This is no longer my point of view; so I changed title, removed comments and accepted Jeff's answer.

The comments on this answer made it clear to me and changed my mind...

May this question serve as reference for future similar questions, if anyone else experiences this.

The Help Vampires are often seen on our sites, but I want to state for once that the current solution doesn't work, let me explain my view on it and I hope that you do agree on this so we can do it right.

A search for Help Vampire comes up with the Help Vampire problem, let's look at this question in detail and see why the current solution is not right enough to this problem. See the top answer there...

You will see, the trend there, is to vote down, close and flag, which seems like a good thing from your point of view, because it clears the activity from those Help Vampires away. Ah, clean. Right? ... No.

What will the help vampire do?

  1. The user will either try again to form the same or a similar question in a similar better way.

    Result: The same or a similar thing made shiny, but still a help vampire.

  2. Never, ever forget, that the user sees quality in his question and does have a problem,
    so he will start wondering what went wrong and eventually ask a question on meta.

    Result: The Help Vampire moved to the meta.

  3. The Help Vampire has wasted his time and goes away to try to get a better solution elsewhere or gives up, he is still a Help Vampire which doesn't have a solution and may come back in the future.

    Result: The Help Vampire is gone, if he were cured he could pose great questions in the future.

So, the trend here, is that the problem isn't solved. We're hammering our community instead...

To further elaborate on this problem:

So, let me sum up what I think is the right solution:

  1. Check for duplicates that do answer the question or that learn the user towards solving it himself;
    if this doesn't exist, look through the Community FAQ or Google or start wikifying, a good example on Super User can be seen here and here.

  2. Explain in a comment to the user, that his answer is either to broad or to simple and that he can find his answer in the duplicate, on the Community FAQ or somewhere else.

  3. If the question doesn't take that much effort, it might be useful answering it so that in the future it can be used for marking similar questions as duplicates.

  4. And if you have a hammer, after guiding the user, you can finally downvote, migrate, close or flag as that does make sense now to the Help Vampire. And does show him that the community would like better questions, teach him that you expect extra effort by pointing him at /questions/how-to-ask.

  5. And if you are a moderator, you might consider to check the user profile to see if he is a bad Help Vampires which doesn't make effort to reform his questions. As those Help Vampires are a problem.

    I would suggest to suspend him after a third bad question and ban him after a fifth bad question.

Improving our wiki and Helping Users Learn will make SE a better place!

  • 7
    In theory, this works. In practice, greed kills communism. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 19:33
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    In theory, this works. In practice, education improves communities. – Tamara Wijsman Jan 19 '11 at 19:37
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    @Tom: The hallmark of a "help vampire" is that he doesn't learn, and doesn't post great questions. By all means, help new users learn to use the site; point out problems with poorly-asked questions; find duplicates... But don't discourage editing (leave windows broken) as a form of communication. See also: Could we please be a bit nicer to the noobs?, Encouraging people to explain down-votes – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 19:48
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    In theory, this works. In practice, help vampires are generally too oblivious to reality to improve their ways. – Ether Jan 19 '11 at 20:01
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    I have to agree with @Ether and @SHog. Time spent on answering questions from people who can actually bothered to give a damn (no matter what age, language and level of skill) is time so much better invested. Although there are occasional occurrences of unjust false positives that bother me, I think the way it works right now - a certain ratio of downvotes leading to an exclusion from the site - is the only sane way to go. – Pekka Jan 19 '11 at 20:08
  • @TomWij: There are any number of ways a question like that can be improved... That's the great thing about abysmally-bad questions - almost any change you make is an improvement. You could also just answer it... As vampiric questions go, that one isn't actually all that bad. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 20:18
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    @Tom: I think you're forgetting that the motivation (rep-greed) encourages answering vs. pointing out an existing answer. See: Give an incentive for finding duplicate questions, Are Duplicates creating broken windows? – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 20:38
  • Be aware that people with histories of bad questions are automatically prohibited from asking more questions. Also, could you also clarify how you differentiate "banning" from "suspension"? Here, they're the same thing. – Grace Note Jan 19 '11 at 20:50
  • @GraceNote: Well, I meant "temporary ban" against a "permanent ban", but if they are the same here then you probably could consider a warning followed by a suspension (ban). – Tamara Wijsman Jan 19 '11 at 20:54
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    @Shog9: I thought it was mind-boggling economic inefficiency that killed communism. I guess greed is just as efficient a killer, though. – Aarobot Jan 19 '11 at 23:28
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    Don't be destroying my cherished myths of the '80s, @Aarobot. Goes back to lighting candles in front of Reagan shrine – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 23:43

It's a shame you aren't willing to listen to Kronos here because he's right.

