I feel like this has been asked already on meta, but I cannot find a relevant post.

What is the proper way to handle questions like this? More specifically, what would be the most appropriate flag reason?

Examples:

  1. How does the "let me google that for you" site make an animated mouse?
  2. phonenumber@operator.com - How do they do it?
  3. How to do this?
  4. iPhone App: How do they do that?

User X finds a website implementing some cool feature. User X asks either "how did they do that" or "how can I do that on my site".

Should these be flagged? If so, what reason should be used?

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What is your main motivation behind flagging such a question? The first example at least looks like something that's been well-received by the community. Since SO deals with all kinds of programming problems, why can't one eligible problem be emulating some functionality they've seen in the real world? The 3rd one just has a terribly vague title and is a horribly worded question, and I have more problems with those things than with the thing the user is trying to do. –  Aaron Bertrand Aug 9 '12 at 15:01
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@AaronBertrand My intention is to help clean up the site. OP states hat he has no specific need. I don't know about you, but I don't sit here waiting for someone to request code from me. The problem isn't that the questions are trying to emulate some real-world functionality, it's that they almost universally are requests for code with no effort demonstrated. –  JimmyPena Aug 9 '12 at 15:07
    
@JimmyPena Not all of these kinds of questions are asking for code. Some are asking for a general idea of how something works so they can implement their own solution along the same lines. If "How does X work" is in asking "please give me the code to make X work the same way as abc", then sure vote to close, but if they want a high level explanation of how X works so they can go create their own solution along the same lines, then I don't see anything wrong with the question. –  Rachel Aug 9 '12 at 18:18
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2 Answers

up vote 8 down vote accepted

This was covered in the ill-fated "What Stack Overflow is Not" post, under "Stack Overflow does not Reverse Engineer Other People's Software," which stated:

Don't post a link to someone else's software or site and expect us to analyze it for you. We will not reverse engineer someone else's application so that you may better understand how they did it.

If you really like a feature on some site - investigate! Crack open your Chrome developer tools or Firebug consoles and start poking around.

It's a matter of scope. If the question is specific enough to be reasonably answerable (like the animated mouse question), it should be allowed. But broad questions in the vein of "Tell me how this software works," or "Help me disassemble this program" are off-topic, for all the obvious reasons.

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I thought it was an existing question, but maybe that is where I saw it. Thanks for the clarification. –  JimmyPena Aug 9 '12 at 15:10
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They should be flagged as Off Topic and/or down voted.

The only thing you really can do other than that is formulate a friendly comment explaining to the OP about his misconception about what types of questions are allowed on Stack Overflow.

If you can add an explanation as well, such as "why" we don't accept questions of that nature it'll help the OP not to make the same mistake in the future. Simply saying

This is not a good question for our Q&A format

is not very informative and doesn't really explain the rational behind the statement. The aim is to educate new users and keep the site "clean" of these "unwanted" questions.

An appropriate comment would be something like -

Hi! Your question is slightly problematic. People are usually not willing to reverse engineer someone else's application so that you may replicate it's behavior. Why not attempt to create the functionality you are looking for and if you come across a certain problem with the implementation, come post about it and try be as specific as possible about the nature of the issue you are facing.

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Can you explain how "How does lmgtfy make an animated mouse" should be off-topic/down-voted but "How can I make an animated mouse on a web page" shouldn't? –  Aaron Bertrand Aug 9 '12 at 15:03
    
Who says it shouldn't? In any case, you can't make a decision based on the title along. Both those titles. with enough explanation and code samples would be perfectly acceptable. –  Lix Aug 9 '12 at 15:06
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