I've noticed a distressing tendency for questions that seem basic or overly short to be immediately closed and downvoted into oblivion.

Case in point: Check if element is visible using JavaScript

Within a minute of being asked, this question received 12 downvotes and was closed as "not a real question".

That particular question is a very real, non-trivial question, but it had somewhat poor grammar and looked a little like a much simpler question.

Can we try to be a little more accepting?

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Long story short, that question got "lounged". –  Mysticial May 20 '13 at 16:19
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If they can show effort, we'll show compassion –  random May 20 '13 at 16:20
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@Mysticial: i.stack.imgur.com/6l8c4.jpg –  BoltClock's a Unicorn May 20 '13 at 16:20
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I read the question a few times (after the edits) and I'm still not sure what he's asking. –  George Stocker May 20 '13 at 16:21
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@SLaks "Lounged" is just a term we use to describe questions which get a lot of "action" of some sort (good or bad) because it was posted in Lounge<C++>. –  Mysticial May 20 '13 at 16:22
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I find the apparent sympathy upvotes it's gathering far more disturbing. –  Bart May 20 '13 at 16:26
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That question wasn't horrible. I'm not a web dev and I knew what he meant in the first revision, it's something I'd need to research myself if the need arose. But, I'm an experienced programmer that knows how to search and what to search for, even when I'm not intimately familiar with the language. Everyone starts somewhere. And seriously, if @SLaks, a retired Stack Overflow moderator is coming out of the woodwork here on Meta to raise this - it just might have a bit of merit. I'm just sayin. –  Tim Post May 20 '13 at 16:31
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I think the point here is it was a dick move on their part (Lounge): "Let's see how many downvotes this can get."... –  user7116 May 20 '13 at 16:35
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From what I can see, the question was already at -9 when it was shared in the C++ Lounge. Yes, sometimes questions get a ton of downvotes when shared in chat rooms, but it doesn't look like that's what happened here. "Got lounged" is not the (main) reason this was downvoted to oblivion. –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 16:43
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Excessive downvotes are not a problem if excessive upvotes aren't –  random May 20 '13 at 16:57
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@Adel Who said we want to encourage upvotes and discourage downvotes? If anything it's the other way around, in general there are a lot more nonsensical upvotes than nonsensical downvotes. That said, what we actually want to encourage is fixing problematic posts. –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 17:14
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@Adel Personally I think trying to encourage or discourage votes (up or down) is a complete waste of time. Voting is anonymous (for good reason), and everyone's votes are their own, they can vote however they like. Even if you manage to encourage sensible voting patterns, it will take a while before people notice. If we are going to spend time and energy encouraging something, how about we focus on actions that are publicly visible and can immediately inspire others? Like polite comments and editing. And the best (and perhaps only) way to encourage those is to lead by example. –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 17:22
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@Adel Yes, you are missing something. The question was already at -9 when it was shared in the chat room and the user who shared it was also the first one who stepped up and tried to improve it (first edit in the revision history). The comments here claiming coordinated voting from chat are completely unjustified. If anything, the extra attention the question got from chat was positive. That's not to say that crappy downvoting on questions shared in chat isn't common, but it didn't really happen here. –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 17:31
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@TravisJ And the question is clearly at -9 at that point (and the user posting that message also was the first one who tried to improve the question). The question might have gotten a couple of downvotes from chat, but I'll venture a guess and say that it got a lot more downvotes after it was shared on Meta. –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 17:35
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In order to convince me, you're going to need to demonstrate this is a systemic problem. Yes, sometimes questions accrue more downvotes than normal - but I don't see this very often. –  Emracool May 20 '13 at 17:54
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15 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

The background:

The SO is flooded with "I have requirement", "My boss told me to", "I have homework" questions which deserve to be closed. Because there are so many of them, many users have developed a set of heuristics to determine in a few seconds that something should be closed immediately:

1) Lack of code

Usually lack of code = lack of effort. OP doesn't even know how to start and is expecting to get full solution.

2) Title and content doesn't match

I don't know where this fashion come from, but such questions often has title not matching the content. Title is treated not as summary of questions, but as the first sentence of it. So we again have heuristic: title-as-first-sentence = spam

3) No question mark in content

This is co-morbid with 2). Question mark is already in title, so why to repeat it?

4) Thank you

Well, usually the OPs showing no effort believe they increase the chance of getting something done for them when they include "Thank you from advance" on the end. It's an effect described by Cialdini, maybe it works... on other sites.

Now the question itself. It wasn't clear enough at the beginning. It could be understood as the combination of visibility and being placed in current viewport. The problem is formulated without word "viewport" so google isn't showing the answer directly in that case. It would be good enough to close it as duplicate without downvoting. The author would have the answer anyway.

But

unfortunately for the OP the question is so formulated, that it triggered every 4 heuristics. Say, 1 of them gives 90% probability that a post is a crap, 2 gives 95%, 3 - 98% and finally 4 - 99%. Though we should optimize for pearls, not sand, if there's only 1% probability that it could be good question... the fast finger usually wins.

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This is rather ridiculous. I'm not talking about the closing, but the negativity. So it triggered all 4 heuristics? That is no reason to downvote to oblivion. The OP himself said that he was French and he felt like the internet hated him when he got so many downvotes. Everyone can take a few downvotes, but 12 or more is just plain mean, especially for new users. That is what I think @SLaks is getting at. –  ɥʇǝS Jun 17 '13 at 18:00
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If it fails your tests, improve the question. Don't tell the person their problem isn't real. It is a serious turn off. –  Jonathan Seng Jun 19 '13 at 19:46
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According to the about page, "Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers." As such, "My boss told me to" and such are explicitly in the domain and they are real problems to be solved. Be honest, most people just don't want to bother with these or they will happily "answer" to do something else entirely (i.e. in C++ use a vector not an array). That is worth up votes (and rep). But, it is a real question that needs solving. –  Jonathan Seng Jun 20 '13 at 4:52
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Applying heuristics and closing questions like this are specifically what is driving me away from using Stack Overflow anymore. The moderators have come off as completely hostile lately. The number of times I'll do a Google search for a question, find a link to SO and think "Ah good, I'll find the answer" only to find it closed and unanswered has increased exponentially in the last year or so. –  Jeremy Blosser Jun 20 '13 at 16:41
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@JeremyBlosser There was absolutely no moderator intervention as far as this question was concerned, so unless you're just taking this as an opportunity to air your grievances I'm not sure what your point is. –  Asad Jun 20 '13 at 20:56
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I don't agree with lack of code = lack of effort. Suppose someone is an adequately skilled programmer & is looking to implement something, but that, they might need help deciding upon an approach. In such cases, obviously there's not going to be any code, and they're not looking for a full solution either, maybe just a nudge in the right direction. I think that's a reasonable enough request. –  Chaos Jun 20 '13 at 22:53
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So I'm going to interpret your question pretty liberally here.

  • You are a very high-rep user who has been around as long as SO has. I'm going to infer that if you observe a trend like this, you are probably onto something.
  • By "hostile" you don't mean comment hostility. You mean ultra-efficient downvote, close, and can.

I think the problem you are picking up on is that as a community we've gotten very good at preventing poor or even mediocre questions from being answered. And this is a good thing. We're a big city now trying to create a repo of questions and answers of long term value, and this means shifting some of the onus of this onto the questioner and his/her team of people willing to edit the question into a good one. However, I think you've accurately picked up on the problem that it's way easier to close a question and downvote it into oblivion than it is to recover, and as we've gotten good at downvoting and closing questions very quickly, we haven't made it any easier to recover from this state.

In short: team "close" and team "downvote" are now beating team "edit" and team "salvage" to the punch. And this is checkmate on the question. It should not be checkmate.

I also think that's where my competing answers and comments miss the mark. The point isn't that it was a bad question. Of course it was. The point is it had a chance to be a good question with some time for users to comment and edit and the OP to respond, and we took that chance away. And yes, this is a big problem: a new user posting a poor and rocky question then having perhaps harsh or unfortunately sarcastic, but constructive and transient support is how new users go from asking poor questions to asking good questions. We're nuking this new user flow by one-way downvotes and closures. And yes, closures tend to be de facto one way, and more than a couple downvotes tend to be very hard to rid of even if the question is made into a darn good one. (If anyone finds this contentious I can find meta threads to back it up pretty solidly. Please don't make me actually do that.)

The only viable solutions to this problem I see are in:

Two proposals with much community support. In particular I think the first is what is needed here. But the mega-discussion on this topic is here (you could arguably say this question should be closed as a duplicate of that, I'm deferring to OP to make the focus of this question more precise):

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I really like this answer, as it takes a neutral stance while showing the necessary two sides to any iffy post, and how you can fix the problem. –  Adel May 20 '13 at 17:14
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it's way easier to close a question and downvote it into oblivion than it is to recover -- because in many cases the OP never bothers to make their question better. Improved questions get reopened; I've seen it happen many times. –  Robert Harvey May 20 '13 at 17:21
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Editing and salvaging isn't stopped when a post is closed. In fact, the primary goal of closing a post is to provide time for it to be salvaged. The site has, through the use of the reopen queue, also improved the means for a question to be reopened if these salvage attempts are successful. We shouldn't be holding off on closing while we attempt to salvage, instead we should (and already are) try to find ways of re-wording the close reasons and reopen workflow such that users don't get so upset when a question is closed. –  Servy May 20 '13 at 17:22
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@RobertHarvey fair, but possibly because it's not really apparent to the OP that that's the obvious workflow. It seems clearer to do that when comments are asking questions on a still open question than a closed one. –  djechlin May 20 '13 at 17:23
    
@djechlin Then the appropriate solution is to help them realize that closure != deletion, rather than to just not close things that meet the closure criteria. –  Servy May 20 '13 at 17:24
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@Servy I agree completely... the fact that that's not how we work is the problem OP is picking up on. –  djechlin May 20 '13 at 17:32
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@djechlin When questions are actually improved there's actually a rather good rate of reopening based on my experiences. The issue is that too many OPs just give up and don't try to fix the post. For those that actually do things tend to end up working out. Of course, many questions are so inherently flawed they cannot possibly be salvaged, or would require so much work that nobody considers the investment worthwhile. –  Servy May 20 '13 at 17:35
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@Servy if I'm a new user and see my question is closed, my instinct is not to try to improve it, even after reading the NC or NARQ reason. OP far more likely to give up after a closure than before. This problem is extensively discussed in linked threads. –  djechlin May 20 '13 at 17:40
    
@djechlin I agree, my point is that our response should be to alter how closed questions are displayed such that users are inclined to fix them, rather than to just not close questions that should be closed. As to how, there are already open discussions on that; I don't want to duplicate them here. Leaving close-worthy questions open can cause significant negative consequences. –  Servy May 20 '13 at 17:44
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I think the problem you are picking up on is that as a community we've gotten very good at preventing poor or even mediocre questions from being answered. Do you have anything to support that assertion? –  Some Helpful Commenter May 20 '13 at 20:09
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@djechlin: I think the point he's trying to make is that how "good" we've gotten at this is in doubt. Yes, that question was killed quickly. But there are plenty of questions that aren't, particularly on the less-widely viewed tags. Every day, I see unclosed garbage questions walk right through in the OpenGL tag, just because someone doesn't put "C++" or "Java" in the tags too. So no, the community has not "gotten very good" at it. –  Nicol Bolas May 20 '13 at 20:19
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team "close" and team "downvote" are now beating team "edit" and team "salvage" to the punch. --> exactly! :) –  Andomar May 21 '13 at 0:00
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@user414076 I emphatically disagree. See e.g. codinghorror.com/blog/2011/02/how-to-write-without-writing.html, blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping > "sum up our network in a single word," and the fact that we are interested in growing our community of Q/A-ers instead of serving some elite class of programming professionals. –  djechlin May 21 '13 at 20:13
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@user414076 note I'm going to move the opinions expressed in my last two comments to its own meta thread, since it's come up several times for me and I'd rather be able to reference it in one central place. I'll flag these as obsolete after. –  djechlin May 21 '13 at 20:24
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@djechlin it is far from "elite" to expect rudimentary effort going into a question. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 2 '13 at 10:29
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Lack of research is a problem. When folks don't take the time to perform even a simple search before asking, that creates extra load on the site and its communities. Note that even if you ignore the search field in the "EULA", the system itself will do a simple search for you based on the title.

Unfortunately, that doesn't help if you have no idea what keywords to use. "Object is out of the window" doesn't exactly produce a useful set of results on Stack Overflow when what you're really looking for is DOM object visibility.

The best thing you can do for someone asking a question like that - particularly if they're being heavily down-voted - is to edit the question as quickly as possible to reflect the true nature of what is being asked.

The best thing you could do when the question happens to be a duplicate would be to dig up a link to an existing question with a good answer and vote to close it. In this case, doing so could help others with the same question (and unusual set of keywords) find their way to an answer in the future.

Of course, you could also do both - I've closed the question and tried to adapt the original title to something a bit more descriptive (while maintaining the same keywords), in the hope of improving the situation for the next asker.

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We can't really get upset at people downvoting the question (although I'm not a fan of the chat inspired mob mentality) because the hover for 'downvote' says (in part): This question shows no research effort. Legitimately, they're doing exactly what we'd expect users to do: Downvote bad content. I agree with the entirety of your post though: People should take that extra step. –  George Stocker May 20 '13 at 16:50
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I'm not upset about down-votes unless folks are voting blindly. The original question, regardless of the author's intent, was missing critical information and could almost certainly have been answered via searching if he'd tried a few different sets of keywords. That's downvote-worthy - but it's also a situation that can be improved fairly easily by anyone willing to edit, which I strongly believe is the best path any time you're concerned about hostility. –  Shog9 May 20 '13 at 16:53
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@Shog9: On the other hand, finding the right set of keywords to search for is not easy for inexperience people. –  SLaks May 20 '13 at 16:56
    
Hence the ability of experienced folks willing to interpret their efforts to point them in the right direction, @SLaks. –  Shog9 May 20 '13 at 16:59
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@Shog9: Yes. That isn't happening enough, IMHO. –  SLaks May 20 '13 at 16:59
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So the question would be better if it included a list of failed Javascript snippets, and a list of Google queries that did not show up an answer? Rather, I think "lack of research" is just a nice front for the underlying reason, "I don't like people who don't follow SO etiquette". But that category includes all new users, and they deserve better. –  Andomar May 20 '13 at 23:52
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In this case, simply searching SO first would've probably been enough @Andomar. –  Shog9 May 21 '13 at 0:19
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@Shog9: It's a lot quicker and easier to downvote than to edit. –  Tom Au May 22 '13 at 21:54
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Assuming an infinite amount of time from an infinite number of expert users, sure. Pretty much what @tom said. Also, editing is quite a bit of effort, a wildly disproportionate amount compared to what the asker expended. Finding dupes is about the only hope here, but again, it's quite a bit of effort, prone to error (do I understand what she means by X? is X really the same as Y?), complicated (which of these 50 Ys is it?) and has a lot of Making Me Think in there that makes my head hurt. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 2 '13 at 10:20
    
The effort involved in editing and answering or editing and chastising others for their voting is comparable, IMHO. –  Shog9 Jun 2 '13 at 17:02
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@Andomar The point here is that there wouldn't have been a list of Google queries, just one or two iterations of a basic query. If it was that difficult to find an answer, the question would have been welcome on Stack Overflow. I started with the exact title of the OP's question (the intial version, not the improved title), changed "Object" to "Element" and presto, the 5th result is my solution. –  Asad Jun 19 '13 at 4:33
    
@Andomar If the OP doesn't know DOM "Objects" are called elements, they should probably go through at least one JS tutorial, instead of trying to implement detection of whether an element is in the viewport. –  Asad Jun 19 '13 at 4:37
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Object is out of the window

I'm looking for a method to know if a object (as a Div, a img, etc.) is displayed and visible by the user at the screen in JavaScript / jQuery.

Thanks in advance !

Firstly, this is a case of where the user has not put in any research effort. There are tons of posts on this on SO and the Internet. We expect a user to put some effort into the thing before posting.

Besides, it is quite confusing. The first time I read it I thought it was asking if an object was visibility:hidden/display:none'd. The second read made me realize that he was talking about the object being within the viewport. If a post confuses a significant fraction of the users, it's probably NARQ. People have varying gibberish-decoding capabilities (this isn't gibberish, yes, but that's not my point), and it shouldn't be so that only a few people can easily understand what's going on.

Nothing a few edits can't fix. But that doesn't mean that it isn't closeable.


As far as the downvotes go, well, there's not much we can do about that. But a poor post can expect a poor score :/ Especially one with no research effort.

I agree that chatrooms shouldn't get into coordinated voting. I don't mind coordinated closing, but linking and mass downvoting posts is rather mean imo. (http://chat.stackoverflow.com/transcript/message/9516108#9516108). Also, they could have spent a bit more time on it to try and improve it or VTC as a dupe. EDIT: Seems like rightfold did that, kudos! :)

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chat.stackoverflow.com/transcript/message/9516288#9516288 is a very good idea –  SLaks May 20 '13 at 16:29
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@SLaks I believe it was a joke. Whilst burst of up or downvotes happen from Lounge, each of the regulars is judging by himself. The fact that it happens in a short period of time is IMHO irrelevant. –  Bartek Banachewicz May 20 '13 at 16:30
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@BartekBanachewicz: I don't think so. When coming from a link in the lounge, users are far less likely to actually read and judge the question in its own merits –  SLaks May 20 '13 at 16:36
    
@BartekBanachewicz: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Asch_conformity_experiments –  SLaks May 20 '13 at 16:36
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And if you post on Meta saying a question is good, but the users checking it out think otherwise, we'll, another disservice has been paid to the question based on content merit alone. –  random May 20 '13 at 16:38
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@SLaks Asch wanted to know whether altering participants' method of responding would have an influence on their level of conformity. He constructed an experiment whereby all confederates verbalized their responses aloud and only the "real" participant was allowed to respond in writing. He discovered that conformity significantly decreased when shifting from public to written responses. You might want to verify how that is aligned with internet chatting. –  Bartek Banachewicz May 20 '13 at 16:40
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@BartekBanachewicz: I meant that people will be pre-disposed negatively from the chat messages. –  SLaks May 20 '13 at 16:42
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@SLaks And I precisely meant that you are overrating that impact on each individuals' thoughts. If you see a question that's -10, you are also looking at it differently. Why? Because community agreement on it is that it doesn't fit. It's really not much different from writing on chat, except the regulars may trust each others' opinions a bit more. –  Bartek Banachewicz May 20 '13 at 16:45
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I think it should be noted that rightfold (the poster of the chat message you linked to) is also the first one who stepped up and edited the question. Having some fun in chat is perfectly acceptable, let's not be too quick to brand this user as an ass who brought down the question and didn't care enough to try and fix it. He (she?) actually did the right thing here. –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 16:59
    
@Yannis: good point, noted :) –  Manishearth May 20 '13 at 19:40
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@Slaks: Forbidding something often has the opposite effect. People will probably make a sport of posting the questions in such a way to avoid the vote ban. –  Andomar May 20 '13 at 23:55
    
@JoshCaswell: typotypotypotypotypo fixed thanks :) –  Manishearth Jun 17 '13 at 18:37
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I totally agree that "we need to be ... less hostile", however, until this gets translated into hard Stack Overflow feature-requests for "negativity-reduction" then not much will change (we all know we should be nice, but when the rubber hits the road... mmm MMMMM).

Recall the "accept-rate" controversy. I guess most people were civil about it, but there were always the 1 or 2% that shamed users with low accept-rates, so then we got rid of accept-rates, and so far it seems it's OK.

I think one way to possibly reduce excessive downvotes (or "close" votes) is a buffer period of some kind, like on /r/AskReddit (but rather than 30 minutes of vote-disappearance, just 2 or 5 minutes or 10 minutes). And forgive me for using Reddit as a source of inspiration, I'm not an addict ;-)

I feel that we may also benefit from laziness with the mediocre and duplicate questions, just leave it alone rather than close/downvote. Lack of an upvote is a signal too. If you merely refer to the FAQ, maybe the OP would get it. Maybe not, but no skin off our backs. To pretty much "leave well enough alone" ... the system can easily accommodate it (unanswered questions). Moderators and administrators have better things to do than argue with newbies about why their question is crappy, let them bounce around and fall a few times. If you ignore something, well that is a message too...

I don't like the chat-room interference, either. But... not much to do about it.

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+1 "Lack of an upvote is a signal too." –  Tom Au May 22 '13 at 22:00
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Can we try to be a little more accepting?

Why should we?

We get plenty of questions from users who actually take the time to do research. We get plenty of solid questions from new users who ask decent questions. Why should we waste time with someone who can't be bothered to understand the concept of "read the FAQ before posting"?

His question was not acceptable. And while the downvoting may have been a bit extreme, the post very much deserved to be expurgated ASAP.

While some users may choose to edit questions into a reasonable form, it is not our responsibility as users of SO to do so. It's the responsibility of those asking the question, of those asking us to spend our time helping them. And if those responsibilities are not respected, then there will be consequences.

Stack Overflow is plenty accepting to people who are respectful of it. The person you're talking about was not, and he was chastised accordingly. He got a close message explaining where he screwed up. And that's that.

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Firstly because many users who have good potential get caught in this. I know this because I also answer their questions on meta where they demonstrate full willingness and intelligence needed to contribute productively, but still got shredded on their first post here. Our standards are somewhat difficult even if you do read faq/about, which is why there are so many open meta threads figuring out how to make closures more effective, etc. –  djechlin May 20 '13 at 20:44
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Secondly because we're here to help people. In general we would like to help well-researched questions first. But our collective altruism doesn't suddenly stop when they don't meet this. If we can help poor askers ask better questions and be in the first group, then that is a success and it just became easier to become or be a programmer. We're not looking for chances to slam the door when it might have been open, we're looking for chances to open it when it was ajar. –  djechlin May 20 '13 at 20:47
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Closing is fine, but as a new user having your first post get to -10 and be closed within a minute is daunting. Sure you can claim they need to learn the rules, but we should be helping them figure it out. Sometimes one of the closers will do a quick one liner to add detail, but often times that is all that happens. –  Guvante May 20 '13 at 21:00
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@djechlin: "But our collective altruism doesn't suddenly stop when they don't meet this." No, your altruism doesn't stop when that happens. My altruism does; life is too short to waste it on people who can't use Google. SO is not a place for "help". It's not a place for personal interaction. It's not what new programmers need. They need direct help, back and forth dialog from a person. That's not what SO is for. New programmers should graduate into SO, not use it as their first resort. –  Nicol Bolas May 20 '13 at 21:08
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@djechlin: "Firstly because many users who have good potential get caught in this." And what of the silent majority who don't? Why should we spend time helping those people who can't be bothered, when we have people who did the research who need help? –  Nicol Bolas May 20 '13 at 21:09
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+1. +1,000,000 if I could. –  Jack Maney May 20 '13 at 21:14
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Please note that the OP is @ 300k rep. Apparently his altruism doesn't stop at this limit either. And if yours does, that's fine. You can help users with well-researched, thornier questions. I see potential in bringing users to ask better questions so people like you would also enjoy helping them. If this doesn't interest you, this thread probably isn't of much interest either. –  djechlin May 20 '13 at 21:16
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@djechlin: "If this doesn't interest you, this thread probably isn't of much interest either." This thread interests me because decisions coming from it can lead to the degrading of the site. It can lead to questions not being closed when they're crap, in the hope that someone will come along who feels like fixing it. –  Nicol Bolas May 21 '13 at 21:09
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@djechlin: I know what you get when you try to work that way; I spend time in low-traffic tags all the time. So I know exactly how ugly that version of SO will be. Despite the OP having 300K rep, he doesn't appear to spend much time in low-traffic tags. So he has no idea what the consequences of his ideas will be. I do; 30+% of my nearly 100K rep comes from a tag that only has 11K questions. Every day, we get at least 3 crap questions that should have been closed, that don't belong on this site. But they remain open because not enough people see them and close them. –  Nicol Bolas May 21 '13 at 21:12
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@NicolBolas okay, that's a good point, I would recommend incorporating the different requirements of low traffic tag / high traffic tag into your answer. –  djechlin May 21 '13 at 21:52
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"life is too short to waste it on people who can't use Google" I, too, get irritated at questions I can easily answer by a web search. But more often than not, it is indeed that they don't know use a search engine. How about we help those who can't and reserve the ostracism for those who won't ? –  WGroleau Jun 20 '13 at 21:49
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I agree entirely. This happens on the SQL tag too. People will ask a question that appears to be trivial, but is in fact a good question. The gets down/close voted by people who are in no position to judge SQL questions, but consider "lack of effort" to be a proper close reason. But often the answer can not be easily "Googled" (aka "researched" in close/downvote speak.)

This gets funny when the question is reopened, and it turns out several of the down/close voters produce laughably wrong answers.

Now I've noticed that the down/close votes stop once you edit the new user question to:

  • Improve the title (from the typical "Need help with complex SQL query")
  • Remove the "thanks", "please", and "I'm new here"
  • Format the code bits, and URLify the URLs

I wonder if there is a way to allow new user questions to be repaired before they are judged.

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That'd be great if new users could have time to react, instead of seeing their question closed without understanding why. Though, it happens so fast I'm not sure if there is a solution for this other than the community being more carefully about it. Culture, age and English level can vary a lot and that usually affects the question quality. –  ForceMagic May 21 '13 at 4:57
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"Now I've noticed that the down/close votes stop once you edit the new user question to" Yes. It's amazing how people stop downvoting a question once you change it so that it's not terrible. It's almost like if those downvotes wouldn't have existed if the OP had written a good question to begin with. –  Nicol Bolas May 21 '13 at 10:24
    
@ForceMagic: Closing is not permanent. And closing explains why it was closed. So it's not like the people saw their question rejected and have no idea why this happened. –  Nicol Bolas May 21 '13 at 10:25
    
@NicolBolas in computing you can't change closed things you have to open them before you change them. How do you get the question opened so that you can change it? ie we have to let people do something before the question is closed. Hopefully the on hold will make this easier –  Mark Jun 17 '13 at 18:38
    
@Mark: It's reasonable to expect human beings to be able to think beyond that of computing. Or at least to see the edit button at the bottom of the post. If someone can't figure out that they can still edit their closed questions, then they don't need to be here. –  Nicol Bolas Jun 17 '13 at 19:06
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@Nicol: How smart does a person have to be before their attempts to get smarter can be tolerated? –  WGroleau Jun 20 '13 at 21:56
    
"it turns out several of the down/close voters produce laughably wrong answers" How do you know that the laughably wrong answers were from those people? I was recently told that those votes were anonymous (and awarded three demerits for not knowing that). –  WGroleau Sep 20 '13 at 13:06
    
@WGroleau: A close vote is not anonymous. A downvote can be accompanied by a comment like "-1 this question is bad". –  Andomar Sep 20 '13 at 15:12
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This answer addresses how to help revert already-applied negativity.

The SO idea is that negative-voted posts should be edited into viable questions. Unfortunately, newly re-edited, deeply-negative-voted posts do not attract enough new eyes necessary to upvote them, even though they go to the top of the Questions queue. And those who did vote it negative originally are unlikely to be monitoring the question for that one magical edit which would cause them to retract or even revert their vote.

Therefore I propose the system should

Allow for a setting (default true) to Alert Voters if a Post they Voted on is Edited

This proposal is have an alert message sent to voting users if a post they voted on (negatively or positively) was edited (qualifiers can apply, see below).

Currently, votes are locked in after some amount of time passes, but if a Post is edited, a user who placed a vote on the post prior to the edit can change their vote. Editing changes the quality of the post and a post once vote-able in a specific direction may now be interpreted differently. Unfortunately, unless a voting user has a deeper involvement in the question beyond up/down-voting, voting users are not necessarily informed of changes made to the posts on which they've voted.

Obviously certain qualifiers would need to governing the alert process, including an iteration on one or more of the following examples:

  • alert if the post was edited by a different user than the prior editor
  • alert if the post was edited X amount of time since the last time it was edited
  • alert if there is a new answer
  • only alert if a comment was made in the edit summary
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Already proposed and declined: Allow an edit to notify downvoters: "I think I've fixed the issue now - please check" –  Al E. Jun 18 '13 at 18:10
    
@AlEverett - thanks for pointing it out; I didn't find it on my search, otherwise I'd just have linked to it. Of note, that was proposed in 2009, apparently by The Jon Skeet, and declined back then. Several years later, have things possibly changed? –  JoshDM Jun 18 '13 at 18:44
    
Possibly, but adding your proposal here won't get it looked at. Post a bounty on that question, or create a new one, although if you do the latter I wouldn't be surprised to see it closed as a duplicate. –  Al E. Jun 18 '13 at 18:46
    
Why do you think it won't get looked at if it's here? It's got 7 up-votes. –  JoshDM Jun 18 '13 at 18:47
    
Eight now. But they aren't necessarily votes from the people who can change the site, i.e., the Stack Exchange developers. If you actually want to propose a feature request, you need to do it as a new Question post and tag it as such. The Devs have enough going on that I seriously doubt they're trawling through question answers looking for possible new features to add. –  Al E. Jun 19 '13 at 12:52
    
I am considering posting a bounty on the linked proposal to get it re-reviewed since it's been a few years, but I'm having trouble finding the message on that post qualifying the status-declined tag. –  JoshDM Jun 19 '13 at 13:05
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@JoshDM, Jeff marked it as status-declined and posted an answer at the same time. –  Josh Caswell Jun 20 '13 at 19:14
    
@Josh Caswell, His solution is to use the ATname, which won't achieve the desired result. I think it should be re-reviewed, and the negativity applied to it seems to agree. –  JoshDM Jun 20 '13 at 19:18
    
Sure, I just wanted to point out "the message on that post qualifying the status-declined tag". –  Josh Caswell Jun 20 '13 at 19:23
    
Thanks; I had glossed over it originally as it was so negative (and transparent) that I simply assumed it wasn't worth my time. Hey, isn't that part and parcel of the whole inherent question here? –  JoshDM Jun 20 '13 at 19:30
    
Done: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/186587/… –  JoshDM Jun 28 '13 at 20:22
    
@AlEverett - back to 7. :) –  JoshDM Jul 1 '13 at 18:44
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A suggestion:

Perhaps the voting system should adjust to counteract score extremes based on the number of views a question has. It is debatable whether this should apply to positive extremes as well, but I'd certainly be for it.

But why?

A lot of people downvote "score agnostically", which means they judge the post on its merits regardless of what score it currently stands at. I have to admit, if I didn't know the post was at -9 or whatever already, I would downvote it too, because I distinctly remember having seen very similar questions before, and because beginner-friendly articles and tutorials to this effect are a Google search away.

It is very difficult to argue that the question (even as it currently stands) is not a poor one, and questions like this are basically what downvotes are for. Clearly the problem isn't that users are being disproportionately critical of the question; each person has only one vote, and they're doing exactly what the tooltips on the vote arrows tell them to do with it.

Instead, the problem is that a disproportionate number of people viewed the question (either due to coincidence, or due to it being mentioned in a forum with high traffic). Certainly there are similar questions out there with only 0 or -1. They're no worse than this question, but they weren't viewed by a whole bunch of people from a chatroom, or Reddit, or Twitter.

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I really agree with djechlin's perspective on this issue. Many questions that could be reasonably salvaged are down-voted and closed before any one has a chance to rescue it.
(Hopefully "On Hold" will help with the quick closing issue)

I think the tendency of a lot of users is to assume the worst about any questionable question. This brings out the down-votes and flags and snide comments.

Rather than giving a knee jerk reaction and down-voting a new user into a hole, we could be asking for clarification, editing, or offering a helpful pointer.

Granted some questions don't fit on SO and some new users don't respond to gentle direction, but how many down-votes does it take to get a point across?

If you see 5 or more down-votes on a post is there really any reason to pile on another? Wouldn't it be more constructive to take the time to explain why so many people disapprove of the post? Or better yet take a moment and try to decipher what the OP is really asking for and try to salvage the post with an edit?

I don't mean to be answering with more questions, I'm just trying to get people to stop and ask themselves some of these questions when they stumble upon these situations.

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 

Edit in response to comments:

  • I realize that anonymous voting is a fundamental part of the system and that requiring a comment when down-voting would break that system. I'm not trying to say that they should be required, but they are recommended and can be helpful.

  • I acknowledge that not all down-votes are hostile, just keep in mind there's no need to beat a dead horse.

  • As far as comments go, I think we've all seen plenty of comments that skirt the line. The sort that may not be directly insulting, but certainly aren't left in the spirit of being helpful.

  • If the overall goal with down-voting, flagging, and so on is to repair the broken windows, we need to be mindful not to replace the broken windows of poor posts with equally broken windows of hostility.

Perfectly humorous example of what I'm talking about. -From The Simpsons

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It has been well established that downvotes do not require accompanying comments. –  Jack Maney Jun 17 '13 at 18:08
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@JackManey They may not be required, but they often can be helpful. –  apaul34208 Jun 17 '13 at 18:10
    
Just because you're downvoting a question, or voting to close, doesn't mean you can't edit it, explain the problems with it to the poster, to ask clarifying questions, etc. In fact, as has been said before, the goal of closing a question is to allow all of those things to happen. Questions are closed so that there is time for it to be edited, for clarifying questions to be asked and answered, for people to explain the problems with the post and give the poster an opportunity to fix them, etc. If they take the time to fix their own question it can be reopened, and votes reversed. –  Servy Jun 19 '13 at 14:27
    
@Servy I understand all of that. What I'm really trying to address is some of the mob mentality, and some of the unnecessary hostility, that often go along with down-voting and closing. Its one thing to down-vote or close a bad post, its another thing to pile on to an already heavily down-voted post, or still worse to add to the pile and add an insulting comment. –  apaul34208 Jun 19 '13 at 14:46
    
