Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
StackOverflow modding itself out of existence (movingfulcrum.com)
180 points by pdeva1 on July 11, 2015 | hide | past | favorite | 134 comments

Outside of "how do I do X in JQuery again?", most times google directs me to StackOverflow it is to a question that got closed for some reason or other. I just can assume there are people for which it works better that way, but for me StackOverflow is useless in most cases where I'd hope it could help me. (EDIT: to add, the case mentioned by jrcii of "question is closed, but has a useful answer" also happens)

On the contrary, as a C# developer I find tons of useful information there especially in advanced issues. And the discussion is also useful because they present solutions from different angles. Perhaps SO is better suited for those on the Desktop frontier rather than mobile or web development.

Weird. In the past two years or so, I've answered almost every one of my own answers after an additional day or two of work. Generally, when I think I've exhausted all leads on solving a problem I'll distill everything down into the smallest reproducible setup, do a detailed write-up, and list all what I've done. At best I might get a token up-vote from someone who pities me, but I never get any real attention. There are easier picking out there, after all.

I used to be pretty active on SO and Programmers.SE as a young buck, and back when SO was still pretty new and shiny. Nowadays it just feels like a race to the bottom as someone trying to answer a question. The winning strategy is to post a shitty, incomplete answer and get the upvotes and while that is happening, update to a better, clearer answer, oftentimes poaching content from the guy or gal who took the time to do a detailed, "good" answer. I get the notion of consolidating the answers into that one perfect answer, but working on a good answer and having it poached by the highest voted answer will leave a bad taste in most folks' mouths.

In the case of Programmers.SE, there was a shift in the site topic and, in my opinion, some rather overzealous moderators along with the handful of folks who just seem to sit on the site and close-vote any and everything that does not perfectly align. Always be wary of those that seek power over their fellow man...

StackOverflow and the surrounding sites are a good force overall, don't get me wrong, but as someone who tried to be active and use the site, it leaves a lot to be desired. I'm not interested in answering "How do I do X in jQuery" and I'm not interested in having someone plagiarize me.

SO should be modified to provide both a correct answer and a low latency answer, they aren't necessarily the same thing, nor should award points in a winner-take-all manner. The person who puts in a day should get rewarded, the person who edits for grammar and clarity should get rewarded. In effect, it is a group of people solving a problem where only one gets a payout. That is what is broken.

The easy, popular questions have been answered. You're left formulating and answering long-tail questions. These understandably get less traffic and so less upvotes. People don't go around browsing SO and upvoting high quality answers. They solve their own problems and upvote/edit/comment along the way. And that's fine.

This leaves me wondering how you might a site like SO that incentivizes participation and quality answers, but disincentivizes poaching and incomplete first answers.

Could you build an incentive strategy and reputation system around collaborative answers?

One option is to either not show scores for some time after answers are posted (at least to other viewers - maybe the asker could still see answer scores?), and/or to randomize the order in which answers are shown for some period of time. That would at least make it less likely that people read just the first answer, up-vote it, and move on. Each person would see a different "first" answer, at least for some time period. Maybe after an hour or 24 hours, then they become ranked by votes? Just a thought - I haven't actually tried it.

What if incomplete first answers could be "merged" with better, more complete, answers, with the better answer getting the karma from the incomplete one?

> The winning strategy is

That's true, if you care about the points, badges, etc.

Well, it's gamified for a reason. Sure, I'll hang out on IRC and help folks, respond to questions on YouTube video tutorials I've posted, etc. I'm certainly altruistic to a point, but throw a number in front of me and it becomes a competition. Combine that with the fact that folks get to "win" against me by posting a shit answer and stealing my work, and I'm just not gonna play that kind of game. I'm not gonna learn anything posting intro to Java answers, now am I?

> That's true, if you care about the points, badges, etc.

Jeff Atwood has discussed this subject fairly extensively, and it does matter to a lot of people, which helps make SO more successful than it would otherwise be.

I think that there is misconception that more reputation = more money = job which drives this point whoring.

While I don't argue the demonstrated knowledge and skills, having talked to job recruiters, SO is actually very far down their list to my surprise.

The moderators feel any question that can have discussion should be closed. They just want one right answer, anything with multiple is bad by their definitions.

So if you are getting discussion, you are actually just experiencing the common case of getting your needs addressed before the terrible moderation kicks in and closes good content.

This is also incorrect. There can be multiple answers, there just should not be dozens, or hundreds. The dozen case is where you start to see that the question isn't a question, but a discussion.

But sometimes that is also exactly what a programmer looking for information needs.

It happens quite often that I look up something that I already have (or could write) correct working code for. It's when I notice that there's more than one way to write that code, and I want to do it the "right" way the first time, so the decision doesn't come back later and bite me, when I go out looking for what is considered "best practices" in such a situation.

