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It should come as a surprise to no one that I am disappointed about the 3 close vote experiment being deemed a failure by the powers that be. Whether or not we did "fail" (and what that even means) is a big issue, which is already being hashed out in the answers to that question. But there's another equally large question that I don't think is getting discussed over there.

Assuming for the sake of argument that we did "fail" somehow, I have absolutely no idea what SE wants us to do about it.

The only thing Jon tells us to do in that meta question is to not distrust users so much. I didn't think any of my actions on the site were based on distrust, but simply voting to close poor content based on how poor it is. If anything, I seem to habitually give first-time askers significantly more hand-written advice than they are willing to or capable of acting on. So, I really don't know what we're supposed to do with this instruction.

Because I don't understand this suggestion, I currently feel like SE will do one of the following:

  1. Give up and completely ignore this site for the foreseeable future because they simply don't understand what's going on here.
  2. Assume they are correct in their belief that we close too many questions, and change the site mechanics to make it harder to close questions.
  3. Assume Jon's claim that "distrust" is the core problem is entirely accurate, and start taking disciplinary action against the most "distrustful" users, presumably for violating "Be Nice".

I believe #1 is most likely, but part of me is genuinely concerned that #2, #3 or something equally misguided will happen.

My hope in asking this meta question is that Jon or someone else from SE can alleviate this uncertainty, ideally with a specific policy statement or some genuinely actionable advice.

Here are some random questions/prompts to help demonstrate what I mean by "actionable advice":

