We can see 20 to 30 off-topic questions per day. Most of that questions are programming questions.

Users asking those questions have no time to read the How to ask page; they want the solution for their problems quickly (some may think that Meta Stack Overflow has users with more skills than Stack Overflow).

So, it is not enough to show the How to ask page. When a new user clicks the "Post Your Question" button for the first post, we can show a pop-up asking "Is this a programming question?". If the user clicks yes, then post that question on Stack Overflow (I have no idea about the tags).

It's just a nice idea to reduce the off-topic questions.

  • Something changed in the help that apparently is leading them here. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:33
  • If users are trying to use Meta as an escalation process for programming questions they're not getting properly answered on the main site, then forcing them to post the question (again) on the main site when they try to post to Meta will just end up creating duplicates. This isn't to say there isn't a problem, or we don't need to think about a solution - just that perhaps this particular idea isn't the right approach.
    – Iszi
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:34
  • You got me at pop-up Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:34
  • 4
    The timing of this question right after your question couldn't have been better. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:37
  • 6
    @BlahBlahGrabblesnackers, this question is sandwiched by offtopics :)
    – Azik
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:39
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    The majority are along the lines of "on noes I have been question banned I need mah codez". They ignore the colour scheme and "meta" on MSO and post away. There the odd couple who get geniunly confused between the two, and then...well, there's the very confused.
    – tombull89
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:42
  • 7
    The question ban link points here to Meta. They reach this spooky page and their eyes catch the big shiny "Ask Question" button on top. End of story. To rectify this blog post should be added and the link should point there. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:43
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    Butttt! My Marshal badge! Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 14:51
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    @ShaWizDowArd Maybe a trick could be done on Meta so that, if the question you are seeing is precisely that one, the Ask Question button does not appear. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 14:57
  • 1
    I'm wondering how many of these people are just confused by how similar the sites look visually. Perhaps it would help if Meta looked more distinct - not just a palette swap from SO?
    – hammar
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:15

6 Answers 6


Let's do a quick sanity-check here:

MSO gets about 14 off-topic questions a day. Even if you lump questions that are deleted without being closed into this, that number barely averages 20 per day.

In the past two days, 33 users have posted off-topic questions here. Of those,

  • 5 visited MSO directly - they didn't come from SO.
  • 5 came from /questions/ask after realizing they were q-banned
  • 4 came from https://stackoverflow.com/questions/ask/advice (the interstitial page shown to new users before they can post a question on SO)
  • 2 came from /questions/ask/submit after their question was rejected for some reason
  • The rest came from various and sundry places on SO.
  • 7
    So... Isn't 14-20 questions per day a big deal on a site that averages 47 questions per day?
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 23:35
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    71.5 questions per day for the last 30, @Yannis. That's just shy of 19%, a hair less than the % of off-topic questions asked on Programmers. And considering the amount of traffic on Stack Overflow (7.6K questions/day for the last 30), I don't think it's particularly bad.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 2:40
  • Yeah, I imagined it was closer to 70 (47 + deleted ones). Still, it's something that we should be looking at. We could at least replace the shortened url, if only for the benefit of the (perhaps very) few that genuinely think it's an error mistake or worse and never follow the link.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 2:51
  • @Yannis: first off, what makes you think it'd make a difference? Less than 1/3rd of the folks getting that error even follow the link, and only a small fraction of them go on and try to ask their questions here. Far more people click on some "meta" link at random and then mistake it for the main site than get here by being q-banned. At some point, Stack Overflow will have an actual meta of its own, with the standard 5-rep requirement for posting, and that'll cut down on it... probably... Unless the extra exposure that per-site metas get also ends up drawing more confused folks in.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 3:13
  • Stack Overflow having it's own meta would be great, and the 5-rep requirement would do much more to help with this problem than other proposed solutions. At least we'll know that people who reached MSO have managed to contribute something of value to the site before coming here. So... ETA?
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 3:16
  • Well, got some other changes to how metas work coming first, then ??? then hopefully.
    – Shog9
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 3:24

With the exception of those that are trying to circumvent a question block, folks that end up here asking about programming typically honestly have no idea they are on a completely different site. I've been asking people how they ended up here on Meta when this happens for a while now, the majority of them didn't realize they left Stack Overflow.

Speaking to the first group - there's not much we can do to prevent people from trying their luck here even though they know it's the wrong place to ask on the off chance that they might receive an answer or have their question migrated to the main site. They honestly don't care about the disruption and sadly, no text that we put in front of them is going to make them care. We do issue week long suspensions to folks that deliberately circumvent a block by asking here, and there's no recidivism to speak of.

As others said, there are in fact legitimate reasons that a person working their way out of a ban would come here. We can't block them by policy, and the noise is barely an annoyance when you compare it to what quality blocks stop from ever entering the main site. Unless the problem increases by orders of magnitude, it's more or less the small price we pay for having the blocks in place.

In regards to the second group, it is a tangible issue with visual distinction between the main and meta site. However, as Bart points out, the incidents are infrequent compared to our normal volume.

Long story short, I think we're okay with it for now - but we'll definitely revisit the idea if there is an exaggerated and sustained gain in occurrences for either group.

  • 1
    Moving the Meta post about the question ban might still be a good idea, maybe then a few q-banned users won't even notice that MSO exists Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 18:49
  • I wonder whether the expression "See [link] to learn more" in the message might be misleading itself, especially to users who are new to English. "You can't learn any more programming from this site. But if you want to continue learning, click here to ask another question!" Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 20:48
  • @MadScientist That was my idea as well, but... (see last comment).
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 23:21
  • @Yannis Those who experience the question block and are interested and motivated to get out from under it generally manage to do so without anyone noticing. That said, I'm also in favor of making a better page for folks to see when it triggers, but I'm not quite convinced that it would significantly reduce the (comparatively) low amount of noise it generates. I don't think we've categorically ruled out the possibility, I think more assurance of payback for the effort needs to be present.
    – user50049
    Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 6:06

One class of off-topic questions we frequently see here are by people who are banned from asking questions on Stack Overflow or who have just gotten the "low-quality filter" warning on Stack Overflow. We can't ban those people from asking questions on Meta because they may have legitimate Meta questions, but we could use that information to display the "Is this a programming question?" pop-up to more than just first-time posters on Meta.

  • And yet the type of people who would get question banned are not the type of people who would heed such a warning. That type of warning would only really help people who just thought they were posting on the main site.
    – Servy
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:49
  • @Servy That's probably true for 90%+ of question banned users. This would probably only stop a small percentage of Q-banned people from posting programming questions here, but it would give moderators extra incentive to just ban them here too (because they ignored the warning, so they obviously don't learn). I think the pop-up might be more effective with "low quality post" waring users, since it could warn them to not just post the question here, but try to figure out why it was rejected on SO to begin with. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:55
  • @BilltheLizard We were told to issue bannings when Quality banned users on SO posted programming questions on MSO. Has that changed recently? If so, they should probably remove the mod message we have for it. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 14:26
  • @GeorgeStocker I had noticed a few people doing that already, but I didn't know it was a directive. I usually delete those posts when I see them, after people have commented and the OP has had time to see what they did wrong. I guess I need to start using the template message instead. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 14:49
  • We can't ban those people from asking questions on Meta because they may have legitimate Meta questions - From what I've seen, I'm not sure I agree with that. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 18:56
  • @AdamRackis That would be hard to support with data. :) Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:00
  • Well "legitimate meta question" from a q-banned user is hard to quantify, but I have yet to see a question from them that's not related to them being banned, which of course is covered in the FAQ page we always link to when closing their questions... Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:02
  • 1
    @AdamRackis - We do get people tripping the question ban inadvertently by deleting their own content (like this user or this one), for example, and I don't want to block them from ever getting help about that. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:13
  • 2
    @Brad - fair enough. If only there was some way to prevent that, though... Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:17

My suggestion is not to worry about it. Though the amount of such questions is significant compared to the overall number of questions we get, we seem to be able to easily deal with them. If there are 20-30 such questions, we have more than enough manpower to close and delete.

We can show a pop-up, Is this a programming question?. If the user clicks yes, then post that question in Stack overflow site (I have no idea about the tags).

Ignoring the tag issue for the moment, frankly, looking at those questions, the majority of them would not do well on SO either. So we'd essentially end up migrating crap. That seems like something we should avoid. By all means inform the user that Meta is not the correct place. And tell them to look after their question quality before asking it on SO. But that seems to be what we're already doing.

I'd say things are just fine the way they are. Or at least not bad enough to warrant a change.

  • 1
    The best part of these questions is watching to see how long they take to get closed and deleted. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 18:57
  • 3
    @AdamRackis I have on occasion noticed myself being disappointed when my close vote didn't take because it was already closed. :)
    – Bart
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 19:02
  • 1
    @Bart The funniest part is when I cast my delete vote a split second after closure and the question is deleted immediately. First time it happened I was quite surprised until I noticed two others had voted to delete simultaneously.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 23:11

Don't delete them immediately!

If you do, then the poster will never be able to tell us why they thought it would be on topic here.

Instead, ask the OP why they thought it was on topic.

  • 3
    If they also have an SO account you'll know why they posted here
    – random
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 20:37
  • 1
    That's a good idea, but: Most of the off topic MSO questions appear in close proximity, during the timezones that roughly coincide with my morning (which makes sense, as language barrier is a big factor in this). We can't keep 5-6 blatantly off topic questions around for more than a few minutes (which is typically how long they survive), as they are pushing 5-6 on topic questions off the front page and that's not good. If they appeared more sporadically, it might made sense to keep them around for awhile and discuss with the OP in comments, but not when they appear in bulk.
    – yannis
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 23:29

One thing to do is to check for the presence of code blocks for the first time users.

Here's a bunch of codes...

If so, give them a gentle reminder that programming questions are off-topic on MSO.

There's a group of people who are question banned, but there's another group of confused users who don't really seem to notice the difference in color scheme or the word "meta".

  • 3
    (or don't understand what meta means, and why it's different.)
    – Servy
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:49
  • 1
    While true, the users will just ignore it and we can't block that altogether as people sometimes do post valid code blocks. Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:54
  • @ShaWizDowArd I don't mean to block them. They are very welcome to post questions with code blocks on MSO (as I do all the time). Just that for the first timers, a gentle popup can remind them before they post a possible programming question.
    – Antony
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 13:56
  • I understand but my point is that maybe 1% of the users will really read that message and go to the proper place. That's my opinion at least. :/ Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 14:01
  • @ShaWizDowArd There are many cases where the OP has new accounts on both sites and end up posting a programming question here. I wonder if there is something on SO that leads them here. A reminder would help in this case.
    – Antony
    Commented Apr 22, 2013 at 14:06

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