I've been using SO for a while now, and it's become more and more useful as a professional tool, which is why I'm finally registering and joining the community. I actually use SO every day, including weekends (because I'm a geek). I work in Java and particularly like the fact that there is an explanation available for almost every framework/infrastructure exception I manage to create (and I create a lot of them).

But, I'm constantly being bummed out by all the kids asking 'dumb' questions (I put that in quotes because I actually think they're lazy, not dumb -- the answers are already available, they just can't be bothered searching for them because there is a constant stream of people who think that they're helping by answering the lazy buggers, and besides, answering easy questions is a readily accessible font of 'reputation'). This isn't education -- you're not helping these kids/people, you're actually doing more harm than good. Either they care about this, and can find the answers for themselves by learning to read documentation and SO answers, or they don't care, in which case F'em.

Answering questions that students raise is a poor way to educate them. All your actually teaching them is dependence on others. They're not 'learning' from your answers (please, look up the definition of 'learning' before you flame me for this), they're using them to pass some sort of test/assessment/homework. Watch the TED series on education, then you'll see what I'm talking about. Just because your education was poor doesn't mean that you should inflict that on others.

Also, to head off flames, I'm not talking about professional students, such as D-Phil's (or Phd's even), who are programming professionally and need help with a problem they're facing, rather than asking for help with an assignment/homework/etc. Professional means, 'for money' (to save you having to google the definition and become confused by the proliferation of opinions that such a thing engenders).

I know that getting their lazy asses out of here will reduce traffic initially, but your advertisers are targeting professionals, not kids. There is hardly a student out there who will know what rackspace is. By removing the chaff you end up with higher advertising revenues because you have a more specialised audience that your advertisers will want to target, rather than a generalised audience to whom you can only really sell shampoo (which is, honestly, anathema to most professional engineers because we either have no hair left, or we don't really care if we stink and have greasy hair).

So, here's my question: which is more important to SO professionals, or students. If the answer is the former, kick the lazy bums out. If the answer is the latter, then goodbye :)

Ok, it's not really goodbye. You have lots of useful content, really really useful content, that's becoming more useful by the day. Hell, even I'm contributing, and I'm really focused on making money. It'll take years to build up a professional version of SO, and an awful lot of luck, and to be honest I don't have the energy or time to fix this myself, so I'm looking for help and support from a great bunch of guys who really understand what's important, and who really understand how they're supporting a bunch of deadbeats who need to learn how to learn.

B ps: why can't I use 'Raison d'être' as a tag?

closed as not constructive by Time Traveling Bobby, Lucifer, hims056, Daniel Daranas, yhw42 Jun 5 '13 at 12:29

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    Seems like you've got an interesting question there, but this is currently a little tl;dr and rather confusing to read through. Mind trimming it down to its bare essentials? – Aza Jun 5 '13 at 6:20
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    Out of curiosity, why did you tag this post under advertising? – Aziz Shaikh Jun 5 '13 at 6:20
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    I agree with much of the sentiment. However, this is a letter to send to admins. Around here, we like questions. Do you have a question? (The tag question doesn't count.) – Anthony Pegram Jun 5 '13 at 6:20
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    I doubt I would disagree with many of your feelings regarding the way some people (try to) learn. We do want 'professionals' (and enthusiasts!), but there's no reason that good students should not be welcome here, either. We just do require some effort for someone to post a question. But another tangential thing: 'Weak students' can get a lot of use out of this site simply by browsing existing questions/answers, too. – Andrew Barber Jun 5 '13 at 6:20
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    I think the majority of people asking the dumb question isn't students at all. But yeah, totally agree with because there is a constant stream of people who think that they're helping by answering the lazy buggers – Pëkka Jun 5 '13 at 6:28
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    You forgot to close your </rant> – SomeShinyObject Jun 5 '13 at 6:53
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    The real issue, IMO, is effort. If a beginner asks a question that shows effort, reward it with help and/or upvotes. We've all been beginners. – S.L. Barth Jun 5 '13 at 7:39
  • Here's an idea - put an "how much effort was invested in this question" bar. People will think twice before putting 5 out of 5, and you (and the upvote enthusiasts) will get an easy filter. – Elazar Jun 5 '13 at 8:03
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    All I really got out of this is that I'm apparently bald and/or don't give a damn about personal hygiene and that I had a poor education. Hurrah for sweeping generalisations. – Anthony Grist Jun 5 '13 at 8:54

This is an ongoing discussion on Meta, and it's a fine line to walk. SE isn't actively shutting out askers of merely lazy questions, and they are (rightly) very concerned with the tone on the sites. That may be partly because of traffic (in the end, it's ad eyeballs paying the rent) but also genuinely because the site's success is based on an open, everyone-is-welcome culture. Bear in mind though that a lot is already being done to keep low quality question askers out of the system, it's not as if they're not doing anything.

