I've noticed that a lot of questions on programmers tend to go something like this:

[Someone / a senior team member] [refuses to do/always does] [some best practice/something that annoys me]. How do I [make them do something/prevent them from doing this]?

Many times it seems like people are just interested in ranting or having their preexisting opinion about the situation confirmed.

We all know that these situations are fairly common, and annoying, but I'm not sure this type of question and the responses to it add much value to the site. The answers that follow are almost as predictable as the question:

  • Change jobs
  • Go to a superior and try to get person fired/demoted
  • Convince other people to your side
  • Institute some kind of process to address the problem
  • Talk to the person and try to convince them to stop annoying thing/adhere to best practice.

Edit: I might not have been clear about my question here: Do these questions and answers have value and if so how can we direct this type of question in such a way that they provide more value? Can we also support this type of question while at the same time prevent programmers from becoming that place where programmers go to whine about other programmers/management?

  • 2
    +100. The other one that annoys me is 'which will bring a better future, X or Y?'. How the beep are we supposed to predict the future? Sep 21, 2011 at 18:36
  • 1
    whine about whining ? recursion ?
    – c69
    Oct 12, 2011 at 20:20
  • @c69 - Touche!! Oct 13, 2011 at 12:31

2 Answers 2


Those questions tend to be popular because anyone with a heartbeat can have an opinion about a work-related problem.

Fortunately, those types of questions are off-topic here. We explicitly prohibit them in the FAQ:

What kind of questions should I not ask here?

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended questions diminish the usefulness of our site and push other questions off the front page. To prevent your question from being flagged and possibly removed, avoid asking subjective questions where …

  • every answer is equally valid: “What’s your favorite ______?”
  • your answer is provided along with the question, and you expect more answers: “I use ________ for ______, what do you use?”
  • there is no actual problem to be solved: “I’m curious if other people feel like I do.”
  • we are being asked an open-ended, hypothetical question: “What if ______ happened?”
  • it is a rant disguised as a question: “______ sucks, am I right?”

We link to a meta post about it from the FAQ as well.

The issue is, of course, that because they are so wildly popular, they are broken windows: people don't bother to vote to close them, downvote them, or flag them; and new users see the proliferation of them as a reason to ask more. Generally, the users participating in these types of questions either don't know they're not allowed or don't care and wish we'd stop closing them.

And it's exceedingly rare that those questions are caught in time to be crafted into a constructive question: by the time someone who actually cares about stopping the proliferation of these questions sees them, they already have amassed a ton of activity. And not a day goes by where I don't close one within 5 minutes of asking only to see someone managed to sneak an answer in before the closure.

So in practice, these questions just need to die. If you see one, flag it. Leave a comment explaining why the question isn't constructive or useful for this site. If you see a particularly egregious example, raise a question about it here on meta so it can be crystalized why the question is so bad. You don't have the privilege yet, but those who have it should be voting to close these questions as well.

The more people feel empowered to say "enough is enough", the more useful Programmers.SE can become.

  • 5
    In addition to that... We appreciate the support from regular community members when it comes to commenting on and voting to close questions like that. I know leaving comments on those questions can result in a confrontation, which generally isn't what anyone wants to bring on themselves. If a fight breaks out in comments, don't hesitate to flag the question or any of the comments for us to look at and mediate if needed.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Sep 21, 2011 at 18:18
  • Upvoted for such an eloquent and specific example of how less is sometimes more! I'm tired of the whining on Meta about closing popular types of questions and I think this is a particularly good defense for the continued suppression of one type of these questions.
    – Jeremy
    Oct 4, 2011 at 20:49

Well, we have two options:

  1. Shut the site down
  2. Flag / Down / close vote these things into oblivion and refrain from answering them.

I much prefer #2, personally.

These kinds of questions are problematic. I call them 'Mr. Potato Head' questions because their parts can basically be taken off of one and put onto another, without changing much. It's still a potato with crap sticking out of it.

The problem is, they're very easy to answer, hence the attention they receive. Getting them down voted and off the front page quickly (while voting to close and flagging) is really all we can do.

They are, in fact, too localized.

  • 1
    In addition to being spot on, this is hilarious. Sep 21, 2011 at 18:49
  • Problem is that it's impossible to do if there is no support by the community because it will be more and more difficult for moderators to moderate. Don't forget they do that on their spare time, for free, and at some point, most of them give up (it's just a question of time). So basically, the community will eventually decide at some point in time.
    – user2567
    Sep 22, 2011 at 9:50
  • 1
    @pierre no, we'll shut the site down from above before I let that happen. Trust me, we can and will. (I don't think a total failure of moderation has any possibility of actually happening, for the record, plus we elect new mods every year, but if it did...) Sep 23, 2011 at 2:30
  • @Jeff Atwood: noted. I hope you'll never do it.
    – user2567
    Sep 23, 2011 at 6:40

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