Lately, I have been getting a lot of critical responses to my questions, and absolutely no help whatsoever. Often users are responding with questions as to why I asked the question, and also links to other questions that may be relevant to my question, but do not specifically address it. I am also flagging these comments and answers, but it doesn't seem to promote any relevant answers. Is this a known dynamic issue of Stack Overflow, and are the moderators being proactive about enforcing a more helpful community?

I have recently flagged some comments and answers, however I'm unsure what happens "behind the scenes". What happens once a flag on a comment is raised? Who deals with the flags? What are the possible outcomes?

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    I link to other questions all the time that seem to be relevant, especially for those folks who don't do some research first. It's up to the OP to figure out whether or not they are actually relevant. – user102937 Feb 4 '14 at 16:36
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    Sounds like you are getting constructive comments. Knowing some context about why a person is asking a question, and getting a better understanding for why they're trying to do what they're asking about, or how they plan to use the solution, can be enormously helpful in many cases, especially where there are several approaches, some of which may, and some of which may not, be appropriate given the specific context you're in. Linking to related questions, even if they are not duplicates, is also constructive. It can help you come closer to an answer, even if it doesn't provide one fully. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 16:39
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    Are you going to provide some examples, then? – user102937 Feb 4 '14 at 16:40
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    @ChrisWalsh if they aren't relevant to you, then ignore them. Like I said, someone included it to try to be helpful to someone. – psubsee2003 Feb 4 '14 at 16:42
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    @ChrisWalsh there are moderators and they do delete rude and unconstructive comments, but the reason everyone is asking for examples is we are trying to get a better idea of what you think is an unhelpful comment. Moderators do not (and physically cannot) read every single question due to the volume. Because of that Stack Exchange is community moderated. If you see something you don't like you can flag it, but it doesn't mean a mod will delete it. If it is rude or nonconstructive, they will delete it. – psubsee2003 Feb 4 '14 at 16:49
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    Also, FWIW, this particular question seems to be illustrative of your specific problem. Did you really expect to get constructive feedback from the community by hand-waving about non-constructiveness without providing some examples of it? – user102937 Feb 4 '14 at 16:53
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    @ChrisWalsh This is an example of where constructive critism was given "provide examples" and ignored. This almost always leads to no answers – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 16:56
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    @ChrisWalsh If you are unprepared to provide examples then this question is unclear. At this point I am voting to close as such – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 17:01
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    And if you're expecting to be coddled by a bunch of curmudgeons who write software for a living, well, good luck with that. – user102937 Feb 4 '14 at 17:01
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    @ChrisWalsh let's back up a couple of steps... what are you looking for out of this question? In your question, you mentioned about flagging comments you thought were unconstructive, but not getting answers. When you flag a comment, what do you think should happen? – psubsee2003 Feb 4 '14 at 17:02
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    Why didn't you just ask that in the first place? But there's no examining the responsibility issue without providing examples of where it might be failing. – user102937 Feb 4 '14 at 18:25
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    "Please provide an example" is a very constructive request, particularly when an example is necessary. This very question serves as a perfect demonstration of why an example is necessary. – David Robinson Feb 4 '14 at 18:34
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    @ChrisWalsh doing janitorial work on a community site combined with the "evil mods y u close my post" can be a bit painful over time and requires some degree of tolerance and thick skin. People who try to guide questions into improvement and leave lengthy comments get sore fingers and become more and more terse over time - some perceive this terseness as rudeness. It is sometimes important to realize that the regulars may not always be wordy and their terseness is not rudeness. If someone perceives this as rudeness and gets offended easily it can take a bit to adapt to that community. – user213963 Feb 4 '14 at 20:05
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    This reads like the "helpdesk syndrome". He just wants to drop off his question and pick up the answer 10 minutes later. Anybody that dares ask for clarification is just inconsiderate to his needs and therefore rude. – Uphill Luge Feb 4 '14 at 21:01
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    @ChrisWalsh If you are offended by "Show examples of wanted behaviour.", better don't even open your browser... Don't go outside as well. Are you offended by a phrase like "Do you want your steak well done or medium?". This is almost an exact equivalent of that comment. – sashkello Feb 5 '14 at 4:44

I'm getting the sense that this very question is a type of question that you're concerned with.

We understand that some people can be rude, and we try to flag the rude and unhelpful posts, and the moderators delete them.

But what is a lot more common is comments by people genuinely interested in answering your question, who want more information.

I'll use this question as an example. You made a request to pay more attention to undesirable comments. We've all seen various types of undesirable comments, but we do feel as that is being paid attention to.

But it's clear that you feel like you're experiencing a problem, so We're asking for an example question, so that we can understand what you think is a problem. Without an example, what we have to do is go through your recently asked questions, and just guess what you're taking issue with, and we're afraid that we might be wrong in our guess.

We want to answer your question, but we have to know what's going on. The same is true for programming questions, and examples are a very effective way of letting us know what's going on.

  • When we ask for code, It's not because we want to make you do more work. It's because we think that there might hints in your existing code that will help us answer your question.
  • When we ask for an error message, It's because we think think that the error message will help us answer your question.

So far, you've cited this question:

PHP __toArray() or __toObject() override?

and you had trouble with the following comment:

Show examples of wanted behaviour.

at the time, your question was the following:

Is there an equivalent to get a reorganized standardized object from a normal class? Something that works along the same lines as PHP's __toString() override method.

Now I'm not a PHP guy, so I'll compare this to c#. If you asked a similar question about c#, I wouldn't understand it very well. All c# classes inherit from the Object class. I would assume that you're looking to do 1 of two things

  • you want to treat your class like a generic object, in which case, you'd cast it to an object
  • You want a base Object class which is like a copy of your class, except that only has properties already defined in Object. (this option doesn't make very much sense).

The most reasonable thing to assume is that maybe your output is something other than those two scenarios, so I'd be inclined to ask:

What do you want you object to look like when you're done with it?

which is just another way of wording

Show examples of wanted behavior.

  • I'm in no way against providing examples of code. And I make that effort most of the time. Logically, I think if you ask a question, then it shouldn't just be 1) question, 2) provide example, 3) get answer. What if there is no working example? How do you deal with a theoretical or abstract question? How do you deal with questions that stem from a person who is asking how to implement a particular solution, but is seeking examples of how to do it from the community? I'm not looking for direct answers all of the time, but I would like the ability to avoid having to justify why I asked a question – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 17:44
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    @ChrisWalsh Not every question always needs to have examples. However, when a question doesn't have examples, or context, or the reader, for whatever reason, feels that there is insufficient information to provide an answer, they can ask for further information or ask clarifying questions, which is what is going on here. You're taking constructive clarifying questions as being a problem. They aren't a problem. Your refusal to answer them is, and it's the reason you're not getting the answers that you want. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 17:47
  • Second, providing examples is not the issue at hand. I asked about how the moderating community goes about keeping people who game the stack system with irrelevant and condescending comments or answers, that stray from the topic of the question. I have flagged most of this stuff, and yet these folks keep returning with the same conversations. How are the moderators dealing with this? Are they dealing with this? – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 17:51
  • Sure, if you flag it. And if you find that a particular user keeps making inappropriate comments (as in, truly inappropriate, not clarifying) then you could even opt for a custom flag stating that more clearly. – Bart Feb 4 '14 at 17:54
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    @ChrisWalsh You haven't demonstrated a problem. You have not shown instances of irrelevant or inappropriate comments. You've only described instances of helpful, relevant, and appropriate comments. If/when you're able to demonstrate cases of comments that are causing problems, then we can help you understand how best to deal with them, or consider adjusting community policies/mechanisms if you can demonstrate that there is a larger problem. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 17:55
  • Yes, I have flagged numerous comments and answers. Obviously I can't downvote, which is another issue in and of itself (as I have been at 124 points for years (really oppressive system IMO)). Most of the people with thousands of points are the same people who are non-constructive posters. – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 17:56
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    @ChrisWalsh If you're flagging constructive clarifying questions then I would hope that nothing would be done, and you're the one in the wrong. If the comments are inappropriate, then I'd expect them to be deleted. If you can provide some examples of inappropriate comments that you flagged and that were not dealt with, then we can actually have a real conversation here. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 17:57
  • @servy do you not have the ability to view my posts? – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 17:57
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    @ChrisWalsh I do, and I looked through a handful of the recent ones. I saw no inappropriate comments. If your response to "please provide some examples of problematic comments" is "go find them yourself, I can't be bothered to do it, then you shouldn't really be surprised when people aren't jumping out of their seats to help you. You can't even be bothered to provide a single example of a problematic comment. Either they're really hard to find (and thus, there isn't a real problem), or you're putting insufficient effort into your own questions, based on the community's standards. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 17:58
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    @ChrisWalsh Please please please make this easy for us. If there are posts around that are problematic, point them out in your question here. Show us. I've gone through them and I don't see it. I must be overlooking something. Don't tell us to go look for it. Show us. If you do, I'll vote to reopen. – Bart Feb 4 '14 at 17:58
  • @ChrisWalsh What I wrote in this answer is informed mostly because of what I saw in the comments in this very question. Right now, We don't know what kinds of comments that you feel are condescending. We asked for examples, so that we could know which comments those are. I saw your reaction to the comments on this question and thought to myself "comments like that might be it" – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Feb 4 '14 at 18:03
  • @ChrisWalsh When we don't know what comments you're talking about, than we can't truly tell you how the moderators handle them. – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Feb 4 '14 at 18:05
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    @ChrisWalsh That comment was left on the first revision of your question stackoverflow.com/revisions/… Apparently that question was not sufficiently clear to answer. – Bart Feb 4 '14 at 18:11
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    @ChrisWalsh That's asking for an example input/output, not example code. That is still not in the question. That comment could perhaps be clearer, since you didn't understand it, but it's certainly not unconstructive, rude, or inappropriate. Had you responded to that comment it would have become clear that you simply didn't understand it, and that user, or someone else, could help clarify what it your question is lacking, and you could have moved forward in improving the question. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 18:15
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    @ChrisWalsh: I reviewed stackoverflow.com/questions/20134836, but I don't see anything actionable there. I'm not at all sure what you want. – user102937 Feb 4 '14 at 18:43

On one of your questions I see the comment:

Show examples of wanted behaviour.

We really, as a community, like to see code and examples. We'd like to see the question-asker has really put effort into this issue, and is genuinely stuck.

See, there have been many posts that reek of "Oh i'm too lazy to google this today, I'm hoping a SantaClause out there will give it all to me"

So that's maybe a backlash against that trend.

But Pekka hit the nail on the head :

This is an ongoing issue that has no easy solution

Perception and mores are tough man.

Overall, don't be shaken in your journey to get stuff done

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    "Show examples of wanted behavior" is just as likely a clarifying question. If someone does not understand the output, how can they know they are answering the question correctly. – psubsee2003 Feb 4 '14 at 17:13
  • @psubsee2003 - Point taken , thanks! – Adel Feb 4 '14 at 17:16
  • @Adel, I appreciate your positive reinforcement, and I try to persevere through all the irrelevant chatter, but I am left with a lot of aggravating responses, and most of the time questions left unanswered. I am not asking questions as a means to set people up for failure. I just look for collaboration on the answer. If this was an issue of providing an example, which it is not, then that is being done, I assure you. I think this goes beyond examples provision. I feel that the stack model is not working in some areas, and is starting to turn into the forums of old. – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 18:05
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    @ChrisWalsh You understand how vague that sounds, without specifics all we can say is "moderators respond to flags and take action on them depending on the specific circumstances" – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 18:16
  • So I can deduct that moderators aren't doing anything substantial to quell this problem? I suppose you see the problem, but don't want to address it. Vague or not, there is a user experiencing a difficulty with this product, and having a negative user experience, and you simply passively overlook it. – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 18:19
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    @ChrisWalsh Moderators are working incredibly hard every day, spending hours responding to flags. It is unfair to say they are doing nothing. If they are responding to this specific problem is seperate (and a reasonable question to ask). So ask it – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 18:20
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    @ChrisWalsh - you said I just look for collaboration on the answer ... In some sense, StackOverflow just isn't a stellar collaboration tool. Collaboration denotes some back-&-forth process, something interactive. Stack works best when the user gives a question that demonstrates at least 90% of what's needed for anyone skilled enough to push him/her to the solution. The 10% remaining gets figured out via comments, etc. But if you do not at least show the 90% upfront, well good luck. Stack isn't really gonna help – Adel Feb 4 '14 at 18:33
  • Yeah that's apparently the problem. It's not been helpful to me in the least. I guess I'll remain the 1% who just doesn't understand how it works. You know something, I've never asked for an example, considering that the user is not capable of doing so. When people seek examples for well constructed questions, they do not have the experience or the skill set to fully comprehend the question being asked, so they should simply not respond. I have had people on stack come back with constructive comments, and have come away with a good experience. Unfortunately those experiences are very few. – cj5 Feb 4 '14 at 18:44
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    @ChrisWalsh If someone doesn't fully comprehend the question that's being asked that exactly when they should be commenting. The point of comments is to help readers who don't understand the question get the information they need to be able to understand the question. If they were able to understand the question then they could just answer it. When the question author refuses to answer constructive clarifying questions and provides not indication of helping others understand what it is that they're after, then it's time to just move on and ignore the question. – Servy Feb 4 '14 at 18:57
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    @ChrisWalsh The two fields are not identical. If you say you want a "toString()" method asking for what you want that "toString()" method to output seems reasonable – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 19:04
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    @ChrisWalsh You weren't asked for an example implimentation. You were asked for example output. When you ask "how do I sort this list: [3, 1, 5, 4, 6]", and someone asks you for an example, what they want you to reply with is "[1, 3, 4, 5, 6]" – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Feb 4 '14 at 19:11
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    @ChrissWalsh Well thats fine I guess. Stack exchange cares most of all about getting high quality answers to questions and its damn good at it; that means we ask the questions that need asking and don't accept ambiguous questions. I'm not sure what exactly you want from it – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 19:37
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    @ChrisWalsh I'm just trying to get you to understand what we mean when we're asking for an example. We're not trying to be condescending. We're not telling you to find the answer yourself. We are simply asking for more information – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Feb 4 '14 at 19:41
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    @ChrisWalsh If you aren't contesting the example issue, than what are you trying to say? – Sam I am says Reinstate Monica Feb 4 '14 at 19:44
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    @ChrisWalsh if you don't dispute that example as a bad comment then we're back to discussing nothing. Regardless this is probably driving Abel insane with all the notifications. If this is to continue it should be on the main question – Richard Tingle Feb 4 '14 at 19:47

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