With the Heavy demand that moderation has to begin with, to sit and try to 'guide' these vampires will take vast amounts of time and patience. This may lead to the neglect of other questions and/or vampires. Meaning that if you as a mod or 10k+ user are slowly trying to 'guide' this individual through what is right and wrong the time that you would've spent on closing, voting, commenting on other users questions may be neglected.

In other words,

  • getting a good answer is a privilege not a right
  • the person asking is, in many ways, doing the least amount of work -- everyone has a million questions but only a few people have the correct answers
  • the amount of question askers who need this kind of help VASTLY EXCEEDS the number of people who are willing and able to answer. Stated another way, there are an infinite number of dumb questions.

Thus, the responsibility of asking a proper question ultimately falls on the asker.

There is a limit to how much you can help those that are unwilling to help themselves.

  • 3
    Can we come up with a tutoring or mentoring program? I think something like that would be a great way of getting others to volunteer to help out (such as myself). I don't have the rep to moderate, but I certainly have been around long enough to help someone ask better questions or assist in finding duplicates. It is far too often that we see new (< 500 rep) users getting slammed by comments about not accepting answers, not formatting questions, not asking clear questions, or just flat failing to ask a real question at all. – IAbstract Jan 19 '11 at 21:36
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    ...need more room... So, if mentoring is attempted, and the OP (alleged help vampire) does not seem to grasp the ideals, then the hammer drops... – IAbstract Jan 19 '11 at 21:37
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    IAbstract: again, the users who actually want to learn aren't really the problem - they do learn. It's the users who treat SO like their own personal magic answers machine... – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 21:37
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    @IAbstract if that sort of thing interests you, try stackoverflow.com/review - that "route" shows you SO's automatically-detected potentially bad q&as. Not that they are bad, just that they might be. There is nothing to stop anyone hanging around on there and adding comments where appropriate, if they can comment. You can flag etc too. – user142852 Jan 19 '11 at 21:39
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    @Shog9: I agree there are those who actually want to learn and then those who just want teh codez. I do agree that we need to drop the hammer. But there are a few individuals who probably get the hammer dropped on their question and walk away wondering why they wasted their time on the site - not understanding what they did wrong just as the OP suggests. – IAbstract Jan 19 '11 at 21:43
  • @Ninefingers: didn't know that area existed...interesting. – IAbstract Jan 19 '11 at 21:45
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    Funny you should mention unnecessary meta questions... – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 21:50
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    @Tom: To address both, what Jeff said about not wasting effort, and your proposals of trying to guide the problematic users first; we could devise a proper help/tutorial site. Must be something easy to link to, and some simpler advises to embetter questions. The FAQ is too superficial, and everyone trying to reprimand help vampires via short comments obviously fails. – mario Jan 19 '11 at 21:57
  • @Tom: the problem still exists because the problem is part and parcel of an effective Q&A system. We can and do strive to mitigate it, but we will never be free of it unless we close the gates and stop accepting new questions - and that's really not an option. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 21:57
  • @Tom: as I and others have noted, the gates are not wide open. If the community is able to identify a problem user, the gates will shut - for him. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 22:10
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    @Tom: evidence suggests that a majority of users don't feel that user's questions are all that bad. Now, that could be because the users who feel otherwise don't down-vote... But if these good men remain silent then we must conclude this user is not, in fact, a vampire. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 22:18
  • @mario this already exists in the form of blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/10/asking-better-questions ; try asking a question on SO in Chrome Incognito mode (as a newbie user) to see what I mean. – Jeff Atwood Jan 19 '11 at 22:36
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    @Jeff: I knew of the introduction page. Yet for our help vampires, which are at stake here, we need reminders on how to ask good questions. And I already went ahead with meta.stackexchange.com/questions/75577/… to create a more easily linkable repository of mini howtos. – mario Jan 19 '11 at 22:47
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    @mario: there are tons of these. Eric Raymond wrote one. Jon Skeet wrote one. Tired veterans of every newsgroup ever wrote lots of them. Problem is... The folks who would benefit most never read them. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 22:58

Speaking solely out of experience from Super User but since this appears to be an issue for the trilogy sites and other SE sites I'll add my two bits.

