I remember some time ago there was some huge problem regarding some question that had something to do with a boat, and I think I missed that topic completely. As I see it being mentioned every now and then, I'd just like to know what it was about.


10 Answers 10


jjnguy's answer captures the part about the history of the meme, but I don't think he captures why it became a meme and what the meme represents.

Basically, the boat-programming question was at the core of what it meant for a question to be programming related. At the time, SO had a lot of questions that were, essentially, "What is as a good such-and-such for programmers?" (e.g. "What is your favourite food, as a programmer?", "What is the best movie for programmers?") After a long debate on the SO blog (since Meta didn't exist at the time) it was eventually decided that all questions like this are not programming related.

The fundamental rule is you can't just stick "for programmers" on a question to make it programming related. The boat-programming question, due to its timing and popularity, is the poster child for this kind of question. Whenever a question is asked today that is not programming related but has "for programmers" tacked on, the boat-programming meme is brought up to indicate this.

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    I know this is an old post, but I am still curious, does anyone know what the actual question was (I don't have 10k rep, so I can't see the actual question since it was deleted)
    – Ephraim
    Apr 23 '12 at 3:04
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    @Ephraim Apparently the boat question was one of only two that were purged from the system, so even if you have 10k to see deleted questions, this one is just gone.
    – Izkata
    Aug 24 '13 at 2:49
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    I think this answer would be better if it didn't use examples like "food" or "movies" which seem like a real stretch in terms of their relationship to programming. The "boat question" seems like a perfectly legitimate "super user" type of question. The only reason it doesn't belong on SO is that that SO is about the process of programming, including programming tools, and doesn't extend to general computing infrastructure. Nov 21 '13 at 17:41
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    @Ephraim The only known capture of the question is here
    – tbodt
    Jan 21 '15 at 1:42
  • @tbodt Are you sure this was the exact question? It was tagged as being "not-programming-related", so it seems weird that it would be used as an example of a programming-question-that's-not-really-about-programming-but-is-still-acting-like-one, as it was marked as such. It was edited, and there's no archive of the edits (not surprising), so that tag could not have been in the original post, but still I wonder if this is the correct origin for the meme as-is. Feb 16 '17 at 19:36
  • @SonOfSam Yes it's the correct origin.
    – Jason C
    Feb 26 '17 at 18:42
  • Where can I ask about movies and food for programmers if I can't do it on SO? Would meta be appropriate?
    – user282657
    Nov 3 '17 at 15:05
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    @Daniel: Nowhere in the Stack Exchange network are those appropriate questions.
    – Welbog
    Nov 3 '17 at 15:37
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    @Daniel if you can explain the special needs of programmers ask in the film or food parts. the answer might be "Sneakers" and "Ramen".
    – Jasen
    Nov 4 '17 at 8:55

Basically (IIRC):

  1. A question about what is needed to be able to program on a boat was asked
  2. It was closed as non-programming related, or not a real question
  3. People were up in arms about it
  4. Lots of edit wars ensued (I believe)
  5. More arguments arose
  6. Question was deleted
  7. We have the boat programming meme!

A reference to boat programming is usually referring to joke questions, or slightly 'off' questions on Stack Overflow.

Check out Welbog's answer for a little more back story.
Shog9 also posted a link to a captured version of the question. So, now you can see what all(most) the fuss was about.

As Kyle notes, the boat question was featured on the podcast as well. That is how it gained so much popularity/infamy.

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    Yeah, I saw you linked to mine, so I had to link back.
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14 '09 at 14:39
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    adding to the list: 8. ??? and 9. Profit
    – hayalci
    Aug 17 '09 at 11:50

I'm surprised no one mentioned this before, but the reason why boat programming got the attention it did was because it was featured on the podcast (episode 50, 2009-04-21, from 1 h 02 min 43 sec). This caused the question, which was performing poorly, to get a number of very good answers. Unfortunately, Jeff later learned that it was a joke question, deleted it, and posted on the blog asking users to refrain from posting questions like these in the future. The boat programming question was also permanently excised from the system (not even 10kers can see it) - the only record of it is hosted here.

