Stackoverflow continues to suffer from a quality problem. I don't think any amount of policing can solve the problem. Stuff may get cleaned up, but there's still a ton of garbage temporarily for me to see. No matter how fast the street sweepers go, when I look outside, there's still litter to see.

The real problem is that users that drive by and ask questions are not invested in the site. Not even a little. They want their answer, and there's enough smart reputation starved psychic debuggers out there to figure out there problem for them. We've massed an army of awesome super programming ninja. However, there's hordes of barbarians at the frontier. We know there's like 99 bad wanna-be can't fizz-buzz programmers out there for every competent programmer. We can't win a war of attrition with them. There's just too many bad programmer barbarians at the frontier of our Civilization to make a dent with moderation, down-voting, etc.

What we really want is question askers who are going to be invested in the community. People who, despite their newb status, want to learn and get better. We want people who don't just want their current problem solved, they want to make themselves better programmers.

I think we've reached the point where to participate, you have to prove your worth or at least interest to the community somehow. This is unabashably the Starship Troopers model of Stack Overflow. Force people to contribute before they take away. I think its a good model. If we don't do something, this is just going to devolve into the dead newsgroups of yore. Lots of newbs and lots of moderators. And nobody else. The true meat of society -- artisans, craftspeople, etc -- having long left the festering ruins for others to pick over. Because nobody cares about worrying about moderating every question (they just want to have fun providing answers). If the inside baseball takes over, then we're doomed.

I propose that a questioner on StackOverflow should have had to prove themselves to the community. The simplest way to do this is to require they answer a question and get it upvoted by somebody before they can ask questions. Maybe we should actually enforce a required amount of rep before a question can be asked. Maybe some rep on another, lower traffic SE site would be sufficient to prove some investment. Maybe there's other ideas I haven't thought of...

I'm wondering if I'm way off the mark? What are your thoughts?


5 Answers 5


How would you propose that a site gets started off in the first place? When a fresh site gets started, you have to have at least one question before you can accrue any answers at all, nevermind upvoted answers.

How do I introduce a site to a friend of mine who I know has a question? Do I have to ask it myself in their stead, while they search for something they can provide an answer to?

How do I start off in a new site, if I'm already present on other sites? Sometimes I just happen to have a question that is covered by a site I never visit - I will be barred from asking questions until I find a suitable question to answer in a field I don't even fully understand yet.

In the Stack Exchange Network, one of our proudest boasts is the ease of use. We even allow unregistered users to ask questions, unlike forums where you at least need an account in the first place. Sometimes, somebody just needs an answer, and we provide the convenience to get answers without needing to fully commit yourself. It's an advantage that we highlight in our About page, and something that strongly separates us from other sites on the web.

To get rid of this and require answering is not only counter to our principles, but it's also quite internalist. We transform from our mission of "Improving the internet", i.e. helping everyone at large, to "We only help those of our own fold". We even have a "too localized" close reason that is geared towards questions that are too personal and only benefit a single individual. How can we espouse to be universally helpful if the only people we can help are members of the community?

  • I meant this to only apply to Stackoverflow. The "ease of use" is great, except when you've made it easy for others to come along and litter and the whole site turns from solving interesting problems into a site about moderating the litter. Even if there's cops patrolling all the time, I still wouldn't want to live in a high crime neighborhood. I don't like gated communities, but it beats the alternative.
    – Doug T.
    Jun 14, 2011 at 15:48
  • It's a fundamental change to how the site as a whole behaves, to go from a public site to a private site. A gate is counter-intuitive to our very mission statement. If we change our mission statement, we might as well be a different site. It's a different beast to enforce standards in quality (our current methods that ban poor quality question askers) in comparison to requiring what amounts to an entry fee. The fact someone has any intent to continue with the community is largely independent of how interesting or useful their question could be.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Jun 14, 2011 at 15:53

So, basically you're saying that if I have a problem and seek for help, I first need to be able to solve someone else's problem, and do that good enough?

What for? I know that is terribly annoying and frustrating seeing all those account with 1 rep that come here, ask a question, and forget about it right away, or leave with a thank you (when you're lucky) after their problem is solved.

But your ideas is somewhat unapplicable, and contrary to the spirit of this network. It's true that's better for people to partecipate, but you can't COMPEL them to do this, as well as you can't compel people to answer if they don't want or simply can't. Otherwise you'll be polluting with a plethora of bad answers, artificially upvoted (maybe through second accounting?), so that the poor guy looking for help can actually find that help. If he's not migrated somewhere else in the meantime, which is not so unlikely.

  • Well maybe that's not the best way to do it. Maybe there's other ways to incentivize participation. Nobody is COMPELed to do anything but you can INCENTIVIZE them to not suck at writing questions. And you can't incentivize them with anything that involves our community (ie reputation) because they don't care. You can't incentivize them by not giving them an answer, cause they'll still invariably get their answer because the community is generally extremely nice and helpful.
    – Doug T.
    Jun 14, 2011 at 15:50
  • @Doug T. We're not talking about teaching a kid to say "please" before asking his grandma a candy; your idea is to negate people to do what they came here for, unlees they've been succesfully tested on their knowledge. Jun 14, 2011 at 15:54
  • forget knowledge I just care that they intend to participate and care
    – Doug T.
    Jun 14, 2011 at 15:56
  • 3
    @Doug T. There's no requirement for anyone to participate further than asking a question. People participate to help other people out. Not everybody is in to that. The sites are intended to be a resource to get answers to questions. If someone Googles and finds the answer to their question - success. If an anonymous user asks a question, someone answers it, anonymous user never comes back, and someone else benefits from the exchange - success.
    – squillman
    Jun 14, 2011 at 16:03

While I agree that poor questions are a problem, preventing new users from asking questions is antithetical to the site's purpose. The purpose of the site is to provide people with a way to get answers to their questions - either through searching for an existing question and using it's answers or asking their own question and getting answers to it. Requiring people who are looking for answers - the vast majority of the people using the site - to answer first, before they can ask a question is a sure way to turn off new users and close the population. As learners we don't want to live in a closed-off ghetto, we want a free and open exchange of information. The cost of this is dealing with some questions that are poorly asked and waste our time. The community editing/voting model as well as new question quality metrics (and bans) help. So far I have not seen it get bad enough that it would warrant changing the fundamental model of asking/answering.

If anything, I would suggest that we lower the barrier to moderation for higher rep users, people who have demonstrated a long-term interest in the viability of the site. In combindation with the flag weight, this could provide a significant pool of (unelected, but trustworthy) moderators to deal with increasing moderation needs.


Disagree. One of the best features of StackExchange is that anyone can ask a question, and you don't even need to log in to do it. There are already measures in place to prevent people from asking questions if they show themselves to trend downward in their asking ability. If a user shows that they ask bad questions, as judged by the community by downvotes and flags, then that user is blocked from asking further questions until they get their head in the game.

  • That's very interesting. Is this mechanism described in a post somewhere and if so, could you post the link please?
    – rath
    Mar 20, 2014 at 15:36
  • 1
    @rath It's in the Help section on every site: stackoverflow.com/help/question-bans
    – squillman
    Mar 20, 2014 at 16:28
  • Log in (creating an account) is now required on Stack Overflow. May 1, 2022 at 6:43

It doesn't matter.

When writing an answer you're not only helping the OP but everyone else who comes after him. How many times have you seen the rep bar flash +10 because of a long-forgotten answer? Does it really matter that it never got accepted, or that the user hasn't signed in since? It doesn't bother me.

Another thing is, people have been asking one-off questions for as long as we've had something resembling a bulletin. It's not their responsibility to be good SE members, it's ours to set a good example. If they find a friendly community they'll come back, and eventually start contributing. If they don't, who cares anyway?

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