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There are a lot of good questions on Stack Overflow. There are also a lot of bad questions. The majority of the time, nobody jumps on them and they get closed in thirty minutes or so and deleted within a day.

However, sometimes bad questions that are overtly broad, requesting SO users to basically complete whole code projects for them are jumped on by either rep. hungry or bored users.

Is this a bad thing? Should it be discouraged? I feel it discredits the purpose of Stack Overflow and exploits code from good programmers. Am I wrong in this sentiment?

Update

I shall answer to the questioning of the broad definition of a broad question. I'm not opposed to broad questions looking for broad answers. Sometimes it takes a second brain to help you with the logic or to point you in the right direction. I'm specifically talking about instances where it's as Rachel mentioned in her answer.

Can you give me the code for this broad idea" and that has an answer stating "Here's your code: <code dump>"

Examples

Displaying a 1D array in columns java

Code an integer multiplication function using recursion (in C)

Granted, these questions are now closed and heavily down voted, but at the end of the day the user got an answer from a laziness inspired question.

Caveat

I'm not calling any of the answerers(?) rep. hungry. They may have just been bored.

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People may answers whatever they like, it's their prerogative really. The bad questions will likely be closed anyway, and if deemed unfit to keep around, deleted. There are a tonne of really old questions that are (with today's standards on SO) considered bad, but still kept. =) –  J. Steen Mar 28 '13 at 12:16
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Answer should appreciated i mean efforts done by user in giving answer should be appreciated however feeding vampire is not a good thing –  NullPoiиteя Mar 28 '13 at 12:18
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Relevant: The Help Vampire Problem‌​. –  J. Steen Mar 28 '13 at 12:19
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I would not want to do anything to discourage answering. What one person sees as "bad question", another may see as "interesting" or "good" question, and I would not want to discourage answerers from answering in any way. –  Rachel Mar 28 '13 at 12:46
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@Rachel But doesn't answering broad questions for people who can't think beyond a certain point in programming encourage bad questions to continue? "I got my code from SO last time, you should try it to." –  ChristopherW Mar 28 '13 at 12:51
    
@Christopher But what constitutes as "broad"? The definition will vary from person to person. Also, who said they're asking because "they can't think beyond a certain point"? It could just be they don't know the rules of our site yet. I don't think there are many users that answer "can you give me the code for this broad idea" with "here's your code" in the first place. I have occasionally come across questions like that, but my typical answer is as broad as the question, usually giving them the general ideal of what they need to do without actually doing it for them –  Rachel Mar 28 '13 at 13:17
    
@Rachel I can concede you have a point about answering a "broad" question with a "broad" general direction answer. I guess discouraging is a bad choice of a word. I'm in no way directing this at new users. It's more reserved for those who do it on a continual basis. –  ChristopherW Mar 28 '13 at 13:48
    
However, sometimes bad questions... are jumped on by either rep. hungry or bored users Any examples? –  Some Helpful Commenter Mar 28 '13 at 14:21
    
@SomeHelpfulCommenter Examples posted. –  ChristopherW Mar 28 '13 at 15:39
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In regards to your Rev 3 edit, that's a great example of what I mean by users having different definitions of "broad". I see both your examples as meeting the 3rd example in my answer of "Can you give me the code for this specific goal", which I think is not ideal, but still OK. A good answer will say "here is the logic of how you need to write it and a code sample illustrating it", while a bad answer will just be "here's the code". It's not ideal, but still OK in my opinion. My definition of too broad would be like "Can someone tell me how to write software that has the features XYZ" –  Rachel Mar 28 '13 at 15:42

4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

I very rarely see a question that asks "Can you give me the code for this broad idea" and that has an answer stating "Here's your code: <code dump>"

But I have seen questions that ask "How can I accomplish this broad idea" with answers that say "Here's a equally broad idea of what you need to do in order to accomplish your goal. It should point you in the right direction."

I've also seen questions asking "Can you give me the code for this specific goal" which result in answers like "Here's your code: <code dump>"

  • The 1st is bad, but almost never seen.
  • The 2nd I view as perfectly fine and we should not discourage it.
  • The 3rd isn't ideal, but it's still OK and I wouldn't discourage it either

The biggest problem is that "broad" is very subjective.

So to summarize, I think the level of "broadness" needed to warrant discouraging answers happens infrequently enough that discouraging answers on the basis of "too broad" would be a bad idea.

Since "broad" is subjective, all I see is it leading to is fewer answers and more upset users.

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It's really mostly the first one that irritates me, but you have a good point on all counts. I'll just continue to do what I do. –  ChristopherW Mar 28 '13 at 22:36

All answers should be encouraged. There are many great answers out there to poor questions. If you feel a question is too broad then vote to close it, if it's really crappy then downvote it, but please upvote the good answers. We always want to be encouraging those who post good answers.

Broad is a subjective term, and different people will see a question as too broad or not. Also, the question may be edited after the answer is given to make it better, and no answerer would ever really be sure up front which way that could go.

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The bottom line is that it does "discredit the purpose of Stack Overflow." That is why it is closed down. It does take the code from good programmers but see it like a present. For example, it is a way too expensive present but if someone gives it to you they do it because they can or they want something out of it (like you said rep and something to do)...

I think (and this is only an opinion). If a programmer wants to help someone by posting a long piece of code on Stack Overflow, let him or her do it. Sometimes a Bad question is not bad, maybe it is just asked wrong or does not give enough details but that does not necessarily mean that the guy that answered the question did it bad... That answer may provide a lot of help to other people that stumble upon it. So yes the question is bad but the answer is useful, then the question is likely to be closed and this will still make the answer available to the people with a similar question.

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Another thing to keep in mind, is there's a gold badge (Reversal) for a very high upvote answer on a very downvoted question.

If there's a (gold, yes Peer Pressure is not for good behavior) badge for it, we can pretty confidently say that this is encouraged behavior.

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There's a difference between a question that's of low quality and a question that violates the site's standards and should be closed as NARQ. –  Servy Mar 28 '13 at 13:54
    
@Servy: True, but even someone rep hungry and bored usually can't sort through the characteristic mess of a question closed as NARQ. –  Linuxios Mar 28 '13 at 13:55
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NARQ covers quite a few different kinds of cases. For example, a question such as, "What are threads and how do they work?" is an understandable question that could most certainly be answered, but to truly answer the question you could literally write entire books about it, making it most certainly NARQ. However, some users might try to inject an answer to the question despite the fact that a true high quality answer isn't really possible on SO. –  Servy Mar 28 '13 at 14:03
    
@Servy: True. I can't really argue. :). –  Linuxios Mar 28 '13 at 14:03
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The questions given as examples were eventually closed. Since the system doesn't allow answering closed questions, we can pretty confidently say that this is discouraged behavior. –  interjay Mar 28 '13 at 16:36
    
@interjay: I misread a little. However, I think that considering that almost all questions that get downvoted a lot on SO get closed, it becomes almost synonymous. –  Linuxios Mar 28 '13 at 18:45

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