@Servy all I'm trying to say is that we can keep the site clean without the attitude. –  apaul34208 Jun 19 '13 at 14:49
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@apaul34208 First off, I don't see a whole lot of insulting comments. The community is generally rather good at flagging them when they are posted, as I would encourage you to do if you see one. As for downvotes; users simply need to realize that it's feedback. It's an opportunity to learn. It's actually better than just having the question being ignored and for the post to not even realize that they've done something wrong. –  Servy Jun 19 '13 at 14:50
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@apaul34208 And I'm saying that there isn't nearly as much of it as a lot of people claim. Downvoting a bad post isn't "attitude". And it is an important means of helping to improve the quality standards of the site. –  Servy Jun 19 '13 at 14:51
    
@Servy How many down-votes does it take to get a point across? 5, 10, 20? At a certain point it kind of seems like people are just beating a dead horse. –  apaul34208 Jun 19 '13 at 14:56
    
@apaul34208 Questions aren't just good or bad. The number and rate of downvotes is an indication of degree of problems with the post. It's the difference between realizing that a post is fundimentally broken and needs to be reworked from the most basic level and one that just needs a bit of cleaning up, some small additions, etc. –  Servy Jun 19 '13 at 15:07
    
@Servy I guess I see your point. –  apaul34208 Jun 19 '13 at 15:08
    
@Servy In the case of "fundamentally broken" wouldn't a better response be to comment to the OP about why its broken and what can be done about it? If the goal is to get the OP to realize the error and correct it, instruction would be more constructive than just adding another vote to the pile. –  apaul34208 Jun 19 '13 at 15:24
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@apaul34208 As I said before, they're not conflicting actions. You can provide a comment while also downvoting and voting to close. Users aren't forced to choose between these options. Users also aren't obligated to provide such comments. It is the responsibility of users to ask appropriate questions; if they ask an inappropriate one there are many tools available to them already through the help center and elsewhere on Meta to learn how to ask quality questions. If someone decides to go out of their way to help the point the user in the right direction that's great, but not required. –  Servy Jun 19 '13 at 15:28
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The post deserved to be closed, not much question about that. I don't think anyone thinks that the question as is falls under SO's definition of a good question. The issue is that it was closed with no explanation, and the questioner was a new user with only one prior question.

I think there can be a balance between closing bad questions quickly and making sure its clear why its happening? Perhaps we could require a comment be written before somebody submits the final close vote for a new users question (new user being defined as less than 3 total questions/answers on the site)? We can't force people to be polite or helpful about closing questions, but it would be good to at least encourage it.

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it would be good to at least encourage it. -- How? –  Robert Harvey May 20 '13 at 16:43
    
@RobertHarvey " Perhaps we could require a comment be written before somebody submits the final close vote for a new users question" A quick prompt asking for an explaining comment won't solve all the problems, but it might at least encourage those who do care about the community to stop and think. –  Ben McCormick May 20 '13 at 16:46
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That's a non-starter. Plugh wugga wugga xyzzy. –  Robert Harvey May 20 '13 at 16:47
    
@ben336 That's a... horrible idea, and you say so yourself: "We can't force people to be polite or helpful about closing questions". –  Yannis May 20 '13 at 16:49
    
@RobertHarvey Fair enough. Maybe a prompt to suggest but not require a comment? So that you put the idea out there, but don't add "noise" if the user has no interest in complying? –  Ben McCormick May 20 '13 at 16:51
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It's the responsibility of the new user to figure out what the community is about. Many of them come to SE from forum environments, where they can pretty much do whatever they want to do, and they assume it is the same way here. I don't think it's our responsibility to hand-hold these folks; when I first came here, I lurked for a long time before asking my first question, and I've never had any major problems with my questions, because I understood the cultural norms. –  Robert Harvey May 20 '13 at 16:55
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Better, clear and informative close messages would be a start. I believe the staff is working on that. –  bfavaretto May 20 '13 at 20:55
    
You got the key point : "the issue is that it was closed with no explanation". If the person see his question closed without knowing why, he just gets frustrated and sometimes they even open a new question asking why their previous was closed! –  ForceMagic May 21 '13 at 4:58
    
@RobertHarvey: You "lurked a long time before asking your first question." You're probably an exception in this regard. –  Tom Au May 22 '13 at 22:03
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@TomAu: And I find that baffling. That I needed to get to know the community before jumping in with both feet seemed self-evident. –  Robert Harvey May 22 '13 at 22:07
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There's nothing wrong with downvoting a bad question. I just think that if proper procedures are followed, excessive downvoting is just not helpful. Beyond a certain point, the message conveyed goes from "We're just trying to show you the ropes" to "YOU POST BAD QUESTION! YOU SUCK! SHAME ON YOU! LOOK AT ALL THE DOWNVOTES YOU ARE GETTING, MUAHAHAHAHA!" (even if it's not our intent, the OP would probably feel that way).

So yes, I think we need to be less hostile (or appear to be less hostile). For one, we could practice some self-restraint when it comes to downvoting.

I think a decent approach to a bad question is:

  1. Flag if applicable
  2. Comment/leave feedback for OP on why it is not a good question
    • if such comment already exists, upvote that comment
  3. Go easy on the downvoting
    • if it is already downvote-laden (say -10) and let's say someone does step #2, I think the point is already made – this is not a good question. Heaping more negativity at this point is unnecessary.

As to the hostility emanated from closing a question, I believe the wording/tone of the message could be more positive. This seems to be addressed by the new closing changes.

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What if a special badge were awarded to anyone who downvotes ten times as often as he or she upvotes?

What if giving ten downvotes would come back to you as receiving one, unless the OP or a moderator cancels it by recognizing that you also provided some help?

What if a moderator would have the ability to dock a point or two form you for "unjustified hostility or disrespect" ? (Unfortunately, that's impossible if the hostility or disrespect is anonymous.)

