Observing the flurry of downvotes on a recent question, I took a moment to click over to Newest Questions and tally up the negatives.

Of the most recent 50 questions at the time I counted, 25 of them had one or more negative votes.

It's clear that some of these are bad questions.

It's also clear that some of these belong on StackOverflow, but people are downvoting rather than recommending a change of venue, for reasons that escape me.

Moreover, though, it's abundantly clear that this site is completely unable to explain its purpose in a way that more than half the people posting new questions can understand. It's been a problem for a long time, and it's beginning to seem like a problem that will never be solved.

As a result, people who are genuinely trying to get help with their code, and are merely asking on the wrong site (a site which is named "Programmers", after all), are being downvoted into oblivion and having their questions closed, and are no closer to getting any help.

Why continue? There's some valuable information here, but it's buried in so much cruft that it'd be surprising if anyone saw it. Time to put a cork in it.

But perhaps you disagree. If so, why? What value do you see in this site? And how can it be salvaged?

By way of comparison, here are the numbers of downvoted questions (from the most recent 50) from a few other SE sites:

Travel: 1
German: 0
Sci-Fi: 2
Arqade: 14
DBA: 3
Music: Practice & Theory: 5
StackOverflow: 2

  • 7
    It's also clear that some of these belong on StackOverflow, but people are downvoting rather than recommending a change of venue, for reasons that escape me. I often do that when the question belongs there because of topic, but isn't really up to the quality standards. I think you will find that questions which are good questions that belong elsewhere do not get downvoted much. That specific question originally was a dump of code with no question actually asked in it at all.
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 18:45
  • 5
    As one of the more active down/closevoters, it's worth mentioning that one of my most common custom close reasons is "This is a debugging question that's not good enough to migrate to StackOverflow." When a question is good enough, I do vote to migrate. But that's not often.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 18:48
  • 2
    possible duplicate of Why is Stack Overflow so negative of late?
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:15
  • 1
    @gnat If only. It's about a different site, not dupe.
    – durron597
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:16
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    @durron597 conceptually, it looks the same to me. "Why do you vote down and close instead of helping people?" I picked totally different site to make a point that no matter what, someone will complain like that. As for in-site duplicates, there are 30+ similar questions listed here
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:35
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    I recall doing a review of closed/downvoted/deleted questions a few months back here. It may or may not be related to this question, but the theory there is that by renaming the site we would be reducing the number of "bad" questions from 26 to 7-8, which I think would greatly help in the negative view our site has.
    – Rachel
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:43
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    "StackOverflow: 2" looks disingenuous... softly speaking. Questions like ones you complain about at Programmers, are automatically hidden at Stack Overflow and dumped to Triage review queue. I find it extremely hard to believe that experienced SO user is not aware of that
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 20:00
  • @gnat, in every case I was looking at the 50 newest questions, not the "front page".
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 20:01
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    if you would take a little extra effort (like I did) and spend a minute or two skimming through next 9 "newest" pages over there (~500 questions posted in last hour), you'd notice that triage-worthy questions are apparently filtered out of this view as well. Last time I checked, triaged garbage was visible only at tag pages, but maybe they covered that leak too since then. The main point of that feature was stated by Shog as "out of sight, out of mind"
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 20:06
  • @gnat, abject apologies that I don't spend six hours a day policing these sites like you do. Undoubtedly if I did I would know these things.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 20:07
  • 2
    apologies accepted. Since you are apparently happy with the way how this issue is handled at Stack Overflow, consider closing your question as a duplicate of this feature request to establish Triage review at Programmers
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 20:15
  • Btw, there is a question on Meta.SE about this too, although it's a bit old. The top answer there tries to give examples of questions that do have a home on programmers. My answer is actually sitting at +11/-11, so it seems like a bit of a controversial topic :)
    – Rachel
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 21:48

3 Answers 3


TL;DR: We vote on everything. 90% of everything is crap.

On Programmers, we are rather sensitive to poor migrations. Every day we get dozens of people suggesting reposting off topic, too broad, unclear, and opinion questions on Programmers.SE (see Duga's Playground and the historic Please stop using Programmers.SE as your toilet bowl). I will not tell someone to repost a question that will get closed on another site to post on the other site.

Anecdotally, most people just repost the question even if you tell them that it needs to be fixed before it could be appropriate on another site. If one says "this should be posted on Stack Overflow, after remove the call for library refrences and add an mcve" two minutes later it gets reposted without removing the request for library references or providing a mcve.

Many times, you will also see no attempt to migrate when the post is posted to multiple sites. Migrating at that point creates more work for Stack Overflow mods who would then need to close-duplicate the question and then merge it.

When we do want to migrate the question, mentioning Stack Overflow (as mentioned) will often mean the person will repost the question on Stack Overflow... and then the votes to migrate go through. More work for everyone around.

If you find something that you believe should be on Stack Overflow, flag it for migration. If you believe it needs to get moved sooner than later, jump into chat and ask for some help / attention on the question. There's often a moderator (who can do fancy diamond things if the question is already closed) and often three or four other users who can cast votes to migrate.

We get a fair amount of people who hit one quality filter on Stack Overflow or another and then repost here. Questions that have 'question', 'help', and the like in the title can't be posted on Stack Overflow. They appear to not be restricted here. So many times someone will try posting a (low quality) question on Stack Overflow, fail, and then try here and succeed.

There is also an aspect of how many votes people have to cast what. There are many days where I have run out of close votes. At this point, the only way to express my "this needs to be closed" (without custom flagging everything begging the mods to do it) is to down vote it.

Furthermore, you are seeing September in force. This leads to a fair amount of completely off topic questions being asked on Programmers.SE - people who need to learn how to debug. The answer to such is:

Step through with a debugger. Put printf statements everywhere. Learn how to debug. Putting the printf statement you have every other line would give you a better idea of what is going on. – MichaelT 9 hours ago

Suggesting these to go to Stack Overflow or migrating them would do a disservice to the person asking the question and Stack Overflow. The Stack Exchange layout is not well designed for pedagogy.

There is a lower rate of question asking on Programmers.SE. We get as many questions per day as Stack Overflow gets on some of its medium volume tags. This means that everyone can vote each day on (nearly) every post. And we do. Good posts get up votes. Poor ones get down votes. Its often easier to agree on the poor ones that are deserving of down votes.

Look at Users by votes on P.SE and compare it to Users by votes on SO. Our top voter has cast more votes here than the top voter on Stack Overflow, despite the site being a small fraction of the size. We have one of the higher votes per views (from Why are votes per post on the decrease (what can we do to improve this)?)

The way to say "no, Programmers.SE should not exist" is simple.

Have Stack Overflow accept that the questions that they want to send here should remain (and remain open) on Stack Overflow instead.

Provide the quality of answers that we provide here to the questions asked on Stack Overflow - both new and old. This involves active curation of the answers.

Make it easy to find the questions that don't require code and an mcve in some way other than using a meta tag.

Until these things are done, Programmers.SE has a distinct place within the scope of Stack Exchange.

I would also encourage you to read How can I encourage Stack Overflow to rein in the 'subjective' vigilantes? which has a bit of history for both Stack Overflow and Programmers.SE. That people are still misunderstanding the site and believing it to be "the site for everything that lacks code" or "NotProgrammingRelated" of old on Stack Overflow.

  • vague debugging questions are explicitly off-topic at SO, so migrating these would not only be disservice but rather a road to migration rejection and eventually getting SO removed from migration targets at Programmers. We already had SO folks complaining about cases like that: Migrating Crap to SO. Really, Programmers?
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 13, 2015 at 14:32

The questions worthy of migration to Stack Overflow do get migrated. When a question gets migrated, its downvotes are cleared. See: What is migration? How does it work?. It's entirely appropriate to downvote an off topic question, especially if you expect the question to be migrated and the downvotes cleared. Off topic is off topic, even if the question is a "good" one for another site.

These 6 questions have all been migrated in the last two days:

So, it absolutely does happen.

As far as the questions that are not appropriate for migration goes, we get many of them because people don't understand that we have a very narrow scope here. We tried allowing a much broader range of questions here and it failed. See: Are you still confused about what Programmers (now called Software Engineering) is for?

Since then, we have attempted to very tightly moderate what's acceptable here in an attempt to teach people what this site is about, but people still don't read the guidance. This has resulted in many well written meta questions about site scope, capped with IMO the two most important: What goes on Software Engineering (previously known as Programmers)? A guide for Stack Overflow and Why was my question closed or down voted?.

So, we downvote the bad questions, to take them off the front page (a question disappears from the front page when it his -4 or below) in an attempt to have a front page full of decent-to-good questions. The hope is that this user training will teach current and future users what's actually good and appropriate here.

Addendum: @Ixrec correctly points out that it's currently September, which means a lot of young students are posting homework questions all over the internet, which are almost always off topic here, so the front page is worse than normal.

People also have a tendency to post questions about career advice here, even though it's explicitly off topic and all the related tags about it say "do not use". These questions get downvoted to oblivion as well.

  • I remember that "Are you still confused..." question. I posted an answer to it, in which I noted that 18 of the most recent 50 questions had downvotes. It appears that the problem has only gotten worse in over a year since then.
    – Kyralessa
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:00
  • 2
    Also note the frontpage is through this link - programmers.stackexchange.com - not this one - programmers.stackexchange.com/questions
    – enderland
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:01
  • 3
    @Kyralessa Keep in mind that this is September, so we're getting a lot more terrible questions right now than we usually do, many of which would be considered bad no matter what our scope was.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 19:01
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    @Kyralessa recent stats look pretty close to what you observed back then - site gets 46 questions a day average, 18 of which end up deleted. Given that since then this site "lost" good career and software recommendations questions (which found their home at TWP and SR.SE) I would say it's not worse than it was back then in Spring 2013
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 9, 2015 at 20:55

At some point this site's most active voters stopped focusing on building community and started focusing on policing it, on "training" new users in the quest for the perfect question and the flawless front page. It has lost something precious, but you'll never convince them of that. One person sees a 50% downvote rate as a huge inclusiveness problem. The next person sees it as a huge quality problem. The latter has had all the power for the last few years.

What the site really needs is competition. You could make quite a good site out of this one's discarded questions, assuming you could prevent the same sort of moderation problems.

  • 2
    There is competition. Reddit is where I read if I want to read a discussion (on all topics and subtopics programming). Quora is where I go if I want to read polls and anecdotes. Slant has targeted gorilla vs shark and does it quite well. There have also been a number of attempts at a forum such as notconstructive.com, which, well, have flopped. And there's always Yahoo Answers. P.SE has competition - just none that do Q&A as well nor attract the same group of people who answer the hard questions. There are numerous places that do water cooler quite well but don't touch hard questions.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 13:29
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    As an aside, it might be useful to help address the inclusiveness issue by looking at some of the recent down voted questions and edit them into good questions for the site. Here is a sampling: programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296876 programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296885 programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296838 programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296833 programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296819 programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296800 programmers.stackexchange.com/q/296773 By demonstrating that these can be good questions, we can be more inclusive.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 10, 2015 at 13:57
  • I have to agree with MichaelT that you really cannot make these claims without pointing to specific examples. Our "discarded questions" are largely crap like programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/297073/…, and I don't see how anyone could argue that question doesn't deserve the downvotes and close votes it's getting. The only undeserved closure I remember seeing in the last few months is programmers.stackexchange.com/questions/297026/why-use-stashn, which was asked and closed today but already has three reopen votes on it.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 11:07
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    You realize 50%+ of people asking questions every single day disagree with you? This site is supposed to be for them. How did you get your minds into this weird place where their opinions don't matter? Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 13:53
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    Karl, too many of these 50% simply want to circumvent their question block at Stack Overflow. Whatever worthy / salvageable stuff gets closed, it drowns in the sea of fix-my-codez. Last several months Programmers operate like a site with broken spam protection
    – gnat
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 16:02
  • @KarlBielefeldt do you want to be on a site where those questions are acceptable and on topic? If you think those are good questions, edit them so that they are written with proper english and can be answered in a way that is helpful and then cast reopen votes or do reopen reviews. ...
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 17:28
  • ... however, I will also point to Optimizing For Pearls, Not Sand which concludes with "Therefore, the only logical thing to do is to maximize the happiness and enjoyment of answerers. If this means aggressively down voting or closing unworthy and uninteresting questions, so be it." If there are no experts left here to answer, the site would go the way of on-startups. The thing is, there are experts here, and we enjoy answering the questions that fit within the scope of the site and the framework of Stack Exchange.
    – user40980
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 17:30
  • 1
    There seems to be a fundamental disconnect between those of us who feel most first-time askers are asking questions in good faith, and those who feel they're asking in bad faith. The empirical evidence very, very strongly points toward bad faith, but I would love to be proven wrong (again, examples!!), or find some way to stop those people from wasting their time and ours.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Sep 12, 2015 at 18:53

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