I'm sorry to flog a dead horse, but I'm honestly disgusted by the conduct in the Programming Tourism question.

I want to be clear about this. I would never do the kind of thing he's proposing. I'd go out and enjoy the sights and sounds and smells and tastes and harlots company.

But the OP asks two very simple questions, point blank:

  1. Is it legal?
  2. Is it possible?

And the top-voted, ridiculously voted answer, now at 62 upvotes, scornfully rejects the premise of the question without offering any real insight or rationale:

Sorry, but I think you're crazy. Paris is one of the most interesting and lively cities in the world. You have a 10 day vacation with your girlfriend and you want to spend that time coding?

Why not take a break from computers for the 10 days and come back refreshed and energised to complete your Ph.D?

That's it. That's the whole post.

This is not an answer to the question. It doesn't answer either #1 or #2. It does not provide an "alternative" because the OP was not asking for options. It is no more than a snarky retort.

Let me reiterate: I agree with the general feelings expressed within that answer. But there is a difference between feeling the same way as someone and upvoting their answer. The answer is not helpful or useful to the person who asked the question, or any future readers, in any way. It is no different from all the joke answers on Stack Overflow we saw in the early days that went, dude, you should totally drop that and try jQuery - now relegated to a silly meta meme.

What really bothers me is not that the answer was posted; quite honestly, I can forgive Steve for having the knee-jerk reaction he did, even if I personally would have had more tact.

But the mass upvoting and people militantly defending the answer afterward is not what these Q&A sites are supposed to be about. This is not supposed to be a place where people come genuinely looking for help, and not only get shot down, but get a pile-on of comments and votes telling him that, basically, he's a loser.

Meanwhile, serious questions about software development collect dust, and even easier serious ones don't get nearly as much attention.

I know that we're seeing the bike shed effect, but this seems way out of proportion to any of the bikeshedding I've seen on any other Stack Exchange site.

Is there something I'm missing? Why has this answer been upvoted so many times? Why hasn't it been locked or deleted? Are there seriously people who don't think this is utterly childish and a very poor reflection on the community in general?

Is there anything more we can be doing to improve the level of discipline here? (Don't say flag/downvote - I already did.) Or is this type of behaviour already firmly entrenched in the site's culture, something that we're all expected to just ignore or chuckle at when it comes up?

This site's come a long way in terms of question quality - but are answers and votes still basically a free for all, or is there actually some standard people are expected to follow?

  • 3
    I agree that there's a lot of up-voting non-answers and dislike it as well. The only thing I'll add to your point is that this question was migrated from SO and likely got most of its up votes from there.
    – Walter
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 17:54
  • 1
    @Walter: The question was migrated, but the answer being discussed got almost all of its upvotes here (and was probably posted here).
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 18:00
  • 3
    Peer Pressure
    – Aditya P
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 4:41
  • I'm surprised that question wasn't closed for being too localized, but what do I know... How many people are really going to go on a vacation and then somehow miraculously get a 7 day job for fun. Yeah... sure. EDIT: I didn't vote on the question either way, but maybe I should have down voted it (but the really stupid questions I tend to just ignore, so maybe that is wrong).
    – jmq
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 20:58
  • @jmq: I disagree that it was a stupid question. I don't fancy the idea myself, but try to see it from all perspectives; if you really want to learn about French culture then the best way to do that is to work there for a short while and really live the life, not hang around a bunch of tourist spots. Whether a week is enough time to do that, or if any company would allow it, or if it's even legal - well, that was precisely the topic of the question. We shouldn't be judging people, we should be answering their questions no matter how stupid we think they are (or at least ignoring them).
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 23:07
  • 1
    @Aaronaught, what you have described is basically the definition of a question that is too localized. It's considered off topic for the forum. I think that question is off topic and silly, but I'm not a moderator so my opinion doesn't really count (I can only vote it down, which I went back and did). JMHO.
    – jmq
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 23:54
  • @Aaronaught - I agree with your post here, and up-voted it. Funny though, I feel the same happened on a question I asked recently where you started your answer with a non-tactful admonition and one of the top-voted answers was an attack on my premise. Ironic, or something else? (That said, I'm coming to believe this site should be given a new URL: bikeshed.stackexchange.com) Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 20:41
  • @Mike: My admonition there was a single comment prefixing the answer, which has always been acceptable on every SE. The bulk of the answer was actually a direct answer to the question. So no, not particularly ironic as far as I'm concerned.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 21:56
  • @Aaronaught - You also admonished in a comment on this answer which together I take for (at best) ironic. Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 23:13
  • @Mike: No, once again, this issue is about answers that don't answer the question. People have always been free and encouraged to write whatever they want in comments as long as it's reasonably on-topic, and an innocent and common disclaimer ("this isn't a good idea, but if you must, then here's how") is very easily escalated in a comment thread with a hostile response. Speaking of off-topic, would you mind not airing your dirty laundry in totally unrelated questions/threads?
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 23:39
  • @Aaronaught - Fair points. Commented Apr 17, 2011 at 0:02
  • On the same note, people need to stop upvoting answers to non-questions. E.G. Anything that does not meet the criteria in the FAQ. Commented Apr 18, 2011 at 19:15
  • hey guys, let's take the internet really seriously today
    – user29776
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 17:27
  • @kekekela: Thanks once again for your "insight". Stack Exchange Q&A was very deliberately designed by and for people who wanted to take the internet more seriously. If you don't understand that, you are most definitely in the wrong place.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 17:52
  • "Stack Exchange Q&A was very deliberately designed by and for people who wanted to take the internet more seriously" --- Source?
    – user29776
    Commented Aug 26, 2011 at 18:20

12 Answers 12


There are roughly 111 total users with 3000+ reputation and 21 users over 10k. With these numbers, we should be able to effectively maintain the standards on this Q&A site.

The problem that I see is not every high rep user fully understands that this is a Q&A site, not a discussion site. I feel like there are some things we can try:

  • Evangelize and educate more of the 3000+ and 10k users to take part in actively moderating the site through encouragement and education of the dangers of the site becoming a doomed discussion forum. Where at all possible, we should reference the knowledge of Jeff, Joel, Robert, Rebecca, and Dori, who have seen countless StackExchange sites succeed and fail. They do know what they're talking about, and the blog is a wealth of knowledge that we should reference when dealing with stubborn users.

  • Appoint/Elect more moderators. If there are more people responsible for the site, this will help take pressure off the current 3 moderators. (It's 3, right?)

  • Take the approach that Ivo Flipse has taken on SuperUser and start a blog. For Programmers, we could reward higher rep users with the ability to blog about certain questions that may be off-topic here on the Q&A site, but that may thrive on the blog, since blogs are more appropriate for discussions.

  • There are three of us, yes.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 4:06
  • this is very good advice. I have also found that "more moderators" is almost always a good thing. (Note that I didn't say more moderation, per se, but spreading it fairly.) Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 5:07
  • @Jeff: why not making moderators the 4st, 5st & 6st of the last election?
    – user2567
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 7:55
  • 3
    I agree, great ideas and exactly the kind of answer I'm hoping for. I would like to hear more specific ideas for how to evangelize and educate, but consensus that we should do it in some fashion is certainly a start. The only (minor) issue with more moderators at this point is that the "super vote" makes it difficult for the moderators as a group to indicate that they all agree, and that a particular closure/deletion wasn't just one moderator acting heavy-handedly and unilaterally. But, from personal experience, that tends to sort itself out over time.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 14:08
  • I especially like the blog idea. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 13:07
  • There is a vast difference between "understanding" and "agreeing", and this IS the site for subjective opinions. I still think the "take a vacation!" answer was the best, because it informed the OP that there was disagreement with one of the underlying premises and I agree with that opinion.
    – user1249
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 18:52
  • @Thorbjorn - According to the blog post on Good Subjective Questions, opinions should be backed up with references, the best subjective questions inspire longer answers, and the answers should include "why" or "how". Therefore, just because this is a subjective site doesn't mean anything goes. I can't see the answer you're referring to as I think it's been deleted, but if it only said "take a vacation", then it didn't meet the guidelines of a good answer. Again, keep in mind I don't see this answer anymore...
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 2:47
  • @jmort The answer in question is quoted in its entirety in this question.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 3:19
  • @jmort, so if the answer had spelled out in detail why he should take the vacation instead of working even more (like keeping his girlfriend, recharge batteries etc) it would have been acceptable? I don't buy that.
    – user1249
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 6:56
  • I'm just looking at this based on the vision of the creators of this network, and they seem to believe that good subjective questions promote answers that explain why, how, and are backed up with references. Besides, just telling someone "don't do X" isn't the same as telling them "don't do X" and then giving them a detailed reason why they shouldn't do X. Besides, how hard is it to explain the upside of taking a vacation?
    – jmort253
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 7:51

The answer you used as your example did get locked (and subsequently deleted). The main reason it didn't get locked sooner is because there wasn't a mod around to do so right away. I waited perhaps too long, but as I described elsewhere, my interpretation of the answer was different than yours. I do not think that suggesting someone take a vacation is equivalent to calling one a loser.

That said, while I don't think that this particular example was a non-answer (though I do think that it was a poor answer), I agree that answer quality in general is a problem. I think it stems at least in part from the fact that a lot of questions asked here are similar. The answer is always "it depends" and there are only so many times one can re-type that in different and constructive ways.

I've been thinking about this a fair bit lately. In some ways, Programmers is more like a discussion site with votes than it is a definitive Q&A resource and that introduces challenges that other SE sites might not run into to the same extent. As moderators, where do we draw the line between hammering low quality posts and respecting community wishes?

Programmers certainly doesn't have a very active community that is willing to self-moderate in ways that are perceived to be in line with the guidelines from on high. "Not constructive" posts are always a battleground and if the community will not self-moderate with the tools that it is given and moderators are looked down on for closing things without community votes, where does that leave us?

I'm open to suggestions on promoting answer quality beyond leaving comments on poor answers and trying to edit them into shape where possible.

  • 1
    Agreed. While I welcome flags alerting us to posts that need attention or closing it's disheartening to see that these flags aren't backed up by comments, edits or even close votes. Unless this happens there will always be a tension between leaving poor posts in order that they might be dealt with by the community thus attracting the wrong sort of attention and closing them straight away and being castigated for that too.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 22:16
  • 1
    @ChrisF: Well, we can't vote to close answers, only questions... and as for comments, there were several but they may have been cleared/deleted in this case due to the animosity that was building up.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 22:28
  • @Aaronaught - I was talking about more general flags rather than this specific case, but I take you point. I certainly don't usually clean up comments like that.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 22:30
  • 4
    Anna - you're definitely right that it's a tough nut to crack, and I admit I don't have all the answers, but as I said to Mark, there is something to the fact that this community did manage to improve its question quality through well-written guidelines and careful moderation of same. I think what people don't realize is that those guidelines for constructive questions are also supposed to apply to answers. In a nutshell: did you back it up? Or did you just spit out the first thing that came to mind?
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 22:31
  • @Aaronaught That's a fair point. At this point we try to leave comments on especially poor answers. I guess it's time to start going back and deleting answers that don't receive a response to those comments. The unfortunate thing is that those deleted answers will not be visible to the users who need to see that they were deleted. Tougher moderation of answers should eventually drive up answer quality, but I'm afraid the actual impact will be minimal due to the invisibility of such moderation.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 22:37
  • I must disagree with some of your pessimism; I have never believed that closed/deleted questions/answers act as reliable signposts warning others not to do the same. I think it's the opposite; when one visits a site and sees that the questions and answers are consistently high quality, then not only does one aspire to the same standard, but the contrast is heightened when one posts garbage instead and it becomes glaringly obvious that it does not belong.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 22:58
  • @Aaronaught from my experience here and on the other SE sites, the idea that the six subjective guidelines applies to answers is really a hard thing to grasp: people tend to come back with "it specifically says questions" and that as long as they attempted an answer, it doesn't need to be removed.
    – user8
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 23:42
  • 3
    @Mark: I think Bill was specifically talking about Stack Overflow. But perhaps the FAQ here ought to be amended to say that, actually, yes, duh, if a good question "inspires" such answers then obviously those are also the kinds of answers people are expected to submit.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 23:51
  • 2
    IMHO the deleted -removed answer could have been converted into a comment. As mods are able to do that just like on SO. Its just plainly offends the sentiments of all the 60+ odd people for expressing their view or support to an answer( non or not)
    – Aditya P
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 3:06
  • 3
    That was the best answer, by the standards of sanity and community popularity, and should have been left alone. There is no obligation nor requirement nor contract that says the answer must conform to the structural expectations of the question. "Don't do that" is not only a legitimate answer, it is often the more common-sense correct answer. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 2:52
  • I think that this is very bad that the community doesn't rise to the standards set by Jeff and Joel. It makes me feel disappointed with humanity in general.
    – quant_dev
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 16:29

If you catch it early enough, I think the answer is easy, I've had success with it myself:

  • Downvote and comment.

    I came upon an interesting question (I made a mistake accepting this job) which had about 5 answers already, and the top one, if I remember correctly, in 4 minutes had already gone up to +5/-0 (sadly the timeline doesn't break it down into small enough chunks to actually tell).

    I didn't want to be so harsh, but I felt like the community was going to run away with it if I didn't say something. Soon the comment had several upvotes and the momentum on the answer had been killed.

    Is type safety worth the trade-offs? this is another example where a comment stopped the streak of upvotes.

  • If you have time, answer.

    Since I had downvoted, the OP asked me what my problem with it was and what my thoughts were. I hadn't planned on answering, but I figured if I was going to be a naysayer then I had a responsibility to back up what I'd said if asked.

Some users actually like these short answers; One poster commented this, and said that others (I can only assume mine) were too long-winded. In response to me, he subsequently posted an answer here on meta stating his reasoning. I disagree with this view, but if it is a conscious opinion, than it is that user's prerogative and I am OK with that.

I don't think this is a problem of members of the community wanting short answers, or valuing them over good ones in a completely fair comparison.

This is another manifestation of Fastest Gun in the West Problem, and it may be worse here on Programmers.

  • A short answer by nature has less to disagree with.
  • The short answer is more likely to be read by people just scanning the answers.
  • The short answer is digested quickly by all readers.
  • If the short answer already has votes, it's easy to assume that someone else has read the long answers for you.

In the answers to the FGITW problem, Adam Davis starts out with:

I've asked questions that have received an immediate answer with enough information to get me past my block, but not served on a platter as you propose, with all the information I might need.

This quick-answer nature is very specific to StackOverflow. A high percentage of questions on SO are likely to have been a "blocker" for someone, while almost all on Programmers are the thoughtful, non-urgent kind of questions.

The (non-)solution to the FGITW problem is to encourage people to vote better. This solution is much better suited to SO than to Programmers, and I believe needs revisiting.

In conclusion I disagree with the idea that something is wrong the the "people" here. It is completely natural to see a highly-upvoted short answer, read it, agree; then scan the rest and see a long-winded answer and assume everyone else must not have agreed and skip it. Then you add your vote to the stack on the short answer, and voila, the cycle continues.

If we want to fix this, the software is going to have to change.

  • 4
    I don't buy that it's just a FGITW issue. I've seen good answers on Stack Overflow trump poor (but early) answers many, many times. FGITW doesn't explain 60 upvotes - that is simply out-of-control, frivolous behaviour. I did downvote and comment, so I think that is good advice, but I'm not convinced that it's enough in every care, especially when somebody expresses a popular or crowd-pleasing opinion.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 23:48
  • @Aaronaught - that's why I stressed that Programmers is fundamentally different than Stack Overflow. On SO it's many times easier to see a poor answer. Like I said, in subjective answers, shortness is a type of virtue (the more you say, the more likely someone is going to disagree with a part of what you say). In subjective answers, there is a tendency to believe the other voters have read (and dismissed) those longer answers.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 23:56
  • 1
    This is conflating the concepts of subjective and opinion. Opinions are always wholly subjective, but subjective answers are not always just opinion. People vote emotionally rather than rationally when the issue is entirely a matter of opinion, which is a wrong-headed behaviour even on a "subjective" site; people should be voting based on how well the answerer supported his/her answer with facts and logic. Whether that's done in 2 lines or 10 lines doesn't make an awful lot of difference in my observation, unless it's so long that it triggers a tl;dr response.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 0:04
  • ...and none of that has to do with FGITW anyway.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 0:05
  • It does have to do with FGITW - people, so often, don't read - as with so much on the web, they satisfice (coined by Steve Krug): "we don’t choose the best option—we choose the first reasonable option, a strategy known as satisficing". And FGITW encourages this because we use the existing scores to make assumptions about longer answers.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 0:13
  • That may apply to the person who happens to be looking for a solution - and only in the limited circumstance when that person is foraging for content - but it almost certainly doesn't apply to the bystanders and onlookers who are specifically in the position of trying to promote the best answer. If that is truly how members in this community vote then it only cements the hypothesis that there is a deeply-ingrained cultural problem here; I've never seen that kind of behaviour exhibited on other Stack Exchanges. Well... maybe SciFi.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 2:15
  • @Aaronaught - Since I'm not in the heads of readers, I can't truly speak for them, but from all the time that I've observed answer-score trajectories on P.SE, that's what I've concluded to be happening. If the answer warrants a thoughtful, developed answer, one that hasn't been given, and the top answer is short and already has 5 or more votes -- don't bother.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 2:19
  • I can't really argue with your observation, since what I've seen is largely the same. But that is really, really sad, and fundamentally what the team was trying to prevent when they changed the definition of this site. We aren't supposed to be a reddit or slashdot clone. I was really hoping that this would eventually become a place to go for serious advice about the craft, not another repository for the witless humour and repressed egos of geeks. Surely this pattern is a problem with the community and not with the engine if it's not happening elsewhere so consistently?
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 2:30
  • Glancing quickly at the footer, I only see a few sites that are distinctly more advice-oriented sites (Programmers, UX, maybe webmasters?) This could account for some of the unique issues seen here. The community could always be better educated, and I wouldn't turn down any efforts toward that end. However, I think the SO engine has some shortcomings when it comes to Q&A where there are many "right" answers.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 4:44
  • Perhaps I'm biased on account of being a moderator there, but one could certainly argue that "Seasoned Advice" involves at least some kind of advice, and our community rarely tolerates blatantly off-topic answers (perhaps because we spent so much time hammering the point home in the early days). Perhaps it is partly an engine issue, but I still firmly believe that it's primarily a community/social issue, and one that can be fixed over time if enough people pool their resources and aren't afraid to bust a few heads (metaphorically speaking).
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 14:19
  • 1
    @Aaronaught Fair enough - any ideas on how to get that started? A good Meta FAQ post to link to in comments on non-answers would help. Like I said, catching it early seems to be key - if there are enough of us doing it, many of those posts can be caught and then other members of the community can learn from the comments, spreading the cause.
    – Nicole
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 15:53
  • What about making the amount of characters needed in an answer HIGHER for the first question, like 200?, and then less and less until we reach the current limit?
    – user1249
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 18:58

I think you're on to something, but are overreacting a little in this specific case.

I believe it's difficult for people to separate the act of voting for "hey, this makes no sense" -- which you said you agreed with, as do I -- and "hey, this isn't really an answer to your question".

This particular answer should just have been deleted earlier so that it wasn't on the menu of options, so to speak.

(This is also an implicit call for more moderators, as jmort noted.)

  • Perhaps it was an overreaction, but it clearly took such an reaction to effect change (downvoting/flagging/commenting was just pissing in the wind, so to speak). If this were an isolated incident I certainly would have just moved on; unfortunately it's really just the latest in a long string of similar circle-jerks - for me, the straw that broke the camel's back.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 12, 2011 at 14:16
  • maybe i missed the overarching context, but my first reaction to the OP's question was exactly the same: don't waste a week in Paris with your girlfriend. I don't understand why a highly-upvoted common-sense answer rasied so many hackles... "Don't do that" is a perfectly legitimate answer. For example: "Should I learn Perl this weekend, or breathe?" Common sense clearly indicates that learning Perl has far more functional utility than mere respiration... ;-) Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 2:58
  • @steven it veers a bit too far into editorializing IMHO, there is no real safety issue like "you can't stop breathing" Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 3:15
  • @Steven: The point that I have been trying to get across (and that the "How To Answer" page tries to explain) is that "Don't do that" isn't a valid answer in isolation. It has to come with a rationale, and where applicable, a set of alternatives. This answer did neither, as far as I can tell.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 17:36

As one of the militant defenders of that answer in question, I'd like to put forth a thought regarding one of your questions:

Are there seriously people who don't think this is utterly childish and a very poor reflection on the community in general?

