Per Yannis' suggestion, I decided to go through the list of closed questions, pick out some specific examples, and make a detailed case for why those questions should be welcomed on the site. The first thing I discovered is that I agree with most of the close decisions. We close a lot of questions, yes, but most of those really do need closing. The other thing I found when going through the list one by one is that most of the questions that stand out to me as being unnecessarily closed follow a "getting started" theme.

Example Questions

To generate a list of questions for discussion, I searched for closed:1 start and clicked on the "newest" tab (although that generates some false positives). I'd like to go through the first several questions as examples.

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/190127/3965 This question is a little chatty, but the gist of the problem is he has heard that self-taught php programmers can pick up bad habits from some resources, and is seeking expert advice to avoid that happening. Open for 1.5 hours, 1 upvoted answer.

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/190095/3965 This question was seeking a general approach to finding third-party libraries and frameworks, a skill that's very important to professional programmers. This question was possibly too broad, but I think a skilled answerer could have pulled it off had it been left open longer. It feels like a "teach a man to fish" type of question. Open 3.5 hours, 1 downvoted answer.

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/189927/3965 This one could use some editing for English issues, but a question about how much java background is needed to learn a language based on the jvm, does not seem to be an unreasonable question to pose to programming experts. Open 3.5 hours, 1 answer.

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/189824/3965 Web development has changed a lot since 1996. It is not unreasonable to seek the advice of someone with more up to date skills. Also this is a different question from someone who has never programmed before, so the duplicate doesn't really apply. Open almost a day, 1 upvoted answer.

https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/q/189650/3965 This question is a good illustration that even expert programmers are newbies in some domains. Possibly could have been worded better, like "what characteristics should I use to evaluate a GUI framework," but mostly a good question to pose to experts in a programming domain. Open 3.5 hours, 3 answers, 2 upvoted.

Common Opposing Arguments

Here are some common arguments in opposition to these sorts of questions. Some from Are "Getting started with..." questions constructive? and some I've seen in various comments on closed questions.

The questions don't show enough research.

This is a chicken and egg problem. How are you supposed to research something if you don't know where to start with your research? If you are a beginner to a topic, how are you supposed to evaluate which resources are the best? Getting started is a natural topic to ask a group of experienced professionals.

They will produce inevitable duplicates.

So? We have a process for closing duplicates that works quite well, and there's little to no evidence to show getting started resource questions are any more likely to generate duplicates than other sorts of questions. And how is closing a question as a duplicate any more work than closing it as off topic?

People will just list their favorites.

We have a process for closing bad answers, and besides that, the favorites of experts is precisely the information we're trying to get at here. If people don't explain why it's their favorite, their answer will get deleted like for any other topic. If I want a list of 6,000 php books, I can search Amazon. Narrowing it down to the 5 or 10 favorites of experts is a lot of value to add, for which our site is well-suited.

These kinds of questions will garner too many answers.

This is not a unique problem to getting started/resource questions, which is why we have a process in place to prevent that. If you actually look at the questions that have been closed, they are no more likely than other types of questions to garner a large number of answers, even ones that were open for several weeks. Even if there are multiple answers, the best few will get voted to the top.

The answers will become outdated.

Again, how is this different from any other type of question? We work in a rapidly changing field. When an outdated answer is found, people comment on it and it's either corrected or deleted at that time. Also, getting started topics change much less rapidly than cutting edge topics. The basics stay relevant for a long time.

The only way to do it right is to create one heavily-moderated "canonical" question.

While this approach might be most appropriate on StackOverflow, where questions are expected to be highly specific and objective, "good subjective" questions are our bread and butter here.

It's too broad if you can imagine an entire book answering your question.

That's all well and good unless your problem is needing help to find the most appropriate book for a subject. These people aren't asking to have a book copied and pasted into your answer, just to get pointed in the right direction.

I'm not interested in answering newbie questions. This site is supposed to be for professionals.

Even expert programmers are newbies in some domains. If you personally don't want to see these types of questions, you can put them in your filtered tags list.