This is a very difficult thing to implement in what you are proposing. This concept of:

Give a man a fish, feed him for a day; Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime

is great in principle but extremely difficult to implement in practice. With the heavy demand that moderation has to begin with, to sit and try to 'guide' these vampires would take vast amounts of time and patience. This may lead to the neglect of other questions and/or vampires. Meaning that if you as a mod or 10k+ user are slowly trying to 'guide' this individual through what is right and wrong the time that you would've spent on closing, voting, commenting on other users questions may be neglected.

I do feel that there is a natural urge to just down-vote or close the question, and this may need to be regulated or reminded of what the purposes behind that is, but to implement this change you propose will take not only a change in time commitment from other community members but also a change in thinking and practice.

  • @tomwij what you are talking about is a non-teachable person after the 5th try. Also I don't disagree that something needs to change nor that your suggestion is bad just extremely difficult to implement – James Mertz Jan 19 '11 at 19:18
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    Perhaps "implement" isn't the best word. I don't mean any software or code that needs to be changed, but rather a mindset that will have to change with moderators. Again I'm for a change just may take some time and effort on the mods parts. – James Mertz Jan 19 '11 at 19:58
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    In terms of mindset changing... diamonds are always keeping eyes on problem users, especially if they have history for it. So, technically speaking, there's not so much problem on that end if all you want is the diamonds to keep an eye out for help vampires. For the most part, many of us already do so. – Grace Note Jan 19 '11 at 20:04
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    @GraceNote I think though that what @TomWij is asking for is to not only look out for them, but rather guide them to leave their "question" sucking ways. Take the time to help them improve – James Mertz Jan 19 '11 at 20:06
  • Pretty much our job. We're not just around to mete out punishment - we're mediators of conflict and teachers of etiquette. When problems happen, the first step is almost always to try and educate for a better resolution. Reforming problem users into productive members of the community is always a happier solution when possible. – Grace Note Jan 19 '11 at 20:09

My policy is to cast a close vote, and leave a comment on the question explaining to the vampire how they can improve their post.

Possible results:

  1. The vampire doesn't see my comment, since the post was a drive-by
  2. The vampire sees my comment, but ignores it or argues with me.
  3. The vampire posts more bad questions.
  4. ...? (unicorns)
  5. The vampire sees the error of his ways, fixes the post before it gets closed, and everyone lives happily ever after.

Probability of number 5 occurring? About 5 to 10 percent. But at least I gave the vampire the benefit of the doubt.

  • 2
    Also, if closing too often scares away question askers, then the default/automatic explanation of close actions might need improvement (to not even have to add an explicit comment in most cases, while still being as helpful). – Arjan Jan 19 '11 at 18:44
  • Er, @Tom, isn't Robert stating the same thing you do? The "improvement" here is only the comment, right? (Possibly also helping other drive by visitors.) – Arjan Jan 19 '11 at 18:48
  • @Tomwij: Close votes are there for a reason; they help keep the site from getting overrun with worthless questions. New users who see the closing of their first post as a learning experience will stay and become good SO citizens. Those who fail to reform will go away, and that's probably a good thing. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 18:53
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    @TomWij I'm not really convinced that you can't improve a user by telling them how to ask better questions. One of the easiest ways to illustrate this kind of thing is to show them how to better one of their existing questions. Revision suggestions aren't just meant to fix the post - they're meant to teach the user how to be a productive member of the community. If we just wanted prettier posts, we can just do the revisions ourselves rather than wait on someone that we don't even know will come back. – Grace Note Jan 19 '11 at 18:54
  • So your only objection is casting the close vote first? I generally dont come back to the question. It's easier (and cleaner) to do it all in one step. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 19:02
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    @Tom: You could have just said that in your question, and saved a whole lot of words. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 19:05
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    Ah yes! This is not just a hypothetical; you've now linked an actual example in your question. Unfortunately that question is off-topic at SU, and there's nothing you can do to save it there. In addition, there is a very clear description on the question of what happened, which the vampire can read: "Closed as off topic by studiohack, heavyd, Doug Harris, Diago‚ô¶ 23 hours ago -- Questions on Super User are expected to generally relate to computer software or computer hardware in some way, within the scope defined in the faq." I don't know how you get any clearer than that. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 19:15
  • And +1 as compensation. ;) – Lennart Regebro Jan 19 '11 at 19:17
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    @TomWij That's an entirely different problem altogether, though. The events on Stack Overflow are the same problem of people not knowing what belongs on the sister sites, the problem that causes SU and Programmers to have been plagued by improper migrations. The fact that a "Help Vampire" asked it, quite frankly, seems irrelevant. It can happen to any kind of horrid, vague, or rhetorical question asked by any manner of bad user, not just the clingy ones that come back with more bad questions. – Grace Note Jan 19 '11 at 19:34
  • @Tom: I think we're all confused by the migration of that question to SU. No amount of explaining would ease that confusion. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 19:39
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    @Tom: The migration was inappropriate; it was an abuse of the tool, and should not have occurred. But that's a separate problem; the remedy is to use the hammer correctly, not attempt to explain why you're using it incorrectly. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 19:46
  • @Tom: Works for me. – user102937 Jan 19 '11 at 20:05

