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My problem is very similar to that voiced here.

I've just signed up in order to contribute to a thread ('question' in stack terminology I think) and found that I'm advised only to offer an answer. I don't exactly have an answer but I do have relevant information which may well be useful to the OP. But I can't find any way of contacting him via this site.

I've not come across so restrictive an online environment before. I understand that it's part of a system to keep spammers out but, in this case at least, it may well just be stopping the OP and me moving towards a solution to our common problem.

It's too rigid in my view and reminds me of my time in research where referees would often insist that papers submitted for publication 'answered a question', because, they would claim, that's what all good science does. Unfortunately that's rubbish. Scientists, like software developers, claw their way forwards, inch by inch, by whatever means they can find - questions, answers, discussion, hunches, wild guesses, hitting their heads against the wall - anything goes.

Not so here it would seem. Shame.

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So, what's your suggestion? –  Felix Jan 12 '13 at 10:03
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This is a Q&A. Questions and Answers. That's what the site does and what it's good at. Not anything goes. In fact, hardly anything goes. But what goes is usually good. Don't have a question? Don't ask one. Don't have an answer? Don't answer. Can't comment yet? Earn the privilege to do so. It takes some work, but in the end it's good for the site. –  Bart Jan 12 '13 at 10:04
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I feel your pain but you have to look at the other side, for every 1 new user that will have a positive contribution via comments, there are probably dozens that will add a comment that does not contribute or has a negative contribution. In the end, 50 reputation for someone is pretty easy if they want to get it, and then you will be able to comment. –  psubsee2003 Jan 12 '13 at 10:06
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I've not come across so restrictive an online environment before You haven't been online for long, have you? –  Yannis Jan 12 '13 at 10:24
    
So, you're basically asking for the ability to comment with less than 50 reputation? –  ben is uǝq backwards Jan 12 '13 at 14:41
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Please stop closing discussion questions as not constructive, might as well get rid of the discussion tag then. –  Lance Roberts Aug 1 '13 at 17:38
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closed as not constructive by Martijn Pieters, Bart, hims056, Bo Persson, jadarnel27 Jan 12 '13 at 15:50

As it currently stands, this question is not a good fit for our Q&A format. We expect answers to be supported by facts, references, or expertise, but this question will likely solicit debate, arguments, polling, or extended discussion. If you feel that this question can be improved and possibly reopened, visit the help center for guidance.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

2 Answers

It's not entirely clear what your "relevant information which may well be useful to the OP" precisely is, but if it's something that could help the OP solve their problem, or at least part of it, then by all means post it as an answer.

Answers don't have to be exhaustive or infallible. It's perfectly fine to post an answer saying, for example, "I'm not sure what the cause of your problem is, but if it's X, you can try solving it by doing Y. If that doesn't help, try Z and let me know what it says."

Also note that your answer doesn't have to be perfect immediately — you can edit it later if new information becomes available, or even if you just happen to think of some way to make it better.

For messages to the OP that really aren't answers in any sense, you should write a comment instead. Unfortunately, you'll need 50 reputation points to do that on the main sites. (Note that you can still comment on your own questions and answers even if you don't have 50 rep.)

Now, 50 rep isn't really that hard to acquire if you just write a few decent questions or answers — each upvote on a question you asked gives you +5 rep, and upvotes on answers earn you twice that! And once you've reached 200 rep on any Stack Exchange site, the association bonus ensures that you'll never need to worry about it again, since your rep will start at 101.


But if you really don't want to wait for that, well, the dirty little secret is that you can usually get away with posting a comment as an answer, as long as it's a good and relevant comment. Just try to be as helpful as you can, and explain why you're posting an answer instead of a comment, and most people will generally overlook that minor breach of etiquette.

In the worst case, someone might downvote your non-answer (which costs you a few rep, if you have any, but not all that much) or flag it for moderator attention, and the moderators may either delete it (if it's not really that helpful) or convert it into an actual comment (if it is).

However, it's also quite possible that you may (perhaps after exchanging some comments with the OP) be able to edit your not-really-an-answer into a real answer, or you may even find that, in fact, others may find your answer more helpful than you think it is and upvote it. Indeed, in my experience, it's a lot more common for people to be excessively self-critical, and to post perfectly good answers as mere comments, than it is to see answers that should have been comments.

The upshot of all this is that, if you think it could help the OP, just go and write that answer even if it isn't a perfect one. Even at worst, it can't really do any harm, and you just may end up making the world a slightly better place.

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Many thanks for that Ilmari - very helpful and the sort of thing I needed to hear at the outset I think - it's just really not the impression I got from the site as I signed-up and went to post my first 'answer'. Maybe there's no way round (the spamming etc thing) and the solution this site has arrived at is as good as you can get...? Could it be just a tad more welcoming though? –  Ian Lyon Jan 12 '13 at 12:43
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Scientists, like software developers, claw their way forwards, inch by inch, by whatever means they can find - questions, answers, discussion, hunches, wild guesses, hitting their heads against the wall - anything goes.

This is a fairly accurate depiction of the scientific method. The fact remains though that Stack Overflow is a venue for questions and answers, you'll have to find different venues for discussion, hunches, and wild guesses. It's really as simple as that, Stack Overflow excels as a Q&A platform, this is what it was build for, and there are numerous other places on the internet for everything else.

Using the right tool for the job is another trait software developers share with scientists.

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Yep. @ian "By whatever means they can find"...if SO fails for you in that regard, go find other means. But if you have something to contribute which will fit within the boundaries of the site, welcome to you and I hope you stay around for a long time. –  Bart Jan 12 '13 at 10:34
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Oh please explain that on Physics.SE... –  Sklivvz Jan 12 '13 at 10:46
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