Subtitle: Should beginner's questions be off-topic strictly because they are beginner's questions?
The sorts of questions that newbie programmers ask has come up before many times in side discussions, and comes up constantly on the main site. Here are two examples from today:
Both of the above questions are well-formed, specific, answerable definitively, not open to opinions and are otherwise directly on-topic for StackOverflow.
However both questions were downvoted and closed by users who said they were off-topic because they were too basic in nature. To quote one particularly pointed comment:
This question appears to be off-topic because it is trivially answerable by reading a beginners' language tutorial.
That pretty much sums it up.
Here's another case posted yesterday:
This is another beginner's question. The topic is fairly elementary. The answer can likely be found in Strustrup's book, or any number of other books that we recommend. Considering only that it is a beginner's question of a fundamental nature, should the question be considered off-topic?
Lots of questions are posted from lazy people who are just looking to be spoon-fed answers. Those questions should all be closed because they never meet the quality guidelines. That's not what I'm asking about here. What I'm asking about is just the elementray nature of the question. If the question is elementary, but otherwise meets our quality and topical requirements, is it off-topic?
I have always thought that Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it. But enthusiasts come in all shapes and sizes, from the bright-green newbie writing their first program to the grizzled veterans who have seen and done it all a million times before. I have always felt that SO's stated audience does not, or should not, discriminate based on the expertise of the asker.
Some would say that newbie questions are off-topic because they aren't interesting enough for the answerers. But this seems highly subjective to me. After all, every question is a "no-duh softball" to someone. Just today I provided what I thought was a pretty novel solution to a problem, only to learn a few minutes later that KonradRudolph and Yakk had come up with the same solution over a year before. No-duh.
It seems to me that this has been coming up much more recently. Sometimes I'll chime in with a comment to the downvoters and close-voters suggesting that the level of expertise is not a parameter in deciding if a question is topical. The downvoters will often agree. But we don't have a difinitive resource to point to that says this is so -- it doesn't say it in the FAQs, and I've not found anything difinitive in meta.
So what says meta? Can a question about basics be on-topic for Stack Overflow? If it can be off-topic, how do we know where to draw the line?