Fact 1

At the time I write this, 12 of the 15 questions on the questions front page have net downvotes. That is an extreme statistical outlier on stackexchange. Other sites tend to have between 1 and 3 net downvoted questions on the front page. This community has the highest netatively downvoted ratio of any of the other 20 or so communities with which I am familiar. By far.

Fact 2

I have a stack exchange rep of 8k. I have posted questions in 16 groups. I have a positive question rating in all those other groups. But not this one. In this group, not only do I have a negative question rating, but I am also under notice I am about to be banned for posting bad questions.


The evidence is in. This site is clearly a statistical outlier when it comes to the negative reception users receive when trying to get their questions answered here.

Is it time to do something about that? If so, what can be done?

  • 6
    Could you identify which of those 12 of 15 questions were on topic for the site as described in the tour and help center and elaborated in the FAQ?
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 21:33
  • 4
    The sad truth is that most of the questions we get asked are either blatantly off-topic or just plain bad in other ways. I would love to do something about that, but there's really nothing we users can do before the questions get posted. The only idea anyone seems to have that might mitigate this is changing the site name, which was rejected by SE some years ago.
    – Ixrec
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 21:36
  • 5
    @Mowzer I had a scan of the down-voted questions on the homepage; it seems that the main problem is people asking 'how do i do X' rather than asking 'how can I better structure this' or 'how can I improve the efficiency of this'. The differences in the questions is that the former asks for an introduction/recommendation where as the latter are looking to improve upon existing knowledge. I expect that the ratio difference comes from the fact that this site is explicitly weighted against beginners, unlike SO This is part of the site's implicit aims, so isn't a bad thing.
    – user174739
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 21:48
  • 4
    @Mowzer can you please identify any of the closed or down voted questions that should be open? Pretend the rules were the way you wanted them to be - pick a question and make a case for it and how the rules should change so that it would be something that would be appropriate for the site scope.
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 22:23
  • 4
    @Mowzer but there is an entire site dedicated to the software (and library) recommendations.
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 22:36
  • 2
    softwarerecs.stackexchange.com (its mentioned in the FAQ link in my first comment meta.programmers.stackexchange.com/a/6487/40980 ).
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 22:43
  • 16
    You have a sandbox that the neighborhood kids play in. Some neighbors decide to walk their cats and let them shit in the sandbox. The parents complain, but instead of telling your neighbors to stop letting their cats shit in the sandbox, you berate the parents, telling them that they are being overly strict, and that the cat owners should be allowed to do whatever they want with the sandbox. You interpret the shit in the sandbox as evidence that there must be something wrong with the way the sandbox is being managed, but draw the wrong conclusions about what should be the proper solution. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:50
  • 10
    Further, because more people are interested in using the sandbox as a place to allow their cats to relieve themselves than they are of using the sandbox as a place for children to play, you ignore the health consequences, decide that the majority rules the day, call the parents outliers, and declare the whole thing a failed experiment, despite the fact that the sandbox is clearly labeled as a children's play area. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:55
  • 5
    Fortunately, we've got science on our side; this isn't a subjective argument. We already tried supporting those questions, we even gave them their own site. Sadly, it didn't work out. C'est la vie.. Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:57
  • 2
    You don't find the newly worded title of your question at all possibly the cause for someone voting as disagreement?
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:09
  • 8
    @Mowzer You have had a fairly unanimous answer from the several members of this community as to why allowing the types of questions you reference would be bad for this site. The site rep statistics actively undermine your claims that only a handful of people coming here find it useful. And everything you've posted has been rather aggressive. So... what is your purpose with this question? You certainly don't seem to be open to counter-arguments, so why ask at all?
    – user174739
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:19
  • 2
    Are you still confused about what Programmers is for? (answer: apparently, yes)
    – durron597
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:19
  • 3
    I disagree with the premise of the question in the title. I am disappointed at the lack of research that was done for previous questions. I am disappointed at the lack of suggestions for how to fix this from the OP. I would encourage you to go ask questions on Skeptics, or MathOverflow, or CSTheory. I am still waiting for a counter analysis of those 37 questions I posted to identify which ones are good questions that should be open.
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:22
  • 6
    @Mowzer you're obviously quite brilliant, however, you didn't do your homework on this. Every SE site has its idiosyncracies and a separate community with different standards. I personally would like us on Programmers to be more careful with close-votes - but having high standards is nothing to sniff at. I'm quite glad they cultivate high standards here, we don't want this site to turn into Reddit/Imgur/Yahoo Answers/Ask MetaFilter/etc... - and feel free to use those sites as you wish, just don't try to turn us into them.
    – Aaron Hall
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:47
  • 2
    To everyone who is willing to be reasonable about this: do not dismiss criticism. I think one would have to be blind to claim there are no problems with P.SE. For example: if most questions on the front page are usually on the verge of being closed or have a negative score, this is a flaw of the site, not of the users. "They just don't get it" is not a valid answer; "most questions are off-topic" isn't one either! If most users "don't get it", it's the site's fault. In my opinion, P.SE may not be entirely failing, but it's not succeeding either.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:10

