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There seems to be a knee-jerk reaction to "easy" questions that involves quickly answering by copying/pasting an embarrassing link to lmgtfy.com (or similar responses in comments, which aren't downvotable) in an attempt to belittle the questions' authors. I think this comes from engagement in forums, where people would ask simple questions like "What is a variable?"

I would argue that we should NOT do this. As Stack Overflow grows, it is quickly becoming THE source of Google's suggestions. For instance, yesterday I did a quick search on Google for a particular framework, and Stack Overflow came up in the top three results.

Joel expressed a desire in recent podcasts to see Stack Overflow as the ultimate source for all programming-related questions. I am sympathetic of this view, as I would like to see all questions (including "What is a variable?") welcomed on Stack Overflow, because it is the best place for those questions to be asked.

Answers are voted upon, which is something that doesn't take place in most other locations. Answers are clarified by the community, something else that isn't happening elsewhere. Questions can be revised by just about anybody. And revision history is there for all to see.

So perhaps in the future, the next time somebody asks how many variables can be put on a page, we should kindly embrace them, and not send them on to Google. Stack Overflow is the ultimate destination — not Google. Sorry, Larry and Sergey.

Related FAQ: How to deal with Google questions?

Return to FAQ index

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I feel like I just stepped back in time 6 months. –  TheTXI Jul 14 '09 at 16:35
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It seems to be an issue that is still very much alive. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 16:36
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Didn't I already tell you to get a blog? –  Hilarious Comedy Pesto Jul 14 '09 at 16:36
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It doesn't matter how much you harp on a subject, there is always going to be a group of people that won't get it. –  TheTXI Jul 14 '09 at 16:38
    
Infinite loop FTW. –  Brad Gilbert Jul 14 '09 at 16:52
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So do we need LMSOTFY? –  Carl Manaster May 12 '10 at 16:43
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I guess it's just wrong of me to assume people would mention they have tried googling if they have? I don't see what's wrong with linking people to the first relevant hit on Google. –  badp Sep 5 '10 at 16:27
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Tagged faq. IMHO, it is much better than the current "google it" faq entry. –  Won't Sep 14 '10 at 14:14
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Perhaps there should be a naive or novice or elementary tag for questions like this? –  ypercube Mar 10 '11 at 15:07
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@Carl Manaster LMSOTFY: Status-Complete lmsotfy.com –  John Nolan Apr 20 '11 at 15:59
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@JohnNolan Lol! XD .... –  muntoo May 16 '11 at 6:06
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@JohnNolan 5xx server error –  Cole Johnson Aug 13 '13 at 2:01

13 Answers 13

up vote 56 down vote accepted

This has been something that a good deal of us have been trying to do for months now. When we see someone post something along the lines of LMGTFY or "You should have googled first" we comment telling them that it is not useful for precisely the same reasons you are giving above.

And then we will downvote them.

EDIT very much ex post facto: "LMGTFY" is now officially banned.

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These predominantly exist as comments from what I've seen. You cannot down-vote a comment, and this hardly deserves moderator-attention. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 16:45
    
