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There is a distinct decline in the level of civility on all the sites here. Some of this is due to new users coming in and posting spam and other nonsense, but the offtopic and downvote buttons are doing a pretty good job of keeping this under control.

Unfortunately, a lot of this is coming from more experienced users, and the site's built-in moderation system is not (and probably cannot) handle this very well. Folks are rushing to pound new users down with "this belongs on meta!", "this is off topic", "this is a duplicate!" and "read the FAQ!". (Which is correct, but should be done nicer) All this, of course, is accompanied by a flurry of downvotes. This is not very welcoming to new users who don't know about meta, or what is offtopic, or the FAQ.

Now I am not proposing that we just allow offtopic, meta, or duplicate questions. However, I think we could be gentler in the way we express these sorts of things. Explain what meta and the FAQ are and provide useful links. Just using please and thank-you when asking folks to read the FAQ or post something on meta would be an improvement. I also think we could rein in the downvoting a bit. Not that we shouldn't vote stuff down, but unless a new user's post is clearly spam, voting it down to -1 or -2 should be sufficient to send a message without piling on.

I like Stack Overflow and I want it to become a resource for everyone, not just an elitist site for people who were in the private beta.

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migrated from stackoverflow.com Jul 27 '09 at 10:57

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

The links to that information should be better displayed, and perhaps displayed more often. –  Brad Gilbert Sep 16 '08 at 21:17
This is why I've suggested having comments for when things are voted down. That way people get helpful hints instead of just the big minus sign. Unfortunately, the suggestion was declined by management. :( –  Kyralessa Sep 16 '08 at 21:21
For starters, let's stop using the derogatory term "noobs"? –  Ates Goral Oct 17 '08 at 14:39
@Michael I think it's more likely it came from the word 'newbie' which I don't find offensive at all. –  rustyshelf Nov 20 '08 at 23:42
As a noob here myself the most irritating thing I have experienced is being voted down without explanation. I'm not here to gain reputation but to get help. I try to be helpful in return. So if an answer is deemed unhelpful I would like to know why so that I can make better answers in future. –  Noel Walters Jan 26 '09 at 11:08
Rolled back to "noobs". The term is used in our field and I don't think anyone takes it particularly offensively. Tired of political correctness everywhere. –  Simucal Feb 16 '09 at 2:04
I totally agree, I've caught wind of this myself and I’ve only been here two weeks. It takes a lot to not attack back via comments. This “decline in the level of civility” can lead to very large nonsense/bickering comment chains. –  NTDLS Feb 21 '09 at 5:16
I agree. It's very offensive to be a new user, post a question, and have it hit with "topic closed". Even it's a duplicate question, don't bar people from answering it. Some questions that I thought were reasonable were IMHO inappropriately closed. My reaction was "**** this ****ing site!" –  Anonymous Feb 23 '09 at 20:01
I've always thought that we programmers tend to be a little bit arrogant. Maybe it comes with the binary numerical system understanding –  victor hugo May 10 '09 at 19:27
The beatings will continue until morale improves? –  sparks May 12 '09 at 23:56
This is typical. Someone designs and creates a system (StackOverflow) that fails to take into account the nature of human beings, and then someone (in this case, you) criticises the humans for just being themselves and not adapting to the flaws of the system. –  Timwi May 13 '09 at 0:40
I'd definitely change "noobs" to "newcomers", because standard English is always more understandable. –  Daniel Daranas Jun 26 '09 at 10:39
@mcandre: where in the manifesto is that true: [This is a place for specific, complex questions] That's your personal wish for this place, just as my personal wish for this place is somewhere between experts-exchange and slashdot. Guess what, neither of us are going to get what we want, but IMHO, if we were closer to my vision, we get a better tool all-around and not just some silo to your ego of eliteness. –  darthcoder Aug 18 '09 at 18:23
I find so ironic that this post has been "protected" against newbies... –  yms Apr 24 '11 at 22:37
I know that when I started I found the FAQ to be singularly unhelpful and got downvoted on my first interaction with StackOverflow because I had no idea why I couldn't leave comments or make votes (probably the two most used features of this website), so left a comment the only way I could, as an answer. I got downvoted with no explanation except the advice that I should have commented and / or upvoted (which I didn't have the reputation to do). It wasn't until just recently that I discovered the FAQ does deal with comments and votes, but only under Reputation, not what I came here for –  James K Sep 16 '12 at 1:46

49 Answers 49

I have to agree, although I've probably been short with a few, but how hard is it to search before you ask? I marked at least 8 posts as duplicates in just the last 2 hours.

