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It may already have been established (and I agree) that easy questions are welcome and valid ( Closing 'easy' questions - yes or no? ) but...

Is there an argument for encouraging beginners to answer the easy questions?

Discuss.

In other words, I'm not an expert but I still enjoy answering questions on Stack Overflow, I don't get the chance very often (either because I don't know the answer, or because I'm not fast enough). But teaching is a great way to learn, and most of the time when I start to answer a question I do a little research, and learn a little more myself. It's safisfying and productive. All the more so on the occasions I'm up there with the fast guns and earn an upvote or two.

(Please feel free to edit and add to these points if you can think of better ones)

In favour:

  • Some of todays beginners and intermediates are tomorrow's experts! We shouldn't put them off.
  • All (well almost all) input to stack overflow (or it's siblings) builds value.
  • The established experts can/will still comment, vote, edit, mentor and Love the answers and answerers to ensure quality. Think Nurturing.

Against:

  • Quality of answers could diminish (although the whole system is all about continuously improving the quality of answers, and wrong or poor answers don't survive long)
  • Speed of answers would almost certainly decrease.
  • It would be impossible to manage/implement
  • Jeff seemed in past podcasts not to value very easy questions, and he didn't seem aware that beginers could enjoy answereing as well as getting answers to their own questions. In other words he thought beginners only existed in his "google traffic" demographic, not in his "interested browsers and participants" demographic.
  • Experts like answering questions too, what right do we have to ask them not to?
  • Stack Overflow is a meritocracy, (experts.Merit > beginners.Merit), Therefore (experts.Value > beginners.Value)
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7 Answers 7

Questions should be a free for all. That will develop a natural system for experts to explain a certain question is their way and encourage new users to learn more about a certain subject.

Experts could take a personal stand on not answering very basic questions, but thats their own choice.

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And this works well for the people asking questions, but does it really encourage beginners who want to help out and join in? The gulf between a good bright graduate, and the sort of experts here is huge, and I would argue intimidating. –  Andrew M Jul 8 '09 at 11:39
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It was intimidating for me to start. But I worked hard and hard work pays off. –  Ólafur Waage Jul 8 '09 at 11:56
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If I can achieve over 10,000 rep, then so can you! cue uplifting music –  TheTXI Jul 8 '09 at 12:18
    
@TheTXI - sure, just work out some prepared answers to "How does IDisposable work?" and "What's the purpose of yield return?" and then post them twice a day for a few months! –  Earwicker Jul 8 '09 at 12:40
    
Earwicker: I actually have a couple answers which I have used as templates to answer multiple questions. I have one that I basically post whenever someone expresses a complete lack of understanding of ADO.NET which is full of links to resources and examples as well as bits of sample code. You'd be surprised how much rep I've gained and how many accepted answers I've won from posting the exact same thing (albeit with slightly modified pieces here and there to cater to the individual question). –  TheTXI Jul 8 '09 at 12:45
    

If you start trying to limit the people who can answer particular questions because they are "too easy" then you run the risk of having nobody answer that question.

If you have a problem with the fastest gun in the west problem, then you can mitigate this some by answering in much larger terms. Often times a large and well documented answer will surge past fast answers that also happen to be correct.

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If you're interested in the question enough, you can always try investigating the answer via Google. Do not stop at retrieving the minimum answer either, you can always go far beyond that with online resources. Not only will this help you better answer a question, but it will help you learn a lot more about what you looked up so that you can be of greater help on additional related questions.

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Everyone should be allowed to answer, but remember that you can upvote any answer. In particular, I try to follow the guidelines of the SO site, by upvoting any answer that I find "helpful". I also personally have a slant towards giving more upvotes to the people with lower reps, mainly because we do have a cap on the number of votes we can cast in a day.

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Something like this would just draw yet another blurry line for people to argue about. How could you even enforce this sort of thing? Even if you just set it as a guideline, I think it runs contrary to the goals of the site. We want people to get good answers to their questions, and the faster that happens, the happier the OP tends to be. Besides, experts often know an even better way to do it.

Instead, I'd tell you to just answer whatever you can answer. Just be sure the entirety of your answer hasn't been covered by any one post. Even if most or all of your answer is mentioned across a number of other answers, there's still value in consolidating it in one place. Eventually the rep will come, and, more importantly, even if your answer is too late to add, at least you might have learned something in researching it. Isn't that kind of the point, anyway?

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What is easy?

Easy for Eric Lippert may be increadibly complicated for me.

If the system is going to be placing any kind of limits on high rep members, they should not be defined in an elastic way.

You could make an argument that high rep members should not answer ANY questions for N minutes after a question is posted. Where N is higher the higher the rep is. The problem is that you would be discouraging participation by your most valued members.

I agree, SO can be very intimidating for newbies, but I do not think that limiting high rep users in this way will be productive.

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"Easy for Eric Lippert may be increadibly complicated for me." That's kind of the point, isn't it? If it's easy for you, leave it for someone else. –  Earwicker Jul 8 '09 at 12:41
    
I guess, I just don't think an honor type system can work. The rules of the game need to be baked in to the system. –  waffles Jul 8 '09 at 12:46

I don't think there is a systematic way to solve; nor do I think experts should recuse themselves from easy questions. However, I know when I see a question that has a few answers that are essentially the same, I try to make sure I upvote user's with lower rep scores as a form of encouragement. I try to ensure their answer isn't moving above an answer that is clearly better, but I know how it can be frustrating to post the same answer 30 seconds later than someone else and get no upvotes when they get 5. Especially if the other person has a lot of rep to begin with.

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Perhaps you should up-vote the answer with the lower id, i.e. the earlier one. To reduce copy-paste answers. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 8 '09 at 18:48

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