What is Stack Overflow's long-term solution for the Help Vampire problem?

Quote from article follows:

Identifying Help Vampires can be tricky, because they look like any ordinary person (or Internet user, whichever is lesser). But by closely observing an individual's behavior using this handy checklist, you too can identify Help Vampires in the field:

  • Do they ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?
  • Do they clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?
  • Do they refuse to take the time to ask coherent, specific questions?
  • Do they think helping them must be the high point of your day?
  • Do they get offensive, as if you needed to prove them why they should use Ruby on Rails?
  • Are they obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all their thinking for them?
  • Can you tell they really aren't interested in having their question answered, so much as getting someone else to do their work?
  • 3
    I'm here because somebody accused me of help vampirism (an unnamed chat room owner). Is asking questions on stack overflow more than answering them considered help vampirism? – szx Apr 30 '16 at 19:03
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    @szx No. But when asking questions make sure that it is a good question (How to Ask), and that you are doing everything you can to minimize the effort of the people from whom you wish to recieve an answer (the rest of the community). Good questions are useful for future readers, but sometimes questions that aren't useful for future readers are acceptable. In that case, someone is spending time and energy to help you and only you. If you do not reward that person for answering your question, their time has been wasted. – Gendarme Jun 18 '16 at 15:14
  • I am wondering if "Do they get whiny" falls into the same thing as "Do they get aggressive..." – Patrick Artner Jan 1 '18 at 17:19

From the linked page:

Does he ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?

  • Close as duplicate.
  • Vote down.
  • Flag for moderator attention if it's really bad.

Does he clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?

  • This is not a problem here. If the question is not in SO and it is programming related, it is a valid question.
  • The goal is for the top Google hit to be a SO question.

Does he refuse to take time to ask coherent, specific questions?

  • Vote down the question.
  • Flag as Very Low Quality if it's really bad.
  • Close it if it matches a close reason (most likely unclear what you're asking).
  • Alternatively, edit the post into something comprehensible if it can be salvaged.

Does he think helping him must be the high point of your day?

  • Well, if you get rep from it totally are doing it for the good of other people and not rep, shouldn't it be?

Does he get offensive, as if you need to prove to him why he should use Ruby on Rails?

  • Well if they're not currently using RoR, and you're saying they need to, you should provide some explanation, right? Just don't put long explanations or debates in comments, use chat for that.

Is he obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all his thinking for him?

  • Well, if it might benefit someone somewhere else, who cares?
  • If you think it's particularly egregious, then downvote them or flag it.

Can you tell he really isn't interested in having his question answered, so much as getting someone else to do his work?

  • Try to teach them something anyway.
  • If it's a good question, who cares.
  • If it's a bad question, downvote or vote to close.
  • 91
    As exciting as it is, getting rep is not quite the high point of my day :P – Ben Millwood Jul 22 '12 at 0:58
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    @BenMillwood Enjoy your calorie-free comment-upvote. – canon Sep 28 '12 at 1:45
  • 36
    +1 for using the word egregious. – Mottie Nov 16 '12 at 16:43
  • 8
    Not sure I agree with the assessment on the "easily googleable" point. The point of SO is "to make the internet a better place." I think re-spitting something on an SE site that is everywhere else does not accomplish that. – fredsbend May 23 '14 at 17:00
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    @fredsbend I think a good format and the comprehensivenss of a resource are good things. You might (can) find a lot of answers on SO in other places, but the format (particularly when I'm looking for .NET stuff) tends to be far below SO standards (readability, findability, etc.). And the ability to find everything in one place is helpful, too. I often skip over higher results and look for an SO result, because it's trusted--all the better if there's always an SO answer. – Brian Warshaw Jun 4 '14 at 13:26
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    @BrianWarshaw I tend to agree except when the answer is explicitly described in the manual/documentation. – Basic Aug 4 '14 at 19:46
  • @Basic - Kind of agree with you. But definitely agree with you if the manual/documentation has a clear and concise sample. – jww Apr 15 '15 at 19:55
  • 1
    What's VLQ please? – Stewart Dec 1 '15 at 11:12
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    @Stewart "VLQ" = "Very Low Quality", one of the options when flagging an answer. I've edited to clarify this. – Kip Dec 1 '15 at 14:29
  • We have been doing all these for several years now. They don't seem to be working. – Raedwald Mar 10 '16 at 18:17

One concept of SO that is often overlooked is this:

Questions and answers are here to stay.

Today, it might be just a question by someone lazy who needs someone else to do his thinking. Tomorrow, someone else having a similar problem might find this question through google. By now, the question has been edited to be more readable and concise, and there are many answers, sorted by their votes (even if not having been accepted), so the second guy has found a good place for solutions to his problem.

The vampire might be long gone, but the second guy is happy. That's the purpose of SO.

  • 13
    I like this way of looking at things :) . Also, if questions can supersede the asker then something useful might come out of practically every question asked. – James P. Feb 23 '13 at 17:39
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    vampires usually don't ask questions that can be of any use to anyone else. (and that's if the question does not already have 2 zillions duplicates.). Most of the time, it looks like: this code does not work, please fix it. – njzk2 May 21 '14 at 15:56
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    Don't forget that official documentation should be the reference for basic features of a program / language. As programs / languages evlove over time, trivial answers on SO become obsolete and misleading. – Dmitry Grigoryev Jun 23 '15 at 8:03
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    "The vampire might be long gone, but the second guy is happy." Except for the fact that the 2nd guy won't bother to create an account to up-vote the answer he found helpful and provide me with more fake Internet points. I require fake Internet points as compensation for my work. I refuse to work for free ;) – code_dredd Aug 4 '16 at 4:10

It's all too easy to blame Help Vampires for problems in Stack Overflow.

But it's not them, it's us. The people who feed them.

If the question is an exact duplicate, let them know it's an exact duplicate.

If the question is a trivial question about something from the standard library, don't forget to link to the standard library documentation while answering the question.

If someone asks "Why doesn't this code work?", and the debugging is trivial, don't just do the trivial debugging for them. Show them how they can debug it themselves (for example, tell them about warning flags).

Unfortunately, reputation goes to those who feed the help vampires, not those who help cure them. These feeders don't just get reputation from the vampire. They also get reputation from the rest of the community. (For example, 11 upvotes on an answer to a duplicate question)

I'm not meaning to be ill-intentioned towards the help vampires. Some of them haven't been taught properly how to program or how to problem-solve, and I suspect some of them are so stressed out they aren't thinking straight. Asking a question is more effort than googling, so it's not a case of laziness. But so long as the feeders deliberately don't teach the vampires how to fish as opposed to merely giving them a fish, they're going to continue to be worse off.

  • 3
    How do you search for <==> or <=> ? – mplungjan Mar 8 '13 at 5:40
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    @mplungjan nowadays, with SymbolHound. Back then, by searching for "spaceship operator" (which was in the answer). – Andrew Grimm Mar 8 '13 at 6:47
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    Asking a question is more effort than googling, so it's not a case of laziness No it is not (and it is). Googling requires some work to systemize what you do know, realize what you don't know, and plan some iterative process to feel the gaps with subsequent google queries. Streaming that question to SO for someone else to proactively dig this information out of you mind for you surely IS effort-cutting (aka lazy) approach. Whether it is good or bad for SO is another question. – Arioch 'The Jul 19 '13 at 22:36
  • I've definitely just answered a question that I should have down-voted for the points when I'm bored... and I've been so stressed out that I've asked a stupid question, but I've also spent hours writing heartfelt and fact based answers with references and quality examples. – sheriffderek May 1 '14 at 21:39
  • 2
    "Reputation goes to those who feed them" Very valid point. +1 – Unitato May 19 '17 at 15:01

Does he ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?

Close as dupes. If reposting repeatedly, flag.

Does he clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?

If it's a dupe, close it. Otherwise, answer it and enjoy the easy rep.

Does he refuse to take the time to ask coherent, specific questions?

Vote down or edit to clarify when possible.

Does he think helping him must be the high point of your day?

Isn't it? :)

Does he get offensive, as if you need to prove to him why he should use Ruby on Rails?

Flag when offensive.

Is he obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all his thinking for him?

Help him if you like and enjoy your upvotes. He'll get what's coming to him in the long run. You cannot thrive on this kind of personality.

Can you tell he really isn't interested in having his question answered, so much as getting someone else to do his work?

If his question is really that vague, then just downvote it.


The wiki-ability to questions/answers. The voting. The power to close, delete, and migrate.

That in mind, a few help-vampires aren't that bad. Think of it like leech-treatment. Having them hanging around for a while, sucking help out, will benefit the community in that it gets many more questions answered. Often times, the questions are simple ones which will attract new programmers to the site. As long as we clean up the questions, and provide great answers, all is well.


On IRC, on forums, on mailing lists, help vampires may be really unnerving; I've run out of patience many times. Here it's different, in that it's easier to ignore people.

On the mailing lists I follow, I always try to help, and usually I stop just before (well, sometimes just after) becoming offensive. That's because I like to help when I can and because I know that if I don't answer, often it's likely that nobody will.

On SO there's no need for you to reply to every question: it's likely that the question will be answered anyway. So, just answer to the questions that you consider worthy replying to, and ignore others.

  • 2
    They decrease the signal to noise ratio. You can choose to ignore them, but your can not avoid them. Once you've read their question, it is too late. – Raedwald Jan 28 '16 at 13:02

The close option. ;)

Or, more seriously, the ability of users to vote on/edit/close content. In theory, this should end up either teaching someone how to ask questions or driving them away if they clearly are not getting it. Notice I say in theory. It remains to be seen how well it works in practice.

  • 1
    Two things: (1) questions take too long to be deleted unless they're out and out spam, so the front page (newest questions) will tend to fill up with relatively trivial questions (the newest questions front page is the only page I generally look at); and (2) the more general problem is that relatively easy questions still need answering, but people who've been around the programming block a few decades will be driven away by those questions, so they'll quit SO altogether. – Barry Kelly Sep 2 '09 at 15:04
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    On point (1), I'll be the first to agree that more needs to be done regarding getting rid of certain questions (specifically the ultra-duplicates, which annoy the hell out of me). On point (2), There is always a steady supply of people willing to answer easy questions. Most people thrive on them for their Rep fix, so I don't think that will drive anyone away. – gnostradamus Sep 2 '09 at 15:09
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    (2) yes, there are plenty of new people looking to answer new questions, but it's quality not quantity that matters for the really hard problems, the problems you really need to ask questions for. – Barry Kelly Sep 2 '09 at 15:17
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    @Barry The difficulty of a question is relative to the person asking it. I spent 30 minutes yesterday explaining arrays to a new developer. It was trivial for me to address the issue, but was a legitimate topic for him to understand. Don't be driven away by easy questions - you used to ask them too ;) – Sampson Sep 2 '09 at 15:22

I recommend that bans be placed on people who attack innocent or less-educated victims. Just because you're smart, does not make it OK to insult people who need help, and it is definitely not OK for you to take actions to prevent them seeking answers.

The number of viscous and personally insulting people on stackexchange is way out of control (case in point - I bet this gets downvoted here, just like the other one at the bottom did for sticking up for those victims) - e.g. I just asked a valid scientific question, and the first idiot to comment accused me of "free energy" scams, and the next one accused me of "outsourcing my homework", which lead to a spate of downvotes and other useless chatter, and now I got put "on hold" (with an excuse that my question "Was not clear", when it's absolutely 100% crystal-clear, so long as you pay no attention to the crazy people insulting me for no reason and making false accusations).

So now I'm stuck - I either get no answer, or I post my question again and hope the the crazy people leave me alone long enough for someone to take the time to answer it, without personally attacking me instead.

  • 6
    Because you didn't receive an answer doesn't make it OK to pollute our canonical collection of quality questions and answers to those questions. I don't see how this particular answer is helpful in the problem that the OP of this question want to address. The fact that I don't think this answer is useful is the reason for me to downvote so future visitors can judge better if an answer is likely to help them. It is all about the future visitors on SE, less on your personal needs. Instead of re-posting not well received questions, consider what might be wrong with the question and improve on it. – rene Feb 17 at 13:35
  • Improving is pointless - the blocks rarely get removed. "future visitors" never get the chance to decide for themselves, because WAY too many people are blocking and deleting things just because they don't understand. For example - I recently added mention of bcrypt to a pkbdf answer - super useful for a crypto learner to know - and my anwser got deleted (not downvoted - outright removed) because the moderator "didn't think it added a useful contribution" - how can the "future" lean, when the censors are so fast with the "delete" button and clearly don't know what bcrypt is in that context? – Anon Coward Feb 18 at 13:34
  • Care to share a link to the post that mentioned bcrypt and was deleted because now I'm curious. – rene Feb 18 at 14:59

I think the only thing worrisome here is the idea that anyone would want to describe someone as a "help vampire". Why would this label need to exist and what would it serve to protect against?

The checklist of qualities seems very heavy-handed and carry an inherent risk of being abused. For example: Can you know when someone has checked google? Why does it matter? Most people google, but when you're dealing with anecdotes, unless you can describe the solution in some part, you won't always get a hit. Does failing to meet some precondition preclude someone from being able to ask a question?

It's enough to say that the Stack Exchange system contains many mechanisms to moderate, reference and ensure that no question goes unaddressed.

Are stack exchange sites not supposed to be somewhere people can come and ask questions? Who is anyone to judge the merit of a question?

  • 5
    "Who is anyone to judge the merit of a question?" The community, via votes. You can find information about the merit of a question in the context of SE sites in the help center (each site has one). You have a mistaken idea that just because a question is at all useful to somebody means that it belongs on one of these sites, and that questions not appropriate for these sites are considered not good. Not every question belongs here. – Jason C Nov 12 '14 at 5:30
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    I think the votes speak for themselves. – Jason C Nov 12 '14 at 14:00
  • Yes, I think you demonstrated it more than sufficiently. – Omega Nov 12 '14 at 14:02
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    @JasonC For the record, "help vampire" really is not a productive term, ad we shouldn't be using it as freely as we do. – Laura Nov 12 '14 at 22:28
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    @Laura You should remove the link to the article which recommends "#3: Meet Help Vampires Head-On - “You’re a Help Vampire.” Call a spade a spade, and a Help Vampire a Help Vampire." then, it can be misleading. I do agree there is a tendency to call general victims "help vampires" inappropriately, though. In Omega's defense, his posts on the site are generally high quality. – Jason C Nov 12 '14 at 22:42

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