The title is a reference to Why are Stack Overflow people nice?.

We had the good fortune, to start this experiment with a really positive culture and have managed to hang onto it through vast growth and several fairly bitter internal arguments. But that does not guarantee we'll keep it forever.

Lately I've had a unscientific feeling that Stack Overflow has been a bit rougher on newbie mistakes. The actual composition of this question was triggered by the comment thread on Is Linux worth with Java? (now with pending delete votes, so it is in danger of being 10k only).

The original poster currently has 3 reputation points and has been a member for all of two days.

The question bear the obvious (to me, at least) hallmarks of being written by a non-native English speaker with a shaky grasp of the tongue, and it is a rather simplistic question that could be answered fairly easily by Google.

Question body:

Sir, I am mc student, I have knowledge in c,c++,J2EE. I want to ask you should I command in Linux with J2EE. Is it worth?

Instead of trying to improve the question, to discern exactly what the OP meant, or explaining how the question should be improved we get this comment thread instead (without wanting to call out these posters in particular, this was just the thread that got be off my duff):

2 Can you elaborate? – Dave McClelland 21 hours ago

1 Absolutely yes! If it can run on your Blu-Ray player, imagine the possibilities it can do on Linux. – The Elite Gentleman 21 hours ago

1 Basically, it's as worth as running Java on any other platform. – Alexander Gessler 21 hours ago

1 @The Elite Gentleman, You can try run it on your sim-card too) – Stas Kurilin 21 hours ago

1 @STas Kurilin, really? What heapspace size must I give? sarcastic laugh – The Elite Gentleman 21 hours ago

1 @The Elite Gentleman I don't know. But there are some) See for details oracle.com/technetwork/java/javacard/overview/… – Stas Kurilin 21 hours ago

@The Elite Gentleman, you're absolutely right given a full fledged desktop machine with Linux, Java would run so fast his program could go back in time and rescue whales from extinction. – Quaternion 21 hours ago

@Stas Kurlin, if you have a program that runs on a sim-card isn't it hard to get output? I've always found processorless environments problematic. – Quaternion 21 hours ago

@Quaternion - It was a joke) I've newer wrote such programs. But, I think there should be some processor. – Stas Kurilin 20 hours ago

@Stas Kurlin, I was joking too, but I have to apologize after reading that page you liked to. You can run Java off a smart card... that's crazy and cool. +1 on account of good learning for the day. – Quaternion 20 hours ago

@Quaternion Thanks. I heard about this stuff several weeks ago. Java at a sim card is a really cool argument) – Stas Kurilin 20 hours ago

@Quaternion, lol, without having to worry about Segmentation Faults along the way. – The Elite Gentleman 19 hours ago

I've been leaving comments on threads like this from time to time, asking them to be a little more forgiving, but that is a drop in the bucket.

Nothing flag-worthy here, but not a "nice" as things once were. There is very little effort to understand what the question may really be, nor why to explain why the question has been closed, what other resources exist, or how that decision could be reversed. With a brand new user who probably has a hard time with English. Ouch.

Do we need an official re-iteration of "Be nice."?

Is there something else we can do to encourage our big city to keep the small-town feel we grew up with?

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    Moderator note: A substantial amount of the comments on the linked question have been removed.
    – user50049
    Mar 13, 2011 at 15:25
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    Were we ever? Perhaps you don't remember He Who Shall Not Be Named, is he still around? Oh, he's coming off suspension on March 26.
    – tvanfosson
    Mar 13, 2011 at 16:10
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    @tvanfosson I don't quite get what you mean by that and bringing up the past really isn't helping here, considering that were talking about one user. That user's suspension will end and they are welcome. The only person who can predict what they will do is the person held accountable after doing it.
    – user50049
    Mar 13, 2011 at 17:52
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    @tvan: Who is "He Who Shall Not Be Named" ? Mar 13, 2011 at 17:58
  • 1
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    @Tim Post - just that this is nothing new and it's a myth that SO is any nicer than the internet as a whole.
    – tvanfosson
    Mar 13, 2011 at 18:15
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    @tvan: on that note, I recall seeing a comment (on another programming site) early on in the history of SO expressing amazement at the lack of mean-spirited sniping (specifically that targeted at the hoards of less-skilled users from a certain eastern country). I responded that it did exist, but was generally cleaned up quickly by other users, along with the poorly-written posts that prompted it. If there's anything exceptional about SO, it's in how we handle such noise.
    – Shog9
    Mar 13, 2011 at 18:25
  • The question appears to have been deleted, now, so it is no longer visible to sub-10k what the question was even like.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Mar 14, 2011 at 14:14
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    As a stand-up comic once said, "It's not that people in cities are less friendly, it's that if you stop to say 'Hello' to everyone you pass in the street, you can never get anywhere". I think that translates quite well to SO.
    – Phil Lello
    May 1, 2011 at 17:08
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    14 upvotes (and counting?) for an early warning for people who post more than 50 questions in 30 days. Yes, people are still nice. ;-)
    – Arjan
    May 3, 2011 at 11:14
  • lets face it, another key issue here is that despite official encouragement/facilitation, se questions are rarely reworked by anyone (original poster or others) to attempt to clarify them, the tendency is much more to downvote/close them, this is possibly due to the incentive system not generating any reward for that.... a pt system that somehow rewards edits might alter this behavior quickly...
    – vzn
    Mar 15, 2014 at 20:09
  • @vzn Users below the edit threshold can get points for editing. Mar 15, 2014 at 22:03
  • what is "edit threshhold"? 2pts for editing? not worth much effort.
    – vzn
    Mar 15, 2014 at 22:17

8 Answers 8


Nothing flag-worthy here

I would not say any individual comment there, if taken out of context of the entire 'conversation' is flag worthy. All of the comments together, however, are flag worthy and we need that kind of stuff brought to our attention.

Do not hesitate to flag a post where the comments have degenerated into far more noise than signal. Just flag for moderator attention and indicate that you are drawing attention to the comments attached to the post.

While some flags are restricted to "SPAM or offensive", the FAQ still does say "Be nice". If people clearly aren't being nice, we need to know about it.

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    I was analyzing each tree trying to figure out what was wrong here. Good job on spotting the forest. Mar 13, 2011 at 15:26
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    That wasn't really the point that @dmckee was trying to make, I think. Making it look like nice is hardly a substitute for being nice. I don't doubt the OP saw all the comments. Mar 13, 2011 at 15:44
  • @Hans - This really isn't intended as an answer to the question. I was replying mostly to the "not flag worthy" part. I'll edit for clarity.
    – user50049
    Mar 13, 2011 at 15:47
  • @Hans, and that is how I read this response. It goes to "what can we do?", answer: "flag on overall feel as well as pointlike obnoxiousness". Mar 13, 2011 at 15:51
  • @Hans @Tim I think this goes some way to answering the question. The OP will have seen the comments, but then will have seen that they were deleted. Hopefully that will offset the bad impression from the original comments
    – MarkJ
    Mar 14, 2011 at 12:27
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    Hm, I personally really don't understand why that should be "flag-worthy". As far as I see it, it's just a little bit of off-topic chat on a question. Happens sometimes, and isn't necessarily bad. As you can see someone has learned something new. So, why should that be considered offensive?
    – NikiC
    Apr 27, 2011 at 22:52

This is certainly nothing new. I've seen (and, I must confess, occasionally participated in) such exchanges for the entire history of the site.

Contributing factors:

  • Question is off-topic, and so was quickly closed. This removes some of the pressure to write for the ages when answering / commenting - even if you normally wouldn't vandalize a wall, you might throw some graffiti on a building about to be demolished.

  • Question was very poorly spelled and worded. In this case, that provided some justification for... alternate, humorous, interpretations (I suspect the author intended to ask if he should put the effort into learning Java on Linux, but the literal interpretation was closer to "Is Linux deserving of Java?")

  • Once it begins, it snowballs: one user posts a [funny|thought-provoking] comment, others ignore the (hard to parse) question and just respond to the comment. Rinse, repeat...

Mitigation strategies

  1. Recognize a doomed question when you see one. Even if heavily edited, this question was never going to be appropriate for Stack Overflow, and so should have been closed. This was done - in a short time, it won't matter what comments were posted, because most people won't be able to view them.

  2. Post a quick, helpful response. Something like, "This question is difficult to understand and probably off-topic - please read the site FAQ." might have avoided some of the pile-on comments. Though not necessarily.

  3. Flag and be done with it. As Tim notes, moderators can wipe the slate clean when necessary.

Frankly, I'm not especially concerned about isolated occurrences. Yes, it might leave a bad impression on the asker, but... There is a nearly-unlimited supply of people willing to ask poor questions. But we must guard against it becoming a cultural fixture: roving wags looking to one-up each other on each new question. I've seen this - it isn't pretty.

And this is where flagging, closing, and deletion come in. When every poorly-asked question, every comment and every flame persist on the site for future readers to discover and brood on, the tone of the site itself changes. Don't worry about offending the OP - worry about irritating the next hundred readers who arrived from a "Java on Linux" query and left with the impression that SO was nothing but a bunch of idle jokers... Or stuck around, just to participate in the next attack.

Other thoughts

Yesterday's argument over a question of this caliber that was migrated instead of closed tells me one thing: SO users are frequently nice to the point of fault, giving askers the benefit of the doubt even when they probably do not deserve it. Of course, they also like to have a bit of fun now and then... One of the big advantages of SO over competing forums is the ease with which such noise is dispatched, vs. leaving it around as encouragement for other users in the future.

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    For the most part I agree with you, excepting "it won't matter what comments were posted". That poster will likely be discourage from using SO because we came across as a bunch of jerks. Yeah, the question was pretty bad, but part of that is down to the poster's struggles with English (well, presumably). Certainly close it and close it fast, but be nice while we do it. Mar 13, 2011 at 15:47
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    @dmckee: For all we know, the poster was discouraged the second his question was closed (prior to most of the comments). Short of a time-machine, there's nothing that can be done about that, nor am I particularly concerned about it in any case (see my edit) - the important thing is to minimize the collateral damage.
    – Shog9
    Mar 13, 2011 at 16:38
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    the main contributing factor is probably the feeling of being overrun by low quality posts and users. People start to have less time for being nice. That said, a straight downvote would be preferable to snarking (or are people too stingy to downvote?)
    – Benjol
    Mar 14, 2011 at 10:29
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    "There is a nearly-unlimited supply of people willing to ask poor questions." <- I think this attitude is not helpful. It feels like a NY restaurant owner swearing at every exiting client just because he still would have an unlimited number of clients.
    – tiago2014
    Mar 14, 2011 at 14:26
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    @tiagoinu: It's an observation. Like it or not, there are a lot of clients, and a good many of them carelessly throw their napkins on the floor. Yes, we could try to quietly take them aside and politely explain how much extra work this makes for us... but as @Benjol notes, this gets frustrating, and... now and then the waitstaff loses it. We absolutely want to avoid the scenario where we're swearing at every customer because we've become so used to casual abuse that we expect it - better to quickly be rid of the litterbugs and spend our time being nice to the rest.
    – Shog9
    Mar 14, 2011 at 14:34

I just now came across this question.. the comments (well, answers) made there reminded me of this discussion and made me feel uneasy.

While the question is indeed pretty "dumb" I wouldn't laugh from the sarcasm if it was my question.

The thing is, the sarcastic answers got pretty high score, luckily The Skeet came to the rescue.

Bottom line: this sarcasm is exactly the thing that can drive newbies away - there's no offense and no insults but still.... coming as high upvoted answer it doesn't look good.

Personally I might post something like the "cup of tea" as comment adding smiley to reflect it's said in humor - obviously that's not what the OP meant anyway and he should clarify his question.


Some are, some aren't. You get arseholes everywhere, and always have.

I'll focus on the trend, rather than the specific example of one guy with limited English.

However, I think technology advances have significantly lowered the bar, and while making it easier for skilled programmers to accomplish more in a given time frame, it's also made it easier for unskilled programmers to enter the game.

I'm by no means elitist about formal training - I was programming at school before I turned 10, as I was lucky enough to grow up in the 1980s. Language choices on home computers (BBC Micro, Commodore 64, Amstrad CPC, SHARP, etc.) were limited on 8-bit computers to BASIC or assembly language. It was trivially easy to experiment with hardware via peek & poke, and there were many good magazines teaching the interested.


  • Web-development languages like PHP mean that as soon as someone enters <? print 'Hello' ?> in a HTML document, they're a programmer. The stateless and short-execution nature of Web pages means people don't need to understand flow control. That said, I've no objections to PHP, and use it when it's the right tool for the job.
  • There's far too many purists now, who think the right tool for the job is always <insert-language-or-framework-here>. Again, there are now many more APIs & tools for a given language, meaning there's less incentive to expand knowledge to find the right tool for the job
  • The growth in wizards & GUI editors also require much less detailed understanding of how systems actually work.
  • Significant numbers of IT people are in it for the money, not the challenge. This personality type is generally more concerned with image.
  • The Internet now has far more users than 10 years ago, and home Internet access isn't just for technologists.
  • There's more bandwidth available, so it is much quicker to ask on multiple websites than read a book.
  • It's often guesswork whether someone has poor English, or is a l33t hak0r (however it's spelt), or just plain lazy.


  • The lower entry level requirements increase the number of trivial questions; we all get annoyed when we feel our time is being wasted. An unfortunate consequence is there's often less patience with poor English, inexperienced users, and so on.

  • Purists are often hostile to anything different. I've had downvotes before, apparently because I dared to offer the other viewpoint to the other answers.

  • Reduced knowledge of systems vs a component of the system (computers vs app), means questions or comments get misunderstood, then silliness entails.

I can edit in examples if people really need them, but I think that goes too far off-topic.

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    And some people just don't know how to communicate their problems effectively. Even with a good grasp of English, there are so many, "this is my code, I have an error, the end" questions. Can be very irritating trying to get clarification on these, especially when the asker doesn't respond to these requests. Even more so when there are answers which are educated guesses to the problem and the only response is, "it doesn't work." Apr 27, 2011 at 21:30
  • @Jeff Mercado I feel your pain
    – Phil Lello
    Apr 27, 2011 at 21:40
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    This is a very good analysis. I see an increasing number of questions where the OP has no clue whatsoever of what they are doing. They are often very nice people, but I've lost motivation helping them in any way other than pointing them to a tutorial. These kinds of questions are extremely tiring.
    – Pekka
    Apr 27, 2011 at 21:51
  • Phil, it's a wonderful reiteration of what happened last 2 decades, a lovely short read... coming to SO I often feel: more than 9x% of programmers nowadays should be better off elsewhere but the demand is just too high. Reading books and understanding how stuff actually works really seem like a thing of the past.
    – bestsss
    Dec 27, 2011 at 11:37

I think it's a sign of respect to downvote someone when you think he's wrong. Or to vote to close an answer when he hasn't spend enough time on the question. And I hope people would do the same to me (perhaps a bit less often, hehe :))

"Being nice" doesn't imply upvoting everything

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    You make a very, very important point, but voting is not really what @dmckee is talking about in this specific instance.
    – Pekka
    Mar 13, 2011 at 15:54

It does make me feel sad when I see people struggling and reaching out to a community to try and learn, without perhaps fully understand how SO runs and what is required of them.

I've been guilty of it before, but really try and stop doing it now where inappropriate.

I think we should perhaps all remind ourselves of this when we see questions like that. I really never liked the auto lock/delete that happens to these sorts of questions that probably leaves the question asker feeling very unwelcome.


As a suggestion, why don't we have a 'Vote to Protect' button? If enough people vote to protect it, then it can't be deleted for say 1 week.

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    Normally, questions aren't deleted so quickly... This was an exception. I don't see that keeping bad or off-topic questions around to be held up for ridicule helps anything though.
    – Shog9
    Mar 14, 2011 at 14:09

I'd have to agree with you - Stack Overflow is quite possibly not as nice as it used to be, probably as the result of increasing new-question rates. With so many more new questions being raised, it's no longer possible to baby-sit some of the questions that used to recieve more care and attention.

That said, a lot of poorly worded new questions still do recieve a lot of TLC, so I don't think there are any problems yet.

As for this question, the reaosn why it didn't survive is almost certainly because it's very poorly formulated and even if it's asked with the elocution of a Queen, it's still likely to be closed as subjective as it's essentially a Java vs alternatives with nowhere near enough context information for there to be a "correct" answer.

That is, the reason why this question didn't get any care and attention was because anybody willing and capable of editing this question triaged it as "beyond hope", and moved onto questions that they could help.


From my experience on the few occasions I (mostly accidentally) wander out of the tag into others (eg , ), I would say "niceness" seems to vary a lot with tag. No specifics of course, I'm being nice :)

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