I came across this question yesterday; nothing special, just one of thousands of blunder questions. The code posted in the question body does actually work, it cannot produce an error the OP claims it does. All you can do is vote to close it as off topic.

...Or answer it with an answer that presents as a solution code which is irrelevant to the question.

The answer.

A genuinely pointless answer that initially mentioned two irrelevant issues, eventually reduced to one that doesn't even remotely address the problem stated in the question. Absolutely useless even as a comment, let alone being an answer.

The worst part is when you see that, you can do literally nothing.

  • flag it for the review? A hilarious suggestion, given the review is for the grammar/language issues only.
  • flag it for the moderator's attention? The same, moderators do not judge the quality/correctness.
  • vote to close the question as off topic? Given you'll never get enough voters, it's a waste.
  • write an answer? An answer which doesn't answer the question but explains why it makes no sense? These boy scouts from the review queue will be happy to trample it over.
  • write a comment for the OP? Telling they are outright wrong? One could find a better way to waste their time.
  • downvote? Yea, -2 reputation is a devastating blow.

The despair.

I cannot tell you how helpless I feel in a situation like this. There is no legal way to reason with such an answer. There is no way to remove such a crap from the site. There is no way to stop Stack Overflow from spreading the misleading information contained in it. So I went loose and just tried to blackmail the author, telling him that his answer is a fraud (the comments I left under the question are now deleted but you can take my word). So it backfired on me. Again, I don't complain for that. But I wish to know, will Stack Exchange ever do something to help those who care for the quality?

On the one hand, I quite realize that if someone wants to run such a populous site, they have to harness the worst parts of the human nature: laziness (encouraging zero-effort questions), greed (for the rep points), vanity (for the badges and other decorations). If zero-effort questions were really banned, the number of questions would drop hundredfold. If those who answer zero-effort questions weren't encouraged, then the traffic will drop, so will the revenue. So….

But OK, let's take for granted that the site is run on the zero-effort questions, occasionally producing good content just as a side effect. But shouldn't be a there a tool to remove at least a blatant nonsense?

There should be a satisfactory way to deal with this kind of contribution. The key word is satisfactory. Means it should be fruitful. "Vote and move on" doesn't count. It should be feasible. Post on Meta every time it happens doesn't count. It should be something that works.

So, what a feature could be implemented that could help to wipe off topic questions and - especially - nonsense answers?

  • 1
    Welcome to the club. "If you don't have anything nice to say, better ...." – πάντα ῥεῖ Jan 8 '18 at 20:52
  • 4
  • 3
    @Jefromi what is the politically correct substitution? I don't mind to run a serach/repace through my question, that's not the point – Your Common Sense Jan 8 '18 at 20:58
  • 7
    @YourCommonSense It's not about "political correctness", it's about being respectful. Shog already edited for you, but if you would like to know how to be more respectful about raising reputation-related issues, you could read the full question, and maybe the first comment. (Hint: it doesn't involve casting general insults at swaths of people.) – Cascabel Jan 8 '18 at 21:01
  • 6
    If the answer is incorrect, just downvote it and leave a polite comment explaining why it's incorrect. The comment isn't just for the OP, but also to help future users find out why it's incorrect so that they also can downvote. If enough users downvote an answer, it will be at the bottom of the page where it's clearly visible that it has a negative score, so it won't really do any harm. – Donald Duck Jan 8 '18 at 21:31

The features already exist.

If it is complete nonsense, downvote and either vote to delete/close or flag for moderator attention.

If it is wrong, and you could write a post explaining that it is wrong, just write your own answer that provides a correct solution.

You don't want a satisfactory way to do any of what you want, since that already exists. What you want is a satisfactory way to you, and SE is not going to change to accommodate that.

  • 5
    "If it is wrong, and you could write a post explaining that it is wrong, just write your own answer that provides a correct solution." Question is nonsense and can't be answered? That's what close votes are for. (Just to add a small point) – Kendra Jan 8 '18 at 20:55
  • 1
    it doesn't work. I can show you thousands questions that are outright off topic, with just orphan single votes. Saying it works you are denying the reality. – Your Common Sense Jan 8 '18 at 20:57
  • 13
    @YourCommonSense It's a very slow process in some cases... In others, yes, it fails. But harassing people because the system isn't as fast/effective as we'd like doesn't make you look like the good guy. You're better than this, my friend. You (at least to me) have a sincere want to improve the network- Don't waste your time on people like that, and don't make yourself look bad over them. – Kendra Jan 8 '18 at 20:59
  • @YourCommonSense It seems a bit related to the question quality appearing at your major tag php. It seems to be even worse than with mine. – πάντα ῥεῖ Jan 8 '18 at 21:03

But OK, let's take for granted that the site is run on the zero-effort questions, occasionally producing good content just as a side effect.

I think "good content" is too ambiguous to be useful here; an answer can easily be well-written, beautifully-formatted, entertaining... and completely useless.

I'd argue the goal is to generate useful content: answers that solve specific problems. To that end, you're quite right that zero-effort questions are grist for the mill - as long as they can spark a useful answer, they're good enough: Jeff called them "sand" and I've argued before that ostentatious displays of "effort" don't make the sand any more useful to that end. Indeed, I have a sneaking suspicion that putting too much research into a question is counter-productive: if you look too smart when asking, you can end up discouraging folks from even trying to solve your problem.

But back to the problem you're trying to focus on here: answers that either don't bother trying to understand the question at all, or throw out wild guesses by way of solutions. I have no idea if that's actually the case with the answer that motivated this discussion, but I've certainly seen plenty that do match such a description: the common cases are those that just paste the asker's code with some arbitrary change and the admonishment "try this:". Such answers are not generally useful, and often appear to be the author's attempt at achiving the equivalent of "grinding" in video games:

In video gaming, grinding is performing repetitive tasks for gameplay advantage. In MMORPG, for instance, it can be advantageous to repeatedly kill AI-controlled monsters, using basically the same strategy over and over again to advance one's character level and to unlock content.

I've seen folks who've posted hundreds of such answers, all apparently worthless, but managed to collect a handful of stray upvotes in exchange for their (lack of) efforts; in some cases, this is combined with plagiarism or voting fraud for a much bigger payoff, but even without that there's a logic to this approach: with a large enough surface area, you're almost guaranteed to get some upvotes without exposing yourself to risk, because...

downvote? Yea, -2 reputation is a devastating blow.

...most folks think the same way you do. Or find the -1 cost to the voter a "devastating blow". Or lack the privilege. Or just don't like downvoting on principle. As a glance at the analytics or SEDE will show, upvotes are far and away more common than downvotes, especially when it comes to answers.

It thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy: you don't downvote because downvotes don't work, and downvotes don't discourage answer-grinding answers because nobody downvotes them. Ironically, a very disproportionate amount of the complaints we see about downvotes come from answerers even though very few answers get downvoted - I guess that -2 is a bit more devastating than it should be, were folks to look at it rationally.

But, fine. You don't want to just downvote. Point out the problem. If not for the author (who you suspect is up to no good) and if not for the asker, then for the next person to read it and reflexively reach for the upvote button. Write a persuasive statement instead of a rant; I still have no idea why the answer that prompted this set you off, since you spent most of your energy ranting instead of explaining why it is/was wrong or not even wrong. Next time, skip the name-calling, the insinuations of nefarious intent on the part of others, and just point out in as clear a way as possible why the answer is misleading and useless. Remember, your goal is to convince future readers to, if not downvote, at least refrain from upvoting...

...and oh - if you do that, there's a side-effect that happens to benefit everyone else: the next person to find the answer can read your comment and avoid wasting their time on voodoo nonsense.

  • 2
    note to folks willing to take this advice seriously and try applying it at hundreds of rep farming answers and help vampire questions - consider giving a read to this tale of happy commenting – gnat Jan 8 '18 at 21:49
  • yes, the success or failure of this technique is predicated on it changing readers' minds with less effort invested on their part than would be required to research / implement the answer. If it requires reading a series of meta posts, it's doomed (this is generally true for all canned comments / copy; we link q-banned users a two-page roadmap to fixing that and they still don't read it). Figure you got maybe two sentences to convince a reader that something smells in the answer above, if you're lucky - if you don't feel lucky, don't waste your time. – Shog9 Jan 8 '18 at 21:52
  • 1
    ...yeah and what naturally follows is that this way won't scale. At the time you end writing that "pearl" comment to counter next "sand" answer rep farmer will dump 10 more such answers into other vampire questions and so on and on and you will never catch up. System was redesigned to make them win. "Happy commenting!" – gnat Jan 8 '18 at 22:12
  • 4
    The entire system is predicated on there being enough folks who know things to counteract the effects of the many who do not, @gnat. When it fails, it will be because there are too few of the former and too many of the latter... Not because ranty comments got deleted. If you don't have the time or inclination to say anything that's useful to other people, then say nothing at all; this nostalgia for a time when comment functionality existed for catharsis is hardly any different from the folks who gripe that they can't post their questions in answers. – Shog9 Jan 8 '18 at 23:10
  • 1
    there's nothing to be nostalgic about because ranty comments are still with us, just like in old times, as evidenced yet again by this very question you just answered. Quoting self from the linked question, how come that after years of plugging user's mouths and twisting their arms with summers of love and hunting the snark the second top question at MSO is 'Why is Stack Overflow so negative of late?'" As it was proven again and again, blocks, bans and deletions didn't work... and won't work as long as "few who know" (some call them core group) lack tools to maintain site quality – gnat Jan 9 '18 at 4:22

What you're looking for is a way to bypass all the messiness of having to arrange things in agreement with other people and just skip to the part where you're always right, the posts you dislike are always wrong, and the site recognizes this and handles things appropriately by efficiently trashing the posts you dislike without all the bother of "voting" and "convincing people through comments" and such.

I'm sorry to say that this pleasant dream is not going to happen. Almost nobody is reliable enough to design the site to operate on one-click judgements (even ♦ mods get things wrong occasionally, which is part of why we have so few: it makes it easier to keep tabs on them).

Instead, in a basic sense, you're stuck with the reality that organizing a cooperative system as vast as Stack Exchange requires cooperation with others. And that means votes that only do a little bit on their own, well-intentioned and well-informed people who disagree with you (sometimes rightly), and the difficulty of organizing and motivating widespread campaigns.

Consensus is hard. This question seems to be suggesting we just go shopping.

(See also a previous answer along similar lines about the small effects of voting)

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .