Lately I've been observing some developments that in my opinion are going to have a negative impact on the project and its community. I think I'll bring them to public attention. Probably for the last time. Granted it's not my project and I stopped caring about what's happening around here some time ago, but still, I'd be sorry to see it roll down the hill.

The first issue is that I'm really getting tired of all sorts of good questions being closed. Not-programming related, subjective etc. The line is too thin to objectively qualify a question to be unsuitable. I think the site is not improving through this but only getting more close-minded and consequently unattractive for many permanent residents.

This is one fresh example:

Should an application coder know how to set up servers?

I'll allow myself to quote a comment:

I think removing questions like this would seriously reduce the value of StackOverflow - it's a community, not just a place to fix scripts. That's my subjective view, anyway. – AP257

So I'm definitely not alone in this assessment.

I'm not sure if you realize what's coming up. I'll explain.

The official policy is that "this is a place for questions that can be answered".

Well, it is to expect that sooner or later all the questions that could be asked and answered will be asked and answered twice over. Guess what? It's already happened! Whatever relatively general question you may ask it will be closed and the author will be pointed to a dozen of duplicates.

Please look around to see if your question has already been asked (and maybe even answered!) before you ask.

Yes, sure, now it's about all questions have already been asked and answered. Saturation is achieved.

I felt from the beginning it was dangerous to base a project on such policies which put a limit on the project growth and development. Now I'm sorry to see it did strike back.

Last months I've been hopelessly browsing through the questions trying to find something new and interesting to read and enlighten myself. Futile. All duplicates and immediately closed. Any more or less general question thinking out of the box is closed. What is left is a pile of "support" questions, that is people throwing in a piece of code asking why it doesn't work or how to concept some quite large piece of software without even trying to think about it.

I've got zero interest in support questions.

The quality of questions has dropped significantly. Any more or less interesting open-minded question is closed. As if it wasn't enough that no new quality questions are coming in, you now close anything that could ignite the atmosphere of endless boredom. it's like you're sawing the branch you're sitting on while it's already creaking. Not particularly smart.

The second problem that furthermore aggravates the situation is the more granulated segmentation of the site into subsites. SO, SuperUser, ServerFault, Programmers, OnStartups etc. I think I said this before and I'll repeat myself: I don't manage to browse 3-4-5-6-7 sites simultaneously. I'm interested in many things from different areas and it was great when it was all coming together in one stream. Anyone could pick up something of interest and knowledge. But not anymore. I can manage to browse 1 max. 2 sites but that's the top. But not 5 at the same time. It's beyond my abilities and available time.

Not to mention that the value of reputation you put that much stock into is automatically decreasing as the number of sites is exploding. Reputation on a single site is great. Reputation on just one of 5-6-7 is so-so, nothing special.

I think it's time you started to think about the future of the project in the sense of defining the right strategy instead of bluntly multiplying the sites and tightening the screws.

When SO is completely overrun by lazy coders and unintelligent support questions I'll go. Please do something to prevent this from happening.

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    May I interest you in programmers.stackexchange.com – Shog9 Sep 14 '10 at 23:00
  • Even on Programmers.SE, we close duplicates with extreme prejudice: it's about the only close reason that's uncontroversial. – user149432 Sep 14 '10 at 23:08
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    @Mark: yeah, you should really stop that. You're stifling the creativity of all those out-of-the-box thinkers. – Shog9 Sep 14 '10 at 23:08
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    Hey, I proposed the Special Little Flower site on Area 51, but it went nowhere: Stack Overflow's hatred of the avant-garde, dadaist question and answer method shocks and appalls the conscience. – user149432 Sep 14 '10 at 23:14
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    Hmm, Just had a look at programmers.stackexchange.com FAQ - A bit confusing. What kind of questions can I ask here? Programmers - Stack Exchange is for expert programmers who are interested in subjective discussions on software development. What kind of questions should I not ask here? Avoid asking questions that are subjective... – Martin Smith Sep 14 '10 at 23:17
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    @Martin: like all the betas, what the FAQ should contain is still an open issue; it's particularly an issue with Programmers.SE because it's intended to house subjective and extended discussions and so the boilerplate FAQ copy doesn't really apply. Potentially better answer: What's the difference between Programmers and SO – user149432 Sep 14 '10 at 23:21
  • @Mark - Thanks for the clarification. – Martin Smith Sep 14 '10 at 23:22
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    You have got to be kidding me. You think the problem is that there aren't enough handwavey BS questions? Stack Overflow is supposed to be a "support" site. Getting quick and reliable answers to technical questions is something that Stack Overflow is good at and other sites suck at. SO wasn't designed for the purpose of entertaining people who like to listen to the sound of their own metaphorical voice - there are plenty of other sites that already do that. Join a discussion forum, man! – Aarobot Sep 15 '10 at 2:36
  • @Mark: The problem is that I don't consider the SO format to be good for extended discussions. Answers float in position, and comments are limited. It's very difficult to have a detailed back-and-forth exchange. It's the penalty of success: given SO's success in doing what it does, people try to apply it where it won't work. – David Thornley Sep 15 '10 at 14:19
  • "What is left is a pile of "support" questions", and, hopefully, people start closing them as "too localized". And there's no questions left. – P Shved Sep 15 '10 at 14:26

