oct 9 at 21:14
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vi/m = Zoey Barns –  Dan Bradbury 2 hours ago

This is ridiculous. I had high hopes for VimOverflow.

Okay, now when it's out of the question, where should I post Vim Questions?

StackOverflow? SuperUser? Oh wait I am on OS X... Apple? But hey, thats *NIX editor... Or should that depend on the file type, encoding and physical location?

What would be the correct site for discussing features of an editor that is deeper than pits of hell?

My point is - they are all over the place and it would really help to keep eggs in one basket.

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In your case? Probably Stack Overflow - you already know the site, and there's a pretty solid chance your questions are answered there already. For folks who aren't programmers? Super User is a solid choice. –  Shog9 Oct 9 at 12:15

It would be smarter to create a editors site and cover both.

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This would be more appropriate as a comment. –  Jubobs Oct 9 at 1:00
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I disagree; vi/vim and emacs work quite differently, and they have (mostly) different user-bases. Most vim users won't be very interested in emacs questions, and most emacs users won't be interested in vi/vim questions: a generic text editors site would please no-one. –  evilsoup Oct 9 at 9:59
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i just wanted to say "Maybe we can have a SE site for all the editors: Emacs, vim, gedit, notepad++, ... ?" –  Tim Oct 9 at 13:51
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This seems pretty reasonable, too! After all, we have tags. Creating a site for editors solves fragmentation without having to make awkward notability decisions. –  minitech Oct 9 at 17:56
    
Anyway, I support a StackExchange for editors in general. So that it's legit to show off our editors :-) –  Amumu Oct 10 at 17:40

This absolutely makes sense. It made no sense to have a whole new SE simply for Emacs in the first place. Guys, have you never heard of tags? Gees.

This whole "everything needs its own SE site" fad is absurd.

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You can do everything in Vim. It would take 200 years to learn everything. For example, "play music, web browse, read your email..." <- Examples by Doorknob. Questions would easily reach over 10,000. The subject of vim itself could have hundreds of tags. –  The Wobbuffet Oct 9 at 2:05
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Heh, not quite a direct quote, but yeah. See also my answer here. –  Doorknob Oct 9 at 2:30
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The closing isn't the issue, it is letting emacs try and not letting us. There is very little difference between the two. –  Seth Oct 9 at 2:35
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Note that I meant difference between the two proposals, not the editors themselves ;) –  Seth Oct 9 at 2:54
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It would have made sense to kill the Emacs proposal before it got to private or even public beta. The problem here is really that they didn't. Having let Emacs get to public beta, they've acknowledged that an editor-specific proposal has a good chance of succeeding, but then they went and aborted the vim proposal, which is topically analogous and had at least as much support. –  Kevin Oct 9 at 3:43
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@TheWobbuffet If "play music, web browse, read your email..." is much to go by, the answer would be found on Stack Overflow (or maybe Super User) anyways. Because that's simply programming related. It's funny how people forget what they are doing, just because it is inside my favourite editor. There's seems to be this strong psychological force to make an editor one's "home". Let's act like interior designers then: they do go to DIY shops for their materials. They don't need to seek out "Interior Design" or "Home Decoration" shops, because painting a living room is somehow different –  sehe Oct 9 at 6:25
    
@sehe There's an implied 'etc' when I put an elipses. Anyway, all those things are done with commands and the commands are what people ask questions about when referring to vim. –  The Wobbuffet 2 days ago
    
So, there's an implicit "I'm right" when you put an ellipsis [sic]. Nice. Everything is a bloody command, and no, people ask about many things from auto command triggers, color scheme limitations on ancient terminal(-emulator)s, plugins, configuration management, project management, syntax highlighting, error formats, navigation tips. (Oh, and there's no digraph "command" for the ellipsis, so ^K.3 will have to do: )… –  sehe 2 days ago

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