It seems like every 4 hours or so, we get a question along the lines of:

"Why cannot I ask the question?"
"Banned from question asking, plz fix!"
"Modrater plz unban me I need to ask! Plz fix asap!"


...ad nausem... (do not click if you value your sanity...)

To prevent homicidal rampages or other undue stress on the rest of the community that is capable both of clicking on a link and reading the contents of it, is it feasible to add some heuristics similar to the question quality checks now in place to prevent them from reaching our delicate eyes?

I'm thinking something along the lines of a two-tiered approach:

  • Exact matches would be blocked from even posting the question, and redirected to the canonical FAQ post about question bans. This would include matches on things like the redirect url, and some phrases from the error message. If it's technically possible, we could also check to see if they are question banned on SO. We should also probably punch these folks through the innertubes if possible.

  • Close matches would be redirected but still allowed to post their question after reading another page of material. Maybe add one of the old-school copy protection style questions to make sure they at least looked at it ("What is the third word in the second line of paragraph two?"). These questions would automatically be marked as a possible duplicate. Close matches would include certain word combinations like "can't ask" or "not accepted" or whatever.

I think this issue will only continue to get worse, and at this point it's so frequent that we normally don't even comment to instruct the person, just redirect them.

To summarize -

ANY effort spent on most of these people is entirely wasted.

I know that sounds harsh, but there is a link in the message that redirects them to the canonical question and answer. If they are unable to click the link and/or unable to read the very detailed existing answer that explains the situation at great depth, we probably don't need them! They have already wasted loads of people's time on the main site by asking terrible questions or deleting lots of questions, and then they come to meta and waste even MORE time because they are too lazy to click a frigging link.

  • If they are directly referencing the error, then yes, I do agree with you. We should be able to point people to canonical posts. My opinions changed, so I removed my post. – Simon Sheehan Feb 2 '12 at 15:05
  • @SimonSheehan - I think if there is an exact match of some part of the error, they should be redirected and blocked from asking the question. If the question indicates that's the issue but there's no direct quote they should be redirected and still allowed to ask. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 15:09
  • @Bobby - I like your idea and upvoted it. Plenty will still get through this, believe me. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 15:19
  • I'm starting to think this is a good idea. The difficulty will be in implementing it effectively - in other words, make the filter smart enough that the help vampire in question doesn't just mix some words around to get around the filter (and end up posting more crap to meta) – Adam Rackis Feb 2 '12 at 15:54
  • @AdamRackis - the beauty part is it won't warn them like the current system. If there are exact string matches from the error message then they just get silently redirected to the canonical answer. If they want to post a question about it they have to start over again. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 15:56
  • @JNK'sMetAccount - Ok, I'm sold! This is a really good idea. – Adam Rackis Feb 2 '12 at 15:58
  • @adam - glad to hear it! If you have additional suggestions please share them or edit them in. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 16:01

As much as I don't like these questions, I also don't think it's a good idea to block them on meta.

The reason comes down to kind of a reverse-"Broken Windows" scenario. Part of the purpose of meta is to act as a magnet for some broken windows questions; we put up with them here so that we don't have to on Stack Overflow proper, where they're much more disruptive.

Instead, I think what would be nice is to make it easier to call out certain canonical question/answer sets, to help us deal with those question more effectively.

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    easier to call out certain canonical question/answer sets - which we already do. Mods close those questions as dupes usually within 10 minutes of being asked. I'd say the system is working fairly well as it is. – Adam Rackis Feb 2 '12 at 15:19
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    @AdamRackis - it's working fairly well but there's a lot of wasted time redirecting people to questions that they probably won't read anyways, and hand-holding and trying to explain how it works etc. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 15:21
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    @JNK'sMetAccount If holding them by the hands once or twice help them understand how SE works, and make them better users, then I guess it's worth our time. We can't simply assume every new user will get it the first time, so we have to help them at some point. While I think your proposal was a good one, I'd be tempted to disagree with it following Joel's answer (+1 to you Joel). I'd prefer spending a few minutes here and there helping a new user that will appreciate the help and help our community rather than being harsh with them, not answer their question, and see them leave. – Laf Feb 2 '12 at 15:31
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    @Laf - I appreciate your optimism but you've not been on meta very long. There is a certain group/class/personality type of people who we will be unable to help. They are unwilling to learn and unable to change. These are the people that get question banned in the first place for the most part, with some exceptions. Also, we don't need more people asking questions. We get thousands of new questions every day, most of which are mediocre. We need more answers. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 15:34
  • Could these questions be hidden from everyone apart from the poster? – Ian Ringrose Feb 2 '12 at 15:39
  • @IanRingrose - hellbans have been proposed before and I think it's been decided to avoid them – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 15:40
  • @JNK'sMetAccount I expect many users won't be salvageable, but those we can save, isn't it worth it? – Laf Feb 2 '12 at 15:57
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    @Laf - not really, to be brutally honest. There are enough resources available here and enough information about the RIGHT way to do things, that if you can't or won't get it then nobody should spend any effort. Again, it's not like we are hurting for users. It's also not like any effort expended on someone like this is likely to produce any quality posts. This is extremely cynical, but there really is an inexhaustible supply of stupid people to ask stupid questions, but a finite amount of energy to spent cleaning things up. – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 16:00
  • @IanRingrose - the most recent question about various ban types: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/93806/… – JNK Feb 2 '12 at 16:03

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