What a very bad day at work taught me about building Stack Overflow’s community
Hi, my name is Sara Chipps, first time Stack blogger, long time Stacker (I’ve always wanted to say that!). I’m the new Director of Public Q&A at Stack Overflow. I’ve been at Stack for a year now, and I’d like to share with you one of my worst days at work, and what it taught me about the Stack Overflow community.
A little about me: I’m Stack Overflow user #4140. I was in the beta and one of the first people to ask a question on the platform. Stack Overflow has been a big part of what I do for a long time. I’ve been an active member of Q&A, a participant on Area 51, and a lurker on Worldbuilding, Cooking, and Code Golf. I’ve looked for new opportunities on our Jobs board and placed job ads when hiring great talent at companies I helped run, like Jewelbots or GDI.
I care a lot about representation in technology, and a future where people from underrepresented groups in technology are hired and succeed at the same rates as their peers. Being a part of the team helping to guide the direction and growth of community is an incredible honor.
We’ve been working on exciting things the past few months to make the site more welcome, diverse, and inclusive. To kick off these changes, we started with the tools that our moderators and power users rely on to make Stack Overflow the best site for developers online. The thing I’ve seen our Community Managers push for the most is updating these dated tools, some of which haven’t been touched since we first launched! The team formerly known as DAG (Developer Advocacy and Growth), now part of the Community team, started by rolling out the Tag Synonyms Refresh and the improved Moderator Dashboard. Paying down this debt will continue to be a priority as we work to get our mods best-in-class tools to manage their communities.
The second thing we are prioritizing requires a bit of a story. When I joined Stack Overflow almost a year ago, I was blown away by how kind and generous all my coworkers were, and the engineering team is no exception. As engineering manager for the team charged with working on our Talent product, I got to work closely with brilliant people I really respected. It was a treat to be collaborating with lifetime learners and natural teachers, the kind of engineers that you would want on any team.
About three months in, on a Friday afternoon, we introduced a new company-wide policy that I felt was relatively benign. What happened next was that, from my point of view, the engineering team completely lost it. No one agreed with this policy, and they made it known over seemingly hundreds of Slack pings. After an afternoon of going back and forth, I walked away feeling emotionally drained. What had happened to my amazing coworkers that were so kind and wonderful? I felt attacked and diminished. It seemed people weren’t valuing my work or my judgment.
I went home for the weekend and stewed in my frustration. I replayed everything that happened in my head and each time got more frustrated with the way people reacted. When Sunday rolled around, I decided I wanted to look back at our Slack conversations and see which one of my coworkers was being the rudest and the most unreasonable. I wanted to give them direct feedback that they had hurt my feelings.
As I went back through that Friday afternoon chat log, I was shocked to see that no one had been hurling insults. There was no one saying mean things about me or attacking my efficacy directly. In fact, what I found was that people had some well put together arguments about why they felt this policy was a bad idea. The entire engineering department definitely made their criticisms known, but I didn’t find people questioning my ability as a manager, throwing around insults, or saying anything that that illustrated why I was feeling so targeted.
That was when something became crystal clear: my coworkers hadn’t become monsters, they were still the kind and caring people I thought they were. The monster in this case is not one person, it was created when lots of people, even with great intentions, publicly disagreed with you at the same time. Even kind feedback can come off as caustic and mean when there is a mob of people behind it. No matter how nicely they say it, when a large group of people you really respect publicly challenge something you’ve done it can feel like a personal attack.
When I realized this, some of the confusion I had seen about unwelcomeness on Stack Overflow started to make sense. In our developer survey results we read things like this:
- “Caustic community for new users. There is no excuse for not being kind!” – 6 years coding
- “It feels too scary and unaccessible for new developers” – 3 years coding
- “People could be less brutal” – 6 years coding
- “The attitude is not beginner friendly. Askers are expected to have done a lot of research before asking a question (re: both question format and content), even if they are completely new to the community or topic. Not everyone can understand or even know to look for documentation when they’re completely new to programming.” – 12 years coding experience
However, when our more experienced users hear this feedback they ask us to provide them with definitive examples of WHERE EXACTLY people are being unfriendly? There isn’t a lot of name calling or anger, why are they being accused of being unfriendly?
People tell us they are afraid to participate because of how mean their peers can be. The way the system is currently built, when you ask a question that could use some editing or is a duplicate, a bunch of people come out of the woodwork to tell you you’ve done something wrong.
They could say it in the most neutral possible way, but no matter how you approach it, a dozen people pointing out your errors feels terrible. Not only does it feel terrible, but it can also be not beneficial for overall content quality, not to mention an ineffective way to get someone to improve their question. There is also a big yellow box that gives you the names of engineers that voted your question closed or deleted. That in itself can feel really bad especially as our high rep users skew toward more experienced and respected engineers.
On one hand, our more experienced power users tell us they feel called out for being unfriendly even when they are just trying to be helpful; on the other, our newer users and people that don’t participate tell us they think Stack Overflow is scary and they are afraid of judgement. In the past, we’ve prioritized getting rid of unfriendly comments. We’ve seen improvements there, but we still hear people feel targeted even when there aren’t unfriendly comments. This problem is on us and it’s because of how we designed the question asking and closing process. People are using the product as it was designed and as a result people feel called out or, even worse, discouraged from ever asking a question again.
Over the next few quarters, we’re going to be taking a step back and re-evaluating how we deliver feedback to users about their questions. We want to make sure people are getting necessary feedback without feeling called out or publicly embarrassed. We will be working on new paths to improve content quality and reduce friction between people. Our goal is to have the question asking process be painless and beneficial for new users and Stack Overflow veterans alike.
By improving the way people give each other feedback, we can improve question quality without putting the burden on our users to police the website. We will empower our long time users to become mentors and teachers in order to bring the spirit of Stack Overflow back to what it was in the beginning, a place where people come to share and learn. By thinking hard about how we give feedback, we’ll help people learn instead of driving them away. We’ll get more people involved and improve question quality.
Myself and the community team are really excited to improve the experience that all levels of coders have on Stack Overflow, from new users that are learning front-end for the first time to our respected moderators who have been coding for 20+ years. We all have ideas on how to make the system better. The great news is we have experienced researchers, data scientists, and an amazing product manager that will be gathering feedback from us, the community, and many other places and partners to make educated decisions about solutions.
We think the world of our community, and are excited to hear what you think of improvements as we make them. We’ll make sure, as always, to keep you posted.
Your blog post gives me some hope for StackOverflow future. You have identified a central issue with the new user experience…
It is horrible.
I am a new user of StackOverflow, but not new to coding, as I have been coding since 1979. Finding answers to questions on StackOverflow via Google is great, but asking questions is a terrible experience, and answering questions is a terrible experience. Too many members behave as though the same level of EQ as Sheldon of ‘The Big Bang’ fame and do not seem able to interact in a conversational manner.
I answer a lot of questions in FaceBook groups where we seem able to give answers without presenting the feeling that we are ‘up ourselves’. No one likes to feel an idiot for asking questions, I certainly don’t.
It may be that moderators need to interact with the answers to or comments on questions from other users before they are displayed. Essentially, I feel that a customer service ethos should be the norm and that moderators need to display both technical skills and empathy in interactions with users.
I am so much in agreement with you ! the website approach towards the newer and newer questions get more and more horrible, more trolly ,snarky, obsessive and oppresive
Yes it is hard for beginners. But I have to admit that the negative feedback helped me to write better questions. At start I was a bit lazy and did not provided enough details and people were downvoting me, but that’s ok, that’s how I learned to always provide enough details.
I would recommend to add a downvote limit for new people with a score < 100, because 10 downvotes are too many and newbies get scared to ask new questions. Also make it required for downvoters to add a reason for the downvote, so that the asker can learn from it, you should also post the reason anonymous, so that the asker won't start a war with the downvoted by downvoting back…
Other people should also be able to down/upvote the reason and if the downvoters downvote reason has more than X downvotes, then the downvote should be removed.
Good Luck 🙂
That’s definitely a great idea
100% agree with this one. Otherwise it makes downvoters nothing but a snob.
I can 100% echo the above from David Horgan.
I too have been coding since the late 1970s and, for a time, made a half decent living at it – I now teach Computer Science for a living.
These days I use Stack Overflow a read only resource and do not contribute. My reasoning being that:
1) I have had previous answers down voted without reason or with snarky comments
2) I have had previous (non duplicate!) questions marked as such and closed (again with the snarky comments) which is a waste of my time and research before posting a question.
My view is that SO is frequented by rude, up themselves people who rush to be first to hit the ‘marked as duplicate’ button, down vote answers etc etc without them, themselves doing the research needed to see that the question or answer does not merit their action.
The ‘welcome’ faced by newcomers is often such that they never ask a question again – many of my students can confirm that.
Somebody once said ‘there is no such thing as a stupid question, just a stupid answer’. Stack Overflow abounds with latter if you equate rudeness with stupidity.
I agree, I gave up because someone downgraded my questions, even though I’ve spent significant time on research and offered a solution to a global problem. It even hurt me financially since it is linked to my business. I believe downgrading on StackOverflow is one of the black SEO techniques. People ‘optimize’ themself to behave primitive, cheat, included automation. It is more easy to click or automate than write thoughtful comment, write questions and help someone to grow. If you write – you do mistakes, you step on someone interests, you put your life on it, if you downgrade – you do not risk anything. Life is fragile. Hence ranking systems (in fact, many complex systems) based on human interaction gets corrupted soon or later, acquired by robots. This why the Earth getting trashed, btw.
Yes it is hard for beginners. But I have to admit that the negative feedback helped me to write better questions. At start I was a bit lazy and did not provided enough details and people were downvoting me, but that’s ok, that’s how I learned to always provide enough details.
Interestingly, the site is often considered just as horrible for *experienced* users!
You mention observing much better experiences in Facebook groups. That’s expected – a Facebook group is much more like a traditional digital forum and the *norms* in those ‘spaces’ is much different than what is expected, conventional, and *beneficial* (to the site) on Stack Overflow (SO) and Stack Exchange (SE) sites generally.
While SO and other SE sites have the form of a Q&A site, which have existed for years before SO or SE launched, the purpose is very much *not* for anyone to ask, and receive an answer, for *any* question. The purpose is to accumulate a set of questions and answers from users that are *widely* useful, i.e. not exclusively useful to the person asking a specific question. This has been a source of considerable friction and frustration, and not just among new users, for a long long time.
I still think it would be useful for new users if SO and SE itself provided a ‘softer’ version of the site for questions that don’t meet the sometimes-exacting standards of quality that we should all want to see met. (I’ve proposed things like that, and concurred with similar proposals made by others, but I don’t think I can even successfully link you to them because they were overall rejected, reasonably, by other users and the site’s moderators and admins.)
Writing a good, let alone great, question is *hard*. As evidence of this, I submit all of the documented anguish people have had and continue to experience, of which this post is itself a good example.
Someone runs into a problem with a programming project or task. They ask a ‘question’ on SO. A lot of the time – almost always maybe! – someone will try to help the questioner. But almost always the question and its answers are of little or nearly no value to anyone else. That’s often because the questioner is confused about *several* things – the programming language syntax or semantics, software development best practices, or even basic programming concepts. In effect, these questions are really, in terms of the ideal content for SO, many different distinct questions all confusingly presented as a single ‘question’. And, sadly, there’s not a lot of great options for experience users to help, even when they are willing to bend over backwards to do so. I can’t even link you to my most recent attempt at helping someone with a question like this as it was almost certainly deleted! I continue to maintain that the best way to help these people would be to somehow ‘migrate’ their questions from the main site to something more like a forum where people could break their question down into the different distinct components, that can be perceived from the info they’ve provided, and direct them towards the great ‘canonical’ material that should be preserved on the main site.
As-is, it’s basically impossible for experienced users to try to maintain the quality of the questions and answers on the site *and* help new users get help with their problems.
Because this post is just another in a long, long line of similar laments about this sorry state of affairs, we should all expect this basic ‘problem’ to persist indefinitely.
But do keep in mind that not only are new users exposed to what is obviously a stressful and intimidating environment, so are the experience users exposed to an overwhelming firehose of content that should not be allowed to remain on the site as-is given its current purpose and scope.
The obsession about duplicate questions is stupid, it’s all keyword fodder for Google, and will help everyone get to the right answer.
You’re quite wrong. It is essential that we not have several duplicates of the same question, since that means most people will only get some of the relevant answers; and answer-writers, whose time and effort is precious, will waste it on re-answering essentially the same thing. Also, there is “cross-pollination” between answers and comments on a question as people read what others have written, which would also be hindered.
This comment is a duplicate and as such is being closed.
“and answer-writers, whose time and effort is precious, will waste it on re-answering essentially the same thing”
Except, you know, the fact that time and technology march on. Functionality changes. UI changes. API’s change. Different versions of the same products do things differently. But can’t ask the question again, because it’s a duplicate! So please refer to the answer on a 10 year old question that has in no way been updated with anything closely resembling the latest information based on current sources.
Well if it is so important not to have duplicates why don’t you just link them in a chain and stick all answers in a common pool. Duplicates may have a different format and expression. People express differently and keeping all of them would be helpful for all.
> I feel that a customer service ethos should be the norm
That’s wishful thinking, IMO. You talk about answering questions in a Facebook group. That’s with people you know and like (at least casually from seeing their other posts). People are friendly because they already like interacting with each other, more or less, and have some respect for each other as peers.
That can only happen when people aren’t posting trivial or boring questions that waste your time or otherwise annoy you (e.g. because they left out enough details to make it answerable). If that happened a lot, you’d have negative interactions more often. You probably wouldn’t see that person as a peer or even as someone you even want to teach if they keep asking things of you instead of google as a first step. Humans have evolved to be pretty sensitive to freeloaders, so people asking for your time without having put in their own time first create a very negative impression.
That would naturally make you less willing to give other random new people the benefit of any doubt. This is the situation on Stack Overflow for regulars that see all the questions in the tags they follow: lots of trash from people basically freeloading by demanding to be spoon-fed answers. Unless people make it clear that they have tried googling and/or tried stuff they found in other questions, it’s totally natural to assume that they haven’t because that’s often the case. The “bad” users ruin it for everyone else by raising people’s mental barriers to defend against freeloaders. They make most SO answerers start from the assumption that the person asking the question *isn’t* someone they’d be interested in having a conversation with.
You’re also presumably *not* trying to create a searchable collection of Q&As with future value in your facebook group. But that’s one of the key features of SO; one of the suggested downvote reasons is “not useful”.
Until Stack Overflow finds a way to stop bad and/or boring questions from being a large fraction of what experts on SO see every day, we’re going to be *justifiably* prickly and pessimistic in our assumptions about anything unstated in the question.
Hoping for unpaid SO users to take a “customer service” approach even toward questions that actively harm the site (by cluttering it with unreadably-formatted or trivial questions) is unreasonable.
I hope “customer service” is not a perfect analogy for the point you were trying to make; I agree it would be nice if more people could assume that people asking questions are potential friends/peers. That’s not something you can just tell people to do, though, unless you’re paying them. It happens organically in smaller communities of people that answer each other’s questions, or comment on each other’s answers (between experts in a tag).
SO users aren’t getting paid to answer questions or be nice to people that annoy them. They’re doing it because they enjoy answering *interesting* questions, and/or want to curate SO to make it a useful resource for future readers.
We can certainly try to get people to be not-rude, even in cases where we’d really like to be rude, snide, snarky, and/or sarcastic. Veiled or overt snarkiness is mostly a way for people who read lots of SO questions to defend their own sanity against people who don’t put as much effort into their questions as they should before sending them out to a bunch of world-class experts in the subject who are generously contributing their time to create the resource that is SO.
Most questions with serious flaws create a reaction of “more mouths to feed”, not “here’s a potential conversation partner or student to take under my wing”. Especially badly-formatted questions where it’s obvious the person didn’t even respect your time enough to find out how to apply code formatting, and/or didn’t even look at the formatted view of their question.
As far as the experience for people posting answers, IDK what you mean. Correct well-explained answers to new questions get my upvote (sometimes even if the question already had plenty of good answers). I’m happy to reward a low-rep user that took the time to contribute a well-written answer even if the question didn’t really need another answer. I do tend to assume that people who can write a coherent answer will learn when not to answer.
OTOH, I’m also perfectly willing to downvote an answer that suggests a worse way to solve the problem, or has bugs. Or for non-code, major errors in an explanation. I think other people in x86 / asm tags are the same way. I follow assembly-language tags; I don’t know what it’s like in other tags. I point out what the problems are when I downvote an answer, though, which unfortunately a lot of people don’t do.
Many SO users will look for any excuse to throw out a question without having a conversation because there are so many bad ones. Lazy low-effort questions aren’t fun to wade through, but there are many of them. It’s natural that people who read all the questions in a few tags they follow have mental calluses from all the bad questions that waste their time and clutter up SO for future searchers.
When I say lazy/bad question, I mean ones that people could have googled for themselves, or debugged by reading compiler warnings, or used a debugger to solve. Or what pretends to be a specific question, but really the asker doesn’t know anything about the language or system they’re using and really need a big general tutorial, not a specific answer. (This is why many homework questions get closed as “too broad”.) I leave a comment to say that they seem to need a tutorial, not just an answer, and should talk to their instructor or google up a tutorial when this is the case.
An SO answer to a question about X is not usually the place for a tutorial about Y and Z unless those are closely related. (But sometimes it is for obscure things.)
So a lot of the problem is that SO regulars have developed a thick skin and are used to being annoyed by people that waste everyone else’s time by posting a question without making any effort to find an answer themselves. There are people that do that. Some probably spent time thinking, but no time searching. These people ruin the SO experience for everyone, including other askers who did make some effort but forgot to detail their efforts in the question. (Describing your fruitless searches is essential for “easy” questions, and can be very useful to help answerers figure out more about the problem you’re having and potentially what kind of solutions would work.)
I think it’s totally justified for SO to have high standards for post quality. We’re building a collection of useful Q&As, not just doing one-off answers to help 1 person.
We’re also a community that includes many experts. SO is like a chance to walk into a science conference and shout your science question to everyone. If it’s “why is the sky blue”, you could have just googled it. Everyone will be justifiably annoyed that you took up their time with something that’s already been well-answered all over the place, and which is easy to search on. Or a software analogy, like if you posted on the Linux kernel (developers) mailing list about something well-known and documented and tutorialed like how to get started creating your own kernel module.
These aren’t perfect analogies because SO is not only for near-experts. But I certainly expect people to do at least the basics like google (and use a debugger + read compiler warnings for debugging questions) *before* they ask other people to spend their time on a problem.
I don’t like to bother people so it offends me when other people aren’t respectful of my time and post badly-formatted and/or low-quality questions. If I’m going to post something that I hope a bunch of other people will read (like a bug report or an SO question) I try hard to make it good quality. It might be long, but too much detail is usually better than too little.
How many questions did you ask since you joined SO? Have all of them been deleted? You seem to have answered 1 question. It has no downvotes. How is that a terrible experience for you?
I agree with this, when i first used SO i was scared, i was a 20 year coding veteran asking what i thought was a little harder than easy as questions go type question and I KNEW i was going to make mistakes when asking it because in an ideal world you need a SO SO to ask questions on how to ask questions which ultimately means you would need a SO SO SO so you can ask questions correctly on that one…..ad infinitum.
I was looking at an old thread of mine that i posted on to do with print files. One person gave an answer, which admittedly was a waste of time and the OP actually already knew this but the person tried to help.
He got -3 score for the answer and had one reply telling him (paraphrased) what an idiot he was and that it was plainly obvious the OP already knew this and that they were wasting everyone’s time.
I think the main problem with this is that when people try to help they may not be helpful, but there really isn’t an easy way to tell people that not all help is good help without somehow coming across as putting them down.
The problem with this though is that you can stifle new users simply by keeping the place clean and on topic so you cannot win easily 🙁
The other ugly part of the website is EVERYTHING is OVERLY POLICED !!
like even here the comments should be moderated !
even my comments in META group were deleted, the moderators want only their ideas be REFLECTED , THE USERS DON?T MATTER !!!
I can easily ask the questions on QUORA , still be stung by some NERDISH users but get what I want. such a PITTY that there are less users
Comments are temporary by design. They aren’t intended to carry out conversations.
I just think so much of peoples’ ire comes from not understanding or not liking how the system is designed.
i quit quora when they didn’t accept my own given name, they wanted what they think it’s my given name.
Same. What to say, Apprarently my own real name is not my real name according to them & was blocked from posting. tried deleting my answers & etc….. Quited quora.
My experience is that it does not stop when you stop being a new user. If you are not someone who is going to ask and answer a hundred questions a month and shrug off the 70 % down voting then the system is not for you.
I have been using the sites for years on and off but I will rarely do more than comment as I cannot predict what answer or questions will generate downvotes, often without comment. You just get a silent swarm of clicks with no feedback. Even years later someone comes across something you have posted and starts hacking it to be bits and yo go from a small positive to a big negative score once the rest of the vultures notice the carcus being kicked.
It is getting more reminiscent of Wikipedia where I made the mistake of correcting a huge error in an article for which I am a domain expert. Instant storm of negative comments and the article got rolled back to being wrong because I “did not provide citations” when what I did was correct it to reflect the existing ones. End result is that I might comment on an article chat but I know it is not worth trying to directly contribute.
I think it is the non-power user experiance that is terrible rather than exclusivly the new user one. If you want a small group to do all the answers and reject all the new questions that is fine but if you want an increasing, continuing active user base I think something has to chance.
I do agree a lot with what you say: I don’t like to feel like an idiot for just asking about something I do not know.
I wouldn’t be asking otherwise.
But there’s an aspect of today’s society that I really dislike: current people’s over-fragility.
When Sara Chipps says “we still hear people feel targeted even when there aren’t unfriendly comments.” is definitely true but is also really a personal perspective of how much you value what people tells you.
It’s quite difficult for me to feel insulted or treated as an idiot.
This doesn’t mean I accept it, it just means that words on me have no great effect.
I come from a long history of late 90’s IRC/chat, newsgroups, early 2k-forums, and seriously, it’s a long history of late-night battles, word-fights, and so on.
But today’s society is too fragile, is too ready and quick-to-react to everything that could incredibly-do-not-know-how affect their life, hurt their feelings, create a permanent shock, and then a need for a safe room.
It’s also an attention-seeking game.
just wonder what would be of us if our ancestors had been as fragile as the half of this nowadays people.
I wonder how could have they survived during the medieval age in a world that was really dangerous and a constant struggle for life.
I understand Stack’s and Sara’s mission and problems with people’s rage on SO forums, but we shouldn’t put a patch every single time someone is feeling hurt and starts whining.
What is needed is more control on posts and answers and put users in a more responsible situation, put most of users complaints should be sent back.
Otherwise it’s a never-ending game that authorizes people every day more to complain.
Stackoverflow does not have the resources – in terms of skilled-person-time – to offer gentle hand-holding for users asking questions. Nor can the community just leave poor questions as-is; or waste a lot of time giving crooked answers to poor questions.
While the other extreme – of extreme hostility towards any imperfection in askers conduct or in the question – is also undesirable, its a question of finding the right balance.
That is actually _quite_ possible – even within the confines of the SE system. Some SE sites have – from my experience – a better atmosphere than SO, despite upholding reasonable quality standards. LaTeX.SE to name one example.
They sure have the time to delete a thread within an hour without putting any thought into why it might be an exceptional case.
You are correct though, it’s a double-edged sword.
Very well said..!! Asking questions is a brutal experience in my opinion.
i came across one SE site which was pure toxic. i ended up posting a post against a selective class of moderators. Upvotes. Later few downvotes and a expected result, post deleted.[ ps: My post was to upheld another asker who just posted a question which was total legit in everyway. even a moderator agreed with me. Anyway, that SE site culture was very unlike of SO]
And in another SE site, the rules were very laxed. There was “dont agree” and “wont agree” comments below a answer. i made few & then stopped commenting, since he/she wont read & accept truth. Few months ago something happend which was the cause of our “discussion” and i left a comment saying something like this- ” Now say something ” .
What im trying to say here is that, we need to be kind in times and we have to point out things when needed. As markle_id said “Todays societly is fragile”.
we should try try to integrate few of the characteristics of coding into our life. Wrong code, unexpected result. Right code, right result. If we write wrong code, we just need to change/fix it. Instead of thinking not-make-sense thinks i.e coding is not my thing, the computer is bad, just because im new computer is being rude. etc
**just to be clear, what im saying is SO rules stays as they are except few changes regarding how people deal with a question or answer. If anything is wrong, only the first person, points out whats wrong & a single downvote. Once the asker resolve issue(s) then another person upvote to netralize the negative vote and either a “completed” sign beside the pointed out comment or something else. Like a compiler pointing out issues instead writing irrelevant stuffs.
A constructive, valuing time society.[applying it in real life cases is the main deal 🙂 ]
Totally agree with your comment. I am an old user of StackOverflow, and I have seen the attitude of responders on the site deteriorate drastically since I started using the site in 2010. It seems like people have been trained to constantly look for reasons to close questions, criticize questions, and divert from providing answers. This was not the case when I first started using the site. Most of the time now, I won’t bother to ask any questions, because I assume nothing constructive will come of it.
i’m user 274502, been an underdog all my life, and around sen since early days… it was ALWAYS like this.
to me, you both make it sound as if it’s a new thing. it’s most definitely not.
and i don’t think it can be fixed, honestly. this happens, for me, EVERYWHERE i go, with very few exceptions.
if it’s not because of veterans bashing, it’s due to indifference and being completely ignored (facebook brings this point a lot).
the most recent exception was on telegram’s offtopictermux and i can only say it was due to pure luck of finding a like-minded young only mod, in such a small group (45 members).
in other words, my best advice to you is to hang in there and keep trying. finding the exceptions is worthwhile. like everything in life.
and to sara, perhaps try to incorporate into the “intro stage” those hints. “beware of the monster, keep on the good fight, it’s not about you” and so many little things that we miss from our moronic cultural education.
and cheers! 😘
Longtime listener, last-time caller myself. 2021 and I’d just experienced it too.
Lurking the site for years to use its great resources, I recently joined to create my first question – an obscure one that I did not see any answers to. In the end, I researched and answered my own question. 1 rep – yay me!
Today, I find one of many questions with a solution that worked for me, unlike the solutions to various similar questions on the site. The answer had a couple upvotes but not marked as accepted. It also had a comment stating the solution didn’t work, of which I disagreed. In my opinion, this question is still ‘open’.
Since I could not upvote the solution nor answer myself, I made a comment about how it was working for me a year later when other solutions on other questions did not work. Within 3 minutes I got a snarky flag reply from an experienced member who clearly has nothing but time to work on his rep. I reply, defending my case and within an hour the entire thread is deleted by a moderator.
The result? You’ve discouraged me to ever post anything again and return to being a mere lurker. I don’t need this, nor do I have the time to work on my rep this week. It doesn’t help others looking for a similar solution either. It doesn’t even help the rep person who posted a working solution!
Love the site, but the welcoming committee is terrible.
Great post. it is really clear how the situation is perceived (and I didn’t think about it in previous situations, for be honest).
What I would like to share is , for example, about the comment setion in each Q&A. If the question is duplicated, the workding should be different, like: “this is a very common problem. You have check here the differents approaches” or some on these lines.
If the question is closed/deleted because it was a duplicated, the page should say something like “This question was already asked and the most accepted solutions can be found here” > list all questions that has accepted answers. “Since your question already exists, we only have those questions that aren’t already asked before” – i.e, a cleaner message is better. IMHO.
I think that by saying “This question was removed for moderation purposes” or some in those lines, a new user would feel worse instead of giving him/her real feedback about why your question was removed.
Side note, I think you omitted a word at the end. Quote:
“We think the world of our community, and [myself] are excited to hear […]”.
There’s no missing word at the end.
“We think the world of our community, and are excited to hear …”
There’s an implicit “we” before “are excited”.
The final phrase is grammatical. Omitting a subject in an adjoined clause effectively “inherits” the subject that was active in the previous clause.
So, you can read it as “We think the world of our community, and [we] are excited to hear […]”.
Thanks for the reply. I didn’t know about this gramatical rules / conventions in english language.
The site already does indicate that a question closed as a duplicate is a duplicate of another specific question.
A bigger problem is that many ‘low-quality’ questions are a confusing combination of many already-answered questions and various misunderstandings about the specific libraries, languages, or other stack components, as well as ignorance about basic software, programming, or computing concepts. There’s nothing wrong with those questions or the people asking them – they’re just not the intended content of the site! This has been a continuous problem on the site for basically ever and it’s a problem for both new and experienced users.
The basic promise of the site is a venue for people with questions to be matched with people with answers but the actual details about what are ‘good’ questions, for *this* site, are much more difficult to explain or understand, and it’s understandable that the proprietors, developers, and admins of the site haven’t more forcefully made the mission of the site more clear as they’re motivated by many *conflicting* incentives.
Not only does the system indicate the duplicate question for a question closed as a duplicate, it also gives a list of possible duplicates **as the questioner is writing the question**.
What if the asker don’t understand them / can’t solve his problem using those duplicate-question(s) answer(s)? may be he is totally nwe/Somewhat lacking understanding and etc
anyway, recently, i started giving hints about how i can answer his question by writing the “topics”, sometimes “learn about this” below my answers. I hardly answers now a days though……
I don’t know if this is under consideration but it might be helpful to have a “sandbox” forum where newbies post their questions, similar to how code golf meta has a draft/staging area for people to get feedback on their challenges. New posters’ questions would default to going there and either be pointed to resources to answer their question, or if it has the potential to go on the main StackOverflow site, get feedback on how to improve it.
I think there’s a fundamental conflict between how StackOverflow moderation is geared towards each question being unique and useful to the world at large, versus being useful to newbies who probably don’t have the work background or context to understand where their question fits into the overall corpus of information on the languages and frameworks they’re using. That’s a lot to ask of anyone at any level, really, and people who just need help with a tutorial or their first web app are not served well by it at all.
The idea has been floated before. See the first few search results at https://www.google.com/search?q=newbie+sandbox+site%3Ameta.stackoverflow.com
My perspective: who would ever regularly visit such a site?
@Robert Harvey, the same people who go through the Triage queue?
That’s an interesting idea. StackOverflow is less casual and conversational than a lot of the Internet, which is good overall, but likely leads to a lot of new users expecting the whole site to be more like what a ‘sandbox’ area would be.
I’ve proposed this myself, and concurred with other similar proposals several times, and all such requests have been rejected.
SO and Stack Exchange – please reconsider!
Here’s my last ‘official’ proposal of this idea made on the ‘meta’ version of SO:
I don’t think most users will be able to see it tho since it was tagged ‘status-declined’ and also supposedly “deleted” by a site admin.
One huge benefit of such a (significant) change tho would be to clearly demonstrate to individual users exactly *how* their initial ‘question’ could be broken up into individual ‘good’ questions that could either be found already on the main site or, if they haven’t already been asked, included their to the satisfaction of many.
We have “related forums” — it’s called Chat, and is available from the menu on every Stack. It’s also available from the “moved to chat” link if that happens to a comment-based discussion thread.
Extend that a bit with “will you do my homework for me” forum too!
The emotional investment required to stand there and take critical feedback is quite large. It’s difficult, especially when you are not sure if your answer is correct or helpful, but you are taking a risk, putting yourself out there, and trying to be helpful when no one else has yet. Knowing that stackoverflow is working on keeping that feedback onslaught from being a barrier to entry is nice to hear. Keep it up. 🙂
My personal favorite is of the form “This question has been asked and answered before. [no link provided]”.
What if instead of rating questions, people either answered the question directly or with a link, or didn’t reply at all. That way, all the replies one saw would be helpful.
IMO marking a question as “duplicate” should require the person reporting it to post a link to the supposedly duplicated question.
It does. See my other comment. (There are notices at the top and bottom of the marked question. One links to the duplicate, but the other does not. I’ve missed it myself sometimes.)
It already does that. You can’t close questions as duplicate without specifying a duplicate target. The target is then linked and shown in a yellow banner on top of the closed question
That has already been true for more than ten years!
The actual “close as duplicate” feature *does* require a link to a duplicate question. Are you referring to comments that claim duplicates, but aren’t actually close votes?
It *does* require a link to actually close a question. Ronald is talking about when people just comment that without spending the extra time to actually find a similar question, let alone a *useful* duplicate with a good answer.
Marking a question as a duplicate does require a link to be added. The Poster will see a banner at the top of their question linking to this (even before it closes), and an automated comment with the link.
It does? Every time I close vote a question as a duplicate I’m required to supply a link to the duplicate, and the site auto inserts a comment from me linking to that question. The comment reads “Possible duplicate of [clickably linked question]”
If someone votes to close a question as duplicate, this action does require the person to identify the proposed duplicate, which then also shows up as a comment under the question (but the question won’t be actually closed as duplicate unless a bunch more people vote the same). If the person voting happens to hold a Gold badge for one of the question’s tags, then the question is immediately closed as duplicate, with the duplicate question provided in the explanation text. (Gold-badge votes are immediate; I think this is a cause for some erroneous closed-questions, since sometimes a gold-badge holder could misinterpret a question – I’ve done it inadvertently at least once)
It’s true, however, that if someone *comments* that the question is a duplicate, then there’s no such requirement to link to any other question, unless the person explicitly takes the time to document a link to the proposed duplicate.
It does. It’s impossible to mark as duplicate without giving the question it’s a duplicate of.
It does do this already.
You cannot vote to close as duplicate without identifying the duplicate. Can you point to any closed-as-duplicate where no duplicate question has been identified?
Of course that doesn’t stop someone commenting “this is a duplicate”, without a link. That might be unhelpful, but it doesn’t count as a close vote.
Although thinking about it – perhaps I don’t have enough rep, or have never seriously tried to close as duplicate without providing a link? Definitely the UI makes it very clear that I should select a duplicate, and why would I try to subvert it?
Nah. You’re not missing anything. Even moderators can’t close a duplicate without a duplicate target.
Have you used Stack Overflow? A question can’t be marked as a duplicate without providing the question that it’s a duplicate of. Comments like this make me feel like there’s a team of bots whose job is to criticize Stack Overflow’s community.
“Have you used Stack Overflow?” — I’m pretty sure it’s actually and exactly comments like *these* that all the *other* users are talking about as driving their awful experience.
The question *needed* to be asked. If you spend any amount of time using Stack Overflow, you would know that it’s impossible to mark a question as a duplicate without providing a link to the duplicate. So the situation posed by the person I’m replying to *does not exist*. The only conclusion that I’m left to draw is that they have not spent any amount of time trying to learn how the site works. Do you have any other explanation?
I disagree my question drives an awful user experience. It may make someone uncomfortable, because they now have to own up to the fact that they’re complaining about how something works when they have invested almost no time in figuring out how it works. This internal conflict *should* feel uncomfortable, because they should now start asking them-self the tough question of why are they complaining about something that’s a non-problem? Are they just looking for any excuse to trash the site because of a perceived negative experience?
No, if you ask me what’s wrong with the site, it’s people making comments like yours where they actively attack people who are trying to get others to realize their mistakes and grow into a responsible member of the community. Stop demonizing the Stack Overflow community.
Not only is that “required”, if you mark a question as a duplicate, it *automatically* posts the comment with a link to the duplicate.
It already requires a link to the duplicate. Ronald is referring to people who make a comment like that but don’t (or can’t) mark it as a duplicate.
I am sorry that in a post about the negative experience of criticism from a large group of people there are literally 12 people who told you you were wrong, one even accusing you of being a bot. This is a great example of terrible SO group behavior.
I agree, Ed. I think the replies should has some examples of duplicated questions and show the place where the links of the duplicated questions are added.
This is just one example: https://stackoverflow.com/q/57149492
You’ll see there a yellow rectangle that says: “This question already has an answer here:” and bellow of the text are the linked questions. Like:
Trying to assign vector of Base* from vector of Derived* 3 answers
Passing std::vector of derived type where a std::vector of base type is expected 3 answers
How to distinguish objects of derived classes C++ 7 answers
For more duplicated questions add these search terms in the search box: duplicate:yes c#
Link (of the previous search results): https://stackoverflow.com/search?tab=newest&q=duplicate%3ayes%20c%23
This flood of answers happened because of moderation lag in approving comments. This is not a normal example of SO behaviour because comments on SO appear immediately.
It’s common to see multiple comments saying *different* things (e.g. multiple problems with a question), but not a dozen all pointing out the same mistake in the same way. On SO most people would just upvote/mark the first comment that did a good job pointing out the problem they see. You might get a couple similar ones written in parallel and posted within seconds of each, but at least one of those people will see the other comment when theirs appears and can remove theirs if it turns out to be redundant.
