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I have been using SO to learn some PHP features, and it has been remarkably helpful. But each day, the count of unanswered questions seems to grow by another thousand. Does this mean that there are too many people and they are not getting answers they need? Hate to use such a bad pun, but it seems to be overflowing with unanswered questions and unsatisfied users (most of whom have 1 point).

Just asking.

EDIT: I read everyone's feedback. The obvious question to me is why are people allowed to ask dozens of questions with no accepted answers? If they truly don't answer the question, or don't work, or whatever, then perhaps that person should stop using SO as a resource if no one can answer his/her questions. If they are correct answers, perhaps he/she can upvote or accept them. Would this filter some of the 1-rep duplicate questions before they were asked, and would that have any value?

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You edit should probably be a new question. –  Daniel Daranas Apr 23 '10 at 12:16
    
I considered that, but apparently chose wrongly. Partially because Jeff seemed to think my question was dumb, which made me worry that I just didn't have the right background to ask another. –  MJB Apr 23 '10 at 12:18
    
Nah, just differently from what I thought of. –  Daniel Daranas Apr 23 '10 at 12:18
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5 Answers

up vote 5 down vote accepted

What matters is the percentage of questions answered. If I ask a question today, are the odds of getting it answered higher, lower or equal than x months ago?

In other words, out of the last 1000 questions, how many are unanswered?

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Interesting angle! –  Bill the Lizard Apr 23 '10 at 14:42
    
I agree with this "answer" even though it merely advances my question. I agree that is the important question to ask, because of the percentage is going down, there will eventually be a problem. –  MJB May 11 '10 at 17:38
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Er.. what? I agree that some questions are so bad they don't deserve answers, but the unanswered count is remarkably low:

http://stackoverflow.com/unanswered

93,671 questions

http://stackoverflow.com/search?q=answers:0

~39,500 (questions with zero answers)

http://stackoverflow.com/questions

630,283 questions

15% unanswered rate is not so bad, I think, particularly if you consider that our definition of "unanswered" is pretty strict -- no upvoted answers

edit: the growth of zero-answer questions is concerning. Two new features were introduced to assist -- http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/the-horror-of-no-answer-revival-and-necromancer/

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What I've seen empirically is an onslaught of duplicate questions, but it appears the velocity for closing questions as duplicates is going down, as if people don't care as much. I'll see if the data bears this out. –  George Stocker Apr 23 '10 at 1:13
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So many things to close, so few votes. So many pinheads reopening them. –  Rosinante Apr 23 '10 at 1:48
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@George: The main reason why questions should not be awarded rep (I think) unless they have a net positive vote total. –  Lawrence Dol Apr 23 '10 at 1:49
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I find that the amount of effort to police the site, find duplicates and sift through the barrage of questions for ones that are worth the effort to answer has gone up (subjectively) exponentially. There are a lot of deadwood questions burying the treasures now. –  Lawrence Dol Apr 23 '10 at 1:52
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Wait, 2% unanswered is classed as 'not so bad' and 15% unanswered is also classed as 'not so bad'? What's the change threshold? What percent does it have to get to before it changes to 'only kind of bad' or 'bad but not really bad' or 'bad but still good in a weird way'? ; ) –  David HAust Apr 23 '10 at 5:39
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@david our definition is really strict. At any rate, the idea that there are "thousands of new unanswered questions every day!" is a bit ridiculous. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 23 '10 at 6:00
    
@Jeff - Not necessarily. We'd need stats on the total number of questions and total number of unanswered questions over the past few months. Which can probably be gotten from someone, somewhere. –  Super Long Names are Hilarious Apr 23 '10 at 6:06
    
I understand the definition of unanswered, and while the percentage may be 15% (low or high, depending on your perspective), it still seems to me that the 93000 questions NOT at the top of the list run a somewhat lower chance of ever getting addressed. Based on comments, I'd re-word my question a little -- should there be a limit on the number of un-accepted questions a user can have? In an effort to filter the chaff before it gets here? –  MJB Apr 23 '10 at 11:50
    
