After it was raised to me by another member, I decided that we should come here and let us apply the Miller Test I know porn when I see it on this bit of question: How to dive into an ugly database?


I'm sure many of you are/were dealing with a ugly database. You know, that database that isn't normalized at all, that database where you have to do a large painfully query to get the most trivial data, that database that is in production and you can't change a bit... you know, "that one".

My question is, how do you deal with it?

  • Do you try to make a new database?
  • You give up and leave it alone? What
  • advice can you give?

I should imagine we can all agree that this is a highly subjective question. But it's just the sort of thing that nobody ever finds in peer-review journals. It's just the sort of question that everybody else always wants to know. Those days when you're grumbling and kicking the board under your desk and squeezing your stressball and going "if the arseholes who built this daisy-forsaken database knew the first thing about frogjumping database design, I might enjoy this part of my day better" (cleaned up the language for the ... well for everybody)

So the question has become: Even tho this is subjective and should be closed as such, do you think it fosters the sort of discussion that would be acceptable on this site from time to time? All forums suffer this great debate. SO ended up with P.SE and even then there's plenty of questions that get closed routinely on both sites that are subjective.

There's also precedent of it getting a little too out of hand and SOIS stomping down on the community and snubbing out these questions when they got too frivolous.

So as a community, what do we think for this site?

2 Answers 2


So as @BenV pointed out in chat, I had totally forgotten about this link:


Here's the condensed version of the "this is acceptable" ... do you agree with it? What would you see different here in this community?

Guidelines for Great Subjective Questions

  1. Great subjective questions inspire answers that explain “why” and “how”. The best subjective questions invite explanation. If you’re asking for a product recommendation of some kind, you want answers to contain detailed information about the features and how they can be used, and why you might want to choose one over the other. “How?” and “Why?” has more lasting value than a bunch of product-feature bullet points or a giant enumerated list, no matter how extensive. In contrast, the bad subjective questions let answerers get away with hit-and-run answers that maybe provide a name and a link — but fail to provide any sort of adequate explanation, context, or background.

  2. Great subjective questions tend to have long, not short, answers. The best subjective questions inspire your peers to share their actual experiences, not just post a mindless one-liner or cartoon in hopes of being rewarded with upvotes for being merely “first.” Sharing an experience takes at least one paragraph; ideally several paragraphs. If I’m asking about how to bake cookies, don’t give me a list of grocery items: milk. butter. vanilla. eggs. There is virtually nothing I can learn from a short, static list of grocery items that make up a recipe. Instead, tell me what happened the last time you made cookies from that recipe! Share your detailed experiences, so that we all might learn from them.

  3. Great subjective questions have a constructive, fair, and impartial tone. The best subjective questions avoid the all too seductive route of ranting and flamebait. They set the right tone of constructive learning and collaboration from the very outset, by emphasizing that we’re all here to learn from each other, even if we have different viewpoints or beliefs about the right way to handle what are inherently subjective decisions. We’re not here to fight each other; that’s an enormous waste of everyone’s time. There is always more than one right way.

  4. Great subjective questions invite sharing experiences over opinions. Certainly experiences inform opinions, but the best subjective questions unabashedly and unashamedly prioritize sharing actual experiences over random opinions. It’s more useful to share with us what you’ve done than what you think. Everyone has an opinon. It takes zero effort or imagination to have an opinion about anything and everything. But people who have done things, real things in the world, and have the scars and arrows in their back to show for it — now that’s worth sharing. You should be uniquely qualified to have your opinion based on the specific experiences you had. And you should share those experiences, and more specifically what you learned from your experiences, with us!

  5. Great subjective questions insist that opinion be backed up with facts and references. Opinion isn’t all bad, so long as it’s backed up with something other than “because I’m an expert”, or “because I said so”, or “just because”. Use your specific experiences to back up your opinions, as above, or point to some research you’ve done on the web or elsewhere that provides evidence to support your claims. We like you. We want to believe you. But like wikipedia itself, {{citation needed}}. And good subjective questions make this clear from the outset: back it up!

  6. Great subjective questions are more than just mindless social fun. The best subjective questions avoid the social pitfalls of “Getting To Know You” (GTKY) and mindless entertainment. Sometimes people just want to poll a community for ideas that might help solve a problem (best book, best approach). These can be okay when there is actual knowledge in the collection of answers. What isn’t okay are the social bonding questions which are designed just to impress others, such as “What is the coolest/stupidest/weirdest/funniest thing you saw/did/tasted today?”, or questions where the site’s actual topic is tacked on as a token afterthought, such as “Favorite food for programmers.” If you removed the “for programmers” part of this question, is it really unique to our profession? Could an average member of our community reasonably be expected to learn something that makes them better at their job from this question? If not, then it’s a bad subjective question.

  • I think this is an excellent question, from the pragmatic DBA side of things. Jan 27, 2011 at 11:25
  • @Brian keep in mind someone else asked my opinion, so I in turn asked the community ;)
    – jcolebrand Mod
    Jan 27, 2011 at 16:08

In this particular case it's actually not too bad, as I think it is inviting others to explain.

There is also advice in the regular faq of common question pitfalls to avoid:


What kind of questions should I not ask here?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite _____?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use _____ for _____, what do you use?”
  • there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
  • we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if _____ happened?”
  • it is a rant disguised as a question: “_____ sucks, am I right?”

If your motivation for asking the question is “I would like to participate in a discussion about _____”, then you should not be asking here. If your motivation is “I would like others to explain _____ to me”, then you are probably OK.

  • keep in mind someone else asked my opinion, so I in turn asked the community ;)
    – jcolebrand Mod
    Jan 27, 2011 at 16:08

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