Meta Stack OverflowCould we please be a bit nicer to new users?
[+1214] [49] Chris Upchurch
[2008-09-16 18:13:33]
[ discussion etiquette new-users behavior ]

There is a distinct decline in the level of civility here. Some of this is due to new users coming in and posting spam and other nonsense, but the offtopic and downvote buttons are doing a pretty good job of keeping this under control.

Unfortunately, a lot of this is coming from more experienced users, and the site's built-in moderation system is not (and probably cannot) handle this very well. Folks are rushing to pound new users down with "this belongs on meta!", "this is off topic", "this is a duplicate!" and "read the FAQ!". All this, of course, is accompanied by a flurry of downvotes. This is not very welcoming to new users who don't know about meta, or what is offtopic, or the FAQ.

Now I am not proposing that we just allow offtopic, meta, or duplicate questions. However, I think we could be gentler in the way we express these sorts of things. Explain what meta and the FAQ are and provide useful links. Just using please and thank-you when asking folks to read the FAQ or post something on meta would be an improvement. I also think we could rein in the downvoting a bit. Not that we shouldn't vote stuff down, but unless a new user's post is clearly spam, voting it down to -1 or -2 should be sufficient to send a message without piling on.

I like Stack Overflow and I want it to become a resource for everyone, not just an elitist site for people who were in the private beta.

The flamers were downvoted too. Whats the problem? - GEOCHET
(13) The links to that information should be better displayed, and perhaps displayed more often. - Brad Gilbert
(253) This is why I've suggested having comments for when things are voted down. That way people get helpful hints instead of just the big minus sign. Unfortunately, the suggestion was declined by management. :( - Kyralessa
I usually post a comment before down voting. To try to get them to fix or take down their question/answer. - Brad Gilbert
@Bobby Jack: I agree totally... I joined and asked my first question here… ... I dunno why its got 5 negatives. - community_owned
(73) For starters, let's stop using the derogatory term "noobs"? - Ates Goral
why is the term n00b derogatory?..we use it all the time on game servers - zamfir
(1) @zamfir: Change the "n" to a "b", and think how likely it was that that immature pun was the reason "noob" was created in the first place. - Michael Ratanapintha
(15) @Michael I think it's more likely it came from the word 'newbie' which I don't find offensive at all. - rustyshelf
(1) @Michael, @rustyshelf: yes, the origins of n00b come from newbie, not boob. Though it is indeed a bit more derogatory. - Adriano Varoli Piazza
(50) As a noob here myself the most irritating thing I have experienced is being voted down without explanation. I'm not here to gain reputation but to get help. I try to be helpful in return. So if an answer is deemed unhelpful I would like to know why so that I can make better answers in future. - Noel Walters
(1) The question linked to was deleted, notably, by Jeff Atwood. It is visible to those with 10k rep, and it's not much more than a stackoverflow feature request, which (as many pointed out) belongs on uservoice. - Adam Davis
(91) Rolled back to "noobs". The term is used in our field and I don't think anyone takes it particularly offensively. Tired of political correctness everywhere. - Simucal
Not only that, but it is the original title of the question and I don't think it is a good edit to change it from what the original author intended. His title is fine. - Simucal
I'm with you Simucal... political correctness has gotten a bit out of control. - gnostradamus
(8) I totally agree, I've caught wind of this myself and I’ve only been here two weeks. It takes a lot to not attack back via comments. This “decline in the level of civility” can lead to very large nonsense/bickering comment chains. - NTDLS
(16) I agree. It's very offensive to be a new user, post a question, and have it hit with "topic closed". Even it's a duplicate question, don't bar people from answering it. Some questions that I thought were reasonable were IMHO inappropriately closed. My reaction was "**** this ****ing site!" - community_owned
(12) I've always thought that we programmers tend to be a little bit arrogant. Maybe it comes with the binary numerical system understanding - victor hugo
(9) The beatings will continue until morale improves? - sparks
(13) This is typical. Someone designs and creates a system (StackOverflow) that fails to take into account the nature of human beings, and then someone (in this case, you) criticises the humans for just being themselves and not adapting to the flaws of the system. - Timwi
(15) I'd definitely change "noobs" to "newcomers", because standard English is always more understandable. - Daniel Daranas
(3) Several posters have no idea what they're doing. They need to speak to a friend who does, not post vague abstractions on SO. They fail to provide important information such as: what they want to do, which tools they are using, and where in their code the problems are found. SO is becoming elitist because it is frustrating to explain basics to new developers. This is a place for specific, complex questions, not "WHUT A GOOD LANGUAGE IS?" or "my srever dont boote up!!!!" - user133687
(10) @mcandre: where in the manifesto is that true: [This is a place for specific, complex questions] That's your personal wish for this place, just as my personal wish for this place is somewhere between experts-exchange and slashdot. Guess what, neither of us are going to get what we want, but IMHO, if we were closer to my vision, we get a better tool all-around and not just some silo to your ego of eliteness. - darthcoder
(2) I notice that sometimes the answer given in some questions is something like "you should have known if you would have tried", or "you should have googled". I understand once should try too, but if to try it I have to write almost a complete application, then I think it is normal to ask if the application would have a feature that the OS is supposed to give. To search on Google doesn't resolve a doubt one can have, especially when the results are too much. Then if all people would simply search on Google, why would this site exist? - kiamlaluno
(2) One should also take in consideration that some people don't speak English as first language, but they understand most of what they read in English; if sometimes they need to understand better a single sentence, I think it would be polite to reply to the question. If somebody doesn't want to reply, he is not forced to reply. Replies like the ones I reported don't help, and it is a waste of time for who answers, and for who reads the answer. - kiamlaluno
(31) I find so ironic that this post has been "protected" against newbies... - yms
(1) I'll never be nice to the noobs...however, I will always be nice to the newbies. Can we fix the title or is that intended? - Time Traveling Bobby
I tried to help with this, really -… - Adel
"This question is protected. To answer it, you must have earned at least 10 reputation on this site." I have 10 rep but I can't answer this question :( - Colonel Panic
(2) When I first joined Stack Overflow I was beaten up by experienced users for posting content in an 'answer' that they told me belonged in a comment. These experienced users were clueless that new users are forbidden from posting comments and can only contribute 'answers'. - Colonel Panic
@ColonelPanic: in my (very limited) experience, Meta is a different beast than other SO sites, so don't be discouraged by the harsh comments (or downvotes) you receive - ElCid
(1) I am a new user. I have one account that I used to go into stack overflow and ask questions, they were usually very basic but I got repped down. That does not help when I want to vote users up for helping me even with my basic questions. As my level of understanding is very far below of that of people here, I still appreciate being when someone provides a good answer, and usually apologize in advance if my question was too basic. - João Paulo
(36) I know that when I started I found the FAQ to be singularly unhelpful and got downvoted on my first interaction with StackOverflow because I had no idea why I couldn't leave comments or make votes (probably the two most used features of this website), so left a comment the only way I could, as an answer. I got downvoted with no explanation except the advice that I should have commented and / or upvoted (which I didn't have the reputation to do). It wasn't until just recently that I discovered the FAQ does deal with comments and votes, but only under Reputation, not what I came here for - James K
(4) YES YES YES! Please be kind and gentle. It may all be online, but we're still people. I've gotten a lot of undeserved rap myself as a new user, and I've met two others who also experienced the same with disappointment. SO is great for asking problems you can't find solutions to online, but the community is usually cold instead of warm and welcoming to new users. We should be guiding them, not chastising them for not knowing everything before signing up. - ADTC
I must say I didn't experience such 'rudeness' with my first questions, while I was not in the private beta. Am I like an ET now that I have not had this kind of start up troubles? - 11684
(2) I agree, its just not right to allow people to do this. - Steve
Whenever a new user posts a question it goes through the review stage,it will be better if the person who is reviewing the question or any new post from new user posts a short but polite comment for the questions that are not according to Standards.If the person who is review does this task the new user will atleast have a chance to improve his post otherwise it gets closed even sometimes in 5 mins after posting the question it is cruel for a new user. - NetStarter
(3) I would ask that this issue be expanded by removing the words "to new users". Down votes without explanation on serious questions... Inconsistent closing vs. not closing on general questions. Refusal to answer the question asked and, instead, providing the way it "should" be done. I have seen this done to a number of people. Unfortunately, this is systemic through many software communities on the web -- not just stackoverflow. If we are going to have standards for posters (that clearly don't work), we should start with standards for "helpers." "Professional" comes to mind. - Jonathan Seng… A recent example of not being nice in the comments. - user152723
I agree completely, but look at who designed the site. Mr. "I Only Hire Programmers that are 10X More Productive than All You OTHER Schlubs!". It's no wonder the site is filled with arrogant elitist. - L_7337
One thing about the declining civility (yes, I agree): there are a lot of talk about upvotes, downvotes, comments and answers (and the misuse of this), but there is also the option of not doing anything. I am a noob, but I can still get infuriated over those more noobish than me asking inane questions. Often, it can be just as effective just leaving it be. Not doing anything is also an action; it reflects in the "viewed xx times". And interestingly: I find people in other stack communities nicer. - Random O'Reilly
I agree There needs to be a system where if a user is below like 500 people with over 1k shouldn't be able to downvote them - Jordanian
People are not circus animals held in cages that can be punished for not acting as you desire. If you try to punish people for not behaving, they'll simply leave telling everyone how badly the site sucks, and won't surrender in front of you. Every programmer I know personally left the site with negative experiences. - Calmarius
Here's an somewhat humorous example of community vindictiveness: Is it true in Python that you can import specific functions from a module unlike in PHP?. It garnered -39 votes (but you have to look at the history to get the complete picture). - noloader
Now that this post is well over 5 years old, perhaps it would be useful to put a summary at the bottom of the question indicating that many, many changes have been made to stack overflow that help with this problem. A short list of the biggest changes (downvoting, close reasons are comprehensive and helpful, etc, etc) would be useful. - Adam Davis
Hope that Moderators and other "great people" can understand a newbie and don't give nagative points to some questions they think silly, even some of which they cannot give full answers. - CA55CE37
I'd say the "rule learning" curve is a bit steep for new user's who just want to start asking questions. Maybe the quick-start guide should just have a few points about a particular site's focus, etc. - paulkon
I had used this site for just over a week before I was suddenly banned from making posts, I made a couple of questions (literally 2) which were too generic, asking for pointers on the best way to start learning electronics and a question relating to vulnerabilities in Java - they were heavily down voted (although I did get my answers both times), some people just down vote and insult while others help. I've simply gone back to googling things, I enjoyed this site a lot more before I signed up. - user256366
[+274] [2008-09-16 18:39:59] robcthegeek

