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Stack Overflow is actually a great source of sharing and helping each others. It's even a addiction in some way... but a good one as a developer.

But I think there is maybe a dark side effect: the lazy noob.

There are often some very basic questions like:

Why my code int i = "42"; throw a compilation error ?

This is a very basic question, which can be answered by pressing F1 (in Visual Studio... I don't know other tools, but the idea is the same) or by having read a C# for dummies book.

While this is not actually a problem for actual noobs (students writing their first line of code, Cobol engineer catapulted to a C# developer job, etc.) as everybody must start one day, it can be a problem with the lazy noob.

What I'm calling a lazy noob is someone that has a problem, and before reading the documentation, before googling, before asking his colleague, starts by put a question in Stack Overflow. That's why I call Stack Overflow a "code generator" as most of time, such questions results is "ready to use" code, gracefully given by the experts. The lazy noob just have to copy paste the code to work... until the next build where a new error appears and a new question is asked.

It's difficult for me to filter such questions... such users (moreover, the reputation growing is a goal for addictive users).

In fact... is there a way to prevent such behaviors? Isn't it utopia to think only helpful questions and helpful answers will be posted on Stack Overflow, by people who wants to be helped and help in exchange (2+2 = 5)?

This is not actually a question, but feel free to share your opinion :)

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Addictive, Stack Overflow? Are you sure? –  Jon Skeet Feb 12 '11 at 13:02
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How to avoid code SO turning into a code generation site: Remove programmers. –  Adam Davis Feb 12 '11 at 16:09
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Not really sure what you think the problem is. If it's such an easy thing to answer, answer it and move along. You might get some free upvotes from it, you might not. But there's no reason to downvote or make rude comments to the asker. We were all novices once. The FAQ used to say there's no such thing as a question too basic. (Of course, this all assumes it's not a duplicate. If it is, vote to close it.) –  Cody Gray Feb 13 '11 at 6:10
    
@all: maybe it was not clear in my post, I'm actually distinguishing novice which are welcome in SO, and lazy noob that does not try to raise its skill by learning but by waiting for others to do the job. –  Steve B Feb 13 '11 at 11:48
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@Steve: Ah, then you're looking for the "Close Question" feature... The real problem lies in making the distinction between a novice question that looks ridiculous to experienced programmers and a lazy noob that isn't even trying. That's why this needs to be a human thing, rather than anything automated. –  Cody Gray Feb 13 '11 at 13:43
    
I do think the differentiation between the two is harder than you might think - if I have a query about something that I am trying to learn, very often the difficulty lies precisely because I don't know where to look, or what are the relevant things to investigate as pointers to solve the problem because - well - I don't know the stuff and so don't know where to look. –  Chris Walton Feb 14 '11 at 7:53
    
@Chris, @Steve, who cares about the distinction? If you can't tell the difference, there isn't a difference - as far as SO is concerned. What people do with the answers is their own problem. And there's a limit to how many 'dumb' questions you can ask before hitting dupes anyway. –  Benjol Feb 14 '11 at 8:42
    
Maybe start allowing more real questions? –  The Dark Avenger Nov 17 '11 at 18:33
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Great feature request! Make Stack Overflow automatically generate code! –  Andrew Nov 18 '11 at 6:03
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7 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

I don't think that it is a problem if SO becomes a code generator. There are several times that I've been unable to solve a problem, I've posted it to SO, and within a day someone found the problem to be interesting enough that they could solve it for me. Those solutions are now in production open source code.

I think that what you actually want is to eliminate uninformed questions on SO that could be more easily answered with a few minutes of research on behalf of the person who is asking the question. This is a problem. There are now more than 200,000 unanswered questions on SO. I haven't done a statistical analysis of them, but it seems like about 1/3 of them are really intricate problems to a particular situation for which not enough details were answered, 1/3 are really stupid questions, and 1/3 are everything else.

I think that it is not possible to solve the stupid question problem.

