We all have "duh" moments as programmers. I'm asking what to do when a question turns out to be off-topic in hindsight, but it wasn't obviously so up front.

Consider the following scenario: I am beating my brow over a particular issue that appears related to my CSS code. After troubleshooting for over an hour, I come to Stack Overflow and ask my question. As usual, the community here is incredibly helpful and my question is answered in < 30 minutes. Turns out the issue was related to a weird software quirk and therefore - in hindsight - was not a question directly related to code.

The nature of question / answer sites makes hindsight a very important consideration. Some of the best answers are the simplest, which can make a question seem "stupid" or unresearched, even if that's not the case. I spent over an hour in this case googling and tweaking, etc.

I believe in hindsight, this question was seen as a poor one and it continued to receive downvotes until I flagged it for deletion and it was deleted.

I'm not sure that it was a terrible question. Specifically referencing this section of the FAQ:

We feel the best Stack Overflow questions have a bit of source code in them, but if your question generally covers …

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • matters that are unique to the programming profession …

then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

As a programmer, finding out my problem was NOT code-related, but software-related, was incredibly helpful and led directly to the solution. Hindsight in this case was 20/20.

I just wonder if there is something users should do when a question turns out this way. Is there a standard accepted way of admitting - in hindsight - that a question was overly simple or not related to programming and avoiding some of the community scorn?

I flagged the question I'm referencing and it was deleted, or I would link to it. I'd love some helpful advice from more experienced members of the community - was that the right course of action? I think other programmers may have benefited from it, but it continued to receive downvotes, I believe because of hindsight bias.


UPDATE: Shadow was grey in the original photoshop document. Didn't notice because the blend mode was set to 'multiply'. Changed to transparent black and it works great.

Since I don't have access to the whole post, I guess this was writing according to the answer.

What you did.

Your question wasn't that bad in the first place. If you knew the answer would be off topic or non-programming related you would not have asked this in the first place. As you stated above, you looked at the problem, tried to fix it, cam here, explained your issue clearly and provided visual support with the question too.

So you don't have control on those situations.

What happened.

Well this is kind of hard to tell because you cannot always predict how the community will react to a post. You said it yourself, once you saw the answer you it was obvious.

*face-palm *

Maybe you got facepalm downvotes because people thought the answer was too obvious and thought you didn't look enough before posting. Sometimes users don't take the time to understand the whole situation before voting. They see a question, an obvious answer and wether or not you look for hours to find it they will just downvote anyway.

What you should do.

Now, you did the right thing by flagigng it. Once you realized how off topic the question was really and howit could not help anyone else from this time on, why keep it on the site. And since you can't delete it because you have answers on it, you made the right choice.

I must admit this a a tricky case but it comes up more often then you think on SO.

  • so in meta do I choose the answer and mark the one I want? – timshutes May 23 '13 at 17:30
  • About accepting answers ? Yes, same as on SO. The checkmark under the score. – ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd May 23 '13 at 17:32
  • I realized I could do that, just didn't know the convention for discussions, if they should be kept open for X amount of time. Basically - as I understand it, if I start a discussion and I'm happy with the answer, go ahead and mark it same as a question / answer. – timshutes May 23 '13 at 17:36
  • 2
    @timshutes that's my rule of thumb. If i'm satisfied with one answer I accept it. Which doesn't mean the other answer aren't important in the discussion. It's a way of saying this is the answer that answers my question the most to users consulting your question. – ʞunɥdɐpɐɥd May 23 '13 at 17:39

If, at some point in time you are able to determine that the question is indeed offtopic, or perhaps "too localized" (that's often the case when you find out that the problem is due to something completely unrelated to what was in the question) then the question should be closed for the appropriate reason. You can flag it for closure if you don't have enough rep to vote to close.

The important point here is that when in these situations the solution is highly unlikely to actually help a future reader, since the answer has nothing at all to do with the question, and they will most likely have found the question based on searching for information in that question.

Don't feel too bad though; these things happen all the time. Just get the question closed and move on.

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