6

A little history.

Many years ago the network settled for banning comments to low-effort-questions that contained "Let me google that for you" links in an attempt to be more "welcoming" to new users.

Back then, balpha posted some messages that seem to imply that any question (provided not a dupe) has a place on the network, no mater how simple it may sound.

On a broader view: It seems that many people, even regulars, aren't getting the "Every question should be on Stack Overflow" policy. That's the intention of the site makers, and so that's what the community should enforce. Maybe this policy should be made clearer somehow?

@bchappell: Whether the question is programming related is a different issue than whether it's easy ("lazy"). "What does #include mean in C" is a valid SO question, while "What city is the Microsoft headquarters in" is not. Both are easy to google.

(note: for sake of correctness, it is worth noticing that balpha was specifically talking about SO in that context—see his mentions about the SO FAQ page)

Later the voting tooltips were changed.

I recently noticed that the vote button tooltips have changed. They now say:

Downvote this if you find it unclear or not useful

Upvote this if you find it clear and useful

The text changes depending on which vote you cast.

For context, the old tooltips on questions used to say:

This question shows research effort; it is useful and clear

and:

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

The new text isn't that different for answers.

IMO, the former wording was way more informative (esp. for the OP).

Is "lack of research" for a question not a good reason to downvote a question anymore?

But it appears as if the change was later reversed since everywhere I look the downvote question button tooltip still looks like this.

"This question does not show any research effort" downvote reason

I will be honest: zero effort questions really get on my nerve, especially when the same experienced users keep asking easily googleable question that the same users keep answering, in an almost coordinated rep farming effort.

It is painful to see thing like (questions are anonymized, don't ask for real links):

  • how is this famous manga about [insert topic] by this author called? (the topic is literally the English translation of the title)
  • what button should I press to jump in this game? (mentioned multiple times in the unskippable tutorial / manual)
  • how is the main protagonist of this book called? (... no comment)

You probably can see the point here.

I admit I am pretty confused right now. Do we as a network want to keep these "questions" around as balpha seemed to imply or we want to downvote them as "no effort" questions as the tooltip suggest? What is the the real, current company standing on this?


Two clarifications since the current comments and answers seems to have got this quite wrong.

I have to point out that the example I made were not made up. We aren't talking about questions that one could not know how to google. We are talking about questions that are so easy they look fabricated just to get reputation points. To be blunt: back to the same example, I refuse to think that someone could not google "What is the name of this manga about an hero who defeats everyone with one punch". Especially because literally putting the question title in Google would give the answer.

Also, this is not a discussion where you need to convince me about what is wrong/right. I am just asking what the company considers right since there is an obvious contradiction somewhere. Whether I consider that right or wrong is not part of the issue—I tagged this as support on purpose.

12
  • 2
    There are a variety of possible questions across the network where Googling is indeed very easy if you know the right search term. Often the OP does not know the magic search term.
    – Jon Custer
    Jan 31 at 16:19
  • @JonCuster Sorry Jon, but the anonymized examples are actual examples of what I had in mind. I don't think that anyone able to make an account on this site is unable to search the name of that mangaka followed by that topic and not see that manga as the first result. This is not something about how to formulate a question when you have no experience in the topic. This is about asking how to turn of your TV because you want someone to read the manual for you (or more realistically you want some friend to upvote the question)
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 31 at 16:31
  • Just to note, there are sites where it is mandatory to show your research when posting (Medical Sciences, Biology etc..)
    – W.O.
    Jan 31 at 22:37
  • @starball kinda. This is also an attempt to prove that either we stop pretending that people can't just make up questions like "What is the capital of France" and change the tooltip so that people don't get false expectation of quality from the site before wasting their time "polishing sand" (no, I don't believe anyone capable to register to the site and make an account here is unable to Google that) or we should start doing something serious for the issue.
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 1 at 8:25
  • "What is the the real, current company standing on this?" I read this as some official answer from a SO employee is required saying things like either that they are okay with people not searching before asking or they aren't okay with it, which we would then take as a clue to downvote or not to downvote such questions (or answers). Feb 1 at 8:38
  • 1
    @NoDataDumpNoContribution correct, that is the best case scenario I am hoping for. Because as you can see from the question links, on one side we have balpha suggesting that (at least on SO) any question is good even if it is "1+1", on the other we have the UI suggesting the opposite (and you could also argue that said UI was even rolled back in order to add that message again apparently so the message seems quite intentional)
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 1 at 8:49
  • how does the UI suggest the opposite? sure, it's confusing in that it appears to the uninformed to mean that research includes off-site research, but to my understanding, that is not the default meaning of "research" in the voting tooltips.
    – starball
    Feb 1 at 8:53
  • @starball even if you were right (I'll be honest, I don't fully agree on this one) all your average, not meta-involved user see is a tooltip telling them that "downvoting a question that was not researched if fine and you should do that to help the site quality" while in reality apparently we want to be a library not only for pearls but for all the sand like the "what is the capital of France" that you could frankly just use Google/Wikipedia for.
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 1 at 9:00
  • yes, I agree that the tooltip can and should be improved. Ex. at least linking to a definition of "research" in a help center page that can be edited on a per-site basis. I only learned what it meant by "research" when I went searching for the definition on meta.
    – starball
    Feb 1 at 9:02
  • 1
    The only reason to downvote a question is to indicate to other readers that you think they shouldn’t waste their time on it. There are way too many specific reasons someone might have to put in a tooltip.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 6 at 12:24
  • The network’s stance doesn’t matter if I lose my keys… Feb 7 at 1:32

7 Answers 7

10

I'm very much not a fan of the current hover text for voting. The voting here and the response when it was changed and reverted in 2020 indicates I may be taking an unpopular stance but this has been one of my pet peeves for a while. In many ways, I'm pretty sure I'm roughly in the same camp as balpha. If the purpose of this platform is to be a library of information about a subject, I generally agree that even basic or simple questions belong here.

