I just deleted What Stack Overflow is Not, a collection of various explanations for things that Stack Overflow doesn't do, wasn't meant to do, or shouldn't be used to do. Several people put a fair bit of time and effort into it, so I felt I should take a minute to explain my reasoning...

First I should note that this wasn't due to problems with the post itself. Not that there weren't problems - you can find them discussed in depth in How can the "What Stack Overflow Is Not" post be improved? - but they could've, and to some extent were, being fixed with edits. As negative as "What X Is Not" sounds, the intentions were good: a set of answers to common misconceptions on the purpose of Stack Overflow, directed at new users, written and edited with an eye toward clarity and brevity.

It was a nice idea; my hat's off to those who were willing to try it. Unfortunately, it was also fundamentally misguided.

As I wrote a while back in response to a similar suggestion,

Most importantly: they're not here to get reputation, or badges, or become part of a community. They're here for answers to their questions. Anything we throw in their way - from a line of text to a multi-page document - is just a roadblock they have to navigate around in order to get to their destination.

The best you can hope for is to catch a handful of the folks who actually do care to learn a bit more about the philosophy of the system they're using, while the vast majority ignore your efforts completely and do only what the system (and I'm including editors, voters, and moderators in that system) forces them to do in order to get what they want.

But hey, the best case still has some good results, right? So what's the problem?

Here's the problem:

The above quotes were pulled from among the recent comments on Stack Overflow that linked to WSOIN. There were over 1.3K of these comments (which have been removed en masse, since the link is broken), and the vast majority of them were like those above - links, with maybe a bit of generic or snarky advice thrown on top. This crosses the line from benign to actively harmful - whether or not the intended recipient of the message ever even reads it, there it sits, an ugly wart on the site, screaming out to future readers that what Stack Overflow Is isn't clear, but there are plenty of folks more than willing to send you packing after telling you what it IS NOT.

As Popular Demand wrote,

The second issue is related to the first. Now that WSOiN exists, users who link to it can — consciously or not — feel like they've done their part and move on. I've seen people post one-liner links to WSOiN entries and then leave without making any attempt to fix obvious spelling errors or other issues with posts. I suspect that the same is true of voting and flagging.

In other words, linking to WSOiN is the "I just walked five extra steps to throw away a candy wrapper instead of littering, so I've done my part to protect the environment for this year" of the SO world. It really is the least you can do.

If teaching the person you're responding to is worth your time, he's worth taking the time to actually respond to the question or answer he wrote. If he's just a drive-by help vampire, then there's no real point to commenting at all. There are many useful resources, guides and tutorials out there - but if you're just slapping down links in lieu of actually trying to engage and teach, you might as well be linking to LMGTFY.

If you see this practice (comments that link without bothering to explain why or relate it to the specific post) happening with other links (for instance, http://whathaveyoutried.com), please flag them.

Stack Overflow Is Not a Link Farm

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    CENSHORSHIP!! – badp Jun 27 '12 at 0:10
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    <clap clap clap> – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Jun 27 '12 at 0:11
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    ...declining in quality. – Anthony Pegram Jun 27 '12 at 0:17
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    First bit of good news I heard out of Meta for months. – Uphill Luge Jun 27 '12 at 0:17
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    @Alex: actually, most new users arrive from Google, "their" question already asked and - hopefully - answered. Finding the question unanswered is disappointing; finding snarky comments on it is worse. Always worth keeping in mind that most of the folks who read anything you write on Stack Overflow won't be the ones you're directly addressing when you write it. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 1:11
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    Sorry but you really should have said it before, not long months after. Personally I spent only small amount of time writing there but I would also never try to spend time on improving new faq's knowing now they are so fragile and can be deleted any moment no matter how good they are. It also greatly discourage people from trying to explain to newbies their mistakes - now questions will get closed and deleted without any explanation. Sorry, but I really can't see the good in this. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask V2 Jun 27 '12 at 6:18
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    I just walked five extra steps to throw away a candy wrapper instead of littering, so I've done my part to protect the environment for this year - yes, obviously, but applied for people who before WSOiN did nothing. And now will continue doing nothing. This is just wrong, very disappointing... – yannis Jun 27 '12 at 6:58
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    I agree this is quite frustrating. WSOIN provided us with elaborate points reflecting the community's consensus, to help us better convey to users the reasons behind our downvotes. I regret it being lost, and I'm afraid that now people will be tempted to just downvote and walk away. In addition, I personally don't think deleting that question will lower the level of snark in comments, that happened before and will keep happening again. Also, Stack Overflow is not, Darkseid is. – Frédéric Hamidi Jun 27 '12 at 8:36
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    I think one of the big things that post did was create a central, relatively easy to peruse list of common gotchas of the site. The /faq is too minor for someone coming up against one of those, and the meta faq posts are far too verbose and hard to wade through to find what you need. – Ben Brocka Jun 27 '12 at 13:31
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    Sigh. It was a useful tool. This won't help make StackOverflow any better. – user1228 Jun 27 '12 at 13:57
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    @Shog9: "what did you try"? What actions were taken about rude comments before the decision to delete WSOIN? – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 14:23
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    @JohnMcG the WSOIN concept is a fruit of this culture of snark I strongly disagree. Did you see the question when it still existed? Did you see the tons of effort put in by Robert Harvey (a mod) and others in order to make the whole thing sound as professional and polite as possible? The culture of snark was alive and well before WSOIN existed, and remains unfazed by its deletion. – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 14:59
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    "I just walked five extra steps to throw away a candy wrapper instead of littering, but since somebody decided to get rid of the garbage can, I guess I'll just toss it on the floor instead." – Michael Moussa Jun 27 '12 at 15:17
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    @Shog9: A closed/deleted question sounds a whole lot like "a roadblock they have to navigate around in order to get to their destination", doesn't it? If I were the one asking an inappropriate question, I think I'd much prefer a quick response with a link showing me what I did wrong (along with a wealth of additional information). – Michael Moussa Jun 27 '12 at 15:43
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    Wouldn't it have been better to debate the removal first? StackOverflow is a democracy. The off colour comments and humour are a part of the community, as they are with programming culture in general but I trust the mods and community will reign in any excessive behaviour. Part of the greatness is the personalities that inhabit SO, and imposing rules on them risks limiting the very people who make SO totally awesome. I mean, totally awesome is much better than just awesome, isn't it? Or are we getting ready for a sale to Microsoft? – dash Jun 27 '12 at 16:00

14 Answers 14


As said, I'm annoyed about the lack of previous discussion before you made the decision. People spent plenty of time refining and improving this and it's now wasted. It's not like you don't have a point with the reasons for deleting it, but you should have at least given some hint that the project is on probation, and any work invested in it may be for naught.

Anyway. Looking at the issue underneath: this feature really filled a gap, a gap that I feel needs closing somehow. Used well, WSOIN had the potential to provide just-in-time documentation: to tell the OP exactly what they were doing wrong, and how to fix it. Grasping SO etiquette is hard, and people don't read manuals.

The argument that a question or OP that has a chance of improving should be worth enough of your time to write a full-fledged comment manually is only half the truth. It is terribly tiring to say the same thing over and over and over, even though it's said to worthy users. Some automation is needed, as the flood of bad and borderline-good and "I don't know my way around here yet" questions grows faster than the number of experienced users.

So please:

  • Consider integrating Benjol's pro-forma comment script in some form. I could think of four different limitation ideas to help prevent abuse - to be combined or used separately:

    • Make it a rep privilege.

    • Provide it with a fixed set of pro-forma comments only. The comments could be community-curated (maybe in the form of a Meta question like this one). However, it would be necessary to have different comments in different tags.

    • Provide a fixed set of comments only, and make them static (a special type of comments that can't be edited). That takes away a lot of flexibility, but the benefits may still outweigh that loss. Or make the comments static for low-rep users, or users whose comments have been offensive flagged often.

    • Come up with a metric that measures diplomatic skill, and give the feature only to users who have proven they can talk to people without being rude. I have no idea how to measure that though - the only thing I can think of is that Is a mod is a pretty good indicator of diplomatic skill, while Is a high rep user isn't always...

Also, please restore the full contents of What Stack Overflow is not in some way so all the hard work isn't lost. I'm fine with making it unlinkable, but the work in its entirety is very polished, and definitely has value. It should remain a part of the site's documentation in some form.

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    Your budding list of useful comments seems to hint that tags might be a good way to establish context and encourage specificity in lists of pre-defined comments. I wonder if integrating these into tag wikis would make sense - would also gate contributors to the lists. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:25
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    @shog I have looked very hard and I am not seeing this tag specificity in the list you provided in the question. Failure to do even the most basic research before asking, for example, is hardly specific to any tag. – Jeff Atwood Jun 27 '12 at 15:36
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    I was referring to this list @Jeff. Three categories so far: general, php, javascript. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:41

I used to post ad-hoc comments like

Please don't prefix your titles with "C#" and such. That's what the tags are for

I replaced that with

Please see "Stack Overflow does not allow tags in titles"

I generally got good responses from these, if I got any responses at all, for instance:

@JohnSaunders: Thank you for your information. I will consider to change the title

I think this decision required more discussion.

I would also like to see some constructive ideas on what we should say to the tags-in-the-title crowd, and the signature, "thanks in advance", and "please help" crowds. Without such ideas, I'm feeling ... fairly displeased right now.

I came across this question again and though I'd update. I have been using the script referred to in a comment, and using the following comments:

No tags in titles

I have edited your title. Please see, "Should questions include “tags” in their titles?", where the consensus is "no, they should not".

No, Thank You (or Signatures)

Unlike forum sites, we don't use "Thanks", or "Any help appreciated", or signatures on [so]. See "Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts?.

No Thanks in Advanced

Unlike forum sites, we don't use "Thanks", or "Any help appreciated", or signatures on [so]. See "Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts?. BTW, it's "Thanks in advance", not "Thanks in advanced".

No Thanks in Advantage

Unlike forum sites, we don't use "Thanks", or "Any help appreciated", or signatures on [so]. See "Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts?. BTW, it's "Thanks in advance", not "Thanks in advantage". That doesn't even make sense.


Almost all cases of NullReferenceException are the same. Please see "What is a NullReferenceException in .NET?" for some hints.

What Have You Tried?

Please don't just ask us to solve the problem for you. Show us how you tried to solve the problem yourself, then show us exactly what the result was, and tell us why you feel it didn't work. See "What Have You Tried?" for an excellent article that you really need to read.

Can Someone Help Me?

Simply listing your requirements and asking for help is not a good way to ask a question on this site. Please see Why is "Can someone Help me" not an "actual" question. Show us how you tried to solve the problem yourself, then show us exactly what the result was, and tell us why you feel it didn't work.

See the C# Programming Guide

There's an entire manual on the C# Programming Language. You should look at it before asking basic questions on the syntax of the language. See C# Programming Guide . For detailed reference, see the C# Reference.

ASMX is Legacy

ASMX is a legacy technology, and should not be used for new development. WCF or ASP.NET Web API should be used for all new development of web service clients and servers. One hint: Microsoft has retired the ASMX Forum on MSDN.

Remoting is Legacy

Remoting is a legacy technology that is retained for backward compatibility with existing applications and is not recommended for new development. Distributed applications should now be developed using WCF or ASP.NET Web API. See the note at the top of http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/vstudio/xws7132e.aspx for proof.


FYI, you should not use new XmlTextReader() or new XmlTextWriter(). They have been deprecated since .NET 2.0. Use XmlReader.Create() or XmlWriter.Create() instead.

Office Interop

It is a horrible idea to use Office Interop from ASP.NET or another server technology. These APIs were written for use in a desktop application, for automating Office (a suite of desktop applications). Server applications are different in many ways that make it a very, very bad idea to use Office Interop in them. It's also unsupported by Microsoft, and may violate your Office license. See Considerations for server-side Automation of Office

As requested in a comment:

###No tags in titles
I have edited your title. Please see, "[Should questions include “tags” in their titles?](https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/19190/)", where the consensus is "no, they should not".

###No, Thank You (or Signatures)
Unlike forum sites, we don't use "Thanks", or "Any help appreciated", or signatures on [so]. See "[Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts?](https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2950/should-hi-thanks-taglines-and-salutations-be-removed-from-posts).

###No Thanks in Advanced
Unlike forum sites, we don't use "Thanks", or "Any help appreciated", or signatures on [so]. See "[Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts?](https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2950/should-hi-thanks-taglines-and-salutations-be-removed-from-posts). BTW, it's "Thanks in advance", not "Thanks in advanced".

###No Thanks in Advantage
Unlike forum sites, we don't use "Thanks", or "Any help appreciated", or signatures on [so]. See "[Should 'Hi', 'thanks,' taglines, and salutations be removed from posts?](https://meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2950/should-hi-thanks-taglines-and-salutations-be-removed-from-posts). BTW, it's "Thanks in advance", not "Thanks in advantage". That doesn't even make _sense_.

Almost all cases of `NullReferenceException` are the same. Please see "[What is a NullReferenceException in .NET?](http://$SITEURL$/questions/4660142/what-is-a-nullreferenceexception-in-net)" for some hints.

###What Have You Tried?
Please don't just ask us to solve the problem for you. Show us how _you_ tried to solve the problem yourself, then show us _exactly_ what the result was, and tell us why you feel it didn't work. See "[What Have You Tried?](http://whathaveyoutried.com/)" for an excellent article that you _really need to read_.

###Can Someone Help Me?
Simply listing your requirements and asking for help is not a good way to ask a question on this site. Please see [Why is "Can someone Help me" not an "actual" question](https://meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/284236/why-is-can-someone-help-me-not-an-actual-question). Show us how _you_ tried to solve the problem yourself, then show us _exactly_ what the result was, and tell us why you feel it didn't work.

###See the C# Programming Guide
There's an entire manual on the C# Programming Language. You should look at it before asking basic questions on the syntax of the language. See [C# Programming Guide](https://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/67ef8sbd.aspx) . For detailed reference, see the [C# Reference](http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/618ayhy6.aspx).

###ASMX is Legacy
ASMX is a legacy technology, and should not be used for new development. WCF or ASP.NET Web API should be used for all new development of web service clients and servers. One hint: Microsoft has retired the [ASMX Forum](http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/en-US/asmxandxml/threads) on MSDN.

###Remoting is Legacy
Remoting is a legacy technology that is retained for backward compatibility with existing applications and is not recommended for new development. Distributed applications should now be developed using WCF or ASP.NET Web API. See the note at the top of http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/vstudio/xws7132e.aspx for proof.

FYI, you should not use `new XmlTextReader()` or `new XmlTextWriter()`. They have been deprecated since .NET 2.0. Use `XmlReader.Create()` or `XmlWriter.Create()` instead.

###Office Interop
It is a horrible idea to use Office Interop from ASP.NET or another server technology. These APIs were written for use in a desktop application, for automating Office (a suite of desktop applications). Server applications are different in many ways that make it a very, very bad idea to use Office Interop in them. It's also unsupported by Microsoft, and may violate your Office license. See [Considerations for server-side Automation of Office](http://support.microsoft.com/kb/257757)
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    I'd go with something like what jmort253 said here. His is for the case of link-only answers, but I think you can adapt that type of comment to all these cases you mentioned. – Josh Darnell Jun 27 '12 at 2:03
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    How large a comment should I leave? I was leaving many of these every day. To what extent should I customize the comments, or duplicate what was already said in the "don't put tags in the titles" answer? Such a comment does not require more discussion than what was in the linked answer, and I don't think there's a benefit in commenting with anything much more than the link (and saying, "please"). – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 2:10
  • @JohnSaunders - My example is a little over the top... Using "please" and "thank you" in your comments, or just having a friendly tone helps disarm the person whose behavior your trying to change; I do think one can be brief and civil at the same time. For me, the longer approach works best. Words don't always come out right if I use short sentences, mostly because sometimes I want to be a jerk if someone is doing something I think is stupid. Thus, taking my time in writing forces me to use care. It looks like you're a rare example of someone who was using the links constructively. – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 2:41
  • John, the first and last examples you gave both have context specific to the post - the first identifies what "tag" you're talking about, and the last comes after you'd edited it out (you could've probably just put that in the revision comment, but of course URLs aren't linked from revision comments). The second example doesn't establish context... And also doesn't seem to have accomplished anything useful. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 3:08
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    @jmort253: did you notice that my comments said "Please see"? And do you seriously expect me to create ten unique, personal, friendly comments per day for the exact same problem? If that's the requirement, then there will be no comments at all, nor title edits. We'll just allow you to do it and see what kind of comments you leave ten times a day. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 3:22
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    @Shog9: the last one is not a comment from me. It's a reply from the OP. The first has "context", and to be honest, even that much "context" was too much work. The "no tags in titles" answer that I linked to was sufficiently clear and had sufficient examples to cover all cases. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 3:25
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    @jmort253: more to the point, if you think some particular comment of mine is not civil, then damn well tell me. This blanket prohibition by deleting the post I was linking to really angers me and does not feel very democratic. I thought this was supposed to be a community. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 3:26
  • @John: the last comment you linked to followed a comment you left, which followed an edit you made - that was the context: you led by example. It's not altogether clear whether the author learned anything (he didn't change the title, and certainly didn't go back and edit his previous posts) but then you already had. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 3:33
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    @Shog9: my point was that I've been getting positive responses to most of those comments i've added. The next most frequent comments are from those who don't know what I meant because I had already edited their titles, and they didn't remember that they used a tag. Only rarely do I get responses that say, "your comment would have been better received if you had answered my question". These comments of mine seem to have been working, and I'm pretty steamed that you've pulled the rug out from under me without discussion. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 3:38
  • @JohnSaunders - I did notice your comments used 'please' and 'thank you' and I think that's awesome. I also mentioned that one could be both civil and brief at the same time. BTW, here is that script, if you think it will help solve your problem: stackapps.com/q/2116/4812. Good luck! – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 4:01
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    I'm aware of this comic ( xkcd.com/810 ), but I think writing a tool to generate helpful comments misses the point. I think the point is that people who come to the site should be dealt with as people or not at all. – JohnMcG Jun 27 '12 at 15:18
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    @John: Chrome has support for these scripts built in, while for Firefox you'll want the Greasemonkey add-on. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:21
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    @JohnMcG: there are too many "people who come to the site" to treat them as individuals, especially when they make certain mistakes en masse. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 15:21
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    @Shog9 etc. Thanks. I now have gm and the script installed on FF. I believe that "you have created a monster". – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 15:24
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    @JohnSaunders I frequently remove tags from titles when I see them because of the comments you left and the link to WSOISN - I follwed your lead. I saw that post as an unoffical version of the house rules, with a side of personality. Sometimes, while we should not seek to offend anyone is is not possible to offend no one. – dash Jun 27 '12 at 16:47

I think you've done a disservice in deleting the post. As you've mentioned the post isn't the problem, it's how the post was used to institutionalize rudeness that was the problem.

However, we've dealt with institutionalized rudeness in the past through technology. For example, lmgtfy links are now banned on Stack Overflow.

Yes, technology currently does solve the problem now, but that's a side effect of another system that's in place and is used to provide what seems like a knee-jerk solution to people's reaction to a valuable (by your own admission) post.

There's no reason that the current comment check can't be made to include links to the WSOIN post. If the comment contains that link, you simply do whatever you do with lmgtfy links now.

This way, you don't delete important/valuable information (something which many have championed as being important to the cause of Stack Exchange) while at the same time preventing it from being used to institutionalize rudeness.

Once this system is in place, the WSOIN post could be undeleted.

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    What is the purpose of keeping it around if people cannot link to it? (I'm actually not trying to be snarky, I'm just trying to grok the solution you're proposing) – Josh Darnell Jun 27 '12 at 13:21
  • @jadarnel27 I'd really like to link to it as well, but I don't disagree that the language can be softened. That said, it's still available on meta, and could have a featured tag as well as have a link in the SO FAQ as well. I mean, we can't ban links to Google, but people put Google searches in comments all the time, so there's value to having it around, people will get to it. – casperOne Jun 27 '12 at 13:25
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    Ah, thanks for clarifying, I understand what you're getting at now. I still don't think this is a really good solution, unless we're just leaving it as a reference for already good users on how to guide new users. – Josh Darnell Jun 27 '12 at 13:41
  • @jadarnel27 Remember, it can also be used to link within other meta posts, that would be completely allowed (and something we do often). Note that we use meta post links in comments in a pretty brusque manner as well, it's just that the WSOIN question generated more brusque links than most. – casperOne Jun 27 '12 at 13:48
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    Blocking it LMGTFY-style would've been... difficult. There are dozens of short-links to answers in addition to the full permalinks. But even if it had been technically possible, what does that accomplish? The whole point of WSOIN was to be linked to, and by and large folks did it in the rudest possible way - completely blocking links would've made its existence pointless anyway. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 13:52
  • Also... There was a polite discussion on improvement already: Robert posted meta.stackexchange.com/questions/134986/… a few weeks back. Funny how most of the folks here defending it now didn't bother saying jack then. Note that even with the edits to soften the tone, a lot of folks just kept right on using the old wording... – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 13:53
  • "...it can also be used to link within other meta posts..." - True, that could be useful. But I guess if someone has already come to meta, concerned about their question be closed / downvoted (or whatever it is), we could just link them to the more comprehensive faq posts. – Josh Darnell Jun 27 '12 at 13:54
  • @Shog9 Speaking just to the difficulty level of parsing the links, the editor seems to be able to find any form of a reference to Stack Overflow and change it into the title. That said, if a JavaScript client can figure out what a Stack Overflow link is, then I think server-side .NET code can with little issue; you have most of the algorithm in place already. – casperOne Jun 27 '12 at 13:56
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    @Shog9 As for the post regarding the improvement, I can't disagree with that. My issue is with the resource being deleted outright. It still serves a purpose and can live in meta. It's the way that you've prevented it from being linked to (and I'm ok with it not being linked to) which is the issue. – casperOne Jun 27 '12 at 13:57
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    @casperOne: sure - rather than re-using the simple, fast regular expression system that handles stuff like lmgtfy, we could spend time implementing a full-fledged link canonizer for comments. It could probably build on the one being worked on for posts. And when that's done, a month or so from now, after several thousand more of these links had been posted, it would've worked great. Almost as well as just deleting the post did - like it or not, it got the attention of folks who ignored previous complaints. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 14:01

Two people who are equals and who respect each other don't just drop links and leave short, curt comments. This behavior just serves to further alienate people, sparking irrational behaviors stemming from heightened emotions and hurt feelings. People who are upset, angry, and bitter will not learn how to be a good user on our network.

After learning this for myself after failing to see results from dropping those one-liner links, I started leaving comments like this:

Hi John Doe, it's customary in StackOverflow (and Superuser) answers to include a summary of the contents of a link or the highlights that specifically answer the question. The goal of SE sites is to become a resource of knowledge, of answers, for years to come. With a link-only answer, the op must dig through another resource to locate an answer he/she might not be sure about. Most importantly, if your link were to ever break, your answer is useless for anyone who visits this page in the future. Consider making and edit to your answer to add more details. Good luck!

There is also more information here on the Programmers SE Meta on how to leave constructive, guiding comments to new and existing users.

After talking to users on a more equal level, I noticed that more users took this advice and actually changed their behavior, becoming (or at least attempting to become) good StackExchange contributors.

With that said, not all of these users will learn, and some, the help vampires, just don't care. Don't waste energy on them, and don't get pulled into their control dramas when they try to argue with you. Be nice, move on, and just leave the community to deal with them in the form of closed questions, downvotes, and moderator flags.

In summary, by taking the approach of assuming the person is new, had a hard day, maybe missed the information in the FAQ or didn't take it seriously enough (sometimes rules aren't enforced in some places), and is more than willing to change his/her behavior to join our community, you'll find that you get more positive results.

Removing this resource is the correct action in this case. Shog9, thank you for doing that, and thank you to the people who contributed to it in hopes that it would bring about positive change. Not every experiment we try here will work, and that's no slight against you for your efforts. I hope you continue to brainstorm ideas for improving the community.

