17

At the time I am writing this, 7 out of 15 questions in the first page have negative score. That's almost a half. Second page has 4 out of 15, and the third page has 6 out of 15. I never counted them on any other Stack Exchange site but I'm under impression other sites don't have such a big percentage of bad questions. I wonder why.

Maybe the purpose of this site is not as clear to a regular user... or maybe other sites just delete bad questions immediately and so they don't look overloaded with them. I have no idea. But it seems to me, when you come to a new site to ask question and see lots and lots of other questions downvoted, it may discourage you a bit, doesn't it. The site may even appear somewhat hostile.

I wonder what could be done to fix this. Even if you don't care about the site appearing hostile to new users, there's still a matter of people wasting time writing bad questions and then other people wasting time explaining why these questions are bad. What do you think?

EDIT

in the light of some answers I think I need to add this (wrote in comment as well): my intent was not to debate what questions are good what are bad, or to say that people are downvoting perfectly good questions.

Not at all. There are lots of really bad questions and people downvote them as they are supposed to do. I have never found a single "unjustly" downvoted or closed question so far. My intent was to find out how to limit the number of bad questions. Delete them faster? Provide more accessible, clearer FAQ to users?

Thank you to all of you who replied and who are going to reply, despite this question being a duplicate (quintuplicate?) ;)

  • 1
    One possibility would be mandatory comprehension test for the site FAQ/scope so that people don't just dump off topic, not researched, bad questions on the site... – enderland Jan 23 '15 at 14:47
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    @enderland another option is triage review. My understanding is, its purpose is to help educate newcomers and avoid polluting site front page with questions that are firmly identified as troublesome – gnat Jan 23 '15 at 15:07
  • possible duplicate of Why can't we raise up questions quality? – gnat Jan 23 '15 at 16:19
  • ...see also: Cutting down on off topic posts – gnat Jan 23 '15 at 16:24
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    What do you think? As a new user your perspective is much more interesting and potentially helpful than mine (and any other veteran user's). Do you find our help articles clear? Do you feel confident asking questions on the site? Do you understand why we close the questions we do? Is there anything about our site and policies you think should be changed? ...etc. If you have the time, please consider telling us how a relatively new user experiences the site (in an answer please, not in comments). – yannis Jan 23 '15 at 18:29
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    I was a Usenet user in the 80s, when much of the good content was still originating from people working in DoD jobs (scientists). When AOL came along ("You've got mail!") and lots of people started going "online", the signal-to-noise ratio went way down in the Usenet forums. Isn't this "So many bad questions" phenomenon just a result of two things: the popularity of SE and the growing number of people working as "programmers"? – Fuhrmanator Jan 28 '15 at 22:08
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    @Fuhrmanator If that were the case, StackOverflow would be seeing roughly the same ratio of good/bad questions, as it is far more popular. I'm sure they get more questions they consider "bad" than Programmers does, however the ratio of "bad" to "good" question isn't nearly as high as here – Rachel Jan 29 '15 at 21:30
  • @Rachel What are the numbers for the ratios? – Fuhrmanator Jan 29 '15 at 22:06
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    @Fuhrmanator The latest query I ran two days ago shows roughly 30% of questions on P.SE are negatively scored, and 15% on StackOverflow. Keep in mind this query does not include deleted posts, and the last official record we got from Shog two years ago showed the deleted/closed/downvoted-below-0 ratio on P.SE was over 50% – Rachel Jan 29 '15 at 22:10
  • @Rachel difference in negative score questions may correlate with site specific voting patterns. Stats provided at MSE a while ago suggest that at Programmers there are many more votes per post (both down and up) compared to SO. "On Stack Overflow, we see the problem with success. There are far more posts submitted than anyone could hope to keep up with." – gnat Feb 5 '15 at 5:48
  • @gnat That could be related. I updated my query to include neutral (0 score) questions, and as of now the ratios on P.SE of Positive/Neutral/Negative are 46%/31%/23%, and on SO they are 22%/63%/15%. Another possibly related statistic is ViewsPerQuestion. For Positive/Neutral/Negatively scored questions, its 207/19/12 on P.SE, while on SO it's 11/18/5. Not sure how accurate that is though, as ViewCount isn't the most accurate piece of data. – Rachel Feb 5 '15 at 21:28
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    I'm relatively new here, however many of the posts I see closed are the result of asking for opinions. Normally I would argue the Q&A format based on fact is great, however design in many scenarios are a matter of opinion mixed with constraints. Being a qualitative result without any analysis, please forgive me if I'm way off base. – Mark Mar 20 '15 at 20:37
20

The best thing to clarify things for new users would be to rename this site. I am relatively new here and I understand the distinction between Programmers.SE and StackOverflow, but I think many new users don't.

