Stack Overflow has been wildly successful. And maybe in some ways too successful.
I am concerned that Stack Overflow is being inundated by a stream of low-quality questions from users who are accidentally poisoning our well -- by turning off and turning away the core answerers who do all the real work in the system.
In theory there is "no such thing as a stupid question" but in practice, there are:
- users who can't be bothered to form sentences
- users who don't do the most basic kinds of research themselves
- users who barely even explain what it is they are trying to do
I mean a pattern of the above. Not an isolated incident, but 5-10 questions (or dozens or hundreds!) all showing the exact same negative characteristics over a period of days or weeks.
Now, a few of these questions is no problem for our community -- that's why we have voting, reputation, question closing, community moderators, flagging, etc. I am happy to intervene if there is a pattern of negligent, irresponsible, failure-to-learn-anything-at-all questions from a particular user. It's easily the #1 reason I mete out timed suspensions at this point.
All of these systems work, and have worked to date! That's the good news. That's why we have a community worth participating in, and a community worth visiting.
I'm starting to see cracks in Stack Overflow as its popularity grows. At some point you have to face up to the hard reality: there are an infinite number of bad questions that can be asked in willful ignorance.
However smart our software, however smart our users -- we can't scale enough to defeat a million monkeys randomly typing. Not possible.
I worry that we're not doing enough to automatically filter out obviously bad / malicious / inept questions from the system, before the burden of having to deal with these questions lands on our talented audience of answerers.
It's an explicit goal to make moderation easy and effortless. I can't in good conscience say we're doing that, if users have to face down a neverending flood of truly horrible, careless questions.. and hope for an occasional gem to float along.
What can we do -- what do you suggest -- to detect and prevent these kinds of bottom-of-the-barrel questions from even entering our system in the first place? I am willing to sacrifice a small percentage of new questions (up to 10%) as collateral damage if necessary.
(hint as a starting point: think new user / IP address restrictions, around question asking, perhaps based on history..)