4

I think this is not an unusual situation for many Stack Exchange users: I might have a beginners' question concerning some area I am not familiar with, for example, about JavaScript, SQL, sed, ... (to name a few examples from Stack Overflow) or about cooking, DIY, German language ... (to add examples from other sites).

It is quite likely that such basic questions have been already asked and answered - so I might be able to find it by searching on that site or I might be directed by Google to a question on some Stack Exchange site. Since I have enough reputation (thanks to the association bonus), I will also upvote the question and probably some of the answers - after all, they have been useful to me. However, from the viewpoint of people familiar the given area, the answers are very likely quite trivial. (I looked up the question mainly because I am new to this area.)

In several discussions about HNQs and upvotes on the HNQs1, a frequent complaint was that upvotes coming from users unfamiliar with the site distort the score as a measure of the quality of the questions/answers. Various measures to prevent this were suggested.

Question: Don't the questions which are often asked (or searched) by beginners have the same problem as HNQs? (Or, more generally, questions which gain many views because people are often interested in that particular topic for whatever reason.) And if this is considered a problem, should something be done about that?

On one hand, one could see this as positive thing: The questions which are useful to "general public" get a lot of upvotes. This makes them a bit more noticeable and they serve as some kind of "showcase" where the site displays how good answers the community can give to the topic which are frequently asked. On the other hand, the objection raised in the discussions about HNQs (a lot of reputation points for a trivial answer) might be applicable also here.

I should probably stress a bit that I am asking this partly in relation with the ongoing discussion about HNQs. (There are several discussions related to this aspect HNQs both here and on per-site-metas.)

These questions are somewhat similar to HNQs in the sense that many views (and some of the votes) might come from people who come from other sites. Of course, this effect is more prominent in HNQs, since people who visit a question from the HNQ list are already coming from some Stack Exchange site. (Unlike people who found some frequently question, for example, from Google.)


I have searched a bit for related questions posted on this site in the past. This seems (to some extent) related: The bikeshed problem and Stack Exchange and Diminishing returns / non-linear reputation from “great” answers.

Easy questions have also been discussed in connection with the FGITW problem. However, in discussions about FGITW the concern seems to be more about the reputation gained by users who are first to answer.


1HNQ stands for hot network questions. Some examples of past discussions related to them: The association bonus should not enable users to vote on every site and Prevent questions on Hot List from being upvoted by casual visitors (only rep is from association bonus).

6

Yes, I think what you describe is correct: simple (but non-trivial) questions tend to get more views and votes than complex ones which (one could argue) deserve more attention than they currently get. A related discussion is here: Is there a demonstrable correlation between question length and question quality?

But is this a problem? I don't know, but let me give two examples from the real world where this is the case as well. As all analogies, they're bound to break somewhere, but I hope you can follow my train of thoughts:

  • One could argue that certain types of music (classical, jazz, to name a few) are 'higher' forms of music than pop music. Yet pop music, as its name implies, is far more popular, so there are many people making a lot of money off of it while classical musicians barely manage to make a living (especially right now because of Covid-19 lockdowns).
  • I've always wondered why soccer is (at least in Europe) so popular, and why transfer sums and salaries are so high compared to other sports which, trying to look objectively at the game itself (I know it's hard), are at least as interesting as soccer. Don't get me wrong, I like the game (I used to play it myself) but one cannot say soccer is better than, say, rugby. More than half of the time, the soccer ball is just being played around by the defense and the midfield. Sports like volleyball and badminton have much more 'active' time.

The questions which are useful to "general public" get a lot of upvotes.

Yes, and the "useful" part is even mentioned in the tooltip of the upvote button. Simple questions are useful to many people; there are a lot more beginners in topic X than experts. It's just a fact of life; I wouldn't consider this a problem.

| improve this answer | |
2

Don't the questions which are often asked (or searched) by beginners have the same problem as HNQs? (Or, more generally, questions which gain many views because people are often interested in that particular topic for whatever reason.)

I don't believe this is a problem. If a basic question gets lots of views, and the question and (some of) its answers accumulate lots of points over time, then that indicates that the question and those answers are valuable to the Stack Exchange community, and presumably they're also valuable to the wider community who find the question via a search engine but who aren't members (or who aren't logged in). In my opinion, the system is working as intended.

Sure, it can be a bit frustrating to have quickly written a basic answer which has a high score when you have other answers that involved a lot more work that just sit there with a small or zero score. There's no simple solution to the "bikeshedding" problem.

Sometimes, when I see a good basic answer, I think "Hey, this person seems to know their stuff, what do their more complex answers look like?" I may then do a quick look at their profile and upvote 1 or 2 of their other answers. However, we can't actually encourage people to do that, since that quickly leads to serial upvoting. ;) We're supposed to focus on the content, not the creator of the content. OTOH, the sites do need good content creators, and those creators do deserve to be rewarded for their contributions.


The HNQ does distort scores, but I don't think that's as big a problem as it might seem, since it usually inflates the scores of all the (reasonably good) answers on the page. So it doesn't have much effect on the relative ranking of those answers, apart from the bikeshedding factor, where more technical answers may not get as many votes as the simpler answers. (However, it does make it hard to compare those answers to answers on linked duplicate questions).

OTOH, some people may upvote good-looking technical answers that they don't fully understand, just because the answer looks impressive. The answer may actually be wrong, but you need to be an expert to tell that. Hopefully, the experts will read the answer and cast appropriate votes, and leave comments.

Some basic popular answers get an initial boost via the HNQ, which gives them a higher ranking in search engines. So over the years, they continue to attract attention, and upvotes. I have a few answers like that across the network. Yes, I'd prefer to get more votes on my less basic answers, but I'm glad that people have been helped by my answers, both the easy ones and the more elaborate ones.

| improve this answer | |

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .