I don't believe that this answer is of any use on the site:


There are no good reasons,

That's it. No further explanation or justification of this view. It doesn't add anything to the debate. Yet as of this writing it has a score of 17 consisting of 26 up-votes and 9 down-votes.

If we as a community want this site to be taken seriously we all have to act responsibly and show that we (that's everyone who contributes to the site) know what we're talking about.

NOTE: I'm not singling out any particular user here, nor am I questioning the validity of the actual answer - just that there's no evidence to back up the bald assertion.

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    Probably worth reminding folks that these are the sorts of answers that'll send a question crashing through the floor when it comes time to hold up the subjective guidelines. Short, no why/how, no references... So if you want to see a question closed, by all means vote these answers to the top... – Shog9 Jun 27 '11 at 23:27
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    When you say we want, are you talking about moderators/site owners or the community? – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 9:06
  • @Pierre - the "we" was meant to be the community. I did make the question community wiki to try and reflect that, but that seems to have been reverted by someone. – ChrisF Mod Jun 28 '11 at 9:08
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    @ChrisF: sorry Chris, another question before I contribute: if we want this site to be taken seriously, by whom you want to be taken seriously? – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 9:20
  • @Pierre - 1) people who use Google (or Bing...) to search for the sort of questions we ask and get Programmers as the top links. These people (at the moment) no nothing about us and we want their first impressions to be good. 2) Stack Overflow users who at the moment migrate their rubbish should be able to look at this site and think "ah I won't migrate this question as it's not a good fit for Programmers either". – ChrisF Mod Jun 28 '11 at 9:25
  • Another way of looking at this though might be that it is working. The answer is technically correct which is what people are up voting (currently +34) but the 16 down votes it also has are a pretty good indication that it could and should be better. Part of the problem is that there (still) isn't a really great answer to the question there... – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 14:07
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    @Pierre: Stack Overflow was able to attract a lot of brilliant and in some cases high-profile members of the software community. Surely these people have something to contribute on the "subjective" side as well, and yet we don't see them participating here much. I don't speak for everyone, but that is definitely what I mean when I talk about not being taken seriously. This ought to be the type of site where we might reasonably expect to see the likes of Fowler or Beck. I'm not seeing that; in fact I don't think I've seen any A-listers post here. Needs improvement. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 14:14
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    @Aaronaught: I see some value in having a-players here like Fowler. But this shouldn't be our primary objective. Our primary objective should be providing useful information to normal programmers, the vast majority of us. You would be surprised by the number of them that don't care about Fowler or Beck. They just get things done, the right way, with a smile ;) – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 14:37
  • @Pierre: I never said that was our goal. I said that was our litmus test. If none of these people see fit to give us the time of day (and I'm quite sure that at least some of them know we exist) then it's a good sign that perhaps we aren't delivering the practical value that some of us might think. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 14:47
  • @Aaronaught: that's your personal opinion or the output of discussions with other community members? Looks like a biased thinking to me (cognitive bias). FYI, I explain the absence of those a-players simply by the lack of time & interest, not the quality of answers/questions. – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 14:58
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    @Aaronaught - to be fair, I think the reason most of those people achieve things of note is that they don't spend time on places like this... I do agree with Pierre though, while it would be great to have people like that on here, for the most part I'm more interested in opinions of people who spend their working lives in similar situations to the ones I face. – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 15:00
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    @Pierre: Then how do you explain their presence on other sites, especially Stack Overflow? Why would people like Eric Lippert, Jon Skeet, and Alex Martelli waste their time there? (P.S. The phrase "cognitive bias" in parentheses adds nothing in terms of clarity or credibility.) – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 15:57
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    @Aaronaught: OvergeneralizationTaking isolated cases and using them to make wide generalizations. Real active a-players in SO are rare. So if you compare SO population (683K) to P.SE (27K)... – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 16:17
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    Fortune tellingExaggerating how things will turn out before they happen. If we look serious, a-players will come to us. Mind readingAssuming special knowledge of the intentions or thoughts of others.. a-players are looking for elite places because they are elites. – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 16:20
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    @Aaronaught: Sorry if you took this personally. I'm not immune to cognitive bias. Nobody is. I would be more than happy to read about the proof you are talking about. – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 16:54

There's a subtle but pernicious problem with the quoted answer and many like it: it's impossible to prove a negative.