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    In my case, the "clear explanation" was already written in the "WSOIN" answers. There was no benefit in a custom explanation ten times a day. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 2:11
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    @JohnSaunders - The links seem a little cold and unfriendly, whereas the custom responses do not. Perhaps there's a user script in StackApps that could help more experienced users post comments that look genuine and friendly without the hassle of typing them. After all, if a link isn't going to be read, is there any benefit in posting it? – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 2:22
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    Hi, John Doe blah blah... tl;dr – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 3:01
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    @RobertHarvey - Ah, but I have the advantage! Most question askers are hoping there is an answer to their question in that comment, so they're probably more likely to read it. – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 3:05
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    I would only do this if I had the pro-forma script at my disposal, and that's most likely the next thing to be axed. Meh, I'm quite happy to close and delete things and let new users puzzle it out. – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 3:06
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    @RobertHarvey - Thanks!! I was trying to remember the name of that script. Yannis uses it: stackapps.com/q/2116/4812. Just to be clear, I'm in no way advocating not taking action on posts that need closing. I still downvote, vote to close, and flag. I just try to be civil about it. There's definitely other ways to be civil as explained here. 'Please' and 'thank you' are a good start (just not in questions and answers) – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 3:11
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    @Robert: the pro-forma script is a fine tool, but like any other it can be misused. No matter; any comment you post, whether composed on the spot or pre-written, is attributed to you, the person posting it - there's no implication that merely by using a script your words are automatically blessed by the community. If someone uses it to post good, relevant, useful comments great; if they use it to post lazy, inappropriate, or rude comments, then that's on them. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 3:42
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    @Shog9: Perhaps I'll load up my proforma thingy with excerpts from "What Stack Overflow is Not." :P – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 3:44
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    Two people who are equals and who respect each other don't just drop links and leave short, curt comments. Frankly yes I do. I'm not rude about it, but often I respect someone enough to be able to click a link I've described and get the required information out of it. I fail to see how a link is rude as long as my post is clear and helpful in content. The rudeness of many of the comments and even the WSOIN answers was the problem. Saying "links are rude" is silly. – Ben Brocka Jun 27 '12 at 13:35
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    @BenBrocka - The problem is that the links are generally littered amongst some very curt comments, at least on StackOverflow. When you put large groups of people into a room, even virtual, a sizable group of those people are going to nip at each others heels and target the weakest links, the noobs. Maybe there is a solution out there to where we don't have to hand-type comments. People visiting question pages from Google shouldn't feel the passive-aggressiveness that comes out from some people. Ok, so maybe rude is the wrong term, but they didn't seem to bring out the best in people. – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 14:43
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    [con'td] - Remember, there are hundreds or thousands of pageviews on questions found on Google, and comments that are unprofessional tend to detract from the site's quality. Maybe there's a better solution. I'll keep thinking about other workarounds like the comment script. – jmort253 Jun 27 '12 at 14:47
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    I think you're running up on the quality problem rather than the WSOIN problem. People leave rude comments to crappy questions. But crappy questions don't show up in Google either. People shouldn't be rude, I don't support it, but I can certainly understand it. And frankly if I landed on some terrible question that actually needed links to WSOIN on Google I'd be pretty ticked off, not because of the comments but because of the question which is extremely unlikely to be useful. – Ben Brocka Jun 27 '12 at 14:57
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    Two people who are equals... — this is a wrong premise. What you need these comments and WSOiN links for is users who are not at all equal to those providing the comment/link. They are asking a question, after all, and they ask it in the wrong way. If I can answer the question, or if I know how to ask the in the right way, then, regarding this, they are not my equals. Note: I had never seen WSOiN, nor noticed any links to it, nor do I want it back. All I am saying is that your premise is wrong. (Therefore, I didn't even read much further.) – sbi Jun 27 '12 at 15:32
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    @jmort253 all of the great teachers throughout my life who I remember had personality which sometimes you'd clash with, but, overall, you treasured them for this. You don't remember that one who used to drone on through lessons. If someone is being excessively rude or sacastic then I trust the mods and community will sort it out. Do we risk everything for the sake of risking nothing? Rudeness is to be avoided, but so to is homogenisation as it stifles creativity. – dash Jun 27 '12 at 16:26
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    @jmort253: But that's just the point. When you discuss the bedtime with your kid, you also are two people participating in a discussion, but because of the huge difference in knowledge and experience between the two of you, you are not equals. This certainly shows in the tone each of you uses. You would never talk in the same tone with your wife. (Well, I hope so, anyway. Sheepish grin.) – sbi Jun 27 '12 at 19:45

I'm new to StackOverflow, so here are some opinions from a new arrival.

  • It's a great place
  • It adds real value to the world
  • There are some absolutely awe inspiring answerers around
  • There's also a lot of people who are in it for the rep. No judgement, but I feel that a quick search and a "the answer is already over here" might be more appropriate sometimes
  • Some people are snarky. Never ever met a development team without at least one snarker though.
  • However, a few seconds, minutes, hours later, a good Samaritan turns up, and can, quite literally, change then entire tone of the question
  • The mods respond well to flags - the community has a mechanism for bringing behaviour back into line
  • Meta provides a necessary place to question some decisions

You also have

  • Unicorns. Ponies. Cthulhu. Jokes. Humour. Healthy cynicism and sarcasm. Legends. Magic.

WSOIN for me, seemed to like the unoffical house rules, with a side of personality. It had been evolved by the community. It tackled things that frustrated people. If it seemed brusque, or rude, then so be it - this was a tool developed by people to address issues they saw every day, but it represents a healthy portion of the spirit of Stack Overflow.

With all due respect, and there is a lot of respect given the reputation you've earned, removing it without asking the community was the wrong thing to do.

On the other hand, @JeffAtwood's comment about pre-canned comments for dealing with these situations is a great alternative, but, even so, WSOIN should live until this functionality, or suitable replacement functionality, is implemented.

It's had a lot of effort poured into it.

Given your scanning of the links, an 87% rate of links that are, at best, not useful is very high. But this means that there are 13% of links that actually do have worth. By promoting the behaviours exemplified by those 13%, an unlucky number could be turned into the norm, rather than the exception. People regularly bet on outcomes with far lower occurences! Why not pick out people who do use these links well, and reward them with a bounty? You know who they are! Conversely, negative rep can be awarded by moderators to those who ignore or flout the rules.

Now, the other issue is that it's removal is somehow supposed to lead a shift of attitude change in the way StackOverflow users conduct themselves.

Jeff Atwood said:

@shog yet again this goes directly to a smallish list of canned comments that are shining examples of friendly, civil, well explained education about common problems with questions. Given the statements here (which I definitely agree with; we don't need snark, cynicism, and link only comments) I find the decline of the pro forma comments more and more perplexing.

Again, I respectfully disagree with part of this;

A little snark and a little healthy cynicism is okay - it's a natural consequence of dealing with the technologies, successes and failures we deal with on a day to day basis. If it gets out of hand, is openly rude, or is particularly unconstructive, then we should flag it; tools already exist for this. Plus, the commenter's name is right next to it so you know who the guilty parties are.

Link Only Comments are evil, though. So too are link only answers. 404.

You see, what StackOverflow has, for example, that that other place that looks like it might actually be for gender change operations, or that official one with the repeated posts, is character. By trying to strip out some of this in, perhaps, an effort to be more professional is, in actual fact, an exercise that risks the heart and soul of the community.

Because, well, because, what's next?

  • Ponies and Unicorns are deemed to be too unprofessional (and I've seen comments to that effect) so they get removed and replaced with offical avatars?

  • Bans for adding unsanctioned humour into a conversation?

  • Rewards for making people into customer service machines who's only additional goal is to ask people if they'd like fries with their answer to maximise the customer satisfaction?

Dammit Jim, we're programmers, problem solvers and individuals, not the IT helpdesk. Well, okay, maybe we sometimes are.


WSOIN is an expression of the character of Stack Overflow. It was being misused in the way that people were linking to it, although there were also examples of how it worked really well. Rather than debate, improve and replace it, it was removed, which I disagree with, and leaves the site a slightly lesser place than it was before the removal. But only a little bit.

And this is all opinion anyway.

