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This question was originally titled

Parsing irregular prototypes? Need an advice?

Because I'm hilariously funny, I commented: "No, I don't need any advice. Cheers, though"

But as it turns out, the OP had in fact entered:

Parsing irregular prototypes? Need an advice!

I confirmed via my own edit attempts that the trailing exclamation mark is converted into a question mark automatically on post submissions.

Now, OK, the title is not great. But this seems like a broken "feature" to me; what percentage of poor question titles with a trailing exclamation mark are fixed (rather than made more broken) by rewriting that punctuation as a question mark?

I vote we kill this feature.

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While I'm generally opposed to this kind of machine modification (nobody's smart enough to anticipate the unintended consequences), I think the answer is going to be "Edit the title to make it meaningful, instead of posting bug reports we're just going to decline." –  Robert Harvey Dec 8 '11 at 16:36
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@balpha: That question is specifically about meta, citing that meta "questions" are more often than not not really questions at all. Not a duplicate, and if you'd left it up to the community voting system like you should have done, this would have become apparent before my proposal got summarily closed. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 16:39
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Yeah, because ending with an exclamation mark would have made the "Need an advice" part so much more useful. –  balpha Dec 8 '11 at 16:46
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@balpha: You know what? I give up. I've had about enough of mods coming on and overriding the community voting tools to force-feed their own opinion on the entire system, with sarcastic retorts the only justification. My days of trying to improve SE for everyone by posting on meta are over. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 16:47
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This is what happens when people post weak feature requests; they get closed because the argument sucks, and now any good arguments for that request just get closed as duplicates. It reminds me of how careful people are about precedent-setting court cases –  Michael Mrozek Dec 8 '11 at 16:56
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@Michael - are you saying that a poorly-worded, weakly-argued initial feature request will kill subsequent, intelligently-worded requests for the same thing as a duplicate? That sounds like a fundamental problem with the system. And making an analogy to the American criminal justice system illustrates how messed up that really is. –  Adam Rackis Dec 8 '11 at 17:05
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@Shog9: Yes, I could have. I could have altered one question title. That really fixes this fundamental flaw in a feature that spans the entire Stack Exchange network, don't you think? Perhaps next time I spot a bug on SO by contributing to a question, I'll just vote to delete that question so that the bug goes away. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 17:06
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Yes, @Tomalak. You could have made the question title into an actual question, something that described or summarized the question asked. Instead, you decided to come here and accomplish nothing by using a lousy question title to argue against a feature making it slightly worse. Let me show you what a good argument against this feature looks like: one that uses as examples titles that actually need exclamation points in them! (well... factorial... but whatever.) –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 17:20
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@Shog9: There is a difference between being too lazy to edit my proposal and in disagreeing with you that it needs editing. Yes, that's right: somebody disagrees with you about something! EEEEK! Quite similarly to your earlier argument, instead of bitching at me about what use case I should have used, you could easily have edited that into the question yourself, and help me help make SE a better place for everybody. When this torrent of nonsense is all the input we've had from mods so far, does the reaction really surprise you? –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 17:25
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@Tomalak: because - outside of the factorial issue - I don't think it matters. If you want to dig up some shining examples of great question titles that end in exclamations, and should not be re-written as actual questions, be my guest - here's the data to get you started. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 17:42
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@random: I'd rather SE toned down the mindless autoediting of our posts and comments that seems to be all the rage with the devs nowadays; I'd certainly not propose more of it! :) –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 17:46
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Gotta agree with Tomalak on this one... It's one thing to block people with filters, it's quite another to rewrite their stuff in a mindlessly automated fashion. It's confusing, arbitrary, of dubious value, causes unintended consequences, and people actively look for (and always find) ways to get around it. I just don't see how that cycle of activity is productive. –  Robert Harvey Dec 8 '11 at 17:50
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@pr0blem: an interesting alternative to this would be to make those auto-"corrections" into actual edits - in the revision history, attributed to Community, able to be rolled back or further revised as appropriate... –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 17:52
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@Tomalak: it leaves the "problem" intact, but allows editors to override it. Which is what I'd really prefer to see anyway... Most of these titles are somewhere between bad and scary-bad, with or without punctuation. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 17:55
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"they found that groups of humans do not respond well to being managed by an algorithm." –  Grant Thomas Dec 8 '11 at 21:39

4 Answers 4

up vote 15 down vote accepted

, sort of. Probably not what you intended, but oh well.

We're forbidding trailing !s in question titles on the trilogy, but they won't be converted to ? anymore either. This will take effect soon-ish.

The logic for trailing punctuation re-writing becomes.

  • Multiple ? collapsed into one
  • Multiple . collapsed into one
  • ?! and similar collapsed into ?
  • Spaces before trailing punctuation removed (with one exception)
  • Everywhere but the trilogy, multiple ! collapsed in one

As an aside, the correct response to encountering questions like that is to edit the title. It was garbage, with or without !. ? didn't help, but that wasn't what ruined the title either.

