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Ask HN: Can a Stack Overflow moderator give us Stack Overflow back?
20 points by chris-at on Feb 13, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 29 comments
Stack Overflow is currently looking for moderators: http://stackoverflow.com/election/5

I really like Stack Overflow but I have noticed a few changes that I don't agree with.

- Fun questions are now considered to be off topic.

I don't understand why this happened. Work should be fun.

- Asking for directions is off topic.

Sometimes you need to ask which tool/product/etc. would be useful ... because comparing tools is boring and costs a lot of time.

So could a moderator even affect the direction Stack Overflow takes?




I think that the problem with "Fun" questions is that they are a slippery slope. If you start to allow them, you would very likely over time see a general degradation of the quality over of stack overflow.

You see the chances of you having your real question. Answered are directly related to the number of people reading it. (With the added complexity of it actually having to be the right person reading it but why get overly complicated?)

If you decrease the signal (real question) to noise ("fun" question) ratio, you increase the amount of garbage and reduce the number of serious questions that can be answered.

Imagine the "endgame" of fun questions over time, what if they start allowing "rage comics" about programming (f7u11overflow.com) ...

There is absolutely a place for "fun" on the internet, there is absolutely a place for "fun programming questions"... But it isn't stack overflow.

I'm not sure I fully agree with the tools research questions being OT, but I understand that they cannot have objective answers. Compare for example the answers to the question which IDE should I use? The programmers at JETBRAINS logon and say "jetbrains" then some MS programmers log in and say "VisualStudio" then the team that wrote eclipse log in and say "actually yeah, visual studio... Eclipse sucks"

Now someone has to put a green check mark beside one of those answers or leave it unmarked as unanswerable. Both are unacceptable really.

Best to avoid it.


This slippery slope argument is a little silly considering when stackoverflow breached the top 1000 websites mark it was still allowing some fun questions.

I'd even argue that in the early days the "fun tone" made it more of a hangout and 3rd place rather than the boring and dry site it is today.


I think a post that said 'the other ide sucks' would get downvotes anyways while a post 'we are better than x, because...' would be perfectly ok.

Fun questions could be tagged (and even hidden).


Apologies for the "mobile phone formatting and punctuation" on this.


I would total vote for a more inclusionist moderator!

It's not really just about "fun" questions. Almost every second question of mine gets closed or almost closed. Stackexchange is rapidly getting more and more useless for me.

* The only kind of question that the people in power currently tolerate for sure is the kind of question asking for reference knowlege. What does this function do / how do I do <simple thing>? They are totally afraid of any question that might have multiple answers.

* Questions that are much more useful, asking for advice and personal experience, are very likely to be closed. More than once, I had to rephrase a question in a stupid way to get passed the censors. "What canvas libraries are there for GTK?" - closed. "I want to put shapes on a DrawingArea and move them around" - pretend to be stupid, get good answers.

* Physics.SE suffers from a similar narrowing-down in scope. You can ask high-level conceptional questions, and get pretty verbose answers. That kind of question I rather discuss with my colleagues over a cup of coffee.

You can't ask pretty much anything else. Ask how to calculate something - closed as "homework". No matter if you ask for a single step in your calculation, or you want a high level overview, it's both frowned upon. Actual homework? The devil, closed as "homework"! Research stuff? After you point out that it's not homework, you might get a few condescending comments with only hints because people insist it really is homework. Experimental questions? pah, that's so beneath them. And if you manage to slip a actual useful, interesting question past the censors, its probably because it's research-level string theory and nobody understands it.

I could go on for hours, but I guess everyone gets the point. There is no single thing on the internet that makes me more angry then pretentious deletionists that have taken over wikipedia, stackexchange, and many more great sites...


> Almost every second question of mine gets closed or almost closed

Would you mind linking some questions that you think were appropriate for the site but were closed?

It sounds like you're a student. Maybe your expectations of what an appropriate question is doesn't match the userbase.


The original http://stackoverflow.com/ is aimed to questions with a single canonical answer, ideally.

The questions in http://programmers.stackexchange.com/ are a little more free and IIRC it allows “opinion” questions.

Also, “Software Recommendation” is in private beta: http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/60887/software-rec...

For example, there are two sites for Math, one for normal questions and one for research level questions.

You can try to create your own, filling a proposal in http://area51.stackexchange.com/ .

The important thing is what type of questions you consider that are fun and useful and are not allowed now in S.O. Can you make a list of 5 good examples?


I didn't say fun questions or answers have to be useful. Thanks for the links, I hope Software Recommendations will be launched.


The problem with moderation at StackExchange went full throttle when they shut down the 3-year old Answers.OnStartups community just because it was receiving fewer questions per day than the minimum needed.

It was a thriving community of over 18,000 users and who's who of the tech scene contributed answers: Patrick McKenzie (patio11), Dharmesh Shah, Jason Cohen. Not to mention that Joel Spolsky himself was active in the community.

Unhappy with how they closed the community down with just a short notice, several people (myself included) rebuilt the platform from the ground up and re-launched the startup community at http://www.brightjourney.com


A few days ago, I wanted to recommend the “Joel's Totally Fair Method to Divide Up The Ownership of Any Startup”: http://answers.onstartups.com/questions/6949/forming-a-new-s...

But then I discovered that it was down, so I used http://archive.org because I didn’t know about Bright Journey. The new copy of the original question is in http://www.brightjourney.com/q/forming-new-software-startup-...


Thank you! I was considering doing the same thing.

Did you use the original user data they had? There is a lot of value in most of those answers.