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    If you think I went out of my way to cherry-pick those comments... Well, I did. I cherry-picked the 5 comments out of the most recent 40 (as of last Friday) that weren't completely awful and left them out of my list. It really wasn't until I saw the evidence in the comments that I thought WSOiN needed to be removed - but an 87% failure rate is waaaay too high. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 20:45
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    @Shog9 Thanks for the clarification. I'll amend that part of my comment - sorry for the implication, it wasn't intended. I agree that 87% failure rate is high, but, conversely, a 13% success rate could be improved. – dash Jun 27 '12 at 20:51
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    Regarding your notes on squelching community culture in the name of politeness: I don't disagree, and I've certainly contributed enough snarky comments on my own to make arguing for their eradication more than a bit hypocritical - but I've also been chided, publicly and privately, when I crossed the line. A community should have a "heart and soul" to it, but when that turns from good-natured fun into bitterness, it also needs the ability to self-regulate. Seeing this many negative, mechanical comments was a bit of a wake-up call for me that this wasn't happening - and I'm not alone. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 23:40
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    I agree with you @Shog9 - I just don't agree that removing WSOIN was the right thing to do. I do believe that you and the community will find a way to replace what it did with something better - that's what you do, and I hope I get the chance to contribute in someway. I also think that much of the character of StackOverflow is awesome as it is and would hate to see that lessened. As an aside, I wish it had been Stack Overflow: What it's Not as the acronym is much cooler. – dash Jun 27 '12 at 23:58
  • @dash as an aside you might want to take a look at this query and take a look at how it was being used. I can't say I'll miss it – Some Helpful Commenter Jun 28 '12 at 22:49
  • @SomeHelpfulCommenter Yeah, that's bad. Really poor, consistently so, but I still think removing WSOiN is treating a symptom, not a cause. I wonder if, however, given some targeted education (there's a list of candidates there ;-) and some carrot or stick, you could turn that list into an exemplary example of directing people to somewhere where thy can learn more about how to maximise their benefit from SO. Imagine turning as many of those commenters into ambassadors as possible; the 87% would soon become a positive stat! – dash Jun 28 '12 at 23:26
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    @SomeHelpfulCommenter, I see that query, and I strongly disagree that there's anything wrong there. Simple, courteous, one sentence explanations (with a link with excellent details) for why their question is getting closed is helpful to everyone. There's nothing rude about it in the slightest. – Kirk Woll Jun 29 '12 at 0:53
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    @KrikWoll meh closed questions have a big grey box explaining the close reason with a link to stackoverflow.com/faq#close that probably does just as well. – Some Helpful Commenter Jun 29 '12 at 2:52
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    @SomeHelpfulCommenter, that's silly. There are five options to close but many dozens of explanations in WSOiN that broke things down with far greater clarity than "not a real question" or "not constructive". (even with the link to the FAQ) – Kirk Woll Jul 4 '12 at 2:00
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    @Kirk: actually, even that's not altogether true. WSOiN didn't limit itself to explaining close reasons, and rarely was there a 1 to 1 mapping between WSOiN answer and close reason... I had suggested splitting it up into close-reason-specific FAQs at one point, but it would have meant a complete re-write. Which sorta opened my eyes to the fact that a lot of SO users don't see a clear distinction between low-quality questions and the various problems described in close reasons. For instance: there is no "didn't google it" close reason... – Shog9 Jul 5 '12 at 13:59

Before WSOIN: A person who is not willing to respect any rules of SO post an offtopic question, attracts downvotes, and someone explains in a comment, why the downvotes.

With WSOIN: Same, but now you can link to an explanation instead of retyping it every time. I call it optimisation.

With WSOIN deleted, we're back to manually typing in the reason why that question attracts downvotes. This is something opposite to optimisation.

This OP's suggestion:

then there's no real point to commenting at all

seems to be a bit out lines of SO policy we have been having, which have been encouraging users to make the place better by explaining downvotes.

I wonder if the new policy is, downvote silently and move along?

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    If you want to take the time to explain your down-vote - or rather, if you want to take the time to explain what's wrong with a post - great! But posting a link to a fairly broad FAQ doesn't do that. If you can't spare the time to be at least reasonably specific, then yes - just down-vote and move on. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:32
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    I downvote and/or vote to close/delete without commenting 90% of the time because I've not seen the value in helping more than the 10% who seem to show promise. (numbers are approximate) – user7116 Jun 27 '12 at 15:34
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    @Shog9 Exactly, posting a link to a fairly broad FAQ doesnt do that. We've been having FAQ for ages and it didn't work well, which why WSOIN appeared. Each answer in WSOIN would be an example of a reasonably specific explanation. – GSerg Jun 27 '12 at 15:35
  • @sixlettervariables That's fine, but there are people who do comment. For these people, WSOIN is a nice helper thingy that saves time. There are people who use it in a rude way, but this is a local problem IMO and shouldn't be fixed with a global change. – GSerg Jun 27 '12 at 15:38
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    @shog yet again this goes directly to a smallish list of canned comments that are shining examples of friendly, civil, well explained education about common problems with questions. Given the statements here (which I definitely agree with; we don't need snark, cynicism, and link only comments) I find the decline of the pro forma comments more and more perplexing. – Jeff Atwood Jun 27 '12 at 15:39
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    @GSerg: I'm saying don't even comment with WSOIN or FAQ links. Tailor made comments for those who show promise seem to work the best. Those who will provide benefit to our community will usually figure it out on their own. Those who do not will leave. – user7116 Jun 27 '12 at 15:41

While I entirely support the purpose of this move, I have to question whether that purpose is actually served by it.

People on the internet are frequently rude, especially those not using their real name. The problem is exacerbated by people who make useless posts, ignore our rules, and whatever else. I'm not saying rudeness is warranted, just that it's not unexpected.

Removing "SO is not" does nothing to address how people behave. People will still tell people to go use Google or that they need to go away and read the manpage or whatever else.

So overall, I view this as a net negative. A central source of useful information was removed, but no benefit was derived thereof.

We have to change how users behave. That's something of a difficult problem, and I don't think banning links to things frequently used by rude people can ever solve it.

I will think about this some more and try to post some constructive feature requests.

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    +1 P.s. I don't know what it is with you, but I was almost finished writing a similar statement. You win this time. – Bart Jun 27 '12 at 14:55
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    To me this says pro forma comments is needed, since that allows explaining to new users in a constructive way. Maybe just for users above a certain rep level or mods. – Jeff Atwood Jun 27 '12 at 14:57
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    I disagree that this was a net negative. I think there was a lot of negativity coming from that post, so deleting would be a positive in that respect. As you said, losing the central source of useful information is a negative. I kind of think of it as a wash. – Josh Darnell Jun 27 '12 at 15:07
  • I agree that we need to do a much better job of educating folks on how to (and how not to) handle these posts. This is just scratching the surface - but IMHO it would be extremely hypocritical to stand up and say "if you're gonna comment, please try to teach - tell folks what they're doing wrong and how they can correct it"... when there's this massive list of Things SO Won't Do sitting here ensconced on MSO. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:10
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    I don't have the illusion that those who abused WSOIN for snarky comments will now change their ways. At least the links that were part of their comments led to actually relevant information. Taking this information away does not solve the underlying problem. – Bart Jun 27 '12 at 15:14
  • @Shog9 I don't think I understand what you mean. If the user needs to be told "what they're doing wrong and how they can correct it", is it not often (always?) because they're doing something We Don't Do? How are the two inseparable? – user154510 Jun 27 '12 at 15:46
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    Matthew: "we don't do forum stuff" vs. "ask a new question by clicking the big Ask Question button on the top-right corner of the page - include a link in your question to this one if it is relevant". – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:51
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    @Bart It doesn't solve the problem, but it does disabuse people of the notion that their actions are sanctioned by the community. This may dissuade some people. – JohnMcG Jun 27 '12 at 15:57
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    @JohnMcG At no point did WSOIN sanction or invite abuse of its content. To the contrary, when sharp edges to the content were identified by the community (which you seem to think is the victim of an unhealthy culture) they were positively addressed. To lay blame on WSOIN entirely misses the point, doesn't solve anything and would only ever hide the real issue IMO. – Bart Jun 27 '12 at 16:05
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    @Shog9 ... how will asking a new question help unless they've learned what we do and don't do? "We don't do forum stuff" isn't an appropriate comment, but it is an accurate summary of an appropriate comment, which is why the answers to WSOiN were "titled" similarly. Otherwise it would be an unreadable mess. Removing WSOiN doesn't prevent people from making "we don't do that" comments, it just prevents them from linking to a fuller and better explanation while making said comment. I don't hold out much hope that people will type out better explanations now that they can't link the post. – user154510 Jun 27 '12 at 16:12
  • @Ben I am not solely blaming WSOIN. My point is that leaving it in place (when it was most commonly being used in a rude manner) sends out the message to those tempted to use it similarly that the community approves of (or at least doesn't terribly mind) rudeness. That's worth changing. – JohnMcG Jun 27 '12 at 16:15
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    @Matthew: if they're here to ask a question, and due to past experiences with forums they post it as an answer on a related question, what they really need to know is that this is not allowed but they are welcome to post a brand new question. That's it - sure, there are many other differences between forums and SE-style Q&A sites, but for the person who just posted a question as an answer... Only one of them is actually relevant. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 16:16
  • @Shog9 Okay. I'm still completely and totally missing how this does anything to invite new users to create new and improved posts. Sorry :( – user154510 Jun 27 '12 at 16:17
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    I... kinda think we're talking past each other Matthew ;-) Or talking about different things. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 20:34

I must admit I sometimes linked to WSOIN, however, I in a polite way. But I think my comments were more helpful than negative, they made those newbies adapt to the site faster and prevent that their mistakes wasted users/moderator time.

While it is true that some of them didn't like this and probably left the site, it was clear that they would have done this eventually with or without these links to WSOIN.

However, a lot of people really crossed the line, it is never right to disrespect or leave comments that are meant to harm.

I applaud this decision, this was getting out of control and had to stop.

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    I think the WSOIN question did a better job of educating the "more experienced" users who continued to upvote and/or answer the garbage questions instead of finding the "close" button. This is just one less arrow in the quiver regarding fighting a progressive deterioration of quality (could just be my opinion and not reality). Did some people abuse it? I don't know, but if those comments didn't educate the asker one bit but at least got the question closed, deleted, and obliterated from the planet just a bit faster, they were worth it. Broken windows, you know. – Anthony Pegram Jun 27 '12 at 1:12
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    @AnthonyPegram if it was meant for the more experienced users, it should have been targeted at teaching them, not being thrown at people who, honestly, don't care. – Ben Brocka Jun 27 '12 at 1:13
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    I know the frustration, @Anthony - but you're just replacing one broken window with another – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 1:51
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    @Shog rude comments are alive and well, with or without WSOIN – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 14:54
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    @discount then perhaps a few canned examples of nice, constructive, helpful comments for people to choose from and learn from would be instructive? I think so. – Jeff Atwood Jun 27 '12 at 15:00
  • @Jeff I would totally support that. Or as an alternative to WSOIN, create a high-rep feature to post polite, community-curated pro-forma comments. (If there's too much snark, then maybe even make them static... although that would take away a lot of ability to respond to an individual situation.) Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/136609/… – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 15:02
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    @JeffAtwood I kinda thought that was what WSOIN was supposed to be. For a long time it wasn't successfully meeting that goal (it was not always constructive or helpful) but with the recent number of edits, and possibly with further edits for those questions not helpful or constructive, it could continue to be a good resource for, "What should I say in a comment when a user does X wrong?" That's what I used it for, whether I linked to it directly or not. – Servy Jun 27 '12 at 18:30
  • @Servy: that was the intention, but in practice that wasn't how it was being used (in most cases): see the examples I list in the question here - those were all posted after the recent spate of edits. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 19:57
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    @Shog9, I just don't see in what way that link-only comments are rude. They summarize, and the user can click through to get a longer explanation. If the user is offended by a daggum link, they really are going to have a difficult time wading the internet. We're programmers, not their mothers. "Stack Overflow is not a research assistant" is far more constructive than a "go read the FAQ" comment, which is still more constructive than just a downvote and a vote to close (by themselves). – Anthony Pegram Jun 27 '12 at 20:12
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    And with the "Stack Overflow is not...," you also potentially sidestep the sympathy upvotes and discussion around "why all the downvotes." Click the link, that's why. – Anthony Pegram Jun 27 '12 at 20:13
  • @Anthony: yes, it's more constructive than GTFO too; you can come up with plenty of examples that are more rude. I disagree strongly that any of these are more useful - of your time or of the time spent by anyone else reading - than simply voting. And closing automatically results in a pre-defined message with links to the FAQ being posted. Also... "Stack Overflow is not a research assistant"... Sure it is. Anyone posting that with a straight face is ignoring what actually happens every day on SO. If you want someone to provide more details, then ask them to do so. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 20:30
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    @Shog9, the entire point is that voting by itself is often countered by people who do not understand why the negative votes are occuring. The vote to close can be countered with later votes to reopen for the same reason. But I reject the entire premise that link-only comments that point to a specific answer in WSOIN is in any way rude. It is not. It is entirely civilized and consensus-building, especially in comparison to what may appear when people are once again left to their own devices. "WhatHaveYouTried.com" comments are rude. WSOIN is not. But maybe I'm way too far gone to the dark side. – Anthony Pegram Jun 27 '12 at 20:57
  • I tend to agree that WHYT comments fall into the same bucket, @Anthony (they're referenced in this question also). I checked on them at a moderator's request a month or so back, and at the time they were about 50/50 helpful/rude. I should probably check again... – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 21:22
  • @Shog9: Time to break out the StackExchange SuperCollider™ Comment Burninator™ again. – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 21:27
  • @JeffAtwood, full circle? :) – Benjol Jul 5 '12 at 7:58

I'm not here to talk about the post that was deleted. I have linked to it in comments, possibly even rudely, but that is irrelevant. I think it should have been deleted, after seeing the post, but that too is irrelevant.

I'm concerned that a Stack Exchange employee unilaterally (as far as I can tell) made a decision about this. What happened to "Stack Overflow is run by you!" (From the first version of the FAQ) or "On Stack Exchange, we believe the core moderators should come from the community..." (From the recent election) I think that this isn't in the category of what should be done by an employee - it's not even one of those things that "should not normally happen, but when they do, they can bring your entire community to a screaming halt — if you don’t have human exception handling in place." (From Theory of moderation, about what the elected moderators are there to handle.)

Where does it stop? I don't know, and that's why I'm upset by how this decision was made - Again, it's a decision that I think was correct, but it disturbs me.

If the community is not in charge, are we just unpaid workers for a company that is not interested in building a community? I don't think so, but this decision implies that we are. This is something that we should have been able to address as a community, and at the end, with much debate, the moderators and employees could make a final decision. Instead, it was abrupt, unanticipated, and against the stated goals of SO.


As Shog9 posted eloquently on the blog in March, "Respect the community", and as an earlier response in this discussion noted, there are things that two people who respect one another don't do. I'd think that one of them is to act unilaterally without consultation in a way that seriously affects the other - especially when it could easily have been proposed and discussed first. If Shog9 wanted to delete it after seeing the reaction to the proposal, he could still have done so, but as it is, it just seems disrespectful to the community.

  • I'd like to hear what people at SE think of my issue. @JeffAtwood ? – David Manheim Jun 29 '12 at 16:34
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    Mostly run by you. There are still things the business and development side have to consider and they will act accordingly. Sometimes to much fanfare, a few to boos and hisses – random Jun 29 '12 at 16:35
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    This is looks like a new discussion question, it does not seem like an answer. – Naftali aka Neal Jun 29 '12 at 16:36
  • @random - Was this a business and development issue? – David Manheim Jun 29 '12 at 16:36
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    Development of the community and its standards, yes – random Jun 29 '12 at 16:40
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    It's a user experience issue. A potentially serious one, though I've been on the sidelines for most of this so I couldn't really say. – Ben Brocka Jun 29 '12 at 16:51
  • That's not what the business and development side does, that is what the moderators and the community does. The business and development side, for its part, at one point recognized that "the asset is not the software, but the community." (From blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/03/se-podcast-31-goodbye-jeff ) I'd hope that this is still true - and if it is, that the community would be respected, instead of "developed" by the owners of the site. – David Manheim Jun 29 '12 at 16:52
  • @BenBrocka I agree with you, ensuring civility is a serious problem - but what makes this action something that SE could not have allowed to be debated first? Again, I don't disagree with the decision, but it didn't need to be made in this way. – David Manheim Jun 29 '12 at 16:58
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    @David: please keep in mind, listening to the community doesn't just mean listening to the folks here on Meta. While I deeply respect the people who put work into this, there's a lot more to the SO community than this (active, usually very helpful) minority. – Shog9 Jun 29 '12 at 17:02
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    @Shog - I agree that the community isn't exclusively those here on Meta, but it seems that there was no discussion at all. Was there? Was it in public? I don't think that your decision was wrong - it's just that I don't think that type of decision should be made unilaterally, without consulting the community, even by an employee. – David Manheim Jun 29 '12 at 18:04
  • If the community decides on something that SE thinks is a bad idea and involves something important, they'll overrule the community every time. They're a business and this is their site, not ours. So you can't take "Stack Overflow is you" at face value and not take that into account or you'll be sorely disappointed. Now SE does respect the community and take our feedback into account more than any other company/service I've ever heard of, so in my books the system is great. Like any company though, they will never admit that what the users (think they) want is at best a secondary concern. – user154510 Jul 10 '12 at 20:20
  • @MatthewRead - The problem I have is that this isn't the type of issue that they need to pull rank about. They have no reason to do so. When they have a compelling reason, they do so, and hopefully explain. In this case, they had a good idea, but imposed it instead of suggesting it - and I still have not heard from Shog9 about why this wasn't something that could be discussed before the action was taken. It wasn't urgent, had been the status quo for a long time, and while I agree with the decision, don't think this qualifies as the place where fiat rule should be acceptable to us, the users. – David Manheim Jul 11 '12 at 13:52

Didn't want to get too distracted by this in the post, but since it's come up in the comments: yes, I realize that a lot of these comments are born out of frustration with poor-quality questions. This is nothing new - but if we institutionalize rudeness as our weapon of choice in this battle, we've lost. A good read, for those of you who haven't seen it: Help Vampires: A Spotter's Guide.

