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Ask HN: Anyone feel Stack Overflow is becoming less helpful and more snarky?
42 points by justaguyhere 9 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments
Immediate downvote instead of helping, snarky comments - there was a time when it was awesome, not so anymore. Anyone else feel the same?

Stackoverflow is stuck in time.

They wanted to create an "encyclopedia" using a Q&A site. To do that they banned duplicate questions (and therefore answers). That means that if you search for a topic you're going to time-travel back to the oldest point when that was first asked, get ten year old answers, and that's it.

But technology changes, so an answer from ten years ago might be very different from an answer today. But SO is a really bad version of Wikipedia, so once something is "the solution" it is now that forever. Sure, you can tack on a comment or additional non-solution answers, but the site actively penalises you for doing so.

So, yeah, in answer to your question. Between SO's wildly out-of-date content, toxic community, and Google search results also becoming worse year upon year, it is a difficult site to use, or even want to use.

The problem is that votes don't age away. It's just really simplistic "answer A has more votes than B". I answered an old (2009) Ruby on Rails question in 2014 as all existing answers were outdated. It's still only the third answer with +30 votes. The two posts above it have been outdated since 2014, and the top one horribly so (but it's "accepted" so pinned to the top).

A lot of Stack Overflow employees recognize these problems, but some don't and lack of management meant thing have been at a standstill for years because everyone can veto everyone else. Now there's new management, but they seem more concerned about fighting with the community over pronouns than improving the platform, so not holding my breath there either.

I think a lot of the core ideas are still good, it just needs tweaking and adjusting in various places, and it's just stupid that this isn't happening.

Ran across this gem the other day: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/15301885/calculate-value...

The question is: how can I calculate "n choose k" (aka, the binomial coefficient)? It's an interesting problem because there are some big factorials to calculate if you just naively program the mathematical definition.

So someone asked that good question, and then a mod came along and closed the question as a duplicate of the question "how can I enumerate n choose k?", ridiculous! As though we cannot count things in computer science without counting one thing at a time. As though the only way to know the answer to "2000 choose 1000" is to enumerate all (approximately) 10^600 possible answers.

> a mod came along and closed the question

It wasn't closed by a mod, but by the community: https://stackoverflow.com/posts/15301885/timeline#history_d9...

The way close voting works is that a question will be closed as long as there are five (now three!) random people from the community who feel a question should be closed. This is good since there really are many duplicates that should be marked as such, but some people are not very good in carefully judging questions, and the system doesn't recover from these kind of mistakes well and includes almost no punishments for clearly erroneous close votes.

Like I mentioned in my other comment, there are a few comparatively minor fixes that could be done to improve the experience here too, but nothing gets done. Sigh...

Definitely. The old feel was more like a wiki, where everyone contributed both questions and answers together. It was like a giant crowdsourced documentation.

But I feel like there's a lot of 'bullying' now. Bullying as in people who try to make themselves feel in control by downvoting things. There was one case where someone decided to downvote one of my questions, then ran around my profile downvoting every question that wasn't upvoted.

HN also feels a lot like this. People who sort of try to prop themselves up by pushing others down. They seem to target the ones that have the least retribution - the protection of anonymity and not losing points off their downvote.

It's different to the old days, where if someone posted a bad question or answer, we would give them advice, or edit their post to be clearer and more polite. The goal was to help people up, not push them down.

The other Stack Exchanges are nice, though. So it has little to do with the model itself.

That's news: they removed downvote penalties? 8 years back I asked a question to make a poc virus for college, it received 2 downvotes, then a high rep guy quoted a Meta post saying it's consensus to answer such questions and I got a good answer.

There is a downvote penalty to a bad question, but no cost to the downvoter (unlike with downvoting answers)


It was an unpopular decision, partly because it could lead to people downvoting questions trivially. But there was user trust at the time, and the main issue was low quality questions.

A few years later, they reincreased the question bonus to +10 but never removed the downvote cost, but I think they should have done the opposite.

Do you think a downvote penalty system works better than one which doesn't have one?

I am trying to figure out which system works best -

1. Reddit's where you can upvote or downvote a post

2. HN's where you can only upvote a post and both up and down vote a comment

3. Stackoverflow's where you can downvote but with downvote penalty

I think a combination of HN's and SO's would be best - posts can only be upvotes, comments can both be up and downvotes but downvotes come with a penalty.

Are there any studies on this subject?

It seems like the sample size is too low/varied and data is too closed to have studies. And Stack Overflow 2012 and Stack Overflow 2020 are different communities, even though they are structured the same.

I think what matters more is the goal of the system.

SO has a downvoting penalty on answers but not questions, because asking questions is a privilege, but answers are rare. HN has a similar attitude with comments - be careful what you say as you will be judged for it and it can't be taken back.

The downside of cost-free downvoting is that it allows people to throw punches without any repercussions. Someone saying something unpopular will just get downvoted. If it were good, the upvotes would balance it out, but downvotes do hurt feelings and discourage people with a particular slant. I think HN and SO has attracted a certain niche of people and discouraged others.

On the other hand, without downvoting, you'll still get hostile comments, like you would on Tumblr or Daily Mail.

I'd say if you want to encourage downvoting as a form of decentralized moderation, then it should be without penalty.

But I'm not sure if you even need karma in the first place. In almost every system, quantity matters more than quality, and the kind of people who should be discouraged by downvotes aren't.

I asked about it on their meta site (https://meta.stackexchange.com/) but was immediately attacked by the snark brigade... Parts of the site is still good, but some tags (c++ in particular) is overtaken by snark people and RTFM:ers. The smaller stack exchange sites are much more worthwhile.

Fwiw, hn has become very snarky too. So maybe it's a sign of the times.

I think as communities age, they attract unpleasant people who eventually scare off all the pleasant people if they're not dealt with promptly. Eventually it becomes all unpleasant people.

Stack Overflow's is as clear as it gets - you can practically watch the process over the months on the meta sidebar.

This effect is perhaps most pronounced in comments sections of local news papers, where stories about pretty much anything seem to attract rantings about Muslims, gays, socialists/leftists, SJWs, what-have-you. A lot of the more reasonable nope'd out of there many years ago.

I wrote a somewhat related article about this a while ago: https://www.arp242.net/censorship.html

>Fwiw, hn has become very snarky too.

Fortunately it's usually original snark, although usually the same people (myself included on occasion) will sooner die on a hill of pedantry than be proven wrong. It's the HN way.

That said, some of my unoriginal, generic favorites include:

"This isn't Reddit." and

"Please don't do that here."

The latter I like to call the pretend dang, wherein the commenter attempts to emulate or otherwise behave like a mod even though they're not a mod, and they have like 200 karma. This usually then triggers a visceral "Get off my lawn!" reaction, which I don't usually verbalize since it isn't constructive and there's always the chance they're actually a stealth mod.

Generally speaking however, the most common form of snark tends to be the unspoken snark: being downvoted immediately by someone with a stick up their ass that is probably completely incapable of recognizing humor in any form it may take, and believes themselves to be the sole vanguard ensuring HN remains a serious place.

Of course, arguably the best form of snark is meta snark: being snarky while discussing the topic of snark.

Snark isn't the enemy. And 'trolls' were originally forces for social good, countering new usenet posters who decided rules and research weren't for them, they were just going to burst in on whatever conversation was happening and inject their unwarranted opinions.

Those people do more collective damage to the community than the most sadistic or narcissistic agitator. Communities can unite against an asshole, but in a room full of idiots the best individual course is to show yourself out. And gods help you when the idiots unite against you for not following the mob zeit geist (reddit du jour).

IMO, Stack Overflow has already achieved its initial mission, but not the mission they set out for.

Stack Overflow wanted to create a wiki of questions and answers, when in reality all initial users wanted was a dedicated programming Q&A site that would answer their questions. The wiki aspect was a side goal of this.

Today, Stack Overflow has the answers to many questions, and due to the similarity in many questions already out there it is incredibly difficult to get an answer without some level of gatekeeping - whether it's from the users/moderators, or from the system itself trying to stop duplication.

IMO, Stack Overflow has failed at being a wiki, because they refuse to allow duplicates. If I were in charge of Stack Overflow, I would actively encourage duplicates, and build the Q&A system around merging duplicates over having one definitive answer. Sure, maybe the world doesn't need 50 different perspectives on how to get a Mongo collection out of Meteor, but a smart system would turn those individual contributions into one master question, asked by 50 people, with numerous answers that work in certain situations, or specific versions. Until SO consider this approach, I can only see the distrust towards them growing.

Joel agreed with you. Better community management should have merged the Q&As, and perhaps had a better system for branching or sub-discussions.

I've rarely had any issues with user posts/comments. Often the question will start out vague or lacking necessary details, but gets refined after comments.

The closed as duplicate or off-topic is very annoying. I do put in some time into moderating the moderation with reopen votes or edit suggestions.

I especially love discussions in less popular topics where they can run more deep and insightful at times.

Not really? I've always found what I needed.

The worst kind of answers are those who just post a code snippet without any context.

I also find everything I need even if it is outdated, usually I can make it work and use it as helpful resource.

I have to GOOGLE a lot, as I am a solo dev working for medium sized business. Recently, I switched to .NET Core, but sometimes I search for answers using the older .NET framework MVC5. Some things are different, some are the same. However, stackoverflow delivers 80% of the time for me. Other times I just go read books, try to find blogs with example etc.

Those are the worst kinds of questions, too. At least with a code snippet as an answer, it focuses ones search space while trying to understand why (if?) the answer works

I would probably pay money to be able to rage delete questions which just post "it produced some error" without them having expended any further energy to say what the error is, or what they've tried while debugging it themselves

They've appeared to have put a lot of effort into being more polite and respectful recently, which I feel is admirable. However, that sometimes results in a "Please" prefix to the snark. As one commenter alluded to, comments in meta that go against what the majority or agree with an act of kindness get piled on and downvoted. It sometimes feels like there's a built-in culture that is likely to persist. I think that times are changing and there might be an opening for new ways to think about Q&A communities.

Stack Overflow was and is still useful. I will say that it's becoming less relevant over time for me. When I used Google to find answers to questions, other sources of answers are popping up now.

I tried contributing but it seems like everything is answered now except for the most corner-case things. I feel bad for people asking questions because they almost all get downvoted.

There was a time when it was useful but I agree with what another poster said: it's stuck in time and it shows.

Yes, I feel the same. It's a large part of why I've given up on SO.

I think everything will be better if they implement their guidelines in actual input forms to force users to provide more information and more context - not only in questions but also in answers. It's so easy right now to comment and pollute the thread and that's what they have to tackle as well. Besides that, more moderators and people reviewing what is posted can also help. Comments like "thanks" or "can you provide more context" should be on 1 to 1 basis, more like a messages.

SO is a very helpful website and companies are not even aware enough how much it helps them and how much money it saves globally.

Yes, for years now. Coupled with the almost automatic “this has been asked before” duping to different questions that have some of the same words.

I loved SO when it first started - now it’s mostly just annoying whenever SO answers show up in search results.

SO has had a very similar trajectory to Google search - getting worse over time because of some fundamental product decisions, no real hope for improvement in sight and somehow still the best product in their category.

I for one am glad other smaller, more focused StackOverflows exist, like they do for Unity3d and Unreal.

Anecdotally, I've lost count the number of Closed or Duplicate answers were better and more helpful than the canonical one.

I had some bad luck with this one. SQA StackExchange suggested re-posting my question to DSP, and DSP suggested reposting my question to SQA.

I see a lot of questions down-voted due to insecure code: PHP & MySQL injections for example. It's a site for asking a question and learning, a down-vote is so discouraging to a new programmer.

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