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I was about to ask Stack Overflow has too many "too localised" new questions; then I stopped myself from posting because I saw the question and I'm in complete agreement with the subject.

I was a longtime reader of Stack Overflow, and now for some months also an active user. For the last two years it was a very valuable resource, because it contains lot of knowledge about everything.
Now it's pretty useless for new questions, because very good questions are obfuscated by the noise of noob questions. Some examples are the following ones:

They deserve a big RTFM as answer. However, they are "Noob questions: simple answers and big rep points" so they float along the home page for a long time, obfuscating other questions which are dozens of times more interesting.

I downvote all these questions because the tooltip over the upvote button says: "This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear (click again to undo)" and clearly all those questions don't show any effort.

I've also tried to flag some of them, but sometimes my flags were rejected and I can't understand why. Some examples of this are:

I'm saying this because I'm pretty frustrated. I asked a lot of questions, but I always spent at least an hour trying and searching before posting and I always read almost all the questions which Stack Overflow marks as similar. Now there are a lot of my questions which don't have an answer, and they have very poor view counts because they disappear from the home page in a few minutes. I don't pretend that all my questions are solved or that they are the best and most interesting in the world, but I think that they fit well in the Stack Overflow community, better than the question "how to check for a substring" above which gets four answers in two minutes.

It seems to me that Stack Overflow has become a great game of how to get the most rep in the least time.
From the other side, I've read somewhere, most recently here, that there are no beginner questions and any question is welcome in SO.

So, are beginner questions allowed or not on Stack Overflow?
IMHO they don't belong here and they should be absolutely removed or relegated to a secondary page.


I want to update this question, since the original question which inspired me is changed.

What about the "please debug this code for me" questions, such as SCP with PHP - Does not work?

These questions are clearly worse than noob questions, because they will hurt Stack Overflow more than any other. Don't know if the "too localized" flag is appropriate for them -- maybe a new flag reason should be added.

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related: Some questions are too simple –  Gordon Sep 8 '11 at 20:30
Thanks for the link, very interesting. Hope it will be implemented in some way. –  Fabio Sep 8 '11 at 20:55
"Too localized" does indeed apply for many "debug this code" questions -- it depends on whether you judge there will be any future value. If it devolves into a debugging session in the comments, I prefer "Not constructive". Here's a few other Meta questions about this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/86885 meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37308 meta.stackexchange.com/questions/40164 –  Josh Caswell Sep 17 '11 at 18:22
Exactly, here is what I have collected in couple of hours: stackoverflow.com/questions/14389751, stackoverflow.com/questions/14387329 The most useful questions are conceptual, not reviewing a concrete program. I understand that noobs should ask questions but not gimme, gimme (review I debug my code). Such questions must be downvoted as useless for others and, therefore, harmful mess. The problem is that this bullshit often gets some score. And, you cannot close it as duplicate. The bullshit, being highly entropic, never repeats itself. –  Val Jan 17 '13 at 23:52
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2 Answers

Yes, beginner questions should be allowed. I just started doing some basic web programming, and have some of those to ask myself. Documentation only works so well, because you have to have a certain level of knowledge to be able to look up the information. Closing dupes is fine, since they should be searching, but there shouldn't be a prejudice based on level of knowledge.

