9

I recently posted a question which I wasn't sure whether it was good quality or not, but I decided to post it anyway because I really needed some advice. It turns out it was not a good question - it received 3 downvotes and was then deleted. But before it was deleted it managed to attract a number of helpful comments, as well as two very good answers.

The conclusion I take away from this experience is, if I have a bad question that I know is going to be downvoted and closed, I should ignore that and ask it anyway, because the benefits of getting some good answers is worth some minor rep loss.

This seems like a bad thing for the site as a whole, as it wastes the time of the people who write answers that are never going to be seen once the question is closed.

I can't think of any good solution right now, so I'll just throw it out there: The current systems do not have any way to discourage people asking questions they know are going to get closed. Is this something we just have to accept, or can some mechanism be put in place to give askers a reason not to do this?

It's also possible they do have such a mechanism already, that I'm just not aware of - in that case, it doesn't work, because no deterrent can be effective if it is not noticed.

  • Hmm. . . AFAIK There are some filters on the biggest SEs that prevent some questions from being posted; showing an error message. But what percent of people actually know their question is gonna get closed?! – M.A.R. The Chemical Wizard Jul 3 '15 at 8:43
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    There is a question ban mechanism that is going to kick in pretty soon if you keep doing this – John Dvorak Jul 3 '15 at 8:43
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    @M.A.Ramezani No idea, but I suspect the majority of people who think like this will not talk about it - it's the free rider problem, and they don't want a mechanism introduced to restrict it, as it benefits them. – Benubird Jul 3 '15 at 8:56
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    @JanDvorak That's good, but I didn't know about that - perhaps there should be a warning of this in the "this post was deleted" message? – Benubird Jul 3 '15 at 8:56
  • at SO, they attempt to address this using triage system which auto-detects potentially troublesome questions and keeps them off site pages unless reviewers decide it's okay (this system is in turn a part of a larger effort known as se-quality-project). At smaller sites, there is typically nothing like that: people are free to dump anything over there and can expect helpful comments / answers – gnat Jul 3 '15 at 13:47
  • @JanDvorak I don't see how banning bad question askers is going to solve anything. Most of the bad question askers can't remember their account credentials anyways because they don't care about the quality of the site - they only care about getting an answer, and will attack you if you don't immediately provide it like you are their personal debugger. – crush Jul 6 '15 at 18:36
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There are actually a number of measures already in place. (First, let me address a misconception: if your question is closed, that won't stop anyone from seeing answers to it. It just stops new answers being added.)

The most important mechanism we have is editing. If your question is missing information, and you reveal that information in comments, someone else can edit it into the question. (Or you can do so once you realize you haven't provided enough information.) If your language is not well formed, someone else can fix your spelling, grammar, punctuation and so on. Sometimes we can't really see what the question is until it has some answers and the OP has commented on those answers. Often what starts out as a bad question can end up as a good one after the community works on it together.

The other mechanism is the automated ban: if many of your questions are closed, deleted, and downvoted you will find you can't post as often, or even at all. This is supposed to encourage you to take more care. Questions that are a bad fit for SE sites (requests for lists or offsite resources, polls, rants disguised as questions, and so on) can't be made good by editing, and people who won't stop posting them will eventually be stopped from posting.

But before that happens, often our third and most powerful mechanism kicks in - you like it here. You got useful answers even to your not very good question. You feel grateful. You like this place. You want to keep getting answers. You want to help too, the way you were just helped. So you learn how to write a better question - maybe you even discover meta and learn more about the inner workings of the network. That's a sure path to better questions, better answers, and some of that community effort I mentioned above, this time used to clean up other people's posts as well as your own. This is the real secret to SE: once people care, they want to make it better. And they do.

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    "Often what starts out as a bad question can end up as a good one after the community works on it together." - I'd like to preserve my faith in community. Do you have any specific examples in mind? – John Dvorak Jul 3 '15 at 19:08
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First of all, define "bad question", why was it bad? was it off-topic? was it a dupe? was it broad? was it opinion based? each one of those is indeed "bad", some of them have a very a good mechanism implemented to prevent you from posting such questions. For example, when you start writing a question, you will get a list of similar questions to prevent you from writing a question that has already been asked and answered. Also, when you use "Good" or some other words the site will notify you of the possibility of your question being subjective. These are good mechanisms, but people always ignore them and then complain!

Anyway, you asked a "bad" question (-3), you got some answers, do you think this means the answers were a good thing? not at all. One of the problems IMO is the people who answer bad questions. These usually are people who are seeking some rep, so they ignore the rules and provide answers hoping that they get any rep out of that. IMO, these people are one of the reasons why people still ask bad question and why these question left open for longer than they should be.

  • off-topic, or dupe, or broad; any of these. The answers (in my case) were good - they were excellent answers actually, that did a good job of solving my problem. So I guess what you are saying, is that we really need a mechanism to punish answerers of questions that later get deleted? That's not a bad idea, but it seems a little unfair to them. How would you implement it? – Benubird Jul 3 '15 at 8:59
  • If the question was off-topic and you get a good answer, then it is only good to the OP, not to the whole SE... – Nean Der Thal Jul 3 '15 at 9:01
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    Yes, exactly. So how do we encourage people to NOT post questions like these, when they know that they will still get a useful answer? – Benubird Jul 3 '15 at 9:54
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(Hats off to you for being honest in the interest of the site!)

if I have a bad question that I know is going to be downvoted and closed, I should ignore that and ask it anyway

I absolutely agree with your observations, this has irked me for some time.

In fact, I'll go one step further and point out that:

Bad questions are ok

They most certainly shouldn't be, but bad questions are ok.
What? Why on Earth..

Because the site is run by us lot, the community, and if the community is divided in opinion and actions, whereby some of us answer bad questions, and some vote to close, then which side is right?

Worse than that, which side does a new user choose? Well, the one which gets them their answer of course, as per your observations!

So we have a really poor question about to be closed as off-topic. Someone answers it, upvotes the OP, and then continues to support the OP in comments and answer edits even after the question is closed as off-topic (this all does happen). In this scenario, the community is conflicted, and as a whole unit is effectively stating:
"Some of us allow this question - some of us don't".

Some time ago in a terrible question, which had something like 7 downvotes, I voted to close and politely mentioned to the OP why it was poor.
The OP then argued quite strongly that I was wrong, and even though their question had been closed since we started discussing it, they stated there were only some people on the site who think such questions should be closed.

The OP's argument was backed up by there being a couple of answers which were upvoted at least 2 score (so not just OP voting).

How can you argue with that when it is precisely true? The users who answered and those who upvoted the answers all agreed the question is ok to be on the site - otherwise they wouldn't have answered or upvoted.

I know the answers can be from users just wanting to help, and I've done that once or twice myself, but only when the OP is decent and just trying to learn. The question wasn't lazy or OP being demanding, they were just new and trying to learn etc.
Answers also come from new users trying to get rep, and I have sympathy for them.

However, neither scenario means we should turn a blind eye to poor questions being allowed and answered.


What can we do?

I'm not sure what we can do about it. I've seen various proposals to combat poor questions, and I have racked my brains for months thinking of a solution which stops users getting answers to bad questions. But I have yet to think of or see an idea which would work well, certainly not without punishing anyone in some way.
And no punishment is needed, we just need to stop users from getting answers on bad question so they have to post a better question to get answers - and then other users see this is the way the site works.

The problem is, every solution I have thought of causes an undeserved outcome to users.
For example, when a question is closed as "unclear" or "too broad" (maybe other reasons) then any user who posted an answer loses their rep from the answer (rep is reversed - positive and negative votes).

This has the advantage that it caters for users who just want to answer to help the OP even though they know it's a bad question and will be closed, and combats users just wanting rep regardless of question quality - they get nothing.

But then we risk people not answering, even possibly decent questions. And, while it's very unfortunate, it is a fact that for users to gain rep there does need to be an allowance for those answering lower quality questions.
If we limited answers to only good questions, it's arguable that there is not enough questions for everyone to answer and gain rep.
(I don't know if that is true, but it's certainly an important consideration.)

But such caveats is why I won't make a feature request for that or even something similar.


But we do most certainly need some way to:

  • Hinder bad questions from even being asked
  • Stop bad questions from having answers
  • Show in general that bad questions are actually not welcomed here and will not work - they are closed, no answer given
  • Show that to get an answer, you simply have to ask a good question

There might be a simple solution lurking in someone's mind.
Or perhaps the fix to this requires something more complex, like various different outcomes to OP and answerers from a bad question which is closed.

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    If a fix requires the usage of ranged weapons - would you accept such proposal? There is someone whom I would absolutely trust with such a decision. – John Dvorak Jul 3 '15 at 19:04
-3

This isn't ideal, sure, but I have a hard time figuring out who this actively hurts.

The experts and enthusiasts who inhabit Stack Exchange enjoy helping people out, even when the question isn't exactly on topic, or is a bad question.

The existing community voting/flagging system works very well, and very quickly. The additional "bad question" heuristics actually work to reduce the load, even before people have to vote on them.

And the "we are no longer accepting questions from this account" takes care of repeat offenders.

Indeed, while this is still a problem, we already have a number of things that manage it successfully. I don't know that we really need to explore further options.

If you still feel strongly about this, though, you'll need to brain storm ways to catch situations like yours. I don't think this is a trivial, or automatable task, though.

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    "The existing community voting/flagging system works very well, and very quickly." Define "works" and "quickly". Go check the PHP tag. give it 2 hours and you'll see a handful of really poor questions, downvoted and some closed, but with several upvoted answers. It's a losing battle in PHP sometimes, and I'm sure other tags will be the same. The point is, as per OP's observations and first hand experience, a user can ask a really poor and lazy question, and get an answer or two. This should not happen as regularly as it does. – James Jul 4 '15 at 0:27
  • stackoverflow.com/questions/31315965/… It's a well formatted question, but very poor as it's essentially asking "how do I loop". Within 7 mins there were SIX answers!! I see really good questions asked which barely get a couple of answers. If that had been closed very quickly as "too localised" or "too broad" then the time spent on those answers would have been somewhere else more deserved. And now the OP thinks "oh, I just ask for what I want and get a plethora of answers to choose from". – James Jul 9 '15 at 11:35
  • @James It is neither too localized or too broad. At best it might be a duplicate, but Stack Overflow users learned a long time ago that duplicate hunting is thankless work. It's not a bad question. – Adam Davis Jul 9 '15 at 12:58
  • The question is terrible for this site. I commented "what have you tried - hint foreach" OP replied "I tried that but nothing happens". Where is this attempted code, or explanation of their attempts? Where is any code, they just pasted an output array, no code. The question is "how do I loop an array", which has been asked many times in different ways, so numerous keywords will return the OP to their answer, if they search. It also helps no one else because we already have many answers to this question, and is unlikely to be found searching as it's localised to the OP "Loop through Resultset" – James Jul 9 '15 at 15:25
  • That said, we all see things from different angles, which is why we have community moderating and require multiple votes to action things. So, we'll just have to agree to disagree here :) – James Jul 9 '15 at 15:26
  • @James I suppose in a roundabout way this is merely another duplicate of these: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/40971/… See also the sidebar linked questions. – Adam Davis Jul 9 '15 at 15:29

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