Before I get too far into this - I absolutely believe there is a line at which a question is too trivial. - there are absolutely cases where a question is not a good fit for the site and I accept that's subjective both on the user level and site level but "failing to show research" is not indicative of a question deserving of downvotes and should not be elevated to this level of visibility network wide.

Three options when voting on questions

I've been watching a YouTuber who streams himself playing Mario Maker II - a game that allows players to create their own Mario Bros. levels and share them with the world. After he finishes playing a level, he uses the game's built in system to rate the level as good, bad, or "meh" - meaning he doesn't rate it at all. While many levels get booed, it's usually because the creator did something that feels hostile to the player, such as pipes or doors that pointlessly lead to certain death. "Good" levels are ones he actually enjoys playing, even if they were easy. Everything else, including levels that have both ups and downs, gets no vote at all, just an audible "meh" in his stream.

When I think about what I want from a question to earn an upvote, I do like to see that a user's put in some effort to understand the problem, has been thoughtful about explaining their situation and defining their question. I'm likely going to appreciate a question I might have asked myself or could see someone asking or think is really interesting or novel. I don't expect all questions to tick all of these boxes to get a vote, though. But - if I were to use the lack of even one as a reason to downvote - I end up downvoting nearly everything.

I think the problem is that the UI forgot that there's a third option - not voting - that may be the best option in more cases than not. There should be reasons to upvote, reasons to downvote and if neither exist, you are advised to not vote. That said, I'd argue that "unclear" is the only real reason to downvote in the current UI ("not useful", I'm coming for you next). What sorts of things cause me to downvote a question? It honestly looks a lot like the close and flag reasons and I often still don't bother to vote.

  • Question is out of scope for the site (includes off topic, rants, too subjective, non-questions).
  • Question is inscrutable to the point it may as well be gibberish.
  • Question is problematic or outright offensive (and can't be fixed with edits).
  • Question asker is being rude, abrasive, demanding or otherwise intractable and I'm tired of them (yeah, I'm being totally honest and saying what people often don't).

There's likely other reasons but these are highly personal to any given voter and site. There's a lot of things I specifically don't usually downvote for like poor formatting (I edit), poor grammar/spelling (I edit), question is incomplete but seems salvageable (I comment). I also (gasp) frequently don't downvote FR questions on meta I disagree with because I think that's just not a good practice. You don't have to agree with any of this!

Failing to show research isn't a core issue in questions.

I completely understand that some sites may feel like they're drowning in bad questions they just want to get rid of - I've been in that situation myself on Movies & TV and it feels frustrating to see bad content on a site you really care about. You might start looking for common issues... or UI cues that tell you when a question is bad.

I didn't get a chance to look around the entire network but I have seen lots of sites using "research effort" or similar as a justification downvoting and/or closure. Usually when I've dug into it, I find that many of the questions that get lumped into that bucket have larger core issues:

  • "Do my homework for me" questions - Someone posting a question that seems to come directly from their homework with no attempt to solve the problem themselves or even direct the question to a specific part of the problem that's confusing them may be answerable but likely won't actually help the user solve similar problems in the future. But what you need isn't "research", you need an actual question - meaning you need a question about the question.
  • Question is poorly defined or asker seems unsure of what they need - In these cases, a user may be too new to a subject to convey their question clearly, so they may need to learn a bit more about the subject to ask a good question but showing that research isn't necessarily helpful. There's a close reason for that.
    • Alternatively, a user may not know what level of detail or context is needed for their question to be answerable. That's not research, that's detail.
  • Asker made a leap of logic that was very wrong - Similar to the prior situation. The need in these cases is like the algebra teacher who really needs you to show your work - it's the only way to figure out where the asker went wrong but "showing your work" isn't "showing research". Close for lacking details, comment, hope they edit to show their work.
  • "Trivia" questions - I've mentioned already that not every question is a good fit for SE and it's reasonable for sites to set these rules... but... I strongly encourage leaning towards very specific and clear definitions that don't boil down to "I found the answer in two seconds on Google, you could have, too". Don't hide behind "show research" - you wouldn't want the questions, even if they did.
    • Also, be willing to question past decisions like this and review the impact they have on the site. Movies & TV had a definition for trivia until January 2023, when they removed the close reason for trivial questions due to misuse.
  • "Low-effort" or "lazy" questions - Person asks a question that is clear, in scope, objective, narrow but is easy to answer - maybe even common knowledge - and searching the internet would have absolutely found the solution. Assuming it doesn't fit the "trivia" definition was it already asked on the site (preferably without them having to review a 10k character answer)? Yes? Close as a duplicate. No?... then answer it (or let leave it for someone else to answer)! What purpose does downvoting have other than signaling to askers that an otherwise reasonable, if basic, question is unwelcome?

