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My questions on Stack Overflow no longer receive answers. Granted, my questions usually involve obscure bugs or help with program architecture. It seems like only simple questions really get answers anymore. Here are some example questions:

Also, a lot of the time I will post a question, and it will get a single irrelevant answer. After that, it will not receive any more answers.

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closed as too localized by Rosinante, hims056, Lucifer, Lance Roberts, Toon Krijthe May 3 '13 at 7:40

This question is unlikely to help any future visitors; it is only relevant to a small geographic area, a specific moment in time, or an extraordinarily narrow situation that is not generally applicable to the worldwide audience of the internet. For help making this question more broadly applicable, visit the help center.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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What's your question? –  balpha May 20 '10 at 13:01
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Some of your questions are vague or poorly written to get your idea across. I'd recommend re-working them and re-tagging them. I'd love to help you, but I won't have any bandwidth until later today. –  George Stocker May 20 '10 at 13:22
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possible duplicate of How to get attention for your old, unanswered questions –  Ether May 20 '10 at 14:54
    
For better or worse, some people just won't help someone with a low accept rate, especially zero. I see that your SO rate is a decent 78, but your Meta rate is 0, which could be turning some people off here. –  Pops May 20 '10 at 15:12
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@Popular: I hope that was tongue in cheek, as acceptance rate in general is meaningless, more so here on Meta. –  perbert May 20 '10 at 15:13
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@voyager: I'm not saying it's right to refuse to help people with low accept rate. But that doesn't change the fact that people do it all the time. Or, more specifically, I see people commenting that they won't help until the OP accepts some answers. In this question, OP is asking why he's not getting answers, so I thought it was a relevant comment. (And I never stick tongs in my cheeks. I mean, ow.) –  Pops May 20 '10 at 15:54
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"Also, a lot of the time I will post a question, and it will get a single irrelevant answer." Then maybe say so, as a comment, explain why it doesn't work for you, provide feedback. Nothing more frustrating than trying to answer a question on which you get no vote, no feedback, nothing. –  Gnoupi May 20 '10 at 17:17
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im not really sure why im getting downvotes, not that i really care about my reputation. i am not the best the writer, and admittedly i have trouble bringing my questions to words. sometimes i read my old documentation / questions on SO and find them difficult to understand. however, the point i am making is that it seems like any obscure question on SO quickly sinks to the bottom of the site where it receives no attention. over the past 6 months i haven't been able to get any use out of this site, which is radically different than when the site first started. –  Shawn May 20 '10 at 19:35
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my questions probably are more obscure but i think the site should do a better job of promoting better answers. for example, that flex issue was very simple. i just needed to use an older SDK. it didnt receive any answers though. i dont know why, and i dont know how they could fix it. –  Shawn May 20 '10 at 19:37
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@Shawn - downvotes on Meta are usually because people disagree with you, not that your question in itself is bad. The reason of disagreement might be caused by the title, which sounds extreme. –  Gnoupi May 21 '10 at 14:10
    
Why not offer a bounty? –  Kyle Strand May 3 '13 at 3:18

6 Answers 6

You might start by choosing better tags. A question about a Telerik control tagged only MVC? A question about Flex without a flex tag? Experts in certain areas often look for questions by tag. I'll retag some of your questions to help.

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Most of your questions are about third-party tools that not everyone uses. There's nothing wrong with that, but you can't expect to get the same kind of attention and response that a C# or Java question would get.

In some cases you might do better by posting on the software vendor's forum.

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thanks, i usually do both : ) –  Shawn May 20 '10 at 13:10
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In some cases SO is still better than the vendor ;-) –  ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells May 20 '10 at 13:23
    
But usually not for Telerek. –  rlb.usa May 20 '10 at 14:25

I do notice a similar phenomenon - often I'm asking quite obscure questions. Generally, I can find answers on the web for most things, so by the time I'm asking something on Stack Overflow it's something that can't easily be found by searching on the web.

Obscure questions will suffer from the combination of having few people who know the answer and greater likelihood of getting drowned out in the noise from other questions. I suspect that the site will have a bias against obscure questions (that is, a disproportionately low likelihood of getting an answer) due to the following influences:

  • Obscure questions will not get many upvotes as they will be of little interest to the general population. Few people will read the question, so answers (or even the question itself) will get few upvotes. Thus, there is little incentive to put much effort into answering the question or even reading it at all.

  • Inactive questions will rapidly disappear, so there is a short window where the question is likely to get noticed at all. Thus, the question is less likely to get noticed by someone who might know the answer.

  • Questions on obscure topics will have relatively few people who know the answer. Thus, there is a low likelihood of someone who does read the question being able to answer it at all.

The opposite side of this phenomenon can bee seen in the tag badge statistics. Only a handful of tags have any gold tag badges associated with them and just 11 tags have five or more gold badges on them (as of 21/05/2010):

  1. C# (42)
  2. C++ (32)
  3. Java (24)
  4. .NET (12)
  5. PHP (11)
  6. Python (10)
  7. C (10)
  8. jQuery (7)
  9. Perl (6)
  10. JavaScript (6)
  11. SQL (5)

Additionally, obscure tags are unlikely to be actively monitored by anyone, so people watching tags like 'Telerik' will probably be thinner on the ground than people watching the 'C#' tag.

So, there's a superficial appearance of a large skew towards certain topics on Stack Overflow, and I dare say that formal analysis would probably reflect this. It would seem that sufficient skew is present that questions on obscure topics are quite likely to go un-noticed by people who can answer them even if someone who could answer the question is a regular on the site.

Therefore, although I've managed to get useful answers to most things I've asked on Stack Overflow, my observation is that it can be quite hit and miss on obscure topics.

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The questions that I've asked are like this also: by the time I ask at SO, we've already spent several hours scouring the web. The only one where I gave my own answer the green check was after we spent a week on the phone with Microsoft trying to resolve the issue. –  Tangurena May 21 '10 at 0:21
    
This is the point I was trying to make, but you did so much more eloquently. –  Shawn May 21 '10 at 13:26
    
Not to mention obscure topics are frequently flagged as too localized. Stackoverflow is mostly useless for people who are competent at finding their own answers and solutions. Most questions that are well received and from which the elite members have built there reputations on are just "let me google that for you" answers and more or less answered by paraphrasing another source. Most things that require real thought are closed. –  MVTC Jul 20 at 2:28

Taking a look at two of your questions, I can see why people might not answer further (particularly when you've asked a question in an area that is not particularly popular on SO to begin with):

AS3 httpservice - pass arguments to event handlers by reference

  • You don't explain how you came to believe that you received an object by value
  • You don't provide the type of search
  • You don't explain how you tried to "pass" search to the event handler in the first place
  • You do provde a useless if/else that has nothing to do with your question.

Flex DownloadProgressBar preloader override

  • Your question is not clear. Are you asking why the API has been designed that way?
  • If your question goes unanswered for 10 days, why don't try to track down the documentation and answer your own question?

I've attempted to answer both questions, but maybe you should put more effort into your questions if you want them answered. I don't mean to be harsh, it's simply the reality of how the site works. You are, after all, requesting an answer from people who aren't paid to comply.

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eh i think this is a pretty lame answer for a few reasons. first i am not sure why you think that i would have gotten answers if i had been more detailed with the question. i didnt see anyone posting for clarification, until you. you also cherry picked the more poorly worded of the 5 questions. im sure i could find another 5-10 easily from my profile, or from other people on the site as well. you are completely sidestepping the issue, that obscure topics receive no attention on the site, and quickly sink to the bottom. –  Shawn May 20 '10 at 19:42
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Actually I cherry picked two questions that I had the best chance of answering. My point is that if you post badly phrased questions with insufficient information in tags that have very few people, the chance people will even stop at your post long enough to ask for more information is small. Also, "more detailed" != better. Try clearly stating the problem and what avenues you have already tried yourself. You may think my answer is "pretty lame", but other users on this site do not. –  Richard Szalay May 20 '10 at 20:54
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@Shawn - I've also noticed that while you're happy to complain on meta about yours questions going unanswered, it's also been 5 days since I attempted to answer two of your questions and you haven't bothered responding to either. That doesn't really help your cause. –  Richard Szalay May 25 '10 at 10:39
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@Shawn: Why should we always ask for clarification if people could ask clearer questions to begin with? I often do ask, but i'm getting more and more tired of having to pull the actual context out of peoples noses. –  Georg Fritzsche Sep 13 '10 at 13:12

I could probably answer your OOXML question... if there actually was a question. And as Craig noted, the tags on your second-to-last question were way off (and a simple retag would have bumped it!).

Some of the questions you've listed are also quite old. As in more than a year old. Have you been following the guidelines in How to get attention for your old, unanswered questions?

