Search is broken.
Well ok: It's frustrating.

I see other people doing it and think "jeez, that's lazy" then after trying a bunch of search terms without much joy, figure, well the quickest way is just to ask. So what if you get abused (not that I actually do this) because, hey, you still get pointed to your answer within a very short period of time.

So is that a bad thing? I mean if someone else is looking for a distraction and can find the answer quicker than you can, what's the damage? A bit more noise in the SO database? What do I care?

Sure you want specifics, not rants:

Default results order is "relevance"? They're not relevant, they're often just the most recent. Apparently low voted recent questions are more relevant than long-standing, well-endowed, super-concrete answers from years back?

Fine, no joy. Let's hit "votes" tab, and see if I can find this undoubtedly common question there. Nope. That just throws up the same old highly voted, super generic, "what are the best tips" kind of crap I've seen a million times and is not remotely relevant. Sift down a few pages in hope, and I'm: Nowhere.

Fine. I hit the link and read through the 'advanced search options' occasionally and even possibly, perhaps, remember one, like "title:...". Sheez if it mentions it in the title then surely it's more relevant. So type it in again with "title:blah"... etc. etc.

By this time I've executed a bunch of search terms, a bunch of different tabs, a bunch of pages. I know this thing I'm looking for will be in here, but where?! So often it's really really hard to come up with those unique words that nail the question. Sure as hell the poster-child question/answer didn't use them.

Fine. Can't beat 'em? Join 'em. I'll just ask a new question. It's easier to have some other bored mug to find it for me. He'll get to feel superior, and I'll be out of my misery. Now because the tags are entered after the question even the suggested existing questions are way off base until after you've typed in the body of the question! I've only recently worked out that's why the suggested answers are so far off base. Please do something simple and ask for tags before the question.

Welcome to Gen Z. Why work it out myself when there's plenty of mugs who'll do it for me?

Isn't this "question" a fine example? I've had my rant, and I'm sure someone is going to show me the duplicate. But hey! I got it off my chest, and you pointed me to someone else's. I vote 'close - not a real question'. YMMV.

  • related (not a duplicate): Related questions in “Ask Question” page is better than search tool
    – gnat
    Sep 5, 2012 at 7:17
  • I have down voted because I strongly disagree with the basic premise of this question. I easily find information here when I look, and I can't recall ever using the advanced search. I think the problem with the people posting duplicates is more often simple laziness, or just lack of general search skills. Sep 5, 2012 at 7:17
  • 1
    Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/48985/…
    – Jupiter
    Sep 5, 2012 at 7:26
  • 2
    @AndrewBarber I don't think it's wise to go against the majority (I assume it is), especially not on a community site like this. Just because the minority of experienced people are good at using the search engine, doesn't mean it shouldn't be improved (PHP-mentality?). It should be as easy as possible to find relevant questions, and personally I think the basic search engine should be improved (because I'm guessing most users don't use the special/advanced search criteria, but I'm sure the staff can see the real statistics for that)
    – Aske B.
    Sep 5, 2012 at 7:38
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    Related - careers.stackoverflow.com/jobs/19463/… :)
    – ChrisF Mod
    Sep 5, 2012 at 7:57
  • Can you give us a few example search terms? I'm interested to see what you're looking for, and what comes up in the search results instead. Sep 5, 2012 at 12:18
  • @BilltheLizard People are identifying with what I'm talking about so I'm reluctant to give specific examples. A long exchange on how to search the examples would demonstrate the point, sure, but also risks loosing sight of the point: that it's easier to just start a new question than attempt to find the existing one(s).
    – Jupiter
    Sep 6, 2012 at 6:16

4 Answers 4


I can't see why Stack Overflow wouldn't be interested in improving this, if it means less people will be asking duplicates and ultimately that will make it easier to find relevant questions.

I don't know what Stack Overflow is officially doing to optimize this, but they could try checking if people were finding relevant questions by getting search statistics:

  1. Which questions in the list of search results are clicked? (For example, the third link on the first page)
  2. Did they upvote the question or any of the answers?
  3. How long did they visit the questions?

And more.

Of course, this requires effort from the development team, but I'm betting on this being worth the resources / effort if it isn't already in effect.

  • 3
    Stack Exchange are doing something about this - careers.stackoverflow.com/jobs/19463/…
    – ChrisF Mod
    Sep 5, 2012 at 7:56
  • @ChrisF This is a good example of the issue mentioned. I had no clue where to find that information, but you provided it. Thanks by the way ;)
    – Aske B.
    Sep 5, 2012 at 8:04
  • I remember seeing this when it came out - it was posted in one of the chat rooms.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Sep 5, 2012 at 8:07

I find this to be especially true here on meta.

Actually, I already read a duplicate of this (similar to this, but in my memories, a lot longer), and found this one while searching for that other. Also I did post a few questions after not finding what they were duplicates of (still on meta).

Also someday I'll post about the flagging system being such a hard thing to search up-to-date information about.


No, it doesn't mean search is broken. Search works very well. Indeed, whatever I've searched for on Stack Overflow recently, I've found many questions that cover exactly what I was looking for.

So something is broken. Because it's easier to ask a duplicate, than to search. You don't get any Stack Exchange reward for identifying which other questions actually contain the answer you are after. You don't get any rewards for voting to close as duplicates. You don't get any rewards for going through the whole set of questions, identifying duplicates and getting them closed. Whereas if you ask a question, reasonably sensibly, you'll get reputation points from upvotes on the question. And you keep those reputation points, even if the question is subsequently closed as a duplicate.

So, it seems to me that because Stack Overflow has (unlike most other Stack Exchange sites) got so very many questions on it now, it has a unique problem. The incentives are wrong.

How could this be fixed? Well, perhaps one or more of the following:

  • taking away reputation points from upvotes on closed questions.
  • a reputation point penalty for asking a question that gets closed as a duplicate
  • increased risk of having the question-asking privilege suspended, for repeatedly asking questions that get closed as duplicates
  • reputation points or badges for finding duplicates and closing them properly
  • So you suggest punishing the people that don't understand the system instead of improving the system? That's at least how I read your suggestion.
    – Aske B.
    Feb 22, 2013 at 9:43
  • On a second note, I understand why you feel there is a frustration for the people who are even too lazy to search in the first place. But I, the OP, and probably many more (I would like some actual statistics on this) often cannot find what we're looking for with the search feature, for whatever reason, and have to ask a question to find it. That's what I think the OP wants to have improved. At least it's also what I'd like to have improved. I also think it would solve the problem for many lazy people as well.
    – Aske B.
    Feb 22, 2013 at 11:03

Asking a question on SO is the way to access the world's best human-powered search engine in the programming field. mahalo.com tried to get the technology to work on a broader scale, but failed. So far, stackoverflow seems to be pulling it off.

For advanced users, SO is a Q/A site. But now that it seems that nearly all possible beginner questions have been asked and answered (multiple times, in some cases), the nature of the site has changed. For beginners it now basically functions as a search engine where the community through the closing process will vote to determine if the question has an answer (in code speak, if it is a real question or not) and if so, point to it.

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    While you're technically right, we're not a search machine! Asking a question and going "I either get an answer or they find the correct duplicate" is an abuse of the community. Sep 5, 2012 at 9:37
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    @UnicornifiedBobby No, of course SO is not a search engine - the problem is that is that is (to a certain degree) used as one, whether it is intentional or not. And it turns out to work quite nicely. Also, my post was intended as a half serious-half joking observation, sorry if that didn't transpire.
    – Monolo
    Sep 5, 2012 at 9:50

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