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I mainly answer questions on SO and I find quite frequently that members of the community promote bad behavior by posting answers to questions that are blatantly forbidden in the FAQ. A recent example of a question like this is:

I got a script available on http://www.flashkod.com. This script is a platform game engine with 2D scrolling.

The script is coded in AS2 but for my project it must be coded in AS3. I do not have the skills to do the conversion ... I need the motivation of an AS developer to achieve this challenge ^^'

Thank you in advance


Then, an unnamed individual who has enough rep and has been around long enough to understand the rules responds to this with the following answer:

Honestly, this is not a great question and is going to attract a lot of negative attention and is probably going to be closed. This is not a site about doing homework for you.

After giving this (accurate) lecture to the OP, he then proceeds to actually answer the question, promoting this bad behavior. I see this ALL THE TIME, especially in the flash-related tags. Now we can speculate all day about the reasons for this, but my guess is just to grab rep, because these people usually do get upvoted quite a bit in these situations. Regardless, this promotes bad behavior which junks up the site and makes the moderators hate me for endlessly nagging them with flags on all this stuff. :)

The point of my question here is not to nag or rant, it's actually to propose a feature that will help prevent this. I'm not even going to say what this feature should be in my question, but rather I am looking to see if the rest of the community agrees that this is a problem and if so, to get some suggestions on what a real solution would be.

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Your example of bad behavior isn't very compelling. Here's a better one: stackoverflow.com/questions/10383728/… –  Michael Petrotta Apr 30 '12 at 16:20
lol, Well the point is that he admits in his own answer that the question is an invalid one and ought to be closed, but he'd rather just go ahead and answer it to grab some extra rep, or whatever his reasoning is. I've seen stuff like you've referenced but like I said this is just the most recent example. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 16:23
Well, I see what you're saying, but I think the answerer on that particular question tried provide a "teach a man to fish" answer. –  Michael Petrotta Apr 30 '12 at 16:31
@MichaelPetrotta: Note that Guillaume Polet (the person who posted the answer you linked) didn't actually vote to close. –  Robert Harvey Apr 30 '12 at 19:33
Just like there are help vampires, there are help bloodbanks... nothing much we can do about it other than downvote, close and delete the question. –  Lorem Ipsum Apr 30 '12 at 19:34
@Robert, I was referring to the answer linked in the question body above when I spoke of "teach a man to fish". Yes, Guillaume's answer (the one I linked to in my comment) is completely unhelpful. –  Michael Petrotta Apr 30 '12 at 19:45
this is not a feature request much of this has been covered in the past –  waffles May 1 '12 at 1:54
@waffles Can you reference other posts where this has been discussed? I'm suggesting a need and leaving the question open to suggestions to get the perspective of the community rather than propose a solution in my question so I guess you're right. –  Technik Empire May 1 '12 at 1:56

5 Answers 5

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Your question is essentially

Do we need a new feature to punish users who "game the system" by answering "bad questions" and unfairly gain reputation.

Much of this is has been covered in the past:

  1. Recently we deployed a change that means your reputation is kept up to date all the time. See: Recent Reputation History Changes

  2. The "help vampire" problem is covered here: The Help Vampire problem

  3. I covered some "fairness" concerns here: Why do long well thought out answers result in negative reputation while short snappy ones get all the rep? and there is the bike shed problem is discussed here: The bike shed problem and SO

  4. We already have question and answer bans for egregious abuse. see: What can I do when getting "We are no longer accepting questions/answers from this account"?

Bottom line:

The system will reset all rep gains off deleted questions and answers. All you need to do is flag and vote. Your specific example is now deleted, the OP and the answerer gained no rep for it. Further more the OP is risking being question banned if he keeps acting in this way.

So no I do not think we need any new feature to address your concern.

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You win for referencing past, similar discussions. Like I said in my original question this was about just seeing what other people thought of all this and what solution was best (and of course if a new one was needed). I'm also impressed with how well you understood what I was saying, since it seemed to be an incredibly difficult task for some here. –  Technik Empire May 1 '12 at 19:26

f-a's answer is not an objectionable answer. It does not promote bad behavior. The question was asking for a fish, and f-a offered advice on how to fish, which is exactly the kind of behavior you claim to encourage. f-a also explained how the question is bad, giving the same arguments you do. f-a and you agree on everything, so why do you object to his answer?

Now perhaps f-a's behavior was not ideal: ideally, he would have edited the question to remove the plzsendtehcodez aspect. But you could have done that, too. It would also have been acceptable to simply close the question, and this is what you and four other people chose to do. This still makes f-a a nice person who took time to give a useful answer to a bad question.

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+1 simply for plzsendtehcodez. iLOL'd –  Technik Empire May 1 '12 at 1:27
@AscensionSystems It's a Meta.SO classic: meta.stackoverflow.com/search?q=%2Bplzsendtehcodez –  Gilles May 1 '12 at 1:32
Reminds me of LOLCode. Used to write it on whiteboards at work to make some laugh and annoy others. –  Technik Empire May 1 '12 at 1:33
What are you talking about? Obviously f-a is an evil person that is encouraging people to ask bad questions. He needs to be punished by downvoting his answer into oblivion. (How did your answer miss out on the flurry of comment debate?) –  Cody Gray May 1 '12 at 2:37
@TheEstablishment wow, you must be a barrel of fun to have a beer with. –  Aaron Bertrand May 1 '12 at 4:18
hahaha I dunno Aaron, usually alcohol tends to amplify ones strongest characteristics and I just don't know if I could handle butthurt on that kind of a scale. –  Technik Empire May 1 '12 at 19:20
I still things its hilarious that @TheEstablishment is still ranting and raging on implying that I suggested downvoting anyone. I may have suggested this in my answer, which was just a suggestion, but I never said diddly **** about it in my question. He's just still raging out because every fallacy he's presented here has been thoroughly undone. I'm sure it'll wear off in a while. –  Technik Empire May 1 '12 at 19:22
Wow, that's rude. My answer makes quite clear that the downvote theory I'm criticizing comes from one of the other answers to this question. I don't think you know what a fallacy is. It doesn't mean "something I disagree with". –  Cody Gray May 1 '12 at 19:23

I think that even if answering a bad question doesn't send a clear message to the poster that their question is unacceptable, ultimately those of us that like to answer questions are doing it to help others. Sure, we can gain some rep along the way, but once you get over 20k, that becomes largely irrelevant. As has been mentioned by others, the real target of 'punishment' should be the question, not the answers. If a question gets downvoted and closed, then the asker loses rep. If they persist in asking bad questions, they end up on meta because they've received a question ban. Closed questions that are outright bad should be pro-actively deleted, and it seems more and more that they are.

On the flip-side, 'punishing' users who are trying to help feels very wrong to me. Maybe they have misunderstood the questions intent? Maybe what reads like a blatant homework question to one seems like a good, if simple question to another. Maybe they are even trying to farm rep. Either way, deleting the question is what puts everything right, not downvoting individual answers.

I think the issue here for the OP in particular is that he frequents some relatively low traffic tags. I predominantly use the Flash related tags myself, and because there are fewer high-rep users than the more popular tags, bad questions often seem to go unclosed. In my opinion this is a far more damaging message to the asker of a bad question, because if they persist, there is no long term mechanism in place to change their behaviour. If their questions go unclosed, then they will benefit from getting an answer (good) and they will believe that their question was acceptable (bad).

All we can do is downvote, comment and vote to close, but I hope that moderators who maybe aren't familiar with the tag in question would still lend some weight to the close votes if a flag is raised and the question isn't getting enough natural attention to be closes organically.

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Good points. That's usually what has to happen, a lot of questions get closed because I vote to close and then I have to flag them.. and then a mod comes along and shuts them down. Voting to delete, well I haven't even tried because you can't even get people to vote to close. I usually just ask the mod to delete too when I flag but all I can do is ask. Thanks for your insight here. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 20:37
On the other hand, I just want to say that you mention that closing the question and deleting is needed... and I agree. However, the problem is circular because you need the people who are answering these bad questions to vote to close and delete them, and often I find that even downvoting them and then explaining all this usually doesn't work either. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 20:39
If the answerer is not also downvoting the question and voting to close, then that's a problem, but I don't believe that then downvoting their answer will make them change their ways. I think it's just a consequence of the quieter tags that there are not enough users to do what needs to be done. The key point though, imo, is correcting the behaviour of the asker. Hopefully the more that is seen to be done, the more users will adopt that methodology, but I believe that at all times answers should be encouraged. If users are more aware that doing both is acceptable, then things may improve. –  shanethehat Apr 30 '12 at 20:44
Yeah I agree I think the main issue is how many and who are following these tags. This is why I LOVE the C++ tag. when someone screws up there, they get annihilated immediately. lol –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 20:50
@Ascension - There is maybe an argument for some kind of notification system between high ranking users in a tag, but I don't know how such a thing could be implemented without annoying people. Maybe based around tag subscriptions / badges for tag votes / activity in tag. All those metrics exist, but ultimately notifying users with some form of bat signal is either going to annoy the users who are notified or make it seem like they are ganging up. –  shanethehat Apr 30 '12 at 20:55
I mentioned such a thing in my answer and I envisioned it as being almost exactly the same as the notification that you get when you post on your own question, or perhaps even like the little windows that show up when you flag a comment or something. I don't think a little orange box saying "This question is receiving votes to close. Are you sure you want to answer?" or something along those lines would be beyond tolerable. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 21:07
@Ascension - Neither do I, but a fear we may be a minority :) –  shanethehat Apr 30 '12 at 21:08

What, exactly, is wrong with this?

If someone posts a question that obviously does not belong on Stack Overflow, but I happen to know the answer and can type it out without significant inconvenience to myself, I will often provide it in addition to downvoting and voting to close the question for the appropriate reason.

Some people (like yourself) will punitively downvote my answer, presumably because I helped out "someone who should not be helped", but I think that's nonsense and I have enough rep that I'm willing to lose a little in the process of helping out someone else. Moreover, I know that whatever reputation I lose will be restored when the question is eventually deleted. I frequently check back and vote to delete myself after the question receives the other 4 necessary close votes and the asker indicates that they have read my answer.

One significant problem with this behavior is the misconception that downvotes are punitive. One of the other answers to this question unfortunately makes the same assumption, suggesting that you punish the user who answered the question by downvoting their answer. No, that's not what downvotes are for. You downvote content, not users. If the answer is correct, clear, and useful, then it should not be downvoted. In fact, it should probably be upvoted—but I'll forgive you if you refrain from doing that. Do make sure that you downvote the question, because that's really the content with which you have a problem. But leave the answers alone, unless they're bad answers that would independently merit a downvote, irrespective of the question to which they are posted. Don't let a bad question "poison the well" for the answers.

Yeah, I normally won't answer questions for people who ask in bad faith. But I might sometimes anyway, depending on the circumstance. I don't understand why this is the behavior you seek to punish. Isn't this exactly what we do on Stack Overflow—help people by attempting to answer their questions using the knowledge that we have?

Consider it this way: The fact that the question doesn't belong on the site is a meta issue that should be completely orthogonal to whether or not the question gets answered, or whether those answers deserve votes. You can post an answer and downvote/vote to close the question. The two actions are not mutually exclusive, nor do they conflict with one another in any way. In fact, they have absolutely nothing to do with one another. It isn't even reasonable to expect all users to be comfortable enough with the site's scope and rules to determine whether a question is or is not appropriate. If those users want to provide an answer, well then that's exactly what we want them to be doing. Let other users who do feel comfortable make the meta decision to close/remove the question for being off topic.

I seriously doubt that people do this for the reputation. That might have been the case prior to the recent changes to the reputation system, but now that your reputation score is maintained "live", this type of thing isn't going to work. Whatever points you earn from the answer will be removed as soon as the offending question gets removed from the site. And in my experience, this happens reasonably quickly.

If you really want to solve a problem, focus on:

  1. Educating or otherwise finding some way to persuade people not to ask these types of questions here in the first place, and/or
  2. Detecting these questions and getting them closed/deleted more quickly.

Either of these would be far more effective in solving the problem of "noise" on the site and the temporary reputation inflation accruing to those users who attempt to help people that appears to bother you so.

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I think we already have this feature that you're asking for.

Punish (via down-vote) those that answer if their answer clearly encourages the behavior and if, in your best estimation, the answerer should know better (e.g. a quick eyeball of their rep). I did this today by down-voting the answer to this question (and also commenting why I down-voted). This sends a message both to the answerer and the asker, as well as any on-lookers. Though admittedly I could have explained more why this behavior is discouraged.

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I agree, but many times I find that this is not sufficient. I find that people who follow certain tags are less proactive about keeping the site clean and flagging/downvoting these kinds of things, especially in the flash related tags. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 16:43
Well if you're the only one watching that tag who thinks it's a problem, surely any other feature you can imagine that requires other community members to agree will also fall by the same symptom? –  Aaron Bertrand Apr 30 '12 at 16:48
Not quite. The questions do get closed, but in many cases by a mod. People do vote to close, but rarely exercise their power to downvote which I believe is the real issue at hand. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 16:51
@AscensionSystems This might be less of a problem if more people understood that they'll get reputation points back if an answer they downvoted gets deleted. So downvote and flag away on those answers that are clearly not answers (and are sure to be deleted). –  Bill the Lizard Apr 30 '12 at 17:00
@BilltheLizard That's a good point and could be a real part of the issue. However as I point out in the suggestions I give in my answer, people still escape these situations with reputation gains. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 17:04
I think Guillaume just likes helping people, even if that help isn't constructive. I don't think he's a rep farmer. Not sure what we can do about that, other than what Bill's recommended. –  Michael Petrotta Apr 30 '12 at 17:42
I did this a few times, but usually I ended up with -1 or -2, and the answerer[s] with +8, +13, +18 or +23! (pity upvotes maybe?) –  Matt Fenwick Apr 30 '12 at 18:43
@MattFenwick thanks for that comment, good to hear someone else's experience. I know my answer is long but in there I mention that, at the very least, when a question is closed, all rep either on the question or answers should be suspended. This would avoid promoting junk content by bubling up for activity and also dissuade those who would post answers on junk questions. –  Technik Empire Apr 30 '12 at 18:49
This is not a valid use of downvotes. There are few rules attached to voting, other than the cardinal one that you vote on content, not on users. The idea of downvotes as punishment is a particularly wrong-headed one. If the content of the answer is technically valid, useful, and clear, then it deserves to be upvoted. Whether you think the question "deserved" to be answered has absolutely nothing to do with the quality of the answer someone else elected to post. Try not to be so judgmental about others' intentions. –  Cody Gray Apr 30 '12 at 19:25
I am not down-voting the user, I am down-voting the content. If the OP got his answer, then the content is encouraging the OP to continue posting bad questions. You vote how you like, I'll vote how I like. I get plenty of unexplained drive-by down-votes and for all I know they're because the person didn't like my name or my avatar or the fact that I answered the question better than them. At least when I do vote this way I explain that it's about discouraging the OP's behavior. –  Aaron Bertrand Apr 30 '12 at 19:30
Is it legitimate if I then go about downvoting your questions in an attempt to discourage your behavior? And yes, I'm smart enough to do so in such a way that I avoid tripping the serial vote detector, so don't look for protection there. See the problem with this sentiment? It's a slippery slope. You're not voting on content, at least not the content of the answer. Yes, people can downvote for whatever reason(s) they want, and there's little to nothing we can do about it. But they're not posting a semi-authoritative answer on Meta encouraging that behavior—you are. –  Cody Gray Apr 30 '12 at 19:33
If you have a legitimate reason to down-vote multiple posts because they exhibit a behavior you don't like, then sure, that is your right. You make it sound like I am down-voting the post because of who the poster is - I'll repeat again, that's not what I'm doing. I agree with some of the points in your answer but I still feel that giving answers to bad questions is not helpful overall (even though it is helpful to the user), and I only know of one way to discourage answerers from doing that... –  Aaron Bertrand Apr 30 '12 at 19:38
What's wrong with discouraging people from both asking and answering by voting to close/delete the question? Why do you have to "punish" people who try to answer the question? I regularly use all 50 of my close votes on Stack Overflow. I'm not a person that's advocating allowing the site to go to hell. But a large portion of those questions that I vote to close have received answers. Do you really think that I should downvote every answer to those questions in a vain attempt to "punish" the people who provided them? Even if they provided the answer in good faith? –  Cody Gray Apr 30 '12 at 19:43
What if it was your answer? And what if you honestly disagree with me about whether the question belongs on Stack Overflow? That's your right, and why it requires a consensus of 5 people to close a question. That's also a good reason why you shouldn't unilaterally go about downvoting people who answer those questions. Again, I'm not saying you can't downvote for that reason. I'm saying that your suggestion others do it is invalid and unconstructive. –  Cody Gray Apr 30 '12 at 19:43
The same concept of consensus also applies to answers. If I down-vote an answer that I feel shouldn't have been posted, and five people thought it was useful and up-voted it, that's +48 rep for a horrible question. Do you think that everyone using Stack Overflow should use YOUR rules, and ONLY YOUR rules, for how they vote on questions and answers? I was providing one option for the OP in this thread, and in fact I was only suggesting that this was the built-in way that you can discourage the behavior today. Does that mean I go around down-voting all answers to bad questions? NO! –  Aaron Bertrand Apr 30 '12 at 19:47

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