Anthony Pegram offers the rationale that even if those targetted by such comments fail to learn from them, perhaps they prompt others to help clean up the mess... But replacing one broken window (a poor question) with another (a rude response) accomplishes little. Stack Overflow offers quite a few tools for dealing with quality issues that don't require rudeness, and we're always working on improving them; those of you who've been around SO from the beginning know that this is a war we've been waging from the very start, and will continue so long as there are members willing to fight... and willing to fight for.

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby becomes a monster.

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    If the main beef here is comments that don't explain what the problem is, and are little more than links to a list -- which I can agree with -- then I think it is a bad idea to decline the pro forma comments feature proposal. At least for mods and maybe high rep users. – Jeff Atwood Jun 27 '12 at 14:46
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    I routinely recommend the script to moderators, but I think encouraging its use more widely is just begging for more of these broad, catch-all comments. There's definitely a place for this, but building it in needs to establish and perhaps even enforce context - SO doesn't draw from the same bucket for close reasons and mod flags, mod messages and edit rejections... Yet that's exactly the behavior we ran into with this list. It's just getting started, but Pekka's list hints that per-tag comments might be a good option. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:14
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    If the canned comment explains clearly what the issue is, and describes how to resolve it to educate the user in a civil and friendly way, what's the problem? The concern with "is not" is rudeness / negativity in tone and link comments (which I continue to agree with) but we've stripped away a tool the community created to help moderate itself, without providing a constructive alternative, just saying "don't do that" instead. This rarely ends well in my experience. – Jeff Atwood Jun 27 '12 at 15:24
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    The more I think about it, the more I think that a feature like Benjol's comments script could be the solution - but one that is integrated into SO, and draws its suggestions from a super-polite, community-curated list, with no way to add your own templates, so you can only choose from the list. If you're a total jerk, you can still rewrite the polite template text into something rude before posting the comment, but if you're willing to do that every time, you're going to be rude, with or without a tool. Probably not entirely trivial to implement though – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 15:37
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    IMO, it is intrinsically rude, in the context of something claiming to be a "community" to use an automated script to deal with people. Even if the result of that script is something appears to be friendly. People catch on. Even a polite automated system will ultimately devolve into something that is either in fact or perceived as rude. Are you assuaged when you are on hold and you hear a recorded messages telling you "Your call is very important to us." It betrays an attitude of "How can I process this crap as quickly as possible," rather than, "How can I best help this person." – JohnMcG Jun 27 '12 at 15:52
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    @JohnMcG if you want to provide individual assistance, advice, and hand-holding to every one of the 4,000 questions that are created on Stack Overflow every day, free of charge, and usually with not even a "thanks" in return, be my guest. You can get to work straight away and there's going to be plenty new ones tomorrow. I, for one, am profoundly tired of it. Stack Overflow is a place where professionals give away help for free. Is some effort too much to ask from people who want to peruse that help? I don't think so. – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 15:54
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    @Shog9, have you considered the irony in that your concluding aphorism can (and will) be applied to you and your deletion by a lot of those who are enraged about the deletion? – sbi Jun 27 '12 at 15:55
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    @JohnMcG: Your comment is particularly illustrative of the slippery-slope nature of the politeness argument. Taken to its logical extreme, politeness is ultimately disingenuous, because it results in people witholding honest communication with each other in the name of politeness. Thanks, but given the choice I'll take honesty over politeness any day of the week. Of course, honest, polite communication is ideal, but I'm not certain you can legislate that. – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 15:57
  • @sbi: yup. And the day when the SO community doesn't step up to do so, I'll be very, very worried. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 15:58
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    @JohnMcG: Ultimately, the whole point of WSOiN was to give people a "standardized" way of communicating these issues. It was supposed to make the discourse more civil, not less. – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 16:07
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    @DiscountGucciHandbags A = # of high-rep active users are in SO. B = # of the 4000 questions that require hand holding, etc. I suspect B / A is well within single digits. If you can't bring your best to address a question, leave it for someone who can. – JohnMcG Jun 27 '12 at 16:08
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    @JohnMcG I like to save "my best" for answers and other productive stuff. Tens of thousands of people make the same mistakes, and many users (including mods) have an unwillingness to painstakingly repeat the same advice over and over because there are better things you can do with your time. You'll understand what I mean when you do a lot of cleanup and commenting work on the site. I appreciate the spirit of your position, but your condemning all automation as an expression of a broken culture is misguided. – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 16:17
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    @JohnMcG, I'd encourage you to spend a week here. – Benjol Jul 5 '12 at 8:09

I have to admit that I haven't been doing so much reviewing recently, so I don't think I ever linked to WSOiN. Having said that, I actually considered it as a one-stop canonical resource for answering "but where does it say that?" questions from users who don't understand why they can't do [whatever].

What's more, I find the logic of 'this thing is good, but people are misusing it so I kill it' mildly worrying...

  • I never said it was good. I said the intentions of those writing it were good. The results were disappointing, and yes, it was misused. The best part of AutoReviewComments is the defaults it ships with - they set an excellent example. – Shog9 Jul 5 '12 at 14:09

I would like to make some points about this post:

  • I really liked this nonetheless comprehensively controversial decision.

  • In theory, WSOIN could be useful. However, I have never seen a link to it which were helpful, supportive or even respectable. I can see why: WSOIN seems to be inspired on the "What Wikipedia is not" article. As someone who had some experience editing Wikipedia, I feel this page was born as a valid reference but ended as a haven for some of the most stubborn and arrogant pricks in the Internet. See the size of this article: it is huge, full of don'ts. Nobody will read it - at least nobody who want to do things. Every time I have seen a link to this page, it was some unnecessary, energy-drying Byzantine discussion about whether some update turns Wikipedia into e.g. a directory of links or not, because this kind of is-not reference is always vague and ambiguous. Unfortunately, this seems to be the only use of WSOIN, too.

  • So you do not have time to post ten friendly, personal comments. So do not post any comment. I see a lot of bad posts in SO and post no comment on most of them. And you know what? Someone else posts a recommendation. OTOH, I did comment on some posts. So, take it easy, you are not alone. If you are tired of commenting, just do not comment, there are other users here who can and will do that.

  • If you reeeeealy want to help the OP but has no mojo to post a good comment, just edit the question. I find it a lot: posts with titles such as "python - calling rm -rf". I just edit it to something like "Calling rm -rf with subprocess", for example. For sure it is easier than a comment and way more helpful than a in-your-face link. Editing posts always has propensity for controversies, but context-free links has no such propensity: the do generate controversies in the best scenario. In the worst scenario, a novice is expelled and no one is helped in any way.

The whole point is: now that WSOIN is not here anymore (and if it does not come back), what will you do? What are the alternatives? Those are my suggestions. Cut off the laziness, because this was the one problem with WSOIN: it made you lazy.