I hold strongly to the view that focus is what makes Stack Overflow work. Oh, we have our fun, and many people can't seem to see beyond that, but it is the fact that you can get good answers to programming questions---and get them quickly--that brought people here in the first place and will keep the site going. Once people are coming here for "What's your favorite Foo?" or "Lets make a list of Bar!" or "Tell your best Baz story." this is just another social forum, and it will die.

The closing---the fast, reliable closing---of bad (i,e, off focus) questions is absolutely necessary. It does result in some questions getting improperly closed, and we need to stay alert for them, take the comments of their defenders seriously, and help to rectify the situation when a real wrong has been done. But closing the cruft is high priority.

The setting up servers questions is a good question (and I think that a Foo programmer should know how to get a Foo environment set up), but it is also unarguably a discussive question: it calls for lengthy discursive answers (because otherwise its just the rather vapid choice between "Yes" "No" and "Maybe"). It is ill suited to the format of SO. I haven't voted to close it, but will not defend it.

I'm not sure that the proliferation of Stack Exchange sites are going to make it. I think that it is harder to form a viable community that many people think. So for the time being I am not worried about the fragmentation. I've joined the Cooking and LaTeX sites. I'm following a couple of other. The LaTeX site may eventually cut into my Stack Overflow life a little, but LaTeX is an occasional thing with me, and coding is an every week thing.

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    First read that as "joined the cooking in latex sites"... – Shog9 Sep 15 '10 at 0:01
  • I hope, for all of your sakes, Programmers.SE makes it. It's, as Robert Cartaino put it, the "skin of evil left behind to free the race of titans from the bonds of destructiveness." – user149432 Sep 15 '10 at 0:30
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    @Mark: I just hope y'all don't get too restrictive over there... Looking forward to a "migrate" option. – Shog9 Sep 15 '10 at 0:55
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    @Shog9: That's an image I didn't need. Really. I mean, thanks but...no thanks. I've fixed the capitalization. – dmckee --- ex-moderator kitten Sep 15 '10 at 1:17

Lazy questions are a side-effect of popularity. It's inevitable. Eventually, the folks that can't take it move on. This has all happened before.

As for the rest of this screed... You seem to be simultaneously lamenting the efforts of the community to cut down on the noise and lamenting the noise and lamenting the establishment of targeted sites. So you hate lame questions, but don't want to disallow them, and don't want to go somewhere else.

Lesser men might think you're stuck in a mire of cognitive dissonance, doomed to a future of unhappiness. But not me. I have a solution for you: peach pie w/ vanilla ice cream. Try it. You'll feel better, I promise.


That's funny, since SO is my idea of a dream site.

  • Just specific Q & A
  • Good answers pulled to the top
  • Just programming

I like the specificity of the site, and would hate to have a site that it would be too easy to get lost in. I can't see ever really running out of questions; programming is complex, documentation is poor, so questions are always being generated.

I love getting my questions answered fast, before this I spent days on forums looking for answers, living on Google.


As Shog9 said in a comment (that should have been an answer)

May I interest you in http://programmers.stackexchange.com ?

I believe you will never want for topics of interest there.

I also think it is very dismissive and short-sighted to characterize all substantive, concrete (ish) programming questions as "support." Programming is fundamentally fascinating work, and if you've lost sight of that, then I think you've lost something essential.

Can the stack exchange system work with subjective and argumentative websites?

  • FWIW, I stole that comment from mmyers... – Shog9 Sep 15 '10 at 14:00

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