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I'm sure many others must find this infuriating. A user asks question something along the lines of:

"My ASP.NET website throws BlahException when I do do such and such"
Tags:

or

"How do I programmatically configure an application pool in C#?"
Tags:

Or here's a real live example:

Wordpress upgrade has broken my permalinks

We have no idea what version of IIS is running which is a fairly important piece of the puzzle because of the substantial differences in behaviour between IIS6 and IIS7. We also have no information about what version of PHP is running which is also important because his upgrade may have triggered the bug-de-jour for that particular version of PHP.

We now have the problem of trying to elicit this information out of the OP via the comments, or taking a stab in the dark, or providing multiple solutions for each potential combination of versions of IIS, ASP.NET, PHP and so on.

This is another example, albeit the OP did specify nearly all of the version number of his installed PHP:

php mail() function and IIS

But even here getting the exact version of PHP is so important because in the 5.2 release of PHP on Windows there are around 18 different versions (counting the threadsafe and non-threadsafe variants), and each one with it's own basket case of faults.

The reason I quote this question is because the mail() function in all of the Windows versions of PHP 5.2 up until 5.2.11 mangled SMTP headers. I took a stab in the dark with my answer (as a hoster I am very familiar with this bug and had to write a FAQ about it) and it turned out to be correct, but that's not often productive and can sometimes attract downvotes just for trying to be helpful in the absence of certain critical facts.

If we phone up the local garage to ask a question about our cars, the first thing they ask after the make and model is what year it was manufactured (which is effectively like a motor industry version number) because that often has a huge influence on where to start the fault diagnosis.

Is there any way we could enhance the Ask A Question Page to try and force/encourage users to be more specific in their tagging about version numbers, or are we doomed to endlessly post comments to get this vital information?

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Some times the answer to the quesion may effect the version I choose to use. E.g. I am on X but am willing to upgrade if it helps me. So making users put versions in tags is not always good –  Ian Ringrose Apr 15 '11 at 14:51
    
I think you've missed the point. The example you just gave would at least provide an indicator of what they're using. The posts I'm talking about are not questions about "I am on X...". These are specific questions about something they can't get to work where knowing the version of the tools they're using, or IIS version is vitally important to at least start solving their problem. –  Kev Apr 15 '11 at 15:42

2 Answers 2

Is there any way we could enhance the Ask A Question Page to try and force/encourage users to be more specific in their tagging about version numbers, or are we doomed to endlessly post comments to get this vital information?

My 2 cents: I don't think it's going to work. I see too many OPs who would not understand, or even notice, any information to that effect.

If the version information is relevant, ask the OP to provide it. If they fail to respond, it's their loss - it's them who want the problem solved.

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Yep I guess you may be right. It's bloody depressing. –  Kev Apr 15 '11 at 15:53

Your initial examples are prime examples of a bad question, IMO. Not so much because people could never know the answer (we all know plenty of users could provide exquisite solutions for these very questions, and others like them) but rather because we can't see that an effort has been made - not only concerning the construction of the query, but this equates to 'can ah haz teh codez? People generally don't like to suffer these - depending on the context (when dealing with a brand new user, for instance) they will be encouraged by the community and hopefully learn, if not then the system works to weed these habitually bad posters out - again, based on community effort.

In relation to the first question you reference, the OP doesn't even seem to know if the application is IIS powered, let alone the version. Ultimately, it's a valid question IMO - they have a specific problem and they've provided the most specific data that they can (not saying great amounts here, and it may not be to your standard of requirements, but an effort of sorts is definitely shown). Enough so that others that are technically savvy can (and have) attempted to address exactly what might be wrong. This is the way it is for many questions, where the OP is simply still learning, or something or other.

The thing is, if the posters knew most of the information they needed to get the question answered, often times they might just wind up answering themselves.

In the end, I think 'we're doomed to endlessly post comments to get this vital information.' And be pleasantly surprised in between times when we don't have to.

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You're probably right. But with the volume of questions that do get asked on SO that are like this it's becoming a seriously Cnutian effort to stem the tide and get people to provide more specific implementation detail. I just wondered if something could be done up front to educate users better. The thing is it's not always the plz send teh codes types that are guilty of this, there are some quite switched on intelligent questions being asked but people just seem to forget that version numbers are key, especially when it comes to IIS/ASP.NET/PHP. –  Kev Apr 15 '11 at 15:50

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