We are getting pummeled with the same off topic questions over and over again. So we clearly need to be doing a better job up front of educating first time posters.

In the 'How to Ask' box that's just to the right of the area where questions are answered, I think it would be a good idea to add a short section that says something along the lines of 'Questions about career guidance, education, and tool recommendations are off topic. Please see -link- for a list of what is and is not allowed here'. Another option might be to use such text as a place-holder in the textarea entry.

The point here is to put something directly on the posting page.

The way we have it now, you have to click 'visit the help center' and then 'what topics can I ask' to see this type of information. If I was visiting for the first time, 'visit the help center' would not be where I'd first look because I wouldn't be looking for 'help'.

A notice like that won't stop all such posts. Some people are so lazy that they won't take 30 seconds to read posting rules, and others may not be fluent enough in English for it to matter. But something more prominent than what we have now might make a dent in the problem.

  • Does anyone really know what FAQ means, and that it identifies the place you go to find out what rules you're supposed to follow? I'd never heard of a FAQ before I came to Stack Overflow, but I was pretty sure when I first saw it that it wasn't Frequently-Asked Questions. Jun 19, 2014 at 20:56
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    @RobertHarvey FAQ has meant "Frequently-Asked Questions" since the 90s, when it literally meant "these are the questions our support people get asked a lot".
    – Izkata
    Jun 20, 2014 at 2:58
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    @Izkata: And yet, everywhere I see it used, it really means: "These are the things we think you should know." The term "frequently-asked questions" is patently dishonest when it is used that way. Jun 20, 2014 at 3:00
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    @RobertHarvey Right now, <site>/faq redirects to /tour, which IMO is wrong. This page is the FAQ that GrandmasterB is looking for, and hey, it actually is a FAQ page about the site!
    – Izkata
    Jun 20, 2014 at 3:05
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    @Izkata: I think you're kinda missing the point, but whatever. The only reason that /faq actually redirects to anything at all is that we actually did have a "faq" at one time (although it certainly wasn't "frequently-asked questions"). It was as widely ignored as the Help Center now is. Jun 20, 2014 at 3:07
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    @RobertHarvey No, I remember that time. FAQ was obvious and easy to find (for the ones who cared), but Help is not, which is why I think it's even more ignored now than it used to be. Help is commonly interpreted as how do I do foo on this site?, not what is this site for?
    – Izkata
    Jun 20, 2014 at 3:10
  • @Izkata: You do have a point. Why don't you propose that change in redirection as a feature request? Jun 20, 2014 at 3:15
  • Just to clarify, what I was getting at wasn't the need for a FAQ, but the need for something more prominent on the posting page. Right now the off-topic items require 2 clicks to get to. It might help if right on the posting page it warned about certain common off topic questions. Jun 20, 2014 at 4:25
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    Removed references to FAQs in the question because this question is not about FAQs, its about putting information front and center right on the posting page. (I was not the one who tagged it being related to FAQs) Jun 21, 2014 at 22:56
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    More close votes or weighted close votes for 10k, 15k, and 20k users might be another way of cutting those questions down more quickly. We could also request to have the up / down vote buttons returned to the close review queue.
    – user53019
    Jun 23, 2014 at 0:56
  • @GlenH7 a while ago, I used to flag such questions VLQ and this helped to speed up their closure, as LQ queue works faster. But after several flag declines I dropped this. Apparently, some moderators believe that properly spelled and formatted request for career advice or tool recommendation is somehow salvageable / doesn't deserve quick deletion
    – gnat
    Jun 23, 2014 at 7:11
  • The last few weeks I am having real trouble telling the difference between questions posted on Programmers and SO. there are so many questions that belong on SO getting answered that it sems wrong to be votig them closed. What am I missing?
    – mattnz
    Jun 24, 2014 at 4:54
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    I think the problem is that no matter what the guidelines are the fact is that they are kinds of questions that people want answered. There is nowhere to ask about tools or libraries for example. The guidelines were put in place because of discussions like questions - however locking the question once a small focussed discussion has taken place is very very valuable. Jun 25, 2014 at 19:23
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    It doesn't help when questions on SO are recommended to be moved here, when the question is off topic on both sites: stackoverflow.com/questions/24430967/…
    – CurtisHx
    Jun 26, 2014 at 13:04

3 Answers 3


FAQs and such rarely if ever work. People just don't read them.
So making the FAQ clearer isn't going to do much if anything.
What does help is ensuring that previous questions closed as off-topic aren't found by Google. As is, people do a search, find a hundred links to questions with their topic on here, all of them closed and unanswered, and they just post the same thing again, hoping that this time somebody will answer it. Most likely they also post it verbatim on several other sites coming up in that Google result.

So a good thing to do would be to delete, not just close, such questions, and do so quickly, hopefully blocking them from being picked up by search crawlers/spiders.