3 Answers 3


Ok, I've done this before... lets look at the most recent closed and down voted questions and look to examine if they are being closed because of overly strict rules, aggressive enforcement or if they just aren't properly answerable.

  1. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311935/running-net-desktop-application-on-linux (-2, 1 close vote)

    This question is a software recommendation question.

  2. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311931/need-help-to-make-advance-search-in-php-website-project (-2, 1 close vote)

    A bit hard to determine (the close vote is for unclear). It looks like this might be too broad too. Its a student trying

  3. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311930/pointers-and-hexadecimal (-5, 2 close votes)

    This is an implementation question.

  4. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311928/how-do-i-implement-material-style-account-switcher (-3, 2 close votes)

    This is a far too broad "how do I do this" type question.

  5. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311925/structure-of-an-abstract-for-a-conference-talk-or-workshop (-4, closed)

    This question has nothing to do with programming.

  6. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311923/extraordinary-software-written-in-javascript (-8, closed)

    This is a too broad question asking for a list of all the ways that Javascript can be used.

  7. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311921/accepting-express-js-post-requests-in-a-chrome-app (-4, 3 close votes)

    This is an implementation question for issues with writing something in Chrome.

  8. How to display a non-interactive message on a JFrame? (-2, closed)

    This is an implementation question for how to do something in Java.

  9. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311914/running-ruby-commands-does-nothing (-6, closed)

    This is a problem running some third party ruby software.

  10. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311913/how-to-break-infinite-loop-in-turtle-graphics-python (-5, closed)

    This is an implementation question for python.

  11. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311910/index-exceeds-matrix-dimension-matlab-hog-features (-4, 4 close votes)

    This is an implementation question for matlab (which was already posted on Stack Overflow)

  12. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311907/wdk-10-and-visual-studio-2015-acting-funny (-6, closed)

    This (now deleted between then and now) was closed as unclear. It was an issue with some software installation for a C library.

  13. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311904/learning-linux-kernel-in-todays-world-would-i-be-better-off-hacking-with-android (-4, 4 close votes)

    This is a "what should I learn" question.

  14. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311902/why-do-i-get-an-error-in-the-cpp-file-if-i-make-a-class-template-before-the-cla (-6, closed)

    This is a C++ implementation question.

  15. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311901/class-as-a-variable-of-another-class (-5, closed)

    This is another C++ implementation/debugging question.

  16. What's the equation to use for finding availability in software architecture? (-3, closed)

    This is a no effort homework dump.

  17. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311897/error-code-c4700-uninitialized-local-variable (-5, closed)

    This is a C++ implementation question.

  18. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311896/android-file-retriever-application (-4, 3 close votes)

    This is a cross posted green field question that is asking how to use the IDE.

  19. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311894/how-do-i-create-a-driver-for-extra-buttons (-4, 4 close votes)

    This is a rather vague "how do I program buttons on a drawing tablet." Aside from being off topic, no information about what drawing tablet it is is provided.

  20. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311892/deleting-dynamically-allocated-memory (-4, closed)

    This is a C++ implementation question.

  21. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311891/simplest-way-to-build-an-interactive-website-to-visualize-a-table (-3, closed)

    This is a unclear / too broad "how do I render a table" (there are far too many possible ways to do it).

  22. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311890/where-and-how-i-can-find-explanations-of-abstractions-and-fancy-stuff-used-in-bu (-5, closed)

    This is a rant about large software projects.

  23. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311888/adobe-illustrator-data-driven-graphics-via-php (-2, 4 close votes)

    This is a question about how to implement an AI that Photoshop has in php. I'm not kidding.

  24. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311886/why-software-releases-must-be-self-regulated (-3, duplicate)

    This is a poorly asked duplicate of a question that searching for "Lehman" would have found.