In my opinion the answer was perfectly valid in a contradictory manner. I didn't see the answer as falling within the realm of "Dude, you should totally drop that and try jQuery." To me the answer was more along the lines of a correctional tone more applicable to an answer regarding plain text passwords such as "You should never pass a password in plain text in the query string." I've seen many "answers" like that which didn't actually answer the questions posed but rather pointed a potential flaw or "gotcha" in the reasoning that led to the question. My opinion here is stated specifically within the context of that question, and I don't think it's an accurate representation of the point you raise about non-answers (which I think is a very valid point).

I think the crux of my opinion on this question revolves around the 2 specific questions you've asked here:

Is there anything more we can be doing to improve the level of discipline here? (Don't say flag/downvote - I already did.) Or is this type of behaviour already firmly entrenched in the site's culture, something that we're all expected to just ignore or chuckle at when it comes up?

I think the behavior is not only already firmly entrenched in the site's culture, but I would say that it should be the expectation of the site itself. Most of the questions that appear on this site hold the tag of "Migrated from {somewhere else}". In essence, this site has become a place for the cast-off questions that have been either misplaced on Stackoverflow or possibly should never have been asked in the first place. I think in a subconscious manner, this cast-off attitude has led many to answer questions in a fashion that is more like a playground atmosphere than a serious Q&A. Indeed, many questions are treated as a discussion forum (just look at some of the comment sequences on this question alone) far more than you'll find on the other SE sites.

I don't think we should chuckle and ignore it, but I don't think we can blame anyone but ourselves for allowing it. It's not necessarily the responsibility of the moderators to police this sort of thing. It's up to the community to determine this sort of thing, and I think the community has done so inadvertently. I think in time as the community begins to solidify and grow (as happened on SO over the last few years) it will mature and grow into something that has a more meaningful dialog and a little less cynicism and mockery.

  • The team and community here have worked very hard to shrug off the image of a "place for the cast-off questions". I do hope you're right that the community will mature over time, but my experience with other communities is that without clear guidelines and boundaries, the opposite usually happens. Anyway, good insights in the last few paragraphs here, but I cannot agree with your assertion that the answer under discussion was written in a constructive tone. An answer that literally starts with "I think you're crazy" doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in its substance.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 17:04
  • @Aaronaught: I don't disagree with that. The crazy label didn't do much for the answer itself, but I read past that (probably because it's exactly what I was thinking at that moment) to get to the actual meat of what was being said. I also know that they've worked hard towards that goal, and they have set boundaries and guidelines very well. In this case, though, I think only time will tell if the community will mature or if PSE will simply become the SO lymph node. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 18:17
  • 2
    As you've indicated, it's not just time that will tell; we are all responsible, and part of that responsibility lies with voting. If somebody says what you want to hear, but their presentation is riddled with holes and fallacies or just exceptionally poorly-written, then it ought to warrant a downvote instead of an upvote. It's the same reason I'll downvote an answer that's just a URL - yeah, it's a great link and all, but it's still a lousy answer. Emotional voting is the death of a Q&A site.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 18:30
  • How much time, seriously? Programmers.SE has had 7.5 months, 4.5 of which after official launch. The other 20 launched Stack Exchange sites seemed to have gotten it together in much less time and before they officially launched.
    – user8
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 19:09
  • 1
    @Mark Trapp - I don't proclaim to be an expert at user interfaces so I couldn't hazard a reasonable guess. However, most of the other SE sites involve mostly objective concepts or appeal to a less broad audience. Maybe because it is so subjective and appeals to such a wide variety of people that PSE might require a couple of years before it settles into its niche. It also could be settled into its niche right now and maybe it'll never "get better". I truthfully don't know. Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 19:32
  • 1
    I wonder if P.SE would've ended up in a better shape if it did not start with the "anything goes" premise.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 13:41
  • @Anna: It stands to reason. Removing the "anything goes" premise could probably shape it back to where it should be, but I think it would take an overwhelming moderation effort that PSE may not be equipped currently to handle. Commented Apr 15, 2011 at 13:56
  • Joel - I believe that many if not most of the other SEs are actually broader and at least as subjective. This site probably has the most traffic, but that's a different factor entirely.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 16, 2011 at 14:44

IMO, mass up-voting is due to sorting by votes. When some people read the first answer and like what they read and see it has some votes, they vote up before continue reading the rest of the answers. They think to themselves "Ok, someone's got that I will move to another question.". And even if a better answer exists below and the reader up-voted it, it's still more probable that the first answer will be the one with most votes in the end because they are not going to un-vote the first.