This question and some of the answers are failing to engage with a stated goal of these sites: to build a durable repository of meaningful questions and their answers.

It's a bit of a collectivist vision: the individual questioner is just a gear in the larger machinery.

If someone posts a poor question, two outcomes are useful to this vision:

  1. It gets closed (and perhaps deleted)
  2. It gets improved

The sites will always have an infestation of idiots who excrete poor questions. No one is under any obligation to try to help or educate them. It's not a responsibility of the diamond mods. It's a fine and noble thing when someone tries to help these people, but it's not required, and it's not part of the fundamental vision behind these sites.

The recent changes to block new questions from recidivists are in line with this goal. No, we don't line them up for reeducation. We just block them out. And the gardeners pull the weeds.

Meanwhile, from time to time, a gardener decides that a particular weed, with a bit of pruning, can be turned into a specimen. So that person edits the question. The effect is to add a good question to the repository. The side-effect is to abet, in a very small way, the person who posted it. Maybe that causes them to come back and ask another bad question. Maybe not. It's not important.


[long comment, not an answer]

I do like your advises, seem well thought out. I'm just not sure it's applicable to all typos of help vampires. I've recently had a few specimem where no amount of commenting or explaining would help. (Actually the amount of comments became a problem with one.)

Oftentimes the moderation problem is that they never comment back or edit their questions. Some help vampires just don't bother. But you are right, no amount of downvotes, closevotes, or editing the question does help there. That usually just feeds the cycle of repostings.

Therefore, If I'm in a mean mood, sometimes post a bit of lenghty commentary as pseudo answer. Should the asker respond or edit his question (seldomly happens), then you can still provide a refined and more technical answer.

Check for duplicates that do answer the question or that learn the user towards solving it himself;

Would be best. But SO users have resignated. Searching dupes takes too much effort to answer vague questions. Also to be honest, this feels sometimes like rewarding the HVs when they certainly didn't bother to search. I still find links to the search function appropriate though (if accompanied by a mediocre bit of explanation.)

