I'm working the close vote queue. I'm seeing a fair amount of questions up for closing, and I realized they are webapps. Once I realized the situation I could lookup the policy in Help or the discussion on Meta.

According to Super User website applications policy, someone opined that webapps should be closed. I'm having a hard time closing them for several reasons. Some of them are detailed in the pro/con discussion Super User website applications policy and won't be rehashed here. But for me, I don't believe 23 upvotes on the accepted answer approaches consensus.

I prefer to have authority clearly stated in the site's rules. The site's rules don't seem to address online webapps specifically; and in the general case a webapp is simply software hosted in a browser. Software in general, and software hosted in a browser in particular, seems to be on-topic for the site. (Unless I am mis-parsing the site rules).

Can the webapp policy please be clearly stated and codified in the site rules? (I don't care what it is; I just need to know what the policy is).

If my calculations are correct, then Super User and total users says there are 678539 users. And Super User and users with 500 or more rep returns 7500. 500 is arbitrary, but it tries to capture an experienced user of the site. The confidence interval within 1 standard deviation is SQRT(7500), and the value is 86. The statistics tell me consensus has not been reached.

  • How does a support request get a -1? It is a request for help due to a documentation bug; it is not an agree/disagree question.
    – jww
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 21:04
  • Webapps have their own website. webapps.stackexchange.com. Such questions should be asked there.
    – DavidPostill Mod
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 21:07
  • @David - Another website or stack exchange does not make them off-topic here. I think that is the Non-Sequitur logic fallacy.
    – jww
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 21:10
  • 3
    I've always read the line in the help center that says "and it is not about.....websites or web services like Facebook, Twitter, and Wordpress" to mean that webapps are off-topic. Are we interpreting that line differently?
    – n8te
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 22:50
  • @n8te - I think the dividing line is, where the processing or service is occurring. Web services provide "remote processing", like Amazon compute, stock price services, currency exchange services, payment processing, etc. Web apps fall in the "local machine" side of processing. Google Spreadsheets and Excel Office360 work locally (and maybe uses online storage). Facebook and friends is a interesting case because "the person is the product", and the person's data is located remotely; and processing of the data occurs remotely.
    – jww
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 23:11
  • 1
    Fair enough now that I can see where you're drawing the line. I don't have a strong opinion on this in either direction so I'll let others chime in. I definitely don't want to see us fielding Facebook-type questions here but I can see where something like Office365 is at least a gray area.
    – n8te
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 23:26
  • @n8te - I can't speak for others, but for me the policy is not clear. Whatever the site decides is fine by me. It just needs to be published so everyone knows what it is. It is really just a documentation bug. That's what I am asking here.
    – jww
    Commented Oct 10, 2018 at 23:31
  • Your source of confusion is suddenly clear. Web apps aren't hosted in the browser, they're hosted on an online server somewhere. They're an online service that acts like an app. The browser is just the mechanism to interact with it. If the app is actually an add-on installed in the browser, it's on-topic. Most of the common web apps (account for most of the questions, like Google Spreadsheet), people are simply familiar with. There are also a few popular browser add-ons that people may be familiar with. Questions about unfamiliar apps may require a quick Google search to identify what it is.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 4:24

1 Answer 1


To answer your question, no, the web app policy cannot be codified in the site rules beyond the extent that has been done. And that's by design. You linked to one of the central discussions on the subject (there are endless other Meta discussions, about the subject in general and specific cases). The discussion you linked to alludes to why it isn't further codified.

All of the SE sites are designed to allow growth and evolution, both organic and through policy changes. Every day, there are plenty of examples of old questions in the Close queue, as off-topic, that were considered just fine at the time they were posted. Things are codified in the most general possible terms to allow for community interpretation, and evolution that doesn't require regular modifications to the site's guidelines.

An unfortunate side effect is that what serves as guidance isn't documented in one spot as "the rules". It's a collection of community discussions in Meta that provide the interpretation of the broad guidelines in the Help Center.

But to try to summarize the web app guidelines as of now, synthesized from Meta discussions and a lot of time in the review queues, here's my understanding of the dividing line:

  • If the application software is installed on, and runs on, your computer it's generally on-topic (assuming the subject matter is on-topic).
  • If the application is an online service that functions like an application, it's off-topic.
  • Online extensions of your hardware in the nature of storage, or virtual hosting of your PC software, are generally treated the same as running on your own computer. Technical questions that would be on-topic for your own computer are generally on-topic; the "business" side of interacting with the service provider, and the mechanics of dealing with their infrastructure, are off-topic.
  • Questions regarding a web-based application interacting with your computer or local software can be on-topic, similar to phones being on-topic to the extent that the question involves connecting to or interacting with your computer (issues like moving/transforming data; think "web app as a peripheral device" for a question that is PC-centric). How to accomplish something in the web app would not be on-topic just because you use your PC-based browser to interact with it. Questions about the browser, itself (including installed extensions), are on-topic.
  • Clearly off-topic examples: websites or web services like Facebook, Twitter, and WordPress (specifically listed in Help Center), Google Spreadsheet and other web apps; topics for which the tag indicates that it is off-topic (and the tag wiki excerpts can educate about the rules underlying them); questions about how to use web-based services, like search engines, from your browser
  • Gray area example: Office 365 Online version is often, but not always, migrated to the Web Apps site
  • And, of course, topicality applies only to the question; an answer can suggest an "off-topic" solution to an on-topic question. Also, exceptions for borderline cases are made at the discretion of the community.
  • Thanks @fixer1234. A small nit regarding "summary [from] Meta discussions" is, the discussions I read did not achieve consensus. I'm not sure there are any conclusions that can be drawn from them. Hence the request for an explicit treatment in the site's rules. If there is ongoing confusion and problems for web-apps (which there seems to be), then that tells you the site's processes and procedures are broken. The site needs to be fixed.
    – jww
    Commented Oct 11, 2018 at 20:14
  • @jww, I thinks it's more the case that we start with the very general guidance in the help section, various canonical discussions on philosophy and policy, and an existing site culture based on historical practices. The moderators are long-time users who have demonstrated an understanding of the site policies and culture, and generally keep the site moving in the intended direction. Every so often, someone raises a Meta question about some policy that attracts a lot of participation and discussion of alternative views. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 2:55
  • If the discussion makes clear that the community consensus is that the policy should change, and change in a way that is still consistent with the site's basic "foundation", it may lead to a change in policy. That change could range from informal agreement to interpret the rules in a different way, for a minor change, to formal change in the policy and guidance, which I assume must be coordinated through SE. Occasionally, an event like launching a new SE site that is focused on a chunk of previous SU content may trigger re-evaluation of how to handle those questions here. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 2:55
  • So policy isn't really just community consensus (which could change every time the wind changes direction). The Meta discussions on specific questions help provide the more detailed guidance on interpretation, especially if answered by a moderator, or an answer receives overwhelming approval with little disagreement. Meta discussions on policy provide information on how the community feels about the policy at a given time, and shares the different perspectives. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 2:56
  • But actually changing the policy requires a formal process. So the policy is what it is until it is formally changed. It may not be understandable in detail without research into the past discussions, or a Meta question seeking clarification. So in a case like this question, users will volunteer clarification. You can assess the accuracy of the clarification by the community response. Users who disagree post other answers or comments, and people vote. You weigh "the totality of the evidence". If it still seems to reflect conflicting interpretations, you can post a new, more refined question.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 2:57
  • Keep in mind that what is on-topic is what the community says is on-topic. That's part of the benefit of rules that are not rigidly defined. You, as an experienced site user, are expected to apply your judgment as to what is a good fit for the site. If enough community members agree with you, that's how the question is handled. If you don't have an opinion on a specific question, you're not obligated to pick a side; you can just skip that question. (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 3:41
  • If you don't think the rules have been clearly defined, you can push for better clarification, like you did here. Hopefully, the community can provide an adequate, consistent explanation. But until the community is able to provide clarification that meets your needs, you can choose to not invest your time on questions you're not comfortable evaluating, which is a responsible course of action and good use of your own time.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Oct 12, 2018 at 3:41

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