You can flag comments all the same, which is the proper thing to do with these kinds of comments. –  GEOCHET Jul 14 '09 at 16:47
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I recieved a downvote for my LMGTFY link. I've since repented and changed the link. But I still don't think that SO is a replacement for doing your own work. If a simple Bing/Google search would suffice, then DO THE D*MN SEARCH FOR YOURSELF. –  devinb Jul 14 '09 at 17:58
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devinb: for the most part I agree with you. I am not saying that SO should be the first stop for all questions. I myself will google the hell out of something before I post it here. I think what we are trying to get at is, "Hey, they are here now, don't turn them away" –  TheTXI Jul 14 '09 at 18:01
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@devinb: I agree with that too, but not everyone has advanced (or even moderate) Google-Fu skills. As I said in my response, sometimes the right search term is obvious when you already know the answer. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 14 '09 at 18:10
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@devinb: Why shouldn't SO/SF be teh fisrt stop for all questions. If google is going to point me there anyway why not just go to the source first? If it's not on SO/SF doesn't that mean that someone hsould add it? Granted most of the "you should have googled" questions are usually poorly formed but certainly could have been morphed into a useful form. –  Jim B Jul 14 '09 at 21:26
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@devinB: You're missing the big picture - imagine if every time you had a programming-related question and googled it, instead of wading through a half dozen unanswered forum questions and two totally wrong solutions to your problem, the first google search result was a question on SO with the perfect answer, upvoted and lovingly edited and to be accurate, concise and easy to understand. Noobs need good answers as much as anyone. –  MGOwen Jul 23 '09 at 4:17
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MGOwen: I think you've setup a false strawman, the situation where this occurs is more like: the first google search result using terms the OP used in the question is the perfect answer, lovingly explained, accurate, and concise. That said, it's usually easy to ask a specific question for which this is no longer true, but many people still don't do this. (Personally I'd rather see answers with short excerpts and links to other references in these trivial-to-google cases.) –  Gnome Jan 3 '10 at 1:46
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Even if that's the case, remember that Google and Bing are completely inaccessible to a huge proportion of people who still have internet access and are interesting in programming. Unless you're in a position to change US export control laws, your answer might as well be "ask a magic 8-ball." –  detly Jun 6 '10 at 5:23
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@detly: Right on. It's easy to forget that some nations block or impede access to internet services that 'Western' nations take for granted. And as a noob, I have appreciated the absence of lmgtfy or snarky comments in this forum. Total quality. –  Leroy Tyrone Oct 13 '13 at 7:18
    
Another point to remember is that google is only useful for finding answers if you know the proper terminology in the domain. Sometimes I've asked questions on an SE site where the answers, comments, or edits to my question have helped me to better understand how to ask. –  lfalin Feb 26 at 15:33

It's typically my policy to simply delete LMGTFY responses, but I just want to make clear what I consider acceptable and not acceptable.

Acceptable:

If you Google the obvious search terms to a very simple question, I think it's acceptable to say something like "I Googled X + Y and it gave me the following results," and give a link to the site with the answer (not to Google). I think this is okay because sometimes people just don't know what terms to search for. It might be obvious to you if you know the answer already, but not obvious to the person asking.

Unacceptable:

A link to lmgtfy.com with no other content whatsoever. When I see these, I make a minimal effort to turn them into an acceptable answer, but 9/10 of the time I delete them. If another answer already directly refers to the same material that a Google search turns up, I delete the LMGTFY link without trying to fix it. The direct answer wins. Feel free to flag LMGTFY for moderator attention.

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Do you suggest we flag comments with similar responses? –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 17:42
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@Jonathan: LMGTFY comments don't bother me as much, but I still delete them when I see them. At best they add zero to a post, at worst they're snarky and annoying (not that I'm not snarky and annoying sometimes...). No moderators should get mad at you for flagging these comments, since it only takes us a second to delete them. At the very worst, some moderators may decide to not delete the comment. –  Bill the Lizard Jul 14 '09 at 17:53
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I have a number of times asked questions where "I googled X + Y" is the perfect answerer because what I'm looking for is what to look for. (Google is spooky good when you known what to ask for and down right awful when you don't) –  BCS Jul 23 '09 at 16:31
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Maybe this is somewhere else in the answers, but remember about dead links - it can be good idea to quote the answer you're linking to. –  Nathaniel Oct 28 '09 at 1:05
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@Nathaniel: I agree. It's a good idea to quote the page you're linking to so the information is preserved on SO, SU, or SF. The link then serves as a citation of the original source. –  Bill the Lizard Oct 28 '09 at 15:12

It has always been unacceptable to use lmgtfy. It is even in the FAQ.

If you see someone using a lmgtfy reply, edit it to remove it and report it to the mods.

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Why does Rich B speak in absolutes and not provide a link to the faq? stackoverflow.com/faq doesn't mention this behavior and explicitly encourages questioners to research first. –  MattK Jul 14 '09 at 16:53
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Rich B knows the FAQ inside and out, and it's strange to him that others don't. –  devinb Jul 14 '09 at 17:59
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@MattK: Because there is a link at the top of every page and I expect my fellow community members to know this? –  GEOCHET Jul 14 '09 at 18:32
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OMG SHOG EDITED MY POST I AM GOING ON A META SPREE COMPLAINING ABOUT HIM!!!! –  GEOCHET Jul 14 '09 at 19:36

If someone doesn't present a reason to believe they tried to research first, it is perfectly ok to instruct them in the very important art of doing their research. "Teach a man to fish" and all that.

Perhaps a useful compromise in the community could be an encouragement for questioners to "show their work" and list the trouble they've already taken.

By the way, centralizing all programming answers in SO is an internet smell. What you want is an internet that has many sources so that you don't centralize power or risk. When SO goes down, everything else remains, and it should suffice.

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No. This might be ok on other sites, but not on SO. –  GEOCHET Jul 14 '09 at 16:46
    
Please of sites copy from SO. If SO were to die, we'd be fine. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 16:48
    
Good point Jonathan. CC-BY-SA means we can reasonably expect the content to distribute... –  MattK Jul 14 '09 at 16:50
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Rich B - stackoverflow.com/faq encourages users to do their research first. I wouldn't encourage anyone to be mean, but a gentle nudge to do some snooping around first is good for the questioner. –  MattK Jul 14 '09 at 16:55
    
"Do your research" has very relative consequences. To some, this means digging into Google. To others, it means something completely different. People aren't naturally capable of doing worth-while research. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 17:32
    
@mattK The stack overflow faq says to check to see if SO has already answered your question- it does not say to google it. –  Jim B Jul 14 '09 at 21:32

I just got into a discussion/exchange on this subject via comments on a closed question. This struck me as odd since a) enough people thought the question was wrong for SO to close it, and b) the very asking of the question itself indicated that the OP had given little or no thought about the subject at hand (i.e. Would Linux ever become a paid-OS?).

Someone directed me to MSO to discuss this and, quite frankly, I'm saddened by what I see here. I'm a geezer geek and have been participating in forums of one sort or another since 1973 (Notes on PLATO IV). What was originally attractive about SO to me was the generally high quality of the questions asked and the equally high quality of the answers given -- real thought went into some of these answers and I often learned something new, something that is still a real joy for me even after 37+ years.

Unfortunately I see the average question quality beginning to slip, largely because of the increasing numbers of "I couldn't be bothered to google this so you should answer it for me" types of question being asked by people with 1 or 2 rep points. It's gotten to the point where I almost wish for a filter (ALA Slashdot's vote-level filter) where I only look at questions asked by someone with more than X (100?) rep points. I wouldn't go quite that far because it is obviously the wrong way to address the problem, but it is clear that the majority of the really bad questions (translation: could have been trivially answered elsewhere) are from very low-rep-point members.

One of the links I came across while reading the many MSO posts/comments on this issue struck me as hitting the nail squarely on the head. It is on the subject of Help Vampires and it describes a cycle I have seen countless times over the years. One of the most damaging side effects of a Help Vampire infestation is that it often causes very senior members of the community to visit the site/forum less and less, thereby reducing the chance of having a truly enlightening answer from a bona fide guru. E.g asking a question in comp.lang.c and getting a response from dmr@alice.UUCP.

I agree that an SO answer that consists solely of a lmgtfy link is a waste of everyone's time, but perhaps there could be a new close option that basically says the same thing. This might be enhanced by allowing the closers to supply suggested google queries that the OP might have used.

Basically, I'm suggesting formalizing the lmgtfy answer in such a way as to get this type of "I can't be bothered to think/google/read the FM or the FFAQ" question out of the mainstream of OS. It might even be a chance to auto-generate a new type of FAQ where the answers are links to queries.