These are by and large good questions garnering good answers. They are the kind of questions you'd go down the hall to ask an experienced programmer, which are the kind of questions people naturally assume are on topic here. Welcoming these questions would go a long way toward improving our image with new users, and making it a better reference for experienced programmers learning new domains.

  • 5
    The first example question is yet another attempt at trolling the site by our resident troll. Let's just ignore it.
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 7:53
  • interesting that search for closed:0 start shows more than 3x open questions than closed (2980 vs 837 currently)
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 8:29
  • generally well researched and presented idea, but missing explanation on how it is expected that bad answers "will get deleted" makes it kind of castle on the sand. Just wondering, if you have declined-flags with mod notes "flags should not be used to indicate technical inaccuracies..."? (I for one do and I try to avoid these)
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 11:35
  • I'd love to see a [getting-started] tag to categorize these types of questions so that users who want to browse them can easily do so, and those that want to ignore them can also easily do so.
    – Rachel
    Mar 12, 2013 at 11:54
  • @Rachel would [getting started] qualify as meta tag? "describe something other than the question's content--such as the author's skill level, motivation, or current take on it..."
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:32
  • @gnat My understanding of meta tags are that they are tags that do not describe the content of the question in any way, and I don't see that as the case with [getting-started]. Per the blog post on meta tags, a quick check to see if it's a meta tag is "If the tag can’t work as the only tag on a question" and "the tag commonly means different things to different people", neither of which is the case here. I can't think of any reason you wouldn't want that category of tag to help filter "getting started" questions
    – Rachel
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:37
  • 2
    @Rachel How can [getting-started] work as the only tag on a question? It says absolutely nothing at all about the topic of the question. And how is it not a phrase that means different things to different people?
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:59
  • @YannisRizos I thought [getting-started] adequately describes the question, and I'm not even sure what other tags you might add other than perhaps a language tag. And I'm pretty sure the phrase "getting started" is universal... I can't think of it meaning anything other than "getting started"
    – Rachel
    Mar 12, 2013 at 13:50
  • 1
    Getting started in what @Rachel? And at what level, and with what prior experience, etc... Can a single tag support questions from (for example) a seasoned developer that has been working over 10+ years with embedded technologies and wants to move to desktop applications and a new developer trying to learn PHP?
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 13:52
  • @YannisRizos Yes, it can. You should get the same answer regardless of if you have 10+ years working with other technologies, or if you're a brand new programmer and this is your first language. The purpose of a [getting-started] tag would be so users who don't want to see getting-started questions can filter them out, and those who like helping programmers getting started can filter for them.
    – Rachel
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:04
  • @Rachel That would be an extremely counter productive use of the tagging system. This isn't a forum, we want to direct qualified professionals to the question, not "those who like helping programmers getting started". If a question is about learning technology foo it should be tagged as foo, so people who are familiar and interested in foo will find it, and people who are unfamiliar or uninterested will not. The expertise level of the question shouldn't matter at all.
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:11
  • 1
    @Rachel When [homework] was eradicated on Stack Overflow, there were several high reps that protested because they no longer had an easy way to hide homework questions. Is that really what you want? Qualified professionals avoiding questions just because they might be simplistic? And who will answer them? Other students? Because that's what was happening on SO (for the most part) and the end result was that the [homework] tag was full of crap. The blind leading the blind isn't a very good solution.
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:14
  • @Yannis I'm fairly sure there are some "qualified professionals" that are interested in helping other programmers [getting-started]. We shouldn't force users to view questions they don't want to see. For example, I never look at SO's VBA questions, even though I'm probably "qualified" to answer many of them. Users should be allowed to customize their view of the site based on their personal preferences. And quite often, users who have recently gone through the learning process are better qualified to help other users get started than someone who's been working with the technology for decades.
    – Rachel
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:39
  • 2
    @Rachel: Yeah, this isn't what tags are for. Tags are for categorizing the content of the question, not placing questions into conceptual buckets. We ran that grand experiment on Stack Overflow with tags like [homework], [subjective], [books] and even [not-programming-related]. It never works out; see blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tags for the reasons why. Mar 12, 2013 at 14:53
  • 2
    @Rachel Tags = small labels that describe the main topics of the question. "Getting started" is not a topic by itself, it's a level of expertise. The fact that there's a filtering system doesn't mean that every possible tag and filtering combination you can think of would be good (~according to the spirit of the tag system). You should filter out tags that don't interest you, but that doesn't mean that you should create tags that don't help categorize the content of the question.
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 16:29

2 Answers 2


We have a process for closing bad answers, and besides that, the favorites of experts is precisely the information we're trying to get at here. If people don't explain why it's their favorite, their answer will get deleted like for any other topic.