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Votes are anonymous... Validating each user's votes would be infeasible. –  Lix Jun 20 '13 at 22:23
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"What if giving ten downvotes would come back to you as receiving one, unless the OP or a moderator cancels it by recognizing that you also provided some help?" - Every downvote on an answer costs you 1 reputation point, so this effectively happens every two downvotes as it stands. This used to apply to questions, but was adjusted in response to an analysis of voting patterns: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/90324/… . Also, if users are outright rude or abusive, moderators do message them and / or suspend as necessary. –  Brad Larson Jun 20 '13 at 22:55
    
The third point is the key to this whole situation: down votes have only one way for the Stack Overflow community to moderate, review, flag or address the issue: up votes. And this does not work because up votes are for "good", not "fixed a deficiency to neither good nor bad. All it really takes to sink something that could be fixed is five people to down vote without a comment, and who is going to look at a -5? Done. This is inconsistent with the rest of Stack Overflow. But, its what a number of vocal people want. –  Jonathan Seng Jun 21 '13 at 6:12
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It seems that a lot of users get "hostile" because of what they consider to be "simple questions."

I think the following really play a key role in the "hostility":

  1. People don't do their research. They don't use a search engine before they ask a question. There are numerous duplicates all over the place!

  2. They forget to use code. For instance, users ask questions without adding in the necessary code.

  3. They're not descriptive enough. Many users don't actually describe their problem. Just because the asker knows what he's talking about doesn't mean that the read does. As a result, sometimes people make others "shoot in the dark."

  4. They use poor grammar and the wrong tags.

But remember, many of these people are new users. They don't know all the rules.

Those are my humble ideas.

People down-vote for the reasons listed above. BUt it's not as if we can stop it. I just shrug it aside. I know that it's super annoying, but we just have to carry on.

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Can't see any idea here, you just give reasons why people downvote but not suggesting any way to deal with that. –  Shadow Wizard Jun 19 '13 at 14:20
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That someone is new is not a valid reason to do any of the things that you've listed, nor is it a reason to not downvote or close a question that does those things. That they're new is irrelevant. They can either learn from the mistake and fix the post, thus allowing it to be reopened and answered, or they can not learn from it and not get an answer. Leaving it open and trying to answer these very low quality questions results in them not learning how to ask better questions, and usually results in them not actually getting a quality answer. –  Servy Jun 19 '13 at 14:29
    
I didn't list that as a reason (numbers 1-4 are reasons). –  Viper Jun 19 '13 at 14:38
    
Don't just shrug it aside. The voting system is there to let you know you're doing something wrong. Fix the problem. –  Asad Jun 20 '13 at 23:07
    
There aren't any real ways to deal with downvotes, per se. What can you do, really? –  Viper Jun 22 '13 at 3:44
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From the about page of Stack Overflow, "This site is all about getting answers." (And, yes, I will quote that until someone deletes it from the about page.) Anything that stands in the way of that is wrong. Period. That is simple, straightforward logic.

Currently, a very vocal part of the community thinks "getting answers" is sufficiently accomplished today the way things are done. That is good enough. And when other people, like the poster here, come along and say otherwise, the "very vocal" come out for the status quo.

Anytime Stack Overflow fails to get a question answered, even if the question is "unacceptable" as written, Stack Overflow fails: Stack Overflow failed to get an answer. Far worse than this, we drive away future questions that might well be "acceptable." So, this is an aggregate failure.

One of the very difficult skills in software is learning how to get help. The fact that some people are better than others is no excuse for slamming those who aren't. If Stack Overflow, as a community, wants to succeed, they need to foster this skill for the sake of this question and that person's future questions.

No specific waiting period before closing or allowing downvotes will work in fostering better. The poster might simply have to wait one day longer than the timeout. The real answer is that downvotes need to be made constructive instead of destructive and closing needs to happen after a serious process that fosters improving the question.

Unfortunately, these require work on the part of the community. This work has no reward in reputation, so very few take the time to do it. And by the time they can help, the damage is done. So, to allow these people who are willing to be the unsung heroes of Stack Overflow to work, we need to stop the flash-mob vote to close and downvoting and their derivative consequences.

As mentioned, we might change the boilerplate text to something more like, "This question needs help in the following way..." That does not bear the stigma of "closed: not a question," but those who feel better slapping that on things can go on thinking of that way.

We also need to make downvoting in those cases constructive. Downvoting encompasses too many things: "I don't prefer that" to "That sucks" (which is interpreted as "go away"). Also, as has been noted in several places, downvoting survives long after things may have been fixed -- which is grossly incompatible with "getting answers." The point was that at one time something deserved a down vote -- even if it is never reviewed later and holds what is now a perfectly good question as a "bad" question.

Unlike the standard setup of Stack Overflow, downvotes have no community arbitration and evaluation except for offsetting up votes. Up and down votes mean very different things. And downvotes need a real, serious community arbitration method to be consistent and useful. That also requires knowing why something is downvoted. You can flag many things for moderation / removal, but not votes. There is no check on abuse or relevance. This does not benefit getting answers.

We really need more vocal people who are interested in changes that benefit getting answers.

Another example: Modern resources for effectively mastering MFC quickly -- Please do not answer here as to what is "not constructive" about the question. It is irrelevant to this question. But two down votes and close of "not constructive" has done nothing to help improve the question. And, frankly, in the absence of information as to what the specific problem is, it reeks of censorship because it is about a library/toolset/technique/feature that is unpopular (which may be for very good reason) but still needed for real work within the domain of Stack Overflow.

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"Stack Overflow failed to get an answer" The question was answered, in two separate locations that were highlighted as duplicates, plus right under the actual question under discussion. –  Asad Jun 20 '13 at 22:49
    
In a specific instance marked as a duplicate, ok. But there are other categories of closing where that is the end of the question, without an answer, regardless of whether it could be made acceptable later. The damage is done. Too many downvotes and, well, its closed anyway. –  Jonathan Seng Jun 21 '13 at 6:05
    
By the way, @Asad, thank you very much for pointing out something in the answer that could be made better (by edit or comment). That is far more constructive to the process than any number of down votes without comment. –  Jonathan Seng Jun 21 '13 at 6:14
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