If your site recommends downvoting questions that fail to show research for reasons other than the above examples, I'd invite you to think critically to see if "failing to show research" is being used as shorthand for some other issue. If a question included something like "I searched in Google and couldn't find anything", would you consider the research box checked? I'm guessing not - it's still probably a bad question for the same reason it would be if it didn't include that note - what is that reason?

Even if you still feel that showing research is absolutely necessary for all questions, I would ask that you consider that failing to show research isn't universally a reason to downvote to the degree that it deserves a spot in the UI - and it may be doing harm.

Why is using the UI to tell people to downvote for failing to show research a problem?

One of the reasons I rarely ask non-meta questions is that - when I have a question - I can generally find an answer to it. Sometimes I even start drafting a question and - in my effort to ensure I show my research - I find the answer and stop writing, even if I can find no indication of that question on the SE site I'm using. When I do manage to post a question, I often don't get any answers or I find the answers I get to be incomplete, unsupported, or otherwise unhelpful.

Now, I'm absolutely willing to accept that most people are not like me, which is fortunate because it means the platform continues to exist - people post questions and they get answers that actually solve their problems. What is unfortunate is when people voting on questions read the hover text telling them to downvote if a question "does not show research effort" but their interpretation of this means they expect everyone to write questions the way I do - researching while composing and frequently self-solving. This would be amazing but isn't realistic.

The internet is huge and many questions have been asked and answered many times in various places. That doesn't mean they shouldn't be answered on SE, too.

I'd put forward a different trio of example questions for consideration:

These are all extremely simple questions with very obvious answers but are different than the examples in the question, which are portrayed as practically non-questions. The answers to these questions could have easily been found elsewhere on the internet and the questions show absolutely no research attempt... but that doesn't make them worthy of downvotes, even if I also think they're not "useful".

I might roll my eyes at someone thinking carrots are dyed orange and refuse to upvote but that doesn't mean the question isn't adding to the library of information on the network (or that I'm too above it to enjoy a rep boost by answering it)!

They're all also extremely popular questions - far outpacing questions from the same timeframe in views - which shows that, basic or silly as they are, lots of people have them. They serve a purpose. This sort of question can be what draws people to the site, which can lead to more participation, more activity, more community.

If a library only has esoteric questions that don't have answers elsewhere, why would anyone who just had a "normal" question go to that library? How would anyone who wasn't an expert participate there? Now, if you're a library that only wants people who are only interested in esoteric questions, that's a choice, but be certain it's intentional. I'm not advocating sites chase views and open up their scope to the basest user who only wants to be spoon-fed info that could be found elsewhere. There are many sites that have had to change policy to address that and clamp down on undesirable, low-value questions.

What I do advocate for is that sites create clear and consistent question asking guidance, understand the impact of that guidance, and avoid relying on UI text that can be interpreted in so many different ways, many of which probably won't actually lead to a better question.


Addendum - special cases & caveats

I am generally not a fan of spelling out caveats for a variety of reasons - in this case because I feel that existing network policy/guidance and user behavior already addresses most of these if you allow yourself to look at the forest:

One user, lots of (low quality) questions

I'd lump a lot of the questions people define as "low effort" or "no research effort" into the category of low quality. Maybe you don't, that's fine, but I think it's a reasonable choice.

"Low quality questions over time" is actually one of the default mod messages and has been since the "A Day in the Penalty Box" blog post in 2009. The blog specifically refers to cases where users fail to improve their question asking over time, particularly after community members have made an effort to either direct the asker to resources or put more effort into finding the answer before they ask.

Different sites have different points at which community members stop wanting to engage with a specific user. While the exact question count depends on various factors, it usually goes something like:

  • Questions 1-3: Oh, look, an excited new user! I'll show them how to improve their question by editing and commenting and if I can, I'll post an answer.
  • Questions 4-9: Oh, look... that user still seems to be struggling with asking good questions but they're not listening to anything we tell them. I won't bother trying to help any more.
  • Questions 10+: Oh, look... that user is still filling our site with trash. I'm going to downvote and I may flag it for mods to handle or bring it up on meta.

I've yet to find a site that lets a user regularly ask low quality questions without tiring of them and asking mods to step in or downvoting every question the user asks, regardless of its content.

The emphasis here is "over time" - one low quality question isn't necessarily a problem and may be answerable. It's OK to accept the occasional question that needs some help. It's also OK for a community to decide that someone regularly asking low quality questions isn't actually interested in being a member of the community - even if there's no specific policy.

Self-answered questions

First off, let's recognize that self answered questions are frequently met with skepticism and a much higher bar of quality than questions alone. For the purpose of this, I'm talking about questions asked and answered by the asker simultaneously (or practically so). Let's generally give the benefit of the doubt to someone who finds the answer later on and posts an answer when their question hasn't already been answered.

Writing well-received self-answered questions generally hinges on an expert wanting to share the solution to a complex, common, or interesting problem that isn't already covered on the site. Self answers that fail to do this, frequently attract community frustration much more quickly than low quality questions alone.

In one of your examples, you mention users who

Post easily google-able answers then pretend to have "figured out" two days after (so that it doesn't look like they knew from the start).

If the question wasn't closed or answered in two days, why is this a problem? If the community is struggling to close questions that should be closed based on site policy and/or failing to answer questions that are otherwise easily answerable within two days, it sounds like the site has a much bigger issue than someone posting a question they could have answered with Google.

You're ascribing a lot of bad intentions - which may be the case in your specific, uncited situations - but the general experience I have tells me that, most of the time, people aren't intending to self answer a question when they post an answer several days later. They may instead be

  • trying to increase the volume of questions per day because the site is quiet and they want to see more activity.
  • trying to flesh out the library of knowledge where they see gaps.
  • trying to draw more visitors to the site by having content that is commonly-asked.

These feel like noble reasons to ask questions and things I've seen sites do as part of events to increase site activity. It does require the questions are still otherwise "good" for the site but it's not necessarily harmful if they are. And, if the questions are bad and show no indication of improving, I refer you to the low quality section.


While the banality of their questions may seem like the core issue, I'd argue that their unwillingness to improve over time is the bigger issue - and one mods can act on.

16
  • 1
    Again, I think you - like many other - are seriously underestimating what "Low-effort" means. You made an example about Movies, so let me ask you. Would you be fine with questions that are literally "Can you tell me the name of the actor that plays [insert name] in [insert movie]"? Now, suppose this comes from a 20k+ users. And suppose that they keep doing that - usually every time a new movie comes out. Is it still useful? Or does it start smelling like gaming the system?
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 6 at 14:06
  • 2
    First off, it's not "low effort" - nothing in the UI says "low effort". It's "no research effort". You may be using them to mean the same thing but they absolutely don't. Secondly, you are ignoring the point here about trivia. Your example is exactly what M&TV's trivia policy was for - "replicating IMDb". Questions like that were (and probably are) still downvoted for the reasons you are concerned. The problem was, it was ambiguous and applied in situations it wasn't intended to be far more often than it was used in cases like your example.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 15:59
  • It's absolutely OK for a site to define what is and is not worthy of downvotes but it is not appropriate for the UI (or the company) to do it in such a broad and poorly-defined way. Removing the text from the UI doesn't prevent people from downvoting questions they feel are a waste of space or users who repeatedly post those questions. Community members tend to be quite savvy about that and they get fed up with an influx of those questions. There's no need to pre-emptively ban questions that don't happen. The reality is, on M&TV, those questions almost never got asked.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 16:02
  • "The voting here and the response when it was changed and reverted in 2020". I feel like there wasn't really any discussion that preceded the change, which might have changed the reception.
    – Laurel
    Feb 6 at 16:20
  • Sorry, Catija - but I said "Low Effort" because that is the classification you used. "Low-effort" or "lazy" questions - Person asks a question that is clear, in scope, objective, narrow but is easy to answer - maybe even common knowledge - and searching the internet would have absolutely found the solution". And I still stand what I said. To my experience you are seriously underestimating what "searching the internet" means in this context. We are not just talking about "lazy" - we are talking about "artificial questions to farm rep"
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 6 at 16:22
  • 2
    Also beware the word "trivia". For me, it describes a question which asks about something considered unimportant and has nothing to do with the research and effort put into the question; the answer may actually be hard to find. (The quintessential example is "What brand are these sunglasses from [movie]?")
    – Laurel
    Feb 6 at 16:24
  • @SPArcheon It was literally one of several categories that I see lumped into a long list. You can't only look at one item in the list and ignore the rest. That item also specifically mentions the trivia bullet as part of that determination. You're also moving the goal posts constantly. Is it 20k users or one user posting 20k questions to "farm rep"? The former needs a policy. The latter needs a suspension for their behavior.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 16:33
  • What if the latter is a mod
    – Kevin B
    Feb 6 at 16:36
  • @Laurel Yes, that's definitely the quintessential example - and, while I agree with the brand of sunglasses being irrelevant (usually), I think that "trivia" is a complex word that means different things to different people... While I might think the cast & crew of a film is trivia, there are ways to ask about it that aren't.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 16:43
  • @KevinB Well, technically they can still be suspended... it just doesn't do anything. Mods are subject to the site policies, just like all of the other users - they are, in fact, charged with upholding them, so behaving in that way indicates a disregard for the policy a site has set is serious and should be addressed - but that's not specific to this situation. There's no need for a narrow policy to catch so many edge cases if they are covered by other policies.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 16:48
  • @SPArcheon I think you may have unnecessarily complicated this question by focusing on the downvote tooltips and when to downvote questions in general. I've added a section that I think gets at your actual frustrations.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 18:44
  • 1
    I mean... why should the company be the ones deciding that and not the community?
    – Kevin B
    Feb 6 at 19:29
  • 3
    @SPArcheon I'm with Kevin here... you don't need or want the company dictating this. That's the entire point of my answer. You want the community on the site critically determining what is a good fit for the site and guiding users to meet those expectations. But please don't conflate policy (whether from the company or the community) with requiring you to like or support something you don't want to. It's completely acceptable for a site to be OK with a certain type of question and for you to refuse to engage with it.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 20:03
  • 1
    When ID questions were allowed on M&TV, I regularly downvoted and close voted the questions that I felt failed to meet the site's expectations for minimum detail to be answerable. I left comments and recommendations for improvements. I wrote answers, too... but I didn't close questions that otherwise met the definition of acceptable ID questions even if I didn't see value in them because doing so would have been acting against the site's policy. But you know what the company didn't (and shouldn't) do? Dictate what the policy should be!
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 20:09
  • 2
    Every site has a different ID policy because the community on each site experiences ID questions in vastly different ways. None of those decisions is wrong - for the site. They've judged the ID questions that the site gets and identified whether they're the sort of questions they want - or not. But the company doesn't know those nuances and can't define policy for the entire network. Please don't try to push them to do so. It'll lead to mass frustration any time the policy conflicts with community experience.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 20:14
10

This (second) answer is designed to respond to the asker's repeated insistence on knowing:

What is the the real, current company standing on this?

While I no longer speak for the company, as someone who once did, I doubt you'd get a response that would actually leave you feeling like the issue was settled.

The company rarely, if ever, sets network-wide policy about this sort of thing and, as a community, we shouldn't want them to! With over 180 sites, it's impossible for a network-wide policy to address the day-to-day realities sites experience.

You don't even have to take my word for it. Look at ID question policy across the network. Sites have policies that cover many possibilities:

  • Totally allowed, likely require question quality metrics be met.
  • Totally banned, no exceptions.
  • Allowed if they include an image.
  • No policy because the questions rarely, if ever occur.

If the company mandated all ID questions be allowed, provided they met question quality standards - how do you think communities who had made the decision to ban them or limit ID questions would react? Would the communities feel like the company needed to change or retract that policy? Probably!

There's definitely value in the company supporting policy best practices through tools and UI but that doesn't require that community members use the tools or follow the UI's guidance. Lots of my time as a CM was spent hearing from sites that found the default UI wasn't a good fit for their site and it always disappointed me when the UI couldn't be changed to meet their needs.

It's better for the platform that everyone understands that the company should not take a stance on the types or quality of questions that must or must not be accepted on a network-wide basis. SE site scope was designed to be managed by the users, not the company, and each site should decide for themselves what questions they wish to permit.

There's a realistic aspect to this, too. The company has to be very thoughtful about what they mandate. If community members - particularly moderators - disagree with the rules and won't act on them, the rules serve little purpose and the company ends up having to respond to boatloads of complaints that only the company can handle because the community won't uphold the rules.

It's better for the community and the company that these things are decided on individual sites.


NB: When it comes to the company ruling types of questions that must not be allowed, there are technically some things that aren't allowed but that's generally for legal reasons or cases otherwise covered by the Code of Conduct.

10
  • Oh, Catija... we should probably talk this over chat. Do you think I am not fully aware this won't ever get an answer? You keep widening the scope of what questions I am annoyed with - once again I have to point out that this is not about genuinely clueless users asking easy questions, this is about constructed questions that only exist to farm rep. More often than not, the community is unable to handle this, because the "community" you invoke is just... the mods and their circle of friends.
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 7 at 8:56
  • We don't have the numbers nor the structure to make the "will of the community" emerge. WHY do you think that shog9 was fighting for years with the "this is our room culture, we allow it"? Because the "community" was actually a small group of "regular users" that covered each other. Sadly, I don't think the "communities" here have the ability to self regulate on issues I see as borderline gaming of the system. Therefore I try to make those issues visible. I do not expect the company to step in and try to solve the problem (even if ... they probably should).
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 7 at 9:01
  • At this point, I am delusional enough with this network "abandoned" state (Reducing CM, because the community will "self regulate") that it is enough for me to at least know I got you talking about this.
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 7 at 9:02
  • @SPArcheon I don’t understand. You seem to be asking for a network-wide answer but objecting that it doesn’t work for a specific subset of sites. The tooltip doesn’t affect a particular site’s voting culture. A lot of people never see that tooltip because they’re on touch devices, and most of those who do see it don’t read it or ignore it when deciding to downvote. There is no network-wide consensus on what should or should not be downvoted, nor should there be.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 7 at 11:44
  • @ColleenV I think it is clear enough, but fell free to ping me on chat. I see many users posting questions that imho give no value to the site (no one will come here to look up the name of an actor in a movie) and I even feel some of those are constructed questions made just to farm rep (with or without the help of friends and/or domesticated moderation). At the same time I see plenty of users who defend this, advocating that the network aims at being a single repository to everything (again, foolish imho. What is about the "optimize for pearls"? Do we want to curate all the sand now?)[cont]
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 7 at 12:29
  • @SPArcheon I understand you disagree with other people’s assessment of what deserves a downvote. You probably disagree with some people’s assessment of what deserves an upvote. That’s because voting is subjective. No rule from the company is going to resolve a difference of opinion.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 7 at 12:33
  • @ColleenV you say that I am "objecting that it doesn’t work for a specific subset of sites.". Probably my fault for wording it poorly but you missed my point. What I meant is that "letting the community regulate itself" is imho most of the time just wishful thinking. More often than not the perceived community is a small group of users that coordinate on chat and then internally elect mods for the site. External discording voices have no value in such cases.
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 7 at 12:33
  • @SPArcheon None of that coordination prevents you from casting your vote however you see fit.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 7 at 12:35
  • @SPArcheon So... I avoided using this answer to directly accuse you of wanting the company to override the "community" but your comments seem to indicate that's exactly what you want. I refer you to the "realistic" paragraph here. There's nothing the company could do to force action in this (or any other) matter. But you need to focus on making a change in the small corner of the platform you care about - not in trying to get a giant company to take your side. You have to take the time to convince a single site to agree with your PoV - or just silently downvote stuff you don't like.
    – Catija
    Feb 7 at 14:49
  • Every time you respond, you pull out examples that I've taken a good amount of time to show are not in any way acceptable behavior by individuals and should be addressed - but I've also shown you ways to interpret that behavior in a way that isn't toxic and accusatory. You may need to stop assuming malice in some situations or talk to mods who won't act in cases that seem so blatantly offensive to you that you feel you must go over their heads to get the company to force them to change. You can't control this without getting support and you don't have it.
    – Catija
    Feb 7 at 14:51
7

The subject of "low-effort" questions is a really difficult, controversial topic, and it's been the source of so much conflict, even recently, across multiple sites. As a starting point, I bring you Shog's categories:

  1. Research effort: has the asker searched for a solution before asking?
  2. Definition effort: has the asker put enough thought into the problem to formulate a clear, specific question?
  3. Problem-solving effort: has the asker done anything to solve the problem himself before asking?

If I had to summarize my perspective, I think there are very few questions that deserve closing outright for lack of effort (yes, sites do that, and it's worth discussing here), and downvoting is best reserved for questions which probably couldn't have an answer that's useful (namely extremely obvious answers that any non-expert could find themselves quickly), regardless of how much the lack of effort in the question perturbs you, though this can vary considerably based on what site. In the end, nobody can force anyone to downvote or say they can't downvote—barring situations like serial voting.

This opinion was shaped around several private conversations I had with staff last year (which admittedly were more focused on close votes), though it is ultimately my own answer.

To expand on this:

  • No research:
    • Closing: Many sites function well without closing most no-research questions. As Shog says, there is only one close reason for no-research questions on most sites—duplicate. For sites that want something stricter, I think that closing should be reserved when there's an easy and reliable way to look up the information (and that way does answer the question). English SE (aka ELU) and ELL both expect users to check a dictionary before asking a question about a word or phrase. It's trivial to use a dictionary to look up a word in most cases. If you're looking for something above and beyond the superficial information there (e.g., a simpler explanation suitable for non-native speakers on ELL or some specific type of analysis on ELU), you have to explain that. Similarly, Movies and TV closes questions asking for information found in IMDB (e.g., release year or actor names), which is also trivial to do. The "easy and reliable way" of finding the answer should not be relying on whatever random cruft comes up from Google either, as I said before—why shouldn't we be the ones coming up in these searches?

      How can I justify not allowing "Google" as a general reference? Relying on a search engine is the antithesis of our site. The best quality answer will not rise to the top of the search results, only the content with the best SEO keywords. Our experts cannot provide a better answer, or downvote the crap out there, or even leave comments on it. Nothing of value is guaranteed to stay on the internet either, as links go dead. And with one simple invention, suddenly all these problems can get worse quicker: Generative AI. Blogs will go from being one person's opinion to being no person's opinion and in record quantity. But answers here will be moderated for AI content; I'm making sure of it.

      Even when this type of close reason could in theory exist (i.e., such an easy and reliable source exists), this only works when the community believes closing is necessary.

    • Downvoting: Not all questions without research are created equal, especially since a lack of research in the question does not mean no research was done. When you're an expert, you know the limitations of the available body of knowledge, what has been studied and what hasn't. It's not particularly useful to spend time justifying your question when other experts would intuitively know there's no easy answer out there and so would any non-expert who tried searching themselves.

      All sites have some variation on skill level, sometimes accepting questions from complete novices. If you don't know what you're doing, your "research" is unlikely to help the people who actually know what they're doing. It will be scrolled past and your time was wasted writing it up.

  • No problem-solving effort:
    • This is an interesting beast, one I've reflected less on. Most "homework" close vote reasons fall under this category, as does ELL's "Details Please" close reason and the new Webapps "research" policy (if using the app reveals the answer trivially, it's off topic). I think this ultimately comes down whether you think it's rude, counterproductive (if the goal is to teach learners), or even unethical (if it's homework) for OP to ask without any effort of that sort themselves. If OP has a partial answer, it would certainly help those answering to include it, but if the problem solving effort is going in the complete wrong direction, it's usually a waste of time except as a way for OP to practice their problem solving skills (which isn't often of relevance to anyone else).

      In my experience, close reasons along these lines tend to be inconsistently applied, and so are the downvotes. There are just some questions that people intuitively recognize as being useful despite the lack of problem solving effort.

      Arguably, downvoting these questions is voting for the person as much as the content. But in some cases, it's justified by site policy.

  • Lack of definition effort:
    • Some of these are questions that must be closed as unclear, as Shog says. In other cases, an expert can work around the lack of detail by providing a more thorough answer. For example, many English questions have different answers depending on what dialect they're about, and knowing what dialect the user would prefer an answer for can be helpful, but usually isn't required to answer the question—the answer can just cover the major dialects (American and British, usually). These aren't even seen as bad questions usually.

About your specific examples:

  • how is this famous manga about [insert topic] by this author called? Downvote (and/or close vote if empowered by site policy) because finding the answer is trivial—but make sure it is trivial first.
  • what button should I press to jump in this game? Downvote if mashing the buttons would quickly reveal the answer (or close vote if empowered by site policy), otherwise do nothing. All too many times, I've resumed games after years of not playing and had to ask these questions, unable to find where the game hides the controls list...
  • how is the main protagonist of this book called? This seems to lack definition effort—I'd be likely to close as unclear unless there was an explanation and downvote if the explanation wasn't good (e.g., maybe the question is actually why the fandom uses a different name for the character than the official source, and the answer is about what the name means in the original work).

See also my answer to Does Web Apps Stack Exchange Require Research?:

Downvotes, not close votes, for bad poorly researched questions

I've been on a lot of sites, and this is what I've seen work the best. And even then, downvotes are reserved for the questions that could have been solved very quickly and easily by pretty much anyone (as we're not all experts), not challenging problems that are brief only because they don't include OP explaining that they're getting nowhere fast. (On a site like [Webapps] with such a wide breadth [since almost every website with moving parts could be on-topic], it can be hard to tell these types of questions apart, especially when there are no answers yet. That's one of the reasons why both should stay open.)

To be clear, I think that it's usually a good idea for users to do at least a little searching before asking, especially when they're likely to be downvoted if they don't. It just doesn't need to be a requirement. (Obviously, if your question was already asked here, it will be closed as a duplicate, but that's not quite the issue at hand.)

I then outline an example of a "low-effort" question which isn't solved by searching. (It later turned out to be a duplicate, but the points I made stand.)

6
  • This is probably the best answer so far. That said, what still annoys me is that by this definition I could just go and start posting made-up questions that I already know the answer to most sites without any real chance for rep loss. Even better, it probably takes only a few friends to have a +2/+3 vote average on those "questions". On Science&Fiction I am denied the [My-Little-Pony] badge because the creation of a tag badge requires at least 100 question... Should I go and "fix" that with questions like "How is the yellow shy pony in 'MLP: Friendship is Magic' called?"
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 1 at 8:18
  • @SPArcheon It almost sounds like you want to post a self-answered canonical. The one you suggested sounds like it has an extremely obvious answer and would be downvoted (because you can't get your "friends" to upvote—that's fraud). And if you're really causing a disruption, mods are likely to step in. Surely you could think of a question that would allow for an interesting self-answer instead…
    – Laurel
    Feb 1 at 12:35
  • 1
    Obviously I was joking an that was an hyperbole. Yet, that is basically what I already see some users doing on other sites. Post easily google-able answers then pretend to have "figured out" two days after (so that it doesn't look like they knew from the start). This is not even low rep users - I get 20k+ users doing this quite often. They get free rep, I have to pay with mine to downvote them and I am not even able to really offset their net gain
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 2 at 8:45
  • @SPArcheon Did you ask them what the benefit of posting the question on SE was? Also I would be very careful with the line of thinking that you're going down there. I've been told to "stop playing dumb" (IRL) when I really did not know the answer and it was horrible; I actually felt dumb. Don't assume that everyone else has the skills (either in [tag] or using Google) that you do.
    – Laurel
    Feb 2 at 23:14
  • Again, you are servery underestimating the type of questions I am seeing. I have said before, this is not about genuine ignorance, that I can live with (even if a little effort from the OP is always appreciated). This is about people asking questions that are literally like "What famous manga by Akira Toriyama is about a spiked haired guy searching for some Dragon Spheres?"
    – SPArcheon
    Feb 5 at 8:50
  • 2
    @SPArcheon Why would the wording under the vote button stop people from downvoting those posts?
    – Kevin B
    Feb 6 at 16:06
3

Whether or not a user used search, knows how to use search, or did any research at all prior to asking, is irrelevant to the usage of downvotes.

I know, the downvote tooltip says x y or z, but it's simply wrong. Research effort is entirely irrelevant to whether or not a given question or answer is useful. Doing research can certainly improve one's ability to create a useful question or answer, but the research itself isn't the point. It doesn't matter if the question exists somewhere else and can be found on google, if it's a useful question and doesn't exist on the given site yet, it's perfectly fine.

If we limited questions to only questions that don't yet exist on the internet... we might as well just close up shop now.

4
  • Thanks for the insight. If anyone from the company will confirm this, rest assured that the next step will be asking to remove the resulting hypocrisy in the tooltip.Note that this doesn't mean at all that I agree with this view. If I buy a book about photography, I don't need a chapter about how to turn on the camera. That is in the manual.
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 31 at 17:12
  • 1
    And, yes, i do agree with your... being bothered by users posting low hanging fruit questions on some of these smaller stacks in an effort to farm rep. It's why i don't participate on arqade (paired with the fact that i can't downvote them)
    – Kevin B
    Jan 31 at 17:16
  • 3
    I'm on record in multiple places as agreeing with this and feeling like the tooltip was leading voters in a dangerous direction. If this platform is intended to be a resource for all information about (subject), telling someone to look at documentation first actively prevents that goal from being achieved. I do agree there are some details simply better found elsewhere (e.g. cast lists on IMDb), so there's a line at which the question becomes too small but I think that's a lot more basic than the tooltip implies.
    – Catija
    Jan 31 at 17:31
  • "we limited questions to only questions that don't yet exist on the internet" We do limit ourselves to only questions that don't yet exist on the exchange. This also requires research. The only question is who makes this research, the asker or the curator. But someone has to do a search at some point. Seeing the average quality of a new question I seriously consider closing up. Jan 31 at 20:27
2

I do not think that it is useful to ask questions that could be answered by a simple search, or otherwise show no research effort on the part of the asker.

I downvote posts that I think are not useful.

I was happy with the original wordings of the vote tooltips, and I can live with their revised wordings too.

4
  • 2
    Useful to whom? How useful a question is depends on the person reading it. Why is it that users should judge the quality of a question based on how easy it is to find the answer somewhere else? I can imagine core questions about a site's subject being completely undocumented or very low-scored on the site for this reason.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 16:29
  • @Catija I think voting is personal. I think asking questions with no apparent effort to find an answer first means even reading them uses volunteered time that could be spent answering and improving questions.
    – PolyGeo
    Feb 6 at 19:43
  • I would prefer most voting to come from people looking for solutions, rather than people looking to provide solutions. It's all to easy to answerers to decide "eh, this question isn't worth the effort, i'll just downvote it instead"
    – Kevin B
    Feb 6 at 20:01
  • @KevinB I think there will always be a tension between askers, answerers, editors, voters and those that participate in some or all of those activities. I think the 5x weighting of upvotes to downvotes easily counterbalances that concern because questions can be upvoted uncritically just as easily.
    – PolyGeo
    Feb 6 at 20:48
-6

I would agree to an extent that these questions should be monitored and probably don't deserve a response a lot of the time, but sometimes people have questions and they don't really know what question to ask. I know I've been guilty of asking a question that should have been simple, but I didn't even know the name of the programming notation that I should be looking for (In my case it was lambda notation which is one of the greatest inventions in Java programming). A large help with this site is that it can help people recognize what the correct question would be to type into Google.

Also, some people aren't as savvy with Google and don't understand how you can change your question in Google to get a better response. So before you assume that a question is being asked that would be easily found somewhere else, maybe give the person the benefit of the doubt and just take two seconds to answer their question.

2
  • 1
    See my reply to Jon comment. Maybe you are seriously underestimating the level of the question I anonymized. This is not about looking up an error message that is the first thing mentioned in a tutorial but may still be obscure to a new developer. This is "What is the capital of France" or "What manga by One is about an hero defeating everyone with One Punch?" level of question.
    – SPArcheon
    Jan 31 at 16:35
  • 8
    Are you aware how many questions are asked every day on Stack Overflow where the correct answer can be found by googling the title? Often that also finds a question on Stack Overflow. Some users even deliberately change the title to something slightly wrong because otherwise they get a message that they cannot post a question with the same title as an existing question.
    – VLAZ
    Jan 31 at 16:52
-9

Could we talk about the elephant in the room?

The problem is that it "shows no effort," as many other "artifacts" of the public question and answer platform were constructed by the people who participated during the early development. Most people had a shared system of beliefs developed through their life experiences. Most of them were programmers, as Stack Overflow, the flagship of the public platform, was pointed to offer a solution to one of their needs.

The elephant in the room is that the SO founders, the early SO/SE members, are no longer in the same position of influence; some sold their shares, some abandoned the platform, and the voices of others were silenced by another system of beliefs that the platform was not designed to handle.

If I recall correctly, a principle of system theory says that a system can't solve a problem it has created. Problems like how people understand the platform and interact among them are wicked problems that can't be solved by continuing to rely on the current public platform workings. The solution will come from the outside. It might be created with the participation of The Community but not by using the public question and answer platform.

4
  • 7
    This is nonsense. The software system that is SE didn't create the "problem" of people having different ideas of how the existing system should evolve now that it is much more mature and much much larger than it started out. It is also not the "system" that is solving these problems. Yes, the time for incremental changes like twiddling the color and shape of the voting buttons is past. That doesn't mean the system is somehow irredeemable.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 6 at 14:44
  • 1
    @ColleenV Please feel free to post your own answer.
    – Rubén
    Feb 6 at 14:46
  • 7
    If your answer is intended to say "what the company thinks in this situation is irrelevant and it should be left up to those actually using the site to determine", I'd kinda agree but you're saying it in a really confusing way. If that's not what you're saying, I'm totally confused.
    – Catija
    Feb 6 at 16:16
  • 1
    Why would I write an answer to the question "I am just asking what the company considers right"? I can't read the company's mind, and even if I could it would be unlikely to stop me from downvoting any question that I felt should sink to the bottom instead of float to the top.
    – ColleenV
    Feb 6 at 20:52

You must log in to answer this question.

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