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It seems as if new SO users who "demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved" yet are unable to articulate very specific details regarding the problem that they're asking about get their questions closed/held.

Anecdotally, I think I've seen that users whose reputation is higher might be given the benefit of the doubt and get coached/handheld in clarifying their question.

What if SO masked the asker's identity and/or reputation for some early life of the question -- in the hopes to reduce any bias?

The potential problem of identifying askers who rarely/never mark their questions answered could be mitigated by including the ratio of their questions asked/answered or perhaps the raw count of unanswered questions.

  • Once upon a time I had a little userscript that removed all user info from posts. It was... interesting, and if you can write your own userscript, it's definitely worth a try. I'd share mine, but it stopped working after a point and also... hm... ahem... I have no idea where it is (at some point I should stop pretending I use version control, and actually use it). – yannis Jul 18 '13 at 3:59
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    As for your last paragraph, a user's accept rate used to be shown, but it was removed because it just made people not want to answer questions and pester users about improving their accept rate. – animuson Jul 18 '13 at 4:01
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    I believe reputation and identity are integral to Stack Overflow so I am compelled to down vote your suggestion as anything which hides either seems like a step in the wrong direction. – ahsteele Jul 18 '13 at 4:03
  • "unclear or not useful"? :( – Brian Cain Jul 18 '13 at 4:05
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    Think about those circumstances where a new user asks a good and remarkable question. I've seen many of those. When I see that "userXXXXXX\n 1" user info under those good questions, Hope for Stack Overflow Restored. – Mark Garcia Jul 18 '13 at 4:33
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    These sorts of questions are usually not taken seriously unless you provide a lot of evidence to backup your claims. There are too many suggestions addressing hypotheticals which, in reality, just aren't problems. Do you have any actual anecdotes? – JDB still remembers Monica Jul 18 '13 at 5:26
  • @Cyborgx37, fair enough. I will resolve to gather the evidence and update the question with real data. – Brian Cain Jul 18 '13 at 5:31
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    My experience is the other way round. If you ask a crappy question with a decent amount of rep, you will get hammered especially hard because you should know better by now. At least that's my stance and that of many other people I've seen – Pekka Jul 18 '13 at 7:42
  • I guess I figured this question might be controversial or unpopular. But I'm a little surprised at the downvote brigade. Does a downvote mean "I disagree with the suggestion proposed in this question" or something else (this question is nonsense/totally unclear)? – Brian Cain Jul 18 '13 at 11:37
  • I guess "disagree" is what it means. I don't think there are any problems with the suggestion itself – Pekka Jul 18 '13 at 12:56
  • Why then should my MSO reputation suffer if I propose something with which others disagree? – Brian Cain Jul 18 '13 at 13:42
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It seems as if new SO users who "demonstrate a minimal understanding of the problem being solved" yet are unable to articulate very specific details regarding the problem that they're asking about get their questions closed/held.

This has not been my experience. If it has been yours, you'll need to share with us some evidence, preferably in the form of links to inappropriately closed questions.

And once we have those links, we'll either disagree with you about the closures being inappropriate, or agree with you and do what you can already do: vote to re-open the questions.

Sometimes the community makes mistakes. Sometimes questions get closed for reasons they shouldn't be. Other times, the question gets closed, then updated, but not re-opened. Those all need to be fixed, and we have a system in place for that. You can participate (and spur other users to do the same) by casting re-open votes of your own.

The close reason is phrased that way for a reason. That is one of our minimum standards. We obviously can't expect people to be domain experts; if they were, they probably wouldn't be asking the question in the first place. But we do expect them to have put in a minimal amount of effort towards understanding and remedying the problem on their own before asking. This is not only a minimum quality bar, but it also helps us to help them. If we can't understand the problem, or there isn't enough information provided to do any more than make blind guesses, the question won't fare well on a Q&A site.

For example, consider a question I see often in the tags that I follow. It goes something like this: One of our clients recently upgraded to Windows 9000 and my app stopped running. It throws an exception when it is launched. How can I fix this problem? That question does show a certain minimal understanding of the problem, but it's not actually answerable because it doesn't contain important details:

  • the specific exception that is being thrown
  • a stack trace
  • a minimal example that reproduces the problem
  • a snippet of the suspected problematic code
  • what steps have already been taken to debug the problem
  • etc.

Until at least some of those things are provided, I think those questions should be closed. Because otherwise, all of the answers are going to be just guesses. Even if they're somewhat informed guesses, that's not much better than "which widget do you think is best?"—every answer is equally valid and there's no way to determine which is correct.

Anecdotally, I think I've seen that users whose reputation is higher might be given the benefit of the doubt and get coached/handheld in clarifying their question.

I don't think so. And if that happens, it's also wrong.

Questions that don't meet our quality standards need to be closed (err, sorry...put on hold) ASAP, regardless of the reputation level of the asker. That keeps a flurry of answers from coming in that will eventually be obsoleted by changes that are made to the question. Then the hand-holding can start. And all users who are willing to listen to positive feedback from the community should be eligible for this hand-holding, again regardless of reputation level. Through this mutual engagement, the question is [hopefully] improved, and can then be re-opened.

What if SO masked the asker's identity and/or reputation for some early life of the question -- in the hopes to reduce any bias?

If there is indeed a problem like you claim, why will this proposed solution fix it? Why are the questions asked by low-rep users only getting closed early in the life of the question?

If what you say is true, once the user information eventually shows up, won't the question be closed for the same reasons of bias?

The potential problem of identifying askers who rarely/never mark their questions answered could be mitigated by including the ratio of their questions asked/answered or perhaps the raw count of unanswered questions.

Like animuson said, we used to show this type of information, and decided against it. It's not a particularly useful metric and certainly doesn't have any place at the bottom of every question.

Besides, it doesn't solve a "problem". Although there are some "gamification" aspects of this site that make it more fun, you have to remember that the ultimate point is not really to amass reputation. It's not worth anything. The worth and satisfaction comes in knowing that you helped someone else and in building up your own knowledge and skills. Neither of those things are accurately measured by reputation, and so the purpose of answering a question should be more than merely to gain points. So what if the original asker doesn't accept your answer? That doesn't mean your answer wasn't still useful to other people.

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