1

I am a software lead in a company and I would say I am a seasoned professional. Nevertheless I find myself scared to ask questions here,

A look on the page of the first 50 newest questions counts:

24 questions are downvoted 13 questions are upvoted 13 neutral

It is either that the site is attracting the worst programmers/question askers or the mods need to think about being less aggressive and let people ask questions.

This site is for giving free help to fellow programmers (brogrammers) not being elitist/perfectionist with others.

  • 3
    Of the down voted questions, can you identify those that you think are on-topic, are not among the things that should be avoided, and can be considered good questions? Consider guidance given about reasons why certain questions aren't a good fit here. – Thomas Owens Mar 18 '15 at 9:30
  • 1
    That is exactly my point. You can debate all questions as is being done, but if you see it as an outcome, the site is mostly full of downvoted/closed questions, so I propose instead of filtering the questions through the guidelines, thinking about loosening up the guidelines which are not supposed to be the utmost law (I hope) but can be revised. – arisalexis Mar 18 '15 at 9:33
  • a good example is this one: programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/276569/… – arisalexis Mar 18 '15 at 9:34
  • 1
    What guidelines, specifically, do you think should be relaxed? Some things can be clarified, but some can't because they are network guidelines that apply to every site to ensure the content meets the minimum standard of Stack Exchange. We're currently updating the help/on-topic page on Meta now, so some things can be done. – Thomas Owens Mar 18 '15 at 9:37
  • 3
    Also, voting is an individual preference: a down vote simply means "the question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful". Many people can down vote - not just mods. If they don't leave a comment, it's not clear why someone voted the way they did. I don't know enough about the subject matter of your question to know if it's clear enough, but maybe it's lacking critical information that's making it unanswerable? – Thomas Owens Mar 18 '15 at 9:39
  • I think there should be a relaxation of downvote guidelines meaning: As a simpler example. Guidelines say if there is a spelling error, delete because it is confusing. This i a sentence. This above sentence should not be deleted even though the guidelines say it should because the meaning is clear. Also make mods have a finite num of downvotes and devise a system to prohibit them to downvote exploiting the behavioural phychology traits that people feel good when they do it. – arisalexis Mar 18 '15 at 9:40
  • 3
    There's no guideline that says delete because it's confusing. If there is, please show it to me. Questions that are down voted and closed are automatically cleaned up by a script, but only blatant abuses of the system are deleted by high-reputation users or moderators. Please point to specific pages of the Help Center or Meta posts that you have issues with - talking in generalities won't get anywhere. As far as voting goes, that's not unique to this site - that's a Stack Exchange system that we can't control. Check out Meta Stack Exchange. – Thomas Owens Mar 18 '15 at 9:42
  • It was an example about guidelines relaxation, not real. – arisalexis Mar 18 '15 at 9:43
  • 3
    If you have real examples of times where the guidelines need to be changed (please point to a Help Center page or a Meta post), please share them. If you have specific questions that you want a reason for why they were down voted or closed and it's not obvious, please raise a specific question on Meta (we even have the specific-question tag for that purpose). But talking in generalities and referencing guidance that doesn't even exist doesn't help anyone. – Thomas Owens Mar 18 '15 at 9:45
  • Its not a generality that the majority of the questions on this site are judged as inappropriate by the guidelines. It is a real matter of fact and that is why I raised this question. Your opinion is understood, I would like to hear others too though. Thanks. – arisalexis Mar 18 '15 at 9:48
  • 4
    possible duplicate of Why can't we raise up questions quality? – gnat Mar 18 '15 at 9:54
  • 4
    see also: So many bad questions – gnat Mar 18 '15 at 9:54
  • 5
    Some other questions on this topic from history: A lot of front page down votes, Why are there so many closed, on hold, and down voted questions here?, Cutting down on off topic posts. This has been an on-going issue on the site for years (if you really want 'fun' have some of the old timers tell the tales of when P.SE was a migration target from SO). – user40980 Mar 18 '15 at 13:20
  • 1
    @GlenH7 that's for sure, these are very different and should be dealt with differently. My point is only that quality wise, last year wave of "self-migrations" seems to push at us even lower quality stuff than it was with "community migrations" in the past – gnat Mar 19 '15 at 14:27
  • 2
    @GlenH7 the community migrations of the past (even those where someone said "this belongs on P.SE" in a comment) at least made it past SO's quality filters. The questions that gnat is taking exception with, I believe, are those where question can't be posted on SO for some reason (quality filter, question ban) and so are posted here as an alterative. That they can't even make SO's low bar means that they are even worse than the ones that do meet those standards. – user40980 Mar 19 '15 at 14:39
9

My apologies for taking a bit of time in getting around to answer this. The set of 'newest 50' that I am working from may not be the ones you saw. Let's look at all the down voted ones:

Career advice

Implementation and debugging questions

Often we get questions about implementation or debugging. Many times these are cross posted to both Stack Overflow and Programmers.SE. Other times, the question was posted here because the OP can't post it on SO for some reason or another. P.SE is distinctly different than SO in its scope and we aren't a "can't post on SO, post on P.SE" alternative site.

