I've been racking my brain trying to figure this out.

What happened that caused asking "What is the name of this thing so I can go research it myself" become the thing to do?

I've been a participant on Stack Overflow for quite some time now. I've seen a number of memes come and go, including The Great Community Wiki Wars, What Stack Overflow is Not (which I unfortunately have the dubious distinction of creating), and What Have You Tried? They last for a while, the site changes a little bit (for better or worse), then they disappear and life goes on.

But for the life of me I can't figure this one out.

  1. Many things don't have a name. Have we become so enamored of "Pattern-Driven Development" that programming has now become an "identify pattern by name, copy/paste, profit" game?

  2. Did someone post the first "Name that Thing" question, the one to rule them all, and now everyone is stumbling across that question and emulating it?

  3. Do we have such a reputation for being curmudgeons that people are just taking the approach, "Just give me a name, and I'll research it myself?"

Do the folks who ask these questions know that they're being a bit dismissive and a trifle insulting? "Rather than bothering you with this, just tell me what it's called, and I'll go look it up on Wikipedia."

  • Do you have data/examples? Or are you just ranting? :) Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 10:32
  • this is likely related to 'terminology' tag, which has over 1400 questions at SO and about 500 questions at Programmers
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 10:50
  • I'm not sure if it's related, but Gaming.SE once had an identify-this-game tag which after some discussion was eventually removed. I also seem to recall a SE blog post mentioning name-this-thing questions, and a couple of meta posts here about if it was in scope. As to why it's asked for on P.SE, I think part of it is because its a way to try to avoid having your question closed as "too broad". Asking about a large topic like "pattern driven development" will most likely be closed here, however asking for a name for future googling has a higher chance of having a short definitive answer.
    – Rachel
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:49
  • @Rachel the blog post was Let's Play The Guessing Game which was also related to the shutdown of literature.SE as it became too prevalent of a question there and wasn't generating quality content for the site/network. Sci-fi is having another look at their identify this questions right now (Have story identification questions “overtaken” SF&F?).
    – user40980
    Commented Nov 16, 2015 at 14:57
  • 2
    I think there is a term for this phenomen, but I can't remember what it is...
    – user82096
    Commented Nov 23, 2015 at 5:27

1 Answer 1


Name that thing is at least as old as Usenet.

Part of this goes to the curmudgeon aspect. That if one asks a short, answerable question, they are less likely to have the curmudgeons complaining about the use of a Singleton or that C++ isn't C or some other issue of perceived pedantry.

There is also the bit that if you ask a question and show a desire to learn, you can get a better answer.

This actually worked on Usenet and mailing lists because searching those things in days of old was impossible at best. Go in, get your answer for what to look up, and then go to your lab's wall of books and poke around in the indexes.

Doesn't work well on Stack Exchange.

Yes, the search here is less than ideal, but it is orders of magnitude better than what existed before. However, there is a persistence here that isn't as easily discarded as Usenet or mailing lists. This leads to the problems mentioned in Let's Play The Guessing Game that people aren't searching for existing material before asking. With that persistence of old material, it has the distinct danger of being a place where people come ask a question and leave. This is what happened to Literature.SE and its what Sci-fi worries about.

As mentioned over on English.SE (another site with this 'name that thing' type problem) described in Against single word requests. They note that this type of question attracts less active users (its easy to drop a "I think its a Singleton" as an answer and then not show up again) but repels more active users (frankly, if we were to get a similar proportion of unclosed name that thing questions as Sci-fi gets with story identification or English gets with name that word, I'd be looking at contributing elsewhere).

I don't think that the people asking these questions realize how much those who get these questions constantly realize how annoying and insulting they can be, because they haven't invested more than the time it takes to paste the question in the site. At the time they ask the question, they haven't found the other questions and answers on the front page useful or interesting enough to read for the sake of reading.

I also don't believe that these users realize the difference in the focus of the sites (and that each SE site is distinct), or the difference between SE sites and forums at large.

Pedagogy vs Problems

One additional aspect of this is the way that we (as professionals) focus on problems. If one was to go up to their professor in school and ask a question about the proper way to handle a class such that there is only one instance of it, the professor could very well say "its a Singleton - go look it up in chapter 4 of Design Patterns by Erich Gamma."

While this approach works in college classes (getting the student to learn more), we are expecting to solve problems here rather than provide material for the student to learn from. It is also noted that many new programmers in the field haven't yet taken this change of world view from student to professional yet and are still expected to be treated like students. Not realizing that the people that they are asking questions of aren't here to primarily teach, but rather solve problems.

You must log in to answer this question.

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