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The Help Vampire problem

It's all too easy to blame Help Vampires for problems in Stack Overflow.

But it's not them, it's us. The people who feed them.

If the question is an exact duplicate, let them know it's an exact duplicate.

If the question is a trivial question about something from the standard library, don't forget to link to the standard library documentation while answering the question.

If someone asks "Why doesn't this code work?", and the debugging is trivial, don't just do the trivial debugging for them. Show them how they can debug it themselves (for example, tell them about warning flags).

Unfortunately, reputation goes to those who feed the help vampires, not those who help cure them. These feeders don't just get reputation from the vampire. They also get reputation from the rest of the community. (For example, 11 upvotes on an answer to a duplicate question)

I'm not meaning to be ill-intentioned towards the help vampires. Some of them haven't been taught properly how to program or how to problem-solve, and I suspect some of them are so stressed out they aren't thinking straight. Asking a question is more effort than googling, so it's not a case of laziness. But so long as the feeders deliberately don't teach the vampires how to fish as opposed to merely giving them a fish, they're going to continue to be worse off.

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marked as duplicate by Aarobot, random Apr 7 '11 at 0:52

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

So is there something you wanted to discuss or is this a soap box? – Aarobot Apr 6 '11 at 23:36
@Aarobot: I thought that soap boxing was allowed on meta. – Andrew Grimm Apr 7 '11 at 0:00
@Aarobot I think this is in reference to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/86307/… and meta.stackexchange.com/questions/86165/… – user142852 Apr 7 '11 at 0:02
Andrew, why didn't you just post this as an answer to the help vampires question? The "discussion" tag is not a free-for-all to post random rants; you're not actually facilitating any kind of discussion here, nothing here is actionable, this just reads like a ranty blog post. – Aarobot Apr 7 '11 at 0:41
Ironic how this has been closed as duplicate too... – Cyclone Apr 7 '11 at 1:04
@Aarobot: It's suggesting a change in behaviour, like meta.stackexchange.com/questions/73382/… – Andrew Grimm Apr 7 '11 at 1:27
I think the biggest problem is that the duplicate-identification-while-writing-question is miserable. The "Related" links after the question is posted often find duplicates. I think that's because the related links consider tags and the other doesn't... is there already a meta topic about this problem? – Ben Voigt Apr 7 '11 at 3:44
Hmm, how ironic. – biziclop Apr 7 '11 at 9:30

2 Answers 2

This is not untrue. I find it difficult to not downvote a wild-guess answer to a particularly poor question. Although I always do, it is unprovable to be an incorrect answer.

There's a secondary effect that's far more troublesome. I think we're teaching question askers to intentionally post vague and poorly documented questions. Because if it is a good and detailed question, the odds that it will be closed as duplicate are great. That doesn't happen to the "throw it at the wall and see what sticks" questions. No idea how to fix that btw, looks like a systemic problem to me.

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If you look at that post more closely, you'll see that the answer was written a day before the question was identified as a duplicate. If I see a question, it's much easier to just answer it rather than to root around for a duplicate, then triumphantly post the link to it.

Not only easier, more importantly it's much less rude. People who like to help other people are often also too nice to just paste a link in and then vote for the question to be closed. Especially if it's likely to be the first visit of the opener to the site.

What kind of first impression would it give you if your very first question was closed straight away?

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Is it nice to hide the fact that it's a duplicate? Are you really helping them in the long run? – Andrew Grimm Apr 6 '11 at 23:48
"Wow, these people know how to keep the signal to noise ratio high" – random Apr 6 '11 at 23:48
It also doesn't help those of us who are searching for answers on a specific question and get back a page full of the same question worded slightly differently. – lins314159 Apr 6 '11 at 23:51
@Andrew Grimm No, it's nice to answer a question if and when one's asked. Sooner or later they'll learn how the site works. I don't often see duplicate question from people with >1000 rep but when I see one, I point them to the duplicate. They should know better. – biziclop Apr 6 '11 at 23:56
@lins314159 Well, that's just a deficiency of the engine I'm afraid. If question could be grouped, it wouldn't happen. – biziclop Apr 6 '11 at 23:58
"What kind of first impression would it give you if your very first question was closed straight away?" If the close was accompanied by link to an existing copy of the very same question already provided with really good answers I'd think the impression would be "Damn, this place is good. I should have searched!". The more so as the link gets provided no later than the moment the first duplicate vote is cast. – dmckee Apr 7 '11 at 0:30
@dmckee It doesn't really come across that way though. If your question is closed, it immediately implies that in some way it was inappropiate. Maybe the design should be changed to reflect that this isn't the case. If it was flagged up as [duplicate] instead of [closed], it wouldn't make people feel worthless. – biziclop Apr 7 '11 at 9:28
@biziclop: a "hey, this is the first time one of your questions got closed. But the good news is, there already are answers to an almost identical question:..." text might help there as well – Tobias Kienzler Apr 7 '11 at 10:37

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