Also in the discussion of the joke question on the blog was the revelation that Jeff had broken the privacy policy and revealed the IP address of the poster. Since then, Tim has, on many occasions referred back to the boat programming question (example), and I suppose it's happened often enough to have been picked up as a meme.

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    we revised the privacy policy to allow posting IPs in the case of abuse. Aug 15 '09 at 23:57
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    The link to the captured question is giving a 404. Anyone has another reference? Jan 18 '10 at 2:40
  • @obvio171 I know this is old, but in case people are looking for this, Shog9 posted a linked to an archived version of this.
    – Aske B.
    Sep 22 '12 at 11:41
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    The linked "only record" of the post is gone, but the Wayback Machine still has a copy: web.archive.org/web/20100426125115/http://www.mattmcdole.com/… Nov 15 '12 at 19:32
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    Note that the privacy policy was revised retroactively. Feb 10 '15 at 16:16
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    What's wrong with a joke question if it ultimately results in good answers?
    – JAB
    Aug 13 '15 at 13:42
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    @JAB Because the question could still not belong here. What if people started asking questions about pizza and it became a thing-- those questions would be off-topic and bad for the site, even if their answers were good. Nov 6 '17 at 12:40

Welbog and jjnguy give a good overview of the essential mood of the meme. All I have to add is a link to an archived version of an archived version of the question itself.

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    Boat must've sunk... :-P
    – Shog9
    Jan 19 '10 at 21:29
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    Ignore the earlier comment, the link now works again.
    – Pops
    Mar 9 '12 at 20:39
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    I updated it to point to archive.org (so far as I know, the only remaining archive of this question) @Pop
    – Shog9
    Mar 9 '12 at 20:47
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    D'oh, I didn't check the dates. Okay, awesome.
    – Pops
    Mar 9 '12 at 20:54

I was disappointed to see a perfectly good question and a great answer deleted so I added the boat programming tag to a few of my questions. People got up in arms about it and accused me of trying to destroy SO and ruin the community. Lots of editing on that particular day.

I was politely asked by an SO staff member to stop using that tag. I stopped using it.

Ironic because some of the people who found me using the boat programming tag so terrible were using and creating their own ludicrous tags.

Jeff asked me to post a picture with my boat set up. I will when I have time and remember the camera.

I also posted a question about piracy - it was an unappreciated post that asked both about software piracy for software written on a boat and about real high-seas piracy (that you would encounter as a programmer on a boat). (Note at the time there were lots of news stories about piracy). That one got removed. (I blame lack of humor for that deletion)

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    For what it's worth, boat programming is a real problem in today's society. I for one feel safer not having it around. :P
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14 '09 at 15:52
  • @Tim - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8479/… Although it's not serious at all ;)
    – Tom Ritter
    Aug 14 '09 at 20:00
  • @Tom, I saw that and I am going to post there eventually. Summer is a busy time for me.
    – tim
    Aug 17 '09 at 14:37

Someone posted what is believed to be a joke question about programming on a boat. Jeff deleted it. Several people got offended. Now we liken other similar nonsensical joke/stupid posts along with boat programming.

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    WARNING: Explicit (but hilarious) lyrics in the video linked above. Aug 14 '09 at 13:58
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    meh "This video is not available in your country due to copyright restrictions." =-s
    – fretje
    Aug 14 '09 at 14:11
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    Man, I love that song...I need to get to work now...and stop being so profane...
    – jjnguy
    Aug 14 '09 at 14:19

Hey, I found another boat-programming question!


(deleted, so you will need 10k rep to see it)

  • I think I saw one fairly recently about whether a stint in the navy would be good for one's career. It's probably deleted also.
    – mmyers
    Aug 16 '09 at 1:36
  • On SuperUser too: superuser.com/questions/23534/…
    – John Fouhy
    Aug 17 '09 at 1:09

The boat question is back in a new form on Super User:

Computer and Internet use on a boat?


I am five years or more late to answer, otherwise I would suggest him to buy a Clipper.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clipper_(programming_language)


IIRC, some guy was going on a boat and sailing around the world and wanted to know what to bring with him (books, tools, documents, etc), because he wouldn't have an Internet connection for extended periods of time.


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