  25. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311883/sending-computer-screen-video-through-lightning-connector-to-a-iphone (-3, 3 close votes)

    This is a "is it possible" feasibility study question.

  26. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311874/importing-my-class-to-a-given-tester-class (-4, closed)

    This is an unclear question that might be "how do I debug my code?" but not enough information about it is given.

  27. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311873/choose-an-application-development-environment-for-the-displaying-monitoring-da (-3, 4 close votes)

    This is a cross posted too broad question (with a bit of unclear too).

  28. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311871/web-design-templates-for-backend-developing (-4, closed)

    This is a tool recommendation question.

  29. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311866/connected-city-problem (-6, closed)

    This is a cross posted (CS) what appears to be homework dump.

  30. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311862/logic-of-ap-to-return-number-set-to-bit1-as-an-input-binary (-5, closed)

    This is a block of code without any question asked (a comment of "how does this work?")

  31. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311860/can-you-please-explain-what-this-php-code-below-does (-7, closed)

    Someone asking what a given function in php does.

  32. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311857/ways-to-send-a-message-to-a-users-phone (-4, closed)

    A service request / too broad (how can you send a message to a device)

  33. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311856/periodicity-detection-for-gapped-data (-3, 4 close votes)

    An algorithm question that might be answerable if sufficient information is provided.

  34. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311855/what-is-more-lower-level-click-or-urwid (-5, closed)

    "I make web apps using flask so I am tempted to start using click since it's made by the same person but I've seen more info around for urwid? Which one is more lower level?"
    I don't even know.

  35. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311854/scripting-productivity-and-speed (-6, closed)

    How do you improve your productivity?

  36. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311853/automating-scripting-and-building (-6, closed)

    A question about automating the IDE. It is a bit unclear and if it was made clear, would be off topic here (its a tooling problem)

  37. https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/311850/python-functions-and-parameters (-5, closed)

    How to type the parameters for python calls (implementation question)

So, out of these 37 questions (which are all the ones with close votes on them in the 50 most recent), which ones are questions that we should examine and consider adjusting the rules for the site so that they are on topic?

I also want to stress that many of these questions are poorly written and the topicality isn't at issue - but rather that I can't understand what is being asked.

Are we looking at 3% being improperly closed? 10%? 50%? Until we understand what the problem is - as a community, we can't fix it beyond closing and down voting the questions that don't meet the standards.

There has been a suggestion in the comments that software recommendation questions should be on topic here. There is an entire site dedicated to that domain and they are off topic here just as they are off topic on Stack Overflow - because with the curation and community of this site, they rarely generate good answers and tend to be targets of spam and "try my favorite library" type answers.

  • 4
    Let's say your analysis correctly leads you to conclude nothing can be done. Then I ask you to seriously consider the following hypothesis. Maybe this site is not a good fit for the stack exchange family of sites? As you mentioned, there are already other sites that overlap with many of the questions that get asked here. I think the number of poorly received questions (as your above detailed analysis shows) begs the question... Maybe this site, either in its concept, design or implementation has failed and needs to go away? Or is this heresy to even suggest? The status quo is failure.
    – Mowzer
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 23:17
  • 5
    @Mowzer the questions that we don't close are a good fit. However, many people seem to ask questions that are off topic here for some reason or another. I have no idea why we keep getting so many debug questions when stack overflow is right over there. There are numerous questions that aren't closed - that are fit only here (Stack Overflow doesn't want them because they don't have code). It isn't easy to ask those questions - but they fit well here. If you wish to contend that this site shouldn't be, you should try asking on MSO to make these questions within the scope there.
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 6, 2016 at 23:19
  • 4
    @MichaelT Is this site poorly named? Are people coming to "programmers.stackexchange.com" and immediately thinking "aha, the place for my programming questions! they will help me debug my code!" Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 3:50
  • 3
    @Carson63000 I would encourage you to take that up with The Powers That Be. The most recent and authoritative stance on this is that of Adam Lear from '12. "First and foremost: we will not be changing this site's name." If you feel that this needs to be revisited, SE is the only one that can change it.
    – user40980
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 3:53
  • 3
    @Carson63000 for what it's worth I don't think anyone -- other than SE itself -- disagrees that the site is poorly named. However... that is well outside our ability to influence.
    – enderland
    Commented Mar 8, 2016 at 14:20
  • The first step is to recognize there IS a problem with P.SE. I think that either the scope of P.SE is poorly communicated (maybe because its name is wrong, like @Carson63000 suggested), or maybe P.SE isn't a good fit for stackexchange, like Mowzer suggests.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:16
  • 4
    @AndresF. I definitely don't think P.SE is a poor fit for StackExchange, because I constantly read good questions with fantastic answers here. It's just a shame that I have to wade through so many completely off-topic or just plain terrible closed questions to find them. Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:46
  • 1
    @Carson63000 I tend to lean towards the "poor name and confusing rules" myself ;) This discussion feels like flogging a dead horse to many, but the problem is not going away, is it?
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:48

