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I've answered a number of questions on SO recently where it is obvious that the poster has just blatantly used SO as a substitute for loading up their own IDE/language documentation or helpfile.

There have been other questions I've answered where it took me a 30 second Google search to find the relevant information.

It probably took the poster longer to enter the question in SO than if they had bothered to make the small amount of effort to look it up for themselves, but I guess they were off getting a coffee or having a chat and decided to offload the effort "virtually" onto someone else.

Sure, answering these questions gets you a bit of rep in return but it feels like a hollow victory, and it leaves you feeling a bit "used".

It's as though SO is encouraging a habit of laziness amongst a certain class of developers, and this attitude may well spread as SO becomes more popular.

Is this a concern that should be addressed in some way?

I know you can downvote questions that are obviously silly but unless you have a decent amount of rep built up, it feels painful to do so.

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I forgot to add...the most amusing (or sad) questions are the ones where I can just copy and paste the poster's question straight into Google and the answer pops up immediately. :) –  Joe Schmoe Jul 11 '09 at 10:05
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Have you checked out "lmgtfy.com/"; - Let Me Google This For You :-) SHould be a new programmer syndrome :-) –  marc_s Jul 12 '09 at 13:56
    
Yes, it was mentioned in an answer below but, as the answerer pointed out, it is rather a slap down...albeit a highly amusing one –  Joe Schmoe Jul 12 '09 at 15:46
    
Belongs on Meta... –  Jeremy McGee Dec 4 '09 at 14:30
    
This belongs on Meta... –  Jason Punyon Dec 4 '09 at 14:30
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Laziness is the essence of Programming. –  John Himmelman Mar 30 '10 at 23:50
    
@Joe - if someone saves 5 seconds by finding a well structured answer to a very simple question, is that laziness or productivity? To me laziness is something that wastes time like people not running their code once before sending it to QA which wastes time overall. However the nature of SO may make trivial questions productive over the long run. –  Lee Whitney Sep 7 '11 at 14:22
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30 Answers

up vote 20 down vote accepted

Help Vampires: A Spotter's Guide has some useful advice under the heading Reforming the Help Vampire. The first section #1: Creating Resources I think has already been done on Stack Overflow, but the other two sections: #2: Cease Enabling Behavior and #3: Meet Help Vampires Head-On is relevant to us.

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I like this article and am marking this as the accepted answer. It sums up the situation I've been thinking of fairly well, and it comes up with some good, thought-provoking suggestions. –  Joe Schmoe Aug 3 '09 at 11:05
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This article hits the nail/stake on the head in a lot of respects. –  Anonymous Sep 21 '09 at 3:47
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Think of natural disaster relief. Just because people pretend to be a disaster victim doesn't mean there should be no relief program from the government. This is due to the difficulty of recognizing the difference between the people who are lazy and the newbies who genuinely need help (in the analogy, the people who are lying, and the people who are genuinely in trouble). There's no way good way to measure the amount of laziness or the amount of unfamiliarity in a post. Something you found in seconds could take a new programmer forever to find.

So if you really think someone is lazy and post easy questions, it's probably not worth your time to do anything, and of course, you can leave a comment or flag it up or something if you feel the need to, but it could be that they genuinely need help and I'm sure someone, if not you, will give it to them. From what I've seen it hasn't been a big problem.

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This analogy is flawed. The OP isn't asking anyone to shut down disaster relief programs. He's asking for people to stop giving aid to fakers, which agrees with what you're saying. –  Pops Mar 21 '12 at 15:06
    
Ok. I suppose I wasn't clear with my answer. I'll revise it. –  Aura Mar 21 '12 at 15:11
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I don't think it encourages lazyness.

On the contrary, it takes time to write a clear yet concise question, and the upvoting/downvoting encourages this trait even if someone posts a lazy send-me-the-codes question.