If this site was named "Software Design" or something similar I think much of the junk on "Programmers" would go away. The name "Programmers" is just too broad. If you don't read the FAQ (which a high percentage of people will not do, no matter what you wish), you could take "Programmers" to mean anything from working in the software industry (better for Workplace.SE), to how to implement a particular piece of code (better for StackOverflow), to what should I use to program X (better for SoftwareRecommendations.SE).

The name of the site should immediately and intuitively tell people what the site is there for. Until we fix this, we will continue to have a grab-bag of off-topic stuff cluttering up this site.

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    Could you go through the most recent closed or downvoted questions and explain for each, how it would be clearly off topic on the site with a different name? – user40980 Jan 29 '15 at 4:56
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    @MichelT I'd assume if the name was less broad, people wouldn't be posting so many offtopic questions, or at least that was the idea. Programmers imply that you can post any programming related question here. Mike certainly has a point. – Sejanus Jan 29 '15 at 9:15
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    I totally agree with this. When you are new to the StackExchange sites and you google your problem and arive at this site, you see 'programmer'. And when you start start Eclipse and can't create a project, you think 'gotcha, I am a programmer, this is the right place for me', and you write your post. And about reading the FAQ: It wouldn't surprise me if FAQ's are only read by the people who wrote it. – Michel Jan 29 '15 at 10:37
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    @Sejanus Programmers originally was named as such for "not programming related" - the users that visited regularly made it largely about the people & culture/workplace as well as software design. A few years ago, they decided to force a hard left turn on the site and turn it into what it is now (alienating a lot of the original users), but for some reason decided against a rename/new site, which has been the primary source of confusion for new users. The name matches its original intent, which is not quite what the site is for now. – Izkata Jan 29 '15 at 16:00
  • I agree that the problem is much with "what do you call it," but design is not the solution. That word is even less clear. I teach software design and can refer you to many books on the matter. Even so-called experts don't 100% agree on what is design. – Fuhrmanator Jan 29 '15 at 21:49
  • The list from programmers.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic is clearly more focussed than programming. I'd almost say a good name is Software Engineering (again, it's close the the topics we teach in our software engineering bachelor's program), but I think a lot of people might think Software Engineering is about anything related to software (using it, for example). How about a sexier name like softwarecrafters? – Fuhrmanator Jan 29 '15 at 22:00
9

I've only been an active SE user for a couple of weeks, and since PSE is my favorite one I've been mulling this question over pretty much the entire time (not to mention reading far too many meta posts). Some days it feels like we're closing too aggressively. Some days it feels like you need a bachelor's in Q&A philosophy to tell what actually is on-topic for SO vs PSE vs all the other SEs. Some days it feels like the people writing questions can't construct a coherent sentence, much less an answerable question.

Based on my experience thus far, it looks like the truth is probably the latter: A lot of people are asking a lot of questions which are inherently bad, and they would be just as bad no matter what our scope or name was. There's even an old meta answer on this topic that reaches pretty much the same conclusion.

By that I mean questions which are too vague, broad, or unclear, typically because they don't have anywhere near enough detail for us to figure out what question is actually being asked (often the asker himself doesn't appear to understand it). When it comes to technical subjects like programming, the vast majority of newcomers do not understand that it is impossible to answer a question that hasn't been asked properly. Until they gain the experience to understand that, there's simply no way to respond that doesn't run some risk of them perceiving us as lazy, unhelpful, rude or elitist (though we can certainly lower that risk by being polite) rather than figuring out what they did wrong. This is just as true here as it is on SO and on all the other SEs about semi-accessible-but-still-highly-technical subjects (like security.stackexchange.com).

I really don't think there's anything we could do with PSE's question-asking UI to communicate this fundamental flaw in a newbie's conception of technical knowledge. PSE gets a bit more of it than most because people see it as SO with fewer restrictions, but we're not really that unique.


So what can we do? Newbies are going to ask these questions no matter what, so in my opinion the best we can hope to do is improve our response to them:

1) Try to emphasize that subjective questions still have to be precise, specific and coherent enough to be answerable. This is the number one thing newbies are not getting.

2) Avoid emphasizing "ivory tower" close reasons like whether the question is "useful to other programmers". Newbies don't care about that. I don't care about that. I care about whether or not the question can be answered. If the question is "not useful", most of the time it's simply too broad/vague/unclear (or a code dump), so just say that.

3) When a question is just plain bad, so that it has no hope of being answerable on any SE site, we need to close it quickly. Looking at downvoted questions the front page right now, I see one that got put on hold, and several others that probably should have been put on hold or closed several hours ago.