While I agree, there are a few points to note:

  • 1 upvote clears the rep cost of several downvotes.
  • New users need to learn and those with the "mod" class rep levels simply don't have time to hand-hold all the new users.
  • I (and we) always take "n00bism" into account before smashing down (I tend to favour closing if possible to save them rep).
  • The up/down vote system is not just about rep, it is the quality control mechanism for Stack Overflow.
  • On the welcome page and the FAQ it clearly states everything that you have mentioned.

Now, like I said, we should take it into account. But the fact remains, the up/down vote system is the core of how we get the "good stuff" up and the "bad stuff" down. It is not designed to be a personal attack against the users in question.

Looking at "exhibit A"..

  • It's not offensive.
  • I don't even think it really belongs on uservoice. I would have commented and closed it.
  • I would not have voted down due to the fact that it is a valid question and not really covered by the official faq (the "unofficial faq" really pisses me off, that should not have survived private beta for this very reason).
  • The abusive responses are not helpful, I have modded them down, and everyone else should have done the same.

Can we please remember that we are supposed to be adults, we are supposed to be problem-solvers by trade. So, can we try to apply some brain cells to things please?

(90) The closing is a much larger slap in the face than a downvote IMO. You should be using this power as sparingly as possible. - GEOCHET
(20) I disagree, a comment outlining why it as closed and suggestions on how to make it appropriate is good for two reasons. 1. It stops them getting slammed by other users. 2. It stops a flame war starting and helps the whole process move on. - Rob Cooper
@Rob: they can delete their own as well. They can take the hit otherwise. As has been said before, downvoting is not very detrimental to people. Especially noobs with 1 point of rep anyway. - GEOCHET
(17) "1 upvote clears the rep cost of several downvotes." While I think this is a good design decision, I wonder how many noobs realize this. A lot of them are probably freaking out at their question being at -5 not realizing that the one upvote meant they had no net loss of rep. - Chris Upchurch
Again, another reason why I was kinda pissed at the fact that the "unofficial faq" survived private beta and the faq is still largely incomplete.. All on my blog post - thoughts welcome, see my profile on here. - Rob Cooper
(5) Some people implicitly understand the need for civility. Others do not, unfortunately, so we need to say so explicitly. - Mike Dunlavey
One slightly "offensive" comment "Java sucks!!!11!!" "Microsoft sucks!" etc albeit in a more constructive form than I have exemplified and suddenly the user finds they can't even comment. So then they have to add questions as comments etc. Utter nonsense. If this -ve thing is allowed it should have a max of say -5, at which point it is suspended and moderators step in to have a look. - adolf garlic
Is it really in the spirit of SO that… is ok, and that is not? - Curt Sampson
Erm, I'm not adult. - think123
IMHO, -1 is enough to show that the post is "bad", and for the OP to realise that "something should be done". - tohecz
@think123 Me too... - Schoolboy
(2) @GEOCHET You must be joking. Rep matters much more when someone is just trying to get started (and the ones who care most are the ones you most want to hold onto as future contributors!). A small change in rep can impact site privileges more easily, and of course the relative effect of downvoting on total rep is much higher. I would love to know how many people have abandoned the site because of being downvoted on one of their first posts. - A.M.
(2) Actually, there is probably a way to find out about this by looking at the records: Search for users who have not logged in in a long time, and see what the last votes on their posts before they left were. (I would be happy to be corrected on my assumption that downvoting chases newbies away, but I would have to see the evidence first.) - A.M.
[+151] [2008-09-16 18:21:31] Outlaw Programmer

I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made. For example:

"This type of question is considered a 'poll' and is outside Stack Overflow's scope. Please rephrase the question so that it can be answered definitively or it will be closed."

...or something like that. I think that the moderators on do something similar when their newbies break the rules.

(6) This is a good idea. - GEOCHET
(14) LOL! I was doing this for ages during private beta, it just got me downmodded! I have several snippets that I used in Google Notebook for easy access! - Rob Cooper
@Rob : Now that you can assign your answer as wiki editable at least you will not get the rep hit when people downmod your answer. - Espo
(5) The wording of your example is still too harsh in my opinion. The frequently highly negative reactions of newbie Wikipedians to messages with similar purpose and tone is a case in point. - Michael Ratanapintha
best would be if there was just something we could type that would show up as the response, like bbcodelike: [rules] - Gordon Gustafson
[+99] [2008-09-16 20:03:58] automatonic

I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made.

I agree with Outlaw Programmer, but would add that it would be useful if there was a menu or similar to quickly (and politely) allow "problem post" identification.

For example, if you see that a post is a duplicate, you hit a button, enter the URL/ID of the post duplicated. Successive viewers can then agree or disagree. The question poster will get a canned and polite notification.

So instead of templating being a burden on individual users, have it be a function of the system for the most common problem posts.

Offhand, those seem to be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs in uservoice
  • Offtopic
  • Not a question
  • Unclear question (not enough detail to respond, etc.)
  • ...More as post requirements develop

In essence this would be a votable, post classification tag.

Quick and painless for advanced users... just choose the classification from a list of canned ones, or vote up the existing classification(s) if you agree.

It would be friendly and helpful to the new(er)bies. They would see "15 people think this post belongs in the uservoice section. Do you want to move it there?" or "107 people think you should probably add more detail to your question. Edit now?"


I voted this up, although this suggestion probably belongs to uservoice :P. - levhita
I strongly agree: there needs to be an automated "mark as duplicate" system if the site as intended to function as intended at a large scale. - Tom Smith
(2) +1. The current "close as duplicate" button also posts a comment that reads "possible duplicate of <link>". It'd be great if the other close votes did something similar with a canned polite response/link to the FAQ. - Timothy Jones
[+80] [2009-01-12 21:29:23] Mesidin

I definitely believe this is a problem. I recommended this site to my sister recently. She is an inexperienced programmer, and her project director switched them from Visual Studio to Borland mid-project. She has a master's degree in mathematics and has only taken 1-2 college level programming classes, but she has been added onto a programming project as one of her tours in the entry level program of her department. She was struggling with some of the differences between the two development environments. She did find some help on certain Borland sites, but shte had been largely at a loss for some of the errors she was running into. That's when I sent her here.

I've been following Stack Overflow since Jeff Atwood [1] started talking about it on Coding Horror [2]. I have to confess I am more lurker/observer than anything else. I was extremely pleased at how quickly questions were answered, and she joined up on my recommendation.

Her first question was almost immediately attacked as being homework, while also being voted down and criticized for its format. While some of the reasoning (expect the homework stuff) was accurate, the method in which it was presented was wholly inappropriate, especially for a new user. She was almost immediately turned off by the responses, and felt like she should return to her forum resources.

Thankfully, a few long time users came by, ANSWERED HER QUESTION, and encouraged her to keep participating. They redeemed both her opinion and my own about the site. There was a night and day difference between how the users, who basically took the same actions in showing her a better way to ask the question, responded.

While I definitely believe we need to be using up/down votes as they are intended, if members can't be respectfully helpful to new users, we need some new way of communicating the proper way to use the website.


[+78] [2008-09-18 03:32:56] aku

Here are a couple of requests on

[Provide clear and solid guidelines for SO users][1] [declined]

[Formulate and publish moderation policy][2] [completed]

Admin response

... if site behaviors are not self-evident, we have failed....


Maybe it's time to acknowledge that users need clean guidelines?

If people keep asking such questions, maybe you really failed to explain what Stack Overflow is.

How can this be obvious?:

(1) what is is according to the designers' intent and what it will become based on community usage may be two very different things. Let it evolve for a while before pruning the shoots, it's only been two days! - Steven A. Lowe
[+61] [2008-09-17 01:07:55] levhita

I'm a newbie and a few days ago I asked How many reputation points do I need to do X? [1], At this point I had already read the FAQ, browsed by the page and even answered a couple of questions.

I still get a canned "Try looking at the FAQ here [2]".

Having read the FAQ I felt a little bad, until someone else clarified that there is an "Unofficial FAQ".

I think that there should be a really big (or at least the same size as the other ones) link to a real FAQ which includes all the information in the Unofficial FAQ.


It looks like Jeff actually improved the official FAQ recently. For most of the private beta the official FAQ was almost content free, hence the unofficial FAQ. I think we really ought to just have one or the other. Be much less confusing that way. - Chris Upchurch
The benefit of the unofficial FAQ is the change history so that it's easy to see what has changed recently. It's also updated much more frequently as site rules change. I think there's a place for both. - Sam Hasler
You don't need any reputation to do X, especially if you live near Winsor where it is very available. ... .. yeah, i'm about to get flamed completely, but the humour out weighs the retribution i will face. - stephenbayer
(10) The elitism needs to stop. - staticx
[+37] [2008-09-19 20:07:39] Troy Howard



I, being a n00b myself, didn't realize there was already a system called Badges (yes, I see the big button up top, I just hadn't gotten around to investigating it). Below is my original suggestion, but now that I know there is already a badges system implemented...

I suggest we extend Badges to incorporate tests on various subject matters, instead of just auto-generated values, as it does now. Just like real boy-scout badges. Learn how to tie a knot, take the knot tying test, get a badge. Read the FAQ, take the FAQ test, get a badge.


(Read below for a wordier way of saying the same thing.)


Implement a n00b training and rating system as part of the user account. When a person makes a new account they start out as a n00b, with a score of 0. If they want to increase that score, they have to take tests. The score on the test advances your n00b score. There are multiple tests in different topic areas, and the various tests are weighted differently.

For example, there could be a test about basic site navigation. It could be a low valued test, so even if you get a 100% score on the test, it only boosts your n00b level a little.

Another test could be proving you know the answers from the various FAQs. This could be a medium weighted score.

Another test could be proving you know how the various social systems work, and what socially acceptable behaviour is. It would help to have a "coding standard" type document that covers this, so that people who don't just "get it" can learn it.

This kind of system is already in place on a lot of forum software, but they rate the users on how many posts, giving them various levels of experience, starting at n00b and ending at SysOp (or Admin for you youngsters).

This will be an additional rating system to reputation, and it's opt-in. Reputation is socially controlled. User experience level is something you can learn and test your way to success with, whether anyone likes what you have to say or not.

In this way, you can prove that you've read the FAQ, and understand it enough to answer the questions in the test, and get the appropriate "scout badge". That way, when people are answering your questions, they know at what level to start.. A respondant might think "Should I mention the FAQ to this guy?.. Oh, no, I see he's read the FAQ already, and he's still asking this question. Let me think about it a little deeper, or see if the FAQ is ambiguous or lacking in content.", etc.

I think a system like that would be very cool. You could even have technical topic area "certifications" that can contribute to that... So a user can prove that they know what the heck they are talking about in C++ [1] or Win32 COM [2] programming. The tests could be user generated, and people could add new ones, evolving the site as it goes on.


[+32] [2008-09-16 21:09:17] Sam Hasler

Maybe Jeff Atwood [1] and Joel Spolsky [2] could put together a video tutorial explaining how Stack Overflow works and explaining some of the do's and don'ts.

From seeing a video of Joel giving a presentation of FogBugz [3] and listening to the podcast I imagine they could make it humorous enough that people would watch the whole thing and informative enough that they could raise the level of n00bism here.

In fact, I think it's such a good idea that I've made a uservoice suggestion for creating a tutorial video [4].

And it's been declined: "if the site isn't somewhat self-evident, we have failed -- video or not".


(1) I like this idea. His FogBugz presentation was great. - Chris Upchurch
(1) If our community needs a video to use such a simple site we are doomed for failure. - GEOCHET
(1) If it stops just one person behaving in a way that will get them voted down, and potentially put them off the site then surely it's worth doing. - Sam Hasler
(1) The issue is broader than coding. It's a simple matter of maturity and the golden rule. Shaming people is not what we should be doing. It wouldn't take much video to say "Look out for the other guy, and they'll look out for you". - Mike Dunlavey
(1) ...and just for fun, they could make the video in the style of those old 1960s instructional movies they used to show in schools: "Stack Overflow: the silent free-time killer!" - gnostradamus
(2) "we have failed" Yes, you have. Anything that has to have pages and pages and pages and pages of FAQ, is not simple and will NEVER be read. NEVER. So redesign it - adolf garlic
(1) @adolf garlic, we're programmers, we like to know exactly how something works. So it's not surprising that so many FAQ pages exist. As it is most new users don't seem to have to read them to understand how to use the site. They are just there to refer to for the minority of users who ask such questions. - Sam Hasler
(6) > it's been declined: "if the site isn't somewhat self-evident, we have failed -- video or not" And yet... there are training videos for FogBugz. - Ether
[+31] [2008-09-16 18:54:01] gabr


We've all been noobs, as superwiren stated, that's certainly true.

But there's a correct way to be a noob, and a wrong way.

When you visit a new place, you should spend some time just looking around and absorbing the culture. That way, you'll learn how to behave in (local) community. When you ask the first question or give a first answer, you'll do it the right way.

The other way is to start dancing fandango in a crowded metro. Generally, this is somehow frowned upon.

Many commenters are forgetting that for every noob that doesn't know how to behave there are ten of the first sort. Kudos to them! And to show them that we appreciate them, we should scream at the latter sort even more loudly!

Good point.. But like I said in my response, we should take n00bism in to account. Not everyone is a good n00b, but that is not to say they may not end up being a great member of the community.. I say be gentle with them, but still use the system. I have noticed some new users excel.. - Rob Cooper
Being noob can't be in incorrect way. There could only be its incorrect treatment. - Thevs
(2) Disagree. A parabole: guy comes into town for the first time. Observes how the people are interacting. Enters the bus and asks the driver for information. Or: enters the bus, starts screaming, spitting and throwing around pictures with naked ladies. Same treatment in both cases? I don't thinks so! - gabr
(1) Who says there is a correct way to be a n00b? The most successful "things" on the internet are the ones with the fewest rules, diversity is what drives great content. - John Channing
[+30] [2008-09-16 18:20:59] mislav

This is not very welcoming to new users who don't know about uservoice, or what is offtopic, or the unofficial FAQ.

How can we explain this to them when having discussions in the "answers" area is strongly discouraged? I say let 'em find out what this site is. It doesn't take long. And if getting voted down makes someone cry, then he shouldn't use this site at all (or Digg or Reddit or ...).

Agreed. Voting is what it is all about. - GEOCHET
(2) When you vote something down add a comment, why you've voted it down. This keeps the voting and tells the user, what he did wrong. - Yaba
Maybe a textbox to fill shows up whenever you downvote someone... - Seiti
(2) -1 you're just saying, "Too bad for them, they should quit whining." and condoning a sink-or-swim attitude. - Kelly S. French
[+29] [2008-09-17 03:47:06] joelhardi

I am a noob. I've been registered for less than 24 hours after finding Stack Overflow on Reddit [1], and I've been impressed with both the level of civility and usefulness of many of the questions and answers. I'm also very intrigued by the reputation system and the inventiveness of the site's designers in trying to design a system that keeps up the site's quality and doesn't let it devolve into something like Digg [2].

Both of these things encouraged me to try to engage with the site (in spite of the OpenID [3] painfulness) vs. just lurk and go away. I have 63 mod points now, so I don't think the 15-point up-vote hurdle is too high at all if a dumbass like me can pass it.

In short, from the noob perspective I don't think there's a big problem, but I do appreciate Chris' advice that you all be nice to us (except for the cretins with the "How do I use Windows?" questions). The system is complicated enough that the real, AKA "unofficial", FAQ really needs to be linked to in the menu (as levhita suggests), not the useless one (or merge the two).


[+28] [2008-09-17 05:51:01] Benjol

If lots of people are asking the same questions about Stack Overflow, then that's potentially a usability problem.

And if lots of people are asking (and answering) poll-type questions, then that is apparently an interesting use-case.

hmm. And get voted up and down like in real poll :) - Thevs
I agree. One of the things that Stack Overflow is trying to do is aggregate knowledge, "wisdoms of crowds" type polls are one effect way of doing that. - John Channing
I don't want the rep for the sake of rep, I want answers even if I don't get any rep. - Silvercode
[+25] [2008-09-16 18:21:43] Dark Shikari

I think there is this inherent fear--perhaps a subconscious one learned after spending time on Digg [1], Reddit [2], Hacker News [3], and other similar community-run sites -- of a flood of new users decreasing the quality of posts on a site like this. If anything, such a fear dates back all the way to the Eternal September [4] of Usenet, back in 1993.

This fear leads to an overreaction when people see what they think are junk questions posted by newer users -- whether the questions are simply offtopic, or perhaps trollish or ignorant, or perhaps highly subjective. People are afraid of the quality of the site being ruined by such things, and whether justified or not, they break out the downvotes in droves.


(2) As well they should. If the content is not helpful, downvote it. That is the whole premise here. - GEOCHET
Not every post is helpful to every people. - Silvercode
(1) Thinking about Endless September still makes me cringe. - dmckee
[+22] [2009-01-22 22:23:41] nickolai

I am a newbie myself, and I really like the idea around the site. Reputation-based is really great and fun and makes it like something of a Wikipedia 2.0 in my opinion. There is just one thing that annoys me a bit. I saw a couple of newbies being heavily downvoted without any answer or explanation. While this has not yet happened to me personally, I can imagine how frustrating this is. What about downvotes requiring mandatory comment? Now I agree that 'RTFM' would be enough of a comment - still it would definitively look less cowardly.

If you don't agree... Well... Weapons Free ;)

+1, getting a downvote without a comment is annoying. But would those comments be constructive? Doubt it. Still, suggesting that they leave a comment every time they downvote (via one of those redboxes) wouldn't be bad. - jcollum
The difference will be that you sign your name when you downvote. One will have to take the responsibility of one's opinion. - community_owned
(2) It's also nice to give a reason when upvoting. Both positive and negative feedback will help to improve the quality of questions and answers on SO. - Noel Walters
one more. so very true. Happen to me today :D - Jlouro
However, most upvotes are just because what you're saying is right. It's more informative to explain why what you're saying is wrong. - Daniel Daranas
I was hardly downvoted and I think even sneaked upon linked accounts. I can say it was really harsh, and my example is still alive today. While I do believe I deserved all the hate, I don't think it is justifiable that I still can't upvote people here. - Cawas
I'm struggling out of newbie status and I objected to seeing lots of questions downvoted without comment. A downvote for a first question seems very harsh, especially when English isn't your first language. A simple explanation: "Your English is too confusing to answer your question" or whatever would help a lot. - DavidHyogo
i think that asking questions on SO is more like a given skill by practice, rather than theory. a good minimun 10 "fail safe" questions to get a hang of things could be a nice solution and seperate spammers from newbies... - noawithouth
[+21] [2008-09-16 21:32:32] Brad Gilbert

Post first, ask questions later.

Maybe users should have to post an answer before they can post a question. Then they would have had to start using the site before they post bad questions.

I would almost go so far as to require users to post more answers than questions. Because as far as I can tell anyone who actually uses this site has answered more questions than they have asked.

(8) If someone is a beginner (at programming), then it will probably be quite hard for them to first post an answer before they are allowed to ask questions. - M4N
This was posted to get people thinking about the subject in a new way. - Brad Gilbert
I agree with Martin on this one. Answering questions here is difficult, especially for someone who is a bit newbish (I still am). Either you don't have a clue how to answer the question, or some crazy answering machine has answered it already (or does it while you are trying to formulate yours...). - Svish
(And I mean crazy answering machine in a good way. Hehe, I don't mind them being fast. It just makes it difficult for newbs to get an answer in before they have) - Svish
It was just a thought, I knew when I posted this that it wouldn't work without doing a lot of tweaking. Even then I'm doubtful that it would really be that useful. - Brad Gilbert
(1) The entire rationale for So is to be easily accessible, somewhere you can get your questiosn answered. It is no coincidence that you can ask questions without even creating an OpenID. Joel and Jeff have been very explicit about this. Anything that requires newcomers to jump through hoops before they're allowed to find the knowledge they need is completely missing the point. Your average newcomer doesn't come here because he wants to be part of a super-cool community, he does not wish to prove himself. He simply wants a question answered, and if he can't immediately ask that question, he's out. - jalf
[+19] [2008-09-16 20:21:50] Wedge

I disagree. Voting down should be used judiciously but I think it's still important that it be used. I think the system already has enough built in protections in this regard. Down votes are costly to the voter (-1 rep) and have only a small effect on the rep of the target (-2 rep).

Not to pick on the author of the given example, but take a look at his user page [1]. He's posted 1 question and 1 answer. His answer has 0 net votes and his question has -5 net down votes. Yet he has, just now, 47 total rep (which, incidentally, is enough to allow him to vote answers up or down, per his complaint/question). Given this I think it's a bit ridiculous to say that people voting his question down represents "being hard on him".


[+17] [2008-09-16 18:15:18] Unkwntech

I have to agree, although I've probably been short with a few, but how hard is it to search before you ask? I marked at least 8 posts as duplicates in just the last 2 hours.

Even worse is this constant barrage of poll questions... - GEOCHET
Yah, in the 4 minutes since I posted that answer I have marked 3 more questions as duplicates, and if they had spent 30 seconds searching they would have found the post. - Unkwntech
I find that amazing, especially with the built in search box that automatically populates while you are on the post screen. - GEOCHET
I agree, a quick search is a good idea, but "if you end up asking a question that has been asked before, that is OK and deliberately allowed" definitely means aside from introducing the user to the search function, there needn't be further scolding. - davebug
(5) Your logic depends on the accuracy of search. I asked a question in the search box, came up with nothing even close, then posted the question. Later I found that there were similar answers, but the search left something to be desired. - mike511
@mike511 I totally agree, I had the same problem. Another issue is similar questions, but not exactly. They look similar whereas they are different. Sometimes this is overlooked and you get modded down for no reason. - Sklivvz
(3) Certainly during the beta phase, the search was completely useless. Maybe we should stop blaming users for creating duplicates and start asking why the software does not work better to let people find what they are looking for? - John Channing
[+15] [2008-09-18 19:24:40] Thevs

I just found this discussion right after being 'downed' at 'uservoice' question...

Hmm... I can express some feelings after this all:

  1. Being noob here doesn't mean being noob in computing and communities. It should be not a requirement to "lurk first - participate later". This is what noobs very often hear from nerds and pseudo-elites. Good site must accept anyone with positive mind from the first minute. And yes, normally 'lurking' applies to the sites with close-minded jerkish societies, which I hope is not a case here.

  2. It would be nice just to forbid down-voting newbe, especially when he has low reputation points yet.

  3. Yes, just a hint (in form of tags) would be nice to point newbe to right direction.

  4. Noob, just came to the site, sees questions-discussions-polls like "What the best features of X are" with high votes, and thinks this is legal on this site.

  5. I don't think this site is designed for elite members, so you should be more polite and forgiving to new members. Normally communities tend to be extending and this, I think, is a main goal. Otherwise so many noobs will leave your site for ever.

  6. Voting system isn't very well designed, you should admit it and try to make it even better. Sometimes noobs may give you good advise. (Sometimes - may not).

  7. There's something to do with question votes. I'm afraid, some people don't even realize that this is not a polling counter. :)

  8. Thank you for your attention.

As an addition: As I can understand, there could be 100s of potential down-voters, just threspassers, who even don't get the question, just down-voting because of snow-ball effect. Writing a note (better - an answer) from such voter would be good idea. - Thevs
(3) @Thevs: It is not easy to express yourself in a foreign language, and it takes courage. You did very well. - Mike Dunlavey
(1) @Mike: Thank you for understanding. I think my English writing style says much about me, even if grammar is Ok. :) - Thevs
[+13] [2008-09-17 08:35:55] Jean

I know I stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed that to post anything on uservoice I had to create yet another user account and that I couldn't even use my OpenID ID like I could on Stack Overflow.

I mean, if the websites are so closely related, wouldn't it make sense for them to behave in the same manner or even better to actually share the same user system?

As it stands, asking a question on UserVoice [1] is more difficult than asking one on Stack Overflow and many people discover Stack Overflow directly and only see UserVoice later (if they even do). Given that, is it so surprising that people go for the easiest and just post their questions on Stack Overflow?


You don't have to register on Uservoice to post something there. The site works perfectly fine anonymously. - Chris Upchurch
no, it doesn't - at least not for me - Steven A. Lowe
[+13] [2009-01-12 21:33:59] Mike Dunlavey

Note to some of us:

Some coders are childish and uncivil, as if what we're doing in this business is so darn important that shaming others is justified when we're even mildly annoyed.

You may disagree with someone. You may feel that they have stupidly blundered into the path of your high-speed expertise. But ask yourself:

  • Are they a bad person?

  • Have you never done something stupid?

  • Have you appreciated a helping hand?

We live in a world where some people murder other people over their beliefs. If someone has so much in common with you as to ask you a question, even if it's not a very smart question, do they deserve to be slammed? If you were asking, would you deserve it?

(1) Good thoughts, Mike. I've just joined, and asked a question yesterday. A really basic one, because I'd forgotten where to find a list of class contents for Java. Googling had previously pointed me at the class "list", so didn't really help much. I was really pleased to get useful help within minutes, and not one unpleasant response. Just what a noob needs :-) - David Robertson
[+12] [2008-09-16 18:32:04] superwiren

Remember, we have all been n00bs. It has never hurt anyone to be polite.

On the other hand you would expect new (and old) users to do a little investigation before posting, and trying to see if the question already exists somewhere.

(7) "... we have all been n00bs..." Incorrect. Jon Skeet. - Wayne Koorts
(2) @Wayne, nope. Jon's first answer includes a signature, and his first question is a poll. Granted, those things weren't against the rules back then, but... still. - Pops
@"Popular Demand": I was joking, obviously. Jon Skeet jokes are almost as old as Stack Overflow :) - Wayne Koorts
[+12] [2008-09-18 04:45:00] Thanatos

The growth of the community depends upon new users. New users to test the waters, grow the fields of discussion. I posted something I knew to be off-topic and got slammed. For new users, perhaps there should be a lower limit to the times any one question or comment can be down-voted. A reputation that was built in three days was destroyed in less than 5 minutes; just from trying to feel out the limits.

Obviously, the site isn't entirely programming but, if a question edges too far from this it gets raped.

Being pretentious, snobby, mean, and generally negative is not a way to build a helpful community.

Upvoted - because I can! Agreed, the depth of knowledge here is pretty thin. There is a wider range of knowledge and answers on the MSDN forums (for instance) - adolf garlic
[+11] [2008-09-16 21:30:54] CAD bloke

I'm a noob(ish) and I read the FAQ before I asked anything. I think RTFM is a reasonable request. I didn't come here to be spoon-fed.

This site is quite intuitive and there aren't any challenging new concepts to learn about how it operates so there is really not much excuse, apart from laziness, to use it as it is intended to be used.

Having said that, there's no excuse for rudeness. A simple "Please Read the FAQ" should suffice.

If that doesn't work there's always

[+11] [2008-11-10 13:40:29] Ravi Chhabra

Wikipedia has a solution to such a problem. This is done by a nice short welcome message explaining the importance of a few rules, rather than simply pointing out the FAQs, and tons of best practices papers and guidelines it has. On top of this, whenever a user makes a mistake he is given a chance to correct it by opening a dispute page. Perhaps we can consider something like that here. If a question is a duplicate, give the user a chance to defend it and maybe even go so far as to stop downvotes on a disputed page? Because on Stack Overflow, once a question is disputed, downvotes seem to fly off faster than the speed of thought.

So what we need is a template for disputed content. A few such categories would be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs on UserVoice [1]
  • Offtopic
  • Offensive
  • Read the FAQ (This tag might be too vague?).

Once a post gets tagged with any of the above tags, a small block explaining the details of such a tag should appear by default on the question itself with an automatic link to a resolution page where the community can vote and discuss it. If consensus is gained, the question can be deleted without getting voted down. This will preserve the reputation points of the user as well and this will make the responses of the question more clean, as right now the discussions on such disputed questions seem to be more about the dispute and less about the question. Just my 2 pyas.


(1) Wikipedia's solution wouldn't work here. The entire point in SO is to be easily accessible. The ruling clique on Wikipedia have no problem keeping up with a few rules, but someone visiting SO for the first time to ask why his C program crashes will simply stay away if he can't just post his question directly. "What we need" is simply to not assault people with downvotes. - jalf
[+10] [2009-04-24 17:58:56] rymn

I think Stack Overflow should really be strict regarding the quality of the submissions in this site.

Look at Digg [1] now. They grew very very fast, and they didn't mind about the quality of the submissions and now look at where they are. Submissions are junk photos not related to NEWS whatsoever.

Compare this to Hacker News [2]. They are very strict about the quality of the submissions. They have moderators who can down vote the article right away, they have complete control over the articles. They are growing fast. Very fast. But the submissions are still of high quality.

Let's see what's happening on Stack Overflow . Obviously this site is like Yahoo Answers [3] but for coders. And let's be honest. Anyone can access this, not just coders.

Stack Overflow is growing super fast. And if Stack Overflow will tolerate the trolls, I'm afraid we will be heading to what Digg is now. Digg has high quality submissions + junk submissions that managed to get 5k+ diggs. If Stack Overflow tolerate trolls, Stack Overflow will still have high quality questions and answers + troll-like questions and answers that can also manage to have 100+ votes.

Let's follow what Hacker News is right now. Let's be like them.


Give people more close votes a day! - Cole Johnson
[+9] [2010-06-04 23:44:17] user147674

As Thevs said

Being noob here doesn't mean being noob in computing and communities.

I have only registered and asked my first question [1] today. However, I am a senior developer (architect) with 21 years experience in numerous programming languages and technologies. I have found answers to other problems on this site and various others but never before needed to raise a new question. I have found that when Stack Overflow is listed first by Google, I get a warm feeling that the help will be of good quality so I chose Stack Overflow to raise my first question. However, I only ever search such sites for specific information. I don't browse sites otherwise. (I wouldn't be allowed to spend work time doing so and choose not to do so outside of work -this comment is an exception to prove the rule.)

Today, I had a problem that I needed to solve before leaving work. Having read the relevant formal documentation, experimented and googled for a few hours for related infomation, I raised a question on Stack Overflow.

I have to confess that pressure of my deadline meant that I did not spend any time working out what the various links and buttons on the question submission screen did, and I didn't find my way to any FAQ until later. I also found that my (employer dictated) Internet Explorer 6 did not display the question entry page properly - some fields displayed on top of each other. Somehow, although I quoted my sample code and could see that I had done so in the preview, after I had submitted my question, I found that the code was no longer quoted. Almost immediatly someone, commented rather abruptly that I'd failed to quote my code and voted my question down giving it a negative score. The commenter did not offer an answer or any advice on how to correct my presentation problem.

Shortly afterwards, some more helpful reader just quietly corrected the layout of my question.

Within a couple of hours my question had attracted more than 50 readers, 3 partial answers and a positive vote. One contributor tried to give a complete answer but someone else pointed out that he was wrong. Five hours later my question on a very common Java library remains unanswered, so I suspect it will prove to be a good question - I actually suspect a bug in the Sun [2] libraries.

So my new user's view is as follows (and of course it is a subjective personal view):

  1. The links for edit|delete, the FAQ and other links are not as prominent as other buttons. In fact, even allowing for my Internet Explorer 6 problems, I find some of the screens messy. By that I mean buttons and links in different styles are scattered around the screen, and it is not obvious to a first time user where to look for a button or link or just find all the options available to them. For example, the link to the FAQ is in very small print at the bottom of the page but the button inviting users to submit questions, answers and comments is enormous.
  2. Standard comments from a drop down list (rather like FriendsReunited's messages) might help users to provide standard polite responses to the common errors made by new users.
  3. I'm happy for questions and answers to be voted up and down based on usefulness. However, since questions can be edited and the presentation improved, it would be nice if voting a question down because of poor presentation were discouraged and advice (or help with) improving presentation offered.
  4. My questions has only been half answered (sufficiently for a workaround but not a complete understanding). Even having read the FAQ, I'm unsure of the etiquette for updating my questions to ensure that it is clear to others that it is incomplete.

In response to #1, FAQ is in the header as well, next to the search bar. As for #4, I suggest that you upvote the answer that helped you the most, leaving a comment to that effect but also where it fell short. The lack of an accepted answer will indicate to other users that there is currently no sufficient answer as determined by you. - waiwai933
I only ever search such sites for specific information. I don't browse sites otherwise. (I wouldn't be allowed to spend work time doing so and choose not to do so outside of work -this comment is an exception to prove the rule.) I know I'm being childish for caring, but still this makes me feel that someone who's only taking, not giving, is whining about an established community that has been proven helpful to those who did invest some time getting to know things. (And also to many just passing by.) For me, a deadline is no excuse to just post a question without informing oneself. - Arjan
(1) I personally felt the answers to your question were quite good. As for IE6, we don't guarantee perfect rendering for browsers that old any more. The site will be functional, but it may look odd. IE7 is the oldest version of IE we test on. - Jeff Atwood
There do seem to be plenty of mean people in SO. Strange I've been using the net for more than 10 years and never felt this atmosphere before. - Noob101
[+8] [2009-06-21 21:12:56] NULL

Here is another very-new-noob who is experiencing (at least moderately) this same thing. I started by just wanting to be helpful. Then after realizing that I need reputation points to post comments, I started focusing on unanswered questions, hoping to get up-voted for helpful answers.

It seems like some people ask a question and then just forget to vote for any answers at all. I've even started learning concepts on the fly, to try and answer questions that I previously had no knowledge of ( LINQ [1] for example). I think I will stop trying this though.

I've done my best to follow the rules, make my posts meaningful and helpful, and not repost what others have already said (even though I have on a few occasions).

As of right now, the ONLY vote I have is a down-vote on an answer [2] I provided that, at the time, I thought was a perfectly acceptable answer.


The easiest way to get upvotes is to continually watch the front page until you see a question that you can answer. Write up two or three sentences, include an example if possible, then post the answer. Then immediately edit your answer to clarify and extend your explanation. Try to also include examples of situations where your answer isn't valid. Keep refining and editing your answer to the best of your ability and you should see an upvote or two if your answer is clear and helpful. - Kyle Cronin
One thing is what this question asks for ("being nicer") and the other is getting votes. You have 41 rep now, just wait and keep giving interesting answers and you'll soon be able to comment. - Daniel Daranas
[+7] [2009-06-11 15:43:21] Wadih M.

Stack Overflow is perfect the way it is.

It's not a place to "chill-out" and have fun. It's a place for programmers and software developers to share their skills and learn new skills.

There are plenty of other forums and tutorials to learn programming for starters. Stack Overflow simply isn't the place to start learning about programming.

As a general rule of thumb, if the concept of a stack overflow doesn't ring a bell for you, you might want to learn a bit more about programming before posting here.

(2) Clarification? If someone is an experienced programmer, would it be OK if they ask a question about a language they're just learning? Or should they wait until they're expert in a language before asking a question about it? - Ethan
(2) Programming languages all share a common concept base, so the experienced programmer doesn't really start from scratch when he learns a new language. Obviously, you can't wait to be an expert to start asking questions here... But you can do some reading before. In my previous post, I just said that this site should be for relatively experienced programmers and not complete newcomers. It's not discrimination: it simply sets the standard for question and answer quality higher. That's what I like about that site. It's not bloated with trivial questions. - Wadih M.
There's nothing in the site which prevents people from asking trivial questions, and certainly there are some beginners here. Probably not more because they just don't know the site, but not because of some explicit moderation or filtering rule. - Daniel Daranas
Wadih, it says on the main FAQ, the one linked to from the top of this page you're looking at right now, in the answer to the very first question: "No question is too trivial or too 'newbie'". Your opinion regarding what the site "should be" appears to conflict sharply with the intention of the site's creators. - Ethan
Hi Ethan. I don't want to get into the technicalities, but note that what the FAQ says is about the 'questions asked', and not about the programmer himself. All what I said and what this topic is about pertains to the programmer, so my ideas don't conflicts sharply with the intention of the site's creators. Nonetheless, I thank you for tirelessly trying to prove me wrong and defending the rights of new programmers! I also encourage new programmers to learn, once they've done their homework of reading things up themselves. As long as their questions are relevant, they're welcome. :-) - Wadih M.
I started learning about programming here. Had fun most of times. Nothing perfect the way it is. Especially your approach. - Andre Chenier
[+7] [2009-07-05 05:41:52] Seth Spearman

When I started, I asked a couple of meta questions on Stack Overflow and people were nice about their answers. But, and I think this is an important point, I think the questions were NOT obvious and there was not a good place to get an answer to the question.

For example, I asked TODAY [1] about how to get a better understanding of Stack Overflow and was directed to the " offical FAQ [2]".

What I absolutely don't get is how come that official FAQ is not the page that new users see when click the FAQ link at the top of every page. I REALLY don't get it.

I wanted to learn, but I had to ask a question on Meta Stack Overflow to learn.

So until that is corrected, I think new users should be cut some slack. Not all of us are idiots or lazy.

And even the official FAQ needs work IMHO. I know it is a work in progress, but I am only arguing that patience with newbies should be the order of the day. That's what a community it; without it you don't have a community.


[+5] [2009-06-24 15:59:20] natas

New user here!

I just wanted to say that I haven't yet noticed any "noob-bashing" yet. I've asked a couple of questions already that probably have been asked before. The replies I have received have been prompt and informative.

If there indeed is a problem with established members of your "sandbox" being rude or elitist, I have not noticed it and am glad, because this would probably have made me turn away to another site that doesn't condone that sort of kindergarten tactic.

This site so far has been great, and so have the members! I'm glad there is a place I can come and post a question without having to be told to "read the #*($ manual" or "Use the search". Sometimes, what people need are just quick answers to help them along their way.

Is this lazy? That can be debated to no end. But is it helpful? Of course! And I hope to see this community thrive on that principle. There is no need for experienced programmers to feed their ego by kicking the noobs around. And I want to re-iterate that I'm glad it hasn't happened to me.

(6) It's a lot easier to be nice when the newbies are polite. :) - mmyers
(1) @nalas: out of curiosity, what's wrong with trying a search first for something simple and obvious ("What does XmlReader.Read do?"), or even looking in the documentation. I think SO can be a lot more useful if questioners take the first step. We can then help with the second step. - John Saunders
"Just wanted to say that I haven't yet noticed any "noob-bashing" yet." What a pile of BS! :) - Daniel Daranas
(1) @John SO allows duplicate questions. So isn't it easier for you just to choose to ignore these questions if it bothers you rather than bashing new users for asking them? I'm sure there are other users who are willing to answer promptly and politely. - natas
[+4] [2008-11-20 06:07:36] Charles Merriam

I've used Stack Overflow for all of a week, and today is my last day (I always keep a link for at least a week).

I've answered a few questions for people, found the reference for the question I asked. I posed an opinion question and the results were interesting:

  • Six answers within a few minutes
  • Question was suddenly down voted to -5, all in one go.
  • Two more answers, and question voted up to -4
  • Question closed by some other user within 10 minutes.

The answers were interesting, in that I didn't expect them and made me think. Unfortunately, there are no other answers. The question is still available at

(2) I suppose it doesn't add integrity to the rating system that it was closed as 'not a programming question' while 'favorite cartoon' has hundreds of up votes. - community_owned
reopened and upvoted. don't give up so easily. - Steven A. Lowe
[+4] [2009-04-21 18:50:26] user152221

I'm a noob. I've been following this site for a few days and so far I really like the format and the quality of topics and answers.

From what I've seen so far there most of the answers to questions are constructive and well thought out (exhibit A in the original post doesn't work). If Stack Overflow was just another forum site flooded with questions from people that won't do any footwork before bombarding a board with questions, I wouldn't have bookmarked it.

The FAQ was useful for me, maybe add some of the good examples of bad questions to the FAQ for us noobs too.. It might be fun to go through those too.

[+3] [2008-09-16 18:23:50] paulwhit

I agree, and I experienced this. I posted something off-topic and marked it as such. It was sufficient to have it downvoted, I don't need somebody flaming me to not post content like that on here. The training is built into the system.

As best I can tell, they're hoping to get some sympathy from other veterans to their cause to help their own rep.

I'm just trying to get to a point where I can upvote interesting questions and answers, and I'm not sure how to best do that when I'm not the quickest or most authoritative response.

I don't see where you have posted any questions so far, and certainly nowhere that you have been flamed. Reputation is not hard to get at all, but does require a little patience. By design, you should not just be given reputation for nothing. - GEOCHET
I had deleted my question. - paulwhit
[+3] [2008-12-28 05:46:33] duncan

Just imagine the poster is someone else in your company.

Give 'naughty' noobs the same bland, negative, unemotional response you'd give to a "boss" who asked you to refactor code in some moderately inane way because they simply didn't understand that of which they spoke.

No need to even be supportive (although that can be nice) but flaming people for mistakes of form, judgement or fact is behaviour that should be beneath real problem solvers. Use the down-vote judiciously and the site will flow better than if we indulge our frustrations on others.

"That is a question that you'll find an ongoing discussion about here" is a polite and straight forward way to deal with a duplicate post that avoids offending anyone.

Practising such pat phrases will serve all of us well in our workplaces too. If you don't regularly need to politely and effectively deal with people who should know better misusing their opportunities you have worked in better places than me.

Anyway that's my two cents worth.

[+3] [2009-04-23 03:38:52] Chad Grant

I haven't been here long, but I see:

  • Sarcastic non answers getting up voted
  • People with "High Reputation" being complete jerks and personally attacking.
  • People with high rep giving completely inaccurate answers
  • Down voting everything a user says because he made you mad
  • Answers with the most cheer leading getting more up votes than clear concise answers.
  • Too many people have innacurate information and excessively repeating it does not make it any more accurate.
  • Post Whoring
  • Holy Wars

In general, I feel there are too many people with rights they shouldn't have.

Reputation is far too easy to obtain and there are a lot of people drunk with power.

I don't trust 90% of people, why should Stack Overflow?

(1) You pointed out these inaccuracies, right? - mmyers
Sometimes. I've learned that you have to censor your opinion at some point to avoid being punished when talking about a holy war subject. I lost 20+ rep because I said compiled native code is faster than managed code. Which isn't a subjective opinion. They seemed to think I was lol - Chad Grant
(3) "Managed code is waaaay slow compared to native even with JIT." Your phrasing is awfully close to trolling (there's no way you could back that over-generalized statement up); I'm not surprised it was downvoted. I notice you still had a net gain of 12 rep from that answer, though. (And I flagged the top answer there as spam.) - mmyers
Sorry, I am fat. - Chad Grant
(2) I'm sorry, what did you just say? Is that slang or something? - mmyers
@mmeyers.. I'm thinking you just proved his "over-generalized statement". heh. I voted his post up. - natas
[+3] [2009-05-12 19:07:15] jalf

I think there's nothing wrong with closing (as duplicate, belongs on UserVoice or whatever else) a newcomer's questions. Of course, adding a comment explaining why is always nice, but I think the main thing is to just not downvote.

If the question is made in good faith, and it's going to get closed in another 30 seconds anyway, why bother downvoting it? Does it deserve it? Does the poster deserve to have the negative votes on his record, simply because he did not yet know how Stack Overflow works?

I try to reserve downvotes for questions that are either

  • made in bad faith, as spam or to otherwise disrupt Stack Overflow
  • or are simply bad questions (unreadable questions, no information supplied to actually make it possible to answer, or "questions" that aren't questions but blog posts or rants).

But a suggestion to improve Stack Overflow shouldn't be downvoted. It should simply be closed and directed to UserVoice. An off-topic question shouldn't be downvoted, but closed (as not-programming-related, or moved to Server Fault in some cases.

I often see questions that get downvoted because they belong on UserVoice, are not programming related, or whatever else. When I do, I generally leave a comment saying that there's no need for downvoting as well as closing the question, and encouraging people to bump the votes back up.

[+3] [2010-02-18 02:47:34] Cawas

I just want to include myself as an example of this:

unless a new user's post is clearly spam, voting it down to -1 or -2 should be sufficient to send a message without piling on.

Now, I do think I had to be voted down, and the community should express itself so I can see if I fit in or not. But, as far as I can see, the reputation system is also associated with spam and bot prevention up to a certain ammount of points. So, until that is reached by any valid user this should be the focus: making the user able to use basic resources, such as voting, posting links, etc.

Maybe even the system should change a little bit on that sense. One thing is getting reputation to be able to moderate. Another thing is to achieve "human rights" in the system. And that should not be too hard for newbies.

Anyway, yet again, just my two cents as a newcomer.

(1) Cawas, downvotes on Meta are different from downvotes on SO/SF/SU. On Meta, since there is rarely a "right" and "wrong" answer, voting is instead a means to express approval or disapproval. The downvotes don't mean you asked bad questions. - mmyers
Thanks a lot for worrying! But that's way beyond my point here. I'm not hurt from downvotes. I'm frustrated about two very specific things on the stackoverflow system: the spam prevention and the message continuity method, witch have no email alerts and not even RSS as far as I could tell. - Cawas
[+2] [2008-10-27 22:17:36] dgw

I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made.

I agree with Outlaw Programmer, but would add that it would be useful if there was a menu or similar to quickly (and politely) allow "problem post" identification.

For example, if you see that a post is a duplicate, you hit a button, enter the url/id of the post duplicated. Successive viewers can then agree or disagree. The question poster will get a canned and polite notification.

So instead of templating being a burden on individual users, have it be a function of the system for the most common problem posts.

Offhand, those seem to be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs in user voice
  • Offtopic
  • Not a question
  • Unclear question (not enough detail to respond, etc.)
  • ...More as post requirements develop

In essence this would be a votable, post classification tag?

Quick and painless for advanced users...just chose the classification from a list of canned ones, or vote up the existing classification(s) if you agree.

It would be friendly and helpful to the new(er)bies. They would see "15 people think this post belongs in the uservoice section. Do you want to move it there?" or "107 people think you should probably add more detail to your question. Edit now?"

I would definitely support a template-message approach. I haven't participated much here, I admit (yeah, I know, I'm a n00b commenting on a thread about n00bs), but I have over 2 1/2 years' experience on Wikipedia, much of it in vandal-patrol. The template message system set up there works pretty well, and what I see in the suggestions from Outlaw Programmer and ee is a kind of combination between Wikipedia's system and Digg's Bury menu. Am I right? If so, I'd be 100% behind that method.

[+2] [2008-12-04 01:10:25] Dan Dascalescu

I think civility could be improved in general, not just regarding questions about Stack Overflow. For example, the first question I asked here was a CSS question [1] and I got a rude and slightly off-topic answer: "if you say liquid that usually means percent based dimensions, start associating things like that in your head" (I had not even said "liquid", and in the end there was no satisfactory answer to that question, which suggests it was not dumb).


(2) Follow-up comment on that answer: "then your solution is the same but with a new 400px div as child element of #rightnav (the terms liquid and fluid are interchangeable) " - none of this strikes me as terribly rude; if you don't find it helpful then ignore it / down-vote it. - Shog9
[+2] [2009-03-10 17:01:18] Boon

I agree, thanks for bringing this up. I have at times been attacked personally just for making a logical statement. It's not always whether you are newbie or not, but it can be other subjective things such as if your question is liked or disliked (for example, Jon Skeet-related questions seem to get a lot of cheers here) regardless of its merits), which is why I brought up a related discussion in question Why is there a double standard regarding non-programming related questions at Stack Overflow? [1].

I am sensing a much higher civility in this thread, probably due to the way the question was posed.


[+2] [2009-11-23 22:21:36] Jason Antman

Just something I wanted to throw in here.

I know it's a bit outdated, but anyone who's asking questions on the 'net in a technical forum should still read How To Ask Questions The Smart Way [1].

Specifically of consequence to this discussion:

Before You Ask

Before asking a technical question by e-mail, or in a newsgroup, or on a website chat board, do the following:

  1. Try to find an answer by searching the archives of the forum you plan to post to.
  2. Try to find an answer by searching the Web.
  3. Try to find an answer by reading the manual.
  4. Try to find an answer by reading a FAQ.
  5. Try to find an answer by inspection or experimentation.
  6. Try to find an answer by asking a skilled friend.
  7. If you're a programmer, try to find an answer by reading the source code.

When you ask your question, display the fact that you have done these things first; this will help establish that you're not being a lazy sponge and wasting people's time. Better yet, display what you have learned from doing these things. We like answering questions for people who have demonstrated they can learn from the answers.

Use tactics like doing a Google search on the text of whatever error message you get (searching Google groups as well as Web pages). This might well take you straight to fix documentation or a mailing list thread answering your question. Even if it doesn't, saying “I googled on the following phrase but didn't get anything that looked promising” is a good thing to do in e-mail or news postings requesting help, if only because it records what searches won't help. It will also help to direct other people with similar problems to your thread by linking the search terms to what will hopefully be your problem and resolution thread.

Take your time. Do not expect to be able to solve a complicated problem with a few seconds of Googling. Read and understand the FAQs, sit back, relax and give the problem some thought before approaching experts. Trust us, they will be able to tell from your questions how much reading and thinking you did, and will be more willing to help if you come prepared. Don't instantly fire your whole arsenal of questions just because your first search turned up no answers (or too many).

Prepare your question. Think it through. Hasty-sounding questions get hasty answers, or none at all. The more you do to demonstrate that having put thought and effort into solving your problem before seeking help, the more likely you are to actually get help.

Beware of asking the wrong question. If you ask one that is based on faulty assumptions, J. Random Hacker is quite likely to reply with a uselessly literal answer while thinking “Stupid question...”, and hoping the experience of getting what you asked for rather than what you needed will teach you a lesson.

Never assume you are entitled to an answer. You are not; you aren't, after all, paying for the service. You will earn an answer, if you earn it, by asking a substantial, interesting, and thought-provoking question — one that implicitly contributes to the experience of the community rather than merely passively demanding knowledge from others.

On the other hand, making it clear that you are able and willing to help in the process of developing the solution is a very good start. “Would someone provide a pointer?”, “What is my example missing?”, and “What site should I have checked?” are more likely to get answered than “Please post the exact procedure I should use.” because you're making it clear that you're truly willing to complete the process if someone can just point you in the right direction.


How To Interpret Answers RTFM and STFW: How To Tell You've Seriously Screwed Up

There is an ancient and hallowed tradition: if you get a reply that reads “RTFM”, the person who sent it thinks you should have Read The F***ing Manual. He or she is almost certainly right. Go read it.

RTFM has a younger relative. If you get a reply that reads “STFW”, the person who sent it thinks you should have Searched The F***ing Web. He or she is almost certainly right. Go search it. (The milder version of this is when you are told “Google is your friend!”)

In Web forums, you may also be told to search the forum archives. In fact, someone may even be so kind as to provide a pointer to the previous thread where this problem was solved. But do not rely on this consideration; do your archive-searching before asking.

Often, the person telling you to do a search has the manual or the web page with the information you need open, and is looking at it as he or she types. These replies mean that he thinks (a) the information you need is easy to find, and (b) you will learn more if you seek out the information than if you have it spoon-fed to you.

You shouldn't be offended by this; by hacker standards, your respondent is showing you a rough kind of respect simply by not ignoring you. You should instead be thankful for this grandmotherly kindness.

If you don't understand...

If you don't understand the answer, do not immediately bounce back a demand for clarification. Use the same tools that you used to try and answer your original question (manuals, FAQs, the Web, skilled friends) to understand the answer. Then, if you still need to ask for clarification, exhibit what you have learned.

For example, suppose I tell you: “It sounds like you've got a stuck zentry; you'll need to clear it.” Then: here's a bad followup question: “What's a zentry?” Here's a good followup question: “OK, I read the man page and zentries are only mentioned under the -z and -p switches. Neither of them says anything about clearing zentries. Is it one of these or am I missing something here?”


(1) I find RTFM and similar acronyms are rude and unnecessay. It would be more helpful to assume that the raiser has done all that they can think of doing on their own to find the answer to the question. They might not have read sources that are obvious to others. If someone is going to take the time to provide a response, why not give the benefit of the doubt and provide a reference and hints on the relevent sections in the reference. Perhaps the response could invite the raiser to return for more help if they still need it after reading the reference. This may also benifit many silent readers. - user147674
[+1] [2008-09-17 10:04:34] Dave White

As someone new to Stack Overflow, I have to agree, to a point. I've noticed a certain SlashDot [1]tishness around here, though it's pretty limited so it is not that large an issue.

I think the environment will take care of itself over time. Those who don't need, want or deserve to be here will leave or be encouraged to leave.


[+1] [2008-10-27 18:35:14] thismat

Is there a limitation on when the deadline for posting on a question is considered beating a dead horse? ;)

I have little reputation, am a novice programmer, but I'm not scared to be voted down even if I answer honestly thinking I understood the question. Nothing will show me the progress I've made throughout the years like documenting my failures.

While being downright mean to someone is not the solution, I would assume people don't really need to be pampered...just my opinion as someone from the 'trophy kid' generation, you shouldn't always be protected or even rewarded when you make a mistake.

I love this place, even if I still have a lot to learn.


[+1] [2009-04-24 17:46:40] Tisch

The good things we do in this life reflect in the next. We should all help each other. No question is too small, and no question is too large.

Long live Stack Overflow, and I hope its good ethics rub off on the old school elitists. Let's all work together to make Stack Overflow what it deservers to be.

[-1] [2008-09-18 12:55:17] toast

I see a lot of discussion about "noobs" and such, but aren't we all technically new to the site. It's not that old yet (for example, if this site was slashdot instead, we'd all have really low UIDs).

I mean, the only difference between people joining now and people who "have been here since the beginning" is something like two months (if that). And most of that time was spent in private beta. I think the question itself promotes hostility to those who didn't join the private beta as it starts to create cliques of users in the community.

Pretty soon we'll have the group of guys who were in the private beta, the group who joined during open beta, the people who joined the first month, the people who know Joel Spolsky [1] and Jeff Atwood [2] personally, and it will be a mess of down votes and bickering in the answers and comments with moderator powers being thrown about willy-nilly.

Please, let's just ask questions, give answers, vote on the best of each and try and ignore who said what and concentrate on what was said.


It's all relative. I'm sure on the second day of the private beta, the people who joined on the first day thought the second day folks were noobs. - Chris Upchurch
[-1] [2013-08-13 18:15:46] JMarsch

Interestingly (to me, anyway), I think that moderation in Stack Exchange has just hit a new level in "social experiment". In a way, you might even say that this is a sign of maturity for SO (but still a problem).



I'm going to talk about moderators here, but I'm not taking a shot at anyone. Really. I think that this is more of an interesting social effect than anyone being bad. So before I write the next bit, I want to thank all of the moderators for donating so much time and working so hard to make SO a great site. I mean that, and there is no sarcasm or disparagement intended whatsoever).

Now: Think about this: We have a number of rules and guidelines for using the site, and now we have a lot of moderators. As they work to optimize their job of moderating, they apply group-think based upon supporting the rules. They are doing what humans do -- optimizing their actions to complete their goal. In this case, moderating. BUT, does that necessarily mean that the work is doing the best thing for Stack Overflow (just my opinion, but nowadays, I think twice before posting and sometimes go elsewhere, because I don't want my question getting closed -- I just don't want the extra "intellectual tax" of dealing with cleaning up or thinking about a closed question, when what I'm really looking for is an answer.

Now that I've said all that, where else so you see this sort of group think effect? government bureaucracy! In way, it's really interesting, because in order to have that, doesn't the object of the bureaucracy have to be something that everyone involved feels is worth worrying about? So, in a way, cool! (that said, I'd like for it to be easier to post questions :)

[-1] [2013-08-18 07:02:47] Mario Rossi

We probably need to distinguish between two types of "new users":

  • New users to SO/SE
  • New users to a language/tool or whatever the subject of a question.

They are usually correlated, but we need to think about them separately. Personally, I prefer new user questions to questions so specific that they can be answered with a single line. But I understand that there are others different than me (and I do reply with one-liners from time to time).

My answer to the present question is to:

  • Establish a system of tags or ranks that allows askers to classify their questions as "beginner" / "real beginner" / "intermediate" / "advanced" / "postdoctoral". And allow potential answerers to search by difficulty level, of course.
  • Criticize questions according to the assigned difficulty level.
  • Guide users to become proficient in SO/SE as we are doing today: sweetly. Assume that question's difficulty is also an indication of SO/SE expertise level. Be lenient or demanding accordingly.

(1) the issue is not with easiness. The issue is with laziness and the resulting immense duplication of questions and thus fragmentation of knowledge. Easy questions in obscure topics are fine. Easy questions already answered by the manual are not. - Jan Dvorak
I disagree. However, I'm not the owner SO. From discussions like these, there seems to be no owner in fact. My proposition allows both visions to coexist. The alternative is creating a completely separate site where askers and answerers expecting the same informality/difficulty level can come and interact. - Mario Rossi
(4) you are free to propose a site where heavily duplicated trivial questions are welcome. I don't want these lazy questions on SO. I will not use tha site as my source of knowledge. I might contribute with answers. - Jan Dvorak
I'm not saying such site is necessarily a bad idea. It would offload lots of questions from SO, and it's generally useful as long as you don't expect high-quality answers (if you do, post to SO - but show some research first). I'm pretty sure that some standard of required effort will arise even at that site, possibly just as strict as SO's current policy. - Jan Dvorak
I will probably not, because IMO that is not the prevalent vision withing the SO/SE community. Do you do that, BTW? What would be the preferred site to recommend? I'm willing to experiment for a while and do what you say. In fact, we should recommend exactly the same site to other SO answerers that like this kind of interaction and solve the issue from the root. - Mario Rossi
(1) I've been a Wikipedia editor and contributor for a long while, but I have encountered that SO is a lot more fun precisely because of the newbies. I'