I already came across questions to which many people "knew" the answer. Usually it gets many upvotes and downvotes, many answers and even more comments. It gets voted to be closed and re-opened again. Sometimes it survives sometimes it doesn't.

It's understandable that it gets voted to be closed and deleted when it's a duplicate or something, but what if it's not? What if it's just a question that some people find easy to answer and some people consider a good question?

Take for example today's hot question. From my point of view it's obviously not constructive and I would never ask a question like this. But as you can see there are many people upvoting it.

Why is that happening? Is it not clear what questions should be asked here? And why am I here? Because I am kind of used to the fact that everything I am looking for can be found on SO and usually Google's top results are questions on SO.

But today I was trying to look at programming in C. And when I had to choose a compiler I realized I know nothing about C compilers. So I used Google. I was surprised there was nothing on SO. And I had to find the answer elsewhere. So I did, but after that I thought it would be nice try to ask this question on SO.

So I first checked the FAQ to see if it's ok to ask a question like this on SO.

  • a specific programming problem
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

Yes, Yes, Yes... I was sure that it was ok to ask a question like this on SO. So I spent quite a lot of time composing that question and choosing the right words. I was trying to be as specific as possible. Like I said I knew nothing about it, so it wasn't easy. And I know that for many people it's not a real problem. But after all of that I was quite satisfied with the result of my work.

When it was done and posted, I couldn't believe my eyes. That question had over a hundred views within seconds. It had many upvotes and answers, but not the answers I was looking for. I was expecting more. Not something like "Each compiler is different". There were also some interesting facts mentioned. For example: "Usually you work with more compilers". I did not know that :] There were many comments on my question, some of them supportive some of them offensive! I was shocked. There were comments on those answers disagreeing and everything was happening really fast. My questions usually don't get attention at all.

Like I said, some people were supportive and some really offensive. After three minutes the question was closed and deleted.

I was trying to create a good question. I was hoping it could (maybe) become a Community wiki. Try to understand: the question wasn't "What compiler should I use?" But answers might some day help people to choose.

After all I wasn't looking for the answer just for me.

My question is; Why do so many people on Stack Overflow disagree on what should and should not be asked on Stack Overflow?

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    You've got it backwards. The "hot" question is on-topic. Choosing a compiler is not; that question was closed and deleted by the community. See also stackoverflow.com/about, especially the part that says: "Avoid questions that are primarily opinion-based, or that are likely to generate discussion rather than answers." – user102937 Feb 5 '13 at 0:08
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    Also, sehe does have a point about reputation inflation; the accepted answer on that "hot" question probably took 30 seconds to post, and got far, far more upvotes than it deserves; while more difficult questions with good answers often languish, with few votes to show for their effort. – user102937 Feb 5 '13 at 0:13
  • @RobertHarvey Again... I agree... look at the question I linked in comment on sehe's answer... But I can't agree with you that choosing compiler is based on personal opinion. That was the reason why I spent so much time composing that question because I didn't want to generate discussion, but I wanted to get concrete answers. – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 0:22
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    How is "Why are there so many different compilers for C and C++" going to generate anything but multiple subjective opinions? You also asked three separate questions in the body of your post; it's not even remotely constructive. – user102937 Feb 5 '13 at 0:23
  • @RobertHarvey You are right, but again... I wasn't expecting what happened. It had more questions in it, but it was targeting one concrete answer and again I can't agree with you it expects subjective opinion, but sure you are right. The question should be much more concrete I suppose. But I am not that experienced :) And Thank You – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 0:38
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    I agree with you, OP. Many times I felt like I posted the right question in the right place and got hell of the down-votes or negative input, not only about my question, but also my logic in my question. To me, it seems like people don't like your/mine opinion. People will criticize you when they don't like what you might have said. My guess is that the question you have posted have too much of an opinion in it, and people just really disagreed with you. :) – HelpNeeder Feb 5 '13 at 1:48
  • As someone who's been using SO for a while but only recently got the "trust" bonus needed to post elsewhere, I can finally say how disappointing I find Meta users hording downvotes upon controversial SO posts that get linked here. Ssupposedly respectable Exchange users on Meta think such behavior is ok? How many of you would have found the linked SO question without having a similar issue yourself? – Alexander Pritchard Mar 3 '15 at 16:51
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    This is a poorly asked question, and is going to elicit the same response it's intended to discuss. First you ask, "Why are there flamewars over questions of type X" then you give a bad example of a question of type X, then you bring up a question you asked which isn't allowed on the site, then you get to what I assume is the real question, "Why do we disagree about the line between acceptable and unacceptable" We've had that and related discussions many, many times on meta over the years. Voting to close as unclear what you're asking. – Pollyanna Jun 9 '16 at 16:53

Okay, here's my assessment of that Java boolean question.