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I don't see how one could prevent SO from becoming a "code generator" in the sense you mean it - as most of the questions are related to programming problems, it makes sense to me that many answers would be expressed in code.

And if the generated code is good, what is the problem with SO becoming a code generator?

And as for your utopia, I think we are mostly there - and getting ever closer, though without a hope of ever actually reaching it… and I believe that is fine.

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This is a problem with any similar forum like QA system. These questions are going to come because many of these people get hired for unqualified jobs, or they are helped in low level classes and can't complete the work in upper level classes.

I wouldn't worry about it much. If you happen to identify a case of this, leave a comment if you want and just make sure you don't answer the question and instead spend your time helping someone else.

Also, you never know how many other people eventually stumble upon one of these lazy noob questions and actually learn from an answer someone gives.

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As an actual "noob" I have to admit to asking questions that might seem far too basic and generally answerable with a little research. I think however what we have to keep in mind is that the user, whether a "lazy noob" or not, comes to SO because he will get a reliable community and expert moderated answer to a question. Simply trolling the net looking for answers can sometimes leave you swimming in a sea of unreliable and downright incorrect data. I would guess for every "lazy noob", there are 10 regular noobs trying to actually learn something. It's easy to forget this when you are already in the know so to speak.

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I actually see no need to prevent it.

The reality is that the original goal, and continued goal of both Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange is to be the canonical source for all information regarding the sites core topic. From the outset, Stack Overflow has never distinguished between the level of the asker or the level of the question. When searching Google for a question, Stack Overflow or Stack Exchange should be the first hit.

The majority of the community does not offer copy and paste answers, and in most cases, one answer by itself is not going to produce a complete application. If these users don't get the code from Stack Overflow, they will get it somewhere else. We have, for quite a while, banned and down-voted answers that either send the OP to Google or the Manual. Either way, if someone uses SO code in production code, what are the chances that you will ever know?

If anything, Stack Overflow users should learn to ignore questions they do not want to answer, or they believe is to easy. Questions are rated on the merit of the question, not the intent of the OP. We even have a process to deal with homework questions for this exact reason. You are not required to answer, or even read every question on Stack Overflow.

If you know the answer, and you can provide one, do it. If you feel the question is too easy, ignore it. Quite interestingly, Jon Skeet made the bulk of his reputation by answering every question, no matter how easy.

In the end, 90% of the Stack Overflow community is here to learn and share knowledge, no matter who the asker is or what his intentions are. Bad questions are not bad because of the user's intentions, they are bad because they were asked badly.

Every question has a place on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange, the onus is on the users to decide which questions they are interested in, and which to ignore. If they are truly bad, they get closed.

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Absolutely no, and please don't.

I am learning C# at the moment and as much as many of you think that many books are perfect... they are not.

For a newbie coming to the language, there are many things that you lot take for granted that I just can not find in any book (well the few I have bought).

I was too embarrassed and don't mind saying I did it on another account, and it got a few down votes... but I don't care, it got over a huge hurdle, and asking the question, getting someone to explain it (perhaps in a slightly condescending way) just shined a light on something I was just having so many problems trying to understand.

So please don't stop this. Whilst you guys are asking really complicated questions, do not take for granted that some of the more basic topics just are not explained that well in some places and whilst you may have a little problem that you can just ask a colleague about, not all of us have that ability, and this site is amazing for people like me!

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Agreed. For many of us freelancers, you guys are our colleagues. Furthermore, books can and do contain errors and are often out dated. Judging from the onslaught of questions involving mysql_* in php, tutorial sites with high Google ranking are often outdated as well. –  Herbert Jul 28 '13 at 17:57
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The whole reason I participate in Stack Overflow is to find interesting problems to work on.

I love to code, but often I don't have any ideas on things to work on. Solution? Watch the PHP and JavaScript sections of Stack Overflow. While there are certainly a lot of bad questions, I've actually learned a lot by trying to answer the good ones. Often I didn't know the answer until I went looking. I really like this aspect of Stack Overflow, to be quite honest.

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