@MJB: You're forgetting that people can edit their unanswered questions, improve them, and subsequently bump them back onto the active page, where they will be noticed again. Whether or not the edits make them better/answerable is another question, of course... Oh, and there are also all of those Community-bumped posts. –  Aarobot Apr 23 '10 at 19:39
    
I just did the math again, and it's since risen to 16%. It can't be called a trend but I think it's something to keep an eye on. –  Brian Ortiz Jul 21 '10 at 6:43
    
Also, it's not low considering the strict definition, it's low because of the strict definition. –  Brian Ortiz Jul 21 '10 at 6:50
    
It's 17% now. Maybe it's line graph time :P –  Brian Ortiz Sep 20 '10 at 5:59
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I'm going to be blunt, and by blunt, I mean, y'know, devastating:

The reason that a lot of those questions remain unanswered is because they're crap.

Oh, I know, some questions are just obscure, and the popular tags are more likely to get answers, and all that. But every day I see no fewer than 10 questions that make me sigh inwardly and think "there is no way I'm going to even think about trying to start answering this question."

And as the number of total questions goes up, the number of these unanswerable questions goes up as a matter of course, and therefore so does the number of unanswered questions. We shouldn't be afraid of this number unless the unanswered statistic is creeping upward as a percentage of total questions - and even then, I would be more likely to consider that a problem with the questions than a problem with the site.

If anything could be improved, I think it's that the higher-rep users need to be a lot more fastidious about downvoting and voting to close. Questions with net negative scores ought to be excluded from any unanswered statistic, as they likely aren't answerable (as the tooltip says - "this question is unclear or not useful"). And because close votes are limited, people tend to concentrate them on subjective/annoying questions as opposed to low-view, low-response questions (why waste a close vote on something that's just going to fall off the front page in a few minutes anyway, right?)

But unanswered question inflation is no different from rep inflation; as an absolute, the number is obviously always going to go up as the site gets new users and new questions; the more relevant/interesting measurement of a site's "health" is its proportion to the number of answered questions and satisfied users.

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I think what makes it look odd is the definition of not answered. Many questions have plenty of answers, but no answers with upvotes. Even questions without any answers frequently have comments asking for more information or clarifications.

There will always be questions without acceptable answers. Many times the question is not answerable -- it may not have enough information to allow one to answer or, if there are answers, feel confident in upvoting one as being helpful. A better way to look at it is whether questions get an airing -- i.e., are they viewed by a reasonable number of people. Most questions, even those on the unanswered list, have dozens if not hundreds of views. If dozens or hundreds of people can look at a question and not be able to feel confident that there is an answer to it, then I don't think the fault is necessarily with the site.

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I did not mean to imply there was a question with the site. But your answer, as well as a few others, made me wonder if the problem is the low barrier to asking multiple 'crap' questions. Since anyone can ask a thousand questions, with perhaps 500 duplicates that won't be addressed, doesn't that just increase the crap people have to wade through before finding a question they want to help with? Why are people allowed to ask 20 questions and NEVER accept an answer? –  MJB Apr 23 '10 at 11:46
    
D'oh! Change above "question" to "problem or issue" –  MJB Apr 23 '10 at 16:45
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Just a thought....

If most of the 'crap' (not my word) unanswered questions are from users with 1 rep, most of whom are unlikely to ever come back and improve their question, or even check if it got answered, should they really be included when calculating the 'unanswered' percent?

Now I know there are plenty of good questions that can come from first time users (did Jon Skeet ever have 1 rep or did the system sense his greatness and award him points on princlipal?) so we can't just write them off for the sole reason they only have 1 rep.

So, is there a way to separate the wheat from the chaff when it comes to unanswered questions by 1 rep users?

Don't class the question as unanswerd if it's got -5 votes? (feel free to insert whatever negative vote value you're comfortable with)

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