Redirecting the Question

The sites rules for posting questions support and direct the site towards its stated aims

I don't think there can be disagreement that the current posting rules accurately direct questions towards this site's intent; so the question ceases to be 'are the posting rules incorrect or excessively restrictive' but rather becomes 'Is the site's stated aims useful?'

Is Programmers.SE Useful?

Yes. I'm quite new here, but I can say that I have found my experience so far very helpful. SO is very much focused on 'help me do this'. Programmers.SE allows me to talk to programmers who actively want to discuss workflows, design patterns, code efficiency, testing methods, etc.

I have never known many people that are programmers and most of what I know is self-taught; I have found the ability to engage in a higher-level discussion with programmers very helpful. I would have survived without it; but it has allowed me to benefit from others' experience, reducing my learning curve and introducing me to solutions I would not have otherwise thought of.

For example: Package Interfaces - Coupling & Re-Usability


Maybe this site is not a good fit for the stack exchange family of sites?... ...Or is this heresy to even suggest?

Not heresy, just very unhelpful and (if I may be so bold) rather closed-minded; even if you don't find it useful, others undoubtedly do.

  • Any utility of this site (to the extent any such utility exists — to a highly select few — a disproportionately small group, in fact, compared to the other SE sites) should be weighed against what it costs the community at large to persist with all these negatively received questions. The number of drive-by downvotes on this site is a major cost to the larger community. Costs include wasted time and diminished user perceptions. The question should be asked and considered IMO whether this site should go away or not. Zero improvement ideas have been suggested. So what other choice is there?
    – Mowzer
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:43
  • 2
    @Mowzer Actually I have already heard one improvement suggestion, which was to rename the site; the implication being that the issue is users arriving here with false expectation of what this site is for. However, as I understand it, the top brass decided against that idea.
    – user174739
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:49
  • 5
    @Mowzer Also, don't be so transfixed by percentages. It is probably fair to say that those with over 250 rep had at least a fairly positive experience on the site, and they are in the thousands.
    – user174739
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 0:51
  • I disagree that the rules of the site are adequately communicated. They are byzantine and hard to explain, and therefore we must downvote and close a large number of questions. If it happens with one or two questions, it's the fault of the users. If it happens with so many questions, the rules are wrong or we're doing a poor job at communicating them.
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 9, 2016 at 4:18

Is this site failing?


And should it go away?


Now my questions:

Given that this site does have a [small] community that finds it extremely valuable,

  • should this site be closed simply because it isn't what you expected it to be?
  • should this site be closed simply because it isn't what you want it to be?

And since you're statistically minded:

  • Can you quantify the negative impact this site has on the rest of the SE network?

I suspect the answers to my questions are all No as well.

  • The following is a copy/paste from the first comment to Peter Thomas Scott's answer.
    – Mowzer
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:27
  • 2
    Any utility of this site (to the extent any such utility exists — to a highly select few — a disproportionately small group, in fact, compared to the other SE sites) should be weighed against what it costs the community at large to persist with all these negatively received questions. The number of drive-by downvotes on this site is a major cost to the larger community. Costs include wasted time and diminished user perceptions. The question should be asked and considered IMO whether this site should go away or not. Zero improvement ideas have been suggested. So what other choice is there?
    – Mowzer
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:28
  • 2
    I read that, thanks. It's still not clear how we negatively affect the rest of the SE network. Do you have proof?
    – MetaFight
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:29
  • 3
    @Mowzer Also you are discounting the damage to the SE network that would be done by closing down a site that many experienced programmers put a lot of time into building. I think I would be pretty pissed with the SE network if they did that to me.
    – user174739
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:32
  • I have evidence. Not proof. The evidence is my experience, judgment and common sense when I look at the page of questions with almost all negatively downvoted questions. Do you have proof that it doesn't?
    – Mowzer
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:36
  • 3
    Dude, the onus to produce proof is on you.
    – MetaFight
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:42
  • 2
    – MetaFight
    Commented Mar 7, 2016 at 1:43

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