The more I use Stack Overflow the more I see people telling others to delete their questions afterwards for debugging help.

A (recent) example of this, and what caused me to ask this question on meta, was https://stackoverflow.com/questions/44689467/print-out-a-value-from-a-java-class/44689571#comment76362843_44689467. It's relatively low in terms of complexity, could probably have been asked better, but I've been attempting to answer questions on Stack Overflow that I have the skill level to answer authoritatively, which usually means these first-post debug level problems.

Yes, this question isn't necessarily helpful to others. But

  1. It's hostile to new users.
  2. It removes the reward for having an accepted answer, making it less likely that people receive help.
  3. It may, just possibly, have been the key for someone googling something extremely similar to understand their own problem.

Why do people do this?

I realize this is sounding slightly Stack Overflow specific, but most other Stack Exchange communities, seem friendlier, and more likely to answer the question as asked.

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    Do you have some examples? Are we talking trivial typos answered in comments or something more involved? Also: "Stack Overflow is a question and answer site for professional and enthusiast programmers ... we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about programming." Getting help is a nice side effect, but the point is not to have to (for example) tell people they need to close parentheses dozens of times a day. – jonrsharpe Jun 22 '17 at 6:40
  • I don't because the question was removed, and I do not yet have the privileges to view removed questions, it no longer shows up in my answer list either. – Ryan The Leach Jun 22 '17 at 6:57
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    When you said "the more I see", I assumed that was more than just once... – jonrsharpe Jun 22 '17 at 6:57
  • It's happened a couple of times, but the question gets deleted. – Ryan The Leach Jun 22 '17 at 7:02
  • Do you still see them listed in deleted recent answers? You can share the link for someone with more rep. Or ask for a moderator to look up the relevant questions. Can you remember the context? Otherwise there's nothing to discuss. – jonrsharpe Jun 22 '17 at 7:06
  • deleting answered questions is a royal road to the ban: "Deleted posts are mostly irrelevant to the question ban... The one exception involves deleting a question right after someone posts an answer to it. This (fairly rare!) pattern is seen as so overtly hostile that it does impose a pretty stiff penalty..." – gnat Jun 22 '17 at 7:19
  • Yeah, that question was useless. How would anyone with the same problem even find it? – jonrsharpe Jun 22 '17 at 8:13

Is Stack Exchange a place to get help? Or a resource for answers?

Well, as I see it, mix of both. It's a place to get help, and that help can then become a permanent resource.

That's the ideal situation. However, in reality things are never ideal.

Let's take two examples. (mockup language, just for sake of example!)

First example

I tried printing an integer like this, but it failed, showing wrong output:

Print("We have %b apples in our stock", _numOfApples);
What's going on?

Answer to this:

Change the %b to %d so it will be parsed as number:

Print("We have %d apples in our stock", _numOfApples);

Second example

I have this code to show number of apples, but it is showing 50 instead of 30:

Int GetAppleCount() {
    Int _dbCount = GetApplesFromDatabase();
    return _dbCount + 20;
Int _numOfApples = GetAppleCount();
Print("We have %d apples in our stock", _numOfApples);
What's going on?

Answer to this

Change the return _dbCount + 20; to return _dbCount;.

Both answers solve the actual problem. Both can be then accepted. However, only the answer to the first question has any real value for others, who might search for "printing integer wrong value". Second question and its answer are useless for others, as it's some typo/old code/basic mistake the OP did, which nobody else is likely to ever do, and if so it will be different.

So questions like the second here, are indeed better be removed.

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  • Removed questions remove the rep, both for answers and questions though right? My point I was trying to make, is should it have never been asked at all, deleted before being answered, or is deleting after it's answered, even though it's a low quality resource, fair. – Ryan The Leach Jun 23 '17 at 1:16
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    @Ryan questions like the second example should not be asked in the first place, in my opinion. And if asked anyway, OP should expect it being downvoted and/or closed. Getting answer is a "bonus" in those cases, but it does not protect the question from being closed and deleted. So to save the tedious process, OP better just do it themselves if getting the help they needed. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Jun 23 '17 at 6:11

Stack Exchange is a resource for answers.

That is the tagline you should remember. It contains sufficient information to guide us in creating questions that are:

  • well researched
  • well formatted
  • well posed
  • interesting
  • reusable

… even though, obviously, the practical result of this entire enterprise is to help people! So, it's actually "a place to get help" too. But to call it that is to drop the important nuances of the alternative description. When you think of Stack Overflow as just "a place to get help", that's when the "debug my codez" starts leaking into your questions because you forget that there is a wider purpose to the whole thing.

That's why people are recommending question deletion: a post that will only ever help the OP is not appropriate here. The Stack Overflow model is designed to encourage broader appeal, because that's the best way to ensure the quality of individual posts. It's specifically why the site was founded, to set it apart from the common fora of the era.

Unfortunately, many popular tags on Stack Overflow have succumbed to both size and sloppiness, and look a lot more like those fora than like what Stack Overflow is supposed to be. Oh well. That ship has kind of sailed now; as long as many high rep users "just want to help" without considering the broader implications of the form that help takes, we are doomed. :)

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  • That linked question made me stop and think. The problem is a lot of these low effort posts end up containing a lot of keywords that people who actually need help need in order to find help. Marking as duplicate, as long as it helps the original question asker can be extremely valuable to funneling to the correct answer. But getting their question downvoted for helping improve SO's SEO? And potentially question banning them? Seems to me like there needs to be some sort of temporary limbo low voted questions go to before disappearing, if they aren't answered or linked to a good resource. Dunno. – Ryan The Leach Jun 30 '17 at 14:32
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    @RyanTheLeach: That "limbo" is exactly what putting questions "on hold" does. They are supposed to be improved then re-opened. Having lots of buzzwords- sorry, keywords- in your question is all well and good for popping up in searches but that does nobody any good if the question is crap and the answer of debatable relevance in the general case. Are there exceptions? Sure. Should we optimise the model for them? Nah. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 30 '17 at 14:53
  • Sure, but I see people urging them to delete occasionally instead. or they delete out of fear of downvotes. IDK, maybe there is room for both and I just need more experience to tell. I also get disgruntled at beginners thinking SO is 'elitest' when they as of yet lack the experience to be able to form their questions correctly. – Ryan The Leach Jun 30 '17 at 14:56
  • @RyanTheLeach: True; not sure I'd go so far as to recommend deletion, myself. – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 30 '17 at 14:57
  • Referenced in the blog post Mistake Overflow: One Company's Catalogue of Errors, 2019-10-06 (near "the basic principles of the site"). – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Nov 26 '19 at 2:17
  • @PeterMortensen Thanks; I know, I wrote it ;) – Lightness Races in Orbit Nov 26 '19 at 11:32

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