Usually there's more than a few "correct" answers to what is considered the best practice, and the choice depends on the context of your problem. That is when the discussion is invaluable, without it I cannot determine which of the choices apply to my problem.

But of course it's your fair right to say "well okay, but SO is not intended for that".

The moderators feel any question that can have discussion should be closed. They just want one right answer, anything with multiple is bad by their definitions.

That's not very smart. Sometimes, even a technical problem's context can be complicated enough to merit several different "good" answers, depending on other factors.

Maybe someone should formulate a law -- over time, any site's moderation starts to suck. There are factors involved with this, such as depletion of low-hanging fruit, popularity drawing more attention from spammers, and increasing workload of moderators.

That's surprising and disappointing - a lot of my value derived from these postings is from the discussions and the alternate answers / differing viewpoints.

Also confusing from the point of view of the site operators - aren't they missing a lot of site interaction and pageviews and additional free content, etc. ?

It's especially frustrating with questions about browser quirks or incompatibility, as these change from year to year. More than a few times I've searched Google for some obscure JavaScript thing and gotten a stale Stack Overflow answer with completely misleading info.

Perhaps for C# that is the case, but there are a lot of good questions for other desktop languages that are being deleted or removed because they're 'duplicate questions', even though the so-called 'duplicates' were asking completely different things.

It's pretty decent for Python.

I hate to be contrarian, but I have not experienced much of the negatives people are complaining about here. StackOverflow has been a fantastic resource in my programming career.

SO started out with a big C# community because the people that built it were C# developers. And perhaps the C# community didn't really have a very good place to go to before.

I think MS also paid people to actively answer questions there to increase C# penetration beyond internal corporate jobs. Great marketing strategy.

I hear this regularly, and I'm really curious what kinds of things you're searching. I practically never experience this.

Yes, it seems like there is a big split in what people expect AND get from SO. I'll try to remember next time I come across such a case to save the link to have examples ready when it comes up again, but I guess I just search more for non-specific questions? Or maybe remember them more, because they take more time and result in more material read than specific ones with one right solution that I quickly find and move on?

This makes me wonder if it's just a disconnect in the product that SO is providing - SO is consistently a very useful, high-quality product for me (and I say that as someone who is certainly not googling basic JQuery questions), but I hear this critique often enough that I wonder if there is some major market segment that SO is just completely failing to serve.

I don't think that SO is a bad tool, but it may well be a bad tool for a certain subset of programmers seeking help. I would be interested in figuring out who that segment is and what they want!

I think they've made pretty clear that they want to be a place for "simple" fact-based Q&A things and not a discussion forum, not a community (in the sense that people know each other and interact on a personal bases) and that is the product they offer, and it is great.

The issue I see is that they have been so successful that now they are THE place where you'll find someone capable of helping you.

And then you have a question where you are sure that you could get great input from the expertise assembled on SO, but you aren't supposed to use it because the question has the wrong format. And there is no other (obvious) place to get the answer, because SO has all the mindshare, because they cover most questions.

A site that only caters to "questions not applicable to SO" would have a very weird scope, and a general site has to compete with SO for the SO-type questions, which is hard to do because SO does those very well.

FWIW, I can highly recommend project mailing lists and IRC channels as a great way to tap into discussion-based knowledge and expertise for various things. I find I generally tend to do most of my free-form discussion in those contexts, and augment with SO serving as an index of quick solutions to common problems.

I usually get closed questions but the answers are often useful.

I don't see why "closed" as such is problem. I could interpret it as "someone asked this question and it's been answer, we're moving on".

Sometimes I find an answer on a random web forum - if the forum still permits answers, there will 20 or 100 pages to look through and the usually the only good things will be right after the question.

The web at scale is just messy and cruel.

Open questions can get updated if there is new information (years later: "BTW, since version 7.3 this workaround isn't necessary anymore/this has been renamed to/...")

Closed as "out of scope"/"duplicate" isn't saying "this is finished, moving on", but "don't ask this kind of thing, go somewhere else, even if you probably would get a good answer to your related question here".

Incorrect. Closed questions (and answers) can be edited even by anonymous users.

Voting is also possible on closed questions and answers.

Interesting, wouldn't even have tried that, motivational aspects ("This obviously isn't wanted, why invest in it?") aside.

If the reason for closing the question is that it's already been answered then why not simply redirect to the answer? What is the point of having a dead-end?

When Google lands me there, about 80-90% of the time a SO post contains the answer I was looking for, it has tons of votes, yet is closed as being off-topic or too broad. Useful yet puzzling.

There is a tendency among the new mods to retroactively close questions which were asked and answered years ago. Honestly, I don't get it.

Here is a question of mine for example (http://stackoverflow.com/questions/4701538/javascript-based-...).

Leaving aside the question if the question is indeed off-topic, I don't know why anyone will come 4 years later and question intelligence of person asking the question and person answering it. Are these mods suddenly wiser than participants 4 years ago or here to stroke their ago?