Furthemore, if someone googles the same question later and stumbles to SO given it's so often on top of search results (personally, that's even how I ended up on SO in the first place because that was so often the most accurate and useful result in the search results list), he can easily see how useful/accurate the answers are thanks to the votes, so it's useful both to the poster and future visitors.

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Does SO encourage developer laziness?

No, it encourages developers to improve their efficiency.

With an understanding of the rules, your nerd can choose a course of action that requires the least amount of energy. This isn’t laziness; this is the joy that in a world full of chaotic and political people with obscure agendas and erratic behavior, your nerd can conquer the chaos with logical, efficient predictability

From Rands in Repose: Managing Nerds

You do not have as good an understanding of the developer's environment as the developer does. It may well be that they've weighed their options, and that SO is truly the fastest way to get their problem solved.

Secondly, many people "search" SO in a very efficient way - they click on "Ask Question", fill in the form, and see if SO has suggestions for them. If so, they're done. If not, they click "submit" and they're done - they've combined the search with the process of writing the question, and attained an even greater level of efficiency.

Further, SO intends to be the answer for every programming question, trivial or not, so it's truly ok to have even the simplest, googleable questions appear on SO. We want Google to point people here when they ask those simple questions, and when they have further questions it benefits us if they skip google and search/ask here directly.

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I believe that I am in the minority, but I believe that there ought to be a Vote-To-Close option for "RTFM". The actual text displayed should be kinder, but questions like this one should be closed with a gentle rap on the knuckles.

Stack Overflow should not have the goal of having the content of every user manual copied and pasted into it as answers.

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People are lazy.

They would rather interrupt someone else (whatever the cost to that person) than spend 30 seconds of their own effort. Sometimes they will put effort into asking a question on a forum despite some searching being quicker and less effort.

Unless we want to change human behaviour, we have to live with it.

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Programmers in particular are lazy - after all, we always strive to automate / delegate work to machines and not have to worry about it anymore :-) –  marc_s Jul 12 '09 at 13:57
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Yes, it does encourage laziness, but it's no different from other sites. This is a great example of a terrible question (Edit - It now contains code, a day later after posting), it can't even been answered because it gives insufficient detail. I find it amusing it even got answers! That said, I quite like some of these questions (the ones that can be answered anyway) since it's a quick way to gain some reputation.

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That's where the SO system works against itself: it rewards answering questions, even the stupid ones. So there's less motivation to stop feeding the beggars, because the answerer has something to gain from it. –  Ether Oct 31 '09 at 18:17
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I don't know about that.

Is it really any more lazy use stack overflow as a resource than to look something up on Google or in the documentation? In fact, it seems like more work to do it this way because you have to type up the question coherently rather than just browse a reference material.

Many times the simplest of questions are not the easiest to search for. For example, when you don't know what a particular technique or technology is called. Or when looking up the answer requires using a frustrating reference like MSDN.

Ultimately, it doesn't seem to be hurting anyone, and questions that are obviously plz-send-the-codez are dealt with by the community fairly efficiently. Also, I kind of like the idea of SO evolving into a sort of "Universal Reference Manual" of sorts over time. One stop shopping and all that...

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Yes sir, I think you are correct, and it brings to mind the story of teaching a man to fish rather than giving him a fish. The newly graduated fisherman can feed himself thereafter, but the recipient of fishy aid becomes dependent on his benefactors.

However since SO is structured in such a way that populist answers are rewarded more generously than well structured and thoughtful questions (a la ESR), and since the competition for upvotes is in effect a global market place, if you - let's say you're a sage but curmudgeonly hacker - provide the naive questioner with a socratic answer, or if you provide a correct but gruff answer, or if you simply encourage a search of the unsettling web, then you will surely be gunned down by answers that pander to the crowd.

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A lack of effort and initiative is always received poorly. The question of whether a google search is just as beneficial or more so is really beside the point. If a question asker doesn't show a good faith effort, no matter the topic, then they may be ignored, downvoted, or given comments to point out their failure to engage the community properly.

There is likewise never a good reason to give a "lmgtfy" link, since that is not going to increase their initiative any more than ignoring them or downvoting.

We should recognize that there are some people that, despite their best efforts, simply don't possess the Google-fu necessary to get the results they need. Many of us take this for granted as being easy to do, but it is a learned skill like any other. Whether such people will ever be successful developers is another question, but I don't think that they should be rebuked simply for not being as savvy as others.

Granted, many people are simply lazy, but we should be careful to reward people who put forth effort, even if their effort is insufficient for the simple reason that they really are that unskilled.

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You could say that, or you could say that we are creating a useful repository of answers, so that the results found by STFW are more pertinent.

Often, when I have a problem, I will first use my question as a search term in Google, because it's likely that someone has asked the question here or on some forum or mailing list, or even on ExpertSexchange.

OTOH, People who paste in obvious homework questions wind me up, unless they tag it appropriately and exxplicitly ask for assistance, rather than "uplode teh codez".

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SO is meant for people of all levels of ability, and the intention is to be the most complete source of information on programming.

If you can find a real answer on the web with two minutes' search, then it's a useful question to have answered on SO. (Except, of course, when the search leads to SO. In that case, it's probably a duplicate, and should be closed as such.) Even if I don't feel like helping the original lazy sod, I'm very likely helping others later on.

There are questions asked due to lack of effort that annoy me. Questions where there isn't enough information to answer, questions where the questioner wants me to code something for them, questions that are hundreds of lines of code with an indication as to what goes wrong somewhere in there. These don't give me the feeling that somebody's going to benefit down the line from my answer, and so I tend to not answer those.

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The purpose of answering questions is to generate content for SO to attract more visitors and increase the site's ad revenue.

Helping the person who is asking a question is a side effect of this efficient content generation strategy (in stark contrast to UseNet).

A person lacking the initiative to read a few manual pages and search the web will lack the initiative regardless of your efforts. If he does not come to SO, he will go to other 'experts' sites or pester people in their blog comments.

That neither increases the earnings of SO nor does it contribute to good programming knowledge.

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Didn't you have that vampire link handy a couple of days ago? –  innaM Dec 4 '09 at 14:48
    
Yeah, I love the vampire link. However, in most cases when faced with questions of dubious quality, I either pass, or try to improve the content. That still leaves enough questions deserving of close votes, deletions, spam flags and down votes. And there are help vampires such as @lokesh (see stackoverflow.com/questions/1824240 ) but in most such cases, I am able to remind myself that I like it when my answers are voted up and I like it when Jeff and Joel make more money. In the one case where I felt very strongly, I could not find anyone who agreed with me. –  Sinan Ünür Dec 4 '09 at 15:44
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http://lmgtfy.com/?q=let+me+google+that+for+you

In all seriousness though - I agree in principle, and if I see a genuinely stupid question I will give them a "let me google that for you" link, but there are less of these genuinely stupid quesions than you think.

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-1 I think its preety well documented that the LMGTFY answer is not welcome on SO... –  Miyagi Coder Dec 4 '09 at 15:37
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why? It might sound a little trivial but easily one of my most important skills as a developer is the ability to find answers to my problems - if google provides an answer to their question then you are only doing them a dis-service if you dont point out google as a source of information. –  Justin Dec 4 '09 at 16:40
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the ability to think for yourself and at least try a couple of things before running to others to be spoon-fed the answer for the current problem

And you really think that using Google is a sign of that ability?

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Research is the source to knowledge....Google is a resource :) –  James Dec 4 '09 at 14:38
    
I think yes. You should specify your problem, try out some keywords, then summarize the resoult. –  erenon Dec 4 '09 at 14:39
    
So if someone uses Google to search for something trivial, and finds a trivial question on so, this is a good thing? Whereas asking that trivial question is bad? –  innaM Dec 4 '09 at 15:02
    
Not at all. I never said it is a bad thing to ask trivial questions. My point is it can be frustrating when you can obviously tell someone just blatantly has made no effort to do something and just looking for someone to basically give them the answer. Google links to articles and other resources that would lead people to the answer...its called learning. There is a difference telling someone the answer and actually having someone understand why the answer is what it is! –  James Dec 4 '09 at 17:15
    
It's called "learning to use Google" which is not at all the same thing as learning programming. –  innaM Dec 4 '09 at 20:42
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I don't know why these "easy to Google" questions are asked, but one possible reason, rather than just pure laziness, is that these people are lonely and actually want some kind of human response. Or, they feel insecure and would like to get some kind of confirmation which the documentation can't give them.

In exchange for reassuring these people you get the reputation points. I guess most of the reputation points people get are for answering relatively easy questions. In fact you are less likely to pick up a lot of points for answering a difficult question.

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I think SO doesn't affect developer laziness, it just exposes it (with viewable history!). I know that I won't post a question until it is obvious that I can't find it on my own. I've got one question that the answer was pretty simple, but I had already spent an hour searching for it before posting the question.

I know I wouldn't want a question attached to my name where the answer was just the first Google result!

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Not everyone's Google skills are equal. I've been given a beer for finding something that a frustrated workmate couldn't find. Think of it as an opportunity to teach people how to improve their search skills.

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Sometimes it far easier to ask an expert a question than spend hours researching it online. So no, it's not lazy to ask - it's occasionally prudent.

Cheers, Rob.

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One of the key goals of a developer is to be maximally lazy. Hence, the use of SO as you describe it is exactly right.

Also, understand that one person's easy question is another person's hard question. Ultimately, (almost) all questions on SO can be answered by working. But why work when I can simply ask the question on SO?

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IMHO we should help evolution along in cases like yours by not answering questions the answers to which could have been found in two minutes of searching S* {SO, SF, SU} –  John Saunders Jul 16 '09 at 1:31
    
@John It's not obvious that not answering SO questions helps evolution along. For example, if I'm not a very good programmer, I may spend more time with my girlfriend which would increase the probability that my genes will be passed on. Have you verified that your strategy for helping evolution works? You may be doing just the opposite. –  user130657 Jul 16 '09 at 13:09
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Does this happen with some languages more than others? The proportion of LMGTFY-style questions with a ruby tag is far less than 10% in my opinion.

Strangely enough, a couple of LMGTFY-style questions have been from a user with a triple digit reputation.

I'm not sure if laziness is even the right explanation. It seems that googling it would involve less effort than asking on SO. Maybe the question asker is feeling lonely.

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What about the case where the site they should have searched is SO?

In Finding MAC address from IP [closed], all that was necessary was to type "mac address" without the quotes into the search box.

I'll generally complain to the poster if a two to five minute search with obvious keywords would have found the question on SO. If I can type their entire question into the search box and get the answer, then I think they should have been able to do the same.

I omit any case where you "have to know how to search for it".

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Yes, and that's why the site is great!

One of the goals of SO is to become the canonical place to find good answers to any programming question:

Spolsky: ... But if it's a simple question like "What does the third argument mean, the documentation doesn't explain what the third argument is" and then explain, you know, there are ways of doing that which are not copyright violations where you just provide the answer, and I think that's awesome because I really do want StackOverflow to answer all these questions, I want it to be the canonical source of knowledge, like, if there was no article on wikipedia about Cuba, just because there's a really good website that tells you everything about Cuba, should you go and make an article about Cuba on Wikipedia? Yeah! Sure! Because it's got to be an encyclopaedia, it's got to have everything!
(Podcast 51)

It's also why one of the founders of the site asked the incredibly simple question "How do I move the turtle in LOGO?"

This is something you could find in Google within seconds, but you'll find answers on random crappy websites where there's some typo in the code, or worse some security issue with the code, and there's no way of fixing it, or posting an alternative solution - this is what StackOverflow does well.

(I'm not quite sure how you would have security issues with LOGO code, but that's not really my point..)

Would it be considered bad form to respond to such a question with, a link like this http://lmgtfy.com/?q=Does+SO+encourage+developer+laziness%3F. On the one hand it could be seen as a slap down, on the other it might genuinely help the asker to see how you found out the answer.

I find answers which are links to Google incredibly unhelpful - mostly because the answer that says "go and search you lazy person!" usually ends up as the first search result..

If it's easy to find the answer on some webpage or in the official documentation - post an answer quoting it, with the link to source and any required attribution... That way not only do you answer the persons question, you gain reputation, you make it easier for others to find the answer in the future, and are helping StackOverflow - everyone wins!

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Or give the answer, and link the search that gave you the answer. That way, you're showing them two things... on the off-chance they wanted to search, but are just bad at it. –  Shog9 Jul 13 '09 at 14:31
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Only if Google does, too

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IIUC, his point is that they don't even Google first. –  John the Seagull Jul 11 '09 at 7:50
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I have no problem with Google - it's automated. A question on SO uses up someone's time. –  Joe Schmoe Jul 11 '09 at 7:53
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Well then again it's someone's choice to answer, but that's another story. –  Ian Elliott Jul 11 '09 at 7:56
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True. But if you are looking to increase your rep, would you choose something easy to answer or hard to answer? Both would probably get you equivalent reputation so most would go for easy answers. So doesn't that devalue the "hard" answer, and at the same time encourage some of the "exploiters" of SO? –  Joe Schmoe Jul 11 '09 at 8:02
    
I'm mad that you got to this before I did. I was thinking the exact same thing. –  TheTXI Jul 11 '09 at 11:29
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It is good that we build up a body of high-quality knowledge on stackoverflow regardless of where that information may be found elsewhere.

Often stackoverflow answers are of better quality than other referenced I find on the internet. This is probably because answers have been reviewed and voted on by other users. This means, I can search for something in stackoverflow first before I go to google. It's the same if I want to look up a word, I go directly to dictionary.com, or if I expect wikipedia will have the kind of answer I want, I go directly there. We can cut out google so we don't have to depend on their monopoly of the internet search. (Don't read this as me saying google are bad, because they provide an unbeatable service).

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This would be more credible if the SO search wasn't so lacklustre that it's easier to search with site:stackoverflow.com than try to do it all in-site. –  womble Nov 25 '09 at 18:18
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Poorly written and badly researched questions are a feature of every programming forum.

I wouldn't consider this to be a particularly high grade question:

(Since I have rep == 1, I can only post one link - question 1113253 is another example)

In common with many drive-by questions, they are very short.

Perhaps the minimum content length to post a question should be increased to more than 10 characters. Might be worth analysing the data dump to get some data on a better minimum, or search for high-vote short questions that prove this is a bad idea. It may be a bad idea purely because it will create more junk to parse. Still, might be worth a short-term experiment to find out.

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Associating your StackOverflow account with your MetaSO account, should give you a boost of 100 rep. If it doesn't there are several questions on Meta you could go to for help. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 11 '09 at 15:21
    
"Feature." Painfully truthy. –  andrewbadera Jul 11 '09 at 18:55
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I've noticed this and indeed like Joe Schmoe I've been able to answer questions I've not known a great deal about by either looking in the MSDN (for Microsoft based questions obviously) or by using Google.

The only time I mentioned that the OP should have experimented or search first I was down-voted (presumably for not being helpful!). I'd provide the link, but I can't remember the question now.

While I appreciate that one of the stated aims of this site is to get it to be the first port of call for people wanting answers to programming questions, I think that a little more effort before posting questions would go a long way.

Having said all that, I have been stuck on a problem and when I've asked someone for help they've said "you don't want to do that, do this instead". Basically, I've been so caught up in the minutiae of why something didn't compile or work as expected that I've missed the fact that I should have taken a step back and looked at the problem afresh. So while searching may reveal the answer to the specific problem, having that human interaction can lead to a better result.

If the question is a bald statement of "this doesn't work" there'll often be answers or comments that ask for more information or why the OP is using the stated approach. This in turn can lead the OP to question their approach and may lead to a better solution.

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I've certainly seen quite a few questions that I could easily Bing. Though with some of them I wonder if it is because I know the particular keywords that'll give a useful response. If you don't know enough about the domain you might not be able to frame the search terms uniquely enough.

Would it be considered bad form to respond to such a question with, a link like this. On the one hand it could be seen as a slap down, on the other it might genuinely help the asker to see how you found out the answer.

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That site is hilarious - can't believe I've not come across it before. I guess news travels slower for those who us who've spent the last few years on Mars...(as in "Unless you've spent the last few years on Mars, you'll know..."). Just been looking at live.lmgtfy.com . Quite eye-opening –  Joe Schmoe Jul 11 '09 at 10:41
    
Wow, Also in a "Mars" style I've never looked at live before, that is my new /dev/random and/or Lorem Ipsum Although BSOD does seem to be every tenth item. –  Rich Seller Jul 11 '09 at 11:18
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+1 for "... that I could easily Bing" –  Pëkka Oct 29 '10 at 16:04
    
Hadn't seen the live part of lmgtfy until I came across this post. Just saw "How can I search google for something?" go by –  Brad Mace Jan 20 '11 at 19:53
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People like that have always existed and will always exist. I've seen them daily on IRC support channels, and at least weekly on mailing lists and usenet groups. The only difference is that I see them every second on SO :-)

More seriously, I think that SO is not at fault and could hardly do anything about it. People that won't do a search won't do a search, even if you close their questions and ban them from SO, they'll just go somewhere else.

Having those questions answered on SO has the added benefit of storing that information for the next person who does search so they can find it on SO.

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I agree that I see quite a bit of questions matching your description, although I'm not sure if its laziness or not. A lot of the time I think that programming beginners found the site from google or another search engine and decided to give it a try.

I know that if I can use full sentences to describe a concept that is new to me it is much more likely that I get the desired answer than if I type in a quick search term and pray for the best.,This is because although I may not be using the proper terms for the concept people who are familiar with it should be able to point me in the right direction.

There are of course users who don't fit into this description, especially one user who I see ask questions almost daily: shore. I usually downvote his question regardless of what it is due to the fact that he never votes up or select answers when they are clearly given to him. In the last question he asked he went so far as to comment "Thanks! :)" to one of the answers, yet did not even upvote it.
208 questions, 1 Answer (score of -1), 2 upvotes, 4 downvotes, If I had my way he would be banned.

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Just as a point of clarification...are the people who are upvoting this doing it because they agree beginners should be given more leniency, or because we need to do something about users like the one mentioned? –  Joe Schmoe Jul 11 '09 at 15:18
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Both. I think that in some cases beginners, even if they search, won't know if they've found the right answer, but SO will generally hand them something they can be pretty sure of. There is a substantial fear among new programmers of following completely the wrong path. For instance, while Google might tell you how to implement bubble sort, but it might not tell you that you should be using something else. And of course, gaming of the system should be prevented. Hmm, "How do I implement bubble sort?..." –  Mike Houston Jul 13 '09 at 23:49
    
@Joe I, for one, upvoted because I want this question to be highly visible so that we can come to a community-wide agreement that people (not just beginners) should be given leniency. The mechanisms in place -- closing, downvoting, etc. -- are already enough to control this issue. –  user130657 Jul 15 '09 at 20:52
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has felt Shore's wrath –  meder Sep 22 '09 at 4:55
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I have to say downvoting regardless of the question is troll-like behaviour –  Casebash Sep 25 '09 at 11:09
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