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I like Stack Overflow. I agree with many of its criticisms, but I still think it's a huge gain for the programming community overall.

I think the worst aspect is the endless "your premise is flawed, you should do <this> instead" answers. I often formulate toy examples, or ask questions out of curiosity rather than practical need. Somehow, users always latch on to the irrelevant part of my question instead of answering the part I care about. It's gotten to the point where I put big disclaimers in my questions to steer users away from those useless (to me) responses.

I got so annoyed with this pattern that I now consciously avoid writing anything that's not a direct answer to the user's question. I wish others would do the same.

My buddy and I call that "I asked how to use a ladder, you told me to take the elevator" syndrome. I'm picking apples!

That's why in your question, you need to state that you're picking apples!


Makes no difference in my experience. Geeksplaining is an unstoppable force of obnoxiousness.

I will usually under or over answer for those kinds of reasons... If the specific case is pretty narrow, I'll write either a thorough answer to a more broad scope, or a specific answer with some additional info on alternatives.

Sometimes I will write a very broad answer, especially when it's apparent the person doesn't seem to have looked into finding anything, and just asked a question on SO, which happens a lot.

I used to sit in the review queue and try to save questions from being marked as duplicate because it sounded similar to another question but was fundamentally different if the other reviewers just took the time to comprehend what was being asked rather than blindly voting based on title. The worst was when they would post why it's not a duplicate of another post in their post and it would still get shutdown by the reviewers. It was a losing battle and demoralizing. I also hated pedantic edits to people's questions and tried to shut them down, but everyone always seemed to agree that capitalizing the "s" in JavaScript 5 times in a question or removing that "thanks" at the end because the guidelines say you shouldn't do that was super important.

Many times, especially in tech, advice is more valuable than a direct answer. See, for example, this blog post for a good analogy: http://weblogs.asp.net/alex_papadimoulis/408925

The problem is that not everyone is a very good teacher or judge of when it's proper to give advice. So you get a lot of people who don't know the answer and instead provide some workaround using technologies they do know and are comfortable with, which isn't necessarily helpful.

This highlights one of the fundamental flaws of text-based communication.

In text-based communication, deciding what is important is 100% on the reader - and while to you someone may be responding to irrelevant parts of your questions - to them, it is what they found interesting and thus important.

In face to face communication, the onus of importance is far more shifted to the speaker, because based on tone and facial expression - combined with societal norms - the listener has a much easier time seeing what you find important and a much harder time being able to only latch on to the irrelevant tidbits.

> where I put big disclaimers in my questions to steer users away from those useless (to me) responses.

I have found myself doing a very similar thing - essentially trying to convey the information that gets lost of text to insure the reader can understand what I want to convey is important.

I think a better approach is to answer the question as best as possible and provide constructive guidance for a better approach if they are headed down a fruitless path. Those are the best answers when I'm querying SO for solutions to my own problems.

A disclaimer is the right way to go. The more guidance you can put into the question, the better off everyone is.

Do you downvote answers that are not direct answers to the question?

You're already going against what Stack Overflow is by creating toy problems.

Stack overflow is for asking real questions and solving real problems.

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