When they decided to sprout the "sub-stack-overflows" they decided that each sub would have a topic. There is a sub for interetation of Jewish religious law, and you wouldn't post a programming question there. But if you mostly READ stackoverflow questions (on the subject of coding) and you have a question about using PGP commandline options, you're not supposed to post it on stackoverflow just because it's the one you read most. That would be a superuser question (probably).

Except these stupidly small pockets of further subculture division generate less and less useful answers.

Especially if you get shunted around different sites.

A question about a *nix software on an Apple device? That could be superuser, or unix, or askdifferent, or maybe the ubuntu one whatever that's called.

There is apparently a deep queue between the action of recommending that a question be closed, and when thwt recommendation is acted on. I have a question which admittedly, I put in the wrong section of the site. When I comolained about an anonymous, unexplained downvote, a helpful passerby left a comment that included useful advise, meta advice about where to post if I needed further help, and the observation that questions don't close as quickly as they should because the queue is too long.

This is one of my pet peeves as well; an awful lot of questions should be closed, but with a few exceptions it really doesn't do much good to close them years after the fact - that should be reserved for questions that time has proven are actually causing harm (attracting spam / misinformation / flame-wars) not everything that someone once thought was problematic but has been doing fine for many months anyway.

Over the past year or so, we've altered the mechanics of close voting to encourage fast closure and discourage gradual accumulation of votes. If you're interested in the details, see: http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/250223/age-close-vot...

I think the idea is that new users will find the question and think that the type of question is still welcome on StackOverflow.

There used to be a question about popular programming blogs. To me it looked like a good and popular question, so I asked a similar one - which was then closed, because by then the consensus among the mods had moved on to discourage that kind of question.

> I think the idea is that new users will find the question and think that the type of question is still welcome on StackOverflow.

Which brings us back to the original question: why isn't it welcome. Yes, I understand the very real requirement for SO to drift towards a forum, but I think they've drawn the line very far from the optimal place. Furthermore, the insane success of SO has largely killed off specialized forums where that type of very valuable conversation formerly took place. I wish SO would introduce a discussion forum site or "layer" (integrated into SO itself in some way).

Jeff's motivation for SO was something along the lines of making the internet a better place - in my opinion, many of the current mod's actions are contrary to that initiative. SO is still a massive net benefit, but it could be better with a little common sense.

"Update 2: Thanks to the Hacker News community, the post has now been reopened!"

One would hope it would prompt some discussion and soul searching, but I expect not.

As a mere reader and non-user of SO, does it matter if the question was closed? The answer's still there, googlable, and it still gets updated regularly, no?

SO incentivises some stuff. You ask a question and you get points if other people upvote your question. You answer a question and you get points if someone upvotes your answer.

You can't vote on closed questions or answers to closed questions.

A question can't just be closed. There needs to be a reason to close it. "This question is a duplicate of this other question" is frequently used. Often the questions are similar but different enough to need a new question. You can't ask a broad question to capture all the variation - that'll get closed as too broad. You can't focus in on your exact problem -that'll get closed as too narrow. The gap in the middle is full of dupes. It's pretty demoralising to have people picking over your question and closing it for (seemingly bogus) reasons or asking for pointless clarification.

Incorrect, you can vote on closed questions. You just can't add new answers.

Ah, sorry. Thanks for the clarification.

I understand that SO is about building a knowledgebase but isn't it clear that a lot of people view SO as more of a Q&A + forum? When you close a question, it feels like censorship, which is frustrating because continued discussion and up to date answers are almost always expected.

Anyhow, SO isn't the same site it was 5 years ago. It's actually pretty darn toxic for new userbase and seems to cater to the mods themselves.

> continued discussion and up to date answers are almost always expected

That's another frustrating gap in SO: the absolute ignorance of the notion of time and change. Both questions and answers often have a significant timeliness attribute (ex: what are the best online resources for learning <x> as of Jan 2015), and SO has no support for this. To be fair it's a hard problem, but I'm not even aware if it has even been discussed.

I'd like to think that the platform is now mature and tuned enough that they could start to introduce some major new functionality rather than just keeping the lights on.

Yeah. Ha, maybe the toxic culture is a sort of game-theory equilibrium that keeps out new mods.

It suggests that this is not the ideal sort of question for the site, and that any future attempts at similar questions may be met with greater resistance.

Additionally, if the relevant information ever changes, no new answers can be submitted.

I posted an answer to a question that had an accepted answer, and it gets upvotes once in a while. The accepted answer was correct at the time. My search for the answer later turned up the SO question and answer plus the new correct answer from the cmake site. So I posted my new information as a new answer.

I think if a question is closed, that would mean no corrections or updates would be possible.

If SO really feels these questions are unworthy, they should add a noindex tag to the result and give up the Google juice.

Something tells me that's never going to happen, though.

There is a lot of linking to other SO answers, so if someone asks a question about new information, you can still refer to closed questions and expound on them.