Making new members (say first 10 questions and answers) get a popup nagging them to make sure they read the FAQ, and containing a summary of the biggest problems such people cause, might help a bit as well.

  • 1
    Please see the edits. This was not about making a FAQ more easily accessible, but rather putting something directly on the posting page that highlights certain commonly off topic questions. But I do agree with deleting off topic questions, and could go along with a nagging message for first time posters. Jun 21, 2014 at 23:02
  • similar suggestion at MSO has got over 130 upvotes: Off topic questions have to be cleared out of the way, but NOT via closure
    – gnat
    Jun 22, 2014 at 20:50

Per my observations, a lot of such posts come here because of misleading comments at Stack Overflow.

For an example, here are just few recent cases at SO that directly led to users posting very low quality, outright off-topic questions because of comments directing them at Programmers: here, here, here, here.

Notice like you suggest will definitely be helpful in stopping at least most reasonable misguided newbies. However, I believe that we need stronger measures in cutting down the issue at its source.

As an example, in first case I listed, recommendation to post at Programmers was given by a user with 15K SO reputation. If a newcomer gets such a personal advice from such an authoritative user, would this "override" any automatic notice they will see on their way? you bet.

The right way to go would be to find and delete as much as possible misleading comments at Stack Overflow. "Finding" part is technically easy, all it needs is tweaking one of Doorknob's queries and studying its results. We did something like that this Spring when cleaning up "+1 great post" comments at Programmers. Searching for "programmers + belongs" will likely show us the worst offenders, although "programmers + career" and "programmers + recommendations" will likely work well too.

Deletion part is tricky and requires help from SE developers. A while ago, I "tested" it - I flagged several comments using "Other" flag with verbose messages explaining why these should be deleted. All of my flags went through successfully, however I learned along the way that this way is terribly inefficient. Involving diamond moderators and writing verbose explanatory messages for hundreds, possibly thousands garbage comments like "ask careers at Programmers"? give me a break.

  • What is needed instead is to add "programmers" to the list of "sensitive" words that trigger comment deletion with a single flag. That way would let us cleanup harmful garbage with a single "too chatty" or "not constructive" flag. (Optionally, it would be good to exclude from sensitive heuristics comments that refer famous toilet bowl guidance but I don't insist on that.)

Another issue where help of SE dev team would be much appreciated is "other" close reason messages. You know, I am active close reviewer at SO. I focus strongly only on most terrible questions and totally skip the rest (except for infrequent "known good" audits, to keep more system faith in me). But even in these - I stress - totally, absolutely awful - questions I sometimes see "try your garbage at Programmers". I don't even dare to think what happens in less awful (but still totally inappropriate) questions at SO.

  • The way to stop this would be to block close messages containing word "programmers" - SO close voters willing to "help" askers like that should totally drop that and try jQuery their luck flagging for migration. Hopefully mod declines will teach them something at last.
  • related: What is the SE version of Seven Dirty Words?
    – gnat
    Sep 1, 2014 at 9:59
  • A site name change would fix a lot of misguided comments from SO. A natural assumption for people familiar with SE but not with our site would be "Programmers.SE is a site for programmers to ask questions and get answers from each other". That would not be the case if the site were called something like Whiteboard.SE or ProgrammingTheory.SE
    – Rachel
    Jan 27, 2015 at 17:15
  • yeah, name change like this would likely lower risk of some misguided comments, for example on career advice stuff
    – gnat
    Jan 27, 2015 at 18:13

Isn't stackexchange defined by the users - so what users need/want defines how stackexchange is working at any moment in time? From this you get a dynamic community where what is on & offtopic changes all the time.

As such I think that when you notice a lot of things are off-topic maybe what is considered on/offtopic on this site should be discussed again. Apparently there is a large demand for it, and apparently "programmers.stackexchange.com" leads to people thinking this is the right place to ask.

Why swim against the flow?

  • 2
    "swim against the flow" is because SE already tried to "swim along" and this has failed. "We already tried supporting those questions, we even gave them their own site. Sadly, it didn't work out..."
    – gnat
    Jun 29, 2014 at 16:41
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    Because if we don't try to keep the ocean away by putting up dikes, we will be overwhelmed with career advice and what library should I use questions and the experts that the community tries to draw and retail will leave. We have drawn a line saying "these questions are ones we don't want". I would suggest reading A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy and pay special attention to the Three Things to Accept. The structure of the site isn't set up for having a dialog - which is necessary - for those types of questions.
    – user40980
    Jun 29, 2014 at 16:43
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    @gnat: uh swimming against the flow is when you do A but the majority wishes to do B. Because of this even if you do A you turn up at point B. - And to put it frankly, that's why I joined this site too. -- From the description I "think" this site is to ask questions that are not directly related to the programming but rather to the programming environment all.
    – paul23
    Jun 29, 2014 at 16:51

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