†This is a very strong signal of a bad title. See the last 100 questions of that form for convincing evidence.*

*If I've learned anything from the title quality filter posts, it's that there's no point in arguing from data with some people (thankfully, not all people). In this case, the data is conclusive (and in this case, publishable without privacy concerns); there's not a single title in there improved by the trailing !.

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Multiple . collapsed into one so we can't use ellipsis? –  NullUserException อ_อ Dec 8 '11 at 19:34
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Are these going to be edits (with history and all) or rewrites? The first is bearable and the second is annoying and broken. –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 19:36
    
FWIW I seem to spend 20% of my working days editing titles. Any [c++] or [php] regular will back me up there. :) –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 20:04
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If that last footnote is meant to be a jab at me, I'd consider looking at the votes on the multiple "problem" questions, conversations on chat (one, two, three, four), etc. It's not like I am the only one who thinks that "feature" should be toned down a bit. The community, including moderators from various SE sites seems to agree with me. –  NullUserException อ_อ Dec 8 '11 at 20:09
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?! and similar collapsed into ? Wait, no interrobang love‽ –  The Unhandled Exception Dec 8 '11 at 20:23
    
@TheUnhandledException - what you tend to see is "Why this no work?!?!??!?!!"; it is the rare user who actually means interrobang (also, I hate it along with fun :p). I would also like to say that NullUserException's comment is so hilariously illustrative of my footnote I almost took it as satire. –  Kevin Montrose Dec 8 '11 at 20:30
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@KevinMontrose Yes, it's occasionally helpful. We get it (one, two, three). But like Gilles said, this is like saying we shouldn't have ramps next to staircases, because wheelchairs are the exceptional case. –  NullUserException อ_อ Dec 8 '11 at 20:52
    
I can't imagine this causing problems - It's not like questions on trigraphs or variadic functions or null coalescing get asked that often, anyways ;) –  BlueRaja Dec 8 '11 at 21:34
    
@BlueRaja - clarified, of your 6 questions only 1 will be re-written under the new rules. And then it will be improved, unambiguously. –  Kevin Montrose Dec 8 '11 at 21:37
    
@KevinMontrose bug found, if you can look into it it's great: meta.stackexchange.com/q/216890/152859 :) –  Shadow Wizard Jan 21 at 8:36

If the argument for the existence of this feature is that most questions that end in an exclamation point should be replaced by a question mark instead, it's a very weak one. Also considering the actively harmful replacements done on Math.SE, I see little/no reason to keep this one around.

I looked at 100 titles ending with an exclamation point and I found two, maybe three where changing the exclamation point to a question mark would've actually improved the title. The vast majority of the substitutions would've resulted in a more confusing title due to a new, unintended interrogative tone.

Intended Title                                    ->   Modified Title
------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Database under source control again!              ->   Database under source control again?
Save us from VSS!                                 ->   Save us from VSS?
Sorting strings is much harder than you thought!  ->   Sorting strings is much harder than you thought?

Not to say that the titles are good to begin with, but this feature makes no sense. Nothing is gained: you have a bad title, and change to it a bad and confusing title.

I can see why we'd want to get rid of extraneous punctuation, but this "correction" is practically useless.

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Exactly. In the interest of automatically improving questions, this "feature" automatically stupefies them. I'd rather have the ! remain to signal the reader that this might be a rant and not a question so that we can use our voting powers. –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 18:10
    
@JonEricson I never thought about it that way before. IF a question has a bad title, it's best to not have the system interfere since chances are there are other is –  Wipqozn Dec 8 '11 at 18:14
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@Wipqozn: The human mind is pretty good spam filter. Let's not mess with its input. –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 18:16
    
Well that was weird. I didn't mean to send that message, which is why it suddenly cuts off half way through. What I was trying to say though, was that questions with bad titles usually have more problems, so keeping the bad title would alert users to that so they can more quickly fix it. –  Wipqozn Dec 8 '11 at 18:20

Automatic edits that are quietly applied without history are, in my opinion, A VERY BAD IDEA. (See for instance the myriad examples of cell phones humorously changing the meaning of a text message in the broken belief that the user would rather have their spelling corrected than send exactly what they entered.) This particular "feature" is mild since it applies to just one character in one location and the automatic change is mostly harmless. But the principle is unaltered.

Now there are two reasonable fixes:

  1. Notify the user that they should use a ? instead of a ! so that they may re-write the question.

  2. Record the change within the edit log.

Of the two, I prefer the first as it minimizes surprise.