This kind of answer would never fly on any of the science SE sites because it is incorrect by definition. The best objective answer one can give (assuming one agrees with the "no" premise) is to list the reasons that might be considered valid and explain why they should be considered invalid. If no such reasons are known, then the correct answer to the question isn't "no", it's actually "I don't know", which clearly isn't worth posting as an answer. Maybe a comment, if the question goes tumbleweed.

I don't know if we should be trying to "moderate away" these answers, but as I've pleaded for in the past, we desperately need people to start downvoting these fact-free "pithy phrase" answers instead of upvoting them. I think that having answers on top of the heap that look like they took 5 seconds to poop out (maybe less) really hurt our credibility as a community.

Stack Exchange wants to optimize for pearls, not sand. Part of this is emphasizing the value of great answers. The other part is de-emphasizing the poor ones. This is exactly why we have downvotes. Has anyone ever seen a 1-line answer singled out in a positive light on the SE blog, or on any major blog, or really anywhere other than maybe reddit? Some short answers may genuinely be correct and complete, but most of them are... sand.

Please, for the love of all that is holy, stop pressing the other arrow when you see this type of pandering.

  • @Aaronaught: for the record, it took far less than 5 seconds to poop out the answer. Is there a badge for that? – Steven A. Lowe Jun 28 '11 at 2:24
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    @Steven - You want a badge for not really making much of an effort? – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 8:21
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    @Jon: No, but I would like a badge for having a sense of humor. – Steven A. Lowe Jun 28 '11 at 8:30
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    I agree with you but I think its a waste of time to try and influence the way the community will vote...you may as well argue with the tide that it doesn't need to come any further in. – Jeremy Jun 28 '11 at 13:07
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    Many people just upvote for the big bold letters and some italics here and there. This fumes me up. – Marcelo Jun 28 '11 at 14:45
  • Hence the titling of the voting-buttons. It is NOT correct and incorrect, it says “useful” and “not useful”. This perfectly illustrates the target of voting, but does not seem to be clear enough to (some) voters. – Kissaki Jun 29 '11 at 10:39


This is not the sort of answer that we want on our site.

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    And you got some votes out of this just for big bold letters and italics here and there. – Marcelo Jun 28 '11 at 14:45
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    @Marcelo: judicious use of bold and italics for emphasis can be quite effective – Steven A. Lowe Jun 28 '11 at 15:34
  • I see. <-- I'm pretty bad at it. – Marcelo Jun 28 '11 at 16:11
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    If you didn't post this answer, I was gonna do it :) – Ethel Evans Jun 28 '11 at 21:02

I've been noticing a trend towards more and more answers that folks want to be true, even when real-life experience states the opposite. Example, where "run away" is the most common of answer.

  • To her credit, the author of the highest voted answer did edit it to not suck... eventually. Too bad most of the votes came before. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 1:10
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    As the person who posted the second most popular answer, I was actually pleasantly surprised that about a third of people saw constructive engagement as the way forward. I think that the problem isn't to do with this site, is a problem with the attitude and sense of absoluteness that many programmers have. – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 8:20
  • +1 This, absolutely, completely, 100% this. – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 9:04
  • @Jon: For me it's kind of hard to distinguish the "site" from the "community" - the attitude you speak of is most definitely the root of the problem, and it is a pervasive one in this community. There are, as evidenced by some of the dialogue in the linked thread and even by this meta thread, a lot of members who want to see a bit more substance, but I still feel like we're outnumbered by the me-tooers. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 14:03
  • @Aaronaught - I was talking about all programmers everywhere, rather than just the subset who come here who I think are generally better and more enlightened than average. While the internet has made us all aware of what a great working environment looks like or what good practice is, it hasn't put it into context that most places and situations are a long way from ideal and that people need to constructively engage to improve things rather than just asserting them. I see blunt answers as having the same fundamental route - asserting not engaging, what's right not what's practical. – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 14:40
  • This is a dangerous path to tread; if this community wants to be a community for discussion and not just cut-and-dried answers, sometimes the practical answer is wrong, even if it might be the only choice at a given time. You should run from a terrible company; whether you can do it immediately or have to take the time to find another job first is what is subjective, not the fact you need to leave. – Wayne Molina Jun 28 '11 at 16:29

IMO it really depends on the question. A question that provokes such an answer is probably not a good one. For example, if someone asked "Are there good reasons to assume that Microsoft will abandon Windows in favor of Linux?", it would be pretty hard to give a much better answer.

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    In that case should you really be answering the question at all? Sorry if this sounds harsh, but that case you should be voting to close as not constructive/not a real question rather than answering. – ChrisF Mod Jun 28 '11 at 9:41
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    ChrisF: I tend to agree with you, but real-life question might be less obviously stupid than my hypothetical example. – user281377 Jun 28 '11 at 10:22
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    What you're referring to is speculation, which is already expressly prohibited across the entire network. In this case, I don't think that the question was stupid, and some of the answers do provide insight. A lot of things sound stupidly obvious when you've only ever been exposed to one side of the issue; if you take the time to explain your perspective then that's completely OK, but if you declare it as the truth, end of conversation, then you're doing everybody (including yourself) a disservice. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 14:24
  • @ChrisF - Great point. In addition, it really irks me when a tough question is answered with the first thing that comes to mind by several people who don't really know enough to give a good answer -- rather than waiting for someone qualified to answer. Which is another reason why downvotes are so important. – Nicole Jun 28 '11 at 15:46
  • Aaronaught: when I wrote my answer and the comment above, I hadn't learned about the original question yet; that's why my answer contains a bit of speculation. – user281377 Jun 28 '11 at 15:54
  • Even with that hypothetical question you can give good reasons WHY Microsoft won’t do it. – Kissaki Jun 29 '11 at 10:40

The community is clear. That answer got more upvotes than downvotes, therefore you have your answer.

However here is my opinion: I don't think it's good to have short answers unless the short answer covers it all. Which is pretty rare, but unavoidable with the reputation point system in use.

Since answers must be backed with references and/or personal experiences, it won't hurt if we increase the number of minimum characters required.

If we want this site to be taken seriously we have to act responsibly and show that we know what we're talking about.

That's an interesting point. IMHO, this community should be taken for what it is, no more, no less. Which doesn't mean it shouldn't work to improve.

