This site used to be a good, safe place to get help on algorithms. Indeed, I would consider it one of the primary purposes of the site. It is prominently listed in our help center and tour. It's probably our biggest differentiator from StackOverflow or Code Review.

Yet, more and more, I see questions asking for help on algorithms being closed or migrated. Like Image color/grayscale classification, which asked for help with an image classification algorithm, or https://softwareengineering.stackexchange.com/questions/313167/pizza-hut-math-problem-1-in-haskell, which was asking for help finding a more efficient algorithm on a puzzle problem.

Did people just forget that algorithms is what this site is largely about? Are people assuming if a question includes a bit of code, or mentions difficulty with a specific language, it can't possibly be asking about an algorithm? What's going on here?

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    The author at Image color/grayscale classification has not adequately described his problem. Any attempt at a solution would simply be a guess. That's why it's closed as "Not clear what you are asking." Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 21:55
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    I don't see how he could be more clear. He has some pseudo-black pixels and his current algorithm expects true black pixels. Anyway, I don't see how this suddenly became unclear 2 answers and 4 years later. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 22:19
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    The answers (and the responses that they garnered from the OP) are underwhelming. Commented Mar 18, 2016 at 22:30
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    I think some people don't understand the question, so just vote to close as unclear even though it makes perfect sense to others. I've noticed that a bit lately with other questions too, like this one (currently 4/5 reopen votes) and this one (was on it's way to getting closed until I edited it) or even this one (was closed till I edited)
    – Rachel
    Commented Mar 19, 2016 at 3:48
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    @Rachel I've noticed this trend too (though right now I don't have any examples). It seems sometimes people VTC as "unclear" when they really mean "I don't understand it". This isn't a correct use of VTC'ing!
    – Andres F.
    Commented Mar 31, 2016 at 18:25
  • @Rachel Or this one. It demonstrates that it is much easier to VTC than to to raise concrete points that have to be clarified. When I VTC I also try add a line why I did so, and what to improve. Commented Apr 1, 2016 at 10:11

1 Answer 1


Algorithm questions are on-topic both on Softwareengineering.SE and Stack Overflow. I have seen users on both sites comment that a question should be closed or migrated, but my own observation is that this does not happen a lot.

Image color/grayscale classification

This was closed as "unclear," which may have nothing to do with its topicality. I say "may" because "unclear" is often used as a cop-out "I am too lazy to type why I believe this question is off-topic" close reason.

While I did not vote on this specific question, I think it could use more details to provide a better answer.

Pizza Hut math problem #1 in Haskell

This question was migrated to Code Review1 because it is asking for help improving working code. It is not asking for algorithm help, or help with broken code.

Two questions:

  1. Why does this take so long?
  2. I really feel like all those extra conditions I wrote should be able to be abstracted into one condition, but I couldn't figure it out on my own. Any ideas on how to condense that into one, more abstract condition?

This is exactly what Code Review is for: how can I take this functioning code and improve it?

1 Note that it was migrated to Meta.CR first, then again to CR main. Because its most recent migration was from meta, there is no migration banner on the question. But check the link URL in this answer: it points to Programmers, and ends up on CR main.

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    "I think it could use more details to provide a better answer." that's exactly what "unclear" means. Needing more details.
    – Braiam
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 23:01
  • I disagree. The colour / grayscale classification problem is quite clear, and the asker simply needs some general guidelines on the approach for taking with this kind of problem (we can't solve the problem for him because we'd need to see the images themselves, but that doesn't mean a useful answer can't be written). In regard to the pizza hut problem, I note that there are two questions. I agree that question number 2 is better placed at code review, but the answer to question 1 is essentially "because the algorithm you've used is too complex; a better algorithm would be this...", ...
    – Jules
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:47
  • ... which is clearly on-topic here. The fact that the code is already implemented is irrelevant to this part of the question.
    – Jules
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 16:48
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    @Jules If you disagree, post your own answer. I had nothing to do with the migration, I am simply explaining what happened and what a likely explanation was.
    – user22815
    Commented Mar 23, 2016 at 22:31

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