Edit: Case in point, look at the top of today's front page. Although I'm not sure how I feel about the intellectual property question, the others are fix my code, how do I learn to X, another fix my code, a question about how C socket functions work that probably could've been answered by googling, and a question about Windows filesystem behavior that's nowhere near detailed enough to be answerable.


Edit 2: Case in point again, MichaelT just did the same thing with a much bigger sample size and reached the same conclusion.


Edit 3: Since it's been a very long time since I wrote this, and I recently achieved 10k reputation, it seemed worth an update. To my surprise there is nothing in this post that I have since changed my mind on; it's all just as true as it was back then. The only difference is that I believe we have gotten somewhat better at closing poor questions quickly.

  • "...The users that end-up in a ban should maybe get electrocuted if they touch their keyboard and then they still post on meta innocently asking what possibly could be wrong. Yeah, I got some shocks, I wasn't paying attention. My cat catched fire when it walked across my keyboard it occured to me that something was wrong." (comment at MSE) – gnat Jan 26 '15 at 6:49
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    That quote reminds me of all the users you have to tell off for making unsalvagable posts here after SO question bans them. – Ixrec Jan 26 '15 at 7:58
  • @Ixrec You said in your question "PSE gets a bit more of it than most because people see it as SO with fewer restrictions". I'm curious, do you know what gave you that impression? I know among the meta circles, P.SE is seen as one of the strictest sites to ask a question on, so I'm curious where new users would get that kind of impression from and if there's anything we can do to stop that. – Rachel Jan 30 '15 at 18:48
  • @Rachel It's partly because I've seen a few not-so-great questions that said "I thought this would be off-topic for SO so..." and partly because I've seen some of the PSE "old guard" complaining about SO's perception of PSE (though part of that may date back to when NPR had only just changed to PSE). Sadly I can't remember any specific examples to link here. – Ixrec Jan 30 '15 at 19:16
  • Thanks @Ixrec. I've seen comments like that too from a few years ago too, although I didn't know that they still affected new users. – Rachel Jan 30 '15 at 19:21
4

This has already come up several times before. Here are the related questions that I found quickly:

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    Since 2010? Well then maybe there's really no solution. – Sejanus Jan 23 '15 at 14:45
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    @Sejanus my theory is, SE team simply ignored this problem until recently, until they noticed that same issue is damaging Stack Overflow. Then, they woke up (at last) and launched "SE Quality Project". That project, in turn, seems to be primarily targeted to benefit Stack Overflow (as usual) but hopefully smaller sites will be able to get some of it too, as a side effect so to speak – gnat Jan 26 '15 at 12:37
  • "same issue is damaging Stack Overflow" - you bet it is :) – gnat Feb 8 '15 at 8:20
4

What do you think? As a new user your perspective is much more interesting and potentially helpful than mine (and any other veteran user's). Do you find our help articles clear? Do you feel confident asking questions on the site? Do you understand why we close the questions we do? Is there anything about our site and policies you think should be changed? ...etc. If you have the time, please consider telling us how a relatively new user experiences the site (in an answer please, not in comments). - Yannis Rizos

Well, I was reading programmers SE for quite a while before registering, and I am user of stackoverflow probably since it launched, so not your run of the mill newbie. But lets answer the questions.

  • Your help articles, I have never read them. I am going to, but that's besides the point, majority of newbies do not read them, or so I believe. They only help users who already have enough common sense and willingness to try and find out what the site is about before posting their questions
  • Do I feel confident asking questions? Yes of course. I only had a need to ask once though, and while researching with Google how to best explain what I needed I accidentally stumbled upon all the answers on my own (happens to me a lot when I use stackexchange). It was a question on Multi-Tenant Data architecture, if you are curious.
  • Do I understand why you close the questions? Sure I do. Every single one. Never found a closed question that I'd object to closing, yet. That's not the point.
  • Is there anything about the site that I'd like to change... I think I'd like really bad questions to be summarily deleted. That way majority of the questions a new user sees would be good questions, questions one can use as a good example, questions that do not discourage a new user to post. Other than that, I don't know, maybe the background of textarea in 'ask question' could be used to present a very short bullet point list of dos and donts? The point is no matter how good your FAQ and HELP is, vast majority of new users won't read them before going straight to 'Ask question' form.

Generally I really like the idea behind this SE, I think it's useful to a beginner and veteran alike, and I strongly support keeping it clear, closing questions that do not belong here. But the amount of closed/downvoted ones are just disturbing, and I think something should be done about it, if possible.