  • Should we be downvoting questions more often?
  • Should we be downvoting answers more often?
  • Are there any close reasons we should be using more often?
  • Are there any close reasons we should be using less often?
  • Should we be having frequent meta threads about whether a specific question is reopen-worthy, or can be edited to become reopen-worthy?
  • Should we encourage people to leave comments when downvoting or voting to close because of unclear/broad/POB? (as opposed to off-topic, which is much more self-explanatory)
  • Should we encourage people to stop leaving generic comments that simply link to a meta post without any specific advice about that particular question?
  • Should we stop trying to clean up "broken windows", and just ignore any Qs/As beyond a certain age?
  • When a question is too unclear/broad to answer, and the OP never adds the missing details, are we supposed to make up details to edit in ourselves until the question becomes answerable?
  • When a bikesheddable question (let's say "Should I use ++i or i += 1?") gets asked, should we close it as too broad/POB? Try to ruthlessly downvote the "merely okay" answers and hope only great ones survive? Just let people upvote everything into the stratosphere no matter how useless? Or something else entirely?
  • When a question asks for "best practices" without any explanation of what "best" means for them, should we not close that as unclear/broad/POB?
  • Should we try to come up with a clear set of guidelines that might help first-time askers avoid the unclear/broad/POB tarpit, better than the current FAQ does? For instance: describe what your application does, specify your language, specify whether you're after flexibility/intuitiveness/reliability/etc, explain why you want to do this, if there is a blindingly obvious solution explain why it doesn't apply, etc.
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    We could create a separate site for softer and discussion questions, so that the questions that aren't good fits here can have a home. It could be called NPR - it'd allow Programmers.SE to maintain it's focus on quality software design/licensing/process questions and give the other questions a home. – enderland Dec 19 '15 at 18:50
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    @enderland In all seriousness, part of me is worried that they want us to go back to being NPR... – Ixrec Dec 19 '15 at 18:56
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    @Ixrec given the pain we went through to get away from that place, I can't see SE wanting to go through that again. – ChrisF Dec 19 '15 at 19:16
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    @ChrisF the concern is (at least from one segment) is that the examples of questions that SE has said they want to see are ones that we regard as too broad and primary opinion - ones that can get a dozen or two of contradictory answers or anecdotes. One example had an answer that summarized itself with "I would say this is more of a personal preference" as something that should be open for more people to provide answers to. Between this guidance and that from earlier reopens it really feels like SE wants something else. – user40980 Dec 19 '15 at 23:03
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    @MichaelT Quora is a massively popular site for programmers to ask about best practices and Gorilla vs. Shark questions. Maybe our parents are disappointed that we aren't more like the Jones' kids? – maple_shaft Dec 20 '15 at 2:56
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    @maple_shaft its possible. Though if SE wishes us to be more like Quora, we need to look at completely removing all of our too broad, primary opinion, and say "no" to the close reasons that we've selected and figure out a better way to handle 216 answers. An important thing Quora does - "42 Answers Collapsed (Why?)" - the entire platform is focused on discussion which the SE framework was designed to make difficult. I believe we've taken the framework and provided the best content we can for it. – user40980 Dec 20 '15 at 3:09
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    I think we can trim some portion of the off topic questions by updating the information on the 'ask a question' page. Right now all it says is 'Is your question about software development?', which is frankly counter productive because most of the off topic questions are about software development. It could be changed to "is your software a conceptual question..", with a few bullet points about what is off topic (no code fixes, no career q's) and where to ask those types of questions. It wont solve the problem by any means in one shot, but I think it would help. – GrandmasterB Dec 20 '15 at 7:34
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    @GrandmasterB 'ask a question' page isn't shown to askers over here, this seems to be by design: "On the smaller sites, I believe the idea is that, since they get less traffic than Stack Overflow, there's not as much of a disincentive to prevent people from posting, since the community can help users fix problems with their posts, or close, flag, and delete." – gnat Dec 20 '15 at 13:24
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    @ChrisF given that SE wants better tolerance for those types of questions than the overwhelming majority of the active voting, editing, and meta community here (none of the questions I voted to reopen of my 15 or so have 3+ reopen votes and Robert Harvey's post is +19/-2), it seems only logical to create a separate community for those questions. Or to respect that the Programmers community has a different scope than what SE wants. I'm not saying this is a good idea but it IS the most logical response to the sharp scope disagreement. – enderland Dec 20 '15 at 15:27
  • @gnat maybe we're looking at different pages? I'm talking about /questions/ask, which is the page with the form for posting questions. There's a section to the right of the text area called 'how to ask'. Nothing there indicates that any of the usual off-topic questions are off topic, which I think is part of the problem. A bit of information up there may trim some percentage of the bad questions. It won't stop people who can't be bothered to read the rules, but it will assist people who are legitimately interested in posting in the correct place. – GrandmasterB Dec 21 '15 at 3:56
  • @GrandmasterB I see, thanks! yes I was talking about different page. I just rechecked, the page you mention is right there and it looks like you describe. Your idea to update it makes good sense – gnat Dec 21 '15 at 4:33
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    Just a quick note: we don't have any particular end game here. The experiment was something Shog mentioned and I took up the baton. If I had one goal that might not be obvious from what I already wrote, it would be to encourage self-examination. So I'm grateful for this question. I really don't have any answers, however. – Jon Ericson Dec 21 '15 at 19:47
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    @JonEricson Thank you for the clarification. Just knowing that actually helps a lot. And you definitely succeeded at making us self-examine more. If nothing further happens from SE maybe I'll just start another meta Q about one of the "sample questions" I listed here. – Ixrec Dec 21 '15 at 20:27
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    I'm not really a regular here, but my experience here has put it in my mind (fairly or not) that there's a particularly high incidence of bad closures here. Totally bizarre markings as duplicate. Unthinking application of the "Is It Possible..." guideline even when the question has clear non-yes-or-no answers. Use of "bear vs shark" to justify closing perfectly good "What's the difference between" questions. And more than once I've helped somebody rehabilitate their question, certain that it'll never get the required reopen votes even once it's fixed. – Ben Aaronson Dec 29 '15 at 21:30
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    Negativity IS the problem with this site. I was on this site a year and no longer use it. I rarely if ever received positive advice on improving a question. Just down votes, close votes, and negative comments, even when, if you look at my question history, many of them were voted up by the community. Giving you 10-20 Negative Nancies (amidst a community of more helpful people who happen to be less active than you) more close power would worsen this effect. Stop shooting first and asking questions later, that's your problem. You close arguably on topic questions without second thought. – Viziionary Dec 31 '15 at 12:50
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In my opinion this "spam" problem that gnat speaks to is one of those problems that is so deceptively simple, so completely obvious in hindsight, and something brought up before hiding in plain sight.

Here it is guys, the solution to the vast majority of bad content that I speak of is...

Our Domain Name

It is as simple as that. Change the domain name of the site from Programmers to Software Engineering and Architecture or something akin to this and I will personally step down as a moderator if spam on the site doesn't cut by half.

If you walk down the streets of your city past the homeless beggars and they all harass you asking for some change, don't act surprised when you are wearing a shirt that says, "I got lots of change to give..."

They don't care enough to research their problems, they certainly aren't going to study our Help Center to figure out what we are about. The name of the site deceives them as a quick fix for a problem that they are getting whipped to fix by their micromanaging boss.