I'm not sure if that's the best way to do it, but it's an option.

In programming (and many other fields) things change quickly, something that was a good idea 3-4 years ago may now be a really bad advice. Closed questions can't be updated with the improved answers, so IMHO they simply can't be trusted anymore

IMO, one thing that'd help would be requiring more close/delete votes for questions with lots of upvotes (and lots of heavily upvoted answers) like this one had.

That said, the question - "Of course the Unsafe class is undocumented, but how can I use it in a real world scenario" - is pretty much the definition of "too broad".

That said, I voted to undelete and reopen, which appears to have succeeded.

The trouble is, the question is completely backwards. "I have this solution, what problems can I solve with it?" is not something a human being generally asks.

For every answer to this question, SO would be better served with a question asking "How does [Java internal or widely used library class] accomplish [thing that seems impossible in Java]" for which the answer is "It uses sun.misc.Unsafe in [this way]".

Yes, the information on this page is useful, but it's not stack overflowish.

Still, seems crazy to close it if more sensible versions of the question don't exist.

> "I have this solution, what problems can I solve with it?" is not something a human being generally asks.

Either you're being sarcastic, or you have no familiarity with the history of science.

The rest of your answer shows another aspect of what's wrong with Stack Overflow: zealous mods who get an idea of the perfect question into their heads, and then who go out to purge anything that doesn't conform, regardless of whether others find it (and its response) useful or interesting.

We're not talking about scientific discovery, we're talking about programmers typing questions into google. If you start from 'I want to use sun.misc.Unsafe but I don't know what for - let's see what Google comes up with' you are clearly up to no good.

This question is useful as a place for blogposts to link to, not as a primary answer to a question you might Google. So it's 'wrong' for stackoverflow in that sense. But no, I'm not agreeing that mods should have closed it, and I didn't say it should have been purged from SO. Luckily, it hasn't been, so we can stop worrying.

> If you start from 'I want to use sun.misc.Unsafe but I don't know what for - let's see what Google comes up with' you are clearly up to no good.

I completely disagree. If you are a new programmer who knows nothing about a certain topic/keyword/etc, googling "what would I use <x> for" is not only not being "up to no good", it's just plain common sense and curiosity. How else might one learn about entirely new things?

I highly doubt anyone starts with "oh hay, I want to use sun.misc.Unsafe". More like "hmm, I think I need to use sun.misc.Unsafe, but I'm not sure if that's the right call. Since this is an uncommon API, it's going to take a bunch of research, which will be a waste of time if I don't need to use it. Let me look up the common applications and see if they pattern-match with the stuff I'm trying to do."

I really actually love finding questions like that on SO. Sometimes the only way you learn how to do something better is through spontaneous example, because it's just not intuitive or inline with the current flow of things.

Maybe they would be better categorized into some group that is more appropriate, but then you lose the possibility of someone within that knowledge domain being able to answer the question appropriately.

Those questions run right alongside reading documentation for fun.

I suppose an overhaul to the infrastructure of question answering could help solve this problem - like questions have a maturity cycle / process in which they are developed into a more refined / edited sorts of comprehensive documentation, or even a better 'smarter' way of linking clusters of question together, or a way of moderating the authoritative direction of a question (rather than delete or replace, show a progression of modifications so people can learn what are model questions and what are less useful kinds).

Getting people to stop asking kinds of questions will never work, because they ask those questions precisely because they have not been trained in any sorts of formal internet etiquette. If you want to prevent the community from collapsing in on itself, I think the best solution is to modify the flow and connectivity of questions, so that they are intelligently inter-related, rather than relying on a sort of competitive singular universal form.

What a horrible reason for deciding a question is bad. If you are simply exploring the java library and see something you don't understand it is perfectly valid to ask why the hell something exists.

Also you give no reasons as to why your preferred way of asking questions is superior other than stating as a fact that "SO would be better served" by it.

"I have this solution, what problems can I solve with it?" is not something a human being generally asks.

That is an extremely good and useful question. It is called the bottom up approach. The fact that it might or might not be asked generally, has nothing to do with what we should do the times it is asked.

Those are by far my favorite and most useful questions on SO.

The question may have been better phrased as "What was the motivation for Unsafe? How is it intended to be used in real code?"

True, except that the 'right' answer to that question is 'it's not intended for use'.

The problem is there is an incredible amount of overlap between "too broad" and "extremely useful to large number of people".

Prioritizing the latter over the former solves a large part of SO's overmodding problems.

I am now coining the nickname 'ModOverflow'. tell your friends!

> useful

reminds me of accurate wikipedia articles closing or being removed because wikipedia was trying to be an encyclopedia, instead of the first source for information on anything and everything you want to know about

> is pretty much the definition of "too broad".

The rules should be bend when it is appropriate. I'd argue that this is one of those cases.

This is the crux of the problem. You have a mod culture of mechanistic law enforcement and an apparent passion for punishing technical rule breaking.

The true rule should be: Is this question useful to people? Will other experts be able to provide useful back?

The rule most in need of context-sensitive, question-specific interpretation is the closing of opinion based questions. The number of useful, highly-upvoted questions closed for this reason is the evidence that something needs to change.

> The true rule should be: Is this question useful to people? Will other experts be able to provide useful back?

Exactly, and it's my understanding that this is very explicitly not the rule - moderators do not care if something is useful, they care only if it "fits the guidelines" - actually guidelines is not the right word, laws would be more accurate.

I agree with both this post and its parent.

I would disagree with it being called 'laws', because in the general sense laws can be disobeyed on occasion, and regularily are (extremely minor traffic laws, such as using the horn while stopped, anti-tailgating laws, etc. are routinely broken here in the UK -- I don't condone it, but it does happen quite a lot). In some cases police have the discretion to ignore offences of some extremely minor laws in favour of using that time instead to catch proper criminals. Hence to me at least, that does not convey the right mannerisms.

Perhaps 'sacrosanct law' would be a better alternative? :D

Questions with many upvotes do require more deletion votes. E.g. this question needed 10 votes, rather than the usual 3.

It's not hard to find 10 zealots on SO. 100 would be better or set an exponential threshold related to the upvotes and views.

I like the 'exponential threshold' idea ... if for nothing more than the new sport it would create. Geeks would have to convince a LOT of people in order to close certain questions.

It might even introduce new terminology: "The chances that this question will stay open forever are approaching infinity..."

Totally agree. Recently I asked a specific question on ServerFault, mentioning only that I run a SaaS monitoring service to give context. My question was closed, and I was accused spam. My question didn't include a link nor even the name of the business. I was offended but mostly just disappointed I couldn't find the help I needed.

ServerFault is super aggressive against any additions and "admin panels".

My detailed question was closed because I mentioned Webmin installed.

After seeing a couple of posts like this, I'd like to provide an alternative perspective:

I no longer actively answer questions on StackOverflow, because it is too hard to find worthwhile questions between all the noise. If someone specifically asks me to answer something, I will do it, but trying to find interesting questions on StackOverflow has become impossible due to the high influx of very low quality material.

There was a period where I'd try to help moderation by closing an deleting questions, but at some point you just realize it's a loosing battle and give up.

Same here. I used to answer a lot of android stuff when android was new and eventually it got too big and a lot of lazy questions got pretty much spammed. I loved helping people (I think out of ~400 posts two were my own questions) but eventually you get tired of "my toast isnt showing" or any other question like that. I gave people the benefit of the doubt as much as possible, but in some instances I could copy the question title, paste it as-is into google and the first hit was the answer.

Eventually I just deleted my account and left since my motivation to answer stuff over there was a bit more than "I'd like to help people". I also liked to find questions I can't answer and figure out how to solve them on my own. Those became buried under lazy questions to a point where I had to dig for hours to find one. Maybe android was/is a bit of an extreme case, but still I see the same pattern more or less when I occasionally browse SO after finding an answer to my own problems over there.

As for the OP, I think a lot of people don't get the SO format. Yes, that post contains a lot of very useful information. That's great, but: No it's still not a good fit for SO, SO is for specific questions with a clear answer and that post isn't that. It's overly broad in scope and has no right answer. One can argue about whether deleting really helps anybody (don't think so personally), but closing it seems appropriate considering how the site is supposed to work.

What is SO "noise" for you? E.g. would the question debated here be "noise", and why? (To me, it appears to be clear what information the person asking wants, and it isn't already answered elsewhere)

I don't think many people are arguing against moderation of questions in general.

I wouldn't consider that particular question to be noise, even though it does not really fit the SO format. By "noise" I'm mainly referring to exceedingly simple questions, which could have been solved by even minimal research or debugging. Questions that have already been asked many, many times and only vary in your precise code.

My point here is that, in my experience, the main problem of StackOverflow is too little or ineffective moderation, rather than the other way around.

Thanks for clarifying.

The link to his question seems now thoroughly deleted as opposed to just hidden from all but direct links.


Also reading that question (thanks for the archive link!) that looks like the kind of question I would like to see more of actually. Sure it's somewhat subjective since it'll be experientially dependent but it certainly moves the ball forward in terms of helping someone understand a technology, language or language feature.

When a question is deleted on StackOverflow, it's hidden entirely - direct link or not - except to users with at least 10k in "reputation", and I think to the question asker.

I suspect the link was provided mostly for the users that can still see it. There is an "undelete" link[1] for users with that privilege level, but it takes ten votes to restore the question, with no guarantee that it won't be blown away again right after its restoration.

[1] http://i.imgur.com/3utyRM9.png

StackOverflow took on a tough challenge in getting its members to self-curate the body of questions on the site. They were smart to recognize that "more isn't always better", and thus gave moderators an incentive to identify and close off-topic questions.

There's nothing wrong with that idea, they just have a bug in the implementation. Somehow they've incentivized the closing of good questions that are frequently on-topic.

Here's an example of a plainly on-topic-yet-closed question that annoyed me recently: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/2847655/find-threads-runn...

It does happen, but you picked a bad example. Read the close reason: " Questions about general computing hardware and software are off-topic for Stack Overflow unless they directly involve tools used primarily for programming. "

StackOverflow is for programming questions. That question, as it was formulated, is not about programming. It belongs on either Unix&Linux or Super User instead.

As I read this, I was thinking, "man, it would be great if StackOverflow could serve as sort of a wiki platform so information like this has a place to live even though it doesn't meet SO's 'question and answer' criteria."

Of course, it does [1] (as an aside, read the comments on the answer there, most of them are people bitching that they can't earn rep on community wiki posts). The first link in the answer there points to an old blog post about "The Future Of Community Wiki" [2], which I highly recommend to anyone interested in this controversy as food for thought.

I see a lot of parallels between this problem and the problem that Reddit is having right now. It all stems from the question of how much these sites should be considered "communities." To what extent is StackOverflow really a "place"? Do fun, off-topic or poorly-formatted questions really ruin the reputation and mission of StackOverflow if they are but a subset of pages that happen to be hosted side-by-side with other pages that include content that can be found with a search and that many people will find invaluable?

[1] http://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/11740/what-are-commu...

[2] https://blog.stackexchange.com/2011/08/the-future-of-communi...

There used to be a programmers.stackexchange.com stack overflow site where the more general questions and discussions could go, but the moderation on that has been just as misguided lately, so I think the owners forgot the purpose of it.

This question is basically the textbook example of "too broad" – is it any surprise that it was deleted?

Perhaps you can take issue with the fact that StackOverflow doesn't allow overly broad questions, but personally I find it helpful. When I find something on StackOverflow (or more commonly Cross Validated), it's almost always someone solving or pointing to a way to solve a problem very similar to what I encountered. Allowing extremely broad questions would diminish the likelihood that these results can be easily accessed.

archive.org link since the question appears to have been deleted (?):


I'm on my second account on SO. A few years back I was fed up with the "SO police" and asked Jeff Atwood to close the account for me. I've been back for almost 2 years now but I'm not an active member by any means.

Having said that, SO has been nothing short of amazing when you look at the vast amounts of information it provides. However, I never really had a good experience receiving responses on anything I've ever asked. I'd typically get a comment or two but answers are rare.

undeleted because of OP article and it received 10 votes to undelete http://stackoverflow.com/questions/5574241/using-sun-misc-un...

Funny that https://docs.google.com/document/d/1GDm_cAxYInmoHMor-AkStzWv... is top post too.

Stack Overflow incentivizes bad behavior by its users. For instance, I've had questions marked as duplicates with links to entirely other questions... but the person who had the right answer for that other question, along with others on the point gravy train for it were the ones who voted to close my question.

Appealing after adding additional info showing how the questions were different didn't improve anything as the "reviewers" got points by "Reviwing" the appeal-- and denying it, of course.

That was the last time I used Stack Overflow.

You cannot have a community generated content site with community moderation where bad behavior is incentivized and rewarded. (Something that was a serious problem on HN in the past.)

Finding questions via google marked as a duplicate, which aren't a duplicate, but subtly different is really common - and really annoying.

> (Something that was a serious problem on HN in the past.)

Explain for a newer HN user?

> You cannot have a community generated content site with community moderation where bad behavior is incentivized and rewarded.

Jeff Atwood used to think very deeply about this type of thing, the nuances of human behavior. It seems to me he no longer has the time or interest, and no one has replaced him in that crucially important role.

I mean, I have some sympathy, but that wasn't a question, it didn't have a definitive answer, so it clearly was in violation.

Put the information up in a blog post, or anywhere else. It doesn't have to live on SO to be useful to everyone. SO is really terrified of turning into a reddit or a forum full of "What's the top ten coolest ...?" type questions.

My experience w/ SO has been mixed. Some of the moderators act like quality police and shut down genuine, but potentially basic questions. Yes, amazingly some of the answers are so deep! So mixed opinion for me.

I find myself from time to time having questions that I know would be immediately closed at SO by hyperactive mods, though probably many users, potential googlers etc. would like to find the answer to the same question.

What is a good place to pose such questions? I don't believe Ask HN is one, since time-on-frontpage is very short, and if thread does not get upvotes quickly, it goes into oblivion, and also, while too broad for SO, they're probably too specific for HN :)

Any recommendations?

Maybe there's a business case for a portal "TooBroadForStack.com" or sth like that ;)

If you aren't already in the SO club, and aren't willing to commit a lot of your time carefully getting there, then just treat the place as read-only.