Alternatively, we should ditch this feature altogether. Do you know what a question that ends in an explanation mark is called? A rant! So the system is throwing out a perfectly useful bit of data that we can feed to our mental Bayesian filter and replacing it with gibberish. Seems like this feature turns signal into noise in most cases.

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Since this has been re-opened, I'll summarize what I've already said in comments and in chat...

The original feature request was to strip multiple trailing punctuation marks. Because they look dumb, and make the question look dumb, and in sufficient quantity even help make the site look dumb. These titles tend to be lousy anyway - but unless / until a human editor can take the time to improve them, stripping repeated punctuation is a quick way to at least ease the pain.

If you look at Jeff's answer, the intent does not seem to include this conversion of single exclamation points into question marks. This seems like a bug. It has been pointed out elsewhere that this can even cause harm in cases where the exclamation point is used to indicate a factorial. Titles ending with a factorial are extremely rare, and can always be avoided by rewording the question a bit, but it's probably the most legitimately-confusing side-effect.

That said, if you come across one of these incorrectly-transmogrified titles... Don't look for a way to circumvent the conversion! As I said, they're almost universally terrible - take the opportunity to make them better. Editing to restore the OP's desire to rant or express frustration instead of summarizing the question does absolutely nothing for the quality of the question.

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I think @PopularDemand was just being ironic. –  Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 8 '11 at 18:48
    
I hope so. Would hate to think he's lost his touch! –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 18:54
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Jeff's answer is broken by design: "It is also now enforced as a silent, automatic edit at time of question ask." Plus it's passing up what parents call a "teachable moment". It's like finding your child's report card that needs to be signed balled up in the corner of their room and silently signing it. You know there's a problem and you are letting the user off the hook. Why? –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 19:03
    
@Jon: The time to "teach" someone is when you're there to edit into a proper question and leave them with a suitably informative revision comment... These questions need more help than any machine can give them - the punctuation stripping is for the readers, not the writers. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 19:26
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@Shog9: Right. So the current solution deprives the readers of valuable data and simultaneously deprives the writers of one more chance to get human correction. I don't see how anyone is served. It's a massive waste. –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 19:33
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@Jon: where's the valuable data? Please see list of questions returned by the query I linked to in my previous comment - these are uncorrected, all "valuable data" intact. And I don't see how it deprives writers of anything - as you can see by the thousands of titles that predate this change, the editors weren't exactly able to keep up with the writers anyway. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 19:37
    
@Shog9: To quote Kevin Montrose♦, "[Trailing !] is a very strong signal of a bad title." We currently don't have any access to that signal, just the added noise. –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 19:42
    
There's this weird idea that we know something is bad and so we should make it go away as soon as possible. To use (another) analogy, it's like having a broken leg and taking morphine so that we can walk around without so much pain. This punctuation is bad, but very valuable. Having it is better than the alternative in almost all cases. (But we should edit them out, of course.) –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 19:44
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@Jon: again, feel free to trawl through that list of questions I posted and pick out the ones where automatic correction would make the title worse. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 19:46
    
A agree (again) that the odds are very much against. My question is which of the questions were made better. Why are we doing this again? I get the feeling that the sole reason for this "feature" is to trick users into thinking the questions are better than they seem (either in the question scroll or on the question page). I'm running out of ways to say that "silent, automatic edit"ing is a broken feature no matter what goal is intended. This text is added to see if my comments are actually being read. The goal of not having the punctuation is good, but the feature is bad. –  Jon Ericson Dec 8 '11 at 19:56
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@Jon: you can view the rationale for the change here; as for "tricking" users... Well, we also strip excessive whitespace, convert quotes into left and right quotes, and apply syntax highlighting to code blocks, all with the goal of making questions more attractive to readers. Remember, the idea is to get questions answered for those who come after, not primarily for the benefit of the person asking. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 20:01
    
Yeah, that bang was just a little bit of Iceland I threw in because I was already editing anyways. I thought about appending a question mark instead, but I didn't think people would "get" that. –  Pops Dec 8 '11 at 21:28
    
When I asked about this, Jeff answered me that removing single trailing exclamation marks was on purpose, and I could kinda see his point (although there are good arguments in here against it.). (Can't find it right now.) But I don't think he will be cruel enough to roll this back, now that us Meta hordes are a little bit pacified re fiddling with question titles :) –  Pëkka Dec 8 '11 at 21:35
    
@Pekka: I suspect Jeff's thought was simply that this almost never matters - with or without the exclamation point, most of these titles are turds. The code behind it has been thoroughly reviewed and slightly revamped today, and the handful of exceptions where it actually did matter should be taken care of - but again, it's trivially easy for anyone to obtain the data on this and double-check it: old rules or new, the titles still need human attention. –  Shog9 Dec 8 '11 at 21:44
    
@Shog yeah, IIRC that was pretty much his response. –  Pëkka Dec 8 '11 at 21:52

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