And if you see redundant comments on SO, you can potentially flag one as “no longer needed”.
When I posted my reply here, there were no other replies visible to me. I assume the same is true for most of the other replies. After posting, my comment was “pending moderator approval”, not visible to anyone else.
I had no idea I wasn’t the first, or that 12 total people were going to reply before any comments got approved (I assume). Again, this is not “SO group behaviour”, this is totally normal consequence of this blog comment system which is totally unlike SO. It’s like multi-threaded memory ordering with a store buffer, instead of sequential consistency.
I’m surprised nobody else pointed out that this seems to be a misunderstanding: the original comment was about people leaving comments manually, not vote to close as duplicate. That’s how you can get such comments without links.
My “favorite” is similar “This question is closed as duplicate. It has been asked and answered before. [but the link provided DOES NOT ANSWER MY QUESTION]”. What makes me especially crazy is when the moderator(s) that vote to close my question don’t display any skill in the language I am asking (I check moderator profiles). I add comments to explain how it’s not a duplicate, and that their link doesn’t answer my question…usually to no avail. I don’t take it personally. But, in the end, I still don’t have an answer to my question. Frustrating.
There needs to be a way to penalise people for claiming something is a duplicate when it turns out not to be. At the moment you cannot lose by claiming something is a duplicate, it should cost something to be wrong about it, because it is done far too often now and some people do it over and over with little thought.
This happens even to experienced users and there’s a pretty wide variation in norms or conventions among the different ‘sub-communities’ on SO too so don’t feel uniquely singled-out by this.
I think this can easily be explained from the perspective of the person closing the request as a duplicate, with just a little effort of putting yourself into their shoes. Bear with me for a moment, I think it also has a simple solution.
You are somewhat of a regular on SO. You come here at least every other day, investing lots of your personal time which you can’t really justify to friends&family who pester you why you put all that time purely to the benefit of others.
You may also come here during work hours if you employer allows some limited time spent on SO. However as is the nature of work, you are under even more pressure there to limit the time spent because _you have actual work to do_ – not a lot of people have the privilege of being paid to answer questions on SO.
So you see a new question, and think you have seen something similar before. Maybe just once, which makes it hard to find. Maybe many times over, which should make easy to find a fitting answer _if you are given the right tool_, right? That tool exists, and it pops up if you vote to close the question down as a duplicate. You feel a bit bad because you have no control of the wording which says “This question has been asked and answered before” while that’s not quite true, but you can’t change that. If you are having a really good day and a bit of spare time, you leave a comment to somewhat explain that.
But most of the time you are under time pressure, and never you take the time to explain that you do this because the tools require you (you’ve never even though of doing that, and the maximum length of comments would be too short to communicate that anyway).
So now taking the time to actually join a discussion (on a weekend), I’d like to say I believe there is a really simple solution: _Give me the tool to find duplicates without having to close the question with such harsh words_. Allow me to tick an option for a gentler text that states your question is somewhat similar, please visit the other question and reopen and update yours once you’ve taken the time to read and understand the answers to the other question. Maybe even add an optional text field for a short explanation in what respect the other question is similar.
Don’t add comments. Edit the question instead and explain there how that duplicate does not answer your question.
I did. Same result. In fact, I was criticized for changing the question (based on some info from the linked “non-answer” to improve my question). LOL. A SO member even offered to help me in a chat (which I joined). At the end of the chat, he had not resolved my question, and agreed the link was related to my question, but wasn’t the answer. (For those wondering, it was about Python bitwise operators.)
Keep in mind that all answers are provided by volunteers. No-one is obliged to give you an answer – if your case turns out to be more difficult to resolve than expected, or the person trying to help you is running out of time, or indeed in any other case, they are free to walk away at any time.
When a question is closed as a duplicate, there is a link to the duplicate question.
I’ve missed it myself before, because the layout is confusing.
Here’s an example:
There’s a yellow block of text at the *top* of the question saying “This question already has an answer here”, with a link to the duplicate question (showing its title).
There’s another yellow block of text at the *bottom* of the question saying “marked as duplicate by … This question has been asked before and already has an answer …”. That block does not include a link to the duplicate question.
If the question is long, it’s easy to scroll down and see the second block while the first is not visible.
If new Stack Overflow users were introduced to some of the conventions on SO, perhaps there would be less culture-shock.
I asked if something could be done about that with [Where is the conventions help page?](https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/368159/where-is-the-conventions-help-page/368176#368176) but there was very little response to it.
I think perhaps your “The Newbie Experience” illustration shows that it is important that the user does stick around immediately after asking their question, otherwise even an almost well-written question can be closed in minutes if there is no clarification from comments asking for just one extra piece of essential information. But no-one has told them that.
I think one of the problems is that even the well written questions are shut down so quickly that the user can’t even respond to the criticisms and requests for clarification before their question is closed.. Perhaps a lockout period of 30 mins for new users, and tell them that their question will survive for at least 30 mins if they want to implement some of the changes/clarifications. While in its lockout period substantial edits will reset the close votes/downvotes
Clearing downvotes is an interesting idea. That might be something that a high-rep user and/or users with appropriate tag badges can trigger manually. Maybe requiring at least 2 users to agree.
You’d still want people who downvoted to be able to re-apply their downvotes if they still think the question is bad. So reset the votes on the question to be as if the user had never voted on the question at all. Probably also for close-votes, so we don’t use up people’s per-day close vote limit and they can come back and VTC as a duplicate if it’s not clear what the question is asking and there is a duplicate.
IDK if you’d also want to clear upvotes, to make it less tempting for people to want to exploit this or beg people to do this for their question.
We don’t want to introduce a loophole for question-banned users to edit their old bad questions into a totally different question. If it’s still not good it shouldn’t get its vote status reset, but any substantial change might tempt or trick some readers into voting to reset.
A fully automated system for vote-resetting would be way too easy to exploit, and be something that moderators would have to manually deal with misbehaving users exploiting.
Very insightful post. This frames a lot of issues in an elegant manner.
I have been a long proponent of the exact outlook you seem to provide here, and am eagerly awaiting the next steps.
The closure process itself has been described as attempting to be welcoming when it was first designed, and adjusting that process from its current state to match the current environment is effort well spent.
“We will be working on new paths to improve content quality and reduce friction between people.”
Yes. This please.
I think reducing friction between user and content removal can be achieved by
– setting realistic expectations about the platform for users
– using the interface to explain what is happening while it happens
– expediting the process of content removal
– removing any vague descriptions of what constitutes topicality
Progress in any of these areas will be beneficial. After all, the telephone only stared with single digit numbers, and look at where we are now.
So what was the policy?
What the policy was isn’t relevant. Substitute any debatable position you like for the policy in question. There will always be some folks who consider the position self-evident, and others who strenuously disagree for reasons they consider obvious.
I know, I’m curious as well!
And did they revert it?
Hello, I think this is a great post but see one item missing from the Newbie Experience diagram [maybe it is part of the aftermath]. Often there is also a comment that 100% answers the original question/problem that the original poster had, as well as answering anyone else that finds the Stack Overflow post on Google and wades through all the negativity to look for the answer (usually a page or two down). Have seen that at least a half dozen times for various odd issues over the years. Generally happens on questions closed by the moderator.
Or even an answer posted, that gets upvoted – sometimes a lot of upvotes. Doesn’t change Sara’s point a bit, and leaves the OP thinking that their question was really okay, but that there are really an awful lot of jerks on SO.
As a long-time fairly-experience user myself, this is also frustrating to me as well, particularly for great questions with well-researched answers. SO wants the search engine juice for hosting great content while simultaneously disavowing said content as being ‘not good’ per the site’s (fairly stringent) standards. It’s sad, but very understandable too (if no less frustrating)!
Agreed, I’ve seen that a dozen times: the question has been closed for some reason, but there are still excellent answers below it.
Thanks for sharings that, Sara. =]
As you pointed out in your own experience, the problem is not the community in general, as most gave direct feedback. The problem is the individual reading the feedback not reading the actual words that are written but projecting their own emotional response in place of the words that are written. You can’t prevent that, nor can you help that along – it is a problem the individual must conquer themselves. The engineers in your case were right to question the accusation of them being unfriendly and to request exactly where they were doing so because it wasn’t the case.
Blaming the community in general for being unfriendly when it’s not the general case will cause community blowback at the accusation because the blame is generally on the individual for replacing the words that are written with their own emotions, which is exactly subjective, uncontrollable, and not very conducive to a rational conversation.
With that in mind, I think it’s great you’re looking at improving the experience, and would focus on helping newcomers get familiar with the expectations of the community rather than change the community to the expectations of new users, which would vary significantly – to the point of being an impractical goal to meet.
I was hoping someone would have already said this. You saved me the trouble. Very nicely put.
I kinda agree with your explanation that “The problem is the individual reading the feedback not reading the actual words that are written but projecting their own emotional response in place of the words that are written.” And I agree that it’s not up to each community member to fix this – especially since this problem (as described by Sara) is not caused by a single community member’s answer, but by the deluge of negative feedback.
But I think it might be possible to fix this problem by changing the the presentation of this feedback to the asker.
Think about it this way: the SO website should be the interface between the SO “system” (which consists of content and feedback and other info) and the user (who is a human, with all their flaws). And this relationship requires that the UI not only caters to basic human needs (readable fonts, discoverable widgets, self-explaining workflow etc.) but also takes into account the psychology of the human mind: in this case, the fact (?) that too much negative feedback causes a disproportionate amount of unhappiness in the user without even having a useful effect to the user.
Long story short, maybe it could be possible to present the many negative indicators (downvoting, close-as-duplicate, moderator votes, negative comments) in a less overwhelming way; maybe don’t even display some of the less useful indicators to the asker, so that the torrent of negative feedback becomes a single concentrated drop of “here’s the problem with your question, and here’s what you could do to fix it”. Maybe it could even be accompanied by some positive feedback like “by the way, three people liked your question (ie. you’re not stupid, or at least not stupider than others)” and “collectively, people have so far put X minutes into reading, understanding and replying to your question (ie. you’re not left alone with your problem).”
If this sounds too much like molly-coddling, remember that the SO UI is the interface between SO and the user’s brain (with all of the brain’s psychological flaws and strengths). Adjusting the UI to these human flaws seems quite logical to me.
Btw. I’m not a moderator and don’t even vote a lot on SO, so maybe I’m all wrong with this 🙂 My reply is mainly based on Sara’s post, not really on my own SO experiences.
I absolutely second this.
There has been a trend in the last (many) years to absolutely never tell anyone they are wrong. The result is a number of people who feel personally attacked when they start receiving their first (very polite and technically correct) “you are wrong” messages well into their adulthood.
Being told that you are wrong is one of the most important requirements for growing up. It can destroy one’s confidence when done in the form of bullying, which the apologists of non-wronging seem to believe to be the only form in existence. When done right however, it is an indispensable ingredient to becoming a rational, self-aware, self-respecting and respectful person.
It has been my impression that people who naturally gravitate toward computer programming are mostly the ones who received a healthy bit of honest and kind “you-are-wrong”s in their time, and grew to truly appreciate it, while being perfectly able to tell it apart from bullying.
Many years ago when I was making my first steps in IT, I read somewhere that “computer programmers is a remarkable community where anyone can win any argument by simply being right”. I could not feel more related to that, and by this day I still cannot.
I have seen forums and discussion boards collapse after introducing the rule that being nice is more important than being correct, after which people who believed it was perfectly okay to kindly and frankly tell someone their answer is completely wrong chose to leave, taking 90% of the forum’s experience with them.
I have been very happy that Stack Overflow is different and is a living manifestation of the “anyone can win by simply being correct” principle.
I do fear that if this changes, it will collapse just like all the others. I do not think that we should do it to accommodate for people who are not used to hearing “you are wrong”.
They should be tough then. In a meaninful way. instead of saying 3 words “you are wrong” something like.
“you are wrong. Try this way”
“you got misconception & wrong. This is this & that. try this way to solve your problem”
“you are wrong. Read *these*. Hopefully you will be on track”
I’m also concerned that changes might cause the quality of the site to go down. However, I also find myself taking the side of newbies, too; I also find that I can often divine what the asker was asking even when other people think there’s insufficient information in the question. Based on my experience, granted mostly a few years old, I think some changes could be useful:
– Somehow encouraging editing of the question over criticizing it. For example, sometimes nonnative speakers word a question clumsily, but people used to working with nonnative speakers can edit them to native language quality, rather than just complain about them.
– Somehow encouraging people to just skip questions they feel are badly worded or have insufficient information to answer rather than try to close them. Just because one person can’t answer with the information provided doesn’t mean no one else can answer it with that information.
– Making it possible to vote against closing the question from the question, rather than only making it possible to vote for closing the question from there, and making you have to search through the queue to vote against closing. Because of the favoritism toward close votes, many questions get undeservedly closed.
– Consider requiring expertise in the question to enter a close request. I often come across questions which have been closed by people with moderate expertise who couldn’t answer it, when I have specialized expertise that can answer it.
– For questions closed for various correctable insufficiencies, delay closure by 72 hours to permit the asker to remediate the insufficiencies (provide code, add error logs, clarify wording, etc.)
– Making it possible to vote to reopen questions from the question. Supposedly, an insufficiently detailed question, when closed, should be reopened if the needed detail is added. In practice, this never happens, because the reopen queue is so long. We need to make the policy the reality here: questions edited to add needed information need to get reopened.
Some things they should avoid:
– They should avoid discouraging comments that ask the asker to do sufficient debugging work first. The site will be terrible if it becomes the first resort for poor programmers to ask for help with their bugs, as opposed to a last resort when they’ve hit a wall.
– They should avoid discouraging comments that ask for more information about the problem. People asking questions may not know what they need to include when they post the question, but then they do need to know what they need to add to make it a good question.
I think I must be misunderstanding one of your suggestions: “Making it possible to vote to reopen questions from the question.” That’s already possible, and has been for years. Are you asking for an actual vote from the question page to bump the question up the reopen queue, ahead of those which were added to the queue automatically because of an edit; or for a 20k user to be able to reopen “Unclear what you’re asking” questions without any other votes? The latter might be unpopular on some stacks, particularly math, where there’s a perception that a small number of users rep-farm by chucking quick answers at poor quality questions before they get the fifth close vote.
FWIW math has a chatroom for nominating questions which are worthy of closing/reopening/deleting/undeleting. It is a source of some controversy on math.meta: I mention it as one approach which has been tried, but I suggest that if you think it might be worth trying to do something similar on another stack that you read https://math.meta.stackexchange.com/q/28390/5676
Well said, Shawn, this is my concern too. This post covered a lot of useful ground, but didn’t directly mention emotional responsibility or the importance of not getting defensive.
There are a lot of great ideas in the post and in the comments– keep up the good work, Sara! I empathise with your pain on being on the receiving end of the “Be Nice” policy blowback, and I’m glad you guys are moving on and churning through new ideas.
Thanks for mentioning that. SO seemed harsh to me when I joined. But it made me ask better questions. In fact, I often find the solution myself when I prepare the question for SO, e.g. by creating a MCVE.
I don’t think we’re so unfriendly. We’re just honest. And that’s good.
Thanks for facing your challenges, sharing them, and using the pain to improve SO.
The new(?) guided mode looks like it’s part of this effort. Would it be possible to have guided-mode-level feedback in the FAQ box on the right, or to show an example form box being filled out as user steps through the guided form.
Or checkboxes of common criticisms or question-quality sufficiency criteria – which start out un-checked, and can be half marked by a user, with the implication that mods / users / the community will address the question on these aspects.
e.g. on-topic (answerable, not recommendation, not meta, not opinion?), etc.
It feels like you could train users to follow the checklist, but it requires bouncing around the page. Not some visually linear progression. Maybe there needs to be a top-down (category/tags, topic, question) vs bottom up flow (question–draft, add topic, add tags)
Welcome to the role, Sara. I hope you have great success in the role and in the tasks you’ve set out for yourself here.
Regarding “This problem is on us and it’s because of how we designed the question asking and closing process”, I have to disagree, however. While that’s a big pain point, the question asking/closing process design is not the cause of the problem.
The cause of the problem is the perception of Stack Overflow. It’s viewed as a “get help for my problem” resource, when it was originally billed as a “helpful repository of useful solutions to programming problems”. Part of that is inherent in the Q&A format vs a Wiki, article, or blog format, and I’m not sure if that part can ever be solved. But part of it is due to the fact that the site allows, and in fact strongly encourages, strangers or new users to post their problem and expect a fix for it, regardless of any other criteria or quality standards.
If you want to talk about paying down debt, I think an important thing only someone in your role can do is address a long-welling issue head-on: make a public announcement on the company’s position regarding how they view Stack Overflow public Q&A. Is it for professionals and enthusiasts? Is it for beginners? Both? Whichever that is, what does that mean? Does Meta have a say in shaping the kind of content they want to accept on the site (like every other SE community)? Or is SO a special place where Meta doesn’t really matter, just like Whose Line with Drew Carey?
Good luck in your new position Sarah!
I’m with Tyler here – your (our?) greatest challenge is solving the inherent conflict between “high quality dev info archive” and “quicker than google debugging aid”…
I don’t have a good solution for that – maybe a staging area for newcomers\low rep like someone suggested here? It can keep the debugging aid in a sandbox, while promoting valuable info to the archive… The question is who would make this promotion judgement?
This article confirms researches like “The Role of Positivity and Connectivity in the Performance of Business Teams” which states that on average, humans need about 6 compliments or positive feedback to be able to handle a negative feedback/criticism.
I do agree that the amount of feedback can be overwhelming on Stack Overflow and I love the way you illustrated that!
Sad to see that SO’s valuable role as a training ground for people to learn how to deal with caustic colleagues is apparently going to be lost.
I think downvote should not be allowed without a comment explaining why it was downvoted. This way the questions and answers will improve drastically.
That would actually worsen the problem described here, because it would increase the amount of negative feedback the asker was receiving, and unnecessarily so since some comments probably already capture what is wrong.
I agree .
Few times I already wanted to answer a question that looked valid to me and someone down voted it but I couldn’t figure out why
I agree and disagree. I would love to know why I’ve been downvoted, so I can correct my question/answer.
But this brings one issue: If you have to write why you disagree, you will end up with a few messages saying “i agree with @some-user-here” or similar.
