I've been on this site for over a month now and have noticed several fundamental issues regarding the FAQ. The purpose of this post is to elucidate these issues or wait for other users to tell me to hush.

Rules or FAQ?

The general usage of the FAQ (exclusive of the StackExchange network) is a reference. It is used as a guide when things are not clear and obvious. While I have never used a question-and-answer site before, I read everything I could before posting my first answer and question. Fortunately, likewise with most people, I realised that the so-called rules actually reside within the FAQ.

While containing guidelines inside the FAQ is fine for the majority of people who are considerate and strive to behave 'correctly' on this site, there is still a large number of people who the FAQ as a secondary reference (or not at all) and then find their question closed within minutes for asking something off-topic.

I understand that 'rules' itself is a strong term - independently, the FAQ contains guidelines on what is permissible, but yet questions get closed promptly because people don't adhere to the rules in the FAQ; in this case, they are hard-and-fast rules.

Suggestion: make the rules more distinct or force each newcomer to read the rules section of the FAQ before posting a question. It is true they will learn inevitably, but let's go one step further and properly define what is and isn't accepted here from the beginning.

Accepting an Answer

The FAQ states:

When you have decided which answer is the most helpful to you, mark it as the accepted answer by clicking on the check box outline to the left of the answer. This lets other people know that you have received a good answer to your question. Doing this is helpful because it shows other people that you’re getting value from the community. (If you don’t do this, people will often politely ask you to go back and accept answers for more of your questions!)

For this site, it is simply wrong. There are countless instances where a member will ask the original poster to accept more answers. This is always countered by another (more experienced) user or moderator stating that the acceptance rate is irrelevant to programmers.stackexchange.com.

Example: 2-3 weeks ago, Péter Török, possibly the fastest person to gain reputation on this site was in the position of asking the original poster to accept more questions. Anna Lear was the one who retorted, saying that accepting answers doesn't matter because this site is based on subjective discussions. This shouldn't have happened.

Based on the stackexchange model (here and here), this site is a self-regulating site (where the community sets the conventions). This results in advice (from experienced users) and direction (from the moderating team) which directly conflicts with what is stated in the FAQ.

Suggestion: change the FAQ.


Regarding the first part of your question: this already exists. All new users have to pass through a page that explains the guidelines of the site. If a user hasn't figured it out after that, well... that's what community moderation is for.

On Stack Overflow and sites during private beta, users get hit with a page that explains the guidelines for asking good questions. I thought it was there for all sites, but apparently it's not: I agree that something similar should be there that gets people to at least ostensibly agree to the site's guidelines.

Regarding the second part of your question, there are two aspects to this:

  1. Whether it's acceptable or encouraged to nag people about their accept rates
  2. Whether people should be worrying about accepting answers

To the first part, people nagging others about their accept rate is just crass: there are so many more important things to worry about than pestering people about one metric. It's noise, and there are a lot of people who flag those comments as noise/spam. The FAQ actually covers this: be nice.

To the second part, whether people should be worrying about accepting answers: as user #8, I'm confident in saying accept rate is not irrelevant, even on Programmers.SE.

The misguided idea that there are no accepted answers, or that people shouldn't accept answers, or that it's acceptable to never accept answers, comes from a short period of Programmers.SE's history when it was unclear what types of questions were acceptable.

However, that was quickly nipped in the bud and Programmers.SE does not have any special dispensation that makes it qualitatively different than the literally dozens of other Stack Exchange sites that follow the same conventions and norms when it comes to question and answer model. The guidelines in the FAQ are the result of months of discussion both here and elsewhere in the Stack Exchange system: they comprise best practices that have been tested time and time again.

In reality, while Programmers.SE is home to questions of a more subjective nature, every question has an answer. That is, a good question that deserves a home on the Stack Exchange network needs to be the result of an actual problem a person faces.

That problem is going to have a solution: therefore, unless the question got terrible answers, there's going to be an answer the question asker can accept. So the advice in the FAQ is correct: people should be accepting answers that helped them, personally, the most. It serves as an acknowledgement that the problem was solved and that another user was instrumental in solving that problem.

And that really is the value proposition to answering questions: people want to know that they actually helped someone. Otherwise, what's the point? Answering for the sake of filling out textareas?

  • 1
    Thanks for the answer! You've addressed both issues thoroughly. I thought some enforcing was done and when I went to try posting anonymously, nothing of the sort occurred... – Jonathan Khoo Mar 22 '11 at 9:27
  • "All new users have to pass through a page that explains the guidelines of the site" this is only true on Stack Overflow to my knowledge, and even then only when new Stack Overflow users click "Ask Question". There are some heuristics that MAY trigger for answers, depending on their content, but generally for short answers only. We enable that dynamic answer heuristic check on all larger sites. – Jeff Atwood Mar 22 '11 at 11:06
  • @Jeff Ah, I've seen it on Stack Overflow and during private beta, so I figured it was there during all stages. – user8 Mar 22 '11 at 13:58

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