I noticed this problem on Stack Overflow, but I'm pretty sure it affects other popular sites as well. Every day when I take a look at the front page, I can see new questions that lack any signs of effort or even the fundamental knowledge about the topic one tries to ask about. The questions are clearly irrelevant and nobody but the person who asked them would really consider them useful.

Still, people try to answer these questions to get some of the reputation. The question's basically doomed to be closed and maybe deleted, but I keep seeing people trying their luck to farm some rep points. My question is: doesn't this basically encourage people to ask these low-quality questions, which brings even more of these to the website?

I think that this problem could be solved by adding some warnings and maybe penalties for answering to questions that later got deleted. What do you think about that?


3 Answers 3


It's not just SO. If you have people rep-farming on crap questions, and the questions can't be rehabilitated, you want to get those questions deleted before the rep "sticks". If a post was live on the site for at least 60 days the poster keeps the rep (if it was at least +3). 60 days is long enough to try to fix and reopen a bad question; if you can't do it, delete the whole question, which includes the answers.

I asked a similar question on Moderators.SE because of this issue on another site. On that site we have started doing regular cleanups of closed (non-duplicate) questions; we post a selection of ten such questions to meta every week to get the community involved in either fixing them (if possible) or deleting them (if necessary). Our goal is to improve the site, but if along the way some people learn to practice restraint instead of pouncing on doomed questions, I'll take that as a win too.


Should we discourage answers to low quality questions?

It depends what you mean by "low quality." In general, though, the answer is "yes, we should discourage such answers."

If someone asks an extremely simple, very obvious question that has been asked a million times before—I would personally not answer it, or would answer it in the comments only (and vote to close as a duplicate), unless I felt I could really add something of value by answering it. If it were mostly a duplicate of a more general case question, I might vote to close as a duplicate and also answer the specific case presented, but only if I were going to put some real additional content into my answer. In such a case my answer is mostly for the OP's benefit and anyone else with his exact use case, and my dupe-close-vote is for people seeking the more general information.

That's for low-quality questions which are actually still valid questions. (I should mention that I fully agree with this post so maybe I should say, that's for poorly worded questions that are still valid questions, not for bad questions.)

However, there is another category of low-quality questions, which should just be down-voted and marked "unclear what you're asking." And never answered.

I refer to questions along the lines of: "My script is broken, why do I get this error?" followed by a dump of 50-60 lines of horrible, awful, impossibly broken code that could be interpreted with any of a dozen possible intentions on the part of the author. It doesn't do anything, it could never do anything, it would need to be fully rewritten from scratch to even run, and you can't be 100% sure what the author was trying to do because it's not even good pseudocode.

Answering such a question at all is a disservice to the community. Why? Because (a) it's not a question, and (b) the "answer" is not an answer.

Comment only. (And down-vote, and vote to close.)


If we penalize people for trying to help by assuming their help is intended to farm rep, then we discourage people participating in questions that might be on the borderline.

Let’s say a genuine novice user asks a bad question without realizing it, such as "how do I upload a video to my site?" without specifics (encoding, whether he/she means hosting it on a web page, etc.) And people try to clarify, or at least point this person toward a book that could help them learn the proper terms and the differences between hosting and using a 3rd party service a bit, and come back later, then we are working against the idea of an exchange of knowledge. If this person gets no response, they walk away, learning nothing, and might never come back. This seems counter to the mission of this site. On the flip side, if people do not answer fearing rep-damage, they might not earn the rep they deserve for being helpful to even the clueless. In short it would cast a chilling effect over the site by discouraging participation in answering stupid/bad questions, and people who need answers would suffer.

Does this negative rep for answering bad Qs also discourage faming? Yes, but I think the damage to participation would be greater. Especially for duplicate questions. This idea would be akin to a teacher being penalized for answering bad questions. You might as well just post links to books in the extreme case. The idea is to exchange knowledge, & doing anything to damage that as a way of improving the quality is a bit like chopping off a hand to mend a few broken fingers.

I think a rep rollback, or the other commenter’s idea of catching the rep before it is permanent for obviously farmed Qs is a better solution, that won’t damage the site’s quality in the process.

I get questions each week from people in person or on the phone that tells me they haven’t grasped the basics of how networks or systems works. I help them by explaining that their preconceptions are wrong, and try to explain how things actually work, without a lot of tech jargon — like equating that 4GB of DRAM to the size of a desktop and the 2TB of HD/storage RAM as a filing cabinet to illustrated how working from a filing cabinet (pulling out one page at a time then putting it back, then pulling out another) is slower than spreading multiple pages out on a desk.

So, they learn by showing them how things are connected. After they grasp the basics, they have come back to me with good questions, such as “for a gaming computer, what is more important, the speed of the CPU or the quality of the Video Card?” or better, “Why is a dedicated video card better than an integrated one?” (Answer: no shared RAM). They know a little more, and I have less handholding to do. So, helping novices “level up” is a win-win IMO.


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