The title of the question is hard to comprehend, please read on.

I'm rather new to Stack Overflow, I joined just about a month ago, and since then I have been fairly active (top 0.41% of the current week's ranking).

Since joining Stack Overflow I've come across a lot to see, I've starting noticing some trends in the questions being asked, the obvious ones are the broad questions, duplicate questions, and others, albeit a peculiar one which I've come across would be the recurring questions, this is how it works:

  1. A given user will ask a question about a problem they are having while coding (this is a good thing, Stack Overflow is exactly the place for such problems)
  2. There is an answer given by another user which solves the problem.
  3. The user who asked the question marks the given answer as accepted and continues coding (amazing till here! but hold on to your seats because this is when it gets messy)
  4. With the code/solution provided by the answerer, the user who asked the question implements it and it works.
  5. It works well but soon after writing some lines of code something else goes wrong.
  6. The user hops back on to Stack Overflow and starts to comment on the post of the answer which was accepted earlier, posts about the new issue which has come up.
  7. The answerer gets back to the problem, reanalyzes it and solves it once again.
  8. Read from step 4.


Primary Problem

In the process of revisiting step 4, the user is highly likely going to edit the question content with additional updates.
What happens?
The entire question changes, initially the question was:
a single well defined issue encountered while programming <- the question and its answer can be highly useful to other users in the future.
however with all the subsequent tries and updates it turns into:
a large blob of issues one after the other all in a single question <- equivalent to multiple separate good questions asked, as a sum of parts its not what other users facing one of the problems can relate to, as everything explained in the answer is tangled up like earphone wires.

Secondary Problem

About the the user who answers to all the updates. Personally, its something through which I've been through, I do not want to point my finger (I meant hyperlink) as I do not think that would be right here, however If you dive into the questions I've answer on my SO profile you won't have a hard time finding it (think sorting by activity?)
I would loose respect for myself If I ignore the updates made by the user and not answer them all. However at the end of the day I would rather have the user opening up a separate question, because its almost a whole different question now.

Tackling It

The main similarity between broad questions, duplicate questions, questions of these types and the mentioned recurring question is the quality deteriorating affect they have on the base of Stack Overflow.

The main difference is that broad/duplicate questions have flags to deal with them, whereas recurring questions seep through underneath unnoticed almost every single time. Valuable Q&A is lost in entanglement with the updated answer, all that was needed was, the user asking the question to post a separate question with the new issue.

Which is better for Stack Overflow?

  • "MySQL syntax error, help?" -> answer given -> question updated (wants to know why the column names are different now) -> answer updated -> question updated (on testing with an initially empty table the given query's aggregating fails) -> answer updated

    1. "MySQL syntax error, help" -> answer given
    2. "Column names different from expected query in MySQL query" -> answer given
    3. "This mysql query with empty tables results in aggregation that works in an unexpected way" -> answer given

Something for you to ponder upon: what should be the title of the former question?

Note: there is another question which revolves around the exact same concept. This other question discusses about "exit strategies", which this question is not about.

  • 5
    Take a look at this question for some ideas: meta.stackexchange.com/q/43478/226446
    – lnafziger
    Jul 5 '13 at 4:15
  • ^thanks, i'm glad to see that this is an identified issue Jul 5 '13 at 4:23
  • why not implement reforms to help prevent such situations happening in the first place? Answerers can "exit" however the problem still remains unsolved .. Jul 5 '13 at 6:42

Optimally, users don't need to post on StackOverflow for every problem they come across when programming. SO isn't a programming help desk, nor is it a syllabary for all things code.

However, to directly answer your question, the best of the two given cases is the second, for two primary reasons:

  • It allows easier searching
  • It does not obligate the answerer to continue to participate

If a user continues to edit their post to contain more questions, you can vote to close the post as "too broad," since questions should be one question.

  • i like the points you have made. the last sentence is of high importance, that the question can be closed as "too broad". the thinking is in the right direction, however what is not right is that a question which was probably a good one gets closed because of an additional update shoved into the question, thereby nulling the question. there should be some power vested into the user with the accepted answer to lock the question, or is that too far? can the moderators do something different to change this? Jul 5 '13 at 8:42
  • @Relfor If it's a drastic change to the entire post, giving it completely new meaning, roll back the edit, and explain why
    – user206222
    Jul 5 '13 at 15:44

Which is better for Stack Overflow? - continues update the same question, or make new ones.

To answer to that question, that have happened to me 2-3 times, I rollback the question if the question totally change to a new one, and the answer(s) are not valid any more.

I can continue to answer to some minors secondary questions that usually added as comments to help fully understand the solution, but I have a limit on the times that I answer.

Usually the one that can give an answer is in position to understand from the followed commends if the OP can be helped by the answer or did not understand many things. If in general there is a difficult to communicate with the OP I simple stop.

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