There are many many feature requests by many experienced users suggesting ways to deal with the issue. One you might want to look at is this one (yeah, I know, fat chance this is ever going to be implemented, but maybe as a API-based 3rd party addition eventually?)

What you can do in the meantime....

  • Downvote bad questions (I went from like 10% downvotes to more than 50% over the past two years)

  • Leave polite comments outlining that the question is not a good fit for Stack Overflow for reason XYZ

  • In extreme cases of really idiotic questions: leave polite comments on answers, asking whether it was really necessary to answer this abysmal question (this will get you a lot of hate though, and "I was just trying to help, is that forbidden now? You so elitist" kind of responses - do at your own risk!)

Commenting leaves more of a mark than you'll think - it's the ongoing conversations that help shape the culture on the site.


So, here's my question: which is more important to SO professionals, or students. If the answer is the former, kick the lazy bums out. If the answer is the latter, then goodbye :)

The most important to the SO community is collecting good questions with good answers, regardless of audience ("pro vs student").

Please stay and provide good answers, good questions and help those who don't to improve. :)

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    Help vampirism is not quite laziness - while laziness typically precedes vampirism, vampies consistently ask chained questions, which is not necessarily the case for this question's context. – Aza Jun 5 '13 at 6:32
  • @KnightswhosayNi thanks for the pointer ... I had the concept mixed up. – Marijn Jun 5 '13 at 6:42
  • Yeah, but my point was that SO is rapidly becoming the go-to body of knowledge for people stuck with technical problems. It offers a place to document solutions to very specific and difficult technical problems. If it becomes too difficult to find the answers we need then we'll have to start a new service just for professionals and start again. This will happen if all the world's programming students come here for help with their homework. The two communities are huge and are already interfering with each other. – Engineer Dollery Jun 6 '13 at 13:46

I am a student. I had asked two questions, and learned a lot from the answers. These answers were not, as a whole, available online before - as far as I am (and the answerers were) aware. They sure were not as easily available as they are now.

I assume I am not a professional by your definitions, but I don't care about your definitions; I want to learn thank you very much. When I encounter a question, and I think the OP really want to learn, I do my best to provide a good answer. Of course, "possible duplicate" is an answer.

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    Keep in mind that possible duplicate is only a answer to a good question when you can't put the title (or keywords from the title/body/tags) into Google or SO search and find the duplicate easily. Otherwise it is nit a good question – psubsee2003 Jun 5 '13 at 8:45
  • @psubsee2003 I will. :) – Elazar Jun 5 '13 at 9:45

So, here's my question: which is more important to SO professionals, or students.

Both! Why can't we help both? I'm a professional and a student. I have a full time job and am working on my bachelor's degree at the same time. You can't group students into a gigantic group of snotty, entitled, lazy idiots who ask questions about code line-by-line from their current assignment, because not all students do that and it's not fair to the ones who don't do that.

We get a bad egg on here every now and then, but those posts are usually scrutinized, heavily downvoted, and a majority of the time closed. Being a member of the SO community is beyond answering questions and asking them. It's flagging. It's downvoting. It's upvoting. It's encouraging others. It's discouraging bad practice. It's educating through comments on posts. Most of all, it's simply showing up.

Recognizing a problem is one thing. Striving to fix said problem is another. We could shun an entire group of people just because they have stupid questions sometimes. How about instead, they either learn from their downvoted and closed question or they don't and they won't be allowed to post anything else. The moderation system on Stack Overflow and it's community members helps keep site content in check.

  • Just visit the regex tag sometimes (other people probably will also suggest their own favorite tag). There are a bunch of questions being repeated over there, with minor variation, which can be applied if the asker has spent some effort to learn just a little bit. – nhahtdh Jun 5 '13 at 7:12
  • There's a bunch of perceived garbage everywhere but we can't tell people to research on Stack Overflow if we have never knocked out those low hanging fruit questions. – SomeShinyObject Jun 5 '13 at 7:14
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    Well, true. Low hanging fruit questions are most likely going to be answered before it is closed. – nhahtdh Jun 5 '13 at 7:16
  • You can help students if they're asking questions that professionals would ask in a way that professionals would ask them to provide information useful to professionals. If you don't do this the professionals will stop using this site (because it'll become full of chaff) and the quality of the answers will decline to the point that you'll have a site full of nonsense. This doesn't sound like it benefits anyone. – Engineer Dollery Jun 8 '13 at 22:56
  • BTW: I don't think .net programmers are, typically, professionals, so we should do something about them too ;) – Engineer Dollery Jun 8 '13 at 22:56
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    @EngineerDollery this site is made in .net. – Luiggi Mendoza Jun 17 '13 at 0:11

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