17

A lot of the current questions from new users on Stack Overflow ask for debugging.

The problems are as follows:

  1. Most of the time their code is not clean and is not readable.
  2. The problems require a lot of effort to be reproduced.
  3. The user's aren't satisfied with an answer to what is causing their problem. They even request extra code for features they intended to implement.

Sample question:

ul li navbar has links showing up as vertical, bullet-point list no matter how I style them?

How should these questions be treated?

  • Should they be downvoted with a comment explaining why?
  • Should we answer them?
  • Should we do their work or point them in the right direction?
  • 1
    I've seen much worse questions than the one you linked. It's very localized, but we like localized questions nowadays unless they are "where is my typo," don't demonstrate any effort, or are closeable for other reasons such as being unclear. – Robert Harvey Jun 27 '13 at 22:54
  • Me too, I just linked that specific one because it happened very recently. – Bassem Jun 27 '13 at 22:55
10

At the heart of this issue lies a fundamental tension: do we want highly personalized questions, or questions with broad applicability? Each has its merits.

The primary purpose of the Stack Exchange platform is to collect useful information that will be valuable to others. But let's face it: most programming problems are quite mundane, highly specific, and unlikely to ever benefit anyone else unless it is a commonly encountered problem. The nature of the programming profession guarantees that many of these questions are going to be unique to the asker's particular situation (what we call highly localized questions).

Unfortunately, a significant portion of the user community (including myself) was using the concept of "Too Localized" to close questions that probably shouldn't have been closed on that basis. Too Localized was taken to mean "This question is unlikely to be of use to anyone else," when it should have been interpreted as "this question involves a vanishingly small geographic area, period of time, or programming situation." "Where's my Typo" questions certainly fall into this category, but troubleshooting questions do not.

Questions that are Too Localized under the "traditional" view can often be closed for other reasons such as "unclear what you are asking," or "must demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved."

  • But what about those "debug my homework" questions where it is clear what they are asking and do demonstrate understanding of the problem? – Gabe Jul 25 '13 at 4:20
  • There's nothing wrong with those, AFAIK. They are as rare as four-leaf clovers, however. – Robert Harvey Jul 25 '13 at 4:22
  • @TheGrinch, that's not true. I think that 70% of the question that I see (C and Assembly) are of this type. Which I personally find a bit frustrating. – Devolus Dec 7 '13 at 10:38
  • Just for my understanding: The current approach is that questions like this should not be closed (or put on hold), correct? It's a pure debugging request, and in the past I would have voted to close as too localized. – jogojapan Jan 14 '14 at 6:52
  • 1
    @jogojapan: See meta.stackexchange.com/a/216019 – Robert Harvey Jan 14 '14 at 16:18

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