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First ability of a good programmer is learn how to search, how many RTFM was seen in the mailing list time. I think there should be a "threshold" on level of knowledge. –  Fabio Sep 8 '11 at 20:27
The first thing forced on a programmer is having to search, but Search is Hard. –  Lance Roberts Sep 8 '11 at 20:42
Since everyone starts at zero on everything, how can there be a threshold? –  Lance Roberts Sep 8 '11 at 20:43
IMHO: Closing questions as duplicates is a very good thing because it not only directs attention to the fact that they can find their answer already, and gives a direction for anyone who finds the question to go towards, but it also helps SO's search rankings, and gives the question more redundancy so that there is a greater chance that somebody will find one of the many duplicates, and elect instead to use the answer from a previous question, instead of making a new one. –  Nightfirecat Sep 8 '11 at 20:44
@LanceRoberts according to your comment everyone starts at zero on everything, one should be allowed to join SO and ask "what is an if/else statement", then "what is a variable" and so on? One should make some effort by himself before asking someone else. He could read a book, a tutorial, join a course. Just my opinion. –  Fabio Sep 8 '11 at 21:04
@Fabio, yes, it is a site for programmers, so I guess there should be a very basic threshold of knowledge to use this site. But I don't know if I'd try to define what that would be. –  Lance Roberts Sep 8 '11 at 21:14
There are tags where this is extremely problematic, the C tag being one of the biggest. We've probably got close to a thousand questions covering the exact same concept when dealing with pointers. The problem is, you can almost never find them when you need them to point as a duplicate. That actually prevents the duplication from having the desired effect, which is people finding answers even when they aren't quite sure what to search for. I'm not sure what, if anything can be done about these special cases. –  Tim Post Sep 17 '11 at 15:34
No doubt that noobs should ask questions. Moreover, though reading tutorial eliminates the need in 90% of basic questions, I still believe that noobs can ask some very good conceptual questions, enriching the community. Nobody says they should not. You mislead us and distract from the focus: the question is gimme-gimme-like problem (review I debug my code). A good question means you debugged your program and localized the issue. If you did not bother to do that - pass by. Do not add entropy destroying a useful resource. And, you cannot close them as duplicate because entropy is always unique. –  Val Jan 18 '13 at 0:15
@TinyTim Creating a canonical question and answer that you can close all the others as duplicates of - even if it's to a fairly contrived instance of the problem - might be a good start. It may not prevent people posting duplicates - there are indeed a handful of problems that are just fundamentally difficult to search for if you don't already understand what's causing the weird behavior you're seeing, Python's Mutable Default Argument Trap being one I'm familiar with - but it'll provide a single target for closing new dupes as before people waste effort answering them over and over. –  Mark Amery Dec 12 '13 at 19:39
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Noobs are ok (after did the official tutorial at least). Debug my code -- go **

No doubt that noobs should be able to ask questions. Moreover, though reading tutorial eliminates the need in 90% of basic questions, I still believe that noobs can ask some very good conceptual questions, enriching the community. A good question means that you debugged your program at least and localized the issue. This may solve the problem in 95% of times. If not, look for the existing answers. If none, then it may be a good question. On the contrary, if you did not bother even to debug your code - pass by. Do not expose your garbage to increase the world entropy and destroy a useful resource (google and stackoverflow).

Might be the arrogant helpme vampires are gaining strength in the resource. Started voting for the garbage, the garbage gets the reputation to pull in more garbage.

Moved to comment: I see that the attempts to share the knowledge in the "debug for me" questions and make it less narrow is punished in SO. Ok, the consensus is that advises to "debug yourself" be more elaborate. Yet, I do not consider this as part of the answer because my point is that debug is inappropriate in SO. Or, at least, they must be marked as [debug] and not stay in the history for long time. I show that one "debug for me" example is sufficient to serve as reference for others to be duplicate.

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If you want to post a link, post it as comment. As it is now, is not an answer, so the downvotes are justified. You can guide him how to debug, though, which makes the answer a more concrete one. –  nhahtdh Jan 19 '13 at 10:21
Do you mean that "irrelevant" in the downvoters' comments qualifies the form of the response rather than "it has nothing to do with the question"? Right? –  Val Jan 19 '13 at 10:23
I don't really get your comment. About your answer, it really looks irrelevant at first glance (since people skimming through the answer linked will look at the code first). I would downvote it for a the reason I stated above, though. It is not an answer, since it is just a link to another post, and with some text to bypass the character limit. I think your comment about localization can be put into your post to improve it. –  nhahtdh Jan 19 '13 at 10:33
Link alone may be a bad answer but it is not irrelevant and, secondly, I see no rule stating that link-alone answers must be ginven in comments. Answers and comments are different things, despite there is a widespread (bad) practice to give simple and short answers in the comments. –  Val Jan 19 '13 at 10:41
You can search for link only answer on Meta to see the discussion. –  nhahtdh Jan 19 '13 at 10:43
I did the search and it shows that there is no rule mandating short or link-only answers to be posted as comments. I see that you promoted this idea but did not receive much support. –  Val Jan 19 '13 at 11:00
Again, I see a lot of discussion and no reason or strict rule that mandates link-only answers to be posted as comments. Tons of discussions are caused by the lack of consensus on the topic. Furthermore, why answer, considered as irrelevant, should be posted as comment? Answer and comment are different things. Therefore, answer is acceptable as comment only when question is closed. Link-only should not change this. –  Val Jan 19 '13 at 12:55
It is not mandate, but such link only answers are routinely flagged and deleted. Anyway, it is just a suggestion. Even if you argue with me, other people can come and flag your answer. –  nhahtdh Jan 19 '13 at 12:58
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