2

Suggested change 1

When a question has negative total votes (-2 or below) and is also being nominated for closing (by 2 or more), any user who is about to begin writing an answer will be given the following popup:

(1) Answers written for a question with negative total votes and being nominated for closing will not give its answerer any positive reputation points, even if the answer is upvoted.

(2) If the question is deleted later, your answer will be deleted as well.

(3) If the question later gets a positive total vote, or if the closing nominations are withdrawn, reputations will be awarded for upvotes on your answer.

(4) The question asker is allowed to improve the question, but in this process the question may have been altered significantly such that your answer might become irrelevant.

I understand the bloody consequences

Nevermind I don't want to waste time on this dude

In some sense, this tries to discourage other users from writing an answer on a soon-to-be-deleted question. If the answerer still chooses to, it is on the answerer's own volition.


Suggested change 2

Try to make it really really easy to link to Wikipedia articles so that question askers who is simply knowledge-deficient can spend some time reading before they proceed to ask the question.


Suggested change 3

Thanks to @gnat's link, and my reflection.

Delete the question right away, but forward the original URL into a private chatroom (or even an iframe that pretends to be embedded inside the familiar "main site look-and-feel"), which can only be seen by the asker, the commenters, and the authors of the now-deleted answers. All others should see the 404.

This serves to reduce the cognitive load and repellant factor of having to switch the mode to "a different site" that is the "chatroom".

  • 1
    I personally see and write these "vaporizing answers" the same way as a one-to-one conversation with a stranger. It serves to exchange ideas. After which the conversation need not leave a trace. I guess this is because I don't know how to start chat, or that jumping from the "site" to the "chat room" may have been a cognitive load too high for both myself and the new user. – rwong Jan 23 '15 at 16:57
  • Remember the Reversal badge? – a CVn Jan 29 '15 at 9:43
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    @MichaelKjörling SE team seems to be considering to get rid of the Reversal badge in its current form – gnat Jan 29 '15 at 18:52
2

Maybe, when a user posts his 1st, 2nd or 3rd post, after hitting 'post' redirect to a page where the user is prompted with the question "Are you sure this is the right place for your question, we are about '......'".

Then after 3 times, there is more chance the user knows what this place is about.

2

Stack Overflow has got an interesting feature that may be related.

I can't tell that it helps to lower amount of bad questions asked (I honestly don't know if this is possible at all) - but it at least helps to save site home page from being polluted by such questions (bold font in below quote is mine):

All questions flagged Very Low Quality now immediately enter Triage

...and while these questions are being triaged, they're not shown on the home page. Take that, wall of crap.

See also:

2

I think this would help significantly:

enter image description here

This could be shown, let say, for the first 3 posts by a user.

This is also very similar to Michel's idea.

1

I find that there are two types of questions.

  1. The questions I know the answers too.
  2. The questions I do not know the answers too.

Neither type is inherently bad.

With that in my mind, and when I'm wearing my answerer hat, there are definitely questions that, after reading them once I do not wish to ever see them appear in a search result again for multiple reasons. In addition to the reasons mention above I also do not wish to see questions that I feel have been perfectly well answered by someone else.

It would be great to have a flagging system against each question (and probably against answers) where I can explicitly flag it as "like", "dislike" or "neutral".

A second great feature would be a "Saved filters" system.

Regarding the "Saved filters" system I won't take the time to consider this in detail but am implementation similar to what I am talking about would be the filtering provided by job search sites where I get to store sets of criteria and apply those criteria at my leisure.

  • 1
    "Anyone telling you there's no such thing as a stupid question hasn't spent much time on the Internet" (Purpose of down-voting). See also: How to decide which questions I should not answer? – gnat Jan 27 '15 at 9:17
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    There are also offtopic questions, unanswerable questions, matter-of-opinion questions and some more, that are beyond the scope of this site. My intent was not to debate what's good what's bad question or to say that people are downvoting perfectly good questions. Not at all. There are lots of really bad questions and people downvote them as they are supposed to do. I have never found a single "unjustly" downvoted or closed question so far. My intent was to find out how to limit the number of bad questions. Delete them faster? Provide more accessible, clearer FAQ to users? – Sejanus Jan 27 '15 at 9:26
  • @Sejanus so according to your criteria you asked a bad question? I thought it was a reasonable question the way it was written. Quoting you "... What do you think?", which I have shared. Thanks for taking the time to clarify the question which I understand now changes the usefulness of my answer so I' will make a minor edit. – Tai Paul Jan 27 '15 at 10:57
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    I never asked any question in programers SE. This is metasite to discuss about the site where different criteria apply. I thought that much was obvious to anyone. – Sejanus Jan 27 '15 at 12:10

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