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In a previous post on Meta "Vague Questions part one" I raised some issues that I believe have become even clearer for me now, a few months later.

I've recently spent several hours trying, through comments (not answers), to get certain questioners to answer specific questions that, from my point of view, are "essential" to being able to even start to answer the question as asked.

In most of these cases the question posters were people with low "reputation" scores on Stack Overflow: but I don't conclude from that observation that they are necessarily inexperienced, or lack technically advanced skills.

In one case, only after repeated comment-questions, did the question-poster finally disclose an aspect of the architecture they were using that really, from my point of view, made the original question a "whole other question": then, later, with the same OP, after more comment-questions, yet another "dimension" was revealed :)

In thinking about what kind of mechanism could help to encourage people who post questions to answer, responding promptly, to comments on their OP which are trying to help them clarify the OP, I kind of draw a blank.

My guess is that allowing Stack Overflow users of a certain reputation level (very high), to suspend answers being posted on questions where the OP has not answered a comment-question would be viewed as punitive, would be a "negative" for the whole community.

And it doesn't seem fair, or appropriate, to 'flag the post, and pass-off to the moderators' such an issue, either: after all, what could they do?

When the comment-question asked of the OP is very direct, and has a simple, or even binary, answer, like: "is this WinForms or WPF?" then I can see a certain validity in the idea of suspending answers until the OP responds to such a comment.

But, obviously, someone has to be the judge of what's a "very direct" question: and that gets subjective, doesn't it?

If I were really concerned about the "rep game," perhaps I'd focus my attention more on posters who were at a certain reputation level, or who had a certain high-percentage of questions with accepted answers, but I think I can be of more use actually, on Stack Overflow, to beginners. Possibly because I've spent thirteen of the adult years of my life living in countries where my own native language (English) was not the "mother tongue," I think I can also be helpful with people whose first-langauge is not English.

Appreciate your thoughts on this topic.

By the way, I am still trying to "get over" seeing code that I know will not compile in "accepted answers" :)

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I don't think the site needs changing. Sometimes you need to elicit more information before you can give a meaningful answer. It's requirements analysis on a small scale, it seems to be an inevitable part of human communication, and it's always going to be a fuzzy process.

There is already an excellent mechanism for ensuring questionners provide enough information: they won't get good answers unless they do. Any questionner who won't/can't provide more information to get an answer, is not going to respond to any other stimulus. The best we can do is explain politely that it's not possible to answer the question without more information. Also, don't forget some people have "psychic" ability to answer questions where others think there's insufficient information - if questions were locked that couldn't happen.

Some days I'm too busy/grumpy to have another one of those conversations - that's when I too fantasise about closing or freezing the questions. But instead, I just ignore them, hoping someone else will help. I honestly think that's the best approach.

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  • Thanks for your response, Mark. I am not saying I think the site needs changing in this post : I'm just looking for the "communal wisdom" around this issue of "vague questions" with the intent of being as helpful as possible, particularly to newcomers to SO, or people for whom English is not their first language.
    – BillW
    Commented Feb 25, 2010 at 10:37
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    @BillW: all you can do is post comments requesting more info, in a polite/respectful manner, and hope they come back with more info. if they don't, there's not much more you can do -- take your best guess, comment indicating what's missing, etc and move on. Commented Feb 25, 2010 at 12:09
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TL;DR: We need more subject matter experts and discussions like this to help the community improve.

While the advice in the previous answer about ignoring questions is valid, it doesn't address the part about focussing on assisting ESL users.

As an ESL user, I appreciate the interest in helping users struggling with writing in English.

I have adopted Vote early, vote often, posted in Stack Overflow blog on October 2010, eight months after this question was created and a bit after the launch of Web Applications, the first Area 51 site proposal that was Launched.

Voting is as crucial to our community as it is to any democracy. As a moderator, or merely a citizen of the site -- please exercise your right to vote by voting early and voting often!

From a "being kind" perspective, there is no way to force a user to react promptly. The platform is intended to be open and to allow people to participate and react at their will, with some limitations. However, it might be nice for the platform to add some features to help users better manage their interactions and relations with other users.

Since this question was posted in February 2010, several initiatives have been launched to address the concerns raised, and several relevant events have occurred. The shape of Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network have changed enormously. Still, as of November 2023, we have the same symptoms: some questions are unclear, and some questions creators do not reply/react to comments.

There is no binding vote to close by reputation, but

  1. Currently, the votes required to close a question are set on the site settings. The default number of votes-to-close needed to close a question is five; some sites require three, and one site, Hardware Recommendations, requires one.

  2. There is a binding vote-to-close-as-duplicate, informally referred to as dup hammer, assigned to people who earned a gold tag badge. It's limited to closing questions having the tag that matches the gold tag badge of the voter, and there are other rules.

There are no search features based on user attributes, i.e., Country registered in the user profile.

  1. Data Explorer might be helpful.
  2. The Chat, aka Third Space, was added, IIRC, in August 2010.
  3. The Review Queues might be a good way to contribute. In Stack Overflow, there is a queue for Triage. On all sites, there is a review queue for Low-Quality Questions and First Questions where it might be possible to find questions from ESL users.

Regarding the initiatives, one of the most recent on Stack Overflow was Staging Ground, and the most recent affair is the Moderation Strike.

There is still too much room for improvement and wounds to heal. Many stakeholders, many restrictions, ... In the meantime, I am approaching Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network as a learner, seeing it as a learning lab related to my life journey. The most referenced author when I learned this term was Peter Senge. My Systems Science professors frequently referred to this author, as well as several professors with whom I first was invited to discuss the use of Quality Management Systems in Educative Centers due to my first-hand experience as a project manager and trainer on ISO 9000 training and certification in-house program, and later to join them on teaching teams at the Escuela de Graduados de Educación (School of Graduates of Education) from Universidad Virtual of Tecnológico de Monterrey. This online university was part of a Mexican private university system.

Methods like Getting Things Done and Business Model Canvas applied to individuals, inviting them to think about their purpose and set a plan could be helpful.

As a community, I think a multidisciplinary approach to wicked problems will be very helpful. I'm unsure whether a method like design thinking could help.


The OP has mentioned that he is not on the "rep game"; I am not either. Also, the OP mentions more than 30 years of experience. This year, I celebrated 30 years from getting my bachelor's degree. It's not the same as having experience working on a specific field/topic, but the number is the same.

Rather than focusing on the "rep game", I am more focused on the learning outcomes, from the Andragogy perspective than on the deliverables. Of course, deliverables like and are required, and user should be observed to assess learning if that were a thing that we would like to do, but and are not necessarily a good measure of the learning progress.

Andragogy is about adult education. Adults should take charge of their learning process, meaning they should set the learning goal, the learning plan, etc. This doesn't mean that they should be in isolation. Learning could be handled as a social process; developing several competencies can only be produced in a social context. The most common learning goals for adults have an impact on their income sources; for many, the intermediate goals related to Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange sites are enablers for their top goals. The easiest to see is how a question is related to an immediate roadblock to realizing a goal. Visualizing this from a learning process perspective and how everyday efforts contribute to the long term might be challenging and not always make sense.

There is no problem with being pragmatic. Adults should be able to take charge of what they choose and when they choose. Adults should be able to identify when it is convenient to choose one option among the options available and how long they will stick with that choice. Adults should be able to identify when they can create new options and what is required to create them.

In certain contexts, deliverables are required and have very strict quality standards ruled by national bodies and certification authorities, i.e., deliverables are necessary for trading business and professional activities. Still, questions, answers and regular user performance on Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange Network sites, are very far from being required for comparable quality enforcement.

Some places, like Codementor, a vetted knowledge marketplace, allow applicants to offer programming-related mentoring services by using their Stack Overflow user profile as proof of competence. Disclaimer: I have been a mentor on Codementor for several years, but I have not worked with new clients lately.

This is also why sites like Law include a note about not using the place to ask for legal advice as it's defined in the legal domain, as there are requirements, professional and legal implications regarding this activity.

Regarding my practice, which is what I manage on a daily basis through this platform, I have created several meta posts, and some blog posts, started a digital garden, and tried to learn from people publishing and practicing the learning-in-public approach. The intention is to include my digital garden / blog stuff related to my practice. Now, I'm trying to create a study group. I know that this might look chaotic. I'm working on writing about this, and so far, I call this approach "querent journey". You might see it as a fancy name to name "my method".

Stack Overflow and Stack Exchange Network are marvelous learning playgrounds, so I'm happy with the platform, but still, I would like to see improvements in it and would like certain things to be managed differently.


Addendum

If this is not the proper place to post this, I'm open to suggestions.

As the question is old, I'm adding this part to address some Meta - Meta stuff here instead of making a new post for one side because this is strongly related to the discussion on this question; it has just been bumped by someone updating a link on a previous answer (not a trivial / tiny edit), and considering some very recent conversations about recent events on a sister site, Web Applications SE. On this site, I'm a moderator, but what I'm writing below is not centered or limited to those events; it's not directly related to any of them, and it's not directly related to any Meta Stack Exchange post that I have previously posted that is related to Web Applications moderation.

I found concerns mentioned by the OP related to thoughts that I'm working on from several perspectives and timeframes. This question focuses on the OP's experience with SO and his struggle with the SO community behavior and the system rules. Another way to express what the OP said is the following:

Questions creators don't react promptly to comments asking for details, clarification, and other forms of good faith contributions looking to help improve the quality of questions. Moderation options like binding close votes are often ineffective as they might be seen as punitive instead of a collaborative continuous improvement system. Because of this, binding close vote privilege based on reputation is not a good option, but flagging or delegating this to a moderator isn't good either.

The OP looks to be looking for an alternative to closing questions, and as mentioned above, the OP expresses frustration and wonders if he could be more effective by focusing his time on users having a particular profile.

I have seen posts discussing similar concerns on Meta Stack Exchange and several per-site / child metas when doing "search, research". I like the OP's attitude and would have liked to find this old post earlier.

When I'm writing this, I have been going AFK multiple times. During this time, I have not looked at the OP user profile. I hope he hasn't lost the spirit that motivates him to participate in Stack Overflow and make this question. It would be nice to learn what he thinks and how he engages on Stack Overflow and the Stack Exchange Network after so many years, considering the sites related to programming and software developers have increased and the events that have occurred.

While this post mentions instruments and attributes related to operations like asking a question, comments, quality standards, moderation (flagging, voting-to-close), and user performance, the post is talking about looking for having a discussion, is asking for advice related to motivation, satisfaction, realization and probably transcendence throw helping people asking questions.

I think that this kind of discussion should be encouraged.

Concerning my personal experience, a couple of days ago, I was invited to chat with Rosie from the CM Team. I will not give details of this conversation other than publicly expressing my gratitude for the guidance given directly by her and the other members of CM Team. Please excuse me for not mentioning all of them individually.

The point of referring to this conversation with Rosie is that it helped me remember some material I studied some time ago related to systems and methods from an Industrial Engineering / Management perspective and Education, as well as my training as a trainer for continuous education programs, internal trainer and consultant, and as a teacher for a Mexican university.

A few years before the Covid 19 pandemic, I changed my career. I am not talking daily as I used to do with higher education experts, but I'm still involved in adult teaching and training.

I understand that in the same way that several industries have changed and are being changed due to social, geopolitical, and technological changes, among others, I am pretty sure that some of the foundations should still be helpful nowadays.

In this post, the OP has not used the typical words that nowadays are found on the Help Center or commonly used on Meta posts. Because of this, I'm adding the below table. The end goal is to help me and others to find similar discussions that might be hard to find but discuss the same:

Why and how a subject matter expert might make use of their time more effectively on the platform

Please excuse me, but the table is a work in progress.

Term Remark Concept Tour
Help Center
Meta
Stack Exchange
Overall: The question was created in February 2010, before Area51, Stack Exchange 2.0, etc. The first Tour was launched in January 2013. It was the Tour of Ask Different At the time this question was created, there was only one Meta. The split was announced in 2012. A new consolidated Meta Help Center was launched in 2013 before the Meta split was realized, which finally occurred in 2014.
"Vague Questions" Question title: The use of quotes expresses the OP's intention to explain a concept and invite the community to discuss it. Quality standards for questions Site tour, How to ask a good question There are several related suggesting templates, changes to the Ask Question, etc. There are many terms used: low quality, no efforts, lack of details, lack of research, etc.
Stack Overflow While this refers to a specific site, this is about the perspective of the common user experience of any Stack Exchange site related to the use of the system features related to the reputation and moderation system Any Stack Exchange site.
questioners, questions posters User who created a question post Question post creator OP, user, asker
beginners Someone who is not an expert on the topics of the site / question There are no categories for users based on self-perception or through an assessment. Only the user card of new users shows a label promoting being welcoming to the user for being a new user.
suspending answers Effect of closing a question The terms used are closed question. There are related terms, question ban, answer ban. Suspension is used when applying a temporary block from having any activity on the site. This is only applied by a moderator.
code As Stack Overflow is Q&A for programmers, most questions include code, which can be understood as the core of any site scope. Some sites might not have something so distinctive or have more than one core concept. On some sites, the core concept was used to name the site.

The OP also makes some cause-and-effect claims. I will not argue pro/con them here, but we should work on creating an inventory of the most common claims, as they might help us better understand what the community believes. This might help clarify the shared system of beliefs and if there are gaps between facts and expectations and better communicate about requests and promises.

Below are some claims, not to argue but to discuss what the OP might be referring to. There is no intention to make this exhaustive.

OP Quote Interpretation
My guess is that allowing Stack Overflow users of a certain reputation level (very high), to suspend answers being posted on questions where the OP has not answered a comment-question would be viewed as punitive, would be a "negative" for the whole community.
The OP might discuss the possibility of a binding vote privilege earned by reputation. It's unclear what is the origin of the idea if this is an introspection shared with the community following the train of thought shared in the post, or if it, as an original idea, was derived from something said in the previous discussion linked to top of the question
By the way, I am still trying to "get over" seeing code that I know will not compile in "accepted answers" :)
The OP is using humor to criticize the accepted answer feature and at the same time shares that he is struggling with seeing "bad answers" marked as "correct"
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