I swear this question comes up often enough to warrant it. The first time a user goes to ask a question a page should come up mentioning at least the topic of parsing HTML with regular expressions and possibly others (eg writing compilers) that are common to the point of being absurd. Don't disallow the user from asking it but just make them look at a page that doesn't have too much on it other than:

If you are going to ask...

  • a question about parsing HTML with regular expressions, read this; or
  • ...

Ok, if your question doesn't fit in this category press Next

Or something like that.

  • Definitely a regex burnout.
    – random
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 12:21
  • 14
    No one will read that.
    – alex
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 12:27
  • 1
    Hey man if you stem the flow of HTML-with-regex questions, where will I get my Internet dollars? You're trying to eliminate my source of income and drive me to the poor house!
    – Welbog
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 12:28
  • 5
    The part I find funny is that I swear the moment that Jeff posted that article on coding horror the number increased. It was like he opened Pandora's box and all the regex html questions escaped to plague us all. Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 12:34
  • Conceptually, I like the idea, but @alex is right: It will fall on deaf ears. The target audience will never actually read it. And the number of cases this sort of advice should apply to would probably make it fairly prohibitive to build & maintain. Hence, I gotta say I'm against it.
    – John Rudy
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 15:49
  • I was just about to ask this question, but luckily the Related Questions thing saved me!
    – Skilldrick
    Commented Mar 2, 2010 at 14:25

5 Answers 5


We need some statistics on which kinds of questions are "common to the point of being absurd", there may simply be too many for this to work, and it seems a little odd to single out this one problem for mention. The more stuff that's on the page, the less likely it is to be seen and heeded.

Plus, it's a big of a big and ugly hurdle for the majority of users who don't ask these sorts of questions. Edit: I missed that the OP only asked the page to appear the very first time a user asked a question.

It occurs to me that the set of people who are asking about parsing HTML using regex may have a very small intersection with the set of people who read and follow directions when submitting a question. Heck, it still might not help even if we produced Morgan Freeman's voice from their computer speakers admonishing them in their native tongue.

  • I wouldn't call it a major hurldle. It's an extra click one time. Also Jeff has noted the users don't read the "related questions" part of the page. I think you need to put something between them and the question to stand a chance of being read.
    – cletus
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 12:39
  • 2
    This hint could only be displayed when certain keywords appear in the question. But actually I agree it's a bad idea. It'll get in everyone's way, it'll annoy people who are asking questions that are nothing to do with HTML or regexes, and the people who need it won't read it.
    – MarkJ
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 13:28
  • @cletus: I think I missed the "the first time" part of your suggestion, I think you might want to emphasize that in your post. Seeing that, you're right, my "big hurdle" objectoin makes no sense. Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 14:52
  • 3
    I vote for Morgan Freeman's voice! Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 16:49

Obviously, this would only annoy users who aren't asking questions about HTML and RegExps. So we need a way to determine if the question being asked fits that pattern...

...I suggest you come up with a regular expression that will match HTML+RegExp questions, and offer it to the SO Team for this purpose.

  • 1
    Just like the "subjective and argumentative" warning. Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 16:49

Maybe StackOverflow should have programming related FAQs.
These can be regex for html, floating point questions, etc.
It may also allow us to close questions as FAQ Question, rather than Exact Duplicate, which isn't always accurate.
Of course, most people will not read the FAQs, but they can be directed to it. This already happens, to some extent - these questions get answeres, with liks or duplicates to existing answers.

That said, I'm not sure that's necessary. These questions do get repetitive after a while, but I'm not convinced it's a real issue.

What’s the most repeated question on StackOverflow?
Common wrong questions on SO

  • Noone reads long FAQs.
    – cletus
    Commented Nov 24, 2009 at 23:06
  • I'm well aware of that. There's no need in writing a long FAQ - it's a Q&A site, just promote existing questions into FAQs, and add a few links (could be as simple as adding a tag). I'm sure there are already good answers out there.
    – Kobi
    Commented Nov 25, 2009 at 5:37

This is related to How can SO improve the automatic pre-question search?

By more obviously presenting the list of likely-related questions, it might be possible to avoid a few of these kinds of questions. If the big question box is hidden by a bit of jQuery pixie dust, then it will be super quick to open it up for users who already know the secret sauce (so I don't buy the arguments about it being "too slow").


Obviously, this would only annoy users who aren't asking questions about HTML and RegExps. So we need a way to determine if the question being asked fits that pattern...

Just like the "subjective and argumentative" warning. – Martinho Fernandes 1 hour ago

When I read the question, I actually thought that this would be the ideal way of implementing this. It won't stop everyone, but it's better than nothing.

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