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.

Recently, a guideline to demonstrate a "minimal understanding of the problem being solved" was made mandatory on Stack Overflow:

"Questions must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Tell us what you've tried to do, why it didn't work, and how it should work. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist."

Despite this rule, I've found many popular questions that have remained open, even though they don't demonstrate an attempt to solve a problem before asking for its solution:

How do I edit an incorrect commit message in Git?

What's the difference between 'git pull' and 'git fetch'?

How can I get query string values?

Plain English explanation of Big O

Can I comment a JSON file?

How do I fix merge conflicts in Git?

How do I trim a string in JavaScript?

Algorithm to find the most common substrings in a string

When posting questions, I sometimes follow the example that has been set by these favorably-reviewed (but not well-researched) questions, based on the assumption that it is acceptable to ask questions like these under some circumstances. Is it now forbidden to ask questions similar to these, despite the almost entirely favorable reviews that these questions have earned?

share|improve this question
5  
Aside from your own question, the other 4 are 4+ years old and asked when the rules of the site were different. Does it mean they should or shouldn't be closed? I'll let the community decide, but it is hard to evaluate "consistency" when you are comparing today's standards to older guidelines. –  psubsee2003 Jul 9 '13 at 16:08
11  
Age of the questions notwithstanding, Stack Overflow is a big site within which only a sub-section will be fully aware of the site's goals, and only a small part of that is willing to enforce those goals even when the content is fun/interesting/popular, but does not fit. Popularity, as a result, is by no means a good indicator for the acceptability of certain questions. –  Bart Jul 9 '13 at 16:08
4  
I don't think "Algorithm to find the most common substrings" is a bad question by this standard. (I hope you don't either, since you asked it!) –  David Robinson Jul 9 '13 at 16:10
5  
For my part I always take the required research effort to be proportional to the required effort on the part of the answerer. If its an incredably simple question to answer I'd only require that the question be very clear. A more complex question requires more research. This doesn't seem unreasonable otherwise you're effectively banning basic questions which I don't think anyone wants as they will probably be useful to thousands of people –  Richard Tingle Jul 9 '13 at 16:11

4 Answers 4

up vote 17 down vote accepted

I'm not entirely happy with that close reason for this very reason.

See, the intent here was to handle the sorts of "here's my spec, please write code for me" questions that were already being closed - not expand closure to damn thousands of existing questions with good, useful answers. For now, I've retired that OT reason and replaced it with:

Questions asking for code must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved. Tell us what you've tried to do, why it didn't work, and how it should work. See also: Stack Overflow question checklist

To be clear: it's always better when a question implies that the asker knows enough about the subject matter to understand a reasonable answer. However, there are a fair number of questions where this is implied merely by the fact that the author knew enough to ask them. As Richard Tingle suggests,

For my part I always take the required research effort to be proportional to the required effort on the part of the answerer. If it's an incredibly simple question to answer I'd only require that the question be very clear. A more complex question requires more research. This doesn't seem unreasonable otherwise you're effectively banning basic questions which I don't think anyone wants as they will probably be useful to thousands of people

That's a good strategy, and one that fits well with Wikipedia's Assume good faith precept: if nothing leads you to believe the asker doesn't know what he's asking, work on the assumption that he does.

We'll continue to monitor the use of these reasons and tweak them as-needed.

share|improve this answer
1  
Given this change, how do you deal with the idle curiosity/rhetorical questions? –  Robert Harvey Jul 9 '13 at 17:43
    
Rhetorical questions should generally be lumped into either "unclear" or "too opinion based", though I'm not sure that covers all the bases right now. The validity of curiosity questions is debatable - I think we'll want to discuss these on a case-by-case basis. –  Shogging through the snow Jul 9 '13 at 17:57
    
@Shog9 Recently, another moderator told me that this specific closing reason is intended for all questions that ask how to do anything, and not only questions that ask for code. I'm a bit worried about this trend, since it makes it easier for the Stack Overflow community to ostracize beginners. –  Anderson Green Dec 6 '13 at 16:42
1  
@Anderson: chime in here, please. –  Shogging through the snow Dec 9 '13 at 20:54

All of those questions you cite are 4 years old.

They were acceptable then.

Now, if they were asked, they'd likely be closed as a duplicate, or as requiring minimum effort.

Those questions are still open simply because they haven't been closed by the community. It only takes 5 votes.

As it stands, we (moderators) are not in the business of cleaning up old posts until we've got a handle of the tens of thousands of questions asked per day currently. I would not recommend flagging these with a custom flag ("Other"), rather, if you don't have the votes to close, you can flag it for closure, and then it goes into the Review queue.

If the community wants to go back and clean up old posts, that's up to the initiative for that group of people. But really, if it's not actively hurting anything, why does it matter?

Even your own question you cite(!) is still written well enough to 'get around' that requirement. It's got a good answer, it isn't a glaring eyesore, so it's still open.

If the community wants to close it, they can always vote to close it. If you want it closed, you can always flag it for closure, and it'll be put into the review queue. If the community agrees with you, it'll be closed.

share|improve this answer
1  
Well, except for the "most common strings algorithm" one. I think the point should be made that we're not in the business of going back and cleaning up very old questions to meet today's standards. –  Robert Harvey Jul 9 '13 at 16:18
1  
@RobertHarvey Nonetheless, I'm worried that the presence of popular (yet non-compliant) questions may be misleading to some users. For more than a year, I have followed the misleading example that has been set by these questions, and I don't want other users to repeat the mistakes that I have made. –  Anderson Green Jul 9 '13 at 16:25
4  
@AndersonGreen: Broken windows have been a problem for SO for as long as I can remember. :) –  Robert Harvey Jul 9 '13 at 16:31

In addition to what Cody said, I'd like to focus specifically on the last question you linked.

It's an algorithm question, and we've already had a discussion this morning about those. In general, these kinds of questions tend to be "softer" questions, but as long as they stay productive, I really have no problem with them.

The "questions must demonstrate minimal knowledge" close reason is really for icanhazcode questions, where the OP is asking for someone to write a complete solution for them. It compels the OP to demonstrate effort.

share|improve this answer

It is unacceptable to ask these sorts of questions, but the questions that you linked are very old. Back in the land of the dinosaurs, where you could do whatever you wanted and gain rep. The rules weren't as strict, and many people had these questions, so they upvoted and let it stay open.

With questions like those, I usually flag for a moderator. I leave a message similar to this

Should be locked for historical value, but it isn't a good example of what to ask. It shows little to no research value

Or you can flag for a moderator to close, since you don't have close votes yet

share|improve this answer
2  
We only use historical locks under very narrow, specific circumstances. –  Robert Harvey Jul 9 '13 at 16:10
    
What might be these circumstances –  Cody Guldner Jul 9 '13 at 16:11
2  
meta.stackexchange.com/questions/126587, under the subheading "When is it appropriate to lock a question for historical reasons?" –  Robert Harvey Jul 9 '13 at 16:12
1  
The questions that are listed would be bad to flag for moderator attention (using a custom flag), for the reason Robert brings up: Historical locks are used very rarely, and we've even discussed not using them at all. As it stands, these questions should go through the community -- unless there's a real fight breaking out over the question, there's no need to involve moderators. –  George Stocker Jul 9 '13 at 16:46

You must log in to answer this question.

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