I thought all was lost when I was no longer able to contribute anymore to a Q&A for startups.


Yes, we started off with the old data. We were able to reverse engineer a hefty chunk of the email addresses from the hashes by brute force and alerted everyone that the community was back and kicking. It's been just under a month since launch and the community is growing fast.


You know one thing I've always missed on SO was to be able to subscribe to a question ...

Just in case you add this feature I've already found a few interesting questions that don't have answers yet :)


Chris, I just added that to our public Roadmap here: http://www.brightjourney.com/roadmap/subscribe-questions-get...

Feel free to add in anything else you'd like to see.

We kept things simple for the launch and now adding features as the community requests and votes on them on the Roadmap.

Here's a link to the main Roadmap section: http://www.brightjourney.com/roadmap


SO has become a good practical example of what happens under a pure democracy. The moderators have control by way of their votes which are given to them by the users of the site. They get to choose what is good or bad for ALL users. The interesting and fun parts of SO were killed off a long time ago. It's the same thing that happened at Digg and other group think type sites. I'm not big into reddit but I'm sure the same applies there to some degree.


Reddit has the advantage of having more subreddits than there are word definitions in a dictionary. I'm not sure a subreddit exists for people who enjoy posting videos of pimples being popped, but I'd be more surprised if it doesn't exists than if it does.

StackExchange is doing this a little as well, with many other sites being created. A good example of that is http://codegolf.stackexchange.com/


I would love to see a stack exchange for stackoverflow content, but with laxer rules. Good content will still bubble to the top of search results.

I'd like to see a stack exchange site where content like the link below will be loved and cared for, instead of tut-tutted. Or where I can have an open-ended "how might you implement this" debate without it being nanny-moderated to the scrap heap because it isn't a yes-no question, while the "new" queue sits filled with questions that are yes-no (so perfectly fine) but really should have been searched-for instead of asked. By the way, I'm not saying that I hate those questions, I just question a moderation process that leads to favoring mindless repetition over content that enriches us all. Of all the things to moderate away, the questions that provide insightful comment should be last.

http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1732348/regex-match-open-...


/r/popping does indeed exist and it is full of really revolting things.


You just had to go and look that up, didn't you?


SO is a mess right now. It is sort of amusing that the questions and discussions I find the most interesting are always closed as "off topic" or unproductive or whatever their language is.


I asked a question yesterday that was voted to close within 5 minutes by an admin, followed by 3 more. It was a normal programming question in an area I needed help in. Luckily, several non-admins helped me out and answered my question. I consider myself an experienced programmer but programming is so broad and quickly evolving. Sometimes we just need a nudge in the right direction on new topics. I'm sure others are in the same boat. That is no longer acceptable with SO.

I used to be a daily visitor to SO and was active in the early days when Jeff and Joel were active and I felt part of the community. After recently seeing moderators rampantly closing questions as if to say 'I consider your question unproductive or unintelligent by my standards', I rarely visit.

Apparently Code Golf is considered a valid question while questions lacking extreme detail that may help people are not.....


What I found frustrating was my questions being marked as duplicate. Any iOS developers should know that things change rapidly between each version of iOS. Methods get deprecated, huge change can happen. When I'm asking a question about iOS 7, it is not a duplicate of the question asked about in iOS 6 even though it may look similar. Especially when all the top answers use methods that are deprecated. There are still some really nice people on there though and I'm forever thankful for their help.


I've had a similar experience, once tried to tag a question "jq" the json parser, auto renamed itself to "jquery", got a bunch of bizarre, you dont even need jquery answers none of which actually related to the question in the slightest.

I think once you get to a certain level of software development, you need to start having these q and a discussions on a forum, mailing list, or my preferred irc.

While they used to do very well on SO, and I'd love to see them back, I just don't see it happening. The hivemind is in quite the consensus on this stuff.

I don't mean to be negative, I still find SO useful on a weekly basis, but its degraded into essentially a "please google this for me and give me a link to the right documentation I can't find myself" service with a bunch of historical wiki posts people attempt to keep up to date with comments.

There is always prog exchange, but I find it a tad annoying to have these two side by side solutions fragmented in such a way.

http://programmers.stackexchange.com/



The site is interesting but why are all blog posts from '9 months ago'?

Questions and answers should display the date they were posted... this way it looks like you don't have a lot of users.


We have neglected our blog. Thanks for reminding us. I need to make that more of a priority.


I avoid Stack Exchange totally now because I can't stand the anger I feel when I find that two out of three things I search for and just about anything I post are "moderated" into oblivion for reasons having more to do with condescension than anything else. I think its moderators for the most part self select for personality disorder the same way that cops tend to do. But it's even worse than the cop syndrome because of the personal anonymity.

I sure like your reason on the other hand because it's the other hand.


Stack Overflow has a clear and defined direction. I think that's great, although I can understand the frustration for people who want the other questions.

If the SO software was available someone could set up a Stack Overflow Off Topic website (SOOT?) which could take all those other questions.

That would allow people who like talking about the best text editor or the best IDE or the most suitable programming language for math students to have a place to talk about them, while keeping distance form the SO branding.


If that would work, I would have done that a long time ago. The thing is, that a clone with just the off-topic questions wouldn't work. It would never get the critical mass of users. I want to ask super narrow technical questions, and "What is the best messaging queue for python?" on the same site.

The thing is, if SO would be a bit looser, deletionists could just ignore the other questions, and everyone gets what they want. By forbidding them, they still get what they want, but inclusionists don't their questions (unless there is enough critical mass for a sub-site).




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