Just a thought.

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There are already systems in place to deal with low rep users who continually post low quality questions. I do not agree however there is enough SO users to take the most basic question and edit it into a good one, and the OP will learn to do the same over time. The one person you sent back to Google, may very well be the next Jon Skeet. –  Diago Sep 5 '10 at 16:06
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@Diago: Actually, it is far more likely that they are not the next Jon Skeet. It would be interesting to get in the WayBack Machine and see what Jon's earliest posts to forums looked like. It's pure speculation on my part, but I suspect that even then his questions indicated that his brain was thoroughly engaged. Many of these do it for me questions show no mental effort at all. As for editing the question being educational: there is a difference between a poorly-worded-but-still-good question and one that displays simple mental laziness. It is the later I am referring to. –  Peter Rowell Sep 5 '10 at 16:28
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@Diago: Regarding "There are already systems in place ...." I would be interested in knowing exactly what these "systems" are. I'm not trying to be argumentative here, but I am looking for specifics. Whatever these systems are, they don't appear to be working very well. I mostly respond to Django/Python questions and have seen any number of people with low rep ask inane question after inane question: all of which could have been answered more quickly and more completely at djangoproject.org than by coming to SO. –  Peter Rowell Sep 10 '10 at 3:51
    
There are a few. One of these being the system Jeff put in place and explains here. The other the fact that you can vote to close, edit another user's posts, and the various tools provided for community moderators. Also LMGTFY links have been banned for some time on all the site. SE has a simple goal. Google is the homepage. –  Diago Sep 10 '10 at 6:41

Here's some empirical evidence that lmgtfy links and perhaps even requiring prior research might be a bad idea. A colleague was searching for something about typeof in Java. So he googled for "java typeof". The top result was a web forum where the first answer suggested the OP google for "java typeof"! I'd hate to see a similar situation happen here.

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Yes, yes, yes! This is a far more important reason to not point people to Google than any question of rudeness: doing so contaminates Google results, and actually makes the information harder to find. –  Brilliand Jan 15 at 22:32

I'm not trying to belittle you concerns, seriously...

but I simply have not seen this as any sort of a problem on Stackoverflow. On the contrary, I find that some of the simplest questions generate some of the most thoughtful and interesting conversations.

For the very few people who post "ask google" responses, they are likely just following the type of response they learned from other systems. They are almost universally met with down-votes accompanied by comments that say it is not appreciated here.

That has been my experience.

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I see this more in comments than I do answers. Comments cannot be down-voted, which is probably why people tend to vend their criticisms there. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 16:47
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True. I just saw this here: stackoverflow.com/questions/826304/… . But the lmgtfy comments where chastised, excused, debated, and eventually deleted... all in comments. Kind of how the system is supposed to work. –  Robert Cartaino Jul 14 '09 at 17:02
    
Glad to see a success story :) –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 14 '09 at 17:32

You shouldn't send them to Google and nothing else but you should at least try to teach them how to use Google by providing the relevant search terms.

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In principle I agree that we should not belittle people posting questions.

But I'd like to suggest that the following concept:

"Joel expressed a desire in recent podcasts to see Stack Overflow as the ultimate source for all programming-related questions. I am sympathetic of this view, as I would like to see all questions (including "What is a variable?") welcomed on Stack Overflow, because it is the best place for those questions to be asked."

...can be taken way too far.

One of the tags I follow at Stack Overflow is "jquery", so using that as an example (where obviously similar examples exist for other technologies): people post questions along the lines of "What does the jQuery .fadeIn() function do?" This is a specific function that is already very well documented elsewhere; repeating that documentation within Stack Overflow really isn't helpful.

If somebody asks a very generic question like that about a jQuery function they should be directed to the jQuery API documentation website. Surely somebody who has the Google skills to find Stack Overflow in the first place could manage to find jQuery's website too, but some people start treating Stack Overflow as if it is Google. It's not.