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Your logic depends on the accuracy of search. I asked a question in the search box, came up with nothing even close, then posted the question. Later I found that there were similar answers, but the search left something to be desired. –  mike511 Sep 17 '08 at 3:13
Certainly during the beta phase, the search was completely useless. Maybe we should stop blaming users for creating duplicates and start asking why the software does not work better to let people find what they are looking for? –  John Channing Sep 27 '08 at 9:32

This is not very welcoming to new users who don't know about uservoice, or what is offtopic, or the unofficial FAQ.

How can we explain this to them when having discussions in the "answers" area is strongly discouraged? I say let 'em find out what this site is. It doesn't take long. And if getting voted down makes someone cry, then he shouldn't use this site at all (or Digg or Reddit or ...).

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When you vote something down add a comment, why you've voted it down. This keeps the voting and tells the user, what he did wrong. –  Yaba Sep 16 '08 at 20:17
-1 you're just saying, "Too bad for them, they should quit whining." and condoning a sink-or-swim attitude. –  Kelly S. French Aug 28 '09 at 15:49

I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made. For example:

"This type of question is considered a 'poll' and is outside Stack Overflow's scope. Please rephrase the question so that it can be answered definitively or it will be closed."

...or something like that. I think that the moderators on javaranch.com do something similar when their newbies break the rules.

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This is a good idea. –  GEOCHET Sep 16 '08 at 18:26
LOL! I was doing this for ages during private beta, it just got me downmodded! I have several snippets that I used in Google Notebook for easy access! –  Rob Cooper Sep 16 '08 at 21:17
The wording of your example is still too harsh in my opinion. The frequently highly negative reactions of newbie Wikipedians to messages with similar purpose and tone is a case in point. –  Michael Ratanapintha Nov 19 '08 at 5:39
best would be if there was just something we could type that would show up as the response, like bbcodelike: [rules] –  Gordon Gustafson Aug 18 '09 at 1:20

I think there is this inherent fear--perhaps a subconscious one learned after spending time on Digg, Reddit, Hacker News, and other similar community-run sites -- of a flood of new users decreasing the quality of posts on a site like this. If anything, such a fear dates back all the way to the Eternal September of Usenet, back in 1993.

This fear leads to an overreaction when people see what they think are junk questions posted by newer users -- whether the questions are simply offtopic, or perhaps trollish or ignorant, or perhaps highly subjective. People are afraid of the quality of the site being ruined by such things, and whether justified or not, they break out the downvotes in droves.

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As well they should. If the content is not helpful, downvote it. That is the whole premise here. –  GEOCHET Sep 16 '08 at 18:26
Thinking about Endless September still makes me cringe. –  dmckee Mar 22 '10 at 15:55

I agree, and I experienced this. I posted something off-topic and marked it as such. It was sufficient to have it downvoted, I don't need somebody flaming me to not post content like that on here. The training is built into the system.

As best I can tell, they're hoping to get some sympathy from other veterans to their cause to help their own rep.

I'm just trying to get to a point where I can upvote interesting questions and answers, and I'm not sure how to best do that when I'm not the quickest or most authoritative response.

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Remember, we have all been n00bs. It has never hurt anyone to be polite.

On the other hand you would expect new (and old) users to do a little investigation before posting, and trying to see if the question already exists somewhere.

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"... we have all been n00bs..." Incorrect. Jon Skeet. –  Wayne Koorts Jun 26 '09 at 10:26
@Wayne, nope. Jon's first answer includes a signature, and his first question is a poll. Granted, those things weren't against the rules back then, but... still. –  Pops Feb 15 '11 at 20:14

While I agree, there are a few points to note:

  • 1 upvote clears the rep cost of several downvotes.
  • New users need to learn and those with the "mod" class rep levels simply don't have time to hand-hold all the new users.
  • I (and we) always take "n00bism" into account before smashing down (I tend to favour closing if possible to save them rep).
  • The up/down vote system is not just about rep, it is the quality control mechanism for Stack Exchange.
  • On the welcome page and the FAQ it clearly states everything that you have mentioned.

Now, like I said, we should take it into account. But the fact remains, the up/down vote system is the core of how we get the "good stuff" up and the "bad stuff" down. It is not designed to be a personal attack against the users in question.

Looking at "exhibit A"..

  • It's not offensive.
  • I don't even think it really belongs on uservoice. I would have commented and closed it.
  • I would not have voted down due to the fact that it is a valid question and not really covered by the official FAQ (the "unofficial FAQ" really pisses me off, that should not have survived private beta for this very reason).
  • The abusive responses are not helpful, I have modded them down, and everyone else should have done the same.

Can we please remember that we are supposed to be adults, we are supposed to be problem-solvers by trade. So, can we try to apply some brain cells to things please?

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The closing is a much larger slap in the face than a downvote IMO. You should be using this power as sparingly as possible. –  GEOCHET Sep 16 '08 at 18:44
I disagree, a comment outlining why it as closed and suggestions on how to make it appropriate is good for two reasons. 1. It stops them getting slammed by other users. 2. It stops a flame war starting and helps the whole process move on. –  Rob Cooper Sep 16 '08 at 18:47
"1 upvote clears the rep cost of several downvotes." While I think this is a good design decision, I wonder how many noobs realize this. A lot of them are probably freaking out at their question being at -5 not realizing that the one upvote meant they had no net loss of rep. –  Chris Upchurch Sep 16 '08 at 20:21
Some people implicitly understand the need for civility. Others do not, unfortunately, so we need to say so explicitly. –  Mike Dunlavey Jan 12 '09 at 22:20
Is it really in the spirit of SO that stackoverflow.com/questions/84556/… is ok, and that stackoverflow.com/questions/907873 is not? –  Curt Sampson May 25 '09 at 23:41
@GEOCHET You must be joking. Rep matters much more when someone is just trying to get started (and the ones who care most are the ones you most want to hold onto as future contributors!). A small change in rep can impact site privileges more easily, and of course the relative effect of downvoting on total rep is much higher. I would love to know how many people have abandoned the site because of being downvoted on one of their first posts. –  A.M. Jul 1 '13 at 19:09
Actually, there is probably a way to find out about this by looking at the records: Search for users who have not logged in in a long time, and see what the last votes on their posts before they left were. (I would be happy to be corrected on my assumption that downvoting chases newbies away, but I would have to see the evidence first.) –  A.M. Jul 1 '13 at 19:16
Once someone's post gets a downvote, he rarely gets a upvote afterwards. –  Jamie Mar 29 at 8:37


We've all been noobs, as superwiren stated, that's certainly true.

But there's a correct way to be a noob, and a wrong way.

When you visit a new place, you should spend some time just looking around and absorbing the culture. That way, you'll learn how to behave in (local) community. When you ask the first question or give a first answer, you'll do it the right way.

The other way is to start dancing fandango in a crowded metro. Generally, this is somehow frowned upon.

Many commenters are forgetting that for every noob that doesn't know how to behave there are ten of the first sort. Kudos to them! And to show them that we appreciate them, we should scream at the latter sort even more loudly!

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Disagree. A parabole: guy comes into town for the first time. Observes how the people are interacting. Enters the bus and asks the driver for information. Or: enters the bus, starts screaming, spitting and throwing around pictures with naked ladies. Same treatment in both cases? I don't thinks so! –  gabr Sep 21 '08 at 8:27
Who says there is a correct way to be a n00b? The most successful "things" on the internet are the ones with the fewest rules, diversity is what drives great content. –  John Channing Sep 27 '08 at 9:38

I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made.

I agree with Outlaw Programmer, but would add that it would be useful if there was a menu or similar to quickly (and politely) allow "problem post" identification.

For example, if you see that a post is a duplicate, you hit a button, enter the URL/ID of the post duplicated. Successive viewers can then agree or disagree. The question poster will get a canned and polite notification.

So instead of templating being a burden on individual users, have it be a function of the system for the most common problem posts.

Offhand, those seem to be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs in uservoice
  • Offtopic
  • Not a question
  • Unclear question (not enough detail to respond, etc.)
  • ...More as post requirements develop

In essence this would be a votable, post classification tag.

Quick and painless for advanced users... just choose the classification from a list of canned ones, or vote up the existing classification(s) if you agree.

It would be friendly and helpful to the new(er)bies. They would see "15 people think this post belongs in the uservoice section. Do you want to move it there?" or "107 people think you should probably add more detail to your question. Edit now?"


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I strongly agree: there needs to be an automated "mark as duplicate" system if the site as intended to function as intended at a large scale. –  Tom Smith Feb 12 '09 at 1:11
+1. The current "close as duplicate" button also posts a comment that reads "possible duplicate of <link>". It'd be great if the other close votes did something similar with a canned polite response/link to the FAQ. –  Timothy Jones Mar 1 '12 at 6:12

I disagree. Voting down should be used judiciously but I think it's still important that it be used. I think the system already has enough built in protections in this regard. Down votes are costly to the voter (-1 rep) and have only a small effect on the rep of the target (-2 rep).

Not to pick on the author of the given example, but take a look at his user page. He's posted 1 question and 1 answer. His answer has 0 net votes and his question has -5 net down votes. Yet he has, just now, 47 total rep (which, incidentally, is enough to allow him to vote answers up or down, per his complaint/question). Given this I think it's a bit ridiculous to say that people voting his question down represents "being hard on him".

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Maybe Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky could put together a video tutorial explaining how Stack Overflow works and explaining some of the do's and don'ts.

From seeing a video of Joel giving a presentation of FogBugz and listening to the podcast I imagine they could make it humorous enough that people would watch the whole thing and informative enough that they could raise the level of n00bism here.

In fact, I think it's such a good idea that I've made a uservoice suggestion for creating a tutorial video.

And it's been declined: "if the site isn't somewhat self-evident, we have failed -- video or not".

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I like this idea. His FogBugz presentation was great. –  Chris Upchurch Sep 16 '08 at 21:13
If our community needs a video to use such a simple site we are doomed for failure. –  GEOCHET Sep 18 '08 at 4:03
If it stops just one person behaving in a way that will get them voted down, and potentially put them off the site then surely it's worth doing. –  Sam Hasler Sep 18 '08 at 12:10
The issue is broader than coding. It's a simple matter of maturity and the golden rule. Shaming people is not what we should be doing. It wouldn't take much video to say "Look out for the other guy, and they'll look out for you". –  Mike Dunlavey Jan 12 '09 at 22:17
...and just for fun, they could make the video in the style of those old 1960s instructional movies they used to show in schools: "Stack Overflow: the silent free-time killer!" –  gnostradamus Jan 27 '09 at 20:29
"we have failed" Yes, you have. Anything that has to have pages and pages and pages and pages of FAQ, is not simple and will NEVER be read. NEVER. So redesign it –  adolf garlic Apr 21 '09 at 7:14
@adolf garlic, we're programmers, we like to know exactly how something works. So it's not surprising that so many FAQ pages exist. As it is most new users don't seem to have to read them to understand how to use the site. They are just there to refer to for the minority of users who ask such questions. –  Sam Hasler Apr 21 '09 at 10:39
> it's been declined: "if the site isn't somewhat self-evident, we have failed -- video or not" And yet... there are training videos for FogBugz. –  Ether Aug 27 '09 at 3:21

I'm a noob(ish) and I read the FAQ before I asked anything. I think RTFM is a reasonable request. I didn't come here to be spoon-fed.

This site is quite intuitive and there aren't any challenging new concepts to learn about how it operates so there is really not much excuse, apart from laziness, to use it as it is intended to be used.

Having said that, there's no excuse for rudeness. A simple "Please Read the FAQ" should suffice.

If that doesn't work there's always justfuckinggoogleit.com/

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Post first, ask questions later.

Maybe users should have to post an answer before they can post a question. Then they would have had to start using the site before they post bad questions.

I would almost go so far as to require users to post more answers than questions. Because as far as I can tell anyone who actually uses this site has answered more questions than they have asked.

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If someone is a beginner (at programming), then it will probably be quite hard for them to first post an answer before they are allowed to ask questions. –  M4N Jan 22 '09 at 22:35
The entire rationale for So is to be easily accessible, somewhere you can get your questiosn answered. It is no coincidence that you can ask questions without even creating an OpenID. Joel and Jeff have been very explicit about this. Anything that requires newcomers to jump through hoops before they're allowed to find the knowledge they need is completely missing the point. Your average newcomer doesn't come here because he wants to be part of a super-cool community, he does not wish to prove himself. He simply wants a question answered, and if he can't immediately ask that question, he's out. –  jalf May 12 '09 at 19:13

I'm a newbie and a few days ago I asked How many reputation points do I need to do X?, At this point I had already read the FAQ, browsed by the page and even answered a couple of questions.

I still get a canned "Try looking at the FAQ here".

Having read the FAQ I felt a little bad, until someone else clarified that there is an "Unofficial FAQ".

I think that there should be a really big (or at least the same size as the other ones) link to a real FAQ which includes all the information in the Unofficial FAQ.

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The elitism needs to stop. –  staticx Dec 6 '09 at 12:36

I am a noob. I've been registered for less than 24 hours after finding Stack Overflow on Reddit, and I've been impressed with both the level of civility and usefulness of many of the questions and answers. I'm also very intrigued by the reputation system and the inventiveness of the site's designers in trying to design a system that keeps up the site's quality and doesn't let it devolve into something like Digg.

Both of these things encouraged me to try to engage with the site (in spite of the OpenID painfulness) vs. just lurk and go away. I have 63 mod points now, so I don't think the 15-point up-vote hurdle is too high at all if a dumbass like me can pass it.

In short, from the noob perspective I don't think there's a big problem, but I do appreciate Chris' advice that you all be nice to us (except for the cretins with the "How do I use Windows?" questions). The system is complicated enough that the real, AKA "unofficial", FAQ really needs to be linked to in the menu (as levhita suggests), not the useless one (or merge the two).

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If lots of people are asking the same questions about Stack Overflow, then that's potentially a usability problem.

And if lots of people are asking (and answering) poll-type questions, then that is apparently an interesting use-case.

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I know I stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed that to post anything on uservoice I had to create yet another user account and that I couldn't even use my OpenID ID like I could on Stack Overflow.

I mean, if the websites are so closely related, wouldn't it make sense for them to behave in the same manner or even better to actually share the same user system?

As it stands, asking a question on UserVoice is more difficult than asking one on Stack Overflow and many people discover Stack Overflow directly and only see UserVoice later (if they even do). Given that, is it so surprising that people go for the easiest and just post their questions on Stack Overflow?

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As someone new to Stack Overflow, I have to agree, to a point. I've noticed a certain SlashDottishness around here, though it's pretty limited so it is not that large an issue.

I think the environment will take care of itself over time. Those who don't need, want or deserve to be here will leave or be encouraged to leave.

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Here are a couple of requests on UserVoice.com

[Provide clear and solid guidelines for SO users][1] [declined]

[Formulate and publish moderation policy][2] [completed]

Admin response

... if site behaviors are not self-evident, we have failed....


Maybe it's time to acknowledge that users need clean guidelines?

If people keep asking such questions, maybe you really failed to explain what Stack Overflow is.

