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Possibly related to the whole "Summer of Love": I've been seeing a lot of this lately, but this SO question is an example

Finding the maximum combined total in Java

Users of high reputation pushing back on a new user without (it appears) actually reading the question. The writing on the question isn't stellar, it probably should have included some code, but it's not bad either. Are these comments something that should be flagged? I don't really find them appropriate, especially towards a newbie.

As it stands, the question itself, taken in isolation from the fact that he is new, should probably be closed. Consider though, if the last line 'How can I do this in Java?' wasn't there and instead was 'how would I go about implementing this algorithm' which may very well have been the intention. I don't think that would have drawn nearly as much negative attention.

EDIT

Let me be more explicit. The problem above isn't a trivial one for a novice who knows the basic mechanics, but the comments brush it of as if it is.

Seems like finding the largest number in every column and add them.

and

You have to write code, in Java, using a loop, comparing numbers and adding a result

To me, it looked like these two users took a look at the problem and thought it was a 'find the maximum value' problem, which, upon more careful reading, it's not. These comments are vague enough to be essentially wrong from a technical perspective for the question being asked. Not only is the user not being pointed in the right direction, but he being given information that is at best discouraging and at worst wrong.

* EDIT 2 *

I get the procedural aspect of all this, I really do. I've rewritten the title to better reflect what I'm trying to get at. I'm asking about a case where it's not clear cut to me what should be done (flagging was my example), what would the Emily Post of StackExchange advise, or, as I've stated in the comments is this an issue and if so what's a good way - as a community, not just me flagging things - to address this.

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The first comment is inappropriate, and is not from a "user of high reputation". The other comments are perfectly fine IMO. –  Andrew Barber Aug 9 '12 at 3:33
    
@AndrewBarber - Right, that's a clear cut one, the question I'm asking is with the less clear case - the other two are >10k and basically say "your problem is trivial, do it yourself" because they've misunderstood what the poster has said. –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 3:36
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@dfb: Not really. He literally posted a problem, which certainly looks like homework, and asked "How can I do this in Java?" That's a clear-cut not a real question if I've ever seen one. –  animuson Aug 9 '12 at 3:39
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@animuson - I agree, but for a first time user, I guess I'm saying it's a bit better than the usual "I need to implement my DFS algorithm; do it for me in Java plzkthxbai". –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 3:44
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@dfb Hm, we do get a lot of plzkthxbai questions, but that doesn't really mean we should lower our standards. –  Yannis Aug 9 '12 at 3:51
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@YannisRizos - I agree with you there, but cutting someone who is new some slack, telling them to post their attempts and the usual speech is more constructive than giving them information that doesn't point them in right direction but is incorrect as well –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 3:54
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So, just to be clear: although your example is poor, you're basically asking: How should we handle comments on users' questions (especially low-rep users) where the comments aren't rude but simply come off as dismissive? –  Aarthi Aug 9 '12 at 4:08
    
@Aarthi - see my edits –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 4:22

1 Answer 1

Users of high reputation pushing back on a new user without (it appears) actually reading the question. The writing on the question isn't stellar, it probably should have included some code, but it's not bad either. Are these comments something that should be flagged?

Comments have always been intended for users to request more information from the original poster, so that the answer could be the best for them. Yes, outright rudeness isn't acceptable, but "pushing back" isn't inherently mean-spirited or even really unkind. If one were to go his or her local IT person with a problem, one would be asked a series of clarifying questions to pinpoint the error.

This temporary, clarifying dialogue was the original intent of comments; users who push back by requesting more detail, code samples, etc aren't being rude -- they're using the feature as intended. They're attempting to better educate the original poster.

That said, there's a balance: new users, especially, may not know what they're looking for, or even how to adequately verbalize their problem so that the rest of us can help. This is the internet equivalent of the IT person telling one to hand over the laptop, followed by some rapid typing, followed by the return of said laptop in sudden working order.

To answer your question: no, comments that are pushing back probably should not be flagged. Sounds to me like these types of comments are being used correctly.

...if the last line 'How can I do this in Java?' wasn't there and instead was 'how would I go about implementing this algorithm' which may very well have been the intention. I don't think that would have drawn nearly as much negative attention.

You are (and any other user is, too!) free to suggest edits to that post. Tidying up language, attempts to better parse the question, and adding in information gleaned from the comments section are all appropriate and encouraged behaviors.

There's also no harm in directly refuting comments that are incorrect - but avoid getting drawn into lengthy, argumentative discussions. State your piece, and move on.

Following your edit:

Not only is the user not being pointed in the right direction, but he being told that his problem is simple when it (all relative here) isn't.

If the comment is wrong, post one that corrects it - or better yet, edit the post to clarify.

If the comment is simply unhelpful, flag it for deletion ("not constructive" is always good).

If the comment is no longer needed (because the issue it raised has been addressed), flag it as obsolete.

FWIW, the top comment on that post did in fact add nothing useful to the post - so it has been removed.

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You've stated a bunch general tenets all of which are great, but I'm interested in a judgement call here - this is something I see as a problem that might drive new users away. Perhaps it should be asked as 1) does anyone else think this is a problem 2) if so is flagging comments an appropriate solution and 3) if not what is.... –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 4:39
    
I thought I did that? (1) It's not a problem if users are using comments to push constructively. (2) Flag anything that's incorrect, though telling someone in comments that their solution is wrong is ok, too -- just don't devolve into a comment war. (3) Not applicable. Hey, man, if I've missed something, I'm happy to fix it. :D –  Aarthi Aug 9 '12 at 4:41
    
I'm asking for specific opinions for these questions relative to the examples I quoted. Example answer "No, I don't see this as a problem, these comments are perfectly valid and I don't think they alienate new users " –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 4:55
    
@dfb The first comment was inappropriate (the link to what have you tried - since deleted), the other are fine. It could be argued that your comment should be removed, "if you actually take the time to read it" is a bit passive aggressive, don't you think? –  Yannis Aug 9 '12 at 5:16
    
@YannisRizos - Sure, this could have been said better. Not sure why this is relevant, though. I'm not judging these particular commenters, it's just that this is indicative of something that is not welcoming to new members and wondering if anyone cares or thinks its a problem and how it can be handled. From the responses I'm getting I'm thinking that's an unequivocal no. –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 5:33
    
@dfb And I'm certainly not judging you, just commenting on your comment. I thought it was relevant as we were discussing whether the comments on the question were appropriate or not. –  Yannis Aug 9 '12 at 5:34
    
@YannisRizos - But my whole point has less to do with the tone than the content - I'm making an argument for the sake of discusssion that the comments are incorrect technically and it doesn't point the users to helpful information and that this may be a problem, therefore, they should be flagged or subject to some other measure –  dfb Aug 9 '12 at 5:36
    
@dfb If you feel they are technically incorrect, follow the advice given in Aarthi's answer: politely refute them (without getting drawn in a long argument) and if that fails, flag them. –  Yannis Aug 9 '12 at 5:45

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