Asking for the best

Others

And asked and deleted

10k links here.


So, there's the list and why they are down voted. We often wonder why we attract such questions, especially when we have many of these clearly spelled out in the Help Center for "please don't ask them". There is a suspicion that many of these are spill over from Stack Overflow (can't ask there, ask here) or a realization that Stack Overflow would close the questions, so you go down to the bottom of Stack Overflow and look at the sites...

enter image description here

and lo and behold, there is Programmers right next to it. Let's try asking there.

If you believe that any of these should't have been down voted, are on topic, and not too broad or in otherwise need of fixing/clarification by the person who posted the question (we often fix those that have all the material, just poorly formatted), please point it out. If you think that some of these should be asked here and the policies and community norms are in error, please bring that up so that we can help by demonstrating the path that brought us here, and look at influencing people to make that change either by making exemplary questions of that type, or writing about it on Meta.

Until we understand what people feel need to be changed, it's rather hard to work off of "there are a lot of down voted posts on the front page". We know. We really try to help it and have probably done the most changes to our help center in recent times of any Stack Exchange site (we're going through another round of refinement - trying to make it more clear about what is and isn't on topic here). If you have suggestions about how to modify the help center, please help us make those changes.

  • 2
    "If you think that some of these should be asked here and the policies and community norms are in error, please bring that up so that we can help". It is hard to do so when every post I make usually ends up in negative votes, even as this one. I know it is very hard to be heard but I think there should be stricter guidelines for downvoting so people are not intimidated by that (it has some adverse phychological effects on the asker) and also that the guidelines are loosened. If its not clear enough "the letter of the law" vs "the spirit of the law" should suffice. – arisalexis Mar 19 '15 at 9:53
  • 2
    @arisalexis at MSO, I once have seenan interesting advice to lower risk of getting downvotes: prior to asking, check similar questions, refer these and explain how these differ from yours. Guy who gave it has to be really smart, upon reding their advice I recalled that I really almost never vote down questions tweaked that way (even though I generally tend to downvote a lot) – gnat Mar 19 '15 at 10:21
  • @arisalexis meta votes are a funny thing. They have no effect on reputation. They could be just an indication of "meh, I've read this before" - and it is indeed a question that is occasionally posted. This question didn't add anything to the previous ones and so people on meta may down vote it for that reason. Don't worry about it. Elsemeta, I've even purposely asked questions that I knew would get significant down votes as a "bad idea" proposal to put that idea out there and allow people to refute it (because it kept getting suggested in comments). I currently have a question at +18/-17. – user40980 Mar 19 '15 at 13:31
  • as to your question that you recently asked that got down voted. Can't really say other than its... I'm not sure, and that may have driven the down votes on that answer (as of this writing I've neither down voted nor close voted it). There are so many moving parts in the question that I can't pick out a specific problem in it to try to answer in a way that would be useful. Thus, the down votes could be a signal to not only you that there's something "off" about it, but also a signal to others that 'this question needs work before it can be answered'. Unfortunately, I don't know what that is. – user40980 Mar 19 '15 at 13:34
  • @MichaelT FWIW it looks like "meta effect" didn't dive voting in that case; asker's rep history shows only votes cast 2 days ago - probably even before posting at meta – gnat Mar 19 '15 at 15:22
  • @gnat nope. The timeline for the post shows that lack too. Both votes were before your comment on the question. If anything, I'd say that the wave of other questions (including the poor ones above) swept it off the front page and its languishing in the unknown, unanswered. I'm still not sure how to either answer the question or modify it so that it could be bumped back to the front page in a productive way - not that there isn't a problem there, just I don't know how to tease it out to a better question or an answer. – user40980 Mar 19 '15 at 15:26
5

Real Questions Have Answers.

The following is an excerpt from The Whiteboard chat room; a user asking for career advice. You can decide for yourself whether or not I was being too elitist/perfectionist. But ask yourself, as you are reading this: "is this a reasonably answerable question?"

USER: Hey guys quick career based question - I am more interested now in web development as opposed to software development. The only problem now is that the place I want to work at is using totally different technologies than I am using right now. My plan is to self-educate and start working on projects to internalize those technologies/new programming language syntaxes and then give it a shot but it would still be cool to find out what you guys think about switching in between the two? If you had any experience with it or if you think it is a good/bad idea in general.

ME: Hey guys quick transportation based question - I am more interested now in trucks as opposed to cars. The only problem now is that the place I want to work at is using cars. My plan is to self-educate and start working on projects to internalize those technologies/new truck beds and then give it a shot but it would still be cool to find out what you guys think about switching in between the two?

USER: I have heard some people say that it is better to stick with one stack of tech if you have been using it for a while but I disagree with that and wanted to see what you guys thoght.

ME: Depends on what you mean by "better."

USER: By better I mean mastering one stack and then moving on to others. My opinion is that some if not most of the things are trasnferrable but I am not sure 100% hence my question.

ME: Some of it is transferable, some of it is new skills. That's about the best answer I can give you, without a more specific question.

USER: At the very bottom of my explanation I asked if anybody had experience with this directly - that is moving from software dev to web dev and the challenges that came along with it. Obviously for each person it will be a bit different but since the situation is generally the same I can pick out some of the similarities to help me with my decision.

ME: I did my first ASP.NET MVC application about 7 years ago. I had to learn about REST, web services, the stateless nature of web applications, ORM, HTML, CSS and a bit of Javascript. The rest I already knew from having learned C#. Well, except for the intricacies of ASP.NET and MVC. Nowadays, having knowledge of front end Javascript frameworks like jQuery and Angular helps a lot. There's also caching, cookies, authentication, etc. So I'd say the transition is non-trivial.

So after a lengthy clarifying discussion, we finally got to something that is answerable in some way. But notice that it's still not a real question. Rather than asking a question that has an answer, he was asking "Everyone, share your experiences, and let me pick out the common elements."

That's not what we do here.

What he really wanted to do was solicit a discussion, which is fine in the chat room, as that is what it is designed for. But notice that the conversation never evolved into a real question that could be answered definitively. This is why we have such strict requirements for questions; they all originate from hard-won experience with topics that are subjective by nature, and the desire for newcomers to bend the site to their will and their existing forum skills.

There are a million and one other places on the internet where folks can have a discussion. This isn't one of them. And before you say "but this is where all the experts are," the experts are here in part so that they don't have to put up with the mindless discussion that forums encourage.

2

In my humble opinion, Programmers is not "elitist" (At least yet), but it is also not welcoming. At all.

StackExchange has a clear policy. First rule. Most important thing to consider, I believe:

"Be nice"

Not complex, not detailed, not specific. Kinda "bad" in a programming sense. Still, meaningful.

My suggestion is: People with power should use it for good. Much like JSON License states that "The Software shall be used for Good, not Evil.", I think the intent of that rule is: "Before anything, try to help. Only of not possible, do something else."

Many rules reinforce that notion. Vote to close only if there's no way to salvage the question etc.

Career advice, best and lists are usually not helpful. Still, programmers is all about conceptual questions. To me that means:

  1. We have to deal with SOME of this "evil stuff" as there are true and tested ways that may be described by some users as best or better, as there are questions with multiple valid answers that are of interest to the community.

To go with @MichaelT suggestion, I provided an answer to the JSTree question, the "not so bad", because I think it is REALLY interesting for MANY people. I built code to generate folder trees a lot of times. Ok, it probably should be on SO, but still, to think the concept of generating trees based on folder structures are of no interest to anyone else...?

What about carrer advice? Starting to learn programming, thinking about the implications of changing languages... Would those indagations not be meaningful to other programmers, beginners or not? And are they not conceptual questions about programming, in the broader sense of the word, considering not only the machine interpretation but also the act of creating programs itself?

Why not heling and suggesting edits? Why not letting some other rules slide for the sake of helping people? I usually ask my questions in the most "generic" manner I can find. That is not good. That is not good for SEO and that is not good for clarity or brevity. Heck, I'm walking on eggs right now so that my answer doesn't sound like a rant.

I believe "best", "better" and "lists" MAY be evil. I also believe they may be the best way to talk about some stuff we can't avoid. Conceptually speaking, starting to study programming (Among lots of other stuff), is hard and requires a LOT of knowledge. Piles of it. Maybe lists. Let's suggest edits, let's help people fit the rules, or overlook when the question is relevant enough to others. Let's salvage as many questions as we can instead of simply kicking people out.

And if you ever actually find a question that will never help someone else or fit in the website subject, no matter how many edits, only then you should downvote or vote to close. Preferably just comment it's in the wrong place though, as downvoting scares people a lot, esecially when you have less than 100 rep. But I doubt we would have any of those questions around here.

Also, for the community leaders (Or anyone with a reputation in the hundreds and above): If we downvote newcomers instead of helping, because we have too many rep to spare, we will end up in a locked community, aging together, only to isolate ourselves, limit our knowledge and lose many amazing people that could bring a lot to this community. And I don't think anyone here wants that.

  • 1
    Gnat, as I explain in my answer, while I don't think people are elitist here, I don't think we make an effort to be helpful, and that is my interpretation of the rules. That is just my interpretation though. My opinion on how we could improve as a community. ^^ – Fernando Cordeiro Mar 22 '15 at 16:24
  • 1
    Career advice I wrote a bit about in meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/a/6488/40980 . Its one that we really can't answer well on the site. I absolutely acknowledge that it is important, but without a discussion to get to know the person well, its not something that can be answered well (and when you do get to that level of familiarity, it becomes of little use to everyone else). A key point to consider is that interesting questions are not always good questions for the site in that they don't generate good content. That is something that we walk a fine line with on the site. ... – user40980 Mar 22 '15 at 21:23
  • P.SE has a bit of a history of being a water cooler place. In its early days you got interesting questions like "what is your favorite cartoon" and "what is your most controversial programming opinion". These created maybe a good post or two, but it also created lots of posts that really aren't good (look at the SO version: stackoverflow.com/questions/406760 ). We really try to curate for questions that can produce good answers as the rule rather than the exception. – user40980 Mar 22 '15 at 21:27
  • Michael, we sure have to avoid questions about cartoons. That is most likely the perfect example of a question that deservers flags and downvotes. The problem is with questions that are tangent to "approved subjects". Writing about something as "best" or "better", or asking how one should start studying programming, are really far from talking about cartoons. We always point out places to learn. Wouldn't a question about learning (or a set of them), with detailed answers pointing to good resources, be helpful to guide people? Is that really evil? Or are we just taking the easy way out? – Fernando Cordeiro Mar 23 '15 at 6:43
  • wonder how much you are aware about site history @MichaelT refers to. "We already tried supporting those questions, we even gave them their own site. Sadly, it didn't work out..." – gnat Mar 23 '15 at 8:13
  • @FernandoCordeiro the problem with the "best" and "better" questions is that we get answers akin to "$x is the best" and "$y is the best" with no explanation. How one should start studying is something that is particular to that person and their goals (and also produces answers like "Read SICP" and "Join an open source project and start reading code"). Its not that these aren't good or important questions but rather that it leads to lots of poor quality answers that we have difficulty curating (people upvote them because they are fun and interesting - not that they are good answers). – user40980 Mar 23 '15 at 15:35
  • 1
    Yes, saying "this isn't allowed" is the easy way out. But part of the problem is that when we don't close them fast enough we invariably find someone writing a short "answer" pointing to some off site resource or giving a 10 word opinion. The moderation and curation of questions so they produce good answers is what keeps some people here (and admititally discourages others). We have trouble doing web pages (see github.com/Michael0x2a/curated-programming-resources/blob/… ) though if you are interested in that, you might want to look at the tag wikis (and improve them) – user40980 Mar 23 '15 at 15:44
  • Examples of what a tag wiki can be: stackoverflow.com/tags/scala/info stackoverflow.com/tags/jsp/info stackoverflow.com/tags/java/info - this is where, in the Stack Exchange model, such material is intended to be located and curated as a timeless and universal resource. – user40980 Mar 23 '15 at 15:47
  • 1
    @gnat, your answer to that linked meta post is most likely the best comment I've ever seen on this matter. :D – Fernando Cordeiro Mar 24 '15 at 18:28
  • 1
    @MichaelT, I totally get the "why" now. I still believe there must be a better way, but I have no idea how much "improvement" can the community handle, as it requires mature people giving udeful answers, and it's surely easier to flag, close etc. one open-ended question than a hundred generic answers. Thanks for the clarifications. ^_^ – Fernando Cordeiro Mar 24 '15 at 18:29
  • @FernandoCordeiro Do consider that you can always jump into Software Engineering Chat (The Whiteboard) to discuss more about this. There are several reasonably old timers in chat along with a mod or two active. Its also the place where one can ask the "what is your favorite cartoon" type question (we're not against fun) along with resource recommendations, education and career advice (we even had salary questions the other day), or rant about your boss. Nearly all those things where we can't make high quality answers are available there for discussion. – user40980 Mar 24 '15 at 19:00
  • @MichaelT, That is a nice thing I didn't know, I'll be sure to drop by sometime. Still, just so you know, my answer and my rants are mostly about recording knowledge for future use. This is what I like most about SE: How many problems you can fix simply by searching for some error you ran into. :D – Fernando Cordeiro Mar 24 '15 at 23:11

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .