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What is Stack Overflow's long-term solution for the Help Vampire problem?

Quote from article follows:

Identifying Help Vampires can be tricky, because they look like any ordinary person (or Internet user, whichever is lesser). But by closely observing an individual's behavior using this handy checklist, you too can identify Help Vampires in the field:

  • Do they ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?
  • Do they clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?
  • Do they refuse to take the time to ask coherent, specific questions?
  • Do they think helping them must be the high point of your day?
  • Do they get offensive, as if you needed to prove them why they should use Ruby on Rails?
  • Are they obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all their thinking for them?
  • Can you tell they really aren't interested in having their question answered, so much as getting someone else to do their work?
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8 Answers 8

From the linked page:

Does he ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?

  • Close as duplicate.
  • Vote down.
  • Flag for moderator attention if it's really bad.

Does he clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?

  • This is not a problem here. If the question is not in SO and it is programming related, it is a valid question.
  • The goal is for the top Google hit to be an SO question.

Does he refuse to take time to ask coherent, specific questions?

  • Vote down the question.
  • VLQ if it's really bad.
  • Close it if it matches a close reason (most likely unclear what you're asking).
  • Alternatively, edit the post into something comprehensible if it can be salvaged.

Does he think helping him must be the high point of your day?

  • Well, if you get rep from it totally are doing it for good other people and not rep, shouldn't it be?

Does he get offensive, as if you need to prove to him why he should use Ruby on Rails?

  • Well if he's not currently using RoR, and you're saying he needs to, you should provide some explanation, right? Just don't put long explanations or debates in comments, use chat for that.

Is he obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all his thinking for him?

  • Well, if it might benefit someone somewhere else, who cares?
  • If you think it's particularly egregious, then downvote him or flag it.

Can you tell he really isn't interested in having his question answered, so much as getting someone else to do his work?

  • Try to teach him something anyway.
  • If it's a good question, who cares.
  • If it's a bad question, downvote or vote to close.
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56  
As exciting as it is, getting rep is not quite the high point of my day :P –  Ben Millwood Jul 22 '12 at 0:58
16  
@BenMillwood Enjoy your calorie-free comment-upvote. –  canon Sep 28 '12 at 1:45
16  
+1 for using the word egregious. –  Mottie Nov 16 '12 at 16:43
1  
Not sure I agree with the assessment on the "easily googleable" point. The point of SO is "to make the internet a better place." I think re-spitting something on an SE site that is everywhere else does not accomplish that. –  fredsbend May 23 at 17:00
2  
@fredsbend I think a good format and the comprehensivenss of a resource are good things. You might (can) find a lot of answers on SO in other places, but the format (particularly when I'm looking for .NET stuff) tends to be far below SO standards (readability, findability, etc.). And the ability to find everything in one place is helpful, too. I often skip over higher results and look for an SO result, because it's trusted--all the better if there's always an SO answer. –  Brian Warshaw Jun 4 at 13:26
    
@BrianWarshaw I tend to agree except when the answer is explicitly described in the manual/documentation. –  Basic Aug 4 at 19:46

One concept of SO that is often overlooked is this:

Questions and answers are here to stay.

Today, it might be just a question by someone lazy who needs someone else to do his thinking. Tomorrow, someone else having a similar problem might find this question through google. By now, the question has been edited to be more readable and concise, and there are many answers, sorted by their votes (even if not having been accepted), so the second guy has found a good place for solutions to his problem.

The vampire might be long gone, but the second guy is happy. That's the purpose of SO.

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7  
I like this way of looking at things :) . Also, if questions can supersede the asker then something useful might come out of practically every question asked. –  James Poulson Feb 23 '13 at 17:39
6  
vampires usually don't ask questions that can be of any use to anyone else. (and that's if the question does not already have 2 zillions duplicates.). Most of the time, it looks like: this code does not work, please fix it. –  njzk2 May 21 at 15:56

It's all too easy to blame Help Vampires for problems in Stack Overflow.

But it's not them, it's us. The people who feed them.

If the question is an exact duplicate, let them know it's an exact duplicate.

If the question is a trivial question about something from the standard library, don't forget to link to the standard library documentation while answering the question.

If someone asks "Why doesn't this code work?", and the debugging is trivial, don't just do the trivial debugging for them. Show them how they can debug it themselves (for example, tell them about warning flags).

Unfortunately, reputation goes to those who feed the help vampires, not those who help cure them. These feeders don't just get reputation from the vampire. They also get reputation from the rest of the community. (For example, 11 upvotes on an answer to a duplicate question)

I'm not meaning to be ill-intentioned towards the help vampires. Some of them haven't been taught properly how to program or how to problem-solve, and I suspect some of them are so stressed out they aren't thinking straight. Asking a question is more effort than googling, so it's not a case of laziness. But so long as the feeders deliberately don't teach the vampires how to fish as opposed to merely giving them a fish, they're going to continue to be worse off.

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2  
How do you search for <==> or <=> ? –  mplungjan Mar 8 '13 at 5:40
3  
@mplungjan nowadays, with SymbolHound. Back then, by searching for "spaceship operator" (which was in the answer). –  Andrew Grimm Mar 8 '13 at 6:47
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Asking a question is more effort than googling, so it's not a case of laziness No it is not (and it is). Googling requires some work to systemize what you do know, realize what you don't know, and plan some iterative process to feel the gaps with subsequent google queries. Streaming that question to SO for someone else to proactively dig this information out of you mind for you surely IS effort-cutting (aka lazy) approach. Whether it is good or bad for SO is another question. –  Arioch 'The Jul 19 '13 at 22:36
    
I've definitely just answered a question that I should have down-voted for the points when I'm bored... and I've been so stressed out that I've asked a stupid question, but I've also spent hours writing heartfelt and fact based answers with references and quality examples. –  sheriffderek May 1 at 21:39

The wiki-ability to questions/answers. The voting. The power to close, delete, and migrate.

That in mind, a few help-vampires aren't that bad. Think of it like leech-treatment. Having them hanging around for a while, sucking help out, will benefit the community in that it gets many more questions answered. Often times, the questions are simple ones which will attract new programmers to the site. As long as we clean up the questions, and provide great answers, all is well.

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On IRC, on forums, on mailing lists, help vampires may be really unnerving; I've run out of patience many times. Here it's different, in that it's easier to ignore people.

On the mailing lists I follow, I always try to help, and usually I stop just before (well, sometimes just after) becoming offensive. That's because I like to help when I can and because I know that if I don't answer, often it's likely that nobody will.

On SO there's no need for you to reply to every question: it's likely that the question will be answered anyway. So, just answer to the questions that you consider worthy replying to, and ignore others.

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Does he ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?

Close as dupes. If reposting repeatedly, flag.

Does he clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?

If it's a dupe, close it. Otherwise, answer it and enjoy the easy rep.

Does he refuse to take the time to ask coherent, specific questions?

Vote down or edit to clarify when possible.

Does he think helping him must be the high point of your day?

Isn't it? :)

Does he get offensive, as if you need to prove to him why he should use Ruby on Rails?

Flag when offensive.

Is he obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all his thinking for him?

Help him if you like and enjoy your upvotes. He'll get what's coming to him in the long run. You cannot thrive on this kind of personality.

Can you tell he really isn't interested in having his question answered, so much as getting someone else to do his work?

If his question is really that vague, then just downvote it.

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The close option. ;)

Or, more seriously, the ability of users to vote on/edit/close content. In theory, this should end up either teaching someone how to ask questions or driving them away if they clearly are not getting it. Notice I say in theory. It remains to be seen how well it works in practice.

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1  
Two things: (1) questions take too long to be deleted unless they're out and out spam, so the front page (newest questions) will tend to fill up with relatively trivial questions (the newest questions front page is the only page I generally look at); and (2) the more general problem is that relatively easy questions still need answering, but people who've been around the programming block a few decades will be driven away by those questions, so they'll quit SO altogether. –  Barry Kelly Sep 2 '09 at 15:04
1  
On point (1), I'll be the first to agree that more needs to be done regarding getting rid of certain questions (specifically the ultra-duplicates, which annoy the hell out of me). On point (2), There is always a steady supply of people willing to answer easy questions. Most people thrive on them for their Rep fix, so I don't think that will drive anyone away. –  gnostradamus Sep 2 '09 at 15:09
    
(2) yes, there are plenty of new people looking to answer new questions, but it's quality not quantity that matters for the really hard problems, the problems you really need to ask questions for. –  Barry Kelly Sep 2 '09 at 15:17
1  
@Barry The difficulty of a question is relative to the person asking it. I spent 30 minutes yesterday explaining arrays to a new developer. It was trivial for me to address the issue, but was a legitimate topic for him to understand. Don't be driven away by easy questions - you used to ask them too ;) –  Jonathan Sampson Sep 2 '09 at 15:22

I think the only thing worrisome here is the idea that anyone would want to describe someone as a "help vampire". Why would this label need to exist and what would it serve to protect against?

The checklist of qualities seems very heavy-handed and carry an inherent risk of being abused. For example: Can you know when someone has checked google? Why does it matter? Most people google, but when you're dealing with anecdotes, unless you can describe the solution in some part, you won't always get a hit. Does failing to meet some precondition preclude someone from being able to ask a question?

It's enough to say that the Stack Exchange system contains many mechanisms to moderate, reference and ensure that no question goes unaddressed.

Are stack exchange sites not supposed to be somewhere people can come and ask questions? Who is anyone to judge the merit of a question?

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1  
"Who is anyone to judge the merit of a question?" The community, via votes. You can find information about the merit of a question in the context of SE sites in the help center (each site has one). You have a mistaken idea that just because a question is at all useful to somebody means that it belongs on one of these sites, and that questions not appropriate for these sites are considered not good. Not every question belongs here. –  Jason C Nov 12 at 5:30
    
I think the votes speak for themselves. –  Jason C Nov 12 at 14:00
    
Yes, I think you demonstrated it more than sufficiently. –  Omega Nov 12 at 14:02
    
@JasonC For the record, "help vampire" really is not a productive term, ad we shouldn't be using it as freely as we do. –  Laura Nov 12 at 22:28
    
@Laura You should remove the link to the article which recommends "#3: Meet Help Vampires Head-On - “You’re a Help Vampire.” Call a spade a spade, and a Help Vampire a Help Vampire." then, it can be misleading. I do agree there is a tendency to call general victims "help vampires" inappropriately, though. In Omega's defense, his posts on the site are generally high quality. –  Jason C Nov 12 at 22:42

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