To quote Carl Sagan:

"There are naïve questions, tedious questions, ill-phrased questions, questions put after inadequate self-criticism. But every question is a cry to understand the world. There is no such thing as a dumb question"

However Mr. Sagan didn't live in the global and massive community that Internet provides in these days.

Questions that fall into the "naïve, tedious, ill-phrased and etc." column had gotten much worse due to language barriers and not translatable issues over cultural differences. So the community, in order not to become a mass bundle of nonsense, has an undeserving job of evaluating if the questions asked are ... well... quality ones.

This in turn has generated much social, psychological and similar issues that are yet to be grasped by scientists over the world - since first change has to happen in order to be observed.

This community has several ways to evaluate the question: upvotes, downvotes, comments, community algorithms, engines, queries ... all that gives an abundance of data, but honestly raises more issues than benefits. Because where there is a rule, there will be a human to abuse it - since we move too quick for the world and regulations to catch up. Once one bugfix has been issued, 10 billion more come again.

But this quote still lingers in my mind. If we forget about our own personal biases, grudges and feelings, each question is a plea for knowledge no matter how badly/well has it been phrased or formulated. Yet these days good form gives one visibility, so one can't simply ignore it.

It seems there is a price to pay for any kind of evaluation of questions. Too many upvotes and a question that isn't helping can be visible, too many downvotes and question poorly written or clumsily asked can fall onto scrutiny even if it was highly needed, or not enough of both and the question wouldn't be found even if the best engines tried to scrape it from the server.

So I asked myself, what makes a question great? Is it the question, or the answers that are given to the question? If I ask "Why is the sky red?" is the best answer really "grandma, you slept with your contact lenses again!" or "due to same rare cases of color blindness some people might perceive the world covered in red".

The "one question, one answer" policy seems to not be timing crucial. With new software updates, new versions, some answers to some questions might be severely outdated or outside of best practices... however the question might be still valid.

Thus I would like to hear from this community:

What could be possible pros and cons if we stopped evaluating the questions, but rather evaluate answers only?

  • "What could be possible pros and cons if we stopped evaluating the questions, but rather evaluate answers only?" How do you evaluate a question with no answers? Unanswered questions are not an anomaly or something to be brushed off as a rounding error, the site I main on, ~10% of questions are unanswered. – Peilonrayz May 20 at 20:23
  • Well if one doesn't evaluate a question with answers why would one evaluate question with out answers? It would be nice if we lived in certain world with ironclad rules and laws that never changed trough millennia. But we aren't, so i think that amount of unanswered questions isn't a bad thing, but a good thing. There is still stuff we can learn and we can know. – Danilo May 20 at 20:26
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    I don't think the users who ask the questions will share your belief that their question going unanswered is "a good thing". Unanswered questions can be a signal of the existing system failing to put answers in front of users. – Peilonrayz May 20 at 20:51
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    The minute we cannot vote on the quality of the question is the minute I will never answer another question. Since I only answer questions, and have only asked a handful of questions myself, that means I would not do anything helpful to the community. It’s also the minute SE would become worse than Quora and I absolutely hate Quora. – Ramhound May 20 at 21:02
  • @Peilonrayz unfortunately i do think you are right. But i don't think it is right to put such large cost of "delivering an ready made meal instantly" on moderator/community shoulders. Just because we didn't get an answer quickly and when we want it it doesn't mean that patience isn't a virtue. Real issues never get an answer quickly, and if we need an answer that quick then we should've asked that question loong time ago. It isnt fair for moderators/community to shoulder all that responsibility. – Danilo May 20 at 23:23
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    As Jonathan R. Sharpe (≥10k link only) once said: ‘There’s no such thing as a stupid question’ is a pedagogical tool, used to encourage asking of questions, but isn’t actually true in any meaningful way. There are lots of stupid questions, and plenty more that aren’t stupid but are nonetheless off topic here.” – Sebastian Simon May 21 at 3:21

There is no such thing as a dumb question

Agreed. But that's not what the downvote button tooltip says:

This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful

Questions aren't downvoted because they're dumb. They're downvoted to separate them from questions which are worth other users' attention. Not every question can be answered in way that's useful for many other users (right now and in the future) so we shouldn't stop evaluating them.

  • Ok but are questions worth anything or are answers to those questions worth anything? People don't come here to search for questions but to search for answers. Evaluating questions that are worth or worthless is pointless, because to some questions mix or combined answers might give the solution. Thus why answers are those who are truly worth someone's attention. – Danilo May 20 at 20:03
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    @Danilo a question that isn't useful by definition will not attract useful answers. – Kevin B May 20 at 20:06
  • @KevinB with all due respect "usefulness" of a question is subjective... Question might or might not be useful for your case or issue, but that doesn't matter that it isn't useless for some other. However answers are always useful, since they fulfill the goal of the question. Implying that there is an definition of useful question is absurd, in search of the knowledge many times answers were found in places we never thought we search. – Danilo May 20 at 20:13
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    @Danilo have you ever read this blog post? It shines a light on why questions and their quality are important too: People come here looking for answers but without questions there are no answers. And if the good questions and their answers are drowned out in a sea of low quality content people aren't likely to take any of the answers seriously. They would look at SE like high school teachers looked at Wikipedia 15 years ago: not as a serious base of knowledge, you can't use it as a source for your assignment! – Tinkeringbell May 20 at 21:31
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    @Tinkeringbell the teachers were right; 20 years ago, we wrote Wikipedia articles as by-product of our high school essays... – Glorfindel May 20 at 21:40
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    Unfortunately, the quality of SO's content isn't following the trend wikipedia set. More rep to askers is hardly a way of improving that. – Kevin B May 20 at 21:46
  • @Tinkeringbell i haven't read that blog post, thank you for informing me further. However in 2020 it has seemed to be changed. It seems that virtual points are somewhat more important as incentive than questions themselves, and the blog is about awarding clearly asked questions than questions itself. So one isn't evaluating question but one who is asking the question? then, if one who is asking a question is evaluated, we can't think to evaluate them all the same. Cultural, language and foundation are all factors. – Danilo May 20 at 23:10

What could be possible pros and cons if we stopped evaluating the questions, but rather evaluate answers only?

One big con: We'd be flooded with a sea of questions that, as the downvote tooltip indicates, show little research effort, are unclear, or are not useful to the site.

Stack Exchange is designed to be a library of quality Q&A. All posts must pass through our content standards in order to be permitted to stick around, not just answers. We have to evaluate questions in order to ensure the site contains content worth reading and answering.

So I asked myself, what makes a question great? Is it the question or the answers that are given to such question? If I ask "why is sky red?" is really the best answer "grandma, you slept with your contact lenses again!" or "due to same rare cases of color blindness some people might perceive world covered in red"

If all you asked me was "Why is the sky red?" I'd have a bunch of questions to ask you before I would even dare to give an answer. Do your eyes hurt? Where do you live? Do you have a history of seeing red in the sky? Have you visited a doctor? Etcetera etcetera...

This is precisely why we have content standards applied to questions. If we don't know all of the necessary details required to answer your question, how can we possibly give an acceptable answer that can endure the tests of time, and continue to be useful for years to come?

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    Do your eyes hurt? Where do you live? Do you have a history of seeing red in the sky? Have you visited a doctor? I commend the humor sir! Good job! lol And you have a right point! I do agree with the fact that if we don't evaluate questions then there is major chance that we would be swimming lots of different questions. I do think that it is a possibility, but not probability. Narrow spanned questions tend to give narrow spanned answers. Broader questions give more versatile answers thus will reduce the sea of questions. – Danilo May 20 at 20:20
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    @Danilo Your response indicates that you've no experience wading for hours and hours through the low-quality post review-queue - there are many, many questions which aren't even vaguely answerable without much more work being put into the question's structure, often trollish in nature, designed to provoke rather than seeking info. Personally I'm a fan of minimum standards despite the extra work it generates for reviewers and mods. – A Rogue Ant. May 20 at 20:56
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    @Danilo In addition to A Rogue Ant's response, I wanna mention that broad questions can definitely be useful. There are many great canonical questions on SO that, as the votes and views indicate, have been helpful for thousands of people. A question being broad is fine, but overly broad is a problem. – Spevacus May 20 at 20:58
  • @ARogueAnt. i have... that is actually how i earned reputation on SO. And you are right, there are many questions that are ... difficult. Often poorly worded, or "DoMyHomeworkPls" and i have to be honest i've written few of those difficult questions myself in past. So why at all moderate questions? Why evaluate them? Evaluation of answers is much more beneficial and easier since one has something concrete to do. It is easier to moderate an specific use for specific system, than untangle what writer wanted to say. – Danilo May 20 at 23:15
  • @Spevacus... i agree. Due to language barrier sometimes i've myself (unwillingly) overly complicated my writing in order to try and be clear with my message. Overly broad and tl;dr; is a problem and solution in a way, and it is heavily subjective. But, and i am saying this fully knowing that i may fall into this cathegory, if question is unanswered due to logorrhea or such, it doesn't mean that there isn't an answer. It just means that questioner needs to learn more. And then they will find an answer. – Danilo May 20 at 23:18
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    But i do understand, the things now are, lots of work for moderators, internet is not nice place and trolls and lazy students are everywhere. Having questions that aren't evaluated means more work and more effort. It can generate a sea of noise that can't be controlled. I do (personally) see bad and the good. I am not advocating for either even if it might seem like so. But i feel i need to try to give an other side as well, because not many people have tried. – Danilo May 20 at 23:20
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    @Danilo Your efforts in providing a discussion for this matter are definitely appreciated. Also, you're participating in said discussion in good faith, which is nice to see. :) – Spevacus May 20 at 23:25
  • "We'd be flooded with a sea of questions..." -- that's been a reality for couple of years now. An unceasing torrent, I'd say. – Dan Mašek May 21 at 11:55

What could be possible pros and cons if we stopped evaluating the questions, but rather evaluate answers only?


Stack Exchange sites aren't ad hoc help forae, or personal helpdesks.

As we need to eliminate bad answers, we also need to do that with questions, if we want to avoid drowning in useless noise.

The Stack Exchange sites are Question and Answer sites intended to form a researchable FAQ like format.

Low quality questions harm that goal, as bad answers would do.

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