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    "cut off the laziness" - no, thanks. I'd rather do something more useful with my time. (I totally appreciate your point, and I don't mean to attack you. But there's so many things that people get wrong in the same way, and you get tired of giving the same advice over and over and over. There is need for a tool to address that.) – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 15:43
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    @DiscountGucciHandbags Actually, we couldn't agree more! This is actually my second point, about not commenting when you have not time or energy. – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 15:45
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    +1 Not sure it's necessarily "laziness," since the easiest thing to do would be to skip the post altogether. But I support a standard of, "If you can't provide a particular, constructive comment, do not comment at all" could be useful. – JohnMcG Jun 27 '12 at 16:00
  • @brandizzi: my comments and edits have "worked". Whether this is because I scare them away, or whether they learn their mistakes and don't repeat them, I don't know. But I do know I see many fewer questions with tags in the title. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 16:07
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    On your third point, "Stack Overflow is Not a Spell Checker" was never about that. I do edit titles and format code blocks, but I stopped editing people's unreadable posts after the tenth or twelfth one. It's too much work, and if the OP can't put in the effort to write a coherent post, why should I put in the effort to try and clean it up? – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 16:14
  • @JohnSaunders that sounds unlikely: you would have to comment an awful lot of questions to change the behavior. If you suppose there is a constant flow of "title-tagged" posts, even if you reprehend everyone you see, the people posting while you sleep will maintain the problem. The better state you testify can be result of many things, such as your timezone having a lot of native English speakers or your favorite tags having fewer novices. I subscribe sed and python; they are full of this problem. – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 17:41
  • @JohnSaunders nonetheless, I am sure you are very helpful. You are being very civil and kind here and I bet you are as civil and kind in your comments. – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 17:42
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    @RobertHarvey me too! If the post is FUBAR, I just downvote or vote to close, usually with a comment. – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 17:45
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    @brandizzi: FWIW, it's not just John making these edits and posting these comments. There are quite a number of diligent editors who've made it their business to educate by example in this area. And IMHO, that's the only real solution - no matter what you put in comments, if a new user shows up and the front page is full of tag-prefixed titles, they'll probably follow suit. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 18:29
  • @brandizzi: fortunately, it is not your responsibility to monitor the effectiveness of my editing. I doubt that you have spent much time in such monitoring. Fortunately, I have spent such time, simply as part of the process. I edit all tags, but mostly comment only to low-rep (new) users. I can observe the effect this has by noticing that I rarely have to comment more than once per user. This suggests to me that this is an effective method of educating new users to this particular difference between SO and the forums they may be familiar with. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 18:51
  • @brandizzi: it disturbs me to have you and others judging the value of this form of contribution from me with little or no evidence, and with no discussion at all. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 18:54
  • @Shog9 sorry, I did not understand your point. Actually, I've said I my answer that I myself do edit tag-prefixed titles. Surely there are many more editors doing it and I am even advocating it as an alternative to hash, in-your-face links. – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 19:03
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    @JohnSaunders I am not judging your contributions. However, you have said that "my comments and edits have 'worked'", by which you mean that, maybe because you "scare them away", you "see many fewer questions with tags in the title". This affirmation seemed to me that you believe that your only comments have a heavy significance in the whole community - what I still think is unlikely. OTOH, it is clear many editors cause this effect, as Shog9 said. Of course, it may be that I misunderstood you; in that case, I am sorry and would like to know what you tried to say and I did not understand. – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 19:12
  • @brandizzi: you don't know me. Several of your tags are in my ignore list. You have no way to judge the effectiveness of my work in reducing tags-in-titles, yet you seem willing to assume that there's a problem. I also said that I get many responses saying, "thanks, I didn't know that", or "my bad, I won't do that again". I get very few negative comments, the most negative being, "I would have appreciated your comment more if you had answered my question". I have some basis for judging my effectiveness, and you have no such basis. – John Saunders Jun 27 '12 at 19:17
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    @JohnSaunders I just do not understand what you are talking about. Where did I say that there is a problem with your edits? – brandizzi Jun 27 '12 at 19:23

Background: Joel's article on "remarkable customer service". (and, yes, I understand there is a difference between paying customers and freeloading questioners)

Judging by Joel's tweet that brought me here, it seems that this is part of a broader attempt by the powers that be to address what they perceive to be an unhealthy culture of snark that has taken hold at SO.

How did we get here? IMO, there are two main factors:

  1. Using programmers as customer service reps.
  2. An incentive system / culture that incentivizes quantity over quality.

For #1, I do not mean that programmers are incapable of providing quality service. I mean that our natural tendencies, which typically serve us well, are not always aligned with providing remarkable customer service.

In this particular case, it's the tendency to group problems into categories, and then come up with an efficient way to process them. SO content is a stream of data -- if we can quickly divert it to a pre-defined processing model, that's a win.

Except people don't like being treated that way, or seeing other people treated that way.

Leading to the second factor. There's been a lot of responses along the lines of, "How am I supposed to deal with the huge number of crap questions that come in." It seems a lot of people have this idea that they should be personally addressing a significant percentage of incoming content, and taking a shortcut away from them feels cruel. The structure of the rep system may be feeding this mentality, or it may be that the rest of us have failed to step up in our stewardship.

But this isn't the model people want to believe. When we call a big company's customer service desk, we know intellectually that ours is one of thousands of calls being fielded by a small army of customer service reps that may be in another country. We want to think that we're the only call that company is getting that day, and that we have the rep's full attention. Any indication that this is not the case (hold times, even punctuated by reminders that their call is important to us) is an abstraction leak.

If customer service reps circulated a list of "What [our company] is not" to address common but unreasonable customer requests," I strongly suspect the management would snuff it out, even if those composing it had made a painstaking effort to make it friendly. An organization that just crudely rewarded handling calls in as short a time as possible would likely see its quality drop. They may have some standardized ways of handling common questions, but those should be invisible to the customer.

I understand that many will balk that "remarkable customer service" is the standard that unpaid volunteers should be subject to. But we do still at least claim to be a community, which (to me) involves treating each other as people to be treated with respect, not as instances of problems.

I also think that thinking this way will in the long term cut off some of the more problematic content. Why should I care if I throw crap content at some massive machine that treats me like a number? But I might care about damaging relationships with people who have treated me well.

I'm not certain that "remarkable customer service" is what SO should be aiming for, or what the SO leadership is trying to push us towards (and I do also bristle that a site that claims to be "community run" should submit to the intent of the SE management). But I think it's worth considering.

Final Note: It may be the case that providing this type of service at the scale of a site like SO is incompatible with unpaid volunteer moderators and stewardship-minded users. It may be necessary to choose -- if you want remarkable customer service, you have to be willing to pay for it.

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    Speaking as someone who has worked in a call center and have friends who've done the same, both of those techniques (canned responses to common questions - including scripted responses and dialogue, and constant pressure to reduce the time spent per-call) are extremely common. And the results are as you predict. – Shog9 Jun 27 '12 at 18:01
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    I agree that providing good customer service is indeed the ideal that the community should aim for. But I maintain that for a certain group of users, canned comments (with the option of editing them into a custom message) are a way to do exactly that, but better and faster and with less effort. – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 18:03
  • @DiscountGucciHandbags: Clearly, you should know what good customer service is all about. – user102937 Jun 27 '12 at 19:20
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    @Robert we have 99% customer satisfaction. An only genuine handbags. Honest! – Pekka Jun 27 '12 at 19:28
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    This is so far off the mark it's absurd. People asking questions on Stack Overflow *****aren't customers***** of other users. Everyone has an obligation to treat everyone else courteously as a human being; we have an obligation to a certain amount of welcoming if we want the user base/community to grow healthily; we most certainly do not have an obligation to serve other users as if they were responsible for our livelihood. In fact, if someone wants something of the members of the site, that person has an obligation to do so in some approximation of conformance with the mores here. – jscs Dec 27 '12 at 20:44

If linking to it from SO was the problem, you could have just banned linking to it from SO, you know. Like the policy with every other problematic link you mentioned.

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    But the whole purpose of the question was to be linked to. If you couldn't link to it then it wouldn't really serve a purpose. – Servy May 8 '13 at 20:57
  • @Servy in that case I agree with Shog9's decision :) that was a horrible practice. In general SO has switched to being nice to new users from being mean to them in the last year or so. But a lot of other answers are legitimately claiming it was an interesting, valid, etc. work. That I agree with and I would have preferred to see the correct problem solved instead of sledgehammering it. It would allay about 50% of the concern expressed in this thread, at least. – djechlin May 8 '13 at 20:59
  • As I would have predicted, it had a mixed result. There were abuses of WSOIN, and some have gone away as a result, but a lot of people just stopped commenting when users acted inappropriate, leaving lots of downvoted/closed questions and authors that didn't know what they did wrong. Without WSOIN a large percentage of users just can't be bothered to write the custom comments. Is it universally bad, no, and there are more high quality custom user comments, but there sill are more uncommented questions than there were before, leading to more frustrated users. – Servy May 8 '13 at 21:04
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    I don't mind deleting this so much as that nothing was done to fill the void that this post filled. – Servy May 8 '13 at 21:05
  • @Servy fair. But my answer here is more like, "this is a strict improvement over what was done." People of your opinion remain status quo - can't use it. People of the "I liked it" become happier. I'd rather us be having your and my discussion... over an extant and unlinkable question than a deleted one. – djechlin May 8 '13 at 21:06
  • Meh, posts can be undeleted if needed, and a decent percentage of people discussing this topic have the rep to see it anyway (I recognize you're not one of them, and I wasn't when this discussion first took place). If there really is a reversal of the decision here it's not like the post was hard deleted. – Servy May 8 '13 at 21:11

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