It seems that in the past year or two, the StackOverflow community has become too eager to downvote or vote to close a question that is not phrased perfectly at first. This tendency scares off a lot of people who may become valuable members of the community, and actively interferes with attempts to actually improve or answer a question.
Here's an example of one such question that I've seen recently (deleted by the author out of embarrassment over the downvotes, so only users with sufficient reputation will be able to see this example). It's a question that's reasonably clear; he's asking how to determine a file size using the draft web FileSystem API. He demonstrates what he's tried in the comment (
fileEntry.size does not work as you might expect). And yet he got a rash of people telling him to Google it (which doesn't provide very good results), asking what he's tried (he demonstrated exactly what he tried,
fileEntry.size, which doesn't work), read a blog entry that doesn't mention how to get the file size, downvoting him, and voting to close. His phrasing could have been a little bit better, he could have expanded on the question a little, but no one really gave him the time to do that.
In the meantime, I was doing some research and experimentation. The spec isn't the most clear, but I was able to figure out how to do it, and provide an answer. However, presumably because he didn't want to get more downvotes, he deleted the question. Now he's had a bad experience at StackOverflow, and my time has been wasted since no one else will now be able to find this answer via Google.
This isn't the only example of this happening, just the most recent. Sometimes, with questions that aren't perfect from the start, I find myself having to race against the close-voters to actually answer it or ask the right questions to get the questioner to be able to clarify properly. I feel that the community is being hurt by this; on a site where we're supposed to be helping people, we're just pushing them away.
Now, I understand frustration with people who just don't get it, and wanting them to just go away. But being too quick to downvote or close can be quite harmful. What can we do as a community to be more welcoming and more willing to help people improve questions that are almost, but not quite up to standards, rather than scaring them off?
I'll note that I've also seen many people on other forums (Hacker News, for instance) tell me that they avoid StackOverflow because of this over-aggressive attitude towards closing. For an example, see this recent thread, where lots of people, including people who have decently high reputation and so are not clueless newbies, indicate that they have been off-put by this behavior.