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I'm doing some research on Stack Exchange users.

Suppose you know someone, e.g. off site or after already answering a lot of their questions. Would you answer this user's questions only because you know them?

Does anything besides expertise and interest influence your decision to answer a question?

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6 Answers 6

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I don't generally discriminate against individual people when deciding which questions to answer.

When I answer something, it's because:

  • I happened upon the question
  • The question is well-posed and doesn't take long to understand
  • The answer wouldn't take long to write
  • I'm in a good mood
  • I have the free time

If all of these conditions are met, I'll answer.

If all of these conditions are mostly met, and the OP is an individual of high standing and who has been helpful in the past, I may consider answering anyway because they have earnt some quantity of leeway with me.

If the OP is in my personal blacklist, I will not answer or respond in any way even if the above conditions are met. They've done something in the past which has left me feeling, frankly, that they don't deserve my free time. After all, it's mine to give as I see fit. Nobody's entitled to free help.


But that's just me. Everybody has their own reasons for playing.

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    +1, and thanks for the last paragraph about "personal blacklist." Many people would not admit that is a factor. I have a very short personal blacklist and ignore questions and answers from people on it. Won't answer, won't upvote, won't downvote, won't VTC, won't anything.
    – user540056
    Dec 17, 2019 at 17:33
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    @ab2ReinstateMonicaNow Yep it's not a long list Dec 17, 2019 at 17:54
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Speaking personally, the majority of questions I answered on the English language sites were posted by newcomers. But there were several conditions: First and foremost, I had to know the answer! The question also had to be on-topic, and not a duplicate. Secondly, I would endeavor to write up a supported answer, providing links to outside sources that would support my answer and provide the OP with further information. Third, if I felt the question was original but contained several mistakes and its presentation could have been improved, I would edit it into shape before posting any answer. Sometimes the edit was enough to attract answers.

Users who regularly post on-topic and interesting questions will nearly always attract more than one answer, they know how to craft their post in a way to appeal to the community. In a sense they know what makes a good question, and they make sure to tick all the boxes.

Knowing who is your audience and what they will find interesting, is pretty much an essential skill. Easy questions might get more than one answer but they will also get closed pretty quickly, and the quality of the answers will, more often than not, be disappointing.

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Would you answer this user's questions only because you know them?

In theory, that could be a useful strategy. For lengthy periods of time, I mainly answered (and occasionally asked) on the java tag on stackoverflow. Thing is: that "place" is swamped with all kinds of "bad" questions. Either badly written, so you have no idea what is asked, or the zero-prior-research 1 millionth repetition of "I got a NullPointerException", or "here is my homework assignment" requests.

When you thus come to that "place", to learn something, and maybe answer interesting questions, then of course, it would seem reasonable to check if some person-you-know-to-ask-good questions put up a new question worth looking at.

But in practical reality, it doesn't work that way, at least for me. Because those people that write good questions, they don't do that "often enough". When your goal is to provide good answers, and to acquire +X reputation over the next Y days, then you don't wait for some "friend" to drop a new question. You dig through the mud, hoping to spot something worth your time, no matter who wrote it.

Beyond that, I personally made these experiences:

  • Sometimes you help a newbie, and then a few days later, you come across another nice question of that person. And so on. And that just feels great: you can see how that person makes progress over time, and really cool: you can see your own contribution to that.
  • When other "experts" ask questions, most likely: their questions are hard. They are experts already, so there is a good chance that I can't answer their questions. At least not immediately, and without spending some serious amount of time and energy.

Taking these things together: "knowing" people is "nice", as it allows to "connect" to people beyond pure technical content. But it is not something that affects my selection of questions.

Finally: at least in my perception, "fame" (at least on stackoverflow) comes out of writing great answers. I couldn't name a single user there who is known throughout the network for mainly/only asking great questions. When you look at those 8 users that are above 800K reputation on stackoverflow right now, the max number of questions asked is with commonsware, who has 114 questions. And Gordon, with the most answers (62K!!!) ... 0 questions asked. As said: "fame" is about writing many great answers, not questions.

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Suppose you know someone, e.g. off site or after already answering a lot of their questions. Would you answer this user's questions only because you know them?

Yes. There are a couple of people I "stalk", one because I know them offline and the other because they post interesting questions: I'm more likely to attempt to answer their questions for the simple reason that I'm more likely to see them.


Does anything besides expertise and interest influence your decision to answer a question?

On certain stacks, I'm strongly influenced by the evidence given that the asker has put in some effort, especially when the question looks like homework. I can think of one example on math.stackexchange.com where I spent a few hours working on the problem, because it was interesting, but didn't post an answer because I didn't see evidence of effort on the part of the asker. (I'm 99% sure it was either homework or a contest problem because two different people asked the same question within a couple of days of each other). I did post a hint in the comments, and had I seen serious engagement with the hint then I might have posted an answer, but the response to the hint seemed to be asking to be spoon-fed.

On another stack, I have sometimes boycotted users who were posting what seemed to me to be excessive numbers of questions without first properly processing the answers to their earlier questions and applying them to the newer questions. (That might sound a bit cryptic: I'm referring to codereview.stackexchange.com, where I expect that after someone has posted two questions whose answers suggest that they do X then they should either do X in newer code or justify why they're not doing X in the question). It feels like a waste of time to answer their questions.

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I wouldn't. It would be...

Boring...

One of the attractions to cruising the question queue is you often find problems you almost know the answer to. While occationally - we do start a QA pair off the main site, working through an issue on chat on or off site.

You're going to miss out on a lot by focusing purely on people you know. It makes more sense to focus on topics that interest you than people

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Suppose you know someone, e.g. off site or after already answering a lot of their questions. Would you answer this user's questions only because you know them?

For all I care, the names could not be displayed, they only distract from the content. At least that's the general idea. But since they are displayed, and when you are regularly looking at low traffic tags (say less than 10 new questions every day), then the case occurs that you see (and answer) multiple questions of the same person. On StackOverflow, typically people asking more than a single question typically also have a connection between their questions (they evolve around a common topic more or less).

Knowing from past experience how fast and how thoroughly they react and what their level of knowledge is, may be helpful in answering these questions and may make it easier and in turn increase the chance of answering. But I don't really feel lots of emotional attachment to other question askers on the platform, I don't know them well enough for it, there are much more serial answerers than serial askers (of good questions). If an answerer, whom I admire (for example Jon Skeet), would ask a question, I would feel happy to answer if I could, but that doesn't happen often. These people answer their questions by themselves.

From my past experience I would say there is a slight positive effect if I "know" the person asking. But it could also only be that the asker gets better at asking.

Does anything besides expertise and interest influence your decision to answer a question?

The major influence besides that is surely the available time. Without time available, I cannot answer at all.

P.S.: Knowing somebody off-site is a different cup of tea by itself. That relationship might include a totally different behavior (either much more likely or much less likely) but so far hasn't happened to me because in such cases questions are typically asked directly and not via this platform.

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