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    As I understand it, it was made rather clear back in '12 that this isn't going to happen. All the suggestions since then have pointed back and said "not happening." That said, even if we were to change the site name, I am fairly much in agreement that it wouldn't change the majority of the poorly asked completely off topic questions that we get. As long as "Software" is in the title, we will get the same off topic questions of "debug this for me." – user40980 Dec 20 '15 at 3:15
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    @MichaelT I disagree. Code review doesn't have this problem. Computer Science doesn't have this problem. They wouldn't have tried the experiment here unless we didn't have a problem that stands out. – maple_shaft Dec 20 '15 at 4:13
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    CS is in the limbo of graduation. Code Review recently graduated. Looking at the 50 most recent CS questions, 20% are down voted, 15% are closed - and all of those have a diamond on the close list. The other thing to do is look at the bottom of this page where it says "technology" and see where you'd post something that is about code. Failing finding a suitable one there, follow the '13 more' and find the first site about general coding questions - computer science isn't even in that list. No matter what this site is called, it is the most visible site that might take code questions. – user40980 Dec 20 '15 at 5:04
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    reputation wise, changing domain name is very risky option - just think of what could happen in case if it turns out that it didn't help. Quoting self, "Hey these are suckers who changed name their site hold for... years, only because they were scared by debugging vampires. And, guess what, this didn't help them, bwa ha ha." – gnat Dec 20 '15 at 7:04
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    @gnat Reputation-wise, we're apparently the hardest SE to ask a question on besides Skeptics, many users of other SEs think we have no idea what our own scope is, and SE themselves think all the active users here are distrustful puritans. I really don't see how our reputation could get worse if we tried to do something about these problems. Besides, we aren't SO, we don't have a well-known brand to ruin in the first place. – Ixrec Dec 20 '15 at 10:11
  • @Ixrec it's not as much about our (users) reputation - I for one couldn't care less what's the name. It's about SE powers rep – gnat Dec 20 '15 at 10:23
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    @gnat In that case, while it seems like our "SE powers rep" is currently not that good, I have no idea what would make it better/worse, which is kinda the whole point of this question. Personally, I very highly doubt they would cackle evilly at us for asking to change the site name and then discovering it doesn't help, but their statements thus far have been so baffling I can't even feel confident in disagreeing with you on that point. – Ixrec Dec 20 '15 at 13:31
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    Also, an interesting thing to observe, Programmers is one of the few sites that has its name not about its scope. Most sites are named after the noun which is discussed on the site - for example, Photography is not named Photographers. This is very consistent across nearly all the sites, excepting SO, SF, and SU. Few sites have the users as their site name and not the subject. – enderland Dec 20 '15 at 16:31
  • @enderland that is exactly my point. How can we blame people for thinking it is about people and not conceptual answerable questions? Changing the site name will have a real impact on SEO and will devastate our search engine rankings. – maple_shaft Dec 20 '15 at 17:15
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    The sites that are named after people are Super User, Webmasters, Programmers, Android Enthusiasts, Writers, Database Administrators, Skeptics, English Language Learners, Expatriates, and Mathematics Educators. That's 10 sites, so less than 7%. Of these, the only one with a history is Programmers. The name, especially to people who only know the past state and not the current state, can be confusing to those people. The name Programmers still invokes the idea of softer "Not Programming Related" topics of interest to Programmers, not the current topics which I'd call "Software Engineering". – Thomas Owens Dec 24 '15 at 15:00
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    I'm just a passerby, but I thought I'd mention that I fought a similar fight over on DBA.SE years ago, except our issue was with our name making the site's scope seem too limited rather than too broad. We even had a serious discussion about what to rename the site to. The effort failed, I think, because even by then the "Database Administrators" name already had too much momentum, and we couldn't come to a consensus on an alternative. – Nick Chammas Dec 27 '15 at 3:13
  • @MichaelT My feeling as the most active reviewer on Computer Science is that most of the questions we close there are not because they're off-topic per se but because they're bad questions: mostly, people who want us to do their homework for them or check their solutions. We do get quite a few off-topic questions, which usually should have gone to Stack Overflow, but the majority of our closes are homework dumps, I think. – David Richerby Dec 31 '15 at 15:43
  • @DavidRicherby you can get an idea of our recent close history with the search is:q closed:yes with the sorting by 'newest'. You will likely see a fair number of just bad questions here too. I really don't believe that changing the name of this site would help with the majority of the bad questions that we get. – user40980 Dec 31 '15 at 15:53
  • @DavidRicherby I suppose then it is just a very normal problem to have for any Q and A site. Everybody labours this point but to be honest Stack Exchange does the best job in the best way I think of any other game in town. They essentially recruit a civilian police force and throw bodies at the problem to clean up the mess. It worked for New York City in the 1980s to reduce crime, throw bodies at the problem. – maple_shaft Dec 31 '15 at 16:02
0