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    Is the better question also "how do we educate the community to the value of longer, more detailed answers?" – Jon Hopkins Jun 28 '11 at 11:26
  • @Jon Hopkins: In my book, education won't work. People that don't want to be educated that way will simply leave. The effects of the education process (members behavior match rules) will therefore be an illusion. It will cost us the diversity that makes this community valuable. Maybe it's the desirable effect: cutting down the community until most of the members match an idealistic profile. In that case, it's not natural selection anymore. – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 11:45
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    I don't think that "rallying the troops" necessarily constitutes a refusal to accept the community for what it is. I believe that, as Jon has pointed out, there's plenty of evidence that there's a significant and perhaps growing element of the community which values in-depth dialogue as opposed to shallow quips; however, these people often don't speak up enough or use the other tools available (downvotes, flags, etc.) to make their voices heard. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 14:17
  • @Aaronaught: sorry for my ignorance, but what does shallow quips means? – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 14:25
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    Sorry, I forget that not everyone here is from the UK/US. A quip is a short statement intended to demonstrate humour or cleverness. A shallow quip, by extension, is one that doesn't demonstrate any genuine comprehension or attempt to educate others. Quips are easily upvoted because they're easy to agree with; however, votes are supposed to be a measure of quality, not agreement. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 14:32
  • @Aaronaught: I see the problem. Maybe the ultimate solution would be to drop the reputation system completely. An answer would get votes based on its quality (according the community), questions would be neutral, and members would get no points, just a name and followers. Like Quora. – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 15:01
  • @Pierre 303 As crazy as that sounds, I'm willing to listen. But how exactly would that solve anything? Voters would still vote as they do now (simple agreement), and answerers would likely not be less willing to post these short non-answers. In fact, those types of answers might increase. – Nicole Jun 28 '11 at 15:44
  • @Renesis: honesly I don't know. What I see is that Quora is crowded by a-players. – user2567 Jun 28 '11 at 15:53
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    I never use Quora (or Facebook) so I can't comment on which A-listers frequent it or exactly what they contribute. However, if Quora employs the same type of opt-in system that Facebook does, then I would assume that to be a major part of the reason for its apparent popularity. Many folks in the upper echelons have gotten tired of all the noise and prefer to just tune into the people they care about (much like twitter or Facebook proper). I doubt that the existence or non-existence of reputation has much to do with it; personally, I could take it or leave it on a site like this. – Aaronaught Jun 28 '11 at 16:06

I don't believe that this answer is of any use on the site:

I disagree. What you're talking about are pat answers. They're short, direct, to-the-point, usually quite correct. But incomplete. They impart knowledge (do X, don't do Y, etc), but they don't provide wisdom (why should I do X, why shouldn't I do Y).

Some people need pat answers. Some people aren't ready to know the truth. Some people aren't ready to know everything about everything. A simple shove down the proper path, feeding on the accumulated knowledge of others, is sufficient to their needs.

Take this as an example. I know nothing about password security; I do entirely different kinds of programming. Seeing this question answered with a header-sized NO, coupled with lots of upvoting, is enough to tell me that it's probably not a good idea. I don't need a 30 paragraph dissertation that ritualistically vivisects every argument for restricting passwords. I just need to know if I should.

Now, that doesn't mean I think the dissertation shouldn't exist. But the fact is that some people don't need or want it.

That being said, the answer itself isn't the problem, is it? If it were a bad answer, it would be downvoted and that would be that. The problem is that the voting system is promoting the pat answer.

I believe that this comes from one simple fact: what does it mean to upvote something?

A lot of forums, YouTube, etc, have voting systems for comments. Thumbs up for "liked it!", thumbs down for "hated it!". Democracy only works when everyone is saying the same thing with a vote.

I guarantee you that most of those who voted for it were thinking, "Yes, he's right." They weren't taking a considered and reasoned stand on how useful his answer was in a broad sense. They saw the answer, agreed with it, maybe chucked at the bluntness of it, and voted it up. Because they liked it and it was correct.

That's how voting works. Not everyone thinks that their vote means "this was a reply that will be a font of thoughtful and insightful knowledge for any passersby." They simply thought, "he's right, and that's funny."

So until you can find a way to make everyone use their vote to mean "thoughtful and considered" rather than "correct and liked it," then this will continue to happen.

  • Perfect answer. Hence the titling of the voting-links “useful” and “not useful” and not in-/correct. Maybe that fact should be promoted. A almost transparent text above the icons which become more visible on hover? – Kissaki Jun 29 '11 at 10:46

No, but there's (probably) nothing we can do about it.

The (voting) community has grown as a function of time and, unfortunately, the people participating in programmers.SE are more prone to being careless and apathetic. Over time I have been here, the quality of questions and answers has diminished noticeably (and I'm fairly certain it doesn't have anything to me getting bored of this site).

In order to have your answer up-voted a lot, you write an answer that:

  • People want to hear.
  • Use very casual and simple English.

This works because all the people that don't see quality as important will like the answer for one stupid reason or another. The quality is continue to drop here and it is a shame. A lot of the smart and experienced users will move on and a lot of them already have.

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