Here are some other places. Each has their own problems. I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to determine if they are better.

reddit, /g/, IRC, lobste.rs

make a blog and write about each one. bonus: webtraffic bonus2: resume item bonus3: StackOverflow aka ModOverflow commentary

That is one of the main reasons to own your own data and not to trust some company with it. Just post it on your own blog and link to it instead.

> Just post it on your own blog and link to it instead.

Doesn't this ignore the power of having a common place to go for questions and answers, back and forth, etc.? I visit a couple of sites almost every day, and (I hope) help as well as be one of the people helped. But I'm not googling extensively for newly-posted things every day.

If you have a solution, this is the best way to do it. You won't get the reputation points for it but when somebody is Googling for that problem, they will be happy you stuck it on your blog. That is the goal, isn't it? To help people?

The frustrating thing about this is SO has the potential to be much more valuable than a blog post. An SO answer will get a lot more eyeballs than a personal blog, and has built-in and well-understood capabilities for community collaboration and updates.

Say you find a bug with Product X v1, create a workaround, and post it to your blog. In V2, the problem has been fixed, or exists in a slightly different incarnation with a slightly different workaround that someone figures out only after reading your content. Maybe they'll leave a comment on your blog about it, but you don't really have any incentive to update it. If your post was an SO question, they could post another answer or make an edit, and the page becomes the canonical source for information about the bug.

I agree with you in theory, but it's also important to understand the SO perspective on this issue. It seems like they believe allowing the community to "drift" by not modding things defined originally as off-topic will be harmful to the community in the long haul.

How many times has HN discussed the digg/reddit/HN decline in quality as the population grows?

In their minds (and I have to give them the benefit of the doubt given their awesome accomplishment!), keeping strictly on topic is one way to prevent the point of the site from drifting.

It may be that the SO people "want" is a better one. But that's the decision that Atwood & co. have made. To wish for a SO that allowed off topic responses is to ask for a different product.

Fortunately, it's still possible for the OP to do this and include all of the answers he got on Stack Overflow because the content is released under a Creative Commons license. There are many other sites where that would not be the case.

Seems like it would be much better to move the content to a blog post then. The thing with sites like StackOverflow, Facebook, and Youtube is they can change and you have little to no control over it. If you write a blog post on it and then maybe just briefly answer the question on StackOverflow with a link to your blog then you get to control the content.

Link-only answers are discouraged on StackOverflow - the mods will ask you to copy the relevant information into the answer so that it can be useful even without following the external link. The justification about "the sites change" goes both ways.

That is why I said write a brief answer to the question and then put the full detail in the blog post. After 6 months you will be up at the top for searches of that keyword and StackOverflow can do what they want.

> This question does not appear to be about programming within the scope defined in the help center.

After reading through the help center info linked, it seems like this question would fit all the requirements in its current form. It's hard to look at past versions since the page doesn't exist on SO anymore, but how was the question originally stated?

the only difference between the current version and the original was that the original had the title "Interesting uses of sun.misc.Unsafe"

I'd agree that the original question is not very SO-like IMO, but phrasing aside, the content is still valuable. Still don't think deleting was the correct option.

Mods were never involved with this question; it was closed by regular users (https://stackoverflow.com/posts/5574241/revisions). It was also never locked – locking is significantly different from closure.

I wish that StackOverflow rewarded unanswered questions. Most of my questions are open-ended without satisfactory answers because they hint at oversights or weaknesses in methodologies. I've had people comment that they refuse to answer my new questions because my answer selection rate is so low.

Maybe you should answer your own question and accept it if you arrive at a conclusion at a later point in time.

I wonder if there's an archive available. You know, for the many deleted but useful questions and answers.

http://www.stackprinter.com/deleted has an archive of many high-scoring deleted questions from Stack Exchange. (You need to click the printer icon on the left to see their copy.)

http://meta.stackexchange.com/a/224922 has previous Stack Exchange data dumps, which include many of the deleted questions. With sufficient effort somebody could use to construct a partial archive. (Provided that they follow the requirements of the Creative Commons license: http://s.tk/attribution.)

Nice. Thanks so much for posting this!

I wonder if the people from archive.org are interested in long term archival of these data dumps.

At the very least, overall it's.. inconvenient for our tech community to regard information as volatile so often. Especially Q&A. Take threads on forums for example, that get closed simply because they are old. What's the word again? Necroposting?

Sometimes I find an old solution to something I'm currently struggling with. And that goes to show that age says nothing about quality. So it's a real downer to me when I see people complain to someone who responded to a three year old topic when at the same time it's clearly still relevant to someone.

When someone has a problem, searches for a solution, finds that same question asked 4 years ago on a forum and unanswered, later finds a solution, and decides to share that solution by reviving the 4 year old forum post, they get nothing but thumbs up from me.

Information simply does not expire. Wish people (moderators in particular) would stop acting like it does. In most cases, if someone replies on topic, it is clearly still relevant.

Sorry for the digression, it's just a pet peeve.

It's very difficult to maintain a site like SO after it has become successful. HN has the same problem. Basically you need to keep out troublemakers and boring repeaters and but at the same time you want to preserve broad and lively discussions.

Isn't this SO modding a great startup opportunity? Or did someone already do that?

Update 2: Thanks to the Hacker News community, the post has now been reopened!

Anecdote is not data. StackOverflow is pretty well designed in regard to the sort of problem the author of the linked article encountered.

I have a question on SO with nearly 80000 views and it has been closed and reopened at least six times. Occasionally I check if it is still there.

I'm still convinced that the answers are interesting and useful. At the moment it's locked because of "historical significance" which makes me little proud even.

[1] http://stackoverflow.com/questions/961942/what-is-the-worst-...

By definition, this question is off-topic. That said, there are exceptional cases where SO community appreciates the valuable information provided by the answers and marks a question as protected. For example: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/1711/what-is-the-single-m...

This is one of these rare cases. I'm glad that this question was re-opened and got protected - I think that was the right thing to do.

All that said, I'm sick and tired of all the winning I hear about SO lately, so many complaints, yet, everyone keeps using it.

I do not encourage a vicious behavior as sometimes seen in SO but I also don't like to watch people post again and again the same questions that have been answered multiple times and could be found in a simple google search (and which probably show on the right bar when they compose the question).

I'm also tired of people complaining about closing questions - dudes, if you don't want your question to get closed pretty please put some effort in it! do your research, post what you're tried, compose a minimal working example that reproduces the error, post a FULL stacktrace and show which line triggered it. But no, people don't like to "work hard" so they put all the burden on the people that are here to help them. This is NOT cool. So yes, fuck yes - I will keep voting to close poor questions, and even (potentially) good questions that the author didn't bother to give a fuck about making it clear, readable & reproducable (but please do not dump all your code and expect me to read it if only one small method is relevant) and no - this is almost always NOT a language/culture issue - regardless of what some people say.

Bottom line: they say "in rome act like romans" - well when you join a community you should follow the community rules. Take a few minutes to go through the help center, see if what you're asking is on-topic. Learn how to post a new (good) question. Hell, even ask someone you know to read what you've written and give you the feedback if it's clear and if it makes sense. You want help? so put the time and effort so that we won't waste our time & effort when we try to help you!

Have a nice weekend!

P.S. Those who know me, know that I like to help people regardless of what I just wrote (example): http://stackoverflow.com/questions/31358932/is-there-a-payme...

but I really am tired of hearing all the criticism. It bothers me especially when I recognize that it comes from intelligent people that I'm not sure if they're just "playing dumb" or being a "smartass".


Help us help you!

Your comment is so ironic that this long time lurker needed to create an account and reply.

I'm not sure if your typos are "dumb" or ignoring "autocorrect". See how we can both be pompous dicks?

The worst part about SO is pretending like you are trying to help people learn, when, as other commenters have called out, the answers are spread across multiple replies. If a person asks how to do X, and your answer fails to do that, you are part of the problem.

> See how we can both be pompous dicks?

Please don't do this in HN comments. It's true that upping the ante is common on internet forums, but as you probably know from lurking here, we try not to be that way.


I think that there is an opportunity for a different exchange like when SO started, without so many mods. I used to post on SO because it was new, exciting and there were lots of answers and comments, and most of all: activity.

Why not have a 'request move' flag on SO posts? Keeping a discussion alive and having it moved to the right place seems more useful and friendly than just shutting it down.

People with enough reputation can do exactly that.

There's nothing wrong with StackOverflow's modding system, just post a blog complaining and get it to +100 on HN and it will be undeleted.

The community of moderators are extremely toxic, heading over to SO's chatrooms gives you a glimpse at the type of people responsible for moderating the content. Hazing new comers when they just have a need to fulfill their curiosity is shut down.

All in all, I've moved onto just reading the documentation and figuring things out occassionaly asking a very narrow question on SO.

If anyone is thinking of disrupting SO's space now is a perfect time. Ironic that people are now searching for stackoverflow alternatives.

> disrupting

the largest barrier to this is user training-- informing and getting people to move over. I originally conceived of this barrier 5 minutes ago when reading about HappyFinder or some other fuzzy finding tool that made it to FP-- why do we have to have a complex name that redefines a word to fit the solution space? The most efficient would be 'AHelmAlternative'. Similarly the competition to 'StackOverflow' would be 'StackOverflowAlternative1'

sounds horrible, but uses encoding to efficiently replace extensive time/marketing to gain mindshare. Oh, Alternative1 didn't work, we don't like it so we're going to start our own, it'll be called Alternative2. 'Hey, we made it, we're going to rename in 6 months. You can start using the new domain name now.'

Guidelines | FAQ | Lists | API | Security | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact