What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 134 Stack Exchange communities.

This question already has an answer here:

Are we an answer factory, or are we here to educate?

I've been reading Stack Exchanges far longer than I have been participating in them, but I have noticed a trend of people answering questions without a sufficient level of context or information about the subject matter; in some cases leaping at a "correct" answer without showing any of the thought, understanding or research in the middle.

I've been trying to fill my answers with the same context and the level of information I would expect if I had asked a question, and I am wondering if it is a waste of time.

share|improve this question

marked as duplicate by gnat, hims056, Lance Roberts, Jim, Toon Krijthe Apr 4 '13 at 20:31

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

4  
Gamification, to some extent, will lead to answering for the sake of quick rep. Not necessarily to provide the best answer possible to the most clear of questions. Question becomes if we are significantly suffering in terms of quality as a result. –  Bart Apr 4 '13 at 14:04
    
I have not been at this very long, but timeliness must be a factor in reception and popularity of an answer, in addition to correctness. What is the tipping point? Where does getting the answer out there mean compromising on the "educational" factor of it? –  Ahrotahntee Apr 4 '13 at 14:05
4  
I never upvote those kind of answers which only post a solution without any elaborate explanation about the how the problem is caused and why/how the proposed solution solves it. –  BalusC Apr 4 '13 at 14:06
    
You should read: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/9731/… –  Oded Apr 4 '13 at 14:06
2  
@Ahrotahntee I tend to believe that though the quick "fastest gun" answer will get some upvotes, the carefully written, well thought out answer will ultimately win. Timeliness is certainly a factor, but not necessarily the ultimately deciding one. –  Bart Apr 4 '13 at 14:07
2  
You're looking for the term "code-only answers", I think. This question about them is a very good starting point to find every discussion about it (see the Linked and Related sidebars). –  Time Traveling Bobby Apr 4 '13 at 14:07
    
@SulfurizedDemonbobby While "Code Only" answers definitely apply, I am speaking principally of very succinct answers that may not cover important concerns of the subject matter –  Ahrotahntee Apr 4 '13 at 14:11
4  
@Bart Gamification, to some extent, will lead to [...] not necessarily to provide the best answer. Gamification means that rep is awarded based on what people in the community think is acceptable. If the community believes that answering a question without helping the asker (i.e. a complex code-only answer that explains nothing) is not helpful and doesn't upvote, people won't post such answers. If the upvotes are given for explanations, not code, then that's what people will do. So the issue is not that gamification is wrong, it's that the community values would need to change. –  Servy Apr 4 '13 at 14:13
    
@Ahrotahntee: In that case I stick with Odeds answer. –  Time Traveling Bobby Apr 4 '13 at 14:14
    
@Servy Certainly. It's an interplay between the answerer and the community. No rep would be gained if not awarded by that community. And I'm not necessarily saying that the quick answer is a bad answer. It is merely perhaps not as good as it could be. Which might lead to the idea of this being an "answer factory". Again, whether or not that leads to a big problem and stops others from posting quality content, I'm not so sure. –  Bart Apr 4 '13 at 14:17
    
Isn't this kind of a really broad unanswerable unspecific question? –  AAA Apr 4 '13 at 19:13
    
@djechlin Although I'm partial to my original phrasing, allow me to rephrase: "Is the purpose of SO (or SE in general) to educate people who ask questions, or simply fulfill their needs and get rid of them?" I have always been on the customer side of things, and I have seen problems arise from giving customers only part of the whole: They tend to come back, confused, sometimes angry that what you've given them doesn't necessarily fit the scenario. In my mind education is a better route to take, because comprehension leads to less followup problems. I want to know what SO/SE is about. –  Ahrotahntee Apr 4 '13 at 19:52

4 Answers 4

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Are we an answer factory, or are we here to educate?

Some of both. We're not here to just do one or the other. A lot of it depends on the person asking the question, moreso than anything else. If someone is here just to get and answer, and not to learn anything, you're going to have a really hard time teaching them against their will. Likewise, if someone is here to learn and isn't so interested in a specific solution to a narrow problem (and it's reflected in the question, which is often the case) then only posting a specific solution is not helpful, and the members of the community can often recognize that and act accordingly.

So if you're particularly interested in teaching concepts, rather than solving programming problems, then seek out those questions that are clearly looking for those types of answers. Avoid questions when there are clear indications that the OP has no intention of learning the concept themselves. (If you can't tell, then just learn how to get out of a question once you have determined that the OP isn't interested in what you have to offer.)

I've been reading Stack Exchanges far longer than I have been participating in them, but I have noticed a trend of people answering questions without a sufficient level of context or information about the subject matter; in some cases leaping at a "correct" answer without showing any of the thought, understanding or research in the middle.

And in some cases that can be the most helpful, in others it's the best that we'll be able to do, and in other cases it's not appropriate and should be discouraged.

It can be helpful if it's a situation that the OP is simply not likely to be in again, and the information needed isn't particularly applicable in other areas. For example, perhaps the OP's problem is simply related to a bug in the framework code they're using. No in-depth explanation is really needed most of the time. Just say it's a bug and post a workaround. There's really no need to explain, in depth, what isn't working, why, how it might be fixed, etc.

In some cases, as I said earlier, the OP simply isn't interested in being taught anything. Rather than forcing knowledge on them, it's often best to just not spend your valuable time trying to teach them something they aren't interested in. Find other questions to spend your time on.

Finally, when a question is asked in which it's clear that the asker is interested in learning, that they are hoping for an explanation of a concept, rather than a solution to a particular problem, and someone posts an answer with no explanation and just code, you have ways of addressing that. First, you have voting. Vote up answers that have a good (and correct) explanation. Vote down answers that don't try to explain anything. If there are no answers with a good explanation, add your own. Consider posting comments on an answer without an explanation asking them to explain their answer further (just try not to get in arguments over it if it's clear they have no intention of adding one).

The SE model is designed such that the community is responsible for addressing most undesirable behavior on the site. When it's clear that an answer provides insufficient explanation the community ought not to upvote it. At the very least, you can do your part in that regard and vote based on what you feel is helpful. While some people will always disagree on what is and isn't helpful (which is okay), the end result is that people's actions adapt to reflect what most people feel is for the best. Is this always ideal, no, but it's proven highly effective thus far in encouraging high quality answers. You can make your voice heard as a part of the community.

share|improve this answer
2  
Thank you, Servy. I read this all the way through, and now I'm crying rainbows :') –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Apr 4 '13 at 19:08

Are you an educator or a rep factory? :) (the smiley face is because I am asking the question in a good-natured way)

One reason I participate on SO is to help people become better programmers. There is not always a rep reward for doing that. Some things that I do (besides answering questions)

  • When I see a good question or answer, I upvote it
  • When I see a question that could be more useful to future visitor if written better, I edit it.
  • When I see duplication, I
    1. Upvote the best question
    2. Downvote and flag the duplicate(s)
  • When I see a question that shows a lack of research effort, I downvote it.
share|improve this answer
    
Are you an educator or a rep factory? This is not a healthy mindset. There are times when it's appropriate to focus on teaching an underlying concept rather than solving a specific problem, but at the same time SO is not a university course. There are times where teaching the concept is beyond the scope of what can be expected in an SO answer. Other timers there simply is no need to understand any underlying concepts, merely someone who needs help solving a specific problem. Strive to help those consuming your answers as best you can, not just to act like a professor when writing answers. –  Servy Apr 4 '13 at 19:18

Are we an answer factory, or are we here to educate?

My answer is, this network educates people with answers and questions. Great questions have great answers; bad questions might have bad answers or great answers.

Being fastest is important, of course, but I believe that if your answer/question is better, it is never too late.

I've been trying to fill my answers with the same context and the level of information I would expect if I had asked a question, and I am wondering if it is a waste of time.

This is good for you and for StackExchange of course.

share|improve this answer
    
But does a bad/short/incomplete question deserve a bad/short/incomplete answer? –  Ahrotahntee Apr 4 '13 at 14:14
1  
I believe this depends on level of bad/short/incomplete If the question is improvable (also if OP wants to care about improvement) of course they don't deserve bad/short/incomplete answers. But Stackexchange has rules as you know. For questions How to Ask - for answers How to Answer are good resources for users. Some of them apply this rules, someones don't. Btw, there are a lot of good answers on Stackexchange called short :) –  Soner Gönül Apr 4 '13 at 14:20

Ideally, we are trying to educate.

However, with the lack of detail some question askers give, and the fact that the fastest and most readable answers tend to get more immediate upvotes than other answers, mean that there is a tendency for many people to post answers without thinking too much first.

I've been trying to fill my answers with the same context and the level of information I would expect if I had asked a question, and I am wondering if it is a waste of time.

That's what we like to hear. Keep on the good work - we need more of this.

share|improve this answer
    
Or, some folks are here to Get Work Done(tm). Extraneous information is likely not going to help them ship their product on time. Nothing wrong with those question/answer pairs on the site. –  user7116 Apr 4 '13 at 17:52
    
@sixlettervariables: It's not our responsibility to help them get their product out in time though. –  Felix Apr 4 '13 at 19:04
    
@Felix: you missed my point. It isn't our place to chide them for taking the quickest answer over the most detailed. They've got requirements that other folks done. –  user7116 Apr 4 '13 at 19:23

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .