Recently MSE experienced terrible flood of outright off-topic debugging questions. I would like to learn more about users asking these questions.

Specifically, I would want to find out how many of these askers were banned or warned or somehow else asking limited at Stack Overflow.

I expect these stats to help understand if maybe current MSE guidance (including flashing system banner) is insufficient to help new users understand site topics or maybe some (most?) of of them are simply desperate and determined to ask their question wherever possible no matter what.

Approach to get requested statistics has been explained and used in answers to similar statistics request at Programmers meta:

accounts... which have/had accounts on Stack Overflow... hit some kind of block on Stack Overflow...
sockpuppets... the IP addresses associated with those posts... how many had been associated with blocked questions on Stack Overflow

Below screen shot shows example of questions I wonder about:


You see, askers of these questions seem to ignore the prominent banner that refers them to more appropriate site - "Have a programming question? Head back to Stack Overflow" - as if they desperately want to try their luck no matter what.

They don't delete questions even when these are closed and heavily downvoted - as if they desperately hope to have them answered at least in comments while question is still visible.

Or maybe above is wrong impression and these askers are regular legitimate users who just did not realise that this site is not Stack Overflow. Without stats it's only a blind guess.

  • 5
    The recent flood got nothing to do with post ban, it is due to a network wide notification about change in ToS, which leads right here when clicked. That said, naturally post banned users pay less attention, so got "better" chance to make the mistake of staying here when trying to ask. Apr 21, 2016 at 13:40
  • @ShadowWizard maybe. "Without stats it's only a blind guess."
    – gnat
    Apr 21, 2016 at 13:41
  • 2
    I haven't pulled stats, but I've only seen I think 2 users (out of dozens) post here that were question-banned on SO.
    – Laura
    Apr 21, 2016 at 13:42
  • please pull the stats @Laura - just like Shog and bluefeet did for similar request at Programmers meta. "Without stats it's only a blind guess."
    – gnat
    Apr 21, 2016 at 13:44
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    @gnat I'll need a bit of time, but weI should be able to pull some stats.
    – Taryn
    Apr 21, 2016 at 13:48
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    Note - we raised the minimum rep to ask to 2 from 1 (which should be just enough friction to slow this down) for the next few days. That said, yeah, we're very interested in finding out why that became such a high pressure fire hose. My guess is, people didn't realize that they changed sites after getting the inbox (and possibly email) notification, then proceeded to do what they came to SO to do, which was ask a programming question. I think that explains the majority of cases here, not many were blocked on SO. But we're digging.
    – user50049
    Apr 21, 2016 at 13:48
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    That is awesome @Tim, better update your answer as well with this. IMO that minimum rep should stick for good. Apr 21, 2016 at 13:52
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    @TimPost that's possible too. Experienced users like us perceive banner and difference in sites visuals as prominent but we can't tell if this is so for newcomers. Actually if "debugging" questions asked here were of better quality I would also think that this is more probable reason (though I would ask for stats anyway, "Without stats it's only a blind guess.":)
    – gnat
    Apr 21, 2016 at 13:54
  • 1
    That banner is tiny and weak, and if you're so unobservant you're asking programming questions here, you're not going to notice it.
    – user1228
    Apr 21, 2016 at 14:01
  • @ShadowWizard I think that minimum rep (2) will eventually have to go. It makes a barrier for legitimate users who didn't reach local sites rep for association bonus. And I doubt that we want to require participation barrier (approved edit suggestions and upvoted answers) to block users willing to ask at MSE
    – gnat
    Apr 21, 2016 at 14:02
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    @gnat true, and sadly enough I have to agree. I was expressing my "wishful thinking" rather than my actual, logical, way of thinking. Apr 21, 2016 at 14:06
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    @TimPost are you sure that you set min rep 2 for asking and not for answering? Here's a guy with 1 rep who asks why he can't answer: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/278687/… :)
    – gnat
    Apr 21, 2016 at 14:17
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    @gnat Was a bug, just built out a fix - should be enforced shortly. Setting wasn't checked because MSE isn't technically a child meta site.
    – user50049
    Apr 21, 2016 at 14:23
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    @Tim it's child meta of stackexchange.com, isn't it? Apr 21, 2016 at 14:24
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    Couple numbers since I have 'em handy: 120 off-topic questions posted here out of 1.5 million people who've seen the inbox notification so far (roughly 80% of those who received the notification haven't seen it yet, and a good portion of those probably never will).
    – Shog9
    Apr 21, 2016 at 21:51

1 Answer 1


The Terms of Service inbox notification hit the inbox on April 19th, so I ran some numbers since that date to hopefully answer your questions.

Since April 19, 2016, there have been:

  • 194 questions asked, by
  • 166 different users, of these
  • 153 had an account on Stack Overflow, of which
  • 15 users hit a question block on Stack Overflow in the past 30 days

From these 15 users,

  • 15 questions were posted
  • 12 were closed
  • 13 were deleted
  • 11 scored < 0
  • 2 received at least one answer
  • 2 scored > 0

Comparing it to the rest of the questions asked:

  • 116 questions were closed in total
  • 130 were deleted
  • 122 scored < 0
  • 30 received at least one answer
  • 55 scored > 0

Then I checked to see if the IP addresses of these users were blocked in the past 30 days on Stack Overflow, of them only 20 IP Addresses had been blocked at some point in the past 30 days; this doesn't mean they were blocked when they posted on MSE. The posts from these addresses consisted of:

  • 23 questions, of which
  • 17 were closed
  • 20 were deleted
  • 19 scored < 0
  • 3 received at least one answer
  • 3 scored > 0


While the site was inundated with off-topic questions, only 9% of the users asking had hit a block on Stack Overflow at some point in the last 30 days. I don't think the problem was because of users hitting a block, I'd guess it mostly came from users not realizing they went to a different site when they read the updated Terms of Service.

It's definitely something we need to think about in the future when we send inbox notifications to the entire network of users.

  • very interesting, thanks! combined with other stats mentioned by Shog in comments - that 100+ misguided users were "out of 1.5 million people who've seen the inbox notification" it's likely that notification hit them just in the moment when they were going to ask a question. So they followed it (to MSE, without realising that) and after reading just clicked Ask Question as they were going to do a moment ago (when they were at SO:)
    – gnat
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:34
  • ...of course this is just a guess since we can't read their mind
    – gnat
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:35
  • Yes, there is some speculation in that @gnat. But assuming they came to a site to ask a question, read the notification, they were sent to MSE, then one could guess that they didn't pay attention to the fact that they switched sites and asked it here. We just need to figure out a better way of notifying the entire network of a change.
    – Taryn
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:38
  • hard to explain these stats differently. If MSE visuals were indeed confusing, we'd have much more users trying to ask, not tiny 100+ of 1.5M. And askers weren't desperate to post because only 9% were blocked. That leaves only question why were these very few folks so rushing to hit "Ask Question" - to which a sensible explanation is that they were going to do just that when they got the notification. As for how to ensure that this won't happen again, that's an interesting UX challenge. Maybe notification would better refer them to some dedicated page, not to MSE discussion
    – gnat
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:48
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    At least for me @gnat, I'd think sending users to a blog post announcing it may have been better - no asking questions from there. But live and learn!
    – Taryn
    Apr 22, 2016 at 19:49

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