I think that list questions are very bad, since they contribute nothing to the OP (a list of names is actually nothing if their story isn't included) and many of the questions already are list questions. I believe people should vote to close them already instead of answering them, which could attract many bad question and lower the value of this proposal. Is this too harsh?
It is for the reasons you already mentioned that list questions are off-topic on most Stack Exchange sites.
People answer them because it's relatively easy. It's tempting - you see a question and think, "I can answer that!" And I guess points, badges and the fulfilment of our commitment also plays a role.
I don't want to rule out list questions completely, but as a rule of thumb, we should flag / vote-to-close them.
Ok...we have been having this discussion over on the World-Building site.
Lists are not inherently bad
The original post that started the lists are bad phenomenon was related to shopping lists.
Reference 1: Why are "shopping list" questions bad?
- As discussed above a list is not of value if the answer will change or become out of date (which lets face it, Mythology is not exactly a high change of content topic)
- Answers are not comparable by objective means or are opinion based
"How many human children did Zeus have and who were they?"
- This on the other hand is a question that could certainly be answered in a list format as lists are a good way to organize information and make it easy to digest.
- It also has a real answer that can be compared for completeness and accuracy against other answers and is thus rate-able.
TL:DR: Do not simply scream IT'S A LIST!!!! Take the time to actually read the question and see if it can be answered as is or help improve the question.
List != auto-close
People answer list questions because:
- it's easy. anyone can come up with a list
- those questions attract attention, so more chance to get upvotes
- people like lists, making them and reading them
- even if some items are rubbish, the right answer might accidentally be there
- list are a quick way to present things without having to provide too much detail
- repetition isn't too easily detected (my list is different!)
- people like lists
I think that answering list questions is fine and adds value to the site. The approach I always suggest when I see a "list question" or a question that is most likely answerable by list format is to create a "community wiki" answer.
There users can contribute with whatever they can (one or several items to The List). The is no problem about one answer being "incomplete" or more complete than others, because there would be only one CW answer.