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I recently posted a question to StackOverflow looking for a language translation utility. After a few days and a lot of searching, I believe there is no such utility. Pity.

But, now I have to wonder which action for this post is most appropriate. I obviously have a couple choices:

  • Post my own answer: "There is currently no such utility."
  • Delete the post.

I know I can do either of these things. But which action is the standard in the community?

If the answer to my post is as simple as "No, that does not exist.", does it help the community to keep that question/answer on the forums? Might other people want that information? Or is it there not enough substance left to keep the question on the forums?

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I hate finding someone with the same question as me, but no answers. I would much rather see an answer that says "No, what you are looking for does not exist" so that I stop searching and focus on finding an alternative solution. –  Rachel Jan 7 '13 at 18:58
Or better yet, delete the question so you don't even have to bother reading it. Saves even more time. –  Robert Harvey Jan 7 '13 at 19:12
@Robert: Sarcasm? –  Merlyn Morgan-Graham Jan 25 '13 at 21:56
@MerlynMorgan-Graham: Nope. Deleted questions eventually drop out of Google's index. –  Robert Harvey Jan 25 '13 at 21:58
@RobertHarvey: The example question might be bad (Servy's answer), but I think Justin is right. IMO the purpose of a Q&A site is to solve problems, not just to "answer questions". If you're going to self-answer with "doesn't exist," though, you should probably be on top of any maintenance requests from additional answers, or if you get corrected in the future. –  Merlyn Morgan-Graham Jan 27 '13 at 11:08

3 Answers 3

up vote 7 down vote accepted

I agree with Servy that the SO question sounds off-topic, but your Meta question is still relevant. If you have a question that truly has no answer, that information could help others avoid beating their heads against the wall while they look for one.

Case in point: RegEx match open tags except XHTML self-contained tags

How many hours have been wasted trying to parse HTML with regex? How many more would have been wasted if @bobince hadn't made such a memorable, quotable post? I might be working on such a regex right now, or maybe Zalgo would have consumed us all.

Just bear in mind that "you can't do that" is a pretty big statement. Make sure you know for a fact that something is impossible/doesn't exist before saying so.

Edit: And if you're asking about a utility or tool, remember that someone might eventually make one. Those answers are especially problematic because they can rot over time. A right answer now can be wrong in the future, and it may or may not get updated.

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A question that is just requesting a tool is not appropriate for this site. It is essentially just a shopping question. Such questions have a number of problems including the fact that there is no one correct answer (everyone has their favorite tool they have for doing X), they are highly localized (the set of tools tends to change considerably over time), and generate lists of things, which is information that doesn't fit particularly well into a Q/A presentation style.

The question should be closed for that reason.

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I am okay deleting the question. Sure. But where would you go to look for such a tool? Honestly, if the folks on SO don't know of such a utility, who would? Is there another StackExchange site you'd recommend? –  theJollySin Jan 7 '13 at 19:15
@theJollySin Such questions would not be appropriate on any SE site. See this blog for a more detailed explanation. This isn't strictly a shopping question, but it has almost exactly the same problems as shopping questions. –  Servy Jan 7 '13 at 19:17
Well, okay. I see the thing you linked, and I see the logic to it. I suppose from my perspective I have a programming problem and no way to solve it. If you want to ban this question from all StackExchange, that is fine. I certainly don't like the "which textbook should I buy" questions that always seem to pop up. Unfortunately, I still don't know how to solve my programming problem. –  theJollySin Jan 7 '13 at 19:24
@theJollySin Well, according to you no such tool exists, so unless you're expecting someone on SO to build the tool just for you (which would be entirely unreasonable to ask in a question btw) it sounds like you need to look for solutions under the assumption that no such tool exists. In your case, this would be either translating by hand, or having the other people learn the other languages. Allowing the question on SO isn't going to change that. –  Servy Jan 7 '13 at 19:26

This happens to me from time to time. I will be working with something and it just is not behaving so I make a question to see if anyone else has had the same issue or knows a solution (or even a workaround).

One such example was with getting a pdf converter to work in .net. I posted the question and had received no answers for a week or so. Finally, I found that the converter actually had a flaw which was preventing it from working (I could not fix it because it was third party). So, I posted my findings, that in my opinion it should not be used for that scenario, and what I had gone through and researched to get there.

I do come across other posts like this. And I find them extremely helpful when they are backed up by facts or experience. Coming to a post which has an answer of "No." or "That is impossible" is not constructive and will not alter my plans for research. If you can save someone time by posting your findings, then I think that is beneficial.

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