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My Love-Hate Relationship with Stack Overflow (embeddedrelated.com)
281 points by luu on Feb 17, 2015 | hide | past | web | favorite | 235 comments

First off, a caveat: I'm about to complain about a lot of people I respect and rather like. I'll probably take a lot of heat for it, but it needs to be said.

I feel like a lot of the closing of niche questions these days comes from the chat communities. (By "chat", I mean: http://chat.stackoverflow.com/)

There's a huge rash of "cv-pls" in the chat rooms. I don't have a problem with it in general, but the culture around it has become rather toxic. It effectively gives anyone there an automatic close hammer. Furthermore, it's not the current "dupehammer", but a close hammer for any reason, as you can pretty instantly get 5 votes to close.

Somehow, every question involving anything than popular web frameworks is apt to be closed as "too localized".

I can't count the number of times I've been in the middle of answering an admittedly niche, but well-phrased and on-topic question, when it's closed before I can answer. The source of the sudden rash of close votes? Almost always a "cv-pls" in relevant tag's chat room.

We will look into this. Not very different than voting rings on HN or other places. You want vote diversity.

An auto-unclose process that examined web logs for direct hits from google might be nice too. And closed question that gets N hits from google probably deserves to be reopened with a special "google wants an answer" tag.

I usually (always) search google for my problem de jour. And frequently (enough so I remember) the first stackoverflow result is my exact question... but closed. Probably happens once or twice a month, and usually on something "thorny" (i.e. no clear cut answer... so "primarily opinion based" answers are fine... I can compare the top voted answers and decide for myself).

Sometimes I find a two year old post on HN that I want to comment on, but it's "closed" - the reply button is gone. HN should implement that when N hits from Google occur, it bumps it back to the front page and makes it able to be discussed again.

More seriously though, Stack Exchanges platform isn't designed to handle opinion polls and endless discussions. You might want to consider asking the question on a site geared to opinions and discussions such as quora or reddit.

Also, are answers to closed questions stored? If not, and there is a new often used unclose workflow, it would be nice to let users still store their answer, to become visible when it becomes unclosed. This would help with the timing issue and would also give mods a way to see 'oh wait, looking at this answer it is actually too interesting to deserve these close votes'.

Once I saw a clique of mathematica.SE guys doing vote ring on reddit/r/programming and other places to promote their site. Some of them looked like working for Wolfram itself, based on simple online searches for other forums. It's possible they were just Wolfram fanatics, maybe.

They crafted a particular question/answer and submitted and vote brigaded it everywhere. They were quite obvious and denied everything when confronted. After pointing out the obvious ring (same people pushing the same link with similar comments on all sites) they ganged up on me and sent me horrible private messages.

This pissed me off and I overreacted, exactly what they wanted... After cooling down, I went to their chat rooms to apologize for my angry replies language and removed comments on reddit. But they never, ever accepted they did any wrongdoing and pat themselves in the back. Oh, and never apologized for their harassment that triggered me in the first place.

This is why SO, reddit, HN are slowly getting long time users disenchanted. If you are not part of some virtual gang you are just meat, like a ghetto.

> This is why SO, reddit, HN are slowly getting long time users disenchanted

Can't speak for reddit but I think HN is quite much better than SO. Specifically it seems:

* somehow grasping the house rules seems to be easier for people here than on SO. This might be because HN attracts another audience though, I don't know for sure.

* maybe because redditism and stupidity is mostly downvoted swiftly?

* spam and politics is dealt with before it hits the front page

* but contrary to SO moderators the ones on HN don't seem to get a kick out of finding something, anything that can be banned with the correct reading of the guidelines

I sometimes see what I consider to be abuse of downvotes but 1.) it doesn't seem to be rings and 2.) downvote abuse is very often corrected by the rest of the members.

According to the mods, it's not them but users clicking the report button. If so, it's abused and any story that is negative for any YC/HN related company, against bad social norms in tech hubs, denouncing anti-privacy issues at Google/Faceboo, talking against celebrities like Bill Gates, or anything about NSA tends to go quickly below the fold and mostly ignored. The ranking system is gamed.

I used to come here several times a day, submit stories, try to add interesting comments to discussion (even playing devil's advocate). Now I mostly just skim the front page on slow days and get sad on how concentrated the opinions get.

There is a huge availability bias at work here. You don't notice the stories that you don't like getting flagged off the site, but you naturally do notice when it happens to stories you like.

For at least some of these topics, Occam's Razor suggests it's the bias that's stinging you, not gamesmanship. What plausible gaming could be at work on behalf of Bill Gates?

For others, I have a really hard time believing that the gamesmanship has the directionality you think it does. NSA stories, for instance, have enormous support on HN. It is draining to express any skepticism on those stories at all. They also seem to be continually bolted to the top of the front page.

Availability bias? A major story about a chain of suicides of entrepreneurs on a Las Vegas tech hub was moved below the fold in spite of deserving the top position. And it quickly went to page 2 after that.


There were many HN stories promoting that place for a good while. But when things go sour HN looks the other way.

Dropbox problem story first moved below the fold, then deleted.


Those are just 2 examples. I'm not all day on the site, so I very likely miss most of these cases. This is just a tip of an iceberg.

> against bad social norms in tech hubs, denouncing anti-privacy issues at Google/Faceboo, talking against celebrities like Bill Gates, or anything about NSA tends to go quickly below the fold and mostly ignored. The ranking system is gamed.

Interesting. I usually find the mix that hits the front page about perfect.

A few times I have seen what I consider interesting topics being flagged of after an initial boost but I can live with that, I guess unlike me quite a few people are fed up after the nth discussion about open floor plans and I can live with that.

I'm not talking about repetitive insignificant content. I'm talking about original and relevant content that is censored or allowed to be censored by small groups of users with financial/personal stakes.

Though not a frequent occurrence, I agree largely with tptacek here. My own most successful submissions have been almost exclusively about concerns with Google and privacy. At one point, the top three HN stories were all indirectly about my own G+ issues: https://i.imgur.com/YgEjUuI.jpg

Google and Facebook get a lot of flack here (and some support). Gates has his defenders and detractors (I heavily criticise his business practices, I'm modestly approving of his philanthropy), and there are numerous NSA stories.

What you likely don't see is how many stories total simply fall off the submissions page. I check it every so often -- perhaps several times a week, perhaps only every few weeks. But there's a lot of inflow and much of it sinks. That's typical of any curated site. An editor's job is to say "no". Hopefully their accuracy in doing this is better than random.

As sites grow in popularity, if the front page keeps the same capacity, any given submission's odds will fall. reddit's answer was subreddits -- there are now well over a half million: http://redditmetrics.com/history

HN's going to have to resolve this conflict somehow eventually.

> somehow grasping the house rules seems to be easier for people here than on SO.

When the house rules include not saying "Thank you" your going to see a race to the bottom in terms of human kindness.

Chat rooms are pretty toxic on a discussion site where the majority of users are not on the chat room.

Sure, but my job isn't affected by voting rings on HN, nor does YCombinator justify a totalitarian moderation policy by claiming to be the best google-able SEO-optimized source for whatever it is I'm questioning.

He's agreeing with you. He said they're going to look into [preventing] it.

How is your job affected by voting rings on SO? I'm not challenging you, just asking for more clarification because I don't follow and am curious!

An argument could be made that many people are hitting SO multiple times a day in the course of doing their jobs. If the questions and answers are biased by voting rings the results might not be optimal

So, GP suggested that the behavior of people in the chats was to basically rally to close questions, and likened it to voting rings on HN (which are, I believe, algorithmically regulated or at least are supposed to be).

My issue is that SO is a dominating first-hit for lots of technical questions, and that by setting themselves into that position they kind of owe it to the community to make sure they don't have jerks (via voting rings or any such analogue) screwing up the quality of their results.

For example, I've searched for "what is the best x for y?" or "what are the tradeoffs for x vs y", and had even (a long time ago) contributed answers to similar questions in their game development exchange--however, they (or their users) have decided that there is no value whatsoever in fielding questions of that variety.

I'm close to being able to close Python duplicates in a single vote when I get my Python gold badge (9/10 of the way there.) http://meta.stackoverflow.com/a/254590/541136 - Also, considering the huge close vote queue, I can see why SO would want to close-close-close (or at least vote-vote-vote). What you really need are more voters voting. Not sure how you get there, though.

Careful, this maybe isn't the correct place for telling everybody how easily you can crush them : )

> What you really need are more voters voting. Not sure how you get there, though.

I guess a whole lot of the people who could have helped you left long ago because of your fellow moderators. A reasonable first step would be by adjusting the attitude.

Maybe part of the problem is we just don't see all those "primarily opinion based" and "ugly discussions" questions that seems to be oh such a serious problem.

We definitely see a whole lot of the most useful questions closed, often for technicalities. It doesn't exactly encourage participation, does it?

HN somehow seems to be better at dealing with the problems without scaring good community members away. Of course HN has issues as well but so far the moderation team is doing a very good job of keeping politics and promotion away while leaving to the broader community to vote if something is interesting or not.

Yes it's definitely difficult to get a foot-hold on the site, now isn't it. Maybe they need a real sort of wiki, or some sort of discussion community built around them. Seems like they started doing that, then killed it.

The problem with discussion boards is that it is absolutely painful to dig through a post until you stumble on a solution, and even then, you're in no way sure it's a good solution.

They need to harness that opinion/discussion/off-topic-subject energy in a way that doesn't work against their strategy. I think they are losing a lot of opportunity along the way.

They need to harness that opinion/discussion/off-topic-subject energy in a way that doesn't work against their strategy. I think they are losing a lot of opportunity along the way.

I totally agree. This manifests itself in the worst way at http://programmers.stackexchange.com/. Or at least it did when I bothered with that site at all.

> What you really need are more voters voting. Not sure how you get there, though.

Or maybe, as I have already answered ircmaxell, Stack Overflow could raise the bar for asking questions ever so slightly from being the one thing you can do without rep?

If torrents of new users asking stupid questions are the biggest problem on the site this seems like a first obvious step.

I bet that most new users became new users to ask questions, including users that are not high rep veterans.

I think that if you do what you propose, the site will just freeze in terms of user base.

Would it be reasonable to have an invitation from a person with x reputation bump someone up to the required rep to ask questions? One could spend time in meta, and the chat room where people could get to know them. For the well-intended but naive, this would encourage getting to know the site and expectations of the culture. For the people who are just a bad fit, they could be filtered with minimal effort. Would there be any undesirable consequences from this approach?

Who do you imagine would be the user that would bother going through this interview process? If you've used the site before you already know how strict the moderation is on questions keeping people from asking questions already, do you really want to add a process where the user has to kiss up to the moderators for a couple weeks before asking their question as well?

It just would not be worth any new users time, especially given that when a user wants a question answered, it tends be slightly time sensitive.

I've given this some consideration, but they have put the barrier to entry to the chat feature above a minimal reputation ranking.

One can easily overcome that with ten skillful edits, 2 upvotes (or 1 upvote and an accept) on an answer, or 4 upvotes on a question (20 rep is required for chat).

It's fairly easy for an individual to get into the chat, if they want.

That barrier does keep spammers from flooding the chat, though. And if you consider it an interview process, that's what the earning of reputation points accomplishes, and I'd argue it does so rather elegantly.

You can make it so that if a closed question gets an answer, the question will only be visible for the one making the question and the one answering the question.

I was going to ask the following question [on 2 different situations] in the last 2 weeks:

Are there any [lang] libraries that are backings for the [service] API?

I stopped myself before going to SO because I knew that topic would get closed within seconds and I'd comments berating me for asking the wrong question.

For the most part the only use I've gotten from SO has been from basic questions when I'm starting out with a language/tool/library. I haven't found it very useful for complex problems.

Oh well. I've written about my rants on SO before. [I won't link here but it is in my submission history]

Rather than outright closing a question it would be more productive if moderators could move the question to the forum it belongs. This type of question is quite common and if the powers that be have decreed that it doesn't belong in the general stack overflow area then a place for these questions should be created.

What forum is that? SO doesn't have forums AFAIK, only questions and answers.

I would assume that previous poster was referring to stackexchange forum other than stackoverflow.

I was referring to the different stack exchange sites as forums.

Why would you ask that instead of browsing through the most recent 50 questions on http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/lang+service ?

I don't know much about how SO works but your query got truncated to:

It didn't seem particularly useful for such a question. I could see why the poster might be tempted to ask.

Perhaps there is a particular way that SO should be searched? The recursive irony is both amusing and annoying: doing a google search, coming to an SO answer where a commenter rants "why don't you spend a few seconds with Google."

It was truncated because monksy and I used placeholders. If you use real values for lang and service you get good results, here's an example: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/java+oauth

Do you notice that all the questions in the result are tagged both java and oauth?

monksy didn't say which particular languages and services he's interested in (the male pronoun seems safe in his case) but I venture to guess that if suitable libraries do exist, then there'll be SO questions about them already and they're easy to find.

"Are there any [lang] libraries that are backings for the [service] API?"

This is explicitly listed as off-topic:

Questions asking us to recommend or find a book, tool, "software library, tutorial or other off-site resource are off-topic for Stack Overflow as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam. Instead, describe the problem and what has been done so far to solve it."

And this is precisely why I left SO. Without fail, the most interesting and useful questions for me on the site were more or less surveys of the population -- "What's a good library for reading XML in C#?", "XYZ looks like it was abandoned, is there a good replacement?", "Why is Python 3's virtualenv different" and that kind of thing.

Maybe that's just me, because if there ever is a question with one correct technical answer, it's easy to figure out on your own. The things I want to interact with a human to figure out are universally to do with historical reasons for things, ergonomic choices, and opinions on quality. I want a smart person with strong opinions, not a politically correct karma grinder who can type quickly.

I disagree. The question does not ask to find a library but rather it asks about the internal workings of a service.

Wasn't there a similar debate over Quality vs Quantity with the Wikipedia community a few years back? It's been a while, but I remember seeing complaints about thousands of articles getting culled for being trivial (comic books, movies, anime, moderately famous people or places).

It's hard to find many articles about it anymore, but I did find this from 2007: http://grouplens.org/wikipedia-quality-over-quantity/

You might get more results searching for "deletionism vs inclusionism", which seems to be the most widely used name for the debate: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deletionism_and_inclusionism_in...

What's the current general stance on that these days I wonder? What's the prevailing wind?

The deletionists won and quite a few people refuse to participate anymore. Which leads to declining quality of article and moderation...

I was one of those who left. I let my adminship elapse after 10 years.

I also don't contribute much to SO, or to any SE properties, despite being on the early public beta. (remember the signup as a google spreadhseet). I'm ID 479 on SO.

Yep. And the deletionists where more often the "majority" culture and male, which resulted in a feedback loop for the nonminority and female. New minority turn up, have a bad experience and leaves. I think it was studied let me see if I can find the paper. I know the results were replicated with comment bots.

Update, not the ones I was thinking of but a good read. HBS Cases: How Wikipedia Works (or Doesn't) http://hbswk.hbs.edu/pdf/item/5605.pdf

That discussion has been deleted.

Well, it was more than a few years ago at this point, and the long and short of it is that the deletionists won.

Gwern has a fairly thorough elegy for the (now dead) inclusionist beliefs: http://www.gwern.net/In%20Defense%20Of%20Inclusionism.

The funny thing is that the fanboys fight back against this tactic by putting in hundreds of citations to "legitmize" articles about video games. Browse through some of them and you'll often see more citations than most of the math and science articles. Meanwhile, worthwhile articles that don't have rabid fans get deleted due to lack of "noteworthiness" (by someone's arbitrary standard of the day) or citations.

If that is what it takes to get the deletionists away then feel free to add any valid reference I say.

I have given up though.

The problem is that the people who originally headed the community and drove the site have checked out. That means that the very serious institutional and design problems related around the community moderation features of SO are not going to get fixed, they're just going to be gamed by the people with the most effort and free time. There are very few checks and balances on abuse of power at SO, even though that's where you need them the most. The assumption is that users with high enough rep will simply be more polite, logical, and kind, without any sort of agenda to propel. That, of course, was a naive assumption which is slowly blowing up in their faces, if they notice.

Meanwhile, nobody at the top cares because Jeff has moved on and everyone else just cares about site traffic and ad revenue (or at least that's my impression).

This isn't true. Shog, Jay, and many others were hired from the community precisely because they were avid long term users who had demonstrated deep insight into the culture and organization of Stack. I would easily rate them as equal to myself if not, frankly, better at helping the Stack community govern itself.

The reality is that good Q&A takes a fair bit of discipline to get right, and that means rules and standards. This rubs some people the wrong way, but it is the ONLY way to achieve reliable, sustainable, long term quality.

If you have specific examples of where things went wrong in a question, take it to meta and discuss it so that the community can adapt and change. That is how community works, and Stack is a democracy in that sense -- anyone can provide evidence and push for change.

(warning, though, scroll down in the comments here to see an example that turned out to be an anti-example when examined closely. A lot of times people just complain when they don't like rules, and the rules don't favor their personal needs versus the needs of the community or the greater Internet)

I'm afraid that many of the people you'll find in meta are the "soup nazis" the article complains about.

Any community is a sieve. It takes effort to join and the more you get involved the more time and effort it consumes and at every step someone gives up and drops out. The meta subsite is not easy to stumble into, very few people will have any questions to ask there and very few will have a good answer to contribute so it takes a lot of effort to get there. That means that the crowd that hangs out in meta will be very different from the bulk of SO/SE.

Several meta discussions were linked by ircmaxell above and another was posted in the r/programming discussion - http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/286299/closing-quest... - so let's take a look: those of questions that are expressing disagreement with how things are run (that cv-pls is a bad idea and that often questions are closed when they shouldn't) are currently at -20, -14, -24 and -13 points. But let's ignore the votes and look at the answers: the absolutely overwhelming consensus is that everything is right an nothing should be done. I'm not saying that "they" are wrong and "we" are wrong, just take note that there's zero overlap in opinions expressed here and there.

It's unrealistic to say that the community folks are a perfect replacement for you and Joel being engaged because they too are engaged. That may be so, they may be more engaged than you ever were, but that's only half the equation. They don't have the authority and power that you did. It's not their baby, they're just baby sitters. They can't make sweeping changes because they think it's a good idea. They can't easily change the featureset of the system to support something they want. They have to go through a long process of getting buy off from folks for features, and then waiting until they're implemented.

When was the last time a major feature change happened with the software? It's unrealistic to imagine that there hasn't been a need for change and that the tools that were necessary for managing the community, say, 4 years ago are precisely identical to the ones that are needed today. That implies the community hasn't changed or that the tools were somehow perfect. Both are very unlikely.

Discipline is completely beside the point here. Of course good Q&A sites need discipline, and that loops back to authority figures exercising their powers (mods, admins, etc.) And sure there are people who will complain that SO is a harsh place and they just want to have fun. But that fails to address the many very well founded criticisms of the mod community on SO that numerous people have made, especially concerning abuse of power and twisting the site toward a different vision than it launched with. Imagine a sheriff making a statement that police brutality is justified because criminals exist.

Spammers exist, and low quality questions are a menace, but that doesn't stop the problems with stack overflow from being real.

Moreover, it's all too easy to fall into the complacency trap of saying that SO still has significant value to a lot of people, is still hugely popular, etc. That doesn't indicate that SO is fine, it merely shows that it might not be too late to fix the serious systemic and endemic problems it has. If you were to look at some magical graph of the "successfulness" or "popularity" of stack overflow over time, the point where things "went wrong" would not be at the peak. It wouldn't even be at the inflection point where things went from accelerating upwards to accelerating downwards. It would be before that, when the conditions that caused the inflection point to occur were in effect.

I really thought you were talking about a curriculum vitae there, but I suppose it's "close vote".

Yeah, FWIW I had to google the terms and found this:


That's really depressing. Makes me question my participation in the site a little bit (never joined the chat or wanted to).

Do you have any actual examples?

It's the first agenda item on the Python SO team's winter meeting: http://sopython.com/transcript/3/winter-2015-general-meeting...

They were just discussing it on chat today: http://chat.stackoverflow.com/transcript/6/15-16

I've never gotten involved in Chat before, either, but just searching the most active chatroom for `cv-` brought that up immediately.

"Better to have a bad question closed quickly than have it accumulate bad answers and rude comments and downvotes."

Unless it's offensive in some way, this seems like a terribly short-sighted way of handling bad questions. Ask questions back or offer suggestions for improving the question. Closing or deleting it doesn't teach the person anything, and it doesn't help the community.

Furthermore, it assumes excellent judgement on the part of the closers, who by definition don't have the full context. They are confident in imagining that a particular question will accumulate bad answers etc, but do they have any data to demonstrate that their imagination is any good? It may be, but then again, it may not be. It's not like no one has ever had bad judgement before.

So it might be useful to bias the site toward leaving questions open, and let people make weighted votes for closing. Initially, the weight of a vote would be zero. This would allow the quality of an individual's judgement to be established, and their vote given more weight as it proved to be more predictive of whether or not an issue was eventually closed.

Totally. I do come across duplicates and bad questions which necessarily must be closed, but I always do my best to help solve the problem that the human on the other end of the question is experiencing via the comments. There are rules, mostly good, mostly in need of enforcement to keep quality up, and I think they work in the individual human context.

There's a balance of rights / responsibilities, and if you have the right to closevote questions and earn magical rep points, you have the responsibility to explain why and try to help.

Herd-mentality and behaviour (demonstrated as closevote requests) seem like the opposite of this.

This is a fantasic point. My highest rated most viewed question was one that I thought was stupid when I asked it. 5 years later it has tons of votes answers and backlinks.

What would solve the problem is if these "bad questions" were simply invisible to crawling.

Rude comments and inappropriate downvotes sounds like a community issue - why are those not punished or otherwise dis-incentivized?

Maybe they need a metamod function.

Huh, I didn't see that discussion before I wrote the comment, but I was specifically referring to sopython.

They mean well, but it does feel a bit like a mob at times.

I'm sorry you feel that way Joe.

The Room Owners have felt for a while now that it can sometimes get out of hand, that's why we had this discussion in our Room Meeting. As davidism has mentioned, we've put some extra guidelines down now. The main one being that unless it's necessary (something like spam, offensive, dupe, etc, where the OP isn't going to be able to improve the post) we're adding a 10 minute "grace period" before requesting a cv-pls. This gives OPs the chance to edit their question, to respond to comments, etc.

I disagree with a few of your points, but I'm not really interested in getting drawn into a debate here. If you want to discuss it further then drop by chat.

I know you've come into the room in the past to ask/speak about some particular cv-pls. If, in the future, you have anything to bring up, come and speak to us.

We recognize that it's gotten a bit out of control lately, hence the topic during the meeting. I think we ended up with some good guidelines for managing it.

Is that really as widespread as you say? I looked at the last few hours of the six most popular chat rooms and control-f'ed for "cv-pls" on all of them, and found a grand total of ONE hit: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/28568303/python-3-object-...

The question was closed because the asker himself answered it apologizing for posting it, the problem being something completely unrelated to the code he had pasted. Everybody agreed.

I don't think it happens that frequently.

At least looking through sopython, with the exception of today, it's an average of 1 every ~20 minutes during "peak" hours. There are deliberately fewer today, due to the room's discussion of them this morning, but have a look at: http://chat.stackoverflow.com/search?q=[cv-pls]&Room=6&sort=... as an example (particular days before today).

The majority of those are questions that should be closed.

It's just that a lot of wheat gets thrown out along with the chaff.

The PHP chat room is/was quite bad in that respect and there's a small handful of particularly caustic individuals who go out of their way to spread unpleasantness for less well informed users.

You mean the freenode channel ##php? Oh, I know what you mean.

The problem is that very many people are not able to google and then ask in IRC. On the other side (the regulars), all they see every day is a torrent of "stupid noobs".

And I totally understand everyone who either retires from answering questions or turning into a sarcastic a..hole towards noobs.

That's absolutely a valid experience.

There are plenty of others who've had positive experiences as well.

And those "caustic individuals" have a LOT to share if you're willing to engage in an open and healthy way.

Sure, but they don't have to be caustic and quite so unpleasant in the chat room.

I am outing, specifically, Terenko. In all my years as a forum contributor/mod I don't think I've encountered such a poisonous dick as that person.

I know you do a lot of good work for the PHP community, along with Gordon and many others, but, my friend terenko is truly a knob end and sadly encourages others who are up and coming PHP debutants to behave the same.

It really made me weep as a diamond mod why you guys tolerated his snide comments and activities.

Why did we tolerate it? Because we weren't given the tools to do anything about it. We couldn't kick or ban people. We couldn't moderate our own room. All we (as owners) could do was move messages or flag. We got yelled at every time we flagged something, so we learned to live with it. The only other option we had was to leave (which many users did, even leaders).

Today, we have the ability to kick-ban. Awesome. But he's also calmed down a lot. And is seen as a resource.

It's gotten a lot better over the years, but there is still work to be done in there. But now we're starting to get the tools to handle it. Which is awesome.

Problem was that you and Gordon and the reasonable crowd ignored it, allowed him to keep being a snidey tool. I'm not blaming you specifically, but that individual was never complained about by you guys - there were ways to reach out to mods outside of the regular chat room tools. In fact, Tim Post and I tried for a while to assist the PHP community with stuff like creating canonical questions and answers, you knew where who we were, we were on your side, my email address was always on my profile.

If I'd gotten a message from yourself or Gordon about this kinda thing (out of band), I knew who you guys were, you are the life and soul of the PHP community on SO. We'd have acted, you're too good to lose.

But...as mods we kept a fairly light touch with regards to stomping into chat rooms and reading the riot act (even politely) because otherwise we'd be meta'd as Nazis's, Fascists and Stalinists. I remember many occasions us being lambasted for trying to "moderate" out unpleasantness (in the PHP and C++ rooms), I eventually gave up my mod diamond because I'd run out of "trying to be nice and diplomatic" energy.

Such is the way of curating a community.

I used to sit in the PHP chat room and become quite depressed that his attitude became the standard.

You know something, as a developer/ops for a web hoster I was about to throw my weight into the PHP project back in ~2010, i.e. contributions, bug reporting from live bulk hosted environments (we probably host around 12k busy PHP sites on Linux and IIS - sure not huge, we're a business focused hoster, uptime and rapid support is paramount [and we do ASP.NET, Perl, Classic ASP], but for a ten man company with some heavily customised environments it's a chunk of work), that kinda thing...but that room turned me off (that and the PHP dev mailing list - but that's another story).

cv-pls should be forbidden, plain and simple. It is detrimental to the quality and atmosphere of the site.

How do you solve the torrent of duplicates and low quality questions then? The review queue is backed up all the time (currently 11900 questions with 1+ close-vote).

Ignoring the problem does not make it go away. If you think one of the ways people are trying to solve it should be forbidden, that's fine. Please share an effective alternative.

> How do you solve the torrent of duplicates and low quality questions then

This is what voting/scoring is for on all the SE sites. The cream will rise to the top. It would be easy enough for SE to disallow questions to show up in google results with a low or negative score, but leave it open for people to discuss, clarify or solve. The moderators on SO don't give the real community a chance by closing things within minutes. Duplicates aren't even a real problem, there is nothing wrong with seeing the same questions answered from a different approach or method.

> If you think one of the ways people are trying to solve it should be forbidden, that's fine. Please share an effective alternative.

We all agree about "send me teh codez", obvious duplicates etc.

If however this is the biggest problem then why is asking a question still one of a few things you can do without having rep?

If this is really the problem then raise the bar oh so slightly until you don't need to organize voting rings and detect duplicates at a speed that results in more than a few false positives.

This has been discussed time and time again:

- http://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/256501/338665 - http://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/271899/338665 - http://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/278092/338665 - http://meta.stackoverflow.com/q/285471/338665


And especially: http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/120275/is-asking-oth...

Basically, there's nothing wrong with the concept, unless it's used incorrectly. So if someone closes something incorrectly (you can point to a definite reason it's incorrectly closed), then re-open it or raise a meta post.

If you want to remove the ability for the people helping moderate a community to moderate, then how do you expect it to be moderated?

The big issue is that there are a LOT of low quality questions being asked. Duplicates. Many times literally copy/pasting the the question title into Google will give you the answer. Should these questions remain open because you want to repwhore? Should they remain open and further reduce the ability for Google to take you to a good canonical answer?

Or should they be closed and point to the good canonical answer? That way people can find their way to good content, rather than littering the site with duplication and poor copies of other answers.

The meaning of the CV reasons has changed over time as the community matures and figures out what works and what doesn't.

I do disagree with closing questions about particular framework (unless there's a dedicated SE site for it).

But bitching doesn't help. Raise a question on Meta. Step into the chat rooms and have a discussion. Get involved and help us fix things.

All bitching does is make the people who are putting time and effort into the community feel like they are doing something bad. Which is the fastest way to kill a community.

And still the audience here find it interesting.

Happily this isn't Stack Overflow and this discussion hasn't been closed yet just because a few admins didn't think think it would fit within "Anything that good hackers would find interesting. That includes more than hacking and startups."

Edit: to clarify - there are a number of reasons why this topic is interesting to quite a few of us[1]. Here are two:

* the usability issue of what we experience as someone someone destroying a good resource.

* reputation systems: a facinating thing in itself.

[1]: as can be seen by the simple fact that this post is still on the frontpage despite - I guess - having been flagged multiple times : )

That's definitely valid. However, in the vast majority of cases where someone complains about CV-PLS in my experience, it's because they had their question closed.

For example: http://meta.stackexchange.com/q/158712/147370

Look in this very thread. You have people saying it's a horrible practice. Yet nobody really saying what should be done instead.

The fact of the matter is that there is a huge problem on SO of under-moderation. Over 11,000 questions have >=1 closevote right now. CV-PLS is one technique that the community has found effective in keeping the site searchable and with good content.

The people who are against it, I'd love to hear ideas on other effective methods. But to say it should be forbidden is a bit short-sighted.

> The people who are against it, I'd love to hear ideas on other effective methods. But to say it should be forbidden is a bit short-sighted.

As I mentioned earlier: If this is the biggest problem the raise the bar for asking questions.

Today the site practically begs new users to ask questions as it is one of a few options that are always available for unexperienced users.

Are we SURE closing questions is that important? Maybe the original article is on to something: if Stack Overflow was built on a more google-like assumption, relevance would influence rankings and visibility of questions/answers/posts ... but there would be less need for outright removal/closing, which is alienating to posters on a human an emotional level.

What is the argument for closing questions ... logistical? Database is too big?

I am sure there are valid reasons, but maybe they should be reexamined in the context of the human cost, and some tweaks could be made.

I've stumbled upon "too localized" a few times and it's BS. Just because I'm daring to build a desktop app on OpenBSD doesn't mean it's not a real question.

Google is very good at extracting needles from haystacks. If this SO mention is the only mention of an error message on the Internet, then someone else can find it in the future now.

I work at SE... and you're right. We eliminated this close reason because a huge percent of the cases it was used weren't appropriate.

The problem doesn't stem from people just being wankers in a chat room, it's a deeper problem than that. It's hard to know exactly why people voted to close the 'niche' question you're talking about, but I had to rant recently to someone else who was complaining about how their 'recommend me a library' question was closed unjustly.

What is Stack Overflow's goal


To be a large repository of reasonably correct answers to small technical problems, where there is only one reasonably correct* answer. Everything else is considered off topic, and unfortunately not a good fit for the site, due to the lack of tools to manage other types of questions

Although there are lots of other things that could be asked and answered, if they are out of that scope then they are considered off-topic and should be closed, according to the people who own StackOverflow. They're closed, not just to annoy people who want those other types of questions answered but because SO really lacks the tools to manage the answers to those questions reasonably.

For example the question "how do you install and configure nginx on different operating systems" is definitely a question that could be asked. However it would require a massively long answer, without a provably correct answer, with different approaches based on how you prefer to configure stuff. i.e. not a single probably correct answer.

Questions that ask for a recommendation for which library to use don't also meet the criteria of having a single reasonably correct answer. Which library you should use depends on lots of factors, and there's probably several, if not a hell of a lot more, possible libraries to use.

Also, questions like that invite debate, multiple answers, spamming by companies trying to promote their software etc. Although people might like to ask all sorts of questions SO have decided to try to limit the number of off-topic questions.

But hasn't the goal of being the large repository of answers already been achieved?


Yup, which is why StackOverflow is a considered a shit-show by people who used to find it very useful. If I had to guess, I'd say that something like 95% of all questions that are 'on topic' have already been asked and answered.

Although I've been using it a while, it's just incredibly rare for me to find a technical question that would be on topic for SO, that doing a google search for doesn't have an answer on SO in the top 5 results.

I think the people who run StackOverflow are either morons or have business reasons for not dealing with this problem.

Although the 'find me a library' questions are off-topic they aren't really a big problem - what is a big problem is just the same set of questions being asked day in, day out by people who are too stupid to be able to use Google to find answers to questions like "Q) Why is my compiler saying there is a syntax error on this line?" "A) There's a syntax error on that line."

The vast majority of people who are asking questions on StackOverflow are people who either read their compiler's error message, or do a google search - so it's really unlikely that they're going to spend time trying to understand the ethos behind StackOverflow or spending much time formulating a short, self-contained, correct example.

Because it's so easy for people to sign up to StackOverflow it only takes people a minute to post their badly formed question, which leads to the current torrent of the same questions day in day out. Without increasing either the 'cost' of asking a question or other barrier to prevent people who fail at using google, then it's inevitable that SO will continue to be besieged by bad questions.


As I said, I think the real problem is that the vast majority of on topic questions have already been asked. The site needs better tools for finding duplicates or expanding into a wider set of questions, for which some answers will be longer, non-authoritative answers which just currently aren't a good fit for the site as it currently exists.

The current system lacks lots of tools that would be required to manage questions and answers that are currently off-topic. Personally I'd prefer it if they improved the site to allow more wide ranging questions and answers and better filtering of 'questions' (e.g. why is the only tool available to mark a question as something that is asking for a recommendation of a library to close it? Why can't we just tag it as 'find me a library' so that people who are interested in answering that can answer it?

*Note - even if an answer is provably incorrect, it won't get deleted unless it's downvoted into oblivion. Which leads to raising of eyebrows when answers to security questions have wrong answers that have been voted to 40+

> I think the real problem is that the vast majority of on topic questions have already been asked.

I think this is mostly a problem in so far as answers aren't updated. I'd say that for most "well formed" question belonging on SO that was answered correctly years ago -- most of those answers might no longer be entirely correct and/or the questions themselves might "block" newer (up to date) formulations of the same question.

Things like new versions of compilers, libraries, programming languages, kernel/drivers (and accompanying new hardware) shifts previously correct answers (and "correct" questions) into not-quite-correct-anymore -- but still "too similar" for opening up new questions.

And as questions cease, so does answers, which means the community dissipates/moves on -- and SO becomes irrelevant again. That I think is the danger.

I have experienced this. Asking questions about a new version of something, and having it closed with a pointed to a prior version of things that explicitly does not work any more.

Then edit your question to acknowledge the "duplicate" and clearly explain why your question is different. It will automatically go into a Reopen Queue where users will evaluate it and vote to reopen. The system's not perfect, so if it still doesn't get reopened, open a discussion on meta.

Could you please explain what the motivation is to close questions? Who is benefiting from it, and who is it hurting?

To me, I see this strange contradiction in how stackoverflow is evolving. Joel Spolsky (one of the founders) gave a very interesting presentation[1] in 2009. The key takeaway I've always remembered from his comments was the idea of "anthropology". The science of trying to really understand human behavior and make the website amplify good communities.

What I see 6 years later is a lot of "why is this question closed as 'not constructive' when it has 500 upvotes?!?!"

There is clearly a disconnect between the way the end users see stackoverflow and the way the moderators see it. These days, it seems like the stackoverflow guys (not necessarily Joel specifically) are inexplicably blind to human behaviors that was was highlighted in 2009. But, I don't have the whole story so maybe someone closer to the situation can explain.

I don't know who is right or wrong. The thing I'd like to know is if stackoverflow still "works" for the quality contributors who invest their time writing extensive and insightful answers. Or, have a significant percentage abandoned the site because they wade through too many questions from homework, or outsourced sweatshop employees who don't even do modicum of googling, etc.

On the other hand, are the majority of complaints distorted because they are mostly voiced by the Eternal September[2] crowd?

So, is it experts leaving? Or newcomers overwhelming the site with bad questions? I don't know if one can gather from website analytics which of the 2 situations is dominant.



It's both.

The former is inevitable - most people, like the author of this article, spend the bulk of their time up-front: post a lot of answers, enjoy the experience, get tired of it, pull back to only answering the occasional post that piques their interest. So there's a fairly constant fall-off of activity from people who've previously posted a lot. And this gets worse when these folks find fewer questions that interest them, which brings us to...

The number of questions posted on Stack Overflow every day is overwhelming. Over the past year, it's ranged from a low of about 5.5 thousand per day (Christmas holidays) to over 11 thousand per day; currently it's averaging around 8.5K. Depending on your interests, you might see very little of this (if you focus solely on a relatively obscure tag) or all of it (if, as many do, you drink from the firehose at http://stackoverflow.com/questions/?sort=newest) or some mixture (if you stick to the home page).

The folks who stick it out long-term tend to have some pretty gnarly filters in place. Those who don't tend to become very bitter about the whole Eternal September thing, because that's most of what they see. The chance of dropping in on Stack Overflow over lunch & just stumbling upon a new question that covers some novel, interesting tech you've been working with lately is pretty slim, so if that's all you're answering anymore, well... You're probably not answering very much anymore.

The trick here is to find a way of putting more interesting questions in front of the folks they're likely to interest, and showing fewer "here's my homework, verbatim" questions to... well, everyone. And it's a hard trick.

Disclaimer: I work for Stack Exchange and have been hanging around Stack Overflow pretty much forever.

Who cares how many times a question comes up? That is just such a non-issue, a peeve of a minority of replaceable people, because people are always replaceable, including the ranks of those who answer the most questions. Resurfacing questions is helpful for people new to programming topics and who are just discovering the lay of the land by using the New filter on StackOverflow. Novelty for advanced users should be an incredibly low priority, yet because advanced users have power, it becomes a big priority. The fact is, if some advanced users get bored by the stream of novice questions and leave, that's fine, there will always be new experts to take their place: SO is extremely popular that way.

What really frustrates me is that the usual interface to SO is Google, yet SO closes so many questions as duplicates that this interface is massively under-optimized. It would be much easier to find the solutions to problems if there were variations in Google's index for every different way a question's been asked (and answered).

And answering questions is a great way for intermediate developers to concretize their own knowledge. There's always a new wave of developers needing to learn. Why on earth SO fetishizes itself now as a DRY repository of programming questions is beyond me. Ok, it's not actually beyond me, it's because SO is made up of programmers, and programmers tend be compulsive about DRYing up everything in sight even when that's not the best solution to the problem.

The complaints of SO's elites are the same I've seen since always on mailing lists and forums by the folks who have the most power and thus force their ideals on everyone else. It repels novice users and creates a hostile environment for mentoring and learning. What's sad is that when SO first came out, it was set apart from these incumbents for being welcome, open, and friendly.

Another side issue is that the SO culture almost certainly is not receptive to female developers. I thought of this the other day when I saw some woman's post in the negatives. The sort of chest-thumping, rule-brandishing nitpickery that's the order of the day is an intimidating turn-off for a large swathe of people.

What's happened to SO is why every institution has to be replaced eventually, as SO will be, by some question and answer site that returns to SO's roots. The world is crying out for it again the same way it was when SO was founded.

Nice rant. Not sure how this relates to what you're replying to, so I'm not gonna attempt to rebut it... But for future reference, "people are always replaceable" tends to be a euphemism for "we're gonna treat you like canon fodder" - not really a good attitude, IMHO.

If you want to clarify what you're responding to, I can try to provide a more helpful response; until then, here's some useful references for the "roots" of SO's current policies:

- http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/01/the-wikipedia-of-long-...

- http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/06/optimizing-for-pearls-...

You're right that inexperienced people need a place to ask their questions, but as people get more experienced they tend to be less interested in answering novice questions, so there ends up being an upper limit on the difficulty of questions that can get answered as they will simply be above the level of the people who are wading through questions.

>most people, like the author of this article, spend the bulk of their time up-front: post a lot of answers, enjoy the experience, get tired of it, pull back to only answering the occasional post that piques their interest.

I didn't get tired of answering the questions, even the not-so-great ones from low-rep users; I got tired of putting lots of energy into a website with a culture I no longer agreed with.

> So there's a fairly constant fall-off of activity from people who've previously posted a lot. And this gets worse when these folks find fewer questions that interest them

Is this data publicly available?

Yes [0]. You can write a new query here [1]. Its pretty much the reason why I like SQL now being able to ask questions[2] and get answers is great.

[0] http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/queries

[1] http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/new

[2] http://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/211098/whe...

You can approximate this from public data: http://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/252756/are-high-repu...

As noted in the comments there, this tends to be slightly inaccurate, as it ignores changes in reputation over time. But it's close enough to see the general trend; I left a comment with a more accurate picture of the usual trend and the more recent drop-off.

I followed a parallel development with at mathoverflow.org. In its early days it had several fields medalists posting long answers to almost uniformly good questions. As the site evolved and more people joined the quality of questions gradually declined and it is generally much less exciting to visit the site.

> On the other hand, are the majority of complaints distorted because they are mostly voiced by the Eternal September[2] crowd?

Sometimes I wonder if I'm the sort of person who makes these places bad... but I do ask decent questions, and the only people who ever pay attention to them are the rep farmers hoping to cash in with a Google answer.

Can't speak to your specific experiences, but it's worth noting that this can also be a downside of the Eternal September crowd: even reasonable questions get lost in the noise.

The Soup Nazi wanted to feed people and lost the opportunity to do so when he became obsessed with loiterers clogging the queue. Fictional exaggerations not withstanding, scaling is a hard problem to solve in many different systems - especially when some users/customers/tasks can easily require 100x the average processing time.

Perhaps users need a vote to reopen option? Even if you put it above 5 the questions I've run into would easily hit that based upon up votes on comments.

Every time I work on a project dealing with unusual C++/Windows/COM topics, I end up hitting a high percentage of highly relevant, closed questions. The worst are the ones where I figure out the convoluted solution, but I can't answer the existing question because it's closed. So, anyone after me will suffer the same aggravation or simply give up.

The worst are the ones where some new mod has trolled through four-year-old questions closing them whenever possible. Makes me wonder how much great information has simply been deleted to give a new mod, what, a feeling of power? More history (ironically)? It's also darkly funny when a mod clearly doesn't understand the technology involved, and thus doesn't understand that it is, in fact, valid and properly worded.

I suppose it's no different than the rest of the tech community, "blogosphere", social coding sites, etc., where it's a self-promotion-centric approach that dominates. You'll get further working on the latest and greatest stack than you will solving hard problems with an older tech stack.

