I've noticed that recently Stackoverflow has been overwhelmed with help vampire questions, to a level I have never seen before.
I am aware of previous questions, but none that propose the solutions at the end of this post.
The root cause is almost certainly that it works: trivial questions get explanations, requests to post code are almost always satisfied.
I suggest that the problem has three principal efficient causes:
- There is no highly visible explanation of what makes a great question, and nothing that would force someone to read and internalise it;
- The flagging/vote to close system has no entry for help-vampire behaviour; and
- Right now there is no process or policy that denies rep to help vampire-feeders.
In relation to cause 2, I would suggest that things like "exact duplicate" are not apt to deal with failures to do any research (if for no other reason than it may be difficult to identify an exact duplicate), and basic questions do not really fit into "does not fit into our Q&A format"; frequently they are not really "too localised"; and frequently they are on-topic and well defined, but show a complete lack of any attempt to do anything beyond post on SO.
I propose the following changes:
- A cap on questions new users can ask: something like no more than 4 questions to be asked until a user has a rep of 50, and at least 4 upvotes on questions;
- A link to be added to the question page to a guide on asking great questions;
- Adding a "Help Vampire question" flag - with a description like "This question is trivial or can be simply answered from standard documentation or tutorials; or this question amounts to request that someone write the questioner's code for them."; and
- A policy that denies rep to feeders - either that vampire questions are deleted, or if they have some merit (non-trivial question, but does have demands to be shown teh codez), that they be changed to a community wiki (it is my understanding that no-one gets rep for community wikis).
Is there any appetite for these sorts of changes?
In relation to change 1, this is different from a daily or other general quantitative cap, in that it forces new users to reach a substantive goal, which is assisted by learning how to ask good questions. It is like needing to earn a badge before your cap is lifted.
In relation to 4, we don't really have anything that discourages feeders - as long as they answer while the question is open, they can get their points. Downvoting is not a solution, because it needs five downvotes to cancel out one upvote. I am proposing that rep be denied to people who answer vampire questions, so the only thing they lose from answering the question is their time (i.e. they are no worse off in terms of points once the process is completed than just before they answered the question). This will gently force answerers to evaluate the question.
To be clear, if moderators were encouraged to both close, and wikify, I would think that would be an adequate solution, as long as the practice would be generally adopted.
- How to print objects in python: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/8954322/printing-out-objects-in-python (Basic tutorial question)
- How to write a for loop that counts towards zero: Can you have a for loop with a -1 step in Python, like you can in VBA? (Basic reference/tutorial question;rewarded with three working code samples)
- Implementing banner ads in django: Show different banner on every user click on django site (On its face a fairly reasonable question, but followed with persistent requests to post the code to do it, until someone else actually did provide the code)
- Python-Haskell communication libs: what are the ipc libs to communicate between a python and an haskell process? (Total lack of prior research to asking this question. Eventually closed as an exact duplicate, after locating an alike question on stackoverflow).
In each of these examples, even if the questions are closed (but not deleted or wikified), the vampires are getting fed AND their feeders are rewarded with rep. That hardly amounts to anything that discourages either end of this behaviour. If moderators are reluctant to delete questions, then another option that denies rep, but leaves the question in place, will help break the cycle.
To be clear, if moderators were encouraged to both close, and wikify, I would think that would be an adequate solution for 4, as long as the practice would be generally adopted.