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Having been a participant on Programmers for quite some time now, I am no stranger to new users and drive-by posters. Despite Programmers' reputation as "the least understood site on the network," there are still a few categories of questions that are clearly and undisputably off-topic:

  1. Code troubleshooting or programming tools help
  2. Career advice or workplace issues
  3. What technology/project should I take up next?

There are other categories of off-topic questions, but these particular categories don't necessarily require a consensus of five votes; everyone agrees to what they are, and that they are always off-topic. These are the facts of the case, and they are undisputed.

There is a disparity between the ease at which a user can ask an unambiguously off-topic question and the difficulty of getting it removed. Asking a question requires one user and five minutes. Removing a question requires five close votes from users with close vote privileges, three delete votes from users with delete privileges, and anywhere from an hour to three days. This lopsided arrangement virtually guarantees that the front page of programmers is littered with undisputably off-topic questions, as such questions have now become a regular occurrence.

To that end, I've asked a few users to re-ask their question on the correct site, and delete it from Programmers. What I've discovered is that

The moderators at Programmers have a policy of exception handling and non-interference; they won't step in unless they happen to be there when a flagrantly off-topic question or spam question is posted. Yes, there is a difference: unambiguous means the skillet is on fire; flagrant means the kitchen is on fire (though they're both still on fire).

What can we do about this?


Some things that we have tried:

  1. Clarifying the Help Center/On-Topic article to make it clearer what is on-topic. This improved things, but I suspect that most new people to Programmers don't read it.

  2. The "three close vote experiment," where the Programmers community discovers that their goals radically differ from Stack Exchange's goals.

  3. Numerous requests to change the site name

  4. A detailed collection of faq posts on Meta

  5. Tag cleanups

  6. Literally hundreds of questions clarifying site scope.

  • +1 for the least understood site on the network :) – Dawny33 Apr 29 '16 at 6:28
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    5 votes to close a question is too many for all the sites. – Raedwald Apr 29 '16 at 8:36
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    @Raedwald they experimented with 3 votes recently and didn't like results – gnat Apr 29 '16 at 11:35
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    example of how similar issue is handled when it bites where it hurts powers that be: Sudden increase in off-topic posts on MSE – gnat Apr 29 '16 at 11:37
  • As someone who isn't part of Programmers, I read the Tour/help pages, but I don't understand exactly what's on topic. Is it like a language agnostic version of SO? – Laurel Apr 29 '16 at 17:03
  • @Laurel given your familiarity with SO, you might want to take a look at What goes on Programmers.SE? A guide for Stack Overflow – gnat Apr 29 '16 at 17:31
  • @gnat I think I already read that. It's that tiny bit of overlap it has with SO that's a little confusing: software architecture and design and algorithm and data structure concepts. Everything else I understand. – Laurel Apr 29 '16 at 18:47
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    @Laurel I used to be confused with overlap, too - until Shog helped me figure that it's not worth worrying about. He said something like (not precise quote) "accept that site topics overlap and instead try to denote natural boundaries" – gnat Apr 29 '16 at 18:51
  • @gnat I agree. Unfortunately, the fact that it's on topic elsewhere is used to justify close reasons. It may just SO's culture, because we always get slammed by spam, low quality posts, and random questions (last week someone posted a question that was really better suited for AAA). – Laurel Apr 29 '16 at 19:02

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