  • 1
    @mario: best thing you can do, when facing a user who posts a poor question and then disappears, is down-vote. If others do the same, and the user makes a habit of this behavior, he'll eventually be banned from the site. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 20:42
  • @Tom: we're talking about folks who've already failed to respond to comments. You don't need to "pair" a comment to your down-vote, your down-vote is in response to (the lack of response to) a previous comment. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 20:59
  • @Shog9: I'd like to make him my exhibit: stackoverflow.com/questions/4729918/… - That particular user has a habit of posting unintelligible stuff. Gives me headaches, I can't be bothered to comment or downvote because it fails to make an impression. The automatic banning will never kick in, because 8 out of 10 answers are some degree of "acceptable". Yet I agree with Tom that he could be turned from HV into a proper user. Some sort of soft ban / intervention / special needs UI is necessary. – mario Jan 19 '11 at 21:15
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    @Tom: look at the question mario just linked to. Clarification was asked for 22 hours ago - at this point, there's no need to comment again, because the author hasn't made any effort to respond - just down-vote and move on. If he posts another question, ask for clarification again, down-vote, rinse, repeat... – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 21:25
  • @Tom: and I'm saying, Step 5 already exists - if a user's questions are consistently down-voted, the system will automatically prevent him from asking more beyond a certain point. This has the potential to scale far more effectively than manual moderator intervention. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 21:49
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    @Tom: then I suggest you start down-voting... – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 22:00
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    @Tom: you don't have to do anything. You can shrug your shoulders and assert that what we really need is an army of moderators to handle these users. But we don't, and frankly I doubt that such a top-down strategy would go over well anyway. – Shog9 Jan 19 '11 at 22:13
  • @Tom the downvotes aren't unnecessary, they are vital for the system to understand that this is a user who needs to be shut out. That's why downvotes are great! – Pekka Jan 19 '11 at 22:32
  • Oh, I just saw who you picked as your exhibit @mario. Heh, good one! But from what I have learned from my interactions with him, beyond salvation. – Pekka Jan 19 '11 at 22:33

Downvote and close. Why on earth would you flag? Enough downvotes leads to a ban anyway. This is solved without moderator attention and violates their role as "human exception handlers." No authority human intervention is needed to deal with a help vampire.

The exception I see is for users < 3k rep, who do not have privileges to vote to close questions and for whom close flags go into the review queue.

  • 2
    Does your answer add significant value to the discourse already offered here? Though you're right; its ultimately a self-correcting problem since the low-quality filters and automatic question bans were put into place. – user102937 Feb 5 '14 at 19:51
  • @RobertHarvey do any existing answers explain that the moderator added value here is near zero? – djechlin Feb 5 '14 at 20:04
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    Well, the question is pretty old. You might want to point that out more specifically, especially if you think the mores have changed. – user102937 Feb 5 '14 at 20:09
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    I don't agree with the statements, "Why on earth would you flag?" and "No authority human intervention is needed to deal with a help vampire." because what if the question is off-topic. Downvoting just buries the post, and keeping it open makes others think this is still the place to ask those types of question. Closing them by means of flagging let's people know why you can't ask those questions here. And if you flag it as a duplicate, it points people to an answer that they didn't/couldn't find. – Anil Natha Feb 5 '14 at 20:15
  • @SlyRaskal no. in the end the question is closed; no one will know if it was by flag or not. Same if closed by duplicate. I did not suggest you should keep it open; I suggested you should close it. A moderator does not need to close it personally. Furthermore that argument applies to any kind of bad question - we close questions because we don't want a myriad of bad questions to seem welcome here, not just off topic questions. – djechlin Feb 5 '14 at 20:31
  • @RobertHarvey point out that the question is old? – djechlin Feb 5 '14 at 20:32
  • @djechlin: That the conditions that were present when this question was asked may no longer apply. – user102937 Feb 5 '14 at 20:33
  • @SlyRaskal: Your argument is not compelling. Voting down and voting to close is always preferable to flagging unless something bad is happening that needs to be brought to the attention of moderators. – user102937 Feb 5 '14 at 20:34
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    @RobertHarvey, I have under 3K rep on SO, I do not have the ability to vote to close as many other members do. The only options available to me are to vote down or flag. Now if I did have over 3K rep, certainly I would vote to close. – Anil Natha Feb 5 '14 at 20:38
  • @RobertHarvey sure, that's why I answered with a modern viewpoint. I don't actually know a good way to deal with an obsolescent meta question like this, that broadcasts highly upvoted now bad advice. – djechlin Feb 5 '14 at 20:41
  • @djechlin, sorry for the confusion, my original comment was intended to describe the viewpoint for us members with <3K rep. Not those that have higher than 3K rep. Sorry, should have qualified my statement better. Mea Culpa. But I see you amended your post to reflect that. Cheers. – Anil Natha Feb 5 '14 at 20:43
  • Could accept your answer; but, that would be in against what others have said here and it isn't my decision anyway, I'm going to let voting decide. But due to the age and width, I doubt the voting is going to change. Since I less often visit Stack Exchange sites and are not taking up a moderation (!= moderator) role anymore; I am no longer concerned by this anymore, thus I'm not sure whether to (and why to) back or change the accepted solution here. – Tamara Wijsman Feb 6 '14 at 3:10

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