Also, comments are usually 2nd class citizens and, on some places, often deleted (Workplace, for example) or moved to chat.
People would have to come up with a solution for this issue (maybe allowing to pick a “comment” as an “I agree” option and have someone to show a link to see why people downvoted it?).
In the case of those “comments” (they could work like comments), it would be nice if it *didn’t* show who wrote it, but show how many agree with it (converting to upvotes).
It’s just an idea, doubt it would work :/
But something expanding from this would be great.
The site does explicitly ask or encourage users to add a comment when they downvote either a question or an answer.
But consider also the point of view of experienced users downvoting something. They’re often trying to contribute by evaluating new questions or answers and it can be incredibly discouraging and demotivating to do so for more than a brief period as most content is very ‘low quality’ (per the site’s standards).
I’ve explained in greater detail on other comments on this post already but there’s often a big gap between the kinds of questions new user’s ask and what the site is intended to host. Often just explaining *part* of that gap to someone is a surprisingly large amount of work, thus the observed phenomena whereby many don’t bother beyond downvoting.
This won’t help. The -1 button already has a meaning: “This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful”. If that “feature” is implemented, people would just copy that text or parts of it into a comment.
I agree with Shawn’s comment. I find the recent trend in society to be overly concerned with others’ emotional state troubling. There is an increasing tendency to preamble sentences (“In my opinion”, “I feel that”, etc.) and excessively caveat what you say in order to make it more clear that anyone listening should not be hurt or offended.
This trend runs counter to clear speech and conveying meaning. I would refer anyone to George Orwell’s excellent 1946 essay “Politics and the English Language”, and ask them to consider how an update to this essay would certainly include an additional list element beyond Orwell’s:
1. Never use a metaphor, simile, or other figure of speech which you are used toseeing in print.
2. Never use a long word where a short one will do.
3. If it is possible to cut a word out, always cut it out.
4. Never use the passive where you can use the active.
5. Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think ofan everyday English equivalent.
6. Break any of these rules sooner than say anything outright barbarous.
7. Trust your audience to manage their own emotional reactions
Politics and the English Language: https://www.npr.org/blogs/ombudsman/Politics_and_the_English_Language-1.pdf
This is an unfortunate example of what other commenters have mentioned re: the apparent desire of a lot of SO posters to prove their intelligence rather than apply their knowledge.
Wanting to create an environment that is welcoming rahter than bleak and alienating isnt being ‘overly concerned with other’s emotional state’, its 1) basic decency and 2) basic business sense – if new users don’t like your platform, your platform will suffer.
It isn’t 1946 any more, you don’t have to stiff-upper-lip your way through the world.
It is quite a leap to automatically associate clear, straightforward QA help with bleakness and alienation – obviously no one here, including myself, is advocating intentional rudeness. But I suppose there are two camps of thought here, and you’ve identified correctly that I am down with the stiff upper lip, lol.
Perhaps bleakness is the wrong word; I’m not expecting anyone on here to be responsible for the feelings of anyone else, but I am expecting to be spoken to like I’m a person – clear and straight forward shouldn’t exclude things like sentences over clipped remarks. There is a big difference in tone (especially when you can’t see the other person) between being asked “did you try this?” and “your question is obvious it’s this”.
Whereas I am sure it’s true that a substantial number of SO users are at least partially motivated by a desire to demonstrate their knowledge and / or intelligence, that’s not exclusive of wanting to apply their knowledge to helping people.
One of the key takeaways from this blog post is that perfectly decent behavior can be received negatively, especially in the aggregate. I am absolutely in favor of all SO users being decent to each other, and of moderation mechanisms for addressing violations of that policy. But we already have the policy and the moderation mechanisms, and they haven’t resolved the issue that some people perceive SO as unfriendly. Moreover, that shouldn’t be surprising, because the issue never was very much about unkind words.
I tend to agree with GSerg that our larger society seems to have done a good job over the last few decades of bringing up people who are unprepared for criticism. This is not a comfortable site for such people, and that’s inherent in its nature. No amount of welcomingness makes “you misunderstand” or “you have made a mistake” or “you missed something” uncritical, and one or more of those is an essential message of most correct SO answers, no matter how they may be dressed up. Also of many totally appropriate comments.
Although I’m not convinced of the applicability of Orwell’s 1946 prescription for political speech to SO’s rather different context, I do agree with the underlying theme that if I behave reasonably then it is appropriate to attribute responsibility for others’ reactions to them. This in no way reflects disregard for other people’s happiness or wellbeing. I simply limit how much responsibility I am willing to take for those.
I agree with you to some extent, I don’t expect anyone on this site to consider my feelings in a response nor do I think of it as a social situation. At the same time communicating online has its own grammar and syntax that is built in the face of not being able to see or hear the person talking to you.
The examples you give are absolutely fine, if someone on here tells me I’ve missed something or I’ve misunderstood/made a mistake then I don’t take it personally, the whole point of me being here is to get help. Where it tips over into unfriendly is the vast amounts of answers I see on here that say things like ‘this is obvious’ (answers are always obvious when you already know them) or attach strings of question marks, full stops and exclamations that read as pretty passive aggressive (eg ‘Try wrtiting an if loop’ and ‘try writing an if loop?????’ have different tones).
Some of it I think also comes down to generational differences – what someone in their 50s – 60s considers reasonable can come across as agressive to someone in their 20s, for example. There’s a great look at this here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/calebmelby/2013/05/08/the-generation-gap-in-online-punctuation-an-open-letter-and-revised-style-guide-to-digital-english/#7b05ad4a1876
> This is an unfortunate example of what other commenters have mentioned re: the apparent desire of a lot of SO posters to prove their intelligence rather than apply their knowledge.
Strongly disagree, and imputing such a motivation (even with a weasel-word caveat of “apparent”) is completely unhelpful.
How does outlining Orwell’s 1946 essay help in this discussion on community and user experience?
Between writing the full essay outline and writing ‘people should give their comments clearly and without bias because it can be confusing’, which one do you think people are more likely to read or find useful?
How do you think each statement would be interpreted by a user who can neither see or hear you, and doesn’t know what sort of person you are?
This is a late reply, but: it might have been nicer if you had just said you didn’t think the essay relevant, rather than assume the most uncharitable thing about me that you could, e.g., that I was trying to show off. At the time that I posted it, I thought it added something to the conversation. By community consensus I was wrong. This is fine, but the blog does not allow one to delete their comments so there’s little I can do about it now.
As an aside, the essay is a favorite of mine and one that I have found applies well to many social contexts outside of politics/the 1940s. Hence my wistful desire that someone else would like to read it and take something away from it. This approach works a lot better for a book club over beers; sometimes I am incurably nerdy (and not in a charming way). Oh well – the lesson is learned.
Actually, this whole exchange has an element of the absurd, in how its a perfect microcosm of the problem the community is having. You want me to be nicer, but your way of telling me to be nicer was itself not very kind. For my part, despite my desire for people to be a bit more thick-skinned and direct, I was affronted enough at what you said that I couldn’t resist replying almost a month later to defend myself. Hahahah.
This is a brilliant and novel insight into UX design and the human mind. However, a minor quibble: “Myself and the community team” is terrible grammar!
Agreed. It should be “Me”. The use of the proper pronoun is very important.
Actually “I”, not “Me” or “Myself”. It is also more polite/nice if you address the other party/parties first, so it should be “The community team and I…” I agree though that it can be hard to properly determine the correct pronoun. I hope she isn’t fired for this.
Shining light during a dark era. Huge kudos to you for being so honest, and coming with true heart to help both sides.
If I may give advise: bring back the Mentorship project. It was awesome, and just what we need. It let power users give feedback, even negative, to new users in a personal and non-intimidating manner. I took part and enjoyed every moment. Having two questions asked in a better way because of the feedback I gave felt better than getting 1000 upvotes.
Cheers, and good luck!
One of the sources of frustration I see with new users is that their questions often get closed rapidly by high-rep users. However, I’ve seen a lot of questions that have several votes to close, even when I think it’s a good (or at least not bad) question. I really wish there was an option to vote AGAINST closing a question, so there has to be a consensus among the high-rep users who view it.
I’ve felt this way for a while. Five reopen votes can bring the question back anyway, so five leave open votes should negate the close votes.
You can always vote to re-open. But you have an interesting suggestion.
I disagree that useful and high quality questions are routinely closed regardless. Plenty of questions from newcomers are upvoted and answered, when they are of sufficient quality (though sadly this is increasingly rare).
However, it’s just that: my opinion. Any system that better allows you to action your own opinion, whether counter to mine or supporting it, has to be a good thing.
There are several ways to effectively ‘vote against’ closing a question or similar actions: commenting on the question, flagging it for moderator review, as well as an explicit ‘vote to re-open’, tho many of those are only available to users with a certain amount of reputation, so not available to everyone.
This can be pretty frustrating for experienced users too. I have several times been frustrated by questions being closed for what I think are inappropriate or incorrect reasons. It’s sad, but somewhat inevitable; messy, but part of the process!
There is the possibility to vote for reopen (priviledge granted with 3000 reputation).
Somehow I got over the intial difficulties and stayed on StackOverflow for almost 10 years, but in my opionion the community is very rude to beginners. That is not about writing insults, but in the attitude that anybody with a small reputation cannot have a valid question anyway.
I’m trying other pages sometimes and even as a long-term user that is terrible. Once my question was closed because I didn’t have the right job title (explicitly stated in the comments). Very often I see clearly off-topic question with highly upvoted answers by >10k users, which somehow won’t be closed and I’m wondering why they even wrote an answer when they should know better. There was a famous case when a popular user deleted many of his own anwers (not allowed by community standards), but somehow was rehabiliate after a long discussed meta discussion.
All these double standards make SO really frustrating.
Re “We will empower our long time users to become mentors and teachers in order to bring the spirit of Stack Overflow back to what it was in the beginning”.
Yes, definitely. Let those that enjoy to teach/mentor get a place to do it. Let users that really want one-on-one advice get a place to get it (and in some cases get pointed to existing Stack Overflow questions/answers). A fifth (sixth?) place. It could even be hidden from search engines.
Only content that really fits the Q&A format will enter the main Stack Overflow site. Most content can be moved to archive pages and hidden from search engines (like Wikipedia’s helpdesks – sample from the “science helpdesk” (that actually triggered/provoked a substantial addition to the main Wikipedia): https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Reference_desk/Archives/Science/2016_April_30#Nitrogen_ice_density).
This could remove a lot of friction on the main Stack Overflow site.
Critical is to get the incentives and gamification right.
Very glad to see this. It’s not fun feeling like you’re crossing a mine field just to ask a question, even (especially?) if you’ve been a dev for a long time.
I disagree with the suggestion that taking feelings into account can be “troubling.” We need more women in tech; that’s been demonstrated over and over. Women have feelings and tend to be more in touch with them than men. This can only serve to help the entire community.
Hi Jennie, I’m the one who said I was troubled. I may be in the minority of female devs, but I don’t like being depicted as emotional. I actually wrote about this here: https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/382683/has-so-ever-asked-professional-female-developers-about-what-they-think-of-so
I think it’s likely most people on this blog are going to have misunderstood my earlier comment. I think emotions are important, and being polite and respectful to others is too. But I also know the only person who can control an emotional feeling is the person having it. There’s a balance. Honestly I would rather see more tools to teach people how to not care as much what others think, because that only makes you stronger/more in control of your destiny.
Anyway, not looking to argue with you or change a mind, haha. Just… Thinking I did a poor job explaining my first comment.
One of the things the turned me away from trying to answer questions was a message that was like “you are in danger of losing your ability to answer questions due to having received (some small number) of downvotes. There was no feedback as to why there were downvotes, and these were questions with no other answers at the time. Maybe better answers could have been done, but none were.
Off the top of my head in no particular order…
Problem 0: Hot network questions. Lowers answer quality. It’s clickbait, refine it to no longer push controversial stuff to the top or get rid of it.
Problem 1: there are too many rules, it’s too hard to find them, and it’s too easy to break them
Problem 2: Too many unwritten rules that are impossible to learn other than via painful experience
Problem 3: The site actively discourages the use of words and phrases that are considered essential for polite and civil conversation. Nowhere else are people punished for saying “please” and “thank you” because it pollutes the pristine integrity of the content…
Problem 4: Conflicting goals: Can’t have the highest quality questions while also being welcoming to new users. These two goals are opposites and cannot be reconciled. Management needs to decide which is important or be satisfied with being mediocre at both
Problem 5: A small percentage of highly invested users dominate all conversation about how the site should work
Problem 6: Too many options: if you see a bad question should you downvote it? Edit it? Vote to close? Ask the poster to improve it via comments? All of the above? One thing for sure, whichever you pick SOMEONE is going to say you picked the wrong one.
Problem 7: Established users are allowed to get away with things new users can’t
Problem 8: Kowtowing to toxic users because they’ve “contributed a lot”
Problem 9: Proliferation of more specialized sites instead of having subcategories on existing sites. No, tags are not good enough
Problem 3 : If you just say “Hello [post content], thanks” you won’t get punished, those words will just get remove. Where you can get “punished” is where those words could be seen as making potentiel answers feel bad if he doesn’t want to answer.
Problem 4 : hard one, some old user need to understand that they can salvage question instead of closing too fast.
Problem 5 : the fact that the most experimented user weight more is natural. However their weight is not more when it comes to vote for meta post, it is just that you’ll see more of them than new users here since the’re more implicated in SO’s life.
Problem 6 : everything you list is a different tool for a different purpose.
Problem 7 : any facts ?
Problem 8 : more concrete example so we can judge would be appreciated
Problem 9 : nope : proliferation of different communities. The only thing I would reproach is that in the list of all sites,it would be great to start to form some groups (one for IT, one for langs, …).
Why not instead of closing a question, or provide an answer you add a way to enable people that are willing to provide help give a list of resources, articles, or learning material to review so the person asking can maybe figure out the answer or learn what more to provide to get closer to a solution. Focus more on providing resources for solutions as opposed to question and answer.
One issue is moderation vs answering. Users interested in moderating questions are more prominent than users looking to actually answer questions.
1) Grace period. For new questions (and especially for new users) – add a grace period where the downvoting, closing questions, and voting to close are all prohibited. Could be 4 to 24 hours – some optimal window where questioners can read comments, clarify their question, add/revise code examples, etc. Getting downvoted or closed is an extremely toxic experience and tends to position the well for all questioners, be they newbies or veterans.
2) As an answerer I also need a way to watch a question and see if it improves over time. So when I provide feedback in a comment, or flag/watch a question, I need a historical view of all my threads.
Right now the experience is upvote or downvote right away, proffer an answer right away, vote to close or otherwise flag right away; there’s too much immediacy in the interface. It feels like a churn. And churn is a game that appeals to rule enforcers (moderators).
3) Chat. A bad question may be intrinsically bad – incoherent and confused and unanswerable by anyone. Or a question may be bad in context.
SO is like email. It’s asynchronous and creates a conversation history. In this context a good question is direct, concise, and descriptive.
Many questioners approach SO like it was a chat. They need to ask several small questions before they can formulate a real question. They need an informal conversation (chat) to set up a well structured, intelligible question (email). Many users are looking for help through the whole process: exploration > formulation > resolution. SO is optimized for the last step and ruthlessly moderates out the antecedent steps.
SO already has a chat at https://chat.stackoverflow.com/ – but usage seems sparse. Instead of “vote to close” being the only option for bad questions, maybe recategorize them instead. “Send to chat” or “Request for comments” to flag a question that needs help getting to an answerable state.
I hear clearly what you are saying, but I don’t see how this blog post doesn’t inexorably lead to an overhaul of the entire platform, which is precisely what the veteran users don’t want.
Look again at your “newbie experience” graphic. Every element highlighted there is a critical part of the Q&A experience that Stack Overflow has built. These elements are the reason you’re not just another run-of-the-mill forum like Quora or Yahoo Answers.
So you’re admitting that the whole getting rid of snarky comments thing was based on false assumptions, totally unnecessary, and didn’t achieve anything?
“You” can start by stopping moving comments to the trashbin Chat or blaming people for contributing aspects to answers in comments or by having partial answers added for completeness.
The first (and only) question I asked, 4 years ago, was immediately down voted:
The -1 remains to this day.
As a new user, who carefully tried to make the question as good as possible, this was frustrating. What had I done wrong? Why was it down voted?
To this day I don’t know.
Even today, after years on SO I still think it is a perfectly valid question.
How to give a “like” or “thumbs up” or “clap” to this blog. I want those reactions button here. This blog has fairly described the community’s situation.
I have used Stack Overflow very infrequently to ask questions to which I could not find an answer elsewhere. I use it much more to read answers to other people’s questions.
I too dislike the passive-aggressive (and sometimes just aggressive) criticism of valid questions. I haven’t had that much, but others get it, and it is deplorable.
I deleted my Stack Overflow account yesterday as a result of having a straightforward question downvoted unreasonably.
Trying to be Jon Skeet when I am not..
Why this blog doesn’t support SO authorisation? Who are those people who comments? How can I be sure they are named for real?
When guy say “I am new to SO”, how can I check it?
When guy say “welcome”, how can I be sure he is not a bot, who purpose is to add “emotions” to blog?
Why I can’t click on their names and check their SO profiles???
I’m one of those senior SO users who gets pinged occasionally for so-called ‘rudeness’, which has no effect on me except to reinforce the notion that modern notions of rudeness are a world away from what I was taught decades ago and what I actually practice daily. Your experience with your co-workers reflects exactly what I have done every day at work for the last 48 years (yes, I started computer programming in 1971): I treat everybody equally from the boss to the newest trainee, and I hold them all to the same standards. And help them as much as I am able. As time goes by I am bening made to feel less and less welcome here at SO, despite having contributed a quarter of a million votes’ worth of useful content, and despite having also provided feedback via meta and directly to moderators that should have been found useful. Those contributions have now ceased. I’ve also been a moderator myself at the Sun/Orace forums for over 15 years so I do have some considerable experience of what life is like on that side of the fence and how moderators should conduct themselves. I would like to see some serious effort on SO’s part addressed to this part of the user experience. These are the people who make your site valuable and worth visiting. The offence-seekers really do not interest me in the slightest, and you should not pander to them.