I've given up on SO as well. Like I said last time it came up here:

> When it was young you could find veteran wizards who answered all sorts of obscure things because it was fun. The last straw for me was seeing a perfectly valid question about video memory in DOS get drive-by closed by some mod.

You used to be able to find stuff about ZZT-OOP on SO. Not anymore.

I don't know if you could call it an outright failure when it gets a ton of traffic, search engine cred etc., but it's certainly not a success for me.


Now there's a burst of nostalgia.

> It's also darkly funny when a mod clearly doesn't understand the technology involved, and thus doesn't understand that it is, in fact, valid and properly worded.

Oh man, I ran into this the other day when asking about Ember.RSVP.Promise.all.then. A mod (or I guess just a power user) accused me of not reading the docs and recommended closing the question. He provided a link to the docs on Ember.RSVP.Promise.then (notice the lack of "all" in there) as evidence that I didn't read the documentation. He was rude, I was rude, fun times were had by all. But, after I made the point that the function I was talking about operated on arrays and not individual objects (and is also basically undocumented) he deleted his comments and then went and downvoted all of my other questions.

You should post a question and then answer it yourself, so that people in the future will see it.

That's a good point, and an idea I hadn't thought of.

Do you mean closed or locked from vandalism by drive by users? A lot of popular stuff gets locked due to noise answers and bad edits.

Usually closed as non-constructive (I think that's S.O.'s wording).

Isn't that a UI problem? Punish people who do noise answers and bad edits, and see to it that garbage isn't featured prominently. Closing pages down is a desperate, blunt measure and in the long run it decays the value of your content instead of protecting it.

If it's gotten so bad that this is preventing legitimate edits and answers from improving your content, you have a very serious problem - both culturally and technologically.

It has largely become more or less a standard expectation that every single question I come across on Stack Overflow through search engine results will be locked. This expectation is rarely contradicted, and then only usually within very small sub-niche topics (the Racket SO community is quite pleasant, frex).

It has rather ensured that I never made any effort to contribute to that community. I do still use SO answers if Google or DDG happen to provide me with a link to one that answers my question, which in fairness is quite often, even most of the time. But when so many of those clearly helpful answers (often answering my own question to the letter), are downvoted/locked over some matter of bureaucratic principle or the opinion of a nameless moderator, it makes it abundantly clear that any contribution I might occasionally wish to proffer will be unwelcome, and any question I ask is as like to be met with censure as actual assistance.

Actually participating in SO seems these days to be about as fruitless an endeavor as editing Wikipedia was.

A note on locking: Locking prevents edits and comments on an individual post. The reason for locking a post is nearly always spam edits/comments. Locks are finite in time. Questions that rank highly for popular search queries receive a lot of traffic, and locking is often necessary to prevent vandalism.

On question closure, this is rarely done by moderators (users with a diamond ♦ after their name), but by 5 votes from regular users. Only moderators can lock posts.

Disclosure: I am a Stack Exchange moderator

I'm curious about the five vote threshold. Has it been fixed throughout the history of the site? Is it still appropriate given the degree to which the site's popularity and traffic has grown?

Indeed. I was really surprised by that number, and by the sheer number of people with edit/delete privileges.

That's just begging for abuse.

Curious about your reaction to this article. Have an opinion?

Or is that too off-topic/closed as not constructive? /s

To be honest, I don't participate in SO that much. The problems with close votes, and the HN community's dislike of the situation is well known. There is no easy fix for the situation, although I do agree something should be done.

The core of the issue, as was pointed out above, is the vtc-please culture in certain chat rooms. Culture is a very hard thing to change (impossible?), and whatever change you make to how closing works is unlikely to be effective unless cultural change is brought about too.

Achieving a cultural change is simple, not easy.

Simple because the fix consists of watching patterns of behavior for a while, identifying the cliques of users who do this, and then mass-banning them, or at least mass-revoking their privileges to close stuff. For maximum cruelty, just reset and peg their reputation permanently at zero.

Not easy because then they're going to scream their entitled little heads off about it, and you'll need to recruit another generation of active moderators.

I use it all the time for my work in Javascript, Angular and Node.js and rarely see locked questions. What subjects are/were you working in?

Are you sure confirmation bias isn't causing you to overestimate the frequency of this happening?

Same here; the stuff I end up seeing is all over the map. I only rarely see locked questions, and those are usually older ones.

May I ask which field/languages you are in? Cause my experience is not entirely like what you (and THE OP, to an extent) describe. Is it possible the community on SO is actually a bunch of subcommunities, not all as nice as the other?

I'm mostly on msbuild/labview/C++/C# tags both for questions and answers. I do see locked questions when looking for answers, but definitely not every single one rather the opposite, and I don't have the impression at all my participation is fruitless: some of my answers get a decent amount of upvotes which should be an indication they are useful now and in the future, some do not (mostly because they are in a less popular tag) but still get an explicit 'thanks this helped' from the OP.

Sure I do see the problems with SO, but unlike some I don't have an urge to rant because the problems are of minor inconvenience for me. Either my threshold for starting a rant is way higher, or I just have less problems. Or a combination of both.

Who cares about downvoted answers, really? I see it only as a warning. ("This may be incomplete or misleading")

Even better when you post a question to stackoverflow and a moderator closes it with "this question should be on xyz.stackexchange.com". You remove your question and post it there just to get another moderator saying "this question should be on stackoverflow".

It's obviously a great site, but as always most moderators are usually people with more spare time than real clue on how to organize things.

"Which site do I submit to" shouldn't be as hard of a problem for certain.

Heck they removed a lot of options from that close reason to minimize this, as anything database related go punted to the DBA one (which is only for professional questions not minor schema questions).

Only problem with the sister sites is that their user base is much smaller than on SO and the value of SO pretty much boils down to "everyone's in there so someone may help me".

I find the true value of SO to be "populating google with good answers to questions", but that is just me :).

I call that the SU-SF shuffle.

I would like to defend Tim Post's meta-answer because it's quoted out of context. The OP's question was about the reduction in quality of questions being asked on SO, which I myself have noticed in my particular area of expertise [0].

I don't think Tim comes off as "elitist"/"cool kids" (also Tim is genuinely a really nice person, not at all uppity or "elitist" [1]). There is a rising deluge of utterly shit quality questions being asked on the site. As an "expert" I just can't be bothered any more trying to assist users who are missing so much fundamental knowledge and understanding about the tech they're working with. Hell, some of them can't even tell me which version of IIS they're using. It saps too much energy and is the reason why my own participation on the site has taken a nose-dive over the past couple of years.

I do agree with the comment throttling timer and "@user" behaviour in comments, I think that was one of Jeff's personal things he got implemented much to the frustration of many folks on the site. I like Jeff but some of his ideas about how to solve certain types of problems were a bit peculiar.

I still love SO, I still visit daily but it sure burned me out as an "answerer".

[0]: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/*iis*

[1]: Disclosure: I'm an ex-diamond mod on the site - I would like to think I played fair, erring on the side of giving folks the benefit of the doubt and that their questions were asked in good faith (and with a tiny wee bit of upfront research).

I have noticed the same thing I do not visit the site all that often I usually check it once a fortnight or so in my lunch break. I tend to browse the "Linux" section. Everytime I visit it feels like Deja-Vu the same questions keep appearing, there will almost always be questions like "How can I get my program to run as a daemon?", "Why am I seeing Zombie processes?" and some variation on "How can I get the PID of my running process?".

Quite a lot of questions seem to have a negative score or are locked for seemingly no good reason and the ones that aren't are questions like the above that are easily googleable.

A lot of the time it feels like the person asking the question hasn't bothered to a) read man page or b) do a google search beforehand or they lack basic knowledge about Linux - such as what the /proc file system is for.

My favourite is the upvoted "You should have Googled this" comment with an accompanying, and equally upvoted, "Google sent me here."

SO seems to have not awakened to the fact that it is the defacto programming information site for all languages and developer capabilities and no longer the purview of elite.

I dunno these days it seems like Google is sending me to Chinese sites that just scrape SO and repost all the questions/answers.

Quite often when I Google something, I end up on an SO page with exactly the answer I needed, and it's been closed due to some BS. And there's a bunch of comments about why it's closed.

I think the moderators have gotten more and more zealous. Everything is looked at with the guidelines in mind, instead of common sense. I suspect there's a certain type of person who likes to apply stringent rules to everything, and common sense people just have enough and decide not to run in the elections.

If SO was a billboard I could understand the need to only have the interesting stuff on. But SO doesn't have a space problem. If someone has posted a question, it's likely they're not the only noob wondering what the answer is. If the question is useful to people, Google will lead them there.

I've always been uneasy about the fact that Stack Overflow users can edit each other's posts more or less arbitrarily. User A can edit user B's post to say something embarrassing, and most readers will attribute it to User B.

I've had this happen with my posts. It's never been egregious, like a user inserting something inflammatory into my otherwise mundane programming question. Most often, the offending edits give the appearance that the original poster doesn't know how to write or doesn't know basic programming concepts. It's not unheard-of for potential employers to look at a programmer's accounts on Stack Overflow, Github, etc., so an unflattering edit could be problematic.

Granted, one can use a pseudonymous account. But it would be better not to have to.

You should receive a notification whenever someone else edits one of your posts. If the edit is inappropriate, you can revert it or re-edit it. "Edit wars" do happens sometimes, but they're discouraged, and you can always flag for moderator attention if it comes to that.

I didn't realize how much edit comments (description of changes) mattered until I saw some of my deleted/unapproved edits. E.g. Editing an answer to add an environment variable that was actually required was denied. I ended up writing it as a comment and had someone thank me for it in the comments. Had the edit been accepted there would have been less comment spam and more "good answer" on that page...

Edit wars normally also get automatically detected and pinged to moderators IIRC.

And people karma-whoring on your question. Nobody has the answer, but your question has been edited 10 times.

Every edit "bumps" the post, giving it a bit more visibility.

Some folks, upon encountering an unanswered question they also want an answer to, will do some quick copy-editing just to try & get a few more eyeballs on the problem.

There's only a specific group of people that "benefit" from editing questions. Most edits are an attempt to make it even slightly better and/or clearer in some way.

Does StackOverflow notify when your answer is edited?

It does. You will receive a notification in your inbox saying which post was edited so you can review it.

I'm actually struggling to recall the last time I followed a link to a StackOverflow question where the question wasn't closed for some reason or another. It's gotten to the point where it feels like the only goal of the site is curate old content.

I think I may just be becoming a grumpy old man programmer,

But my frustration with stack overflow lately is with how many people ask ill-formed questions because they don't understand what they're talking about -- and don't seem to _want_ to understand what they're talking about, they just want a copy-paste solution. (Worse is when the answers are from people who similarly have no idea what they're talking about)

Rails is not an end-user app. It's a framework for developers. You use it to program. If you don't know what you're doing, copy-paste from reddit/SO aren't actually going to get you very far.

Now, what might make it an "SO community" issue, is that when I try to explain the fundamental concepts involved (which I actually kind of enjoy doing, when I'm in the mood), my answers -- or the questions themselves -- are likely to be closed/deleted as inappropriate.

Now, many questioners aren't even interested in this kind of answer, it's true, they just want a copy-paste. Sometimes you can give them one (even if it doesn't serve them very well because they are trying to do the wrong thing, or dont' even know what they're trying to do), sometimes their question is so off that it's not even possible.

But for those who are -- maybe we need a place where people can actually get fundamental conceptual things explained, like you'd do in a professor or TA's office hours. And SO doesn't seem to want to be that place?

I don't have a problem with Stack Overflow, I have a problem with its community and, as a result, have completely abandoned the site. I no longer ask questions there nor do I answer them. If I need help my circle of friends is often able to provide enough information for me and if I take to Google the vast majority of the time the first search result is a link to a Stack Overflow page with someone asking the exact question I'm trying to find an answer to. And it's closed as off topic. It's a great site and for a while had a great community, but these days it's just too toxic to be worth the bother.

> the Stack Overflow staff and moderators seem to take the attitude that the long-term content of the site is much more important

Perhaps the Stack Overflow owners realize they can muscle in on the programming language documentation business. With the ongoing increase in programmers who learn a programming language at the same time as they're paid to write production code in it, the promoters of some languages will inevitably skip writing documentation that fully describes what it does and instead set up a basket of Stack Overflow users to plant lots of answered questions, which also gives the initial appearance of an existing community for that language. Eventually languages will even be designed and implemented without any thought given to documentation that explains it from beginning to end, but instead only the intention for it to be learnt in Stack Overflow-sized chunks, keyed to search engine keywords instead of documentation subheadings. And part of Stack Overflow's business model may be to host the primary documentation for these emerging types of programming languages.

Dr Dobbs magazine described this phenomenon as a "conundrum" and used Groovy as an example of this new type of language: "The endless variety of features requires considerable documentation, which is simply not available, especially for the advanced features that give Groovy much of its benefit. And so, if you jump in today, you'll find the language is easy to learn, but hard to master". http://www.drdobbs.com/jvm/the-groovy-conundrum/240147731

People learn languages from different routes depending on their background. A complete beginner to programming probably needs tutorials and will not understand a language reference that is most useful for an experienced coder. Stack overflow is more like a recipe book that happens to let you list the ingredients. But that is a poor alternative to tutorials and proper documentation.

One of the "Soup Nazis" here:

I can understand the author. Still I found out, that my name was also in one example of "Soup Nazis" (how embarrassing!).

The point is, that with some experience, you are "invited" to review other posts. You can also see it as giving some of the benefit taken back. But as reviewer, you should take responsibility for the quality of questions and answers. And I must say, that there where many cases, where I wanted to vote differently but knew, that the system is intended differently -- the vote I made in the example was one of them. You are softly pressured by the system, to adhere to the "group standard".

I think it is a little similar to the Wikipedia problem. Wikipedia also is less attractive to authors today, than it was, because many are chilled by the rigid system. The problem is, that some system is needed for the quality, but how could you reduce the chill factor for newcomers?

I think, a little less rigid system would be beneficial to stackoverflow (as it does not need to be an encyclopedia). Some "Soup Nazi" behavior is fostered by any (more or less) rigid system. Here, more sense of understanding of the more experienced users (especially reviewers) would also be good.

SO seems like less of a discussion board, and more of a snapshot in time: 2009 seems about right. Once the so-called "moderators" started deleting, editing and locking most of the answers, I was definitely discouraged from contributing. There WAS some gold buried in some of the less upvoted posts and comments, but "no soup for you."

One other little note, and don't know if anyone else noticed this, but SO is somehow biased a bit towards Microsoft. It's no big deal, but I thought I would mention it. http://blog.codinghorror.com/giving-up-on-microsoft/

As SO fossilizes, I think there might be an opportunity to create a new programming QA site.

SO-the-infrastructure might be biased towards MS, but the people on it certainly don't tend to be, at least in the tags I'm involved in.

Oh you have a problem with stack overflow? Sure i could help you with that, but what's the problem you're really trying to solve?

This comment at the end states it very well:

"Stack overflow has failed to understand it’s mission. Stackoverflow exists to share technology information–not to curate it. Curation should be replaced by indexing and ranking. With Stack Overflow, it is as if google had decided on a primary strategy of deleting content from its index, rather than a primary strategy of ranking good content highest."

After reading all these (good) comments, I thought I'd go to SO now and try and pitch in and answer a question or two in my domain of expertise. You know...give back to the community. Be a part of the solution.

I found a question that could easily be answered and would be of value to users hitting this issue.

Here's that question: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/28541540/how-to-generate-...

I could not stop laughing at how this confirms the insanity being discussed here.

"Questions asking us to recommend or find a book, tool, software library, tutorial or other off-site resource are off-topic for Stack Overflow as they tend to attract opinionated answers and spam..."

Yes. And 238 million people saw Dez Bryant catch that ball notwithstanding the NFL's rule-which-must-be-followed-to-the-letter-of-the-law.

Some guy, or woman, won't get their question answered that could have helped them. It was a reasonable question. And people are willing to help them. In some way, I suspect StackOverflow is incredibly proud they prevented that...but stuck to the letter of the law on their policy.

You win StackOverflow.

I think the mandate is pretty clear: quality writing of the original question is a must. If you can't write in clear english, or you have a whiff of snark in your question, or your question falls below what many people think of as a valuable contribution, then your question probably deserves to be closed. Why is that not fair? I think it is fair! Be professional!

Sometimes you get very cool superusers like BalusC who will edit a sub-par question for clarity or formatting rather than delete it out of hand. Most of the time, I look at his edits and I like what he does with the question. Add value, add value, add value. BalusC makes JSF a joy to research on and work with.

Agreed. As much as I found JSF horrible, BalusC has made it less so for years it seems.

What he does isn't rep-farming using google but rather putting effort into being helpful. Same goes for others.

Contrast this to what people refer to as drive-by downvoters: people who seems to routinely troll the forums looking for anything that can be closed.

Sounds like early Wikipedia. It started out fun - people from all over working together and helping each other out to create something that was going to change the world. My contributions may not have been the best quality possible, but others would edit or offer suggestions for improvement. Sometimes others would start something and get stuck, and I could offer an edit or suggestion to get them going again. To see the entries grow and improve, and be a part of a group helping each other to become better and achieve more, was one of the great things about it. Together, we made something from nothing.

Of course, it wasn't long before obnoxious pedantic tyrants swarmed in and took over, reveling in their chance to get a cheap power trip. Volunteering to contribute wasn't fun under a constant barrage of rudeness from people who contributed nothing and couldn't even be bothered to offer alternatives or suggestions while insulting and deleting other people's contributions.

It would be an interesting case study for someone to find out how Wikipedia survives despite the best efforts of its own moderators to destroy it.

#1 on my StackOverflow wishlist is a way to make collaboration easier on answers.

I see many questions and answers where the top answer mostly works, yet buried below there's a much better answer. I see this happening in areas where technology is in flux, such as languages with evolving syntax, or when toolchains are moving to new tools.

Collaboration can improve this by enabling subsequent people to add additional information. Some examples: "This older answer is for version 1, and this newer answer is for version 2", or "This older answer is specifically for bash, and this newer answer is specifically for zsh".

It was supposed to be that way, but it hasn't worked out. Originally the idea was that there would be some wiki-like aspects to the site where collaboration could result in up to date and comprehensive answers to important or common questions. That hasn't worked out, instead the site has largely kept the same features it had in 2009.

What would you look for that's not dealt with by comments and edits?

For example:

* Wiki-style editing of some kind, along with collaboration tooling, and users can annotate particular pieces of information within an answer.

* Ability to combine/collaborate on multiple answers, such as beginning with introductory information relevant to all the answers, then having some kind of sectioning for specific information for each version.

Two small steps can help toward this:

* Mark an answer as applicable to a specific version number, or range, or date, or implementation.

* Enable the question author to accept an additional new answer that is more current, without subtracting points from the original answer.

I stopped using StackOverflow a year or so ago, when I was astonished to discover that people can edit your questions.

I accept that this sometimes may be necessary, but I asked a question which was then edited to be a different question, so that the answers I got were entirely useless.

I understand the need for moderation but surely they should not be able to change the meaning of what you posted.

If that happens, you revert the changes. Editing to change the nature of the question is definitely not a valid edit. If people do it consistently, a mod should intervene.

Problem is it is the mods who do it, isn't it.

New users cannot edit questions?

New users can make suggested edits, which are sent into a moderation queue before being applied. Once you reach a certain level of reputation (2000), you can edit other users' content without moderation.


The worst part is the new users who don't have the faintest clue as to what they're doing, and the annoying duplicates. And sometimes I get shat on for asking the question not quite right.

1. Need to incentivize new users to read some real basic FAQs before posting. Not sure what the best solution is. Fascist Me wants to see them walk through a wizard, agreeing that they understand basic topic X before continuing, but that doesn't sound too user friendly.

2. Need some better text similarity with Latent Semantic Indexing or something to find duplicates. I'll see new questions that I know are recent duplicates, but then can't even find an example. Doh.

I am constantly amazed how mods can find a duplicate I could not, and I consider myself a fairly savvy googler.


Instead of forcing RTFM on every new user, I don't see why new users should not have immediate tryout without reprocussions and learn the guidelines from a kindly mod or other user replying with a reason why their question is not appropriate/duplicate or whatever. That is the point of upvotes/downvotes and active moderation. This is a learning community, not a cadre of elitists.

Is there a correlation between Atwood leaving, and the eventual take over of internet community zealotry?

I've yet to participate in a forum where that doesn't occur.

I agree with everything said and I'd also like to add this:

I used to enjoy visiting the site because quite often there was a nice general question on the front page that related to me in some way... Well, ALL of the general CS type questions are answered now... and any new ones are closed as dups almost immediately.. Which means the questions that survive these days are hyper specific, and not very useful or enjoyable...

As users of stack overflow, product hunt, & hacker news, we have to subject ourselves to the tyranny of the upvote. We have effectively banished unpopular questions and ideas. Or great ideas conveyed in an unpopular manner.

Unfortunately, there is no better way to self-organize and moderate large masses of user generated information..

Sure stack overflow isn't perfect, but shit... Do you know how much productivity would be lost on a global scale if the site suddenly disappeared? I still use it in some capacity almost every day. Sure some of the rules might be nit picky and can be obnoxious sometimes, but nothing is perfect.

We're not saying it's perfect, we are saying its usefulness/quality is going downhill. It was never perfect.

> 6,900 users with a reputation of 10000 or more can delete questions.

I have 20k reps and I can't delete questions. This is not correct.

You can only vote to delete closed questions over a certain age.

Eg: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/16681587/some-bigger-rust...

Just a thought, but how about letting privileged users vote to keep a question open, which would negate some number of close votes? (As well as a delay before closing, even once the votes were obtained.) Also if someone is in the process of writing an answer, that should count against closing.