Yes, it is somewhat frustrating to be someone who has actually done some programming tourism and spent the time to respond reasonably comprehensively, yet still ended up (at the time of writing) with fewer up votes than some of the remaining non-answers. Now my answer is lost in amongst a bunch of similar nay-saying answers that add very little to the body of knowledge, and there's nothing I can do about it, except try to make it better (like I did earlier today by adding some notes on the possible legal ramifications of programming tourism) and hope someone notices.


But there is a difference between feeling the same way as someone and upvoting their answer.

Is there? There is exactly one mechanism for giving approval to an answer: voting it up. When all you have is a single number, then the meaning behind that number will be different for different people.

Some people want upvoting to mean, "I think you really answered the question well." Others want upvoting to mean, "I liked that answer." Others upvote to mean, "I agree."

Even if you state what the standards ought to be, each person will decide for themselves how and whether to follow those standards.

I agree that this is a problem. But I don't agree it's a solvable one. Not without adding a more robust communication mechanism.


Have you tried flagging the answer as not an answer? At that point, I believe it is in the mod's hands to decide what to do with it.

  • 1
    It has been flagged. My take on it is that "what can I do" was also asked in the question (although admittedly a bit above the other questions), so "don't do it" is a reasonable response. I don't think it deserved the amount of vitriol that it received.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 18:12
  • Fair enough. But I still wonder if people are forgetting to use this feature it it's still perceived to be a problem. Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 18:16
  • See the parenthetical in my second-to-last paragraph.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 18:27
  • 1
    @Anna it's interesting you say that because I interpreted the answer itself as containing no small measure of vitriol. I'd really like to hear a well-reasoned explanation of why it was an answer at all, much less a reasonable one; so far all I've heard are similar-sounding comments to the effect of "it's reasonable, end of discussion" or sometimes "it's an alternative" (I don't really see how).
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 18:30
  • @Aaronaught I'm not sure how to motivate "I think it's a reasonable answer" in a way that you'll consider well-reasoned if you clearly disagree with that. I interpret the question in a broader way than just "is it legal? is it possible?" and in that light, I think the response is an answer. Perhaps not a great one, sure, but still an answer. Other mods and other users may disagree.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 19:37
  • @Anna. Thanks for taking the time to look at this, however can you please deelte my answer to that question, this whole thing is just ridicluous.
    – Steve
    Commented Apr 11, 2011 at 21:54

I think the answer that was provided to the 'programming tourism' question was perfectly reasonable.

First, peers looking out for each other and providing some common sense feedback is perfectly acceptable in my book. One might say that it should have been a comment, but otherwise it is addressing the question, whether the questioner (or readers) likes what they hear or not.

Secondly, there have been many questions on here and other stackexchange sites that have been 'accepted' by the question writer despite not answering the exact question asked. And thats perfectly reasonable in some cases. Consider if someone asks 'For our next enterprise product, should I use Paradox or FoxPro for our Web App's database?'. The answer of 'Dont use either' is completely valid, despite not actually picking one of the two choices.

  • 2
    That is exactly the point: it should have been a comment, not posted as an answer and conferred an absurd number of upvotes. And oh, by the way, if someone asks "should I use Paradox or FoxPro", the answer "don't use either" is not valid because it offers no solution. If it presented some reasonable alternative and provided a rationale then it might be reasonable, but if it just said "forget that crap, use something better/newer" then I would have responded the same way as this answer (which said, in a nutshell, "forget that crap, do something fun").
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 13:22
  • To Aaronaught's point, the current highest up-voted answer is, I think, a good example of saying "don't do it" while providing cogent reasons why as well as a reasonable alternative.
    – user8
    Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 17:50
  • @Aaron, "Why not take a break from computers for the 10 days and come back refreshed and energised to complete your Ph.D?" That is exactly what you suggest... 'forget that crap and use something better'. Commented Apr 13, 2011 at 17:56
  • Evidently you skimmed my comment because that is exactly what I said was not a useful answer.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 14, 2011 at 1:30

Many users on this site don't even think choosing a correct answer is important on this site. Having a low acceptance percentage is acceptable, so why would upvoting be looked at any differently?

  • That is a completely separate issue. The accept rate discussion is about whether or not there exists a single authoritative answer. This discussion is about whether or not a poor answer (no reliable sources, poor writing, or just plain irrelevant) should be upvoted simply because voters happen to agree with the opinions expressed.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented Apr 25, 2011 at 16:57
  • @Aaronaught - I wasn't aware that a best answer could not be considered.
    – JeffO
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 14:48
  • Frame the accepted-answer issue however you like, it still has a meaning very different from upvotes and is only pertinent to the asker, not the community. Unless you're aiming for some "slippery slope" argument, I don't find it to be relevant to this issue.
    – Aaronaught
    Commented May 1, 2011 at 15:21
  • Apparently there are too few who take it that seriously.
    – JeffO
    Commented Jul 29, 2011 at 2:38

As a matter of fact, votes express likability, not quality. And I think that any answer is legitimate. So, the real question for me is: how can we fix SE so that high reputation highlights good contributors?

The following could be a solution that is easy to implement (both in the front and in the back end) and easy to understand and agree with.

  1. State (by any means) the authority of moderators to tell apart answers from non-answers, (in the guidelines meaning).
  2. Leave non-answers in place, together with their votes, and not locked, but marked as non-answers.
  3. When computing the rep number, consider rep coming from non-answers to be zero.
  4. Along time, review all SE answers, including fossils.

People will still be able to vote non-answers, and highly voted non-answers will still appear at the top. The only difference will be a nice icon with a small notice like

I think it should not be possible to have accepted non-answers, so if in the past there would be such a situation, the moderator should help the OP select another answer or do it themselves if the OP is unreachable.

  • Interesting idea, but I don't think it'd really work. I think leaving "non-answers" up at the same level as answers would just decrease the readability of the page overall. Also, as moderators we cannot always judge the correctness of an answer because we cannot be experts at everything. Right now the definition of an answer is along the lines of "anything that attempts to answer the question" and even a bad answer is still technically an answer. Only things that are truly unrelated are non-answers and we convert them to comments or remove them entirely as appropriate.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 5:37
  • Additionally, introducing "non-answers" would make SE sites a bit more like forums where anything can go in a post. The fact that every (aside from comments) response to a question on Stack Exchange is required to be an attempt to answer it is a key distinguishing feature that I don't think could or should change.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 5:39
  • @Anna Moderators are shaping the site according to the guidelines, and do not need to be experts in any domain. I already said I think any answer is legitimate. But you (and Aaron in this post) have a point: anything should attempt to answer the question. And Aaron's example is clearly a non-answer according to that rule. Nonetheless, it is something so easy to agree with, that I myself want such a thought to be expressed, be upvoted and stay there forever.
    – Ando
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 11:22
  • What I propose here would allow for answers of that kind to exist without harming the site, its quality, or other contributors' reputations. // Then the same rationale could also be applied to questions that do not respect the guidelines, and mark them as non-questions instead of closing them. // We have a venue here where people is welcomed to ask and reply. If people contribute something that is considered valuable according to some guidelines, we reward it, otherwise we just do not. This is much better than forbidding them to contribute in the first place.
    – Ando
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 11:42
  • If people contribute something that is considered valuable according to some guidelines, we reward it, otherwise we just do not. :: Theoretically, that's what the voting system is supposed to take care of. Valuable answers should be upvoted, subpar answers should be not voted on at all or downvoted. Moderators can't review every question and every answer, so the community would have to help out and a community that's currently rewarding bad answers will continue to do so. In my opinion, we need a change in mindsets instead of terminology or site features.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 15:02
  • That reminds me of an ice tea shop that opened here in Barcelona ten years ago. It looked like a coffe bar, but only sold ice tea. Lots of people entered and ordered a cortado (coffe and milk) or a caña (beer), but they got told: We only serve ice tea here. This went on like three months, while the owner was sadly seeing ready-to-be-spent money walk away. (there are lots of alternatives here...) When he began to sell coffee and beer, the shop got crowded, at last. // You can heartily love your product/project, but people decide what they want and where to spend their money/time.
    – Ando
    Commented Aug 13, 2011 at 22:58

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