43

I've been a programmer for nearly 30 years. Like most of you, I have worked with the guy who sits in the corner, seems to know everything, but whom you have to approach with kid gloves if you need to ask him a question. Stack Exchange feels like this now.

I fully understand the need to try to maintain the quality of content, but other sites seem to manage it in a much less intrusive way.

Recently, my posts were blocked. I checked my history, read the guide on how all the metrics are computed, and I'm none the wiser. So now I am scared to post. I'm even wondering if this post will end up closing my account.

When Gerard M Weinberg created the concept of 'Egoless Programming', he suggested a number of things that still seems to be good and relevant today. One was to 'Treat people who know less than you with respect, deference, and patience'. Another was 'Don’t be “the guy (or girl) in the room"', which I've already alluded to above.

I only ask for help when I really need it, when I've been stuck for hours, and I try to do the work to make my questions concise and not to waste anyone's time. I generally don't answer questions because (a) I don't know the answer, or (b) much more knowledgeable members have already answered it. Does this make me welcome or unwelcome on Stack Exchange? (This is a genuine question; I intend no sarcasm in it.)

  • 6
    Cross-site duplicate: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/251758/… – Mysticial Aug 18 '15 at 14:21
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    It's OK to only ask, and not answer. And don't forget - if you find the answer to one of your own questions before someone else does, self-answering is good. – S.L. Barth Aug 18 '15 at 14:31
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    "Recently, my posts were blocked." how exactly? Those messages are pretty specific in what exactly is wrong. – Braiam Aug 18 '15 at 14:48
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    Stack Exchange is a great place for answers, but anything else and you're blatantly asked to be horrified. Like all good websites, it's slowly entering it's power hungry phase. – insidesin Aug 18 '15 at 15:51
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    @Inside sites would degrade into doughnuts (a big hole in the middle) if we not be as sensitive about quality. Sure, there are some pedants and there are some unjustified downvoting, closing etc. but 1) Ask on meta and people will agree and a course of action will be taken and 2) This gives no excuse to question the actions of people who are trying to keep the site clean. – M.A.R. The Chemical Wizard Aug 18 '15 at 17:51
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    You say other sites are doing better, no examples of these sites though. Vague enough to say people are doing it better and pointing to an empty room – random Aug 18 '15 at 19:56
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    Don't be one of these - slash7.com/2006/12/22/vampires - if you exhibit those behaviors, Stack Exchange will always be a unfriendly place.. – enderland Aug 18 '15 at 20:36
  • This may help: Just posted a question sandbox as a suggestion : meta.stackexchange.com/questions/287305/… – stackex555 Nov 24 '16 at 6:28
  • i also felt this way, and again just now, it was years ago, that i got banned, do same thing, well i'm not sure which is the case as stack never say it very specific. that time i was so terrible at English, not that i become perfect, but now i somehow manage it. it was two year since, that recently i faced lot of issues, that maybe you didn't , so no one never answered the big partiton of my question.. and today, i also yesterday connect my login with my old account which im not sure if thats the case, but i got banned just now, and if no one really know about my question, how should i improve – deadManN Dec 25 '16 at 16:18
  • just as you said it feel scary to post a question... most academical question are answered, they are ranked to the top, though they may be the simplest space consuming question, and i do not say my question are not time consuming, or good, but are harder for other to understand, not all the people get involve them selves with those framework and stuff, and among those who are, maybe there are not much of people who find free time to spend at stack, so we destined to get banned :| – deadManN Dec 25 '16 at 16:23
  • secondly, to @S.L.Barth no it is not OK, i don't say i always look to answer people too, as most of the time i'm at work when i face an issue, and i don't want to see my boss scary face, so i keep low profile. but i also some time notice my reputation, and tell my self hey, whats with that, go look to answer someone, and then i saw questions like my self, well i didn't work with this framework, i don't know what this code says, hey a thing that i understand, well it has two hundred answer below it, which all are the same, all of us have little knowledge and most of time we cant help each other – deadManN Dec 25 '16 at 16:26
97

The other two three answers cover a lot of stuff already and are making sense, but; I need to let this off my chest.


So Stack Overflow was built up. They wanted a "library of good answers to good questions", a "library" of programming knowledge you can't/couldn't obtain in other parts of internet because they didn't hold up somewhat pedantic but useful standards required for a resource of good-quality answers.

It was a small city, and was growing. People in small cities are more friendly. They know a lot of their neighbors. Mr. and Mrs. A's son happily runs to their neighbor's (Mr. and Mrs. B) backyard to play with their son as the parents of the two families joyfully watch these cheerful moments.

There was also a happy watchman. He guided tourists and visitors and gave 'em free advice on how things go on in the city.

But,

The city didn't remain small. It grew big, bigger and bigger. The watchman guided 10 tourists every day, but now this has turned into 1000.

Now this isn't the happy small city it used to be; the city now has robbers, homeless people in the streets, starving beggars and people who'll do anything for "money".

The watchman used to guide 10 people. 2 of them asked very similar questions. 1 of them didn't follow the city's rules. But he embraced them with lengthy explanations. "It's OK if I explain it to this guy for the fourth time. It's not like I'm gonna die or anything."

But now,

a comes and asks "How to parse HTML with Regex?". The watchman says "Come on! I explained it in detail here, a few years ago. Have a look! :)" Person b comes and ask Plzzz debug my codez and the watchman sighs and says "Unfortunately, we don't do that here." c comes and says "I don't knowz the codez. I'm suck. Plzz give me teh codez" The watchman and Mr. A get disappointed. "Something's wrong; we didn't get these things back then".

d, e, f, g etc etc etc. come and ask the same questions. The watchman is tired now. Mrs. B was really easy going and tolerating bad behavior, but this is too much.

While we're at it, z comes and answers a bad question. "What? I didn't have enough 'money'!" y watches him and says "why should he get money for doing what I can do?" and joins him in a money hunt. x joins them. w imitates them.

The watchman watches this from afar, gets a bit frustrated, and then . . .

People in the city aren't happy anymore. There's suspicion, lying and cheating way more than it used to be before.

Some of the natives give up, buckle up and move somewhere else. Some of the natives get angry at the newcomers. Some natives complain to the authority that "I'm not enjoying this anymore." Watchman and his friends don't guide anymore. Instead, they handcuff outlaws. They're tired of guiding people over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over.

Some natives look for solutions. Some just ignore the outlaws. Some keep being harsh to them. A very, very small percentage of the natives still struggle to go backwards in time and bring that happy little city back. But it's a big city, and its problems.


This is a very exhaustive demonstration of what's happening in SO. I only have an account in SO because this bot posts alerts about spam there, and I've started flagging them.

Now these are the sides in the argument, and the people in the current mega-city:

  • People who like to keep quality (AKA watchman and his friends)
  • People who just want to post answers and questions for fun (AKA The A & B families)
  • The majority of people with bad posts on SO (AKA People who like to bend the rules to get what they want, even if it destroys the image of the city AKA outlaws)
  • People who unknowingly post posts that need some twitches and fixes (AKA you, most probably)
  • People who are watching all of this and sighing, and aren't participating in SO anymore
  • Rep-farmers (AKA people without money)

Now your group is a direct victim of the current of sourness in the city:

Watchman: I hereby arrest you (close your Q) for violating the code principle of the city (SO help center)

You: Huh, I didn't even know!

That's where some of the outlaws or some uninformed people go on meta and get sour "Why aren't you helping me? If you can't answer me, step aside!" Sometimes the watchman asks himself: "Why not leave this place and find my utopia?" But then he sees a flower (A good Q, a "thanks" to mods) and realizes: "This is my utopia. I came from hell some time ago in a hope that my and my friends' handcuffs will keep it from burning, just like the rest of the world."

Now I can't speak for the feelings of the watchmen, as I'm not one, and they tend to choose different ways to counter with the pollution of the mega-city, but we should be thanking them for not letting the city burst in flames.

  • 14
    Salute! Couldn't dream of writing it any better. – Shadow Wizard Aug 18 '15 at 20:46
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    See, we need more flowers ... – rene Aug 18 '15 at 20:52
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    Creepy picture, but excellent use of a story. – HDE 226868 Aug 18 '15 at 20:56
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  • Very great answer, although there are a few flaws I believe. You say The watchman guided 10 tourists every day, but now this has turned into 1000. I don't think there was only one watchman was there? There should be atleast 10 watchmen by now, so the watchmen should be pretty much okay. And with more and more people in a city, the vigilante forces also increase. Cities have their own blocks, and each block lives usually independent of the next block. Most of my above arguments can be easily translated to the SO case. Oh, and by the way, it's nice that ChemSE is still a happy town right? – Unitato Jul 11 '17 at 12:11
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    @Uni the watchmen would've been okay if their number increased as fast as tourists, but that's never the case. Probably not even in real cities. On SO, probably for every 1000 tourist, only one hardworking watchman turns up right now. (I obviously don't have the numbers but it might be even crazier than that) – M.A.R. The Chemical Wizard Jul 11 '17 at 13:25
54

I decided to look through your own questions and give you a personalized answer. Here are my takeaways, in no particular order:

  1. You haven't answered any questions.
    • Stack Overflow discourages people only taking knowledge from the community, and not giving any back.
    • Having no upvoted questions is probably the main reason you are question blocked. There is nothing in your questions that would suggest any human did it manually, you simply triggered the "too many questions, not enough answers" block.
    • While you don't need to answer questions to remove the block, doing so is the easiest way to remove it. See: What can I do when getting “We are no longer accepting questions/answers from this account”?
      • Note: these must be well-received answers (receive upvotes or accept checkmarks); spamming useless answers will, obviously, only make things worse for you.
  2. Your questions are often filled with fluff.
  3. You don't accept answers of the people who help you out, even though you say thank you in the comments. You've only accepted an answer once.
    • Click the hollow checkmark next to the vote button to accept an answer.
    • If people work hard to help you out, the least you can do is give them 15 imaginary internet points. People notice.
    • This can result in people not upvoting your questions.
    • Examples of you posting a comment that says "thank you" but you didn't accept the answer: One Two Three Four Five
  4. You don't use proper markdown in your posts.
  5. You don't post Minimal, Complete, Verifiable Examples.

The bottom line is this: Thousands (millions?) of people use this site to help others and get help every day. Perhaps it is not working for you, not because of

the guy who sits in the corner, seems to know everything, but whom you have to approach with kid gloves if you need to ask him a question.

but because you are not contributing your own knowledge to the community and not following the site guidelines. Don't take this the wrong way, you seem like a very nice person; you asked a question and I am answering it. I hope you take this answer in the spirit it is intended; constructive criticism.

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    I don't believe SO has a requirement that you should answer questions. Are there any references for that? – S.L. Barth Aug 18 '15 at 19:59
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    @S.L.Barth You're probably fine if your questions get upvoted, but his haven't been. See: meta.stackexchange.com/a/86998/200235 – durron597 Aug 18 '15 at 20:13
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    @S.L.Barth - there isn't a requirement, but one of the ways to avoid.get out of a question block is to have good quality answers. It's not the only way, but it helps. – ChrisF Aug 18 '15 at 20:15
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    With all due respect, adding "in no particular order" doesn't make the answer look less prioritized. I think that's just the nature of numbers. If there's really no order, perhaps changing everything to bullets would help. Also, would you consider removing, at least, point 1 and its first bullet? It has been made clear in comments that answering is not required, but we know that comments don't carry the same weight or visibility as answers. Also, your explanation of what probably triggered the ban seems more useful, at least to me, than what precedes it. Thanks! – Sue Aug 18 '15 at 21:43
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    @Sue With all due respect, no. – durron597 Aug 18 '15 at 21:52
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    @Sue (1) does the fact that durron597 uses numbers instead of bullets interfere with understanding what he is saying? (2) durron597 is right: people who only ask questions but don't share their own knowledge are not really contributing to Stack Exchange, and are thus less important than someone who asks and answers questions. – user160606 Aug 18 '15 at 22:26
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    @Hamlet 1) It interferes with understanding the way he's saying it. Writing that thoughts are in no particular order, and then numbering them, looks contradictory. If they're in no particular order, why are numbers necessary? 2) Questions create answers, so even people who ask and don't answer are contributing, although I agree that all of us should be voting and accepting answers. Do you and others feel that grading people on a scale of importance fosters a happy community? If so, I can't fight that. – Sue Aug 19 '15 at 1:08
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    @Sue I wrote them in the order that I thought of them. I only added the "no particular order" bit because of S.L. Barth's earlier comment. I thought of it first because OP stated he was in a question ban and he seemed reasonable enough and I wondered why; that's why I wrote this whole thing in the first place. Finally, I don't answer to you and I can phrase my answer however I please. If you don't like it, downvote me. – durron597 Aug 19 '15 at 1:12
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    People who only ask questions are contributing @Hamlet; the people who answer need something to answer. As with everything it's an ecosystem of sorts - and arrogantly ignoring that everyone needs each other to survive doesn't help. What's written in this answer is that answering will help someone out of the ban and make it less likely they'll ever enter it - please don't read too much into that. – ben is uǝq backwards Aug 19 '15 at 6:12
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    This is a good answer but is there any particular reason you're being so obstreperous in the comments? It seems needless. – AakashM Aug 19 '15 at 9:04
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    @AakashM I think Sue's comments are just as needless. Asking me to change fundamental parts of my answer with a snarky tone are going to be returned in kind, especially when there was no discussion of whether I agree with Stack Exchange policy or the cultural perception of someone who only asks questions; I was simply stating why OP is blocked. If I really wanted to be obstreperous, I probably would have said something like "you are a help vampire"; I didn't say that because I didn't (and don't) mean it. – durron597 Aug 19 '15 at 12:22
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    @durron597 He has one (not zero) undeleted closed question. I strongly suspect that he has some number of deleted questions. And again, two of your reasons are flat wrong, and your third point is even actively harmful; badgering people to accept answers makes the quality of the site worse, not better, and as I said, two of your points are not dramatic effects; they are problems, but they are not the kinds of problems that cause as dramatic effect as you claim they do. – Servy Aug 19 '15 at 15:06
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    @Servy You are completely correct that no one should accept answers if there aren't any good answers. However, THIS USER has said thank you to people REPEATEDLY (I found 5 before I got bored) without accepting their answer. See edit. – durron597 Aug 19 '15 at 15:13
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    The only quibble I have with this answer is the bit about answering to avoid the post-ban; it's not wrong, but it's not right either: you could post 50 answers per day and still get question-banned if none of those answers help anyone... Which is the crucial factor here: if you're not contributing something of value to others (questions, answers, edits), eventually you'll be asked to stop contributing entirely. – Shog9 Aug 19 '15 at 16:19
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    @Servy You're assuming that people vote according to your own reasons, but we know that's not true: people vote for all kinds of personal reasons, not all of which are necessarily rational, let alone match your own idea of correct. “This guy doesn't even bother to tip the people who help him” is certainly a possible reason why voters don't tip him. It's not “right” or “wrong” as you're asserting, it simply is. And it's useful to suggest that the asker might be burning (very tiny) bridges that way. – SevenSidedDie Aug 19 '15 at 20:34
44

Imagine you are now a teacher in highschool, standing in front of 30 students, who all have less knowledge and experience than you.

When they all behave well and ask proper questions one by one, all is good and you can be calm and answer politely and with all the respect in the world.

However, when 29 out of the 30 just shout in the same time "plz halp!", "I needz help now!" etc etc, you can't possibly treat each of them with respect and dignity. You must shout to be heard, you must calm them down with punishments.

In my opinion, this summarize what's going on in Stack Overflow. Can't tell about other sites though.

  • 5
    This, is it. – Mysticial Aug 18 '15 at 15:13
  • No need to shout nor impart punishment... just tell them to read THE DAMN BOOK with a smile and all will be fine :) – Braiam Aug 18 '15 at 15:16
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    @Braiam Textbooks are horrid these days... teaching all sorts of crap. I wouldn't want a kid to be forced to only have the text for answers without having the guidance of an adult... with their own set of hangups... we're so screwed. – Catija Aug 18 '15 at 15:18
  • @Cat and those kids will rule the world one day! – Shadow Wizard Aug 18 '15 at 15:20
  • Sorry Mr Wizard, but I don't really agree with your analogy here :( Stack Overflow has many answerers, which would translate in your example to many teachers. Your analogy would only be true (and I'll be accurate here) if Stack Overflow only had 1 answerer per 30 askers. And whether this is true or not, the model is different, because when asking someone verbally to their face they need to answer there and then, whereas with Stack Overflow questions can happily sit for 5 or 10 minutes, even an hour, until someone gets to it and answers it. – James Aug 18 '15 at 15:28
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    @James Let's not get pedantic. Sure, SO doesn't have 1 answerer and 30 askers. But he's not too far off on the ratio of 1/30. I'd actually argue that the ratio is even worse than that given that most askers come and go when they realize that SO isn't a do-my-homework-for-me help desk. – Mysticial Aug 18 '15 at 15:30
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    @Mysticial I was not being pedantic. One is a physical person getting 30 people shouting questions at them - it is physically only possible to answer one at a time as we have one set of ears, one brain, and one voice to reply. On a website, while they may well be all required to be answered one at a time, they are recorded and stored and can be accessed any time. This would be like the school kids writing down all their answers on paper, handing them to the teacher, and the teacher then reading the questions one at a time and saying the answer. – James Aug 18 '15 at 15:34
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    So essentially Stack Overflow are whining themselves instead of teaching the 29 kids to ask better questions? That's not how you keep your job as a teacher. – insidesin Aug 18 '15 at 15:53
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    @Inside how much teaching can you bear? I've seen a lot of people trying to help others, but the amount of bad questions and homework vampires sucks the sense of charity off you. – M.A.R. The Chemical Wizard Aug 18 '15 at 17:10
  • @inɒ is right on spot. I consider updating the answer to focus on that aspect. – Shadow Wizard Aug 18 '15 at 17:47
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    Same on Ask Ubuntu to be honest. Just people downvote less. – Tim Aug 19 '15 at 8:36
18

I see the things you see on the network here too. But it isn't all bad. Since a short time I have been trying to contribute to Seasoned Advice, a low-traffic site. I find the people very welcoming and very helpful. Posts that seem to be off-topic are rewritten by the community to make them on-topic.

This behavior isn't the same across the entire network, you see every community stands on its own.

I often feel 'hostile' myself if I come across a question that has been dealt with for 100 times already, here on MSE but also on SO. Often, a simple search would have yielded enough results to help. A little effort would have been enough. Often such posts are answered immediately with low-quality answers. That frustrates a lot.

On SO, we are very fast on closing questions, and people find that often harsh, but it protects the community as a whole to keep the quality up.

  • 2
    I did mention that I appreciate the need to maintain quality. But - again as I said - I have been a professional programmer for nearly 30 years, and so if I am feeling unwelcome on SO, I can't imagine what a complete newbie must feel. – Patrick Aug 18 '15 at 16:06
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    @Patrick That is of course an unfortunate side-effect. If you have a better way of solving the signal-to-noise ratio than the self-help we currently provide combined with the existing rate-limiting system i'm sure many people here (or on SO's meta) would be happy to hear it. Just make sure it isn't a duplicate, because such feature requests seem to come up pretty often.. – Kevin B Aug 18 '15 at 19:06
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    Although still new, I spend a lot of time here, mostly learning and voting. I've read these types of questions, following history & dupes, going back many years. They make me sad. Thanks for this kind, balanced, answer. In fact, I found SE through Seasoned Advice. I rarely cook, but have been told that voting & editing are important too. My other home sites welcome my very few questions and answers. The people at the smaller sites are what keep me here. If I do any kind thing, I learned it from them! Thanks for giving them some public credit on MSE. – Sue Aug 18 '15 at 23:50
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    @Sue of course. They deserve it. And not just them, a lot of small sites do. This is just the one I am familiar with. – Patrick Hofman Aug 19 '15 at 6:08
-5

I am a new user (although I have been solving problems with stackoverflow answers for years) and I must admit there seems to be a certain hostility to newcomers, both implicit and explicit. Here is an example:

"It looks like you might need a break (a break? This sounds like "Bob... You've been working a lot... Maybe you should, you know, take a vacation... Come back in a month and start fresh." when an employee does something borderline insane) - take a breather and come back soon!

You've asked 1 question recently, which has not been received very well by the community (has not been received well "by the community"...? All of them? And nobody liked me/my post? Well at least I got this kind automated message to soften the blow...). Everyone learns at their own pace (Again, subtly condescending), and it’s okay to make some mistakes. However, the reception your questions have received thus far might ultimately block your account from asking questions entirely ("ultimately block", sounds very serious. Am I going to receive a perma ban? Should I be shaking? Seems drastic).

And I'm assuming that the same person/group of people wrote a large portion of the other automated responses/documentation. I also think it is safe to assume that the tone is very similar as well. I get this sort of "slap on the wrist" all because one (one, not the entire community) person came across my post and voted it down. I'm not shook up about it, but I guarantee you that users are less likely to return because of this. One user here suggested that a downvote must accompany a constructive comment, which would have helped exponentially more than the above message I quoted. What was helpful, was the box to the right of my post which generated suggestions as I typed out my question.

What I am starting to observe is an "Us vs Them" mentality. Look at Dead's reply. It is an upvoted answer which approximately 50 users agree with (or found humorous...) I appreciate longer, well thought out answers, however, this answer seems to be primarily fueled by frustration (hence the "off my chest"). O.K. kudos for using an analogy to convey an idea. But is a city really the best comparison? If anything, the users of a website are the most geographically dispersed of any population. Cities face problems like crime and homelessness because they are overgrown as well as crammed into one area. One densely populated area, where people compete for resources (space, money, reputation/respect). There is no reason stackexchange can't be a distributed network of small towns, each with their own town guide and community.

Has a user really ever came on stackexchange and said "can i have teh codez??" Do we really need to employ such hyperbole? I understand that new users not following the rules is frustrating and detrimental to the quality of the site (which is very high) but you must also allow these people time to conform to the standards of the community. It shouldn't need reminding that websites can be accessed from any part of the world, and that sometimes a given user's grasp of English or age will deviate several standards below the mean. That doesn't mean you should be hostile or condescending towards them.

I'm not telling you, the expert, how to feel when you read a lazy question/answer. Or what to feel when you see another newcomer disobey the rules. All I'm asking is that you simply not wear your emotions and let it seep into your responses/actions. I think that ignoring a submission would be more effective than a negative/hostile comment or answer. A polite and professional response is ideal. And if you browse through stackexchange, upvoting and downvoting as you go, I only ask that a downvote that puts a 0 point post to -1 points is also accompanied by an explanation in the form of a comment. A person can't be reasonably expected to know what they've done wrong unless there is something connecting the reinforcement and the action. A -1 all by itself does not constitute a causal explanation.

This is an honest and earnest answer only because I think that this site is being held back by these tendencies (which are symptomatic of any online community, yes). If this site could better channel newcomers and integrate them with the community, the website would benefit (as well as the newcomer) immensely.

  • 2
    Years? You have 3 reputation at SO? So are you just taking knowledge without helping others? Has a user submitted a question, were the question specifically asked us to write code for them, I see 50 of those questions daily at SO. Your account is also only an hour old. You have asked a single question, it has 1 vote, perhaps it's not us just consider accepting it might not be us. – Ramhound Aug 25 '16 at 0:21
  • Yes, years. I just created an account. Yes, I have asked a single question, because my account was blocked from asking any more questions, which was the entire point of me sitting down and writing a lengthy post giving my feedback. Did you read it? – transposed messenger Oct 9 '16 at 21:39
  • 1
    Yes, people do ask for teh codez. It really happens... – Rory Alsop Dec 25 '16 at 14:58
  • It is obvious from your post here that you're not the user that would write "give me teh codez" but indeed they're many out there, with even worse English. || The analogy to a city works just as much as demonstrating how they affect the city. Of course it's not perfect, but sends the message across. || You seem to be frustrated about my frustrated tone, but this is indeed something I needed to say for a long time, and the post was only a spark. There are numerous users that come to sites like this and post something rantish, or even a feedback like yours. However, such feedback isn't fruitful. – M.A.R. The Chemical Wizard Mar 29 '17 at 7:53
  • [cont.] It isn't fruitful because it's really general, and more like a "You suck. Improve" message. It's good to identify a problem, but as you said, not showing how to change but asking for a change will not work. || And there are a lot of misconceptions around about the downvote function, which are usually debunked/clarified by asking on the meta. – M.A.R. The Chemical Wizard Mar 29 '17 at 7:56

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