I get an impression that SO is generally becoming overwhelmed with bureaucracy and all flaws in the modern world. We elect officials to take care of us, we create rules to make the "bad" people go away and have our little perfect space right here. But quite honestly - as Jobs pointed out when he returned to Apple - "there is no sex in that anymore!".

When question is asked, usually it is for a reason - the person asking is seeking an answer. Why is it, that so many questions get closed saying just "off-topic"? Now I'm not talking about people asking for "do my homework", but questions that are very specific and people tend to misunderstand and just rush for close. Without even saying WHY EXACTLY. Just offtopic, RTFM...(and that manual is effing loooong). Also with that comes another thing - a newbie signs up for SO because he/she is desperately stuck. Should he first aknowledge all of the rules to ask the question? The whole ecosystem is getting too big for newcomers to be "perfect" and the number of new "off-topic" questions will rise because quite honestly - who's reading long manuals?

The idea of SO is beautiful in its simplicity - programmers help out other stuck programmers. Why on earth do we need so many rules for such a simple task? Are we creating a documentation? No, we are helping each other out. Why should we have so many Do's and Don't's?

I'll leave the grassroots for debate with a quote:

Corruptissima re publica plurimae leges. --Publius Cornelius Tacitus (...and laws were most numerous when the commonwealth was most corrupt)


I can see the problem in my question as I made a mistake by giving example with an off topic question. I never wanted to question the system of SE. Its upvoting, downvoting, badges and rep - obviously that's what makes this site different from yahoo answers and ask.com and anything else out there. I obviously made a mistake too by answering misunderstood comments which made the discussion drift to questioning the whole SE system - not an intention.

I wanted to point out (actually it is written in the title), that as any other software, this website is getting too big with restrictions, rules and other obstacles, that doesn't help it at all. I believe that it is getting very complex - when you flag a question, you have to read through so much stuff that you're better off just leaving the question unflagged - it is not motivating the users to help when there's a wall of text with rules and choices. As somebody pointed out in the discussion - there are more people coming with bad questions as SO gets more popular - YES. By creating more complex rules, we will prevent them from asking bad questions - NO. And by increasing the number of new rules how to ask a question, and what belongs here and what not, the number of off topic questions will rise, because there is more people that hate reading wall of text with rules and will likely skip that part.

closed as primarily opinion-based by djechlin, Johnny Bones, Martijn Pieters, Danubian Sailor, michaelb958 Apr 8 '14 at 1:46

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    I disagree. It is not the people that close a question that are the problem but soo many bad, low-quality, off-topic, I-put-no-effort-in-anything questions. And yes - they have to go to keep the quality up. – juergen d Apr 7 '14 at 20:40
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    I don't completely disagree that SO's handling of things has become a bit bureaucratic in places, but the narrow scope was a big part of Stack Overflow's appeal from the start. For me, it was the #1 reason why I came here, after having spent time at a forum that was flooded with offtopic, RTFM questions. – Pëkka Apr 7 '14 at 20:41
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    And we only want to keep the sexy questions. – juergen d Apr 7 '14 at 20:42
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  • This is off topic. meta.SO is not a forum for debates (or rants). – djechlin Apr 7 '14 at 20:44
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    "Who are we to judge somebody else's effort?" Do you realize that the whole site is based around the idea of judging posts by upvoting and downvoting them??? – Louis Apr 7 '14 at 20:45
  • Exactly! Up and down, but why CLOSE without answer to the person asking? – Michal Apr 7 '14 at 20:45
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    Who are we to judge somebody else's effort? We are fellow programmers, in the same line of work as the asker is. If anybody can judge a programmer's effort, then it's this group of people... as said I don't think you are completely wrong, I sometimes see closings that make me think, "why did that one have to be closed?" but then, I also see plenty of closings that make me very, very glad. It still is the majority. – Pëkka Apr 7 '14 at 20:46
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    There's a reason why "yahoo answers fail" yields pages of results. We don't want that here. And we do judge your effort. We make no claims otherwise and you don't get to be surprised about it. – Jason C Apr 7 '14 at 20:46
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    @Michal We're the people taking time out of our busy schedules to answer your questions, so yes, we get to judge them. And I'm glad that you asked your second question. Yes, we are creating documentation here. SO's primary goal is to create a repository of knowledge useful to the entire programming community. Each question is designed to be reference material. – Servy Apr 7 '14 at 20:46
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    @Michal the main answer to why close without answer? is, I think, "to discourage asking such questions in the future". With some 7 million questions in the pool, that's not a bad concept in itself. Re Should I judge it as low quality if I don't understand it? - nope. And now...begun the flamewar has. I don't see any flaming here? – Pëkka Apr 7 '14 at 20:48
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    @Michal You asked "who are we to judge somebody else's effort?" not "who are we to close questions?" When you upvote or downvote you just like everyone else, are judging somebody else's effort. – Louis Apr 7 '14 at 20:50
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    "there is no sex in that anymore!" But there is sex in...what? Letting people ask any crap they want? You can't just peel off a random Steve Jobs quote and expect people to agree with you. It has to make some kind of sense in the context of the point you're trying to make. – Bill the Lizard Apr 7 '14 at 21:25
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    What is cool about it is the number of expert programmers that come here to answer questions. – Bill the Lizard Apr 7 '14 at 21:31
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    Obstacles aren't being placed in the way of the experts. – Bill the Lizard Apr 7 '14 at 21:35

When question is asked, usually it is for a reason - the person asking is seeking an answer.

True. However:

The idea of SO is beautiful in its simplicity - programmers help out other stuck programmers.

False. For me, and as far as I understand such is also the goal of Stack Exchange, I go to these sites to find answers. Only if I cannot find the answers, I'll post a question myself. Questions that will only help a specific programmer are just noise in such great archive. Noise that makes it hard to find the information that can help me solve my problem without posting a new question.

And, unfortunately, ensuring people adhere to that goal, many rules seem to be needed.

  • Ah, finally an answer that doesn't primarily divide YOU ask and WE answer and provides a little more humble answer and thank you for that - for the last sentence "...many rules seem to be needed" - as I pointed out, I believe that there is so many rules and obstacles, that even with good intentions, the number of off topic questions will rise. – Michal Apr 7 '14 at 20:58
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    @Michal The fact that there are a lot of, and an increasing number of, bad questions only means it would be nice to find ways of stopping those bad questions earlier, or helping people learn how to not ask bad questions. It's not a justification for simply allowing and encouraging bad questions. The fact that people want to ask them doesn't mean we're better off answering them. We're better off not answering them. – Servy Apr 7 '14 at 21:03
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    As Stack Overflow becomes more and more popular, there are more and more people asking off topic questions. Nothing we can do about that. – Pëkka Apr 7 '14 at 21:11
  • Ha! Exactly - there is nothing we can do about that. And that's why, creating new and new rules, restrictions, specifications won't help either. There must be another way, surely not the one of denial. – Michal Apr 7 '14 at 21:16
  • @Michal Why won't it help. It helps to keep the bad questions out and the good questions in. Having strict guidelines becomes much more important when there is an increasing amount of cruft to deal with. It's of a lower priority when there simply isn't as much traffic, and therefore not as much crap. The more crap there is, the more important it is to get rid of it. – Servy Apr 8 '14 at 0:57
  • It won't help in getting rid of it. It will only justify deleting and closing it. Nothing else. We all still will have to flag it and moderators approve it etc. The goal of this question is to show that the rules have gotten more complex, yet the number of off topic questions is rising. Then the rules are useless and serve only as a justifier to close/delete question. I am not questioning the system of SE (see edit) - I am questioning the detail-"ness" of the rules. – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 5:57
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    @Michal Yes, it does help to get rid of it. When you say that something is not allowed and you close/delete it then you can get rid of it much more effectively than saying that it's allowed (despite it being harmful to the site) and keeping the questions around. Yes it takes work from the community to get rid of bad questions. If you know of some ways of getting rid of these bad questions more effectively, by all means share them. Saying that we should allow them is not helpful though; they're disallowed for a reason; we don't want them here; they are more harmful than helpful. – Servy Apr 8 '14 at 13:43
  • Oh I never said we should keep the bad questions here. I am sorry you got that impression. I am saying that the mechanism is getting way too complex. It has become a "process". – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 14:17
  • @Michal Well, first off, you didn't make that point clear in your question. Even after your edit, it's still not very clear that the problem you have is that it's too hard for you to get rid of a bad question. It also sounds like you just want to have moderators do all of the work for you. That's simply not an option for a site as large as SO. The few moderators aren't capable of handling all of the problematic content. SO relies on community moderation. It's the only way to scale with the number of questions the site gets. If helping to moderate is too hard for you, then don't. – Servy Apr 8 '14 at 15:20
  • No it is not too hard for me. I have been around for a while. But it gets harder for newcomers to quickly get used to it because the scope of rules gets larger and larger. The learning curve will get slower and slower right from the start. I never said to leave it only up to moderators. You are only answering partial parts of my question - only to the examples. Please try to see the big picture I am trying to point out -> that the range/scope of all rules is getting too large to get quickly used to it. – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 15:30
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    @Michal So, what, you don't want to get rid of the rules, you just want them to be easier to understand while still being as effective as they currently are? Sure, that's be great. How do you plan to accomplish this thing? Saying that the rules should simply be made "better" without in any way suggesting how this should happen, simply isn't helpful. If you have specific proposals of ways of simplifying the rules or moderation processes while still maintaining their effectiveness, then propose them. If we knew of ways of making them simpler while still getting the job done, we'd do that. – Servy Apr 9 '14 at 20:34

This is not new. SO was created specifically because every other comparable site out there for asking programming questions had basically no filters. People could ask anything; there were no standards for (or expectations of) quality. SO wanted to be different. It wanted to be a place for people to ask quality questions and get quality answers. Closing, and downvoting, questions that don't meet those standards are how it has accomplished this; it has been doing so throughout its entire history.

From the beginning it has been a community that is hard to join. Asking good questions is hard. They're really valuable, but that value is expensive. It takes a lot of time and effort to learn how to ask quality questions.

If you want to have a place to ask questions with no expectations of quality, no standards, or rules for what you're allowed to ask, then SO is not the place for you. Try another site that was designed with your goals in mind. I hear yahoo answers is good if you want to ask any question you can possibly imagine.

  • Again, answering something I didn't ask - the title itself is clear "Too many rules...". As stated above, I wanted to point out that increasing number of rules does not mean increasing number of quality questions. I'd actually dare to say that increasing number of restrictions implies increasing number of off topic questions since newcomers will tend to avoid reading all those complex rules. – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 6:05
  • @Michal Telling yourself that a low quality question is in fact not a low quality question may make your metric of percentage of bad questions go down, but it doesn't actually increase the site's quality, it improves your stats at the expense of the site's quality. The rules are defining what questions should be closed, deleted, or improved. This gets them out of the way. By answering these very low quality questions you encourage people to continue posting them. By disallowing them you encourage people to either learn to post good questions, or to just not post. Both improve quality. – Servy Apr 8 '14 at 13:40
  • I never questioned that. I totally agree with what you say. It has nothing to do with what I am pointing out though. I'll make another example so you know what I mean - number of flags. I raise a flag that a question is simply "effing bad" - somebody is asking me to do his homework - it is low quality post and deserves to be deleted. Then somebody posts an advertisment-low quality post that deserves to be deleted. Why should I, who wants to raise awareness read through all varieties of flags AND THEN get punished for choosing the wrong one, despite the fact that the question should be deleted? – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 14:10
  • It is simply getting more and more complex, which in the end, may hurt the users, that want to help out keep the bad questions out. – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 14:12

You seem to be mistaken about the goal of Stack Overflow (and the SE sites in general).

Stack Overflow was designed from the very beginning to become a knowledge base - a collection of information related to the topic of programming and programmers tools. Nowhere in that original design was it said that it was a site to answer every single question related to programming, no matter how badly it was asked. It has never been a "let's solve Fred's problem for him, so he can move on with his (urgent task/homework/pet project du jour/other thing). It's not a personal task problem solver, homework completion site, or code writing service. It's a knowledge base.

In a sense, we are in fact writing documentation here. It's a set of reference materials for information related to programming (code) and programmer tools, written in the form of questions and answers. By asking a question, a poster is asking to contribute to that reference material by providing half of that equation, and we have the right to reasonable expectations about the quality of their contributions here. If they can't be bothered to put at least some effort into explaining the problem and asking the question clearly, there is no value for future readers in that question.

Putting it on hold or closing it doesn't delete it. It serves as notice that the question needs to be improved so that the problem can be understood and the question being asked is clear. Doing both of those not only improves the chances of the poster receiving a correct or useful answer more quickly, but it also means that others visiting the site in the future can also benefit. If future readers can't understand what was asked previously, it's pretty doubtful they'll be able to locate the previous question (and answers) to help solve their similar problem.

  • As I stated above. You are answering a question - "why should I respect the rules of SO". I never asked that, I wanted to point out that the number of rules is increasing yet their effect is not helping as much as we all hope. – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 6:02
  • The rules really do help, Michal - they are combating the vast rise in off-topic or nonsense dross that would otherwise flood this place! – Rory Alsop Apr 8 '14 at 9:45
  • The rules themselves don't. People do. And if the rules are harder and harder to understand, less people will help enforcing them. – Michal Apr 8 '14 at 10:35

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