On the other hand, if somebody says "I'm trying to use .fadeIn() as follows [code example] and it's not doing what I expect because [reason]", or "I know that .fadeIn() does [x], but is there a similar way to achieve [y]?" well then a Stack Overflow question is reasonable.

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I see one unchallenged assumption in all this discussion so far, which is that Google is always right for 'simple' questions.

We all know that Google can throw up crap too. I sincerely hope that there is a higher chance of getting the CORRECT answer to a simple programming question on Stack Overflow than there is off Google.

(Just another reason for answering simple questions on Stack Overflow.)

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Am I the only one that thinks that google sucks to search for programing related things? Nearly every time I get an inusual error message and paste it into google, it gives me crap. –  The Disintegrator Sep 17 '09 at 8:33

The only time I post a link that uses outside search engines, I post carefully crafted URLs, so that the link will always go to where I intended it to go. For example, if I want to link to a wiki page on some random site, but I think that page may at some point change locations, I use a Google I'm Feeling Lucky URL, with enough search terms that I'm fairly confident of its destination.

Example:

http://www.mingw.org/wiki/MSYS

becomes

http://www.google.com/search?hl=en&btnI=&q=site%3Amingw.org+"about+MSYS"

I don't see any other reason being worthy of my time to point out.

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When an easy question comes up, you can do one of to things:

  1. You can post a quick link or quote an article and gain a quick few points
  2. You can post a long drawn out answer you revise and tweak and gain a bunch of rep from it.

Do what you wish. But if you don't write the good answer, someone else will.

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No. Unacceptable. Do not post lmgtfy links. Please do not even say this is anywhere near ok to do. –  GEOCHET Jul 14 '09 at 16:39
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I agreed with only half of point #1 (the last half) and most of point #2. –  TheTXI Jul 14 '09 at 16:40
    
Whats wrong with posting a link(to another site that has the answer)? Nowhere does he say "post a link to google". Read first, then comment. –  antony.trupe Jul 14 '09 at 19:48
    
oh, and +1_____ –  antony.trupe Jul 14 '09 at 19:49
    
@antony Full Disclosure: I did say lmgtfy before Rich's comment. I corrected myself. –  Tom Ritter Jul 14 '09 at 22:03

While I have mentioned in the past that I think people should have used Google before posting I have never thought that posting a link to lmgtfy served as an answer. I also think that people should experiment with their IDE before posting too.

The reason I think this - it's because that's what I do when looking at answers I'm not 100% sure of the answer to. It's often the case when I am sure too - just to make sure I've got the syntax right!

I understand that people are under all sorts of pressures when developing and if you're a lone developer it can be hard to spot where you're going wrong sometimes. I've been in that position myself, so I can't really complain about anyone posting simple questions. After all the question is only simple if you know the answer.

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Why should they use google? No question is to 'newbie' for SO. What do we still not get here? –  GEOCHET Jul 14 '09 at 16:43
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What I'm trying (and obviously failing) to say is that I think people should do more research before posting a question. However, I know that unless you either know the correct search terms or get lucky you often don't find the information you're looking for. For certain groups (e.g. lone developer) this can be a real problem, but if you make it clear you've made some effort to find an answer before posting on SO then no one should get annoyed. –  ChrisF Jul 14 '09 at 16:48
    
ChrisF: I respectfully disagree. I think people should research SO itself to make sure their question isn't a dupe (though it can always be closed as such), but since one of the goals of SO is to be the be-all-end-all repository of software development knowledge, I'd agree with Rich B on this one: No question is too newbie. Let them come here, learn, and let others follow in that path. –  John Rudy Jul 14 '09 at 17:51
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@John Rudy: As I said in my post - a question is only simple if you know the answer & people don't (usually) post if they know the answer. So I'm not saying they shouldn't post. –  ChrisF Jul 14 '09 at 17:57

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