How can this be obvious?:


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what is is according to the designers' intent and what it will become based on community usage may be two very different things. Let it evolve for a while before pruning the shoots, it's only been two days! –  Steven A. Lowe Sep 18 '08 at 3:40

The growth of the community depends upon new users. New users to test the waters, grow the fields of discussion. I posted something I knew to be off-topic and got slammed. For new users, perhaps there should be a lower limit to the times any one question or comment can be down-voted. A reputation that was built in three days was destroyed in less than 5 minutes; just from trying to feel out the limits.

Obviously, the site isn't entirely programming but, if a question edges too far from this it gets raped.

Being pretentious, snobby, mean, and generally negative is not a way to build a helpful community.

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I see a lot of discussion about "noobs" and such, but aren't we all technically new to the site. It's not that old yet (for example, if this site was slashdot instead, we'd all have really low UIDs).

I mean, the only difference between people joining now and people who "have been here since the beginning" is something like two months (if that). And most of that time was spent in private beta. I think the question itself promotes hostility to those who didn't join the private beta as it starts to create cliques of users in the community.

Pretty soon we'll have the group of guys who were in the private beta, the group who joined during open beta, the people who joined the first month, the people who know Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood personally, and it will be a mess of down votes and bickering in the answers and comments with moderator powers being thrown about willy-nilly.

Please, let's just ask questions, give answers, vote on the best of each and try and ignore who said what and concentrate on what was said.

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I just found this discussion right after being 'downed' at 'uservoice' question...

Hmm... I can express some feelings after this all:

  1. Being noob here doesn't mean being noob in computing and communities. It should be not a requirement to "lurk first - participate later". This is what noobs very often hear from nerds and pseudo-elites. Good site must accept anyone with positive mind from the first minute. And yes, normally 'lurking' applies to the sites with close-minded jerkish societies, which I hope is not a case here.

  2. It would be nice just to forbid down-voting newbe, especially when he has low reputation points yet.

  3. Yes, just a hint (in form of tags) would be nice to point newbe to right direction.

  4. Noob, just came to the site, sees questions-discussions-polls like "What the best features of X are" with high votes, and thinks this is legal on this site.

  5. I don't think this site is designed for elite members, so you should be more polite and forgiving to new members. Normally communities tend to be extending and this, I think, is a main goal. Otherwise so many noobs will leave your site for ever.

  6. Voting system isn't very well designed, you should admit it and try to make it even better. Sometimes noobs may give you good advise. (Sometimes - may not).

  7. There's something to do with question votes. I'm afraid, some people don't even realize that this is not a polling counter. :)

  8. Thank you for your attention.

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@Thevs: It is not easy to express yourself in a foreign language, and it takes courage. You did very well. –  Mike Dunlavey Mar 23 '09 at 12:04
@Mike: Thank you for understanding. I think my English writing style says much about me, even if grammar is Ok. :) –  Thevs Mar 25 '09 at 12:00



I, being a n00b myself, didn't realize there was already a system called Badges (yes, I see the big button up top, I just hadn't gotten around to investigating it). Below is my original suggestion, but now that I know there is already a badges system implemented...

I suggest we extend Badges to incorporate tests on various subject matters, instead of just auto-generated values, as it does now. Just like real boy-scout badges. Learn how to tie a knot, take the knot tying test, get a badge. Read the FAQ, take the FAQ test, get a badge.


(Read below for a wordier way of saying the same thing.)


Implement a n00b training and rating system as part of the user account. When a person makes a new account they start out as a n00b, with a score of 0. If they want to increase that score, they have to take tests. The score on the test advances your n00b score. There are multiple tests in different topic areas, and the various tests are weighted differently.

For example, there could be a test about basic site navigation. It could be a low valued test, so even if you get a 100% score on the test, it only boosts your n00b level a little.

Another test could be proving you know the answers from the various FAQs. This could be a medium weighted score.

Another test could be proving you know how the various social systems work, and what socially acceptable behaviour is. It would help to have a "coding standard" type document that covers this, so that people who don't just "get it" can learn it.

This kind of system is already in place on a lot of forum software, but they rate the users on how many posts, giving them various levels of experience, starting at n00b and ending at SysOp (or Admin for you youngsters).

This will be an additional rating system to reputation, and it's opt-in. Reputation is socially controlled. User experience level is something you can learn and test your way to success with, whether anyone likes what you have to say or not.

In this way, you can prove that you've read the FAQ, and understand it enough to answer the questions in the test, and get the appropriate "scout badge". That way, when people are answering your questions, they know at what level to start.. A respondant might think "Should I mention the FAQ to this guy?.. Oh, no, I see he's read the FAQ already, and he's still asking this question. Let me think about it a little deeper, or see if the FAQ is ambiguous or lacking in content.", etc.

I think a system like that would be very cool. You could even have technical topic area "certifications" that can contribute to that... So a user can prove that they know what the heck they are talking about in C++ or Win32 COM programming. The tests could be user generated, and people could add new ones, evolving the site as it goes on.

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Is there a limitation on when the deadline for posting on a question is considered beating a dead horse? ;)

I have little reputation, am a novice programmer, but I'm not scared to be voted down even if I answer honestly thinking I understood the question. Nothing will show me the progress I've made throughout the years like documenting my failures.

While being downright mean to someone is not the solution, I would assume people don't really need to be pampered...just my opinion as someone from the 'trophy kid' generation, you shouldn't always be protected or even rewarded when you make a mistake.

I love this place, even if I still have a lot to learn.


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I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made.

I agree with Outlaw Programmer, but would add that it would be useful if there was a menu or similar to quickly (and politely) allow "problem post" identification.

For example, if you see that a post is a duplicate, you hit a button, enter the url/id of the post duplicated. Successive viewers can then agree or disagree. The question poster will get a canned and polite notification.

So instead of templating being a burden on individual users, have it be a function of the system for the most common problem posts.

Offhand, those seem to be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs in user voice
  • Offtopic
  • Not a question
  • Unclear question (not enough detail to respond, etc.)
  • ...More as post requirements develop

In essence this would be a votable, post classification tag?

Quick and painless for advanced users...just chose the classification from a list of canned ones, or vote up the existing classification(s) if you agree.

It would be friendly and helpful to the new(er)bies. They would see "15 people think this post belongs in the uservoice section. Do you want to move it there?" or "107 people think you should probably add more detail to your question. Edit now?"

I would definitely support a template-message approach. I haven't participated much here, I admit (yeah, I know, I'm a n00b commenting on a thread about n00bs), but I have over 2 1/2 years' experience on Wikipedia, much of it in vandal-patrol. The template message system set up there works pretty well, and what I see in the suggestions from Outlaw Programmer and ee is a kind of combination between Wikipedia's system and Digg's Bury menu. Am I right? If so, I'd be 100% behind that method.

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Wikipedia has a solution to such a problem. This is done by a nice short welcome message explaining the importance of a few rules, rather than simply pointing out the FAQs, and tons of best practices papers and guidelines it has. On top of this, whenever a user makes a mistake he is given a chance to correct it by opening a dispute page. Perhaps we can consider something like that here. If a question is a duplicate, give the user a chance to defend it and maybe even go so far as to stop downvotes on a disputed page? Because on Stack Overflow, once a question is disputed, downvotes seem to fly off faster than the speed of thought.

So what we need is a template for disputed content. A few such categories would be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs on UserVoice
  • Offtopic
  • Offensive
  • Read the FAQ (This tag might be too vague?).

Once a post gets tagged with any of the above tags, a small block explaining the details of such a tag should appear by default on the question itself with an automatic link to a resolution page where the community can vote and discuss it. If consensus is gained, the question can be deleted without getting voted down. This will preserve the reputation points of the user as well and this will make the responses of the question more clean, as right now the discussions on such disputed questions seem to be more about the dispute and less about the question. Just my 2 pyas.

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Wikipedia's solution wouldn't work here. The entire point in SO is to be easily accessible. The ruling clique on Wikipedia have no problem keeping up with a few rules, but someone visiting SO for the first time to ask why his C program crashes will simply stay away if he can't just post his question directly. "What we need" is simply to not assault people with downvotes. –  jalf May 12 '09 at 19:09

I've used Stack Overflow for all of a week, and today is my last day (I always keep a link for at least a week).

I've answered a few questions for people, found the reference for the question I asked. I posed an opinion question and the results were interesting:

  • Six answers within a few minutes
  • Question was suddenly down voted to -5, all in one go.
  • Two more answers, and question voted up to -4
  • Question closed by some other user within 10 minutes.

The answers were interesting, in that I didn't expect them and made me think. Unfortunately, there are no other answers. The question is still available at http://stackoverflow.com/questions/298076/what-is-the-coolest-aspect-of-your-favorite-language-closed

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I suppose it doesn't add integrity to the rating system that it was closed as 'not a programming question' while 'favorite cartoon' has hundreds of up votes. –  Anonymous Nov 20 '08 at 6:12
reopened and upvoted. don't give up so easily. –  Steven A. Lowe Nov 24 '08 at 16:19

I think civility could be improved in general, not just regarding questions about Stack Overflow. For example, the first question I asked here was a CSS question and I got a rude and slightly off-topic answer: "if you say liquid that usually means percent based dimensions, start associating things like that in your head" (I had not even said "liquid", and in the end there was no satisfactory answer to that question, which suggests it was not dumb).

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Follow-up comment on that answer: "then your solution is the same but with a new 400px div as child element of #rightnav (the terms liquid and fluid are interchangeable) " - none of this strikes me as terribly rude; if you don't find it helpful then ignore it / down-vote it. –  Shog9 Aug 13 '10 at 18:49

Just imagine the poster is someone else in your company.

Give 'naughty' noobs the same bland, negative, unemotional response you'd give to a "boss" who asked you to refactor code in some moderately inane way because they simply didn't understand that of which they spoke.

No need to even be supportive (although that can be nice) but flaming people for mistakes of form, judgement or fact is behaviour that should be beneath real problem solvers. Use the down-vote judiciously and the site will flow better than if we indulge our frustrations on others.

"That is a question that you'll find an ongoing discussion about here" is a polite and straight forward way to deal with a duplicate post that avoids offending anyone.

Practising such pat phrases will serve all of us well in our workplaces too. If you don't regularly need to politely and effectively deal with people who should know better misusing their opportunities you have worked in better places than me.

Anyway that's my two cents worth.

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I definitely believe this is a problem. I recommended this site to my sister recently. She is an inexperienced programmer, and her project director switched them from Visual Studio to Borland mid-project. She has a master's degree in mathematics and has only taken 1-2 college level programming classes, but she has been added onto a programming project as one of her tours in the entry level program of her department. She was struggling with some of the differences between the two development environments. She did find some help on certain Borland sites, but she had been largely at a loss for some of the errors she was running into. That's when I sent her here.

I've been following Stack Overflow since Jeff Atwood started talking about it on Coding Horror. I have to confess I am more lurker/observer than anything else. I was extremely pleased at how quickly questions were answered, and she joined up on my recommendation.

Her first question was almost immediately attacked as being homework, while also being voted down and criticized for its format. While some of the reasoning (except the homework stuff) was accurate, the method in which it was presented was wholly inappropriate, especially for a new user. She was almost immediately turned off by the responses, and felt like she should return to her forum resources.

Thankfully, a few long time users came by, ANSWERED HER QUESTION, and encouraged her to keep participating. They redeemed both her opinion and my own about the site. There was a night and day difference between how the users, who basically took the same actions in showing her a better way to ask the question, responded.

While I definitely believe we need to be using up/down votes as they are intended, if members can't be respectfully helpful to new users, we need some new way of communicating the proper way to use the website.

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This is the crux, IMHO: people will overlook some brusque interactions IF there are others who actually help. –  Jon of All Trades Apr 30 '14 at 16:59
I can't say how very helpful this is in depicting what is probably a sadly common experience here. –  Ben Leggiero Oct 24 '14 at 19:13

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