I tend to agree with the OP that sorting and filtering are a better solution to maintaining quality than unnecessarily closing marginal questions. However, some questions certainly need to be closed. The problem (or at least a problem) seems to be that with such a large number of privileged users, hitting a 5 vote threshold is not difficult, even if the question doesn't deserve to be closed. Increasing the threshold would be one solution, but would make unnecessary moderation work. A don't-close vote seems like potentially a better solution.

Edit: Unsurprisingly, looks like I'm not the first one to have this idea: https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/125/how-about-a-vot...

I reckon about 20% of the things I find on Stack Overflow while searching via Google are questions that have been closed for being irrelevant.

And my favourite questions are often those ones in the 20%, for example, when you type "1nf vs 2nf vs 3nf" into Google, the top page, is this StackOverflow post:


Despite the fact that the top answer has 218 upvotes, the question has been closed as 'not constructive' (which is cearly not the damn case, it's the top hit in Google for fuck sake!).

Stack Overflow should either stop this from happening somehow, or back their own goddamn policy and deindex or remove this content from the site.

That answer can no longer be improved upon, despite the fact it has such high search ranking, because some idiot deemed it 'not constructive'. What hogwash.

There is clearly a gap in the market right here that Stack Overflow either needs to plug, or someone else will (and at their expense).

I can't think of another site that had such a huge gap between its very high potential and its very low fulfillment of that potential.

twitter? pre-cesspool twitter had a lot of potential

I really wish there were better options on SO for dealing with "offtopic" questions

Sometimes a question seems like someone is just asking for an answer, like posting their homework, and hasn't tried anything or even googled at all for help. Maybe those questions should be closed and deleted with prejudice but if I was giving the benefit of the doubt I'd prefer to move them to "pergatory.stackoverflow.com". I guess that's what they are by closing them but.

But, often there are noob questions that are similarly frustrating but giving the person the benefit of the doubt maybe they really don't know where to start. If wish I could click a button that said [Move to noob.stackoverflow.com] or something like that where people with more patience or that just like helping noobs could be more helpful.

I also wish it was easier and required when marking as duplicate to provide a link to the duplicate.

This post has put in to words much of my own, un-reputable experience with SO and stack-exchange forums. The technical corrections and constant closing of questions by mods discouraged my asking of questions ages ago. There is a feeling that researching the details necessary to describe the question adequately takes away from research that may have yielded how to solve it by looking at similar questions or documentation. I know that this is partly the intention of the mods: go do your homework before asking. But, it can swing to be the flipside: homework of asking is as long or longer than deciphering your problem. In my experience, much of a questioners research to prepare their question was UNRELATED to their problem, so the amount of information included in the question is far above and beyond what is necessary to solve their variable typo, or whatever.

Where this is a good thing for the long-term usefulness of SO, like the OP said it takes away from the short-term usefulness of the site for us plebian self-doubters.

Having said that, previously asked questions on SO answer ~90% of my programming questions, so they're obviously doing something right.

I've thought before that a 'staging area' for questions might be useful, where a question gets posted by _anon_idiot_user_ like me asking why thier code won't run because of something simple. It is marked as 'not useful' for whatever reason, but can still offer (diminished) reputation to answerers. After a particular amount of time, the question is removed from the SO 'canon' (i.e. unpublished and deleted), but the reputation sticks. Nobody's ego is hurt from having thier stupid question memorialized, and mods would be more forgiving to stupid questioners knowing it will go away once solved.

just an idea. All in all, I'm eternally grateful to SO and it's 'asshole mods'. They've taught me more programming than any other entity on the web.

EDIT: Clarity

The problem of bad questions isn't just "having stupid questions memorialized." It's that it takes away from good questions.

There is a finite number of people who can answer a question, and these people have a finite amount of time. They don't necessarily know a question is going to be bad before they read it, so if a bad question stays, it continues wasting more and more people's time, and taking time from other people who did put in the effort to ask a good question. So instead, the question is closed while you improve it, and the idea is for it to be reopened when you're done.

The recent funding news seemed really strange when I have been feeling like the author for a while. I think SO is going downhill fast and people running it don't even realize it. Joel, where are you? So sad, used to like SO when it came around and now the way it's being moderated makes you want to just leave.

SO jumped the shark for me when its scope shifted hard from the original goals. I remember the original seedling goals that Spolsky posted; for example, a question is likely inappropriate for SO if its answer couldn't involve code. That got lost awful fast.

Oh, and remember how it was going to be all Wikipedia of programming, where really good answers would be zipped together so that SO became the defacto good-idea repository? And could evolve over time? Such a good idea. Never materialized.

Proper props for putting in the effort. Better than e-e. Usually, though definitely not always, better than isolated boards. But now we're in a good-enemy-of-best world where I still want some site or system addressing the original problems, but SO is so dominant I don't see how it could germinate.

SO has definitely out-stripped what came before. They were generation 1 and had gen-1 problems.

SO is generation 2, better than generation 1. But it's having gen-2 problems. I think a lot of it is because they are so proud of having fixed the gen-1 problems that they refuse to see their gen-2 problems.

Eventually we will see generation 3.

Hacker News faced some of the same issues when people complained about excessive down-voting.

I remember some of the solutions proposed were a higher threshold for downvotes as the site grew, and the requirement that an actual explanation be typed in with every anonymous downvote or deletion.

I feel you, seems like too much soup-nazi. I think maybe I've burned some friends I myself have encouraged to try to get started on the site.

But it's the nature of the site. No one else is doing it. Maybe that's because it's not easy. Maybe you should compete with them. I have a feeling there's a lot of people here who've been burned by SO. I know I have.

But you can't argue with success. So I've thickened my skin and hardened my resolve, and I'm in the top 3% of users now. I expect my current body of work on the site to put me in the top 1% within a year or so, with no further work from me.

The answer to this is to build a better StackOverflow, if you can. But I don't think you can.

At this point I think it's hard to compete with SO because it's so clear-cut and full of questions and answers for common things.

"Running out of questions." comes to mind.

Also, off-topic, I don't think being in a top percentage is something to brag about or a sign of merit. I've done nothing but ask stupid questions on SO and I was lucky to be there when the site was new (lots of high-coin questions!) and I'm in the top 5%.

That's a good point, but the top 1% (where I expect to be in a year or two) is close to the end of a long tail. Not many people get there by asking questions, and I only started contributing about a year and a half ago.

That percentile rank is a foot in the door in a lot of situations. If someone who is interested in me finds out it's because I give comprehensive smart answers with strong communication, in spite of the fact that I wasn't around when there were lots of easy questions to be had, I think I've got something pretty good to brag about.

That's not to say that I wouldn't consider someone who asks lots of good questions too. That requires communication skills as well as technical skills. I personally find it harder to ask good questions than to give good answers.

{Based on my recollection of something I heard listening through the StackOverflow/StackExchange Podcast archive.}

The example of the Python question about angles is from 2011. I believe that subsequent to that time there were changes to both the close process and the reopening process. Part of the problem I think was that close votes accumulated and did not expire, so that they would stick even after a question was edited or months had passed since the vote was cast.

The most recent podcast...about taking more Venture Capital...discussed some of the cultural issues that have developed at StackOverflow. There are two significant pools of users: those like me who know a little or nothing, and those who know a lot. One of the goals of the funding is to make StackOverflow work better for both...at least that was my impression from the podcast.

At the top end, the gamification has problems. It doesn't matter how competitive or smart anyone is, they aren't going to catch John Skeet any time soon. So people make up things to entertain themselves. Anyone else remember the popular Meta about deliberately feeding bad algorithms to suspected homework questions?

It's always been clear [you can listen to six plus years of Joel and Jeff and the gang yourself] that the longterm purpose of StackOverflow is not helping the person originally asking the question. It's making the internet better. It's also always been clear that there was a tension between questions that are interesting to experts and questions that are so basic that only an absolute beginner will ask them. The test case was:

    How do I move the Turtle in Logo? [1][2]
It's simple, clear, to the point, and offensive to some programmers.

[1]: http://stackoverflow.com/posts/1003841/revisions?page=2

[2]: https://www.google.com/search?client=ubuntu&channel=fs&q=mov...

SO is one of the best things that has happened on Internet, but lately it became really annoying due to all these closed questions by over-zealous moderators. More often than not, my questions are closed just because they are not mainstream (for example, embedded related) or slightly reassembles existing questions, that ask totally different things. One solution, that comes to my mind could be not to allow all moderators close all questions, but only these, that are in moderator's area of expertise. For example, if you want to close a question tagged "Java", you must have >5000 or so reputation in Java field.

I don't use SO to ask questions any more, but it's really good for searching stuff you already know but don't like to remember, like if that method used camelCase() or under_score(), what the annoying workaround for that little quirk in the framework of your choice was, etc.

I feel beside the new stuff that comes from new FWs and languages most questions seem to be answered. Therefore starting to focus on long term quality is not a bad thing.

Most of my recent work in SO was also not asking questions but correcting/connecting answers that are already there.

The thing that pisses me off the most is when you put the effort into a question that doesn't have an existing solution anywhere on the Internet, including on SO. Within a few seconds of posting, it gets a downvote but no comment. Getting a downvote results in immediate loss of visibility. It really puts you off using the site again. Its happened to the last several questions I've posted.

About the question about "this" in JavaScript. And how to "get rid of it". I always give it another name! Like car = this. Then I'll write car.engine instead of this.engine. It makes life much easier as I do not have to worry about "car" changing in sub-functions. And it's much easier to search and replace if I want to change the variable name.

One of the examples he gives falls under computational geometry even if its a basic question. Categorically those have become off-topic even though there is a tag for it. Seriously, go find something that requires some dot or cross products to compute and ask it - but not anything that resembles a graph, because they like graph theory.

I agree that SO gets overzealous about closing questions but I don't think I needed a page-long summary of the Market Basket saga (as if I didn't hear enough about it this summer) and the rest of it to get to that point.

I've been using IRC to ask questions instead of Stack Overflow for some time now. Each room has its own character, but I've found people are generally very helpful.

It depends, I suppose. The last time I used IRC in a technical help channel, someone asked for a simple way to open a bare X screen. I gave the answer I knew, which I got from a mandrake system script. It has worked for me for years on Debian and Ubuntu:

    xinit -- /usr/bin/X :1
And right away, a group of 3-4 clueless people or trolls told the asker that I was attempting to harm their system and not to listen to me. It wasn't very productive or fun.

Im so grateful for stack overflow. Big thanks to everyone who contributes. Those of us who need to get stuff done owe you our lives, almost literally.

the key to not getting your answered close is to copy paste large text of garbage code that these zealous mods won't bother reading through. the large wall of code allows the question to appear to carry merit and come across as a coding question, when in reality it has nothing to do with the question.

This is what is happening. the quality of the questions has deteriorated so much instead of improving.

the people providing quality answers have moved on.

when the chicken leaves and the eggs start rotting, that's when you know, the decline is the beginning.