I can not read their minds but from what I see, the only problem this site really has is a terrible flood of debugging / blatantly off-topic questions dumped by users who are banned or warned or simply scared off of Stack Overflow (my friends told me that "stack exchange" is undergraduate or master level, and "stack overflow" is PhD or research level, remember?)

Given above, it is only natural to assume that SE team looks for a cheap way to handle this, to make getting rid of this spam easier - and what can be cheaper than simply tuning close limit setting (to a value that was already tried and tested in the past, which makes it even easier).

The only thing to worry about in there was if it could have some undesired side effects... and, well, there were side effects.

These talks about trust / distrust and dreams on how meta visitors would suddenly reform from reading that post about experiment, I honestly can't take them seriously. Balance between tightening and broadening site scope is maintained by core community, not by management slogans.

And thing is, community over here could maintain the balance if site wasn't flooded by debugging spam. There are at least 8-10 members of core community who would be happy to vote reopen stuff "unfairly" closed by folks like you and me.

At the scale of our site, this would be more than enough to maintain a healthy balance without any management intervention. The only reason why this doesn't happen is flood of blatant garbage that buries questions worthy of wider community attention, like this bunch dropped at us today:

How to overcome the stack overflow problem?
Help: not able to compile C++ code
Injecting a java script to an iframe
Multiple viewpagers in one fragment
How do I increment a variable each time a program runs in C++?
Rewrite code snippet using ternary operators
Open cv help i m learnig open cv using youtube i get error when i try to run my frist program pls help
Android 6.0.1 couldn't enable wifi hotspot programmatically

With the experiment they were probably hoping that lowering bar for reopening will make it easier for the other part of core community to keep the prior balance. This didn't happen, and I think the reason is just the same. Folks who could do this simply can't find questions they would vote on because these are buried under heaps of spam.

Note it's the third time I use the word spam, and it's intentional. I've seen Wikipedia defining spam as "unsolicited electronic message", and this fits here. It's easy even to a total outsider to see how much of the questions are blatantly off-topic (no matter how broadly one understands site topics).


If my understanding is correct, then there's nothing for SE to expect of us, because spam is not something we, as community, can control.

It is also unlikely that ignoring what's going on here is an option for them. As of now, site front page says it loud and clear: "hey, SE team can't control spam" - that's sort of damaging their reputation of top Q&A system in the world.

Few years ago, they could probably attempt to close the site, under the cover that it has failed to grow. But their current official position changed, and now they claim that smaller sites can be okay without exploding to SO scale (why wouldn't they, given that smaller sites combined started bringing more views than Stack Overflow). As a result, closing would look solely like giving up to spam.

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    Wikipedia also makes it clear that what they mean by "spam" is the repeated, persistent sending of the same message to multiple recipients. – Robert Harvey Dec 20 '15 at 0:56
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    @RobertHarvey well, given the amount of cross-posts from SO (“I didn't get any help there so I came here”), the spam metapher still seems to hold. It's certainly a creative interpretation of the problem. – amon Dec 20 '15 at 12:04
  • @RobertHarvey per my recollection, last 40 or 50 mails that were moved by the mail filter into my "spam" folder all looked differently. Guess I should have clicked "not spam" because they weren't the same – gnat Dec 20 '15 at 13:12
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    As a phrase goes: Never attribute to malice what is explained by ignorance. I think you are reading WAY too much into the motivations of people posting here. I think that the overwhelming majority of questions which get closed here are closed by people misunderstanding the scope of the site, either due to ignorance or confusion. Your attitude seems to consistently be "the users are idiots it's their fault!" and it comes through, even in the continuous stream of comments you post to new users. Blaming users for a bad UX is not appropriate at all. – enderland Dec 20 '15 at 19:57
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    @enderland why don't you come to MSO and tell them turn off Triage and question blocks, since this is oh so cruel towards ignorant askers – gnat Dec 20 '15 at 20:07

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