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Seriously, what is up with all the silly/noob/amateur/inappropriate/[add_word_of_your_liking] questions regarding Android on Stack Overflow these days?

I've been keeping an eye on the Android tag for a little while, and it seems like the number of questions posted by people who doesn't know anything about neither Android nor Java is exploding.

I see questions such as "I an new to Android. I have an idea about [this application] that will do [some "fancy" stuff]. How can I do this?", or questions concerning fundamentally basic Java features (I mean, if you don't know what overriding the equals method means or why you would do it, you've got a pretty far way to go). Do people actually believe that they can start coding Android without any prior knowledge of Java coding, reading a book on the subject or even google for "Android tutorial"?

How do one best respond to such questions?

Should they just be ignored? Or down-vote them? Or place a comment in the question telling them to go read up a bit first?

I've tried to answer a question or two, but you usually ends up getting follow-up questions about basic features. It's not like you can spend your day teaching every nitwit how to program Java from the ground up...

(I'm not sure if this is something that belongs here at meta, but I feel there is too much pressure building up, so I just have to vent :) )

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Perhaps it's something to do with Android AppInventor. Maybe it's encouraging non-coders to try getting involved. –  Simon P Stevens Oct 14 '10 at 11:50
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@Simon: true, that might be a part of it. But I see several code-specific questions, and you don't see a single line of code in AppInventor, so there has got to be something more as well. –  Nailuj Oct 14 '10 at 12:01
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@Simon, I'd say it's more to do with people (not necessarily developers) thinking they can make a fast buck on Android apps given the success it's having in the market, and this: developer.android.com/resources/community-groups.html –  Jon Oct 14 '10 at 13:21
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@Jon: regarding the link to SO from the the android dev site, I think you're spot on! I guess it's a good thing for SO to get that kind of attention from Google/Android, but the way they present SO it's almost like "you can go here to ask anything you wonder about", and that's perhaps not something we want here... –  Nailuj Oct 14 '10 at 13:54

5 Answers 5

In the case of a very basic question I think the best solution would be to leave a civil, non-condescending note in the comments saying something to the extent of, "This is a fairly basic question that can be learned simply by reading a beginner book or doing a few free online tutorials." Instead of being upset at them you should applaude their eagerness to learn while politely saying RTFM.

In the case of the ridiculously naive questions like "I have a great idea for a MMORPG based on Canadian zebra herding. How can I make that application over the weekend?" You again should be polite and point them to this site's FAQ and leave them with a cheery, "We'd love to help when you start developing and run into a specific problem."

Remember, everyone was a novice at one time, even you, so try to embrace their eagerness and direct it toward the proper avenue of information and learning.

As Jimmy Dore says, "Stay posi in 2010!"

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I guess saying RTFM in a polite way (but in such a way that it cannot be misunderstood), is the real challenge here ;) –  Nailuj Oct 14 '10 at 13:55

If it's any consolation, the [iphone] tag has had many questions like this for a while now, with the frequency dropping off a little since the new bad-question-blocking measures were instituted. I think it's a measure of how many new developers are drawn to a platform looking to make a quick buck. Android is becoming more attractive as a platform for developers, so it's inevitable that these questions will start popping up.

You want to make sure that you're not too harsh with people asking simple questions. Stack Overflow was designed to welcome any good question, no matter how basic. Even if it's something they could find with five minutes on Google, be polite and point out where in the documentation they should look, or describe how the language feature works that they're asking about. Obviously, duplicate questions of this type should be closed.

Lazily thought-out or "do my work for me" questions should be voted down and closed, however. We don't want to encourage help vampires who prey on the generosity of the Stack Overflow crowd.

Be sure not to confuse lazy questions with viable questions that were worded poorly due to someone's lack of English writing skills. If you can, take the time to improve the structure of the latter.

Again, you can browse through some of the lowest-voted iPhone questions and see that this is not exclusive to the [android] tag. Any hot platform is going to attract questions like these.

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I think an awful lot of it has to do with this: http://android-developers.blogspot.com/2009/12/hello-stack-overflow.html (also announced here).

In essence, the Android tag on Stack Overflow will become an official Android app development Q&A medium. We encourage you to post your beginner-level technical questions there.

Also, Android development is very new. Unlike older, more established languages, there wasn't already a good number of Android developer resources available. Stack Overflow is awesome and is visited by a huge number of developers, but I'll wager there are still plenty of, say, C++ developers who don't go to SO and instead stick with the forums they've used for years. There is no equivalent for Android.

I'm just speculating, though. I've not dipped my toe in Android development yet. When I do I'm sure I'll post inane questions here, too.

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If you feel strongly about them I think you have two options:

  1. Down-vote them.
  2. Vote to close as not a real question.

If you have less than 3,000 rep then you only have one option #1.

In either case you could add a comment along the lines of "only post a question if you have a specific programming issue". You could even suggest they do some basic research first. I ought to point out that these comments should be polite and non-judgemental.

Answering is probably the last thing you want to do.

A set of down-voted, closed and unanswered questions should send a signal. It might even trigger the "poor question" algorithm.

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Regarding option #2 for those with <3k rep, would it be an option to flag the question, or is that not desirable as it would flood the moderators with requests? –  Nailuj Oct 14 '10 at 11:59
    
@Nailuj - flagging for moderator attention should be a last resort if it's a particularly bad example. Otherwise, as you say, you could end up overloading the moderators. –  ChrisF Oct 14 '10 at 12:16
    
FWIW, Troggy♦ would rather have too many flags than too few: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/37345/… –  Pops Oct 14 '10 at 17:58

As others have stated, when a platform becomes popular, the number of questions regarding that platform will increase. When the number of questions surrounding a given topic increases, the number of poorly written, obnoxious, ignorant, and stupid questions on the said topic will increase as well.

In addition to what was written here, try to gently suggest that new users get with the program, by saying something along the lines of:

Welcome to StackOverflow! Feel free to change your username from user123456 to something a little more unique. Remember to select the correct answer so that folks will bw motivated to help you.

If the question is low quality, leave some specific explanation why, but try not to be disparaging. You don't want to scare folks off. If it's a veteran user, don't be afraid to edit, vote to close or flag when necessary.In any case, a poorly written question is just begging for you to edit it. That's what those tools are for!

(That's my two cents.)

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