With a rather hefty 107 questions to your name, the law of averages is not on your side - some of them are going to go unanswered without the occasional revision or bounty.

Now to be fair, I'm not trying to pin the blame entirely on you. It's definitely true that the community tends to attack very easy questions (especially bikeshed questions) like a pack of ferocious dogs. That's why some of us are such staunch advocates of question closing and downvoting, to prevent all the attention from being lavished on yet another "what's your favorite X" question.

But even if we eliminated all subjective questions, easy questions still tend to monopolize community attention. Consider that:

  • Easy questions take very little time to answer;
  • People only vote on questions/answers they understand;
  • The programming/software engineering profession has a long tail (I'm not putting any specific people down, just stating a well-known fact).

That means that early, decent answers to easy questions receive a disproportionate number of upvotes, and well-researched answers to difficult or obscure questions might get none at all. So why spend an hour working on a tough question and get 25 points if your lucky (1 upvote + accept from OP) when you can easily pick up 30 or 50 or even 100 from a dull but easy question that you can answer in 10 seconds?

I admit, even I feel this way sometimes (I try to avoid it). The founders knew this, that's why they came up with the bounty system. It changes the economics; 200 or 500 points from a bounty is much more attractive than a dozen upvotes for some 1-liner, especially since it's immune to the cap. So use the bounty system, that's exactly what it's here for.

I also hate to say this, but rep plays into it. I've asked a couple of, well maybe not obscure, but difficult questions and received answers pretty quickly from people in the top 50. It's somewhat of an enticement when somebody who's normally giving all the answers has a question they can't answer - call it ego, curiosity, or just confidence that it's likely to be an interesting question - either way, it happens. If Jon Skeet posts a question, you're going to at least have a look.

So in other words, another thing you can do is keep answering questions and building reputation - in both the quantitative and qualitative sense - and your questions are more likely to get noticed by the people who are most likely to be able to answer them.

Hopefully some of that helps.

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Hmmm, if reputation of the question asker is a factor, then I'd hope that the 4,747 reputation of Shawn would suffice. (Even though a lot of that might have been gained by asking questions, but that's only known by peeking into the profile.) –  Arjan May 20 '10 at 14:36
    
@Arjan: Reputation in a qualitative as well as quantitative sense - do people know who you are, and if so, is it because you ask or answer a lot of questions? I'd like to say that 10k is somewhere near the threshold but in reality I think few users below 15-20k are "recognized." Just speaking from observation and personal experience; I'll answer anybody's question but I tend to take special notice of the top 250 or so. Unfortunately, usually if they can't answer it, I can't answer it either. :-) –  Aarobot May 20 '10 at 15:06
    
uhh my questions was in the title: How can I create a new spreadsheet file using the OOXML SDK that contains multiple worksheets? how much more explicit could i be? –  Shawn May 20 '10 at 19:44
    
@Shawn: I guess I didn't understand what you were asking because there isn't really any difference between creating a workbook with one worksheet and creating a workbook with multiple worksheets. Some form of "here's what I have, and here's what I'm stuck at" would have helped to clarify. –  Aarobot May 20 '10 at 19:55
    
see that is exactly the sort of response that would have been helpful when i asked my question. unfortunately i cant even seem to get requests for clarification. they just sink and are never answered / commented on. –  Shawn May 20 '10 at 20:55
    
@Shawn: I'm sorry you feel that way. If I'd seen your question, I'm sure that I would have asked for clarification, but I don't speak for everybody. I can only suggest what I've already suggested - update your unanswered questions frequently, start bounties if they're particularly important, and keep answering questions so that people notice your user name. You can also help to keep your questions (and everybody else's) on the front page longer by voting to close the useless questions that just take up unnecessary space. –  Aarobot May 20 '10 at 21:10

The moving average of answers of your last 25 questions started at about 5, peaked up to 8.4 and then went down again to its current value of 2.

However, if we correct anomalies by considering any question with more than 10 answers to have actually 10 answers, we again start at 5, then peak only to 5.6, and go gradually down to the final value of 2.

It's not that bad.

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I also have several questions I deleted because after a week they had no answer, and I had figured them out. –  Shawn May 21 '10 at 13:23
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@Shawn - In that case you could have provided an answer yourself, so that other people might benefit from it in the future. –  Daniel Daranas Aug 27 '10 at 7:02

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