On stackoverflow, there seem to be quite a few programmers who ask a question, usually with one line like:

"How do I release memory after memory warning? My app crashes. Thanks and welcome for reply."

And a bunch of us will ask questions like

  • what platform?
  • give us some more detail about the crash.

Weeks will go by and the original poster never adds any more details. In the meantime, some respondents go ahead and answer the question thoroughly, covering possible platforms/scenarios, etc. Of course no answer is ever selected by the OP.

Then the OP shows up again, and asks another question, sometimes its the same question asked differently, sometimes not.

What is going on here? Do they have one chance every so often to get a query out on the Internet and they get through and they post and then they can't get back? Or are they forgetful, since they are posting the same question to tens or hundreds of sites?

I'm just curious. Seems like they shoot themselves in the foot when they have a captive audience waiting for more details of their problem, yet they never provide those details.

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the velociraptors get them –  Rich Seller Sep 28 '09 at 7:45
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Life's hard, people suck. –  David Pearce Sep 28 '09 at 8:22
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4 Answers

If it's not important enough for them to follow up, don't be concerned about it. The important thing is answers that contribute to the knowledge of the community.

I answer these questions as best as I can with the information given, but don't spend much time on it. Leaving a trail for anyone that stumbles upon it later might help someone.

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(-1) The second part of your answer is correct, the first part is not. And it sets the tone. See my answer. –  devinb Sep 28 '09 at 12:44
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@devinb: My point is not to focus on "why don't people come back", but rather focus on contributing to the community. I can see how my first comment could be misinterpreted however, will try a rephrase. –  Alex Angas Sep 28 '09 at 13:17
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Downvote removed. Can't upvote because of vote window. But I'm upvoting in spirit. –  devinb Sep 28 '09 at 14:27
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Always answer the question as best you can. That way everyone can learn from it.

StackOverflow is a site dedicated to questions and answers. The fact that a user has a question means they have already contributed to the community. Once you submit an answer, if it is good and thorough, and answers the question for all operating systems, that is stellar and it will get many many upvotes. You will gain hugely from it. By that point, the 'accepted answer' checkmark is simply flair, because everyone who views the question already knows that it is the correct answer.

Secondly, even if the user never comes back, other users may have a similar question and they will stumble on it and find a phenomenal answer waiting for them. So in giving a great answer, you are helping not just the OP but everyone who is wondering the same thing.

If the user returns and asks the same question again, just mark it as a duplicate of their earlier question. Make sure you post a link in the comments. They may not know their way around the site that well. Remember that their reputation doesn't necessarily mean they have a lot of experience, it just means that their earlier question(s) may have received many upvotes.

Always remember that this behaviour is not usually malicious, these are just inexperienced users who are requesting answers. Kindly try to correct their behaviour, but also give them the answers they want. Telling one person that you won't answer them until they correct their question doesn't actually help that person or the community. But helping them get better and answering the question will help both.

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How do you give a great answer to a nonsensical question? There's only so great or even useful an answer can be to "why does my porgram crash??" –  beska Sep 28 '09 at 13:02
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@Beska: The OP of this question mentioned that there are users who come along and manage to find answers to the question. He is not talking about non-sensical questions, he is talking about questions where the OP does not participate. They are very different scenarios. You are correct though, my answer does not fix the problem you bring up, then again, it's not supposed to. –  devinb Sep 28 '09 at 13:05
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I think that a lot of these people aren't IT-literate enough to work out how to 1) find their way back to the site, 2) find their way back to their question, or 3) find the Edit button. To me, the amazing vagueness of many questions indicates they're not used to computers at all. The most we can do is 1) ask sensible questions, 2) make wide-ranging answers, or 3) make an educated guess or two.

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I think they have a hard time finding the check mark on the left too. There are too many who have a 0% acceptance figure. –  mahboudz Oct 5 '09 at 4:54
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Some of them may be employing a shotgun approach to assisted problem-solving. They find as many forums as they can which may potentially deal with their problem, and ask the same question on all of them. As soon as they get a "bite" on another forum, they may forget about Stack Overflow and pursue that. Eventually that might turn out to be a dead end, so they may come back to Stack Overflow and ask again.

Basically, they misunderstand that SO is not a forum, especially in two crucial ways:

  • You need to read your comments. You might have responses even though you have no answers yet. The big "0" next to your question doesn't mean your "thread" is not active.
  • You are encouraged to edit and bump your question when you get more information, and are strongly discouraged from asking a similar question again instead. These are not simply discussion threads, and you should not open them up or discard them lightly.
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