While this article is greatly written, I have a problem with its content about newbies. Things is, all newbies aren’t the same : some don’t have any fundamentals of programming, some do and aren’t just used to ask question to SO. Here is an extract of the tour page : ‘Stackoverflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers.” While “enthusiast” is probably a bit broad word, professional is very clear. So is someone that has only started coding two weeks ago can be considered a professional or an enthusiast programmer ?
As for the people that are profesional coders and newbie to SO, yes sometimes their question is quite hard to handle because it is not well written and a bit confusing and then they get closed. I have seen the same issue in the workplace. Some people prefer to close no so well written instead of trying to salvage it, and I’am all for the salvaging. After all, aren’t the most experienced user of SE the best placed to salvage the content of a post and make that question shine ? Instead of asking casual askers to be able to do that on their own ?
I believe I am one of the few people who will disagree with the post. I believe that newcomers come to the site because they *want* something. Sometimes they want to understand concepts, understand why something throws an error, or how to solve a specific problem. The answers to those problems are most often in the minds of the people on Stack Overflow (and the Stack Exchange Network as a whole).
I was raised with the belief that if you want something from someone, then you should give something back. In the context of Stack Exchange, I interpret this as follows: If you want someone to take their time to answer your question, then you should show them the courtesy of spending just as much time making your question as easily answerable as possible.
I know, this may come across as “elitist” – whatever that may mean in this context – but if I see a question from a 1-rep user, with code copy/pasted in without formatting and the question being “Help pls”, then I just see no reason to spend the time and effort in answering it.
Does that mean I want no new users coming to the site? No, it doesn’t. I know that it feels bad to have your question closed as a duplicate, because many of my first questions were closed as dupes as well. And you know what it taught me? To search extensively before asking. Every close reason teaches you how to improve future question, and even how to improve the current question, if it is salvageable.
I wholly disagree with the implication that new users can’t *handle* their questions being closed, downvoted or otherwise criticized (their post, not them as a person, mind you!). Criticism, if constructive, helps improvement. It’s a vital part of learning, and one should be able to take criticism.
SO is a great resource and I enjoy answering questions, I am not a new user or contribng and I would say that posting a question on SO is my last resort, after I’ve searched SO, Google, colleagues and books. The reason is that other moderators are harsh and don’t have to or want to explain why your question was down voted.
Creating a value and food question and then following up on it is just to time and effort consuming.
Light user here. Just went from 18 to 12 points for asking a question that is not that bad, I think. I checked for dublicates, tried to be factual and informative. No one gave me any pointers why is was a bad question. One guy came up with an solution that I already discounted in my question. I dont care, but it is not very encouraging. Anyway, here’s the question, see for your self. https://stackoverflow.com/questions/57109272/how-to-program-xml-to-html-converter-in-c-sharp-conceptual-level
Your question was downvoted because it was asking what the best way to do something was. Because there is always more than one way to do something in code, there is no “best way,” and so any answers would be opinion-based, which is against the rules.
SO is for question with a definite answer, this is because SO want to be like more a wikipedia than a forum. Your question ask for hints and opinions or a full answer will take far more than 30k characters to answer it.
On the conceptual level, translating XML to HTML is a compilation. So the only right advice we could give you here would be to learn the basis of compilation. Which take more than a 30k post for it.
Another way would be for you to experiments how existings parser works today and learn how you would do your own for that. But this also is an invalid answer per SO rules.
And that is the wrong mentality.
SO is less useful as a site because you don’t allow opinion based question.
Writing answerable questions is the core principle of Stack Exchange. If you want opinions, you have Reddit, 4chan and a wide variety of forums, dedicated to any imaginable topic.
Don’t get me wrong, I *like* discussing opinions, but Stack Exchange is not the place for that.
This is great, thank you for sharing it. From my point of view as a long-time hobbyist code and recent junior developer, it seems that the definition of ‘unfriendly’ varies by group.
For a new programmer, being told that what their asking is obvious or seeing replies that are very blank can feel unfriendly, whereas an experienced StackOverflow user thinks they are just using the site as they are supposed to.
For example, if someone was explaining a problem to me in person I’d reply “Could you show me your code?”; a lot of the time on here I see people just replying ‘Code???” alongside downvoting the question.
One of the first questions I ever asked on SO was closed by one moderator who gave me nothing in reply but a lecture on how obvious the answer was… only for it to be reopened by a different moderator a few hours later, who said that actually, it wasn’t obvious, and asked for more information. Now I’m more experienced I’m aware that is WAS an obvious question, but when you’re so new you might not even know what the correct search terms to look for an answer are.
I guess sometimes it feels like this website isn’t just for highly professional people who know what they’re talking about, its for anyone coding who needs help.
The major problem is the word “Newbie”. Who is a newbie? A person who asked his first question while he was gaining knowledge from stackoverflow for years? A person who never visited stackoverflow before but decided to ask his first question?
I was active on SO without logging in for a long time finding solutions to my coding problems. So, when I decided to ask a question, I already knew what MCVE is. I did my research well before asking. So was I a newbie when I asked my first question? Of course not. In that sense, the users fighting for quality of content does not want newbies.
A glimpse of stackoverflow culture to new users would greatly reduce the problem primarily because the friction is about content quality vs getting my problem resolved. Many of my questions are still unanswered. Tumbleweed was my 1st, 2nd and 3rd badge. One thing I know for sure is that SO users respect quality. If the person asking his questions understand that, there’s no logic or reason for snarky comments / down votes / close votes.
I am a guy who loves doing hackathons and being a mentor for university students at various hackathons as well as teaching new coders.
You have to be really careful here. Yes, answers can be caustic, however in those answers is extremely valuable information.
When you start as a coder, you know almost nothing, and it is VERY hard to navigate among the huge complexity of the mental models required and the vast array of skillsets that a typical developer with 20 years of experience uses every day.
So if you have a 20 year veteran talking to someone who walked in off the street, you have two different perspectives that can grate each other strongly. The veteran makes $80-120K per year and is probably wondering why the question is even popping up. The newbie is trying to get some kind of hold on a wall that goes straight up with no hand holds.
You need the veterans, and you want the newbies coming in. I recommend a greater emphasis on chat channels for newbies. If you had a bot that recognized the most common questions on the chat channels, those could get saved.
You could pay people with experience to staff those channels.
Here’s what you have to avoid if at all possible:
Stack Overflow’s value comes from the system that is unfriendly to newbies. Let’s think about that for a minute. Those filters which are actively applied by experts filter out a lot of repeat questions and make the index very valuable for experts. The history of the site and the fact that it has the best responding index for search for developers is the result of this process. That means you absolutely do not want to lose that process, even if it is unfriendly…
What you need is an onboarding system for newbies, not an attempt to deconstruct the value you have.
A little off the immediate subject, but probably of interest to you, here are some of the obstacles I have to overcome with newbies when mentoring:
1. Each stack framework comes with its own vocabulary and libraries. Many times, setting those up initially can be quite daunting, and getting a working environment with the most basic server that you can compile and apply / get online can be difficult to do in one weekend. Most newbie questions then will start in this area, just trying to get an environment going – it is not immediately obvious what OS and tools the community using these stacks use, and newbies tend to start with the wrong tools and sometimes get off track due to having an uncommon system config (one time I had agreed to meet a newbie during a weekend to help setup the environment, then my dad died and I had to leave, the newbie gave up and I never heard from her again). Most experts are specialized in one stack and have been working in that for 5-10 years. People who specialize in getting newbies’ environments going while communicating with them over the net are desperately needed then. This means that you’re going to have to choose stacks for newbies, because trying to get experts to help someone on a different stack is not a good approach for the initial setup.
2. Initial software installs on a server can be crazy complex and end in configs (especially networking) that just won’t communicate with the outside world. This is an especially common hang up – you have to get the software port config’d to listen, then open the OS firewall, then the network firewall. Getting those three things talking to each other is complex, and a major hangup is when the newbie is on a university network (or other org network) without control of the network firewall. You absolutely need a connection to the outside world to even start. One or two of those chat channel staffers should specialize or be very good at getting firewalls and OS networking talking.
3. The front end / back end separation: UI developers typically have poor expertise on database systems and vice versa, regardless of stack. True full stack programmers are either rare or using a very basic stack. So start with a basic stack.
My own experience is that the new programmers are too coddled. I love seeing the same inane questions asked daily by people who always start out with “I am new at technology x” and then without showing any code, any effort, want people to do their homework. I spent years logging in, checking what questions were being asked that day, and spending time writing answers that never get looked at, accepted, etc. I have grown more jaded and don’t waste my time with most of the newer people who probably could have spent like 2 minutes on google finding 100 examples of what they are having problems with (with 50 links pointing back to stack overflow).
If you want people to continue to share knowledge, you need to also separate the wheat from the chaff. If people are complaining when they ask insipid / blindly obvious questions and feeling “rejected” when people don’t give them instant gratification then good. They need to actually do some research, RTFM, etc…
I think a major issue that isn’t addressed here is the drive-by downvote/no comment effect. Here’s the scenario:
You’ve tried your best to tackle a problem, done a bit of research, and now you hit a dead end. You go to StackOverflow and you’ve written up what seems like a reasonable question, but you haven’t submitted it yet. Your mouse is hovering over the submit button, dreading the inevitable downvotes and humiliation. You proof-read it twice, grab a cup of coffee, close your eyes, and hit submit. Whew! That wasn’t so bad. You’re getting some views, great! Then comes the first downvote. It’s OK, that can be expected. Then another. You’re re-reading your question now, wondering if it can be improved. A couple more downvotes… no comments, no feedback. Now you’re starting to sweat. Clearly you’re an idiot for asking such a stupid question. You consider deleting it and just moving on with life. Maybe this is the time to go out in the woods and build that off-grid cabin you’ve been dreaming about? You close StackOverflow and furiously beat at the problem for the rest of the day, finally scrapping together some half-assed workaround that makes you feel dirty. You go home, crack a beer, and vow to never ask another question on SO again.
That’s exactly the feeling.
I asked 4 questions. One of them was never answered, I found a solution elsewhere and posted it. My solution was downvoted!
Now I found a solution elsewhere to my latest question – also, no answers – but I won’t post it.
# I said this a year ago
But I’m glad you (Stack Overflow employees) finally get it.
You could fix a lot of people’s hurt feeling’s by disabling down-voting questions. To many power hungry mods down-vote vengefully.
That’s…that’s not what down votes are…The tooltip on the downvote button is, “This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful.”
If you ask a hundred people “is this a good question” and 6 of them say “no” that’s not “power hungry mods being vengeful.” It’s 6 random people saying, “this question has problems.”
The downvote button can be used by *anyone* (albeit they need an account and I think, 15 reputation) not just mods (that’s someone with a ♦ next to their name), gold badge holders, or 10k rep users. Nearly EVERYONE can downvote a post and they can do so for whatever reason they feel like (provided that they don’t systematically downvote everything a user’s posted: that’s actually vengeful: its called serial voting and it is automatically detected and reversed within 24 hours).
Some users doesn’t know the tooltip (or even don’t pay much attention to it), with this in mind, would be better that (instead of tooltips) an hidden div – modal-popup appears for confirm the up/downvote showing the info that is only visible in the tooltip.
Hey, I have 43 years of coding experience. The last 30 years practically daily coding C++. The past 2 years I’ve been diving deep into ‘epoll’, and am starting to consider myself an expert. I have discovered many problems with epoll and bad documentation. A few days ago I decided to try and ask on Stack Overflow on some details regarding epoll, things that are either buggy or completely missing in the epoll documentation… So, it became a “list” of three questions with as title “Questions regarding epoll details” or something like that.
It was COMPLETELY shot down. Someone had added a comment about that I shouldn’t be asking three questions, and my title should clearly describe the question and not be as vague as it was. Mind you, it wasn’t a question, it was a statement. Nevertheless, 40 minutes later he added the comment that “being unresponsive to comments doesn’t help either” or something like that. I responded with that his comment didn’t seem to require an reply as it was only stating that he knew things better than me (sorry, I was aggitated). My question was down voted by two others – so at -3 now. The same people (?) also voted to close the question (needing two more votes to actually be closed). The commenter reacted with links to some FAQ or something on Stack Overflow on how to ask questions, each of which “explained” the same things he already had said. So clearly I had fucked up. The title WAS vague and I DID ask “three” questions instead of spreading them over three SO questions. But on the other hand, *I* am truly the expert here. And no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t think of a better title- nor did it make sense to rip the three question apart as if they were unrelated… So… Well, I deleted my question. The feeling I had was something like “If the community doesn’t want to go in discussion with me about this subject then that is their loss.” I don’t REALLY need answers – I can figure it out by myself, like I usually do.
This blog post, more than anything I’ve experienced on Stack Overflow or read in passing on its Meta site, persuades me that Stack Overflow is… not for me. And I’m a *new user* — the demographic that its author ostensibly wants to protect from getting their feelings “hurt”.
For one thing, the blog post conflates “new users” with “beginners”. Let’s be clear on that: Most new users *are* beginners. But some of them *aren’t*.
Obviously, then, this is a numbers game. Stack Exchange Inc. wants to keep milking its biggest cash cow: the highly ranked web site Stack Overflow. I would never blame a company for taking that route. It’s what companies are supposed to do. What I cannot stand, though, is when they’re not forthright about it.
The problem of Stack Overflow *isn’t* that people are being pompous dicks. That they need to be “nicer” to each other. Not even close. The site’s mechanics *already* reduce social interactions to a bare minimum. Compared to Wikipedia, the Stack Exchange sites are a piece of don’t-hurt-my-feelings heaven. Because it’s practically impossible to engage in trolling or feuding.
The problem with Stack Overflow *is* that it started with the idea that “experts ask other experts”, but, riding the wave of success, has turned into “anyone may ask the experts”. That’s too wide an umbrella.
The approach is flawed, and it’s not like the people running the company don’t know it. Case in point: There’s a dedicated Stack Exchange site for “English Language & Usage”, but another for “English Language Learners”. Just so you *don’t* waste the experts’ time with *basic* questions.
Sara, I was looking for a place to post a comment, in-effect, after a decade or so using stackoverflow, it has become my most trusted resource, and I consider it ‘best-of-breed’. But apropos MS SQL, .NET, C#, et.al., I know whereof you speak, albeit, it could have been much worse — and it was, circa, 1980-1998, when MS effectively owned desktop computing.
This was a time when defective system software was part of Microsoft’s business-model, used to hobble any who tried to compete on the Windows Desktop. Until Google(search) established itself, and enabled sites like stackoverflow to even exist, when developers encountered a defect which appeared to originate inside the proprietary MS systems codebase, our option was: look it up using the MS ‘Knowledge Base’, by providing a list of keywords (can’t remember if they were case-insensitive or not !;), and hope to find some clue for, at best, a workaround. (By sifting through hundreds of lines of matches, most of which (99%) were completely irrelevant.)
However, as good as Google was at enabling relevant context searches, the vibrant open-source development consensus we depend upon today, would be hobbled were it not for websites like stackoverflow. The nuances of this websites ‘community protocols and standard-practices’ are exquisitely non-linear and humane, as well as effective.
As to the state of ‘open-source’ itself, in my view, the ‘Father of Open Source’ is none other than William Gates III, who’s determination to monopolize desktop computing was so effective during the first couple of decades, it made open-source an absolute imperative to realizing the potential of the core invention, i.e. the ‘microprocessor’. Open-source, while counter-intuitive as necessary component of a free-market, is, arguably, the best possible solution to the ‘conservation of work’ problem which, would have otherwise hobbled the entire industry of which we are a part.
Thats why I encourage the entire stackoverflow community to find a non-Microsoft owned ‘github’ to use for their projects. Yes, we need to find a way for those who provide ‘open-source integration’ services commercially, to formally commit to revenue sharing with the developer/maintainers who keep the open-source codebase current. But we need to find a way to do that without turning Open-Source package development into a commodity. And make no mistake, that is the goal of their new CEO, Satya Nadella. (Probably the most brilliant CEO of any major player in this industry, IMHO.)
And BTW, Sara, this is a problem an organization like stackoverflow could contribute significantly to solving. Happy to provide some suggestions along those lines if anyone in your organization is interested. I realize this may be outside the guidelines (politically speaking) for this thread, so no harm done if you opt not to publish it.
If you think stackexchange is harsh, try submitting a Linux kernel patch. But on a more serious note:
The problem is that there is always another side to the story. I get the impression from some first time posts, that the first time user does not even take the time to sit back and see if their question makes any sense. No, I do not expect everyone to write perfect English (American?), and I would grant you that Stackoverflow has fewer incomprehensible questions than, for example, superuser, but still. And there are other irritating first-time questions, like copies of homework assignments or questions like “I tried to use pointers, but it failed. How do I make it work?”
So, I think it should be clear that there is a burden on the first-time posters as well. Yet another downvote with a referral to https://stackoverflow.com/help/how-to-ask will not improve morale, neither for the poster nor for the person trying to answer questions.
It should also be noted, that technology has, in my experience, also been much directer in communications than other fields. Some of the less technical sites on stackexchange have less problems with first-time questioners. And, to be honest, I think that Stack exchange has the right balance.
The experience is not just horrible for new users, it’s also horrible for experienced users who want to help new users, and not just show off how much more they know, and for intermediate users looking for a chance to improve their skills by answering questions.
Basically, if you happen to have been on SO in the first year of its existence, you probably love it. If not, eh, probably not.
This blog post, much more than anything I’ve experienced on Stack Overflow or read in passing on its Meta site, persuades me that Stack Overflow is… not for me. And I’m a *new user* — the demographic that its author ostensibly wants to protect from getting their feelings “hurt”.
For one thing, the blog post conflates “new users” with “beginners”. Let’s be clear on that: Most new users *are* beginners. But the other ones… aren’t.
Obviously, then, this is a numbers game. Stack Exchange Inc. wants to keep milking its biggest cash cow: the highly ranked web site Stack Overflow. I would never blame a company for taking that route. It’s what companies are supposed to do. What I cannot stomach, though, is when they’re not forthright about it.
The problem of Stack Overflow *isn’t* that people are being pompous… didgeridoos. (For lack of a word that would bypass the spam filter, on which I failed with my first attempt of posting this.) It’s not that people need to be “nicer” to each other. Not even close. The site’s mechanics *already* reduce social interactions to a bare minimum. Compared to Wikipedia, the Stack Exchange sites are a piece of don’t-hurt-my-feelings heaven. Because it’s practically impossible to engage in trolling or feuding.
The problem with Stack Overflow *is* that it began with the idea that “experts ask other experts”, but, riding the wave of success, has turned into “anyone may ask the experts”. That’s too wide an umbrella.
The approach is flawed, and it’s not like the people running the company don’t know it. Case in point: There’s a dedicated Stack Exchange site for “English Language & Usage”, but another for “English Language Learners”. Just so beginners *don’t* waste the experts’ time with *basic* questions.
Thank you! You have put forth so eloquently something I’ve been saying this for years (literally).
Pile on is the death of many posts. It becomes overwhelming. It’s ok if a person comes in and there’s a discussion, but when 1 or 5 people then pipe in “I agree!” and the comments showing disagreement get massively upvoted, the OP feels piled on and dismissed and discouraged. It’s like being in a rugby scrum with the one or two people who will comment in support pushing against a dozen commenters and dozens of silent comment upvoters.
There’s nothing wrong with people disagreeing of course. It’s the way it can feel overwhelming. And as you say, there may be nothing ‘wrong’ with what people are actually saying. https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/373801/when-is-a-comment-hostile-or-unfriendly-educating-newer-users-how-to-flag-comm
I’ve asked for the number of comments to be limited under posts. We probably should remove comment upvoting. There is also no need for people to repeat “me too!” in the comments, that is what post votes are for and you’d think with comment votes it would be enough. People feel the need to he heard but also need to stop and think. If it’s been said, do I need to repeat it?
The whole notion of closing needs to be changed. Questions shouldn’t be closed, they should become hidden from the general site, pending deletion or becoming visible upon editing. There can be groups of people who opt in (or rep tag badge based) to see hidden posts who wish to work with people to improve questions. It should also take only three hide votes to hide questions and a lock on the maximum net downvotes. Three is plenty. Obviously this is not that simple, but as a general idea. When a question is hidden an automatic notification can be given to the OP saying your post needs editing or possibly deletion, with a link/s of resources for the OP to go to, like the close vote reasons. This can sit as a notification across the post. There’s no need to post voters names.
Keep it simple. Refine what you have, strip out a lot of the rigmarole and limit the number of times an individual can comment under a post, including the OP. This will help nip escalating arguments in the bud. People will argue, but how can we explain things? Well that is something that will need to be revised. These are thoughts.
All these thoughts really should be in a meta post, but honestly I have to have energy reserves to post on meta and I’m a moderator on Stack Overflow, so I have the confidence of being a highish rep user, the respect and power of being a mod and still struggle. If anything this could be inspirational to new users, it can be hard, but if you’re persistent you can end up dedicating yourself to the site despite the feeling of rough edges at time.
One other point is that we’re exposing our strengths and weaknesses when we post questions (more so) and answers on a programming website and it can be hard to be exposed and feel foolish or stupid for asking a question that may be obvious to others. It’s our own ability that is challenged and in public and in front of our peers and some of the most refined experts we wish to emulate. So it does take guts to post and resilience to return. This is not something we don’t have much control over, however limiting the negative feedback will certainly soften the blow.
Underneath much of the perceived rudeness is community frustration in not having the tools to curate the site. By keeping the long term community happy, it will only enhance the experience for new users.
The moderator tools are hidden. Focus on the tools for our active community.
Honestly, I recommend the network has a look at meta posts and see the older posts that are relevant now. https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/279285/can-we-retire-the-reversal-badge-on-main-sites-and-keep-it-only-for-meta-sites
Look at the users who post for ideas on the site or make criticisms about the site (I’m using my posts as examples), that have come to pass as being critical (no pun intended) issues for the site. These same people and others are posting right now on meta with issues. https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/373158/what-does-our-long-term-community-need-what-does-our-long-term-community-need-t
People who have rallied for inclusiveness https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/309908/declining-numbers-of-women-in-programming-what-can-so-do-to-help
Follow these people, there’s a lot of wisdom to be taken from these posts that will help the site’s success and longevity.
There’s a culture among experienced developers that goes something like “hey, I’m just as busy coding as you are. Be sure you’ve done some research and tried a few things before you ask me for help.”
There’s a culture among social media/Internet users that says it’s ok to ask “hey, what do you recommend for solutions to this problem?” before thinking it through a great deal.
You’ve made SO such that its culture suits the needs of a particular audience; one that can emotionally process direct feedback (which isn’t nec. easy BTW), and accepts the rules of engagement. (Side note: Listen to the Akimbo podcast for more on this topic.)
Broadly speaking, that’s mostly the experienced developers, who tend to look like me. I personally find that sad and discouraging, but it is what it is.
If you want to make SO more welcoming in order to broaden and diversify your audience with less experienced people looking to learn how to code (instead of how to solve a particular problem), you’ll have to change the culture of SO. But doing so means you’ll be changing the fundamental nature of the product, which could conceivably be catastrophic for the business. Or save it. Either way, you ought to have a darn good collection of business or socially conscious reasons for changing the culture, and a solid series of hypotheses you’re testing with all the data you want to collect to see if you’re heading in the right direction. (And please, none of this ‘let’s see what shakes out of the data’ stuff, either – Theories come first, and measurement second.)
Unless feedback is considerately given there is always a risk that the recipient will react emotionally and then assume (often wrongly) that they are being attacked.
In the case of new users I try to begin my answer with “welcome to Stackoverflow,” a response all users should feel empowered to make on the community’s behalf. It takes hardly any time, but at least lets the OP know that any criticism isn’t because they aren’t welcome.
In the case of complete no-hoper questions (a 90-line program that should have been reduced to an MCVE, for example) I try to leave comments specifically suggesting what the fate of the question might be, and point them to sources that should help them formulate an answerable question.
It’s mostly a matter of trying to phrase things so the OP can appreciate you are trying to help them move forward, so phrases like “you might find it helpful to …” are so much friendlier than “you should …” (even when they really should!).
All people problems are communications problems …
There have been times when I post a question, they will say its not clear, and the question will be disabled or closed, it will just vanish. I will goto msdn forums, not only will *no one* object on it, but after a few back and forth convo I will end up getting exactly the solution i was looking for.
I have a bit more problem with this attitude at stackoverflow, you will understand this when I will tell you that its often that when i am searching at google.com, my query is like, for example, “get a row number sqlite -stackoverflow”, i know you understand this that the user is saying to google “please dont include any searches from stackoverflow”, because it personally effects me in very bad ways when I see people being rude to others (anyone not just me). I LOVE programming and I am a very happy person personally, when I am on programming forums I am not looking for rude behavior cuz I dont want to spoil my day, and I dont get it anywhere except SO.
I dont know why I am continuing to write another para, but I will tell you one more thing. Some time back there was this question posted by a guy who was not experienced with .net forms coding, and also didnt have a good grasp of english, he asked something related to adjusting height/width of a Panel control. On first read I didnt get what he was asking, on the second and third read, i thought I understood what he asked, so I opened up visual studio, implemented the solution to understand if what i was thinking was right, and at the end i was 100% sure (you want me to say a million % sure? cuz I can say that too) what he asked and what I needed to tell him to solve his problem. Now I go back to SO question, seems like 7 or so people have spent no moment to mark it as confusing or several other things that I dont remember. Basically in my mind i see this as this guy had done some SO blasphemy and according to the prophets of SO he should have been kicked out of Earth, and so they did that. I was so damn disappointed as this was just-another-time for me to not be able to focus on technology but stupid useless human intervention on this site. I had not idea where I could say anything at all to who so that I could answer this, I reported it to one person somewhere (i cant remember which forum was it, was it somewhere on meta or what), that person who I asked for help said if so many people have marked it as such it is what it is and cant be changed.
As far as I am concerned, i am 100% hopeless here, I feel I dont have the skills or the human intelligence required to move on with the flow of SO, i am totally fine with it, I often come here through Google and forget what happened in the past, I only take help and close the SO tabs not wanting to contribute.
Hey Sara, I entirely agree with the Newbie experience diagram a few of my questions look exactly like that. After posting a few and getting nothing but -2 votes I tend to get it deleted as I clearly missed something but still end up lost on what to search for or how to do what I want.
Most developers go right into a complicated project clueless, I know I did and a lot of other people do too, I’d like a place where you’re not banned or punished for being unable to phrase, explain, or even spell correctly.
I know I’ve had a few questions where edits feel like personal attacks when someone edits my question leaving me feeling like it wasn’t up to high enough standards despite being close to what I wanted. I was made aware that edits grant reputation which is what most users want in order to help out, I honestly agree with them doing that as the alternative is risky, as asking questions could be met with a massive barrage of downvotes and possibly action from moderators if done frequently.
I know I want to help out with the site, I and many other developers have used it for years now also, we love it as a resource to learn how to prepare for jobs, solve things we can’t wrap our brains around and just learn new things in general. The reputation system to me feels… unbalanced for some reason. Something as a new user tells you “You gotta make a good question or you’ll wind up never being able to recover”.
I struggled with this on my account so much I deleted it and re-made it instead, I even changed my online identity at that time as I was feeling very frustrated in general with other places leaving me seem like I was unable to speak. Typically I find myself intimidated by high reputation members in most communities especially SE, it leaves me feeling as if I’m nowhere near as good because I don’t use this language or know that this is how you do that, don’t use this it’s depreciated. For example I still use WinForms heavily because I don’t know the WPF library at all, and I’m terrified to try to learn because I feel like I risk punishment for posting questions.
I think the reputation system, or at least downvoting a question could be reworked in some way. I know I’ve been in your situation too where everyone was trying to help but just surrounded you and felt like everyone was shouting; sometimes the strongest voice in your head is your own.
Best of luck, and thank you for being someone I can relate to.
Another frustrating thing is that there is a comment section in the blog, but comments won’t get approve after the first day. It’s 3 days since the last published comment! Why don’t you turn it off, if no more feedback is desired?
For new users, make the feedback, edits and suggestions in the beginning private to the questioner, and framed as shepherding the question to a level where it can be made generally public after passing a triage.
Down votes should not be shown to the questioner at this stage.
If criticism is private, it is more like mentoring. Perhaps your bots can guard against unfriendly language if that’s a problem.
Brilliant article, that little image of ‘the new user experience’ is so true.
Reasonably new user, and not too experienced of a programmer, but sometimes asking questions here just feels really toxic. I just want to ask a question, and if it’s against some rules I’ve never seen or heard of, or doesn’t make sense, or has no answer, I just want to be told that civilly, once, instead of having five “I am contributing nothing here but implying you’re an idiot.” or “I complained about something irrelevant so you edited it out of your question and now my complaint looks silly to add it back in wow you can’t do anything right.”.
A bizarre hypothesis, but I think askers are often less experienced than answerers, which inevitably leads to mounds of people saying why all sorts of things about a question are wrong instead of just answering “Yes, do this” or “No, this is impossible”. Answerers seem to assume askers should understand all the rigorous standards they have in place as well as understand programming enough to answer their own questions before using the site, which is, uh, kind of backwards.
Hopefully things improve, right now every time I post a question I literally feel sick for hours afterwards because I’m constantly getting comments telling me about more things about my question that are wrong, even when they’re unnecessary to answer my question.
To be frank this unfriendliness kept me out of stackOverflow for years i recently gathered the courage to be asking question, and i think the harshness has reduced im so surprised people even answer my questions .
Why is everyone focusing on the perceived rudeness directed at new users, but completely ignoring the rudeness experienced by people trying to answer their questions? Daily I see new users asking us to do their homework, read the manual for them, google basic concepts, add complete code to our answer, update our answer because they’ve completely changed the question, do basic debugging of their code, and hurry up because they need the answer asap. And when we comment that their question is unclear or too broad, we’re told to shut up if we don’t know the answer. I cannot count the times I spent time trying to make sense of a long rambling question, found that some information was missing, asked for clarification, and never received any reply. Often new users never even come back to look at the answers they received. Some people just have no regard for the fact that posting a question means that hundreds of people will spend time reading it and thinking about a solution for the problem presented in it. Answering questions on SO can be extremely frustrating. But no one cares. We’re the bad guys.
I agree with m69’s entry. How can anyone can handle this situation? – When I face (just a very few times, TBH) these kind of situations, I just flag the comment and move on, but, it should have a “story record” of some sort for classify such behaviour and so the moderators can quickly avoid scalate the problem.
I need Stack Overflow, because some posters are great, and give very specialized answers, but a large % of the community is just a meeting of rude, abusive people, so so negative, and just looking for badges and points, not really wanting to help.
I dream of the death of this site, and the rebirth of a better site, with only the good part of the community!
…just a heads-up; when you put words “oppression” and “reply on the Internet” in the same sentence (…and it is not meant to be sarcastic), you _might_ be slightly over-reacting.
Just saying – as a former Soviet regime citizen.
It’s nice to see Stack Overflow addressing this issue that I touched some years ago, but now with data to prove stuff, it can’t be denied anymore. I hope one day I can be proud of going back to Stack Overflow and recommending to people that really wants to learn.
This is really interesting, thanks for posting. I just have a couple of things to add: –
1. I think everything you say about discouraging new questions also applies to discouraging answers. Like you I was a beta user and my rep increased pretty rapidly for the first year or so (I’m an older, fairly experienced developer), but I was eventually put off answering any more questions because of the obnoxious way that others would express their comments on my answers. Sometimes their point was correct, sometimes not, but too often it was expressed very rudely. I think you are making progress here, but I’m sorry to say I still see examples of unpleasantness almost every day. Anyway, throughout the work you do to avoid putting off new questioners, please also consider how it might apply to avoid discouragement of answerers, new or experienced.
2. Some of your most experienced, highly-reputed, and celebrated participants have on occasions been quite rude in their posts. At some point, you’re going to have to face the challenge of telling those people their expertise is welcome but their manner (sometimes) is not. If you get that wrong you might lose their expertise but I think that’s probably the lesser evil. Imagine what it’s like for someone who has received a nasty comment from an individual, to see that individual celebrated in a blog post. It tarnishes your brand.
I totally agree with also considering helping make providing answers less worrisome. I’ve been using SO for years now but just recently created an account and started contributing.
I quickly learned to be very careful about posting answers. I was getting very quickly downvoted with no explanation even if I asked for one. At times, the OP found my answer to be correct so I still don’t know why I got the downvotes.
At the time I was just starting to build my rep (and still am) and the downvotes quickly taught me to post my answers as comments instead.
I am sure most people are doing the same (post answers as comments) for the same reason.
I like the idea that the down voter has to give a reason and the community also gets to downvote the downvote with the possiblity to get the downvote removed if it is downvoted by x number of users.
Hey Sara 👋🏽You have captured the problem so succinctly. I wish you all the best for the efforts to come 🏆
Thank you for addressing the problem, it’s true that it has become quite the source of anxiety to ask questions on this website, despite the overflowing talent.
Interesting. My ‘joining’ was just recent, and I experienced some of these issues when I replied to a post about photography, something near and dear to me.
In fact, the advice I gave was solid based upon years of experience for both a photographer, an engineer working in the business designing both film and algorithms, as well as someone that’s worked ‘in the lab’ producing and printing (by hand, none of this digital!) chemical prints.
With no reputation points I”m slammed. I can’t defend my comments because I don’t have them- and so watch mis-information be repeated. It leads to group-think, and really diminishes someone coming in as an expert (or semi-expert).
I’ll be back some more, later, but that one experience put me off severely. There’s a wealth of information and questions here. I hope to provide more positive than negative. Enough negative is at work.
How about ditching the whole upvote/downvote system? Instead the answer simply mentions the number of people that were helped by it. No replies, no quarrels, no loss of reputation. This is a place meant to deliver answers to questions and that should be its sole purpose. Not getting offended and pointing fingers.
Get rid of the downvote button. Downvotes alone are not constructive criticism (since no specific reason is required) and they are too easily cast. The same information (question not good) is conveyed (less harshly, IMO) by the lack of upvotes.
You had the benefit of seeing why people didn’t like your new policy. Would it have been helpful to you if instead you could only see that 100 people didn’t like the new policy?
A good article, Sara. I used to participate in SO (and SU) but a number of things, some of which you mentioned, persuaded me that I should leave. But because I still think SO is a good idea in principle, I did an experiment earlier – maybe you could learn something from the interaction at https://stackoverflow.com/questions/57137117/is-it-possible-to-edit-the-name-of-an-existing-variable-in-vb-net/57144881#57144881 .
OK, so maybe it’s not possible to learn all that much from a single interaction when the bigger picture is more about statistical behaviour, but here are some observations:
a. That’s the first time I’ve ever seen a question withdrawn, apparently by the OP.
b. Funny how that only happened after an answer was provided. (Yes, I saw the timing). But perhaps you, and to be honest, all those technicians you work with, could consider how I might actually feel about being someone whose first post actually answered the OP’s question, only to find out that the question itself was deleted, and despite having risked providing my email address etc., I didn’t even receive a notification that the question had been deleted.
c. You see, I think it is completely legitimate to question the views of the people you work with. They may be fantastic technicians, or communitarians, or whatever. They may be founts of knowledge about how online communities actually work in practice. All great stuff. But it’s also legitimate to think about blind spots in any community (I suppose “confirmation bias” is one form of blind spot but perhaps there are others).
d. Even just using the conversation I’ve referenced as an example, I wonder what the OP could possibly have understood from the -3 downvote they received. AFAICS there is no indication whatever as to why their question was downvoted. SO perhaps someone might think – hold on a minute, perhaps we could at least cut *new posters* a bit of slack and at least encourage downvoters to select a main reason for downvoting from a small list. The OP would see a consolidated list of downvotes (perhaps not even mentioning exactly how many downvotes they had) with links to relevant “how to frame a question” pages. Perhaps they could even be given an option to withdraw their question while they re-framed it – frankly, I suspect that wouldn’t be taken up often but you never know.
But then after a certain point people should be expected to understand the rules and that “slack” could be withdrawn.
e. I also wonder about what people who are not native English speakers sometimes experience. I am sure it’s not a new question. A high level of competence in English is now so widespread that it is perhaps being forgotten that it isn’t actually universal. A person whose competence in English might make a great deal of effort only to find that no-one understood their question. What do they do then? Could SO provide a mechanism where they could get someone to help them? It sounds like a tall order to me, but it seems to me that in a worldwide community that might be do-able.
And there’s probably more, but…TLDR.
I think one of the biggest issues with this topic is that software developers tend to be concise and to the point. They have to be! This is apparent even in the posts here on this topic. Many of the comments are direct.
And as Peter Cordes inadvertently points out, some of the experts are annoyed to be answering questions all the time. Well there is an easy solution to that!
But my point is that many developers don’t realize how that terseness translates into feelings. On the other hand people who are new to the site don’t always realize people are taking time out of their busy schedules to help them out.
Yes, it is clear that the some of the wordings to the automated comments from the moderators can be revised and I appreciate that Sarah Chipps has the courage now to post her concerns, knowing she will get feedback. 😉
Thank you Sarah and thank you SO / SE for being my goto for answers!
I love this article! I really admire the author’s relation of her experience at work to contextualize her point. Not only was the example so perfect to portray the experience, it neutralizes something that could be expressed in a very polarizing way, and it shows phenomenal character that she went home, thought about it, re-visited, analyzed objectively, and then reacted. What an incredible manager!
That aside, it’s clear I’m not alone in the reality of the page and how it can be for new people! I will admit, it does lead me to be extra careful and more thoughtful in my questions, but I do find myself discounting myself, apologizing, and obsessing in my questions in fear of snarky backlash (or, in reality, just feedback that can seem harsh)! Looking forward to more updates on how this is addressed to keep it useful but more friendly. What great work.
Part of the problem with the unfriendliness of SO is not the users necessarily but the stated goals. People want to learn by answering questions as well as asking them, but we have these concepts like “Sub-Standard” questions and answers.
I sort of understand the desire for some standards–leaving a good internet legacy–but they tend to lead to a “Your post isn’t right” mindset.
Honestly SO used to be much more fun and interesting when the standards weren’t so stringent–when people cared about generating content and not so much about making perfect searchable questions and answers.
I think we’d do much better with an open forum for newer users where people were encouraged to post and answer even if the posts are duplicates or “Off Topic” because it is interesting and fun to answer them.
It would be nice, in fact, if newer users had a completely different database they could run against. New and good questions/answers could be promoted to the “Real” database, but new users could also enjoy answering old questions without fear, and the reputation-crazy folks here wouldn’t have to worry that someone was unfairly earning rep (which seems to drive some people utterly bananas). Or you could limit max rep earned from this “practice” site to some fixed number to give them a ramp up.
Honestly I’d prefer a site like that over the silliness that SO has become. My favorite Q&A from the old/”good” SO now get closed because they are “Off topic” or “Opinion based”.
Without a change from our existing goals of creating a good web presence I do not think you will make this site new-user friendly, it’s just not compatible goals.
I think a part of the problem is that Stack Overflow favours old questions over new.
Technology changes, and very quickly. I often see newbies jumped on for asking duplicate questions, but the problem with that is that the questions that they’re duplicating are old, often sometimes five or ten years old.
Any question more than three years old should be flagged as archived, and if and when newbies ask it, it should be answered again in an updated fashion. Part of the reason for not allowing duplicates in the first place was for Google SEO but the way that Google groups results now, it doesn’t make a difference that there are duplicate questions.
Often, duplicate questions are asked from subtly different points of view as well, which can assist in learning or understanding a problem. Often (particularly with more obscure problems) I’ve got the answer to my question by visiting three or four different Stack Overflow questions (including a number of “duplicates” to get the full picture of how to solve my problem).
I am a new user here and I have hell lot of experiences to share. First of all, Stackexchange has saved my ass in lot of issues where I didn’t find suitable solutions. I thoroughly enjoyed posting questions here and was always eager to get an answer that works for me.
But, on the other side of the coin, many of my questions are spammed, moderated, reported for duplication, etc. I do not understand what is the need of that. There are many of pro members here, just waiting to find loophole in any question asked and they jump in with there tools such as reporting, spamming, downwoting. This was the same case with my colleague as well.
Going with the reputation, the person who answers already knew that the question was asked by a newbie. What’s wrong in asking duplicate questions? What’s wrong in asking a question which do not have much info in it? Nothing right? Will anyone get depressed by seeing such questions or is the space on Stackexchange running of? There will be someone who gets an answer with that question someday. Just leave the question as it is. If anyone comes across such question looking for an answer will move on if they didn’t find suitable solution. It is as simple as that. Who the hell on earth has that much time scolding the person who posts some invalid question.
This should be changed. This platform is not only for pros, but also for newbies. If possible, encourage them else, go for another question where a guy with 1200+ reputation points posts a question.
Part of the reason I would defend the current system of marking duplicates is that it teaches the user a valuable lesson in software development:
The answer is already out there, and if you take a little bit of time to investigate, you will find it. It’s not good to depend on others to answer every question you have, because it will stifle your growth.
This isn’t to put people down. It builds people up because over time they feel capable of performing tasks which may have seemingly been unachievable.
I’ve noticed more often these days that Stack Overflow results are not as frequently at the top of search results. This didn’t use to be the case.
If they keep allowing the robotic moderators to shut down questions as being too broad or not relevant, people go elsewhere.
Stack Overflow has been blindly marching down the same route that led EE to its doom years ago …
It’s not too late. Fix it.
Wow, this is an amazing insight. And I mean that completely un-ironically.
Yes, there are some problematic users, both snarky old-timers telling everyone they’re stupid, and entitled new-comers who want an entire webshop without any effort on their side. But the majority of the users _is_ good. It’s the interaction that can make it an unpleasant experience.
Practical suggestion: What if downvotes were capped for a user’s first few questions? One possibility: If this is a user’s n-th question, at most n downvotes can be counted against them for it. This would reduce discouragement during people’s earliest experience.
Also, how about giving the new user who’s getting downvoted, an easy option to temporarily hide their question and request help improving it? I’m on the board for a conference that offers volunteer mentors to help when someone submits a paper that’s promising but has problems (sometimes because of language issues, but for many other reasons, too). Many people are happy to help, and SO could fairly easily maintain a similar list of volunteers (especially if good feedback from the ones you help leads to nice rep, badges, etc).
The downvote cap doesn’t help. So, suppose you got 5 rather than 10 downvotes. Does that really mean anything? Don’t think so.
An option to edit a message while it is hidden, or to give temporary “I’m working on it” downvote protection, may be a useful idea. A request for help with the question is problematic, since there’s a flood of users who need our attention and time already.
Having been in this industry long enough to know what a BBS is, I can tell you that this is not a new problem, but one that definitely seems to be moving in the wrong direction.
The problem is that we as developers are great at solving problems. We think in terms of solutions. Even as people are describing their problem, we’re already thinking of all the ways we can fix it. In short, we’re great at resolving issues. We’re terrible at listening.
Something that I’ve found that has really helped me over the years is to read the question carefully, and if there is just not enough information, go back and ask for more information. Put yourself in the Newbies shoes: most of them have exhausted themselves looking for a solution before they post their question (and risk the negative backlash that often comes from doing so). None of them really know the right way to ask the question. Rather than critique their attempt, respond with lots of questions designed to get them to provide the correct information.
In short, treat people the way you want to be treated.
This is great! I’m so glad you are addressing the culture behind that makes people hesitant to ask questions. I understand the need to have questions follow the rules and not waste everyone’s time, but the emphasis on question quality/compliance is certainly jarring to most humans.
I’ve joked with coworkers that I ask questions on Stack Overflow as often as I want to get chewed out by strangers on the internet. I try to follow all the rules and norms and ask good questions, but I would say I get told how my question is wrong several times for every helpful answer. I don’t think this is atypical from my use of the site over the last several years.
Of a few other support communities I frequent, one in particular has a much better user culture. Question quality isn’t monitored/attacked/under scrutiny at all and every question (presumably other than actually abusive ones!) are treated as valuable and valid. The culture there results in users jumping on every question with thoughtful solutions and providing fast responses even when the questions aren’t perfect.
I’m so glad this is something Stack Overflow wants to address. It’s an extremely helpful resource to me, but I’ve felt for a long time the focus on asking questions correctly is excessive and scares people off.
I think not censoring comments would be a nice start if you’re honest in what you’re saying. Specially when my comment had nothing to be censored
May I first say…put this reply box at the top lol. I had to scroll WAY down. Please read this as I don’t want to get lost in the shuffle…
I’m glad to see someone finally acknowledge the problem. But there has always been an us vs them mentality. I was here for a month, then got banned for 6 months, I worked for HOURS on my questions, tried to find answers in SO and outside. Still got banned for 6 months. Sure I’m back but if you had a better competitor I would not be.
The problem is deeper than, “Oh, how can I tell this person we won’t help” on a site built around helping others. The problem is the general rules about no duplicate questions and how loosely you can downvote another person’s question. Why downvote at all??? Why close questions? You encourage the negativity by these practices. It is built into the system! You may not feel that way and I know that people there are not trying to be mean, but it’s built in. Facebook has a way to show emotions via emoji’s on likes, that gives some dynamics to human emotions. You have massive up and down arrows with scores. We ARE constantly being judged here and it is encouraged. Would you like walking into work every day and be weighed and it shown to your co-workers?
You need a lot more work than CSS changes on the site, you need a complete revamp of the flow of feedback and how you handle duplicate questions.
1. Put more work into your algo’s to find similar questions, I very rarely get an appropriate duplicate when I’m making my post, but Steve with 1 Billion reputation has them on tap?
2. Do not limit peoples ability to post questions, you should encourage some mentorship from the more senior developers, not make them judges.
3. Create a “New Coder” section where we can help younger coders directly and the more simple questions can be directed there. No dumb questions! You may not include them in your search engine but at least I wouldn’t feel left in the cold for 6 months….that really felt good.
Anyway, you may not read this, nor care but it seems as if you want to put a bandaid on after a leg has been cut off. I hope you make things better.
Another quick thought after reading some more comments:
Please don’t ditch the voting system. Digging through outdated answers would be a very time consuming endeavor, and if S.O. were to do this, I’m afraid it would be moving toward a forum-like experience, which would essentially take away the reason S.O. works so beautifully in the first place.
Ask a non-tech person what’s the most toxic place on Earth and they’ll probably answer “Chernobyl”. Ask a dev and they’ll reply “Stack Overflow”.
First thing should be to get rid of downvoting altogether. There’s simply no use to it: if you think an answer is helpful upvote it, if not, let it be. Every downvote in your answers feel awful, and there’s people out there doing it just for the lols. Literally. In every question there’s someone dowvoting everyone else’s answers in an idiotic attempt to increase the chances of getting their own as the selected one.
And as a newcomer is even worse. Any newly registered user asks a question (that may or may not have good quality), gets some downvotes in seconds and their score gets below the limit to ask new questions in seconds. So they effectively have a blocked account forever. This should be a no-brainer. *Get rid of downvoting*
And while you’re at it, you should get rid of all badges for policing. The median time between a question being posted and it being marked as duplicate by someone is about 100 milliseconds. It’s ridiculous. And 99% of the times they point to really, really old questions with answers that no longer apply, or to totally unrelated stuff.
Old questions with accepted answers that no longer apply are a plague ’round here so a new alternative listing such as *most upvoted answer in the last year* could really help the quality when coming in from search engines… but that’s really a secondary issue compared to the toxicity.
You’ve made an extremely good job at creating an incredibly addictive reward system. But it’s rewarding exactly the wrong kind of behaviour.
I celebrate the efforts being made to fix this. But unless you start by taking out downvoting and policing badges, nothing will change.
On Point. I hope there is an upvote button here to upvote your comment
I’ve been a software developer for decades and I’ve never personally encountered anyone who that that SO is toxic, let alone the most toxic place on Earth — that’s such ridiculous hyperbole that it kills your credibility right off the bat. Nonetheless I read on, and found that I disagree with all your other claims as well.
Personally, I find this site unhelpful. When I search for a solution, it is generally because I am trying to do something beyond the standard tutorials and documentation, and there may well be a limitation in the language or documentation. But the responses tend to say “you shouldn’t do that, try this”, when “this” does not solve the problem. The responses seem to be generated by people who have been ingrained with a particular approach and only understand a small number of use cases. For any requirement that is unusual or sophisticated, there will be no sensible advice. So why would you ever consult this site?
I have personally saved months of effort by consulting SO, and that’s without asking any questions myself (I did post one question, but only because I wanted to share my answer to it), and the sum total savings of effort across all users of SO is vast. You’re clearly missing something.
As you point out, the current dynamics of the site tend to split into two groups — the inexperienced, who are more likely to look for low-level or broad help, and who are greatly discouraged by downvotes and closures — and the experienced, who see such questions as a waste of their time, and thus who downvote and vote to close.
But there’s an important and overlooked third category. These are the somewhat-experienced, those occasional users who feel fairly secure in the platform, and mostly ask questions that the experienced will tolerate, but rarely post answers, often because on questions where they’re qualified, they’re beaten to the punch by those same experienced users.
So actually we have three problems with a mutual solution. Problem 1 is that newcomers (and plenty of more experienced users) want a friendlier, more receptive culture. Problem 2 is that the very experienced users don’t want to answer questions that are a waste of their time. And Problem 3 is that many somewhat-experienced users want a way to engage more with the site, and get experience helping as well as asking. Therefore, why not try to restructure (and re-culture) the site to foster the analogous relationship of professor grad student undergrad — where the very experienced continue to answer the higher-level questions, but crucially, where the questions posed by the inexperienced are left open to be answered, or encouraged to be answered, by the somewhat-experienced.
Certainly, there is still such a thing as questions that are nonsensical, or perhaps a waste of a google hit. But the large majority of questions I’ve seen closed as being off-topic, or too broad, or a duplicate, could be answered productively, but are never given the chance. It’s perfectly understandable for expert users to not want to waste their time answering such questions. But voting to close a question that you don’t want to answer is like voting to close a restaurant because you don’t like their food. It’s time to think more critically about the difference between what some users find a waste of time, vs what the community as a whole can support.
Not being able to make comments due to the reputation limitations is frustrating. It is a less threatening entry point for first time users. Many a times I have been able to use the answer (with some modifications) – my resolution could have been a valuable addition.
On of the most pervasive things I’ve seen can be simplified this way:
Question: I want to do XYZ. I don’t really know how, but I’ve tried a few things that didn’t work as I expected. What am I missing?
Multiple answers of the form: Don’t do XYZ, ABC is better, why not try DEF?, have you tried LMN, I’m the author of LMN, Hey yah, LMN is really cool.
OP may try to drag the conversation back: I’m taking a class and we’re supposed to use XYZ…
More answers: Your class sux, definitely use DEF, I used XYZ when I was a newbie too…
Desperate damage control coming from a non-technical hysterical marketing person who got in charge of an overhyped resource that is not relevant anymore due to hostility of regulars towards new people and a cult of karma whoring.
This is what’s technically known as a “you problem”.
When multiple people I respect disagree with my ideas, I don’t take that as a bunch of bullies personally attacking me, I take it to mean that I’m likely wrong, and I seek to understand their criticisms. And if I’m still convinced that I’m not wrong, I look for where I was misunderstood and try to communicate better. I generally acknowledge valid points, recognize differing opinions, values, and priorities, shore up my arguments with more evidence or more detailed argumentation, etc. It’s about being mature and intellectually honest.
I would love to see a blog post that:
1. Takes 5 randomly selected questions with downvotes
2. Anonymizes them (omit question link and usernames)
3. Analyzes what happened, and what should have happened instead.
The issues this post discusses are both controversial and important, and I think looking at some concrete (random) examples would help all sides communicate their views.
My opinion isn’t the most popular here, but on any given day, and within 30 min, I can find at least half-dozen questions along the lines of “do my job for me because I can’t; BTW, putting in more effort or doing some homework is for sissies, smart devs take credit for others’ work”.
I understand more traffic means more revenue, but really?
Totally agree – well done!!
…another way to make the site more inviting is to stop user names such as “Racist whatever” – I think such names should be unacceptable
Stackoverflow is sometimes as cutthroat as a pirates cove.
10 years ago, I was torched are thrown off Stackoverflow island, automatically banned from adding more questions. I’d added only a handful. I was pretty depressed.
After at least half a year, I tried it again — lo and behold, my rank had jumped enough to vote-me-back-on-the-island, er, pirate cove because my questions, initially scathingly criticized and downvoted, were now upvoted enough to redeem and resurect me.
Present reputation is 6,200.
Years of hard-core programming: Since 1971 high-school, on punched cards, babies; professionally programming for a living since since 1979, that’s 80,000 hours, babies. Assembly lang, millions of lines of ‘C/C++’, .NET, embedded, web, business, mobile, iOS, on and on and on.
These days, the down-vote pirates prowling Stackoverflow are legion.
So cold and judgmental. Microsoft forums are much more friendly and so helpful.
PERHAPS, Stackoverflow should automatically ‘budget’ downvotes.
That surely would curtain critical caprice.
thank you for sharing but what kind of building Stack Overflow’s community do you mean?
I don’t know why respected & experienced programmers with years of experience are criticizing StackOverflow. At first, I felt bad when my questions were downvoted. But after a couple of years, now I realize that my questions deserved the downvotes. I read somewhere in a comment above where the commenter is saying that a question is marked as duplicate and then an outdated answer is referenced. But that’s not true. The community is so great that the answers are always accurate and they are the most precise ones.
I’ve seen a lot of newcomers who just want to through a question on the face of the SO community and expect a solution back to their coding issue. And the fact is that either their issue is answered in the docs of the related program or there are a handful of high-quality answeres. The thing is, they don’t want to spend time on research. They need quick solutions that the SO community will provide and they will just copy and paste it. These kinds of questions get downvotes. I visit SO almost daily. I don’t have that high reputation. I don’t ask too many questions, but I observe what’s happening there. Microsoft and Google forums are a very bad place to imagine when it comes to finding answers to programming questions. And StackOverflow is the treasure for coders. I’m sorry for my bad English and I’m sorry if my opinion hurts someone.
Can we go back news groups please?
In my experience of using Stack Overflow for about 5 or 6 years, I have observed the a few things that are a plus and a minus for the Stake Overflow Q&A community (hereafter the ‘community’).
The community is undoubtedly one of the best, if not the leading, in addressing a huge range of programming fields with a strict and stringent quality follow up processes. There is highly likely that a surfer with any questions s/he may have will land at Stack Overflow Q&A platform.
The community is filled with full of people who are biased, abusive and unwelcoming to new comers and probably discriminatory. I often noticed that these group of people (generally speaking) apply double standards and they are not rational. They say duplicate for some questions, and at the same time they allow others’ questions which appeared to be duplicates. They down vote some genuine questions but they let other low quality questions to get go without issues. Even, I noticed some silly questions up voted. There were instances that an individual come out of the blue and close questions even without reading the contents of the question.
The community is a place where we can find very helpful Q&As. However, some people over there, either they are assigned as moderators or the privileged ones based on their Q&As badges, are abusive and damaging the image of the good works of the community. That said, there are also people who are keen to share their knowledge and time to solve the problems of others. I think, the owners of this platform should take the necessary measures to correct the bad practices before they see the platform goes downwards and people moves out to other alternatives.
I am an experience software developer, I have been a StackOverflow user for many years and replied a few questions in the past.
Yesterday I posted my first question on SO and it was closed after a short time despite having received 4 upvotes already.
The problem was not that I did not put enough effort into researching before asking the question but quite the opposite…
To my surprise, since I provided some context to the question an even code examples in order to avoid the “XY problem”, three users with “high reputation” decided to close my question because they considered it “opinion based” :-/
This is the question: https://stackoverflow.com/questions/62247764/best-way-to-encapsulate-java-streams-operations
The fact is that I asked a very specific question, whether it was possible to achieve something in a better way than the way I came up with and my motivation to ask the question should not have really mattered.
I think that part of the problem is that users with big reputation can do whatever they want, without any accountability of their acts.
I am sure their reputation was well earned, but is it fair that once they have accumulated that reputation there is no way (AFAIK) they can lose it?
Is there any control over those people? No one reviews their decisions?
Well, this article shows an excellent example of how a person’s emotional intelligence can benefit their business a lot.
High respect for Sara Chipps. It was a great read.
But ironically, I found this article by coincidence, while I was googling an answer for a newbie design problem which I am currently facing.
And sadly, since I am pretty sure that I will be harassed a lot if I posted my problem in stackoverflow, I will have to implement my poor design, although I think there should be much better designs for my current coding problem.
The most hostile act experienced by many users is the (perceived forceful) removal of ownership by the editing of non-moderators.
This is especially so when the changes are frivolous, any improvements questionable, and utterly mind-blowing when the edits clearly degrade the original.
Anality runs high in the programmer demographic. Yes it does. (especially the front end dev segment, AMHIKT) So we find two primary sources responsible for most of these hard feelings within the community: Those pure of heart who simply want the best content presented, and those obsessed with their rep number and site presence.
The problem is, regardless of motivation, it is not possible for non-mods (or non-admins?) to make edits without being added as a co-author.
So there is a threefold fix, keeping in mind “more positive site experience = more users = more traffic = more revenue = more service returned to the community.”
First, place an optional-use ‘Anon’ switch on non-author edit pages. This would return the ‘edited by the community’ stamp rather than that of the user. Editor IDs would be preserved in data, of course, but hidden, and no links to the editor would be created. (This would have a side-benefit of reducing server, data, and people loads.)
Next, site devs write a routine that differentiates between formatting (or trivial) and content changes. Submitted forms with the Anon switch off (user wants partial ownership) would run this gauntlet, with the user receiving instructional alerts when flagged. Those who routinely blow through the alerts receive admin messages (“Dude, you’re messing up the site.”), the persistent personal attention.
Lastly, clarify policy on contributions by editing vs commenting. Comments suggesting an edit are much more friendly than direct edits.
Toward perfection are higher degrees of order. These are impossible to attain without conflict. Leadership must keep the herd of cats moving in a positive direction while minimizing friction, always a tightrope walk.
Hello, Sara. I totally agree with you.
This is my first and my last message I will ever post on this blog. I was discouraged from ever asking questions on not only Stack Overflow, but the entire Stack Exchange network, especially Ask Ubuntu where it is notorious to get snarky responses and comments.
One example on SO is that when I posted about this one code where it talks about client and server debug chatting in one program that uses TEXT using PuTTY. I have already googled for an hour and couldn’t find anything relevant to solving the “Take Turns Game” problem. I have a for loop that runs indefinitely until everyone’s disconnected. Instead of posting an answer that talks about read timeout and exception suppression, I was told by a “know-it-all” to search Google for such matters. I DID! I’ve wasted an hour and I didn’t want to waste another hour just for his “Google this” and “Google that” shenanigans, hence the internal restrictions.
Moreover, back in 2018, I have literally tried to run KDE 5 on my OLD computer that has only OpenGL 1.4 and no SSE2 since it could run KDE 4, but the KDE devs got it wrong when it comes to “If you can run KDE 4, you can run KDE 5” statement on their website for such PCs. Apparently, it froze because my Radeon 9200 SE tries to parse OpenGL 2.0 commands and its shaders, but fails with the system freeze. I’ve asked it on Ask Ubuntu because it’s Kubuntu, and nobody answered. Moreover, when I posted my research about KDE 5’s requirements and solved my own question, I got a snarky comment from an inexperienced KDE user who doesn’t know anything about the Radeon 9200 SE and AMD Athlon XP 1500+.
While some of my answers on some Q&A sites are met with upvotes like the Leap (package) installation failure, and some of them are not received well. However, on Ask Ubuntu, all my edits were accepted. When I read about other experiences, I’ve confirmed that users received the same fate. From now on, I will consider using it only to find solutions, and removing my Stack Exchange account as I find that IRC and probably Discord are more comfortable for me. However, I wasn’t discouraged to continue coding yet, because look at my GitHub account and Kernel Simulator. Soon enough, I may move to C++ and Python once I get enough resources and upgrade my Internet speed.
As I said, this comment is my first and my last one to be made in this blog. After that, I will remove my Stack Exchange account once I see fit. Thanks to everyone who tried to help me. And thank you Sara for making my day. If you think you still need me here, let me know.
Referring the OP to Google should be completely banned. Often, the highest-ranked Google result is an unanswered question with a comment telling the OP to go Google his question. IMHO telling someone to Google it is no better than telling them to go use Quora or EE.
If you need more examples of how bad the experience is for new user read these comments: (the person deleted the answer after I said it did not work for me. Then reposted the answer only to scold me more for questioning the answer) – sheesh
I agree…and it may be a bit better, but still that way.
When it is obvious a person is trying to ask a good question, there is no reason to downvote the question, just make a comment explaining, or just delete the whole thing. The shaming thing is not helpful.
Thanks for caring and addressing the issue.
I hate asking questions on here now & I have been here more than 10 years.
There was always respect and kindness, now its literally point scoring & rudeness.
I now go to GitHub and ask on the repo’s bugs and the newer discussion feature (watch out SO its a lot friendlier & could steel away your numbers).
This site will die unless you are way more careful about the mods who I believe to be the catalyst for this behaviour.
Totally agree. I just got a question downvoted and shut down for lack of research … really? How do they know I didn’t research it? They don’t know my knowledge level. I didn’t go into coding back out of high school because the computer field was just kicking off. I knew anything I paid to learn in college would be outdated before I graduated. Now many years later, I am finally doing some, but am totally self taught. I will spend DAYS beating my head against a wall before I post a question.
What I see in this thread is what I’m experiencing, and I’m am beyond frustrated at how many times some anonymous person has decided they don’t like the way I’ve phrased a question, even after hours of research, and down vote you. I don’t care about points – I care about learning and growing in this new area I’m swimming in right now. I’m open to constructive criticism – but – if you downvote, tell me why. When I asked a mod why he feels it’s okay to not tell you why, I got lectured on the ethics of StackOverflow – that was not a fun experience.
I see this thread has been going on for a long time – yet – still nothing changes. Why? Are you not listening? Do you not care? I don’t think either of those are the case – so what is it? And how much longer is this going to continue?
I am now not allowed to ask questions – this was after I asked a question that didn’t get answered. I continued to fight with the problem and solved it myself – went back to my posting and added my solution to help others. Guess what – my question got down voted, and I don’t know why.
Listen to your users – I get it, it’s a free site, but just how long are you going to survive if you don’t take action?
It doesn’t matter how nice your engineers are, if “we” can’t use the site it’s not going to last long.
I’m guessing just like all my other emails, posts and tweets, this will be ignored – but I am so frustrated right now I had to vent.
Please, listen – take action. It would be a crying shame to lose a resources like this because of a lack of action.
Nice to hear that others experienced what I experienced when starting at Stack Overflow. It was horrible, abusive, and not at all constructive. I’ve been programming for 20+ years, have published dozens of research papers (with stringent peer review), and I left Stack Overflow immediately after my first post due to the abusive language and worthless content of the people who responded. I still use Stack Overflow to find answers to coding questions, but I will not be rejoining to contribute to the community. I have much better things to do with my time than be abused by anonymous trolls.
Interesting blog post, thanks for sharing. I have occasionally been scolded on SO, making me temporarily bummed out, but golly, we all need thicker skins. If that is the cost for learning, that is a cost I am willing to pay. Other sites without any curation are tedious to use, and abuse is possible on those sites too (um, yeah, okay, I won’t name names, D). My knowledge is modest, but I still come to SO for answers. This blog post is so old, I can’t believe my comment carries any influence, but thanks to those who curate answers and questions, even when you criticize.
It might be interesting to allow any user (yes, even noobs, perhaps esp noobs) to negatively rate answers and comments, not on the comment’s technical note, but on tone. Not sure how that might work since I don’t think it should be the same as the up arrow, down arrow which should be based on accuracy and helpfulness, as opposed to encourage/discourage. Very different rating and I would not want to dilute the arrows.
Good article. When I first starting coding, about 5 years ago, I got stuck on a PHP problem. I felt relieved when I found Stackoverflow, I signed up and asked my question. No name calling, I just got straight up banned because the question was to noobish.
Very brutal, but, it forced me to dig deeper into the problem, to understand the factors at play. Which in the long run made me a far better programmer.
>I see this thread has been going on for a long time – yet – still nothing changes.
Maybe because the core moderators don’t want to change or realise they’re doing it? I’ve been coding and working in IT for 40 years so, trust me, I don’t ask trivial questions.
I’ve been aware of the StackXXX community from the start. I used to engage more, these days it’s not worth the hassle. I rarely post because I can find better answers elsewhere. Sure, many of the resources are useless but neither it StackXXX getting it right either.
I assume the ultimate aim was to provide the #1 answer when you did a Google search? The number of hits I get these days gets less each year.
My main gripe is the closing down of posts without *any* time to reflect and edit your question. Sure, point out a problem with the question but give us a least a few days to correct it. I’m amazed how quickly posts are closed – moderators must be sat there reading every single post…
This post is old and the feedback people give is very clear. Problem with duplicate and reputation. Why those problems aren’t adressed?
AS a beginner to SO, the experience is horrible. Since they do not think they should fix it, is there any alternative?
Gulzar, rated 8500, programmer for 10 years.
I asked a question the other day. It got a -3 rating. I don’t know why.
Wanting to improve, I asked on Meta.
The meta post got -7 instantly, and the linked original post got another -2.
No answer as to what was wrong with either question.
The comments were angry. “You should have known that and that detail” they read between the “kind” lines. No one explained their down vote ON EITHER SITE. I was forced to delete both posts out of shame. SHAME! For asking a question, and for asking how to ask better.
I am on this site for years now, I know my way around software, and I am also allowed to not know things, and should be entitled to ask even “obvious” questions.
This is the experience of a person who enters the site DAILY FOR YEARS. No wonder newbies feel this way.
As I see it, these problems start at the top – the moderators don’t bother to explain themselves. To anyone. They dwell on Meta.
My suggestion of improvement – No downvotes (at least on meta) are allowed with no reasoning. Otherwise, what’s the point? You could allow “private down voting” only visible and for high rated users, to draw attention to bad posts.
People not explaining bad quality posts EVEN WHEN ASKED is the source of everything. There is no way of improving.
Another suggestion, is to auto-locate or allow flagging of questions in which the poster doesn’t agree on the post bad quality, and have someone explain the problem to them. This costs money, but interacting with humans requires humans.
Gulzar, rated 8500, programmer for 10 years.
I asked a question the other day. It got a -3 rating. I don’t know why.
Wanting to improve, I asked on Meta.
The meta post got -7 instantly, and the linked original post got another -2.
No answer as to what was wrong with either question.
The comments were angry. “You should have known that and that detail” they read between the “kind” lines. No one explained their down vote ON EITHER SITE. I was forced to delete both posts out of shame. SHAME! For asking a question, and for asking how to ask better.
I am on this site for years now, I know my way around software, and I am also allowed to not know things, and should be entitled to ask even “obvious” questions.
This is the experience of a person who enters the site DAILY FOR YEARS. No wonder newbies feel this way.
As I see it, these problems start at the top – the moderators don’t bother to explain themselves. To anyone. They dwell on Meta.
My suggestion of improvement – No downvotes (at least on meta) are allowed with no reasoning. Otherwise, what’s the point? You could allow “private down voting” only visible and for high rated users, to draw attention to bad posts.
People not explaining bad quality posts EVEN WHEN ASKED is the source of everything. There is no way of improving.
Another suggestion, is to auto-locate or allow flagging of questions in which the poster doesn’t agree on the post bad quality, and have someone explain the problem to them. This costs money, but interacting with humans requires humans.
I’m astonished that how team manage to pay each & every query in the fixed time. What an incredible system they have. More powers to you!
It is very difficult to ask a question that the moderators like. Even if users understand the question and write useful answers, after a few hours it will be the moderator’s turn and lock the question. Wouldn’t it be possible to make a section for beginner questions that will not be strictly locked (deleted)?
This question already has answers here:
Stackoverflow is based on a flawed concept, which is that it is based on gaming and social instinct. Of course, such could not be known to the founders having no education in relevant disciplines.
Example: a new Stackoverflow contributor though a veteran and experienced software engineer posts a question she/he then answers so to start their “Stackoverflow ” career. The topic happened to be in their area of experience and expertise, which is also happens to be rare in the field. However, the few who voted downvoted the post, and as human social instinct goes, they were probably being territorial.
Though this Stackoverflow newbie could easily prove with absolute evidence, the newbie not being a gamer didn’t know how to “game” Stackoverflow and become an asset there. They decided it was too much like high school politics to continue wasting their time. After all, is not up to Stackoverflow to set the social standards for an industry.
Thus, once again popularity rules over accepted and repeated scientific evidence from practitioners in a field that is supposed to be grounded in such evidence.
By far the two biggest issues with SO is A) people don’t know what they don’t know and B) the down voting process is brutally archaic. I will elaborate on both. I have a SO reputation score of over 2,000, its taken me about 6 years to amass that number. Quite often I find myself asking theory questions as opposed to direct `help me fix this` questions. After searching for answers using terms I am familiar with, if I can’t find a solution I will eventually turn to SO to pose the question using the same terms. Why the same terms? Because thats all I knew to search for. If I knew of different terms, I would have used the different terms/words to search for a proper solution and maybe I would have found it and not needed SO. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. Here is an example of #A
`Is there any method for doing a MySQL multi-table select that can tag/label the columns from the table the column originated from?`
That is the opening line of one of my questions. I went on to provide some mock tables, provided an accurate SELECT statement and added what the outcome of that select statement would be – and then I posted the output of what I was looking for. Being that I am pretty weak with mysql, I didn’t think to search for or ask about `aliases` – because I don’t know what I don’t know. Within an hour I had two people provide quick comments about using ‘aliases’ and 1 comment about my mock tables not being accurate.
Which then leads me to #B.
Within an hour the question itself had 3 down votes and 1 user actually took the time to answer it. Thank god for the 1 user….that 1 user led me down a path of more research and reading that provided me the full solution for what I was looking for. BUT…why the three down votes, what were they for? There was no explanation, no reason or information that would clue me in as to why people were down voting my very legit question that provided ample information, and examples, of what I was looking for. Obviously I provided ample information that one user was able to answer it…so why three down votes? Usually I see negative reviewers say something like `provide a working example’ – but the reality is my question, and many others like it, don’t need a working example. An intelligent person, especially those with 2k, 5k 10k+ points, should be able read the question and provide an answer like the 1 user who did.
Adding A and B together translates into: Getting down voted for not knowing what you don’t know. Getting down voted by elite users who are so ELITE that they aren’t required or feel compelled to provide a down vote reason. They took the time to read it….how about taking a moment to provide real feedback to either answer the question or at least inform the OP how how about taking the time to provide real feed back, no matter how negative, so the OP has an opportunity to learn.
Over the years, and particularly the last 2 years, SO has become more stringent, more non-user friendly and has taken on the air of being an elitist technical forum that is becoming more and more difficult to use. I can’t even image starting SO for the first time this year compared to 6 years ago. With a reputation of over 2000 I am having more and more of questions being down voted and `suggested to close`, I couldn’t fathom what its like today for newbies to join.
I don’t think it will happen. Some of the Moderators are really mean and doesn’t give you advices or tell you what’s wrong , just because the code is complext doesn’t mean it should be flagged down as bad or removed. There’s this one guy called “Mast” and he basically said “programming ain’t for you buddy, you can’t ask simple question and your grammar sucks”. I was appaled, the guy brutally insulted me over a simple question of chunk of code. I told him “C# wpf is probably dead in 2022 coz there’s not a lot of resources about it online or even stack overflow. He told me “in SO it has 50,000 question in the span of 1month, probably dead for a piece of Sh*t like you. And I snapped. It has been 2 weeks and till this day I never cooled down. I was asking to any forum he’s on and even on github about his real information. It’s this guy https://stackoverflow.com/users/1014587/mast?tab=profile, Stackoverflow has become so toxic and those kind of Moderator that doesn’t contribute much is the reason. I mean I looked up his work and answers, I don’t even understand how he got 50K+ reputation . I barely find any answer regarding programming at all, its all about “Degrading and about insults one after another”. The only thing that makes StackOverFlow famous is the old questions that provides solid answers and not even the top moderator are the reason for that but some genuine bonadife enthusiast and good individuals who has a lot of skills and talent helping other coders starting out. Since 2017 you can’t find useful answers on some trivial question and if ever you find one its band-aid solution not concrete one, since then I stop relying in stackoverflow there’s nothing new about new language and new framework coz basically all question are removed so you’ll be stacked to the old ones (99% winforms question of c#). I tried it out again last couple of weeks turns out it becomes more toxic (My encountered with these “Mast” moderator). Its policy and protocols are worst than facebook . I kind of pity those genuine developers who helped made what Stackoverflow is today but all those spineless, greedy good for nothing Moderator are reaping the benefits and ruining StackOverFlow, it’s sad. Well to be fair Reddit and Quora are probably the best plaform right now for new questions. I don’t think you’re wrong at some of your takes but you should check the community as a user and not as a moderator so you can see all the nasty stuff all your moderator is doing. Good day to you Sarah it was a good read.