This is where you lost me. Yes, we do have a process, but the process is irrelevant if people don't follow it. For an answer to be deleted by the community, the answer must first be downvoted. Even 20K+ users can't vote to delete an answer if it's zero or positively scored.

Unfortunately, the community generally upvotes link only answers and one liners that don't explain anything, instead of moderating them. And by moderating I don't mean only deleting, the first step should be to post a comment asking the answerer to expand their answer. Or, if you don't have the time or the energy to craft a comment, downvote. Or, if downvoting makes you feel sad, at least don't upvote.

I run a (quick and dirty) query on Data Explorer, to get a better idea of how comment-length answers (500 characters or less) fare on Programmers:

  • 8K+ zero or positively scored,
  • 209 negatively voted.

I'm sure some of those 8K answers are great and don't really need to be expanded. But most of them aren't and can only be removed by five people, the moderators. Personally, I have absolutely no interest in spending all my free time cleaning up crap, and I don't see why I shouldn't go with the easiest solution: Close the question. And eventually delete it, which would also take care of the sub par answers with a click of a button.

Especially for the category of questions you're talking about, link only answers and one liners are unacceptable. If we start fostering learning questions, their answers should be full and detailed, and the community must be vigilant with sub par answers. I don't mind an one line answer on a question by a seasoned professional, but if the asker is a newer developer, he or she deserves an answer that's a bit more than a dismissive one liner or the first result in a Google search.

We have processes and we have an arsenal of tools. It would be a very good time we started using them.

  • 2
    Karl any sarcasm and bitterness you detect in this isn't directed at you personally.
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 12:51
  • "community must be vigilant with sub par answers" - hm if particular question somehow happens to quickly collect enough (undeleted) sub-par answers to get "hot", I doubt that "community vigilance" would help (for the reasons discussed here)
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 13:51
  • @gnat The "hot questions" issue would prevent community delete votes (because there won't be enough downvotes to support them), but it doesn't prevent comments and flags. Also, the "hot questions" are an extremely tiny portion of our questions, mods can take care of them (provided the community does what a community must do: educate new users via comments, and flag when there's nothing else left to do).
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:02
  • how would you suggest to flag a low-effort / repetitive / meh answer that does not violate formal SE requirements? Regarding hot questions being extremely tiny, could you elaborate on that? my estimate at the question I linked is "once or twice a week on average", does that qualify as tiny?
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:08
  • @gnat We get 250 questions per week on average, so a couple of problematic "hot" questions per week isn't really a big deal. As for how to flag repetitive answers, that would make an excellent Meta question ;)
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:23
  • 1
    understood, thanks. as for "excellent meta question", there is one already: Lots of not-always-useful but well-intentioned answers :)
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:26
  • 2
    @Gnat Just to clarify, the "hot" questions issue is a big deal, but it's not something the mods can't handle, especially if we are only talking about a couple of questions per week. But for every other question, the community should be moderating (vigilantly), not us.
    – yannis
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:31
  • agree; stricter quality control at regular (not hot) questions wouldn't hurt. I am still thankful to the guy(s) who didn't mind to invest their -1 rep into downvoting some of my own edit- and delete-worthy answers (these DVs weren't serial mind you, more likely related to respective question bumps)
    – gnat
    Mar 12, 2013 at 14:42

The common problem I see with all of the topics in the OP is that they are too broad.

  • PHP/PHP best practices
  • 3rd party libraries
  • Java/Groovy
  • Database-driven web applications
  • GUI frameworks

If someone has a specific situation where they are stuck, that question can be answered. I don't think that very broad "getting-started" questions can be answered effectively in SE's format.

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