I hate blog, yet there was another announcement (featured on SO, where I usually reside). I read it and I have a question.


According to those of us deeply involved here and familiar with Stack Overflow, about 7% of comments on Stack Overflow are unwelcoming. What did some unwelcoming comments look like? These combine elements of real comments to show typical examples.

  • “This is becoming a waste of my time and you won’t listen to my advice. What are the supposed benefits of making it so much more complex?”

  • “Step 1. Do not clutter the namespace. Then get back to us.”

  • “The code you posted cannot yield this result. Please post the real code if you hope to get any help.”

  • “This error is self explanatory. You need to check…”

  • “I have already told how you can… If you can’t make it work, you are doing something wrong.”

Why are those "unwelcoming" and how exactly would better version of each looks like?

Disclaimer: I am not native English speaker. For me is totally fine to see either of above under my answer/question. I wouldn't feel un-welcomed myself (but I am seasoned user), what's the problem with those?

  • 15
    Beats me. Nobody seems to think that 'you must submit this tax form before next Wednesday' is unwelcoming, if from an accountant. 'The rear shocks on both sides need replacing now' is aparrently OK from a garage technician. 'Your design is unnecessarily complex', however, seems to be a wailing and teeth-gnashing offence:( Jul 11, 2018 at 9:44
  • I just found similar complains, seems they adjust comments to make them "indeed unwelcoming". If so, then my question doesn't make sense. All this story is fishy.
    – Sinatr
    Jul 11, 2018 at 9:45
  • 4
    also related: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/370792/…
    – rene
    Jul 11, 2018 at 9:46
  • @rene, seems I am not alone confused guy here, thanks. I'd close it as dupe if someone vote... oops.. it's another meta.
    – Sinatr
    Jul 11, 2018 at 9:48
  • What I would like is for the same team to run a study with the same participants, and using the very same posts these comments were extracted from, ask the Part I pants to rate from 1-3 (or 1-5), how much effort they estimate the poster did prior to posting. Then look at the correlation between that and the % unwelcoming comments. To quote every clickbait title ever: The answer may surprise you!
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 10:13
  • 1
    @DanBron, it doesn't matter if comment was "deserved" or not. Simply: you shouldn't post unwelcoming (rude?) comments. My problem is how to distinguish unwelcoming comments? I simply can't see a criteria. When talking to my colleague at work, I would be ok to say or hear e.g. phrase like "The error is self-explainig, you need to check ...". What's wrong with same posted as comment on SO???
    – Sinatr
    Jul 11, 2018 at 10:25
  • 3
    @Sinatr I can reliably tell what this cohort would call “unwelcoming”. It’s a spectrum, but most examples are clear. I do agree with you I personally wouldn’t class most as “unwelcoming”, but anyway I can tell when those would would, would apply that label. That said, I disagree with the notion that it doesn’t matter if the words are “deserved”. That’s exactly when it matters. I could call you a %###$$ in a bar, and it would very much matter to you and to others watching us if you’d say, harassed my girlfriend first. Civility is a social agreement: a two-way street.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 10:29
  • 11
    @Sinatr Nothing is wrong with the comments, if that blog post shows anything, it shows established user are not unwelcoming to new users but as its point is to push an agenda about the poor oppressed people, even though new users are far more rude and hostile. All you have to do is close a question and the OP will post on another site about how we are litterly nazis here. SE should drop this silly crusade now because they will push away their current users by going for feels before reals, they should learn not to crap in their own backyard.
    – Mark Kirby
    Jul 11, 2018 at 10:31
  • @DanBron 'The answer may surprise you!' i don't think it would, but then again, maybe I'm looking through my 'hostile, mob-downvoting, ego-boosting, elitist troll' goggles instead of my 'subservient answer-drone' spectacles:) Jul 11, 2018 at 10:55
  • @MartinJames Haha! (Secretly, I didn’t think the answer would surprise anyone. I was being a snarky snarky troll with that line.)
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 10:56
  • 1
    I see how some of these comments might have been expressed better, but still these comments are nothing compared to the truly rude and hostile reactions of new users I have encountered. What I don't understand is how this topic is approached by SO. Why only judge the contribution of established users? Why not mention reactions of new users as well?
    – user204841
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:01

1 Answer 1


What's not so great

The big ones that I personal find distasteful are #1, 4, and 5. They all come off in slightly different ways, but a unifying factor is that they seem a little . . . condescending? A lot of new users on SO are experienced programmers, a lot of new users on SO are beginner programmers, and a lot are in between. I probably fall into the second group, to be honest. 1.5 languages and two years of programming isn't a whole lot. That makes me appreciate all the more that y'all take time to answer questions on Stack Overflow. But the tone of the message does matter.

“This is becoming a waste of my time and you won’t listen to my advice. What are the supposed benefits of making it so much more complex?”

The second sentence is great. That might be a pretty important question for the structure of the example I've made; simpler and elegant code is something I personally struggle with. Having someone point out that I've overcomplicated code is nice.

The first sentence is terrible. My knee-jerk reaction is "Well, if this is a waste of your time, why are you still here?" I'm serious. Chances are good that you have more important things to do; you're likely a programmer, after all. But if you think trying to help me is a complete waste of your time . . . well, that hurts and sure as heck doesn't make me want to come back and ask another question.

I think a lot of people will see that and think "Yeah, but what if the question was terrible and you didn't follow the rules and you were a bit arrogant" and so on and so forth. Sure. Could be. But I'd much rather have someone constructively point that out to me. I'm a huge fan of second chances for most things (third or fourth chances? eh), and if I'm motivated enough to raise my question quality and ask again, that's great.

Being told you're wasting someone's time is incredible discouraging as a new programmer.

“This error is self explanatory. You need to check…”

Well . . . it might be self-explanatory to you, in the same way that it might seem self-evident to you to use a lambda function somewhere to increase efficiency. But it certainly might not be for me. After all, if the problem was self-explanatory, I wouldn't be here. I'd have fixed the problem half an hour ago and would be debugging the next thing I broke.

I'm fine with reminders that I'm not the most experienced person working with the given language - or any language at all. But what's obvious to you might not be obvious to anyone who's new to programming. Sure, it could be an obvious error for anyone, like using completely wrong and bizarre syntax for a function definition. But it could also be something that you've encountered after years of experience with this sort of thing, and I haven't had those years.

Solution? Cut out the first sentence and expand upon the second (or, more importantly, make it an answer).

“I have already told how you can… If you can’t make it work, you are doing something wrong.”

This one could have been pulled from what I can only imagine is an extremely frustrating situation for both parties. The question asker thinks they're no closer to a solution than they were before because they're being told irrelevant stuff; the commenter thinks they've told the asker exactly what they need to know to solve the problem, and the asker's being dense. Either way, it's annoying for both parties.

But that's not this comment's fault; this comment is the result of that frustration. The second bit suffers from the same issue as the one I discussed before: Yes, I know I'm doing something wrong; that's why I'm asking about it. Maybe I'm just being dense, maybe I'm not. It's hard to tell whether or not the comment's justified; it might well be. It depends on the exact situation. Either way, removing the second sentence might be a good idea.

These are . . . just my opinions, and some people clearly disagree, but keep in mind that they come from someone who hasn't participated much on Stack Overflow, even after coming close many times (dissuaded only when I finally pieced together solutions based on existing questions). I'm probably closer to a new SO user than a lot of people here. Plus, I also have faith in the community, and I believe that most of the people working to make questions better and trying to do good, and care about the person at the other end. So, when reading the above, take that into consideration.

The good ones

To be honest, I don't really see anything wrong with #2 and #3. Both seem really helpful (I mean, they could be better, but they're not bad); they give me a path to use the make my question - and code - a bit better. So, I do disagree with their inclusion here. Moreover, they don't suffer from the condescension issues I pointed out above. Maybe #3 could be improved by linking to the help center page about a Minimal, Complete, and Verifiable Example, and maybe #2's reference to a namespace isn't actually helpful, but they seem to be like they're from someone who's at least trying to help.

A philosophy of comments

A secondary goal I try to set for my comments is to make them welcoming enough that the user will return to the site and post another, hopefully better, question. This goal shouldn't interfere my primary goal of improving the question in some way, but if it can be achieved, I'm gonna go for it. That doesn't mean merely being helpful, but in some ways going a bit above and beyond, such as providing helpful links to the help center and tour, and even starting off the comment with a "Welcome to [sitename]!" I've seen it work a lot in the past, and it's really nice.

If the user in question doesn't return to the site, then we've lost a potential user who could have been a fine addition or an unnecessary detriment. We'll just see more and more poor questions from new users, which nobody likes. But if I can successfully get them to make their questions better and get them to return to the community, then there could be a better question the next time around, and a better one after that, and so on and so forth. That grows the community and, also importantly, should make those who volunteer their time a bit less weary, and hopefully encouraged.

This won't work with everyone. A week or two ago I encountered a user on Worldbuilding who just wouldn't take any feedback at all. I mean, they were ignoring everything helpful anyone said, and they insulted a fair amount of normal users and mods in a short timeframe and mods before we finally stopped them. All of those people were being pretty helpful. I've seen this scenario play out plenty of times before; you just can't do anything about some people.

But . . . we optimize for pearls, not sand, and I try to tailor my comments assuming that the person on the other end will take them to heart. They might not, and things might go pretty poorly from there, but if they do . . . well, I've seen some people generate great content even after fairly shaky starts. Again, that's kinda heartwarming, and makes me want to keep volunteering my time and effort to make our corner of the Internet a better place.

  • 7
    It's worth pointing out that the examples quoted in the blog are not quoted in their entirety. The blog has been edited since it was posted. The original version had the complete comments. The parts of each comment that are missing in the current version are precisely the sentences preceding the "snarky" bits -- in exactly the same comments -- which universally contained information and guidance which would help the OP get the answer they need. That is, the comments were, every one, directly helpful, and the snarky bits expressed exasperation that the OP continued to ignore previous advice.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:05
  • 1
    @DanBron The OP asked about these particular forms of the comments; I answered accordingly. But yes, you have a point.
    – HDE 226868
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:06
  • @DanBron Is the original version still accessible somewhere?
    – user204841
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:08
  • 1
    @ModusTollens I do not know but I’ll try to find it. HDE, I understand, ands fair for you to have answered intbat context. What’s not fair is how he blog selectively quoted. It appears to have been a reaction to commenters saying quoting the entire comments made it trivial for people to use SEDE and thereby identify the users who made the “not nice” comments, but I don’t think trimming the comments to only heir worst elements ameliorated that problem, only made it worse and more one sided.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:09
  • 1
    @DanBron I found the first version on the wayback machine: web.archive.org/web/20180710130804/https://stackoverflow.blog/… There were several versions but I didn't look at all of them because I am on mobile. You are right, trimming makes comments like that seem worse.
    – user204841
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:15
  • 3
    @ModusTollens Here are some (not all) of the un-excised comments: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/370792/…
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 15:15
  • 7
    @DanBron Wait! So not only did they spin the blog post to say something the results did not show but now they doubled down on it by editing the comments to fit their naritive? For shame SE, what has happend to you?
    – Mark Kirby
    Jul 11, 2018 at 17:51
  • 1
    @MarkKirby Oui, monsieur.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 18:02
  • 5
    @MarkKirby - To be fair, it was a mistake to post actual comments in the blog post to begin with, because people searched out each of these comments and identified who left them. We typically try to avoid targeted callouts in Meta posts for this reason, so using nonspecific comments is what should have been done to begin with. I see this as an innocent error that accidentally exposed users to targeting, and I don't fault them for editing that. Jul 11, 2018 at 22:04
  • 3
    @BradLarson Bur does excising the comments so help protect those users’ identities, or is it just as easy to find them, except it paints them in a worse light, so there’s more motivation to go on a witch hunt in the first place? This is a question asked in good faith, but my gut is whispering the real effect is the latter.
    – Dan Bron
    Jul 11, 2018 at 23:03
  • @DanBron The topic came up on "Tavern of the Meta" because people were searching out the comments. So, I can testify (and you can look it up there) that it was not for presenting them in a better light. If the edit could have been done better is another question Jul 12, 2018 at 7:00

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