  1. Is it on topic? Yes
  2. Is it constructive? Yes There is only one correct answer.
  3. Is it too localized? No This is pretty common syntax IMO.
  4. Is it a real question? Yes The question is very clear.
  5. Is it a good question? Probably not. It's too basic in my opinon.
  6. Is it easily searchable? Not really. So you can't really blame the OP for not enough research effort other than not reading a book.
  7. Are the answers good? Meh... It's just the usual FGITW that didn't take more than 30 seconds to answer.
  8. Do the answers deserve that many votes? Probably not. In comparison to the numerous other great answers that have fewer upvotes...

basic/easy answer + too many upvotes + jealousy = flame wars

As a disclaimer, I'm not unbiased since I've had my fair share of popularity runs.

So now the question is: Why is that question so hot?

This answer by gnat pretty much says it all.
(If you're interested read the entire chat transcript I had with him.)

But in summary, here's how it happened:

  1. OP asks a basic question.
  2. 10+ people answer FGITW. And they get some upvotes.
  3. Due to the current hotness equation, the sheer number of answers shoots the question to the top of the multicollider hot list (the drop-down list at the upper-left corner of every page).
  4. Everyone pours into the question from outside. A small fraction of them upvote.
  5. Voila! You have an over-voted question...

gnat and I are probably going to propose a change to the multicollider algorithm to help improve the quality of the questions that top the multicollider. But we are still working on the details of how to present both the problem and the solution.

As far as rep inflation goes. I don't really consider that a problem at all. The repcap does its job nicely in these cases. 200 rep (or 400 if it carries on another day) isn't what I would consider "inflation".

  • Actually, a sizable percentage of them upvote. But all it would take is for each of them to ask the question "What is this answer really worth, relative to the number of upvotes already on it," before casting their vote. I figure the accepted answer might be worth five or six upvotes. – user102937 Feb 5 '13 at 0:28
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    Assuming most of the (2k) views came through the multicollider, at least 1 in 20 upvoted. There's generally several factors here: Because it's a basic question, everyone understands it. So you already start with a very large potential voting pool. But because it's so basic (and not very interesting), most of them don't upvote. That's why the answers haven't shot to +500 yet. But there's always that small population that will upvote without taking into consideration the current vote count. Those are what I believe drives these types of questions. – Mysticial Feb 5 '13 at 0:32
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    That's kinda the reason that I think a better displayed measure of post mojo is a Votes/Views ratio. But that idea has never achieved much traction. – user102937 Feb 5 '13 at 0:33
  • The Votes/View thing has other problems with it - as they'd be skewed by Reddit and such. You could use Votes/voting account. But I don't believe those are tracked. – Mysticial Feb 5 '13 at 0:34
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    In any case, gnat and I agree that the Qanswers multiplier in the multicollider equation has got to go. Never have I seen a single question with 1 great answer (and < 5 answers total) top the multicollider without the help of Reddit and such. – Mysticial Feb 5 '13 at 0:37
  • "Nothing to do here" Do you know that meme? :D I am feeling this way right now :D – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 0:40
  • Since I don't know what you two are talking about I shouldn't be talking at all, but I am glad this discussion went this way. Btw it could be nice to let users decide whether or not the question is trivial... vote-trivial maybe? Max of 2 upvotes on answer of trivial question? Let OP to decide whether or not the answer will appear visible under his question? Max of four ansers? Or something like that? Sorry :) And Thank you ALL very much :) – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 0:58
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    Nah. Basically you are right that there is a problem. Furthermore it's a known problem that some of us are trying to solve. Questions like this boolean question IMO, when voted to this extent are possibly detrimental to the site as it ostracizes many avid users who see this vote imbalance as injustice. Now I myself, am not jealous because I wouldn't actually want something this dumb high on my profile. For some people who have never had a Great Answer badge, this may be angering. – Mysticial Feb 5 '13 at 6:40
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    @MartinSmith Thanks for pointing that out. :) – Mysticial Feb 5 '13 at 17:58
  • @Mysticial: it isn't as bad as it used to be, but I looked at how awful the top 50 questions really were in '11 and man...people have low standards for "good" questions and answers. – user7116 Feb 6 '13 at 17:19
  • @sixlettervariables I blame Reddit, not the design of SO. – Servy Feb 6 '13 at 18:12
  • @Servy It depends. Reddit (namely r/programming) has a taste for two type of SO posts: Funny posts. And in-depth posts that teach something interesting. They don't like things that are stupidly basic. The fact that they like in-depth posts, IMO, makes Reddit a better indicator of quality than our own multicollider. Yes, the funny ones bring in a lot of noise and controversy, but the fact remains that they also boost the advanced posts - something our multicollider currently fails to do. – Mysticial Feb 6 '13 at 18:22

It's not about the whether the question should have been asked.

It is also not about how many people knew the answer.

It is more about whether the answers should have been posted/upvoted to death.

It is about the reputation inflation that occurs. Reputation becomes meaningless (because random peopl can accidentally score 100+ answers).

Also, it hurts SO search quality, as higher voted posts will end up being advertised as "good" or "important".

Sample answer 1

This is clearly not the case with an answer like

  • https://stackoverflow.com/a/14686396/85371 (10 upvotes)

    At least this one cares to "explain" by showing equivalent code. However it goes on to claim that it is "much too slow". This is obvious nonsense. We don't need this kind of myth to keep being propagated, only just because

    • the question and answer were highvoted
    • so many people "know" the answer

Sample answer 2

Or even, the accepted answer there:

Which also has this comment:

Thanks for getting your point across in so few words. Too many answers use too many words :) armani

My reaction was:

So now, SO is rewarding the most basic of questions that show little or no research, by hughely upvoting trivial answers. And the author gets thanked in the process for ... not explaining. (Yes, I'm envious. And yes, this is a problem for quality on SO)

  • Yes I agree with you on this, but maybe it should be handled somehow. For example look at this question Those users get all their reputation on this question only! Why it's not already Community wiki? If it's so good question? – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 0:15
  • @ViktorLaCroix: Community Wiki is dead. – user102937 Feb 5 '13 at 0:21
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    @ViktorLaCroix Community Wiki shouldn't be used as a means of preventing someone from getting/losing rep for a popular or good question. It should be used to indicate that the content is not the work of the author or to encourage edits for content (and not just spelling/grammar/formatting) by other users. – Servy Feb 5 '13 at 18:30
  • @Servy We shouldn't be talking about this since Community wiki's dead as Robert said. But look at that question... it's obviously useful question, but it's the only post of OP and he has 2k+ rep. Also those who answered that question... they did nothing on SO and they already have this high rep. It could be CW and they wouldn't have more and more rep. every day. – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 20:08
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    @ViktorLaCroix You should read the actual link. To quote a bit more, "Community Wiki is dead. Long live Community Wiki!" The main point here is that it should no longer be used as a tool just to avoid rep gain; it's still appropriate to use it as a tool to indicate that the post contains content that is the result of a collaboration of many people and not a single user's work. – Servy Feb 5 '13 at 20:14
  • @Servy I did... It was meant as a hyperbole, since the link was the response to what I already said in the first comment, In the response to you I was just trying to be more specific, but I mentioned that it was already rejected by Robert and his CW is dead. – user204707 Feb 5 '13 at 20:36

The question is about the meaning of:

boolean retry = id == 1;

The formulation is simple, without any noise. It can be understood in a few seconds.

It's one of those things veterans put in code. Beginners avoid modifying it because it looks like magic.

The votes reflect the fact that many people have learned something from the question and its answers. Questions like this should be celebrated.

  • 2
    Apparently we set the bar low for celebrating questions... – user7116 Feb 6 '13 at 17:17
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    It makes me very disappointed in my profession that this answer is accurate. – Servy Feb 6 '13 at 18:13

It's always going to be the case that the population of users will contain many more beginners. Consider that with a very small number of exceptions, any given "expert" is very likely to be a beginner in the majority of tag topics. People vote for things that help them. If you are an expert in your field and it doesn't help you it's not a problem that someone else wasn't an expert and got reputation for helping hundreds of beginners. It's not called Esoteric-exchange... Clarifying the basics and avoiding 1000's beginners committing basic errors arguably does more to benefit the level of code in the world than a micro benchmark of expert feature X.

The present reward system of SO reputation rewards people for their helpfulness to the community not their smarts. Smart people DO have greater capability to be helpful, but if they aren't helping the average user, they don't get as much reputation.

So the answer to the question by the OP why is there disagreement... multiple reasons.

One of the biggest is because people get confused as to the meaning of reputation. People who think it means they are smart get offended when helpful people get reputation for things that don't seem to demonstrate significant intelligence.

Some people also confuse the difference between "helpful to themselves" and "helpful to the community as a whole". This is a variation on a standard problem many people display to varying degrees throughout all areas of life. People often project their own viewpoint onto the rest of the world, and then become agitated when others don't conform. In this case, the agitation causes them to down vote a question because it wasn't what they were looking for. Essentially they vote becomes "this doesn't help me" (and thus they think it couldn't possibly help anyone else).

Also, some folks don't understand (or perhaps don't agree with) the posting guidelines (especially the one about generating answers that are opinions), so that causes conflict as well.