The full concept is : Perhaps the right proportion of "chatty, open-ended questions" helps to engage and enliven community members who are then more likely to provide better answers?

Just a hunch.

I've noticed tons of questions on the front page, with no answers. It just makes the site look dead.

It's true that diluting the purposeful questions with chat-soup diminishes the usefulness of the site, but there may be some "supporting functions" required to maintain a level of enthusiasm that actually supports that usefulness. People don't just answer questions out of a noble desire to be useful, and in a loosely connected community (not the core networks but the more peripheral multitudes), rep points are not really revered marks of status.

A minimum level, or right balance may be required. Salt in the soup, so to speak. It may or may not be an essential nutrient, but it is a required spice. Otherwise, people look for other soup kitchens...and, ah, the cheapest and quickest substitutes are like fast food of the net...McYoutube, at the other end of the spectrum of useful entirely.

Also lately I've felt my own questions are less likely to get answered than before...What is happening to stackoverflow, or is it just a change of seasons (or algorithms)?

EDIT Seems I really missed (or pissed off) the zeitgeist on this one.

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    The site is far from dead. We get tons of questions each and every day. We don't need the open-ended kind to enliven anything here, we want to be the go-to place for quality answers instead. – Martijn Pieters Feb 28 '13 at 13:09
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    We have a chat function for the rest already. – Martijn Pieters Feb 28 '13 at 13:09
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    the ones on the front page tend to be the newest questions, so tend not to have answers – SeanC Feb 28 '13 at 13:12
  • So the downvotes indicate disagreement with this sentiment? Not any agreement at all? Tons of questions, but what about answers? Is it just an illusion caused by looking at the newest questions? – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:17
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    @CrisStringfellow: First, you asked ten minutes ago. Give it time before you assume that the community has spoken. More importantly second, you have effectively suggested that the entire premise of SO (ie: not having chatty, subjective crap) is flawed. That generally doesn't go over well. – Nicol Bolas Feb 28 '13 at 13:18
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    That isn't what I am suggesting. I'm curious why it is so easy to label any discussion question (about an area of programming) "subjective crap" After all, it is the informed opinions and lively debates of professionals who are knowledgable enough to answer questions and be trusted by the community. I mean, why can't some of that be a good thing? Why can't a measure of that form part of the premise of SO, is what I am asking, and I am suggesting that a measure of it may be necessary (whether or not my observations and premise are false or not). – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:21
  • I don't have this feeling at all. I feel like the site is getting more and more lively and that there are more and more questions aksed on this site. Maybe that's the reason that some questions gets less attention, because there are more questions. And the good questions I see get good answers. – Hugo Dozois Feb 28 '13 at 13:21
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    Don't you think that having a huge number of chatty subjective discussions for people to engage in instead of reading and answering your specific, practical question is going to make you less likely to get answers, not more? – Wooble Feb 28 '13 at 13:21
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    There's nothing wrong with subjective discussions as such, but the community has arrived at the consensus that they aren't a good fit for Stack Overflow. I agree however that the ruthless closing of everything that doesn't fit this narrow scope occasionally goes over the top and there is the danger of becoming too extreme – Pekka Feb 28 '13 at 13:23
  • @HugoDozois Well my feeling could be unfounded. Maybe I am just getting strange parts of the site lately, that don't represent what's going on. Maybe...but I'm not totally sure yet, which is why Im discussing it here. – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:26
  • @Wooble yes but people might get bored reading endless javascript questions and all that, I mean it is work to answer them. Sometimes a bit of subjective joy is necessary to break it up. – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:27
  • Well, does SO want to be the best programming Q&A site on the web, or the only site people need to visit at all, your one-stop-shop for all your programming and entertainment needs? Are we competing with reddit? – Wooble Feb 28 '13 at 13:30
  • What's up with this Questions saying that the Stack looks dead or is going to die? o_Ø – brasofilo Feb 28 '13 at 13:31
  • It already is the only place to go for programming Q&A. Where else is there? But it could be better if there were more answers for the tons of questions that keep pouring in. Isn't there a way to reuse answers automatically? They can't all be new? – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:35
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    people might get bored reading endless javascript questions and all that, I mean it is work to answer them. Sometimes a bit of subjective joy is necessary to break it up. This was a plausible opinion when the site started. But now it's been going for four years- and notice none of the power users (those who answer hundreds or even thousands of questions) ever say "I'm getting bored, I wish there were more subjective questions." – David Robinson Feb 28 '13 at 13:44

I think you called out the answer yourself "chat-soup diminishes the usefulness". These sites are about usefulness and having Chatty, Open-Ended questions is contrary to that purpose, just as it's said in the FAQ's points on asking good questions:

•practical, answerable problems

When a question is too chatty, they make it hard to find an answer if you're searching the site; when it's open-ended no one can answer it. The "chat" option does a good job of allowing for the "salt in the soup" as you put it. And the site itself even points you too that if a comment stream goes on too long.

"People don't just answer questions out of a noble desire to be useful"

Really? I like answering questions in the hopes that I help others learn.

"Also lately I've felt my own questions are less likely to get answered than before"

You have 17 questions on SO and only 2 haven't been answered. Maybe you're saying that you're not getting the quantity of answers you were hoping for? Perhaps you're asking questions that are less general knowledge and thus less people can answer them well.

I've also noticed that some tags (Java/Python to name a few) seem to have a lot higher rate of questions coming in that others (C) and your question can quickly be thrown down stream... the beauty of offering a bounty if you really want an answer.

  • "too chatty". I think there are definitely degrees, and it is hard to quantify. Perhaps that is why the line is drawn at "useful", because it is hard to describe the other types of questions, which may actually be "useful" to the esprit de corps of the site. – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:23
  • @CrisStringfellow - I totally agree that's not quantifiable... however I think it depends on what you think "chat" is too. Comments/answers that start with "In my opinion...", that just went into "chat" zone for me; and any of that is too much because the computer doesn't care about your opinion of how it should work, it will work the way it does. If however, it's a long explanation about why something was designed the way it was, which helps someone to understand a problem, well that makes for a better site. – Mike Feb 28 '13 at 13:30
  • Thanks for the analysis, I think that could be right about my questions. Don't you ever get dispirited seeing the huge mountain of unanswered questions? Where are the good parts of the site? (selecting by tags?) – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:32
  • @CrisStringfellow - eh.. yes and no. I feel for those who can't get answers by asking on SO as I've been there myself, but that really just drives me to learn more to help others. I don't know if there are others like me or not, but I've specifically gone and found questions with no answers and done some research to give them some. It's a daunting task looking at the size of SO and the number of questions on it, but I like knowing every question I answers or even flag to be closed is benefiting the community as a whole. (maybe I'm just being an optimistic) – Mike Feb 28 '13 at 13:39
  • I have the same feeling when I research a question to answer it. But there are so many questions. And I've noticed lately more questions with no answers, no votes, and only a few views. All the lonely questions...But re your answer " chat-soup ", "too chatty", "a little chatty", "a damn good (if subjective) questions", "boy that was a great moment in the site" -- they are all different. – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:42

I've noticed tons of questions on the front page, with no answers. It just makes the site look dead.

False premise. The front page consists in large part of the most recently asked questions. Obviously they will largely be unanswered.

Since your conclusion is based entirely on the belief that the site is dying, I would suggest you re-evaluate conclusion in light of the corrected premises.

A minimum level, or right balance may be required. Salt in the soup, so to speak.

These kinds of questions aren't salt. They're more like a particular bodily excrement. No matter how little, you don't want any of that in your soup.

  • Funny, but I disagree. I mean meta is a discussion, and some of the community questions on SO really get people engaged. They form part of the site, and the community narrative, no? That kind of stuff is important. Or is it possible to base the stackoverflow identity solely on "usefulness" ? Where did this hardline "useful and quality" above all else policy originate? – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:18
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    @CrisStringfellow: It originated with the founders of SO. It has persisted throughout the time the site has existed, with an increasing ruthlessness against subjective crap. – Nicol Bolas Feb 28 '13 at 13:19
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    Well, I agree with the ruthlessness. No room for flexibility? I see that trend to go in a more algorithmic, rather than human direction. Like it is basically building a large, human-curated "expert system". What is the need for the "community" then, they are simply "groundskeepers" are they not? I think it should be about liveliness and enjoying the knowledge being shared, not just about the ruthlessly useful. – Cris Stringfellow Feb 28 '13 at 13:25
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    @CrisStringfellow: But that is not the goal of this site. If you want a have a chat with fellow devs, that's what the chat function is for. SO itself caters to the Google-your-answer crowd instead. – Martijn Pieters Feb 28 '13 at 14:09

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