I used to love SO, but nowadays the proportion of assholes running the site is so big that it ruins everything.

To give you an example, check out the last question I've asked there: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/27510345/c-map-assignment....

11 downvotes and closed within a few hours; apparently I pissed off one of the moderators (when asking him why is my question "off-topic") and he invited his gang to downvote me as well, some other guy even threatened to deactivate my account. That is SO now, and I no longer try to engage into that community.

Edit: Looking at how the votes in my question are evolving as we speak, I see that some guys still go in and downvote it more. Read out the question, and check out the really good accepted answer, if you don't think that's valuable information for many programmers out there then I'm at a loss of words.

Well, you didn't just ask why it's off topic. You threw around insults and used very vulgar language. http://stackoverflow.com/posts/27510345/revisions

Actually I did ask, strange you didn't notice that since it's right there in the link you posted.

And yeah, you are right, I used the word 'cunt' after they started behaving like that, I'm sorry if that scared you; I did it because I was really pissed off by all their bs. Have you ever felt annoyed some time in your life? Apparently not, lucky you.

Good Lord. The sense of entitlement it takes to use language like that and _then_ post it here and expect people will be supportive of your argument. This is a side topic but one I see often. I think it's very important that Europeans/UK/Aussie's realize the "c word" is one of the few swear words that doesn't travel well in the US. It's never used here and is extremely vulgar. So I would not use it on the web unless you are sure that your audience is primarily European and specifically the UK. (Grew up in Australia through University. Lived in Europe. Have lived now in the US a long time)

> It's never used here

It's not? I know of many men and women who use it. I've also heard some twisted logic how the use of it is "empowering" or some other nonsense.

The web is global, deal with it.

The Web is indeed global which is my point. The word in question has a very different meaning so best not to use it unless you're prepared for the fallout.

apparently I pissed off one of the moderators (when asking him why is my question "off-topic")

No, apparently you pissed off all of the moderators when you called them all dick-sucking cunts.

You must be a really special dude to do that and then get your feelings hurt when you get downvoted for it.

If that is all it takes to piss off a mod, they need to be demodded immediately. That really the weakest insult you can throw. [The insults are more annoying than offensive]

To be clear: your position is that SO needs moderators who don't downvote "cunt" because it's not offensive enough?

Anyway, doesn't matter--throwing insults, weak or strong, deserves downvotes. I don't understand why you're defending his right to be a complete asshat on a moderated forum. It's only just barely even related to the topic at hand, since he earned his downvotes.

Really they don't even need to downvote at all, it'll get downvoted (as it probably did) by others. Asshats are going to exist regardless.

Yeah... it really shouldn't have been downvoted.

Should have just been purged.

Maybe they don’t want people like you on the site. I wouldn’t.

I’m happy to say that I downvoted you specifically for that! It’s what I always do whenever there’s a rude remark, regardless of question content. Glad to see you’re getting so many votes now, though.

The history of questions is why StackOverflow is so great. If it were like a normal forum with only time sensitive content it would have gone away like all other technical forums.

Your question is shared with all the future people who have the same problem, it isn't your soapbox to complain in. Your experience with SO is probably fairly minor, the moderators have each had to deal with at least a half dozen people breaking questions to suit their own benefits, it gets tiring quickly.

Please note, closed questions can also be removed from the site.

I have a single Gold Badge in the SO world. It was awarded for an answer that I gave which earned more than 100 up votes[1]. Sadly the question to which I responded has since been closed (for years now). When content that I worked hard to create suddenly disappears from the site because moderators deem it to be "not a good fit", you start to feel it's not worth your time ...

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/help/badges/25/great-answer?userid=...

Took me a minute to realize what you were talking about as I have mod powers and could see the post just fine (finally clicked everything was red).

They outgrew the initial laissez-faire model and needed to grow beyond it. However I heartily agree they didn't do the best at making that transition.

At least they let you keep the badge :)

I looked back at version one to see what people would have downvoted/closed for:

'I have tried to do that (by overloading operator[], operator=) but it doesn't seem like I'm going somewhere. Can anyone suggest me a way to achieve this behavior?'

You said you have tried, but you didn't post what you tried, or how it didn't work. This makes your question hard to answer, and essentially means anyone answering is going to have to write your code for you.

You then finished it up with a passive-aggressive FAQ section which was entirely unnecessary, and included 'I want to do it this way, even if there is a better way' - which is just a terrible way to go in asking a question.

StackOverflow gets incredible numbers of questions every day, and the reality is people are not willing to help people who actively make their questions harder to answer. That's not people being assholes, it's people getting burnt out trying to help the 20,000th help vampire (http://slash7.com/2006/12/22/vampires/).

Everyone who complains about StackOverflow, in my experience, tends to be someone who wants others to do work for them. Yes, SO doesn't do that. That's by design.

>You said you have tried, but you didn't post what you tried, or how it didn't work. >by overloading operator[], operator=

It's literally there...

>You then finished it up with a passive-aggressive FAQ section which was entirely unnecessary ... 'I want to do it this way, even if there is a better way'

What's wrong with that? I wanted to achieve a very specific thing. Can you please tell me what is wrong with that?

That FAQ is meant to avoid getting answers that I don't need. Have you ever used SO? When you do you'll see that these questions usually get a lot of responses like:

"Just drop C and go for Python, Python does everything for you XD"

"Just throw Boost in there and you're done [and turn your 1s compile time into 10 minutes] XDDD"

> That FAQ is meant to avoid getting answers that I don't need.

1) Answers on questions aren't just meant to serve you, they're meant to serve people that find the question later. It's incredibly important to note when there's a better way altogether to approach a problem.

2) Askers on SO often exhibit the XY problem. Saying you're not interested in other approaches is not simply dickish; it's ignoring (often) good advice that other people are donating their time to give you.

Honestly, your entire interaction on that question is a prime example of why so many moderators go to the other extreme and become trigger happy. Because anybody would get burnt out dealing day in, day out with people having the same sense of entitlement that you have.

I don't support the abusive behavior that has since been edited out, but I totally get that FAQ. Lots of people who only work in the web framework world don't get that not everyone can just upgrade to the latest whiz-bang thing. If he's on a large team that has standardized on X for their shipping software, he can't fix the problem just by upgrading to a new compiler version.

It seems that you got SO wrong. Please have some time to read this: http://stackoverflow.com/tour

I understand that it is a really nice side-effect that your questions stay there and can be read later by other people with your same problem, however, be aware that it is a side-effect. Let me quote the first few sentences on their own site:

"With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about programming."

Yup, every question, not just "the ones you think are popular", every one, including mine. Actually, the more specific and detailed your question is, the better it aligns with the SO philosophy.

>Saying you're not interested in other approaches is not simply dickish; [...]

It is not dickish, I'm just not interested, how is that wrong? It is not; if you actually understood what is good for SO questions, you would see that focused questions are much better than fuzzy ones.

Also you called me a dick for no reason, I don't care because I grew out of those things long ago but apparently you (and some other guys here) haven't, so please leave out the vulgar language; you guys should, at least, live by your own standards.

Yeah of course you will downvote, because you can; what you can't do is to actually add to the conversation by posting a reasonable counter-argument to the things I stated. Have a nice day dude.

You grew out of "dick" but not "cunt"? (And you were called "dickish", not a dick, as long as we're being pedantic. Anyway; side debate, and uninteresting.)

One reason people point posters towards more conventional, extensible, canonical solutions is so that following readers/askers understand that what's being asked is on the fringes of what should be done.

Personally, I also believe SO doesn't always make the right call on what content should stay or go, and some of my meta questions attempt to address this. The bottom line is that people that don't work for them are only participants, and we're not the ones making the rules.

> "Just throw Boost in there and you're done [and turn your 1s compile time into 10 minutes] XDDD"

You know this to be hyperbolic.

My unfortunate experience has been that on a larger scale project, people will eventually desire every feature from a boost container, re-implement it in a buggy fashion, leading to a slower, buggier, poorly designed clone of something boost had.

I eventually started fixing container bugs by rewriting them in terms of boost containers...

Yes, I have used SO, and those responses are rare. If they do happen, they'll get deleted or countered quickly. The 'FAQ' was unnecessary and condescending.

You gave a shorthand description of what you did. You didn't post the code, you didn't explain why it didn't work.

If you can't be bothered to ask a question people can answer, why should anyone bother to answer? You claim SO is a bad community because you get rejected - I counter that you get rejected because you are toxic, and you not being on the site makes everyone else's experience better.

You not being there is a feature, not a bug.

There are a lot of replies on this comment, but I just wanted to add my experience and maybe some advice - I'm TA'ing for a CS class this semester, and we have an open forum for discussion kind of like Stack Overflow. Unfortunately it's content like what you posted in your revisions (expletives, open frustration) that make it unpleasant. The plain fact is that saying things like that does affect strangers, no matter how frustrated you might be - no one wants a public forum with that.

I have had questions like yours before, by the way (see http://stackoverflow.com/questions/24173094/c-polymorphic-in..., for example), and I kind of agree that it shouldn't have been closed like that. C++ is a confusing language and there was indeed a good amount to learn from the answer to your question. But you definitely could have handled it much better; get some feedback and maybe edit or make a new post with that feedback and you'd be good to go!

All this is going to trying to show you that your attitude is a little belligerent (it's showing on this HN thread again, even), and changing it goes a long way. I've come to the conclusion that the people on my class's forum and you don't really realize that there's something wrong with how you're communicating. But being polite isn't very hard, and I think you almost managed to do it in that SO thread. Take some time to work on your attitude, and you will get much further :)

Please don't take this in the wrong way. It's up to you to change if you'd like; I'm pointing out the benefits and you don't have to if you don't want to.

I'm not sure why the question was closed, but the name calling and vulgarity in the edit probably contributed to the downvotes.


You got the downvotes for editing your question to complain, including vulgarity in a few instances. People bitching in questions is a lot of peoples pet peeves (because it is frustrating to moderate correctly).

I would agree that "off-topic" is completely incorrect and I can't think of a valid reason to close it.

Ruins what? That question is the kind of thing that helps only you. SO tries to be a site where one person gets an answer, and the same answer can later be found by a thousand people who google.

Your question asks people to help you, with no attempt at making this useful for others. I can see why people downvote such questions.

I have also had many stack overflow commenters come to critique my code for style but no one actually answer the question[1], and it can be rather frustrating because I know that what they are saying will not solve my problem. But I would suggest a little patience. Hopefully someone will come and answer the question after the initial criticisms die down. My question was eventually answered after all.

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/16227877/how-to-update-a-...

I would say you were incredibly patient in that thread, not just 'little'. Everyone seemed to try to help though.

haha..gangs of Stackoverflow huh..i can see that happening..i dont have many friends thgh SO but I agree people groupup through SO chat rooms..

Hating this coz of few assholes?? There is no perfect world..

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