I ask this question because of the following questions: this and this. The same user asked those questions and immediately answered them.

I know that there's no problem in answering your own questions, but in this case it is clear that he is trying to farm reputation, given that this post had a lot of attention in the past.

The difference is that the latter was a genuine question from one user, and it received a step-by-step guide from another. However, I do think these answers would be an interesting blog post somewhere else.

Is Stack Overflow a central repository of tutorials to install/configure applications? Is this practice OK?

  • 6
    +1 Nice question. Somehow I have less of a problem with self-answered tutorials than with users asking for a full tutorial. FYI, in the "What Stack Overflow is Not" question here on Meta, there have been several references to tutorials already, including this comment by Robert Harvey with a positive view on them.
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:12
  • You missed one of their tutorials stackoverflow.com/questions/10876052/…, they have posted a total of 3 in one day.
    – Taryn
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:15
  • 3
    Related (I guess): blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/05/encyclopedia-stack-exchange
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:16
  • 7
    We must put a stop to this. The page factory will run out and then what will we do? Seriously why is this a problem? Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:18
  • 1
    Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/104473/…
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:22
  • I have no problem with artificial reference questions or tutorials like in this case. He ought to be either more subtle or otherwise upfront about it though. And it certainly shouldn't be two distinct tutorials if the only difference is Visual C++ and the MingW runtime.
    – mario
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:28
  • I actually have this dilemma with this question: stackoverflow.com/questions/6359540/… it has some answers, some long ones, including one by me, but the final answer I actually have is somewhat complex and more "tutorial" than direct answer, thus I have, up to now avoided putting it up even though it is a nice solution to the issue at hand therein when combined with jQuery autocmplete. Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:41
  • @MarkSchultheiss did you had the answer to the question before asking it? Assuming you'll answer NO, it's not the same dilemma! Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:42
  • 2
    You should have posted an insta-answer, -1 for missing a chance for sweet irony.
    – yannis
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:57
  • @karlphillip - No, I did NOT have the answer, but the complexity of the answer makes the explaination details lengthy, to the point of tutorial. But the delimma is that it is MY answer combined with the length of that answer and similar questions DO keep being asked about facets of what the answer does cover (am I talking myself into posting...hmm) Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:59
  • Wish I could view the tutorials but those questions are already deleted.
    – JimmyPena
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 20:14
  • 3
    Meh. It wasn't really necessary to delete them while they were still discussed here. Ah well...
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 20:17
  • 1
    Undeleted, and locked. Don't bring stuff up on MSO if you're not really interested in discussing it.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 22:13
  • 2
    It's interesting that the questions were closed as "off topic" when what we're all really discussing here is its suitability for our Q&A format, which should mean closing them as "not constructive" instead. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 10:41

9 Answers 9


Is Stackoverflow a central store for tutorials?

Posting tutorials in answers is not forbidden per se - if they are the answer to a proper, specific, on-topic Stack Overflow question. Which "Getting started with OpenCV 2.4 and Visual C++ 2010 Express" and "Getting started with OpenCV 2.4 and MinGW on Windows 7" are very much not. If they were genuine questions, they would get closed. The same rules apply to self-answered questions.

As great as they look, Stack Overflow is not the right place to host these two tutorials.

I would love to see tutorials like this hosted somewhere. Maybe they can become articles on one of the newly created community blogs? I know too little about them to be able to say for sure. Maybe someone involved with the blogs can contact the OP (if you deem the content useful.)

  • 1
    +1 for "If they were genuine questions, they would get closed. The same rules apply to self-answered questions." Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:34
  • why would these questions have been closed? Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 21:38
  • @JoelSpolsky Because these 2 questions are easily answered by googling around, not to mention the official tutorial. Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 22:38
  • 4
    @JoelSpolsky They're both way too broad from where I stand (I'm not an expert in the subject matter, but just look at how the questions are worded). "How do I get started with xyz?" doesn't feel like a workable question on SO under any circumstance. "How do I work around the problem of a quarbled garble when trying to compile OpenCV in VC++ 2010 Express?" might be, and a tutorial would be an okay answer, but as it stands, I think it's way too broad.
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 22:47
  • 1
    @JoelSpolsky I'm new to OpenCV and I'd like to play around with my Visual C++ 2010 Express. How to install and use OpenCV 2.4 with VC++ 2010? is that an okay Stack Overflow question in 2012? I don't think so.
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 22:49
  • 4
    @joel same answer as previous comment; is this an actual problem the user faced? Otherwise, I could just make up any kind of faux 'question' I like, and answer it. Explain how it's your problem, if you researched it at all, and why this question matters and solves things for you and others. It also in many cases implies a shameful lack of searching for existing questions that could have used these great answers. That ... is a cardinal sin. If the question matters to people, someone probably should have asked it already -- did you search for it FIRST? That's how we help others! Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:38
  • 1
    @Pekka the wording of the original questions had some problems. It "smells" like a fake question or a made-up scenario, and it appears to be a broad request for a tutorial, when the answer shows that it's really just "how do I install X on Y" which would not have been closed. If this is a dupe, close it as such... nothing to see here. If the information doesn't exist elsewhere it's probably better to edit the question into acceptable form so that we can preserve what appears to be a useful tutorial. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:10
  • I think that this exposes one of the holes of the new ask-and-answer model, in that it's not always easy to translate something into the Q&A format that we're bound to. Every Q&A on the site is a tutorial, it's just that the site dictates that we have equal quality in the question and the answer (except in rare cases where the answer is epic).
    – casperOne
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:45
  • That said, while the ask-and-answer model is interesting, I think it is very difficult to do it right by the current SE standards. When you create a tutorial, you have a single narrative from beginning to end; Wikipedia doesn't have a section that sets up a problem. The ask-and-answer feature promotes leanings more towards the blog end, but takes away the ability (through the imposing of a quality question) to weave the narrative well.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:46
  • 1
    @casper: the form can be both helpful and discouraging. If your goal is to write a book, Q&A format is a poor fit. But if you just want to describe how to accomplish a specific task, or explain a specific concept, it's an excellent way to expose that; the HOWTO manuals were my primary introduction to Linux many years ago, and the best of them did follow this question -> answer format (and were also clearly born from personal experience rather than synthesized to address some artificial audience).
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:50
  • @JoelSpolsky The new ask-and-answer feature begs for questions of this nature though, due to the difficulty of actually fabricating the problem statement. And it does have to be fabricated. If it didn't, then we wouldn't have the feature to answer it immediately. It raises the question of what the purpose of the ask-and-answer feature is for given that most people don't think of the knowledge that they want to share in terms of Q&A (making it difficult to do so), and we already have strict quality control around both.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:50
  • @Shog9 I agree that format can be very useful, however, it's the mix of quality standards as well as people's natural inclination to not think of experience (which is what we're trying to share here with this feature) in terms of Q&A that leads to an issue like this. And it is an issue, the disparity between the downvotes on the questions and the upvotes on the answers says as much. If these are just going to be closed and deleted, it's a lot of effort people are going to put into the site only to feel spurned by it as a result (more so than if they had just a question or answer removed).
    – casperOne
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:54
  • @casper: for that reason, I'm inclined to judge these pairs more on the quality of the answer than of the question. Poor-quality questions are rampant - they're what make editing so very useful. A good answer can save a mediocre question, but even the best question is as useless as its answers.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:58
  • @Shog9 And therein lies another issue; we've only judged the pair when one was so truly exceptional to outweigh the negative aspects of the other. Otherwise, each one is judged primarily on its own merits. That said, these cases, if indicative of how the feature will be used in the future, will prompt more evaluations along those lines, which might be an unintended side-effect of the feature.
    – casperOne
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 3:01
  • @Shog for stuff like this, I think it'd take another spinoff - it's neither exactly Q&A, nor exactly blogging really. As suggested in meta.stackexchange.com/questions/104473
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 7:12

Who cares if someone is "gaming the system," if the game they play leads to valuable content? StackExchange isn't a contest to see who can get the most rep. It's a tool to provide valuable content to the Internet.

If the content is valuable, upvote it. If it is not valuable, comment and/or downvote. It should be that simple.

  • 5
    This isn't about the rep, it's about the question whether illustrated step-by-step tutorials are a good fit for the Stack Overflow format. I'm not really sure about that. (I love the guy's work, I'm just not sure whether SO is the right platform for it - maybe stuff like this would warrant a separate platform) Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/104473/…
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:21
  • 1
    @Pekka: Perhaps the question needs to clarify that point. The comments about "rep farming" sure make it look like the question is about, well... rep farming :)
    – Flimzy
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:23
  • 1
    Stack Overflow has good quality due to the competitive nature of answers. For self-tutorials to compete, you'd need to vote across multiple questions. SO is not designed for that.
    – Andomar
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:33
  • Since similar tutorials can be found on Google I feel unconfortable calling them valuable. Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:34
  • 2
    the "game" is to get other people answers to their questions, real world questions that actual human beings have. Did this person search for existing questions that could have used this canonical answer? Or was it just a flimsy pretext to post.. something? Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:40

At its heart, the threads you're asking about are of the form "How do you install X" followed by a tutorial on how to do it.

It is answered by the same person who asked it. That is clearly permitted and encouraged.

The answer is in the form of a clear step-by-step tutorial with illustrations. That is clearly permitted, indeed encouraged.

The question is very specific ("how do you install X"), it is not of the broad form "How do I use PHP?" There is a single answer that is correct that is being sought. It is not asking a doctor at a cocktail party how to heal the sick. It is a specific question with an objective answer and the answer is not even that long. So, no problem there.

The issue of reputation, and your assumption that there is something wrong with this question because it is an attempt to "farm reputation," is insufficient proof that there is a problem with the question or the answer. Au contraire, if something earns reputation on Stack Overflow, you should assume that's because we want that thing to happen. If you feel like things on Stack Overflow that earn reputation are detrimental to the community, show us why they are detrimental to the community and then propose a different way to calculate reputation to avoid them.

Does this question make the internet better? Unless it's a dupe, it probably does. If it's a dupe of another identical question on Stack Overflow close it as a dupe. If it's a dupe of other information available elsewhere on the Internet, don't assume that that information will always be available elsewhere on the Internet forever or that it's in a reasonable, peer-reviewed, editable form... we have always encouraged copying information into Stack Overflow even if it exists elsewhere.

As Jeff Atwood points out in several comments scattered throughout this thread, the only real issue is that the poster of these questions did not, himself, appear to face the problem he was solving.

Should a user refrain from posting knowledge to Stack Overflow simply because they never faced this particular problem themselves?

Historically, we have certainly said that users should not ask questions on Stack Overflow that do not represent real problems they are facing... this would be a somewhat selfish act, demanding that other people work to solve a made-up problem. However, given that this is a self-answered question and the asker is not burdening anyone but himself, it's a slightly different situation.

It's also probably the case that asking obscure, unreal questions that nobody could ever possibly face, even if you answer them yourself, creates additional burdens on the community here and should not be permitted.

However in this case it is probably the case that many people actually need to install OpenCV and do face this particular issue. So asking and answering it, even when the asker doesn't face the problem immediately, appears to be making the Internet better.

For example, suppose you are a tutor in a computer vision class, and your students are using OpenCV in the classroom. Suppose you observe in real life that many students are having trouble installing it. Even though you don't face the problem yourself, you have observed it, and you would be making the internet better by asking on Stack Overflow, "How do I install OpenCV?" and then explaining how to do that.

In this case even though you didn't face the problem, you know that many people do.

However, as Jeff points out elsewhere in the comments here, take some time to search first to see if the question already exists. If there is an unanswered version of this question you can answer that's better than asking again.

  • The question is probably a dupe. The official OpenCV 2.4 tutorial on how to build apps in VS already provides a step-by-step guide with screenshots, which should at the very least be mentioned on his answers. Not only that, the answer might be flawed according to this comment. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:53
  • I still don't think the questions How do I install OpenCV 2.4 and compile my code with MinGW? and How do you install and use OpenCV 2.4 under VC++ 2010 Express? are good questions. They are certainly not an example for future questions. There are so many tutorials out there that already provide this info... Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:55
  • About the question being specific: one could very easily ask do you want to install from sources or from the binary package? , 32 bits or 64bits?. It is not a clear question, really. I understand that you guys want more visibility for Stack Overflow and you need to turn your eyes from some things, but this case should not be ignored like that. Despite the answer having good content or not, the questions kind of sets the tone for lazy people. It's just not a good example and I believe it should get closed. I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 3:08
  • 1
    What's the chance of someone else posting a tutorial as answer to the same question? Which answer would get accepted? Quality control seems almost absent here.
    – Andomar
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 7:21
  • It's not like there isn't a close reason for duplicate questions, even if you find that a self-answered question is a dupe... Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 10:40
  • 1
    "probably the case that.." why ask probably when we have 3+ million questions to search first, plus the whole of the Internet? I favor these answers being moved to actual questions, and if the OP can't find any actual questions asking this, they need to make a way more compelling case for the problem in the question (share your research, show your work, etc). If the question wouldn't be allowed on SO as it stands -- and these clearly wouldn't -- there's no way a self-answer should make it immune to the regular standards we have for all incoming questions... Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 16:22

While your two example questions are very poorly written, the practice is perfectly allowed. In fact, they just recently added an "answer your own question" button to the ask question page so you can ask and answer at the same time.

These questions have multiple questions within them, which is highly discouraged. In fact, the extra questions wouldn't even be allowed here on the network if they were asked separately. For example:

Can you provide me with step-by-step example of creating OpenCV project?

Can you provide me with a "Hello, World!" example?

These are both not constructive on the basis that this is not the place to ask for examples of anything. Anyone can post an example, so there are an infinite number of solutions.

What C++ compiler should I use?

Obviously not constructive because it solicits opinion.

  • 2
    it's only allowed insofar as you searched first and didn't find any questions that needed these great canonical answers. Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:41

In a post on the Stack Exchange Blog, Jeff Atwood says that

To be crystal clear, it is not merely OK to ask and answer your own question, it is explicitly encouraged.


Bottom line — never hesitate to ask and answer your own question on any Stack Exchange site. Please do! It’s all part of our shared mission to make the internet better.

  • 6
    Well, yeah, but there's a bit of a difference between self-answering a question and writing a full-blown tutorial. I have nothing against tutorials, but whether they're a good fit on SO isn't completely crystal-clear IMO
    – Pekka
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:20
  • 2
    @pekka right, was there even a real question here at all? Per stackoverflow.com/questions/ask sidebar, "Provide details, share your research" Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:50

Some people say about rep-farm and the format is not suited with SO. While I can understand the latter (and maybe I will re-format the Q&A if they are opened later), the thing is I just want to share knowledge and I don't really care with reps whatsoever.

I got countless emails asking me how to install opencv blah blah blah and I think StackOverflow is the right place to post the answer since millions of users will benefit from the content in no time.

There is the official tutorial (as karlphillip mentioned). But it is poorly written and even I found it is very hard to follow.

Of course I've searched similar questions in SO, but my answer (or tutorial, if you prefer so) is not exactly the answer for those questions. It will just get downvoted and flagged as "off-topic".

But now I'm thinking to move my Q&A to a PDF file :)

But I still love SO so much :)

  • 1
    The answer is fine, it's the "question" that is problematic in this case. Find a question where a real human being asked how to install it, and answer there. Commented Jun 7, 2012 at 18:45

See here:


The point of the site is the content, not the reputation. He can farm all the rep he wants, he'll get it only if he deserves it.

If you post quality questions and answers, you will be rewarded with votes, that does not make it the key ingredient in this site.

  • One may ask: What kind of content? What is considered good content? Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 14:00
  • 1
    @karlphillip: That my friend, is up to the community to decide. If the answer is useful in a way that it solves the original question, plus will probably help future visitors seeking the same advice, it is considered useful in my eyes. Others may have different interpretations of usefulness, but that will be decided by the amount of up votes the OP will get. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 14:02

It's great to ask a real question-- a predicament you are in-- and then post the answer you found that helped you.

But this tutorial post does have a few smells:

  • Immediate lengthy answer suggests it wasn't really a problem the OP was trying to solve, he already knew the answer.
  • The self-promotional aspect is scary-- what if he works for OpenCV? Would his tutorial be partial?
  • There's no competition for the best answer here

I'd vote to close this question, if I stumbled upon it.

  • 2
    Why vote to close? I don't really follow your points (especially the first one), even more so with the recent "answer your own question" feature here on Meta SO.
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:26
  • 3
    I do get your point, @Andomar. Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 19:31
  • 1
    @bart ask yourself... why wasn't this posted on existing questions that needed such an answer? Did the OP even try to search first? We're here to help others first, and that should be provably true e.g. "I searched ..." Commented Jun 5, 2012 at 23:42
  • @JeffAtwood I agree with everything you said so far. One question though, with those threads locked, will the user continue to win reputation points from future up votes? Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 0:20
  • 1
    @karl: they're only locked until tomorrow, to give folks time to discuss this here. Bringing it up for review and then voting to delete your examples is sorta counter-productive. Tomorrow, once folks have had time to chime in here, they can be deleted, re-opened, merged, etc. as needed.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:18
  • @JeffAtwood I thought we were discussing the general practice. In which case self-answers seem not only welcome but encouraged. (Why otherwise add the ability - to MSO for now - to answer your own question) If this related to the specific examples linked, then I can agree. They were not good enough to remain.
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 5:00
  • @bart self-answers are acceptable in many cases, but if the question alone would not be allowed on the site as-is, why does self-answering give it a pass? The question has to be good, clear, and complete -- and beyond that, you should always make sure the question does not already exist in some form before asking! Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 16:17
  • @JeffAtwood Sure, we don't disagree at all on those conditions. I did not intend to suggest otherwise.
    – Bart
    Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 16:18

According to this other meta discussion: Tutorials

From the link:

Stack overflow is not a Language Tutorial

The answer seems to be no, this kind of stuff is much too broad a subject for SO to cover.

  • 1
    The questions are about how to install a particular version of a particular library on a particular compiler. That's not a very broad subject nor is it a language tutorial. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 2:27
  • @JoelSpolsky I meant tutorials in general is too large a subject matter to let any of them be posted to SO, if one is allowed then someone is going to argue they all should be, they shouldn't, this is a Q and A site not a tutorial repository. I'm sure you understand, I just wanted to make that clear to readers. Commented Jun 6, 2012 at 18:59

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