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I started using Stack Overflow1 a few years ago when I was learning . I remember that when I was asking something, I was either getting a link to an existing question (duplicate or similar question) or I was getting upvoted and somebody was posting good answers.

In the last months (let's say 5 months) it happened several times that I posted a question, a few persons tried to answer, but posting low quality answers.

I do not think it makes sense to report all these answers, but in fact they do not answer the question.

Usually, after I find the solution I post the answer.

From 11th of March to now, I posted 9 questions, accepted 2 answers, 3 questions are unanswered and 4 questions have answers which are not solutions to my questions.

Scenarios

  1. Question gets answered after a longer time — e.g. 1 week

    This is a happy one.

  2. I find the answer and I post it

    Sometimes getting a some upvotes, but not many, because of the low view rate.

  3. Getting poor answers/comments, but no solution

    At least the question has activity.

  4. Question gets marked as duplicate, with another obsolete question

    Sometimes questions were quickly marked as duplicate of similar questions, with no actual/tested solution.

  5. Question does not get answered, or commented, but gets deleted

    It happened a few times when nobody commented or answered the question, and the Community user deleted the question due to lack of activity.

    Sometimes I could find it (using the browser history), sometimes not.

Example

Today I asked a new question about using the WordPress API — mentioning I am getting success responses from WordPress but the expected thing was not happening (in this example: creating a WordPress post) and somebody answered to check the username/password — which obviously does not make sense in the context: I am not getting authentication errors.

Question

  • Am I doing something wrong (e.g. adding too many/not enough details)?
  • Are there other users in my situation getting low-quality answers to their questions? Is this is a known situation on Stack Overflow?
  • What can I do to improve the quality of the answers I expect?

Sometimes I feel frustrated: because when I ask something I expect to get a good answer, but instead I waste time answering/commenting with the users that post these answers that do not answer my question who in most of the cases read the question in a superficial quick way.

I don't want this question to be like a rant... but rather to understand what it is actually happening.


1 I use Stack Overflow as example here, but the trend is the same on the other SE sites (e.g. AskUbuntu etc).

  • Definitely, that answer is not something that is expected... :( – Praveen Kumar Purushothaman Oct 28 at 12:15
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    @PraveenKumarPurushothaman Why have you removed 1 I use Stackoverflow as example here, but the trend is the same on the other SE sites (e.g. AskUbuntu etc).? This very question has currently 4 close votes for off-topic, because I used Stack Overflow in my example. – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 12:21
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    I though the question was for MSO, will retract my close vote . As for me I think it's a site by site problem with their welcome wagon, as expert answerer just went away. It's a global trend, sadly. – yagmoth555 - GoFoundMe Monica Oct 28 at 12:28
  • As a side-node, you (or we) can't flag such answers as NAA, since it (may) be an attempt to answer the question. So downvoting is the only option left. And in regard to bad answers: I think its pretty common for "high traffic" tags like Java, Javascript etc. Many eyes will see your question, but only few are competent enough to actually answer it. This just doesn't prevent others from trying it anyway. So I would suggest to give your question more time to attract other people and/or to provide a bounty. – Tom Oct 28 at 12:32
  • @Tom Indeed! Usually, after a day, the question is not "new" anymore, and if there is no activity, Community will automatically delete it. And it happened to me many times. I was even searching the questions, not finding them, searching in the browser history and noticing they got deleted because of lack of activity. – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 12:38
  • Assuming good faith, I would suspect the answerer thought you were having an XY problem and may have answered accordingly. In my experience people encounter these problems often enough to warrant saving these answers for those who might find this answer later, and who are indeed having this exact XY problem, but I may be in the minority on this opinion. – user1306322 Oct 28 at 12:52
  • It needs several days until your question gets deleted due to inactivity, so that shouldn't be a great concern. A bounty for example would prevent that. And as far as I'm aware you can't find your own deleted question when they were deleted more than 30(??) days ago. You would need a mod for that. – Tom Oct 28 at 12:58
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    @IonicăBizău it seems the users here have read this question in only the most superficial quick way :D:D:D – gbjbaanb Oct 28 at 13:12
  • You can ask for feedback from SE staff, but I wouldn't count on getting answers in the next 12 months – gdoron is supporting Monica Oct 28 at 13:34
  • @Tom But it happens. If one has enough reputation, they can see the deleted questions. – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 13:34
  • Ionică, yes you can see deleted questions, but your profile doesn't provide your with a collection of your own deleted questions. And as far as I remember even the search parameter isDeleted:true is limited to questions that aren't deleted more than 30 days. – Tom Oct 28 at 13:46
  • @Tom I did mention I couldn't find the question anymore and I used the browser history to find it again. – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 13:47
  • @user1306322 "good faith" != Technical Proficiency. I don't believe there was ever a requirement to assume that every person who uses SE actually is an expert. – Oleg Oct 28 at 14:19
  • Why were the comments with many upvotes deleted?! – Ionică Bizău Oct 30 at 9:57
83

No, it's not you. This is just a natural consequence of stackoverflow shifting the focus from a high quality library of knowledge towards quantity, e.g. attracting as many users as possible while at the same time driving away the people who used to curate the content and wrote good answers. Looking at some stats, you should be lucky to still get any answers, because the number of questions and answered questions is drifting apart (please note that the results older than 365 days are effected by undergoing roomba, thus artificially improving answer rate and unanswered count, thanks to Robert Longson for pointing this out, but the decline in the answered count is still impressive)

https://data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/1136522/answered-unanswered-questions-by-month#graph

enter image description here

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    @rjzii personally I suspect the redesign. During summer 2018 I still hoped they would take the feedback of the users into account and fix the remaining problems, only to realise in autumn that this is not going to happen, that they simply no longer care about the users – samcarter Oct 28 at 14:13
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    That's the effect of the roomba that deletes questions after a year. – Robert Longson Oct 28 at 14:29
  • Very interesting graph, correlates to Are high-reputation users answering fewer questions? – gdoron is supporting Monica Oct 28 at 14:32
  • @RobertLongson I don't quite understand... How does the roomba suddenly increase the amount of unanswered questions? Or have I misunderstood your comment? – dasdingonesin Oct 28 at 14:37
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    @dasdingonesin It doesn't, it deletes them once they are a year old. Hence the sudden drop in unanswered count. – Robert Longson Oct 28 at 14:42
  • @OrangeDog I update the visualization – samcarter Oct 28 at 14:45
  • @samcarter the better way to do that is to put another axis on the right – Stop Harming Monica Oct 28 at 14:46
  • @RobertLongson Thanks a lot for the comment about roomba! I included a note in the question – samcarter Oct 28 at 14:46
  • @OrangeDog Yes, but I have no idea how to do this in SEDE – samcarter Oct 28 at 14:46
  • @gdoron Thanks for the link! The question looks interesting – samcarter Oct 28 at 14:47
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    @dasdingonesin when Robert says "drop" they mean "jump". They're reading from the right. – Stop Harming Monica Oct 28 at 14:48
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    If you take Roomba into account, the graph shows that the number of questions is rapidly declining in 2018-2019. About 30% less questions are now asked than it was in 2017. Probably that explains all the Welcome Wagon efforts. – Vasily Alexeev Oct 28 at 17:32
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    @VasilyAlexeev but in reality, less questions is good if it means most questions don't have to be asked because they are already asked answered in the Q&A database. At least that would be the case if Stack Exchange would still be a Q&A network instead of a political platform. – Josef Oct 29 at 8:49
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    The effect of roomba can be elliminated when you look at posts with >0 votes. data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/873181/… – Sextus Empiricus Oct 29 at 12:33
  • What happened in 2015. There is a clear bump in the graph. This bump is even more clear when you look at the number of posts with high votes: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/1137172/… – Sextus Empiricus Oct 29 at 12:40
23

I stopped asking questions a few years back on Stack Overflow because:

  1. My questions were no longer "easy" since I could both research myself as well as I've become a much better engineer in the last years. And hard/difficult questions don't get answered.
  2. I got sick of people who clearly don't read my question "helping" by posting an "answer" that wastes my time and shows my question as answered
  3. Most of my questions ended up being self answered because of how hard it was to find information on a topic, so I'd write up a self-answered question

(2) is so immensely frustrating to me that it nearly single handedly caused me to stop wasting my time doing a lot of research and writing up a question, only for someone to post some irrelevant pointless off topic thing that SE has decreed is an "answer" but something I couldn't get rid of.

I switched to various other mediums where I have been able to get my answers answered and not deal with everything here.

I've been much happier with the quality of my learning, engagement with actual experts, and general frustration levels as a result.

  • 1
    Exactly! Where do you find actual experts? I have few friends who are very talented, and I would be interested to know what other ways to get in touch with good programmers (what you actually use). – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 21:19
  • Most programming languages/tools have various Slacks at this point @IonicăBizău and honestly, I find that way more useful. Both to lurk - you see higher quality content than /questions but also when asking questions. – enderland Oct 28 at 21:25
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    I hope I don't get run out of town for this but my experience is Slack is to StackOverflow what StackOverflow was to the preceding generation (Experts Exchange, forums, etc). Once someone figures out to more meaningfully publicize content from Slack into a persisted way I think there'll be a big shift in the quality of online resources for programmers again. – enderland Oct 28 at 21:27
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    The funny thing is that 2. is a direct result of the Welcome Wagon efforts. – Josef Oct 29 at 8:50
  • @Josef honestly, that problem has been happening since well before that given that "not an answer" can only apply to things that are blatant spam/off topic. A terrible well intentioned answer cannot really be easily removed. It's considerably easier to derail someone's question by posting an answer that misunderstands it or ignores important aspects in the question. The Welcome Wagon absolutely did not help this, however the trend existed well before that. – enderland Oct 29 at 15:21
  • Slack is a little closer to private IRC. Chat's a bit terrible for discoverability, but is great for quick solutions if you're luky enough to catch an expert at the right time. – Journeyman Geek Oct 30 at 4:09
  • @JourneymanGeek eh. SE no longer cares about discoverability either. And Slack can aggressively self police and keep the signal/noise ratio high. After years of selflessly giving my time/energy towards the goal of discoverability, I care a lot less. It means my interesting/more difficult questions are not captured "publicly" anywhere but I stopped caring so much about SE's goals when they stopped caring about them, too. – enderland Oct 30 at 14:32
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    We now integrate with Microsoft Teams, helping you to connect your internal knowledge base with your chat. Learn more. wow, seems SE itself even agrees with me but picked an inferior chat tool to integrate with... – enderland Nov 6 at 13:51
15

I've noticed this trend myself as well. However, some of that might be attributable to my questions leaning more on edge cases (i.e., Long Tail Programming Questions) that seems to arise with more experience with software development. More often than not, when I do write something up for StackOverflow it ends up being rubber duck debugging since the answer will come to me (similar to point 2).

However, I've also observed points 3- 5, which is a bit concerning. This might imply that either these questions are very niche (although I find this a bit unlikely), or that a lot of the gurus that know the answers have kind of moved on from StackOverflow (or similar exchange sites). That is significantly more concerning if it has been happening in mass without people really noticing; however, it is also understandable to an extent as well.

Point 4 there might be a technical solution to since closing a new question as a duplicate of an old, unanswered question helps nobody. Since the older question isn't "bumped" by the link it effectively just buries the question. However, that could be corrected by simply bumping the old question (although the asker may not be around to address it), or not allow questions without answers to be linked as duplicates. That all requires further discussion though.

Long term, I'm not sure what the solution is since StackOverflow doesn't really follow a Wikipedia model (i.e., articles may in fact be "done"). If anything, it appears that it seems to be entering the same sort of decline as Experts-Exchange without the associated subscription model.

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    "without the associated subscription model" yet... – Vatev Oct 28 at 14:36
11

While it's hard to argue about SO's quality decline and focus on quantity over quality, as is shown in @samcarter's answer, there're more factors at play than just quality decline.

Experienced users of Stack Overflow and other sites tend to attain experience in the fields they're asking questions about. Also users learn to solve problems themselves and to search. This results in their questions becoming harder and harder.

Another factor is volume. Finding good questions is hard. One look at the front page of some sites can cause depression. One has to dig through dozens of trash questions to find one worth answering — unless the user in question is farming rep at all costs, which everyone loses interest in, sooner or later.

What this means is your questions are likely not seen by users who can answer you. The solution I'm using myself is slapping +200/+500 bounty on my every question. This is the only thing that works. And even that fails sometimes.

Is this bad? If you're an experienced programmer who saw SO for the first time, then maybe. But if were developing your skills along getting SO experience, then you have enough reputation to spend on bounties.

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    From my experience, bounties didn't help me either. Mostly they ended being split between the most upvoted answers (which are not solutions to my questions). – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 16:50
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    +1 for that display name. – GeroldBroser reinstates Monica Oct 28 at 19:04
  • @IonicăBizău - I thought only a single answer can be awarded the bounty? – Ramhound Oct 28 at 19:40
  • @Ramhound I don't award the bounty if the answer does not answer my question. However, if there are two answers posted each one having 1 vote, for example, the bounty will be split automatically between them. – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 19:45
  • I never had much luck with bounties, other that attracting even worse not answers to my questions. – Resistance Is Futile Oct 29 at 8:48
4

I can feel you. I myself stopped contributing to SO a long time ago. I like the green internet points and it's nice when their number increases. It's a small sign of appreciation that makes you think you're useful.

However, it is really hard to get them on SO and often not even OP will reward you with it. Not even with the green tick. This is disappointing because it let's you think that your work was completely in vain. You also won't get any feedback whether or not it was useful.

I also rarely ask anything because this is the easiest way to receive downvotes. Rarely anybody will tell you why, so you're left with the negative number without knowing how to improve your question. It might contain working and reproducable examples you're still going to be downvoted. I don't know why this happens and I don't like it. This makes you feel you did something wrong and don't know how to fix that.

I find that SE is partially to blame for this situation. They strongly discourage comments so I guess ppl avoid them. I find it's a nice gesture when someone says something kind in comments - like you do it here ;-) This shows you that someone cares enough to talk to you and makes this place less cold and more social. I especially like a comment by the OP saying that something was useful on a not-accepted answer.

Be nice IMO is not only about being nice in questions and answers but also to say something nice just because it's nice to do so.

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    And the whole welcome wagon and last changes just give a 'walking on eggs when writing a comment' feeling, hence discouraging any feedback. It's been 3 years SE implement decision detrimental to their announced goal of being 'welcoming'. – Tensibai Oct 29 at 11:53
3

I guess it is related to the licence change. The company behind SE seems to claim that the content is theirs and they are free to do whatever they want, including illegal licence changes.

Before this most thought they would work for the community, now it is clear that your unpaid time is used by a for profit company.

In my opinion that is also the reason why they do not react in any way to the current snowstorm about pronouns and Monica, because it is a great smokescreen to distract from the real elephant in the room.

1

I can comprehend the question:

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    Exactly! What bugs me is that these questions get downvoted sometimes, without comments or explanations... but nobody comes out with a solution. – Ionică Bizău Oct 28 at 19:03
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    @IonicăBizău "Be nice" has made leaving a comment high risk...... – Ian Ringrose Oct 28 at 19:09
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    @IanRingrose Really? (You are referring to the CoC, right?) Why this and what's the risk? The comment being deleted or the commenter being suspended (temporarily)? I'm aware of that this is not a children's playground. I am self-confident enough to bear a downvote or a comment with criticism–if there are according arguments. I don't need someone behind the scenes to protect me. What I really dont' like is being left in the cold without the chance to learn and improve myself. – GeroldBroser reinstates Monica Oct 28 at 19:23
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    @GeroldBroser - Most users avoid submitting a comment, due to users being rude towards other users, who issue a vote and happen to explain the reason in a comment. For instance I have a few hundred answers on Stack Overflow, I left the (Stack Overflow) community due to serial downvoters. I flagged the behavior to the moderators and they refused to do anything. I also had to hide my Stack Overflow profile from my other community profiles due to cross-community serial downvoters. – Ramhound Oct 28 at 19:39
  • @Ramhound Aren't serial downvoters going to be banned? That's all but "Be nice". – GeroldBroser reinstates Monica Oct 28 at 19:47
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    @GeroldBroser - They are supposed to be. Until I started to hide my other community profiles, I had one week, where my profile from one community was serial downvoted by a user from Stack Overflow several days in a row. How do I know it was a user from Stack Overflow, I don't actually know, but the the serial downvotes stopped when I hide my SO profile. – Ramhound Oct 28 at 19:51

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