47

I recently got downvoted by a user who added a comment, saying "couldn't you have spent 15 minutes and looked this up on Google?".

My answer is "yes", but by asking on Stack Overflow, I feel like I am achieving my goal of getting the answer with less effort as well as helping the community in the future. By doing this, I am achieving the following:

  1. I am using the power of the community to sort out the best answer and avoid wasting any time searching on sites working through material that might not work out.

  2. The next person in the world that has this same question will get their answer immediately since the correct answer will be there at the top of the list on Stack Overflow.

So my question is: Do people think my argument is valid? Isn't the goal of the site to help future software developers find answers quicker? Or do you think I am simply trying to justify laziness?

migrated from stackoverflow.com Dec 19 '09 at 0:18

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

  • 21
    Countless times I searched a question on google; found a lot of results in various forums with people asking the same question, and found all the answers to be "dude just google it". – Thomas Bonini Feb 26 '10 at 19:30
  • 1
    Duplicate: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/23386/… – Gnome Apr 6 '10 at 21:41
  • 1
    Also dupe: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/8724/… – Pops Oct 7 '10 at 20:42
  • 2
    Things that can be easily found on the internet shows lack of effort by the asker. part of how to ask questions on SO is to make effort first. Example of questions such as how to use str_replace in php (just example). I've seen several questions like that, can't you just google it. beside people who don't search SO first. – Dreaded semicolon Sep 5 '11 at 6:31

18 Answers 18

59

Stack Overflow is meant to be a resource for answers to Google searches, but that doesn't mean any question is reasonable. A question like "How do you concatenate strings in Java?" is flagrantly worthless and the Java docs are more appropriate. It's really selfish to waste people's time on such a thing. If we get lots of stupid questions — that is, if the signal-to-noise ratio becomes too low — the smart people will leave and Stack Overflow will lose all its value as a resource.

  • Agreed, but the community already does a pretty good job of filtering these out, this is all about where to draw the line. As in other forums, the key is that the person posing the question ought to be able to cite some what they have already found if they are looking for a deeper answer. – altCognito Apr 12 '09 at 2:32
  • 9
    and the correct answer to "how do you concatenate strings in java" probably involves mentioning things like StringBuffer – Jimmy Apr 12 '09 at 5:02
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    I don’t understand how it wastes your time if you neither read nor answer the question that you consider beneath you because you already know the answer. SNR only applies if you peruse the questions unfiltered (which of course would mean that you have no specific goal in mind anyway). – Synetech Feb 26 '10 at 17:57
  • 6
    The first google result for "how do you concatenate strings in java" points to stackoverflow.com – JonnyWizz Nov 26 '15 at 17:01
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    The SO page for How do I concatenate two strings in Java? is now by far the best resource for that Question on the first page of Google. – pkamb Nov 18 at 19:00
27

Sometimes googling something is difficult for someone who doesn't know where to start, while very easy for others. If it's not immediately apparent for what you should be searching, then I don't think it's lazy to ask here.

  • Yeah, I experienced this when I looked for how to do "long held" http request, so the server can immediately respond when an event happens. Others pointed out that the word I search for is called "comet". – Calmarius Sep 25 '13 at 20:22
24

I think one of the goals for Stack Overflow was to become a site that often comes up high in Google rankings. In order to do that, we'll obviously have to compile material that is found elsewhere on the web. So I think definitely it's okay to ask Googlable questions, with a goal toward making the Stack Overflow link for that question the best spot on the web to find the answer(s), and the highest Google hit on the subject.

  • 2
    "In order to do that, we'll obviously have to compile material that is found elsewhere on the web" Doesn't seem sensible to me. Material ages; "duplicates" wind up disagreeing over time. I don't think this is a good idea. – S.Lott Apr 12 '09 at 1:13
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    Except that unlike a lot of other programming resources on the web, StackOverflow is editable. Therefore, if the answer ever becomes wrong, you can just change it. SO has a nice format, and I'd be in favour of anything that would get experts exchange out of my search results. – Kibbee Apr 12 '09 at 2:15
15

Personally I love it when people ask Google-answerable questions. It makes my job easy :)

  • 1
    Some people have no sense of humor. Then again, I may be one of them – JaredPar Apr 12 '09 at 1:04
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    I agree with you. :) – cletus Apr 12 '09 at 1:59
8

I think it's absolutely fine, because one of the biggest issues we face as developers are the accuracy of the answers/solutions we find on Google.

One of the greatest benefits Stack Overflow has is that it has a community of people who are willing to correct questions and vote on good/bad answers. However, I think people should take more time over the questions and word them a little more carefully if they want to avoid such comments as you mention. We put time and effort into the answers, but maybe we should put a little more effort into our questions. I hope that helps.

7

Asking a question without spending the time to research it yourself shows a certain lack of respect for the community's time. This bit from How to ask Questions the Smart Way covers the topic pretty succinctly.

When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge and wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We like answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers.

  • +1 For linking ESR. He makes so many valid points in that document. – Adam Hawes Apr 12 '09 at 6:50
5

Like someone else mentioned sometimes it's difficult for us "newbies" to even know where to begin with a Google search. One example is a question I recently posted asking about what the letter "M" meant after a number in a line of code such as:

SomeDecimal = SomeInt * 15.00M;

I had no clue what that M did and likewise I had absolutely no idea what it was even called so I how am I supposed to search Google for it? Now it seems like something very trivial to me, but it wasn't before.

Google (and other search engines) are good at understanding what us humans are trying to tell it. Unfortunately, sometimes you need to post a specific piece of code and have a human look at it and ask questions about it so said human can answer. Sometimes those questions are very basic and sometimes they aren't.

I have found Stack Overflow to be a great resource so far. Even better than my friends who program for a living.

As long as the question is programming-related I don't see why it shouldn't be allowed, no matter how basic. Sometimes people just don't even know where to begin searching and when that happens this is an EXCELLENT place to fall back on!

  • I beg to differ. What you've just done there is a language-specific thing, and you can pretty easily jump into a concise language reference to find out what is meant to be done, even a newbie can look at a language reference. – Adam Hawes Apr 12 '09 at 6:52
  • You're totally missing the point. The fact is most anything is available in a language reference. However, just like a search engine you still have to know what to look for. How am I supposed to know that it's language specific and what to search for if I don't even know what to call it? – Pete Apr 12 '09 at 14:46
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    Actually, I googled "m after number" and found two (albeit from 'poor' sites) answers: eggheadcafe.com/software/aspnet/29604439/… and answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20090928144916AA5HIua – Hello71 Aug 26 '10 at 17:42
4

Hell no. Google first. A google search is a small energy burst in a server somewhere. Asking somebody on SO means somebody is going to look at the question, open it, think about the answer, possibly go and verify the facts he or she is going to use, and post it. Or, think it's a duplicate, search for possible duplicates, change the wording of the search, come up with something, copy the ID, and mark the new question as a duplicate. That has do be done by five people.

If you can't come up with anything in Google, come and ask. If you need help in understanding what the Google results mean and whether there are better solutions, come and ask. But if you come and show that you have already done some research, you are more likely to get good answers and not only shallow stubs done for the reputation.

4

Yes, you should ask googleable questions. Stack Overflow is meant to be a general repository of questions and their answers, not a repository only of things that aren't anywhere else.

3

I would consider it good engineering to do research first (reading the manuals, Google, and Wikipedia) before asking questions. It keeps your mind sharp and safes you from being conceived as a noob. It also IMHO hinders the people that are experts to give good answers on Stack Overflow, as they have to browse through a huge list of questions that could be avoided before they find one that is worth answering.

Having said that, I believe there's no real bad question, but in order to keep the quality of Stack Overflow up we might want to avoid questions that are too easy (they are also prone to the already answered syndrome).

2

This is a programming question/answer site. If you have a programming question, ask away. I tend to use the following guidelines for answering:

  • If the question is about something I know or am interested in, I will read it.

  • If the question indicates similar 'related' questions, I will check them out to see if it is more useful to answer with a link to that similar question. For your question, I would suggest that you read this similar question.

  • If it is a really good question, I'll upvote it.

  • If it is a question to which I know the answer, I will try to help with an answer.

  • If somebody has already given an answer that I think is helpful, I will upvote that answer.

  • If somebody has already given an answer that I think is right but could use some clarification, I will upvote that answer with a comment.

  • If somebody has given an answer that doesn't really help, I will ignore it.

  • If somebody has given an answer that is dangerously wrong, I will downvote it with a comment. (I wish that downvotes required a comment but that's an issue for uservoice)

There will always be people that think that the only questions worth asking are ones that have never been asked before and these are the type of people that will downvote questions just because they don't like them or think you should have worked harder before asking them.

This site is only as good as the community that supports it. This means a couple of things. You will usually get back what you put in and you will benefit the most if you match the majority of the community mindset. Currently, I believe the SO majority mindset is mature and most will try to be helpful no matter how obvious an answer might be or how easy the answer may have been to find elsewhere.

I think questions deserve answers but it is undeniably true that the quality of the question will dictate the quality of the answer in most cases.

This sort of question is good for the community to discuss. It will help new members become useful contributors more quickly. It won't however put an end to 'obvious' or 'lazy' questions from those that are just looking for answers.. now.. and have no interest in becoming a part of the community. I think these are great opportunities for new members to practice their art.

If a question isn't worth your time to answer then don't answer it and let somebody that wants to, answer it or let it whither in no-vote obscurity :) Please, save your downvotes for non-programming questions and dangerously wrong answers.

2

I find the answers given here are generally far superior to those on other sites that Google ranks highly. (Experts-Exchange comes to mind.) Go ahead and google, but if you can't fine the answer here, I'd ask it anyway.

2

My personal opinion is that you should ask the question anyway. Google is just a search engine. It searches and matches words and phrases. The largest is the collection of phrases available to Google, the more likely is than anybody having a particular question will find it.

Most of the questions asked on Stack Overflow can be answered with Google. Most of the answers people will give to you will be looked up on Google before writing and posting. But Google, and any search you can do, will not grant you a live discussion about your question, something that you can find here.

1

I feel like I am achieving my goal of getting the answer with less effort

Yeah, but it's added effort for the people you're asking.

Don't forget, they're giving their time to get you a solution for free. They're human too.

And, yes, they've volunteered to do that, but let's not take the mickey!

If you can find the answer yourself in fifteen minutes, and if it's trivial enough not to be a terribly interesting addition to the site, it might be better to let those volunteers spend their free time on something a little more deserving.

0

Despite the field in a Google Account Profile page that asks for something that you cannot find with Google, technically everything is a Google-searchable question. Of course that does not mean you will find the answer. The point to the SE sites is to draw upon the knowledge and experience of people who either have already been through the problem an asker is having, or to provoke interest in a new problem so that a group can work on it rather than just an individual.

I don’t think that it is right to evaluate the worthiness of a question since that task is highly subjective in and of itself. I recall giving a notable Microsoft MVP what for, who would leave snide and arrogant replies to any questions he deemed beneath him on the MS C++ Usenet group. Just because he already knew everything does not mean that everybody else, especially those who are just starting should shut up, go away and read the 1,000 page manual just to find out how to do a “simply thing”.

No, instead of determining the so-called value of a question (who would do that anyway? someone who knows the answers? someone who is a beginner?) the more effective solution is to get people to use the search function. Stack Overflow already has a terrific implementation of a way to encourage this behavior. I am very impressed with how it shows a list of related questions based on the title entered. I am sure that it has already worked many times. (Perhaps there is a way to glean how effective it is from the server logs?)

-1

Ask the Question, but also Answer it at the same time with the easily Google-searched answer/source.

Answer your own question – share your knowledge, Q&A-style

This removes the common complaint in the Answers here, that you are wasting the community's time fishing for answers that you essentially already know.

If you Answer it, no one needs to act on the Question now. But it will still be useful to people in the future, and to anyone else who wants to answer it.

The end result is a net benefit for the reasons you listed in your question: SE Q/A pages are the best on the 'net for shared knowledge, edits, ranked voting, etc.

  • 1
    whether the question has an answer or not, it being a super simple question that they can answer (or that they feel should be a dupe or closed for whatever reason) will still attract their attention and waste time, presumably on a question that is unlikely to actually help people any more than the existing resources on google. – user400654 Nov 18 at 19:51
  • I believe an SE page on some matter is ALWAYS significantly better than whatever results are already on google. Even if the SE answer is just a quote and link to the existing result. – pkamb Nov 18 at 20:27
-2

People who say you should've googled instead of asking here are generally missing the point. They should take advantage of you and post the easily-googleable answer for reputation points. :)

Of course, posting a question you could've easily answered might indicate you're a lazy bum, and it might make some of us not want to help you. But, that's not the point of this site, which is to build a resource consisting of answers to programming questions. Maybe you ARE a lazy bum, but if it helps make Stack Overflow a better site, who cares?

-4

There are no stupid questions, only stupid answers!!!

When Stack Overflow was made there were no assumptions about what kind of questions to be asked. Also, we have not set standards about intelligence of questions and people. It's been left to mercy of your peers and reputations.

Wikipedia does have pages on topics like Boy, then why can't Stack Overflow allow primitive questions?

Here is how you can help yourself:

  • If you find any question not up to the mark or standards, you can vote it down
  • Do not answer those questions
  • You can create a tag and mark such question with that tag and put the tag in ignored ones.
  • 7
    I used to say this. However, experience suggests that there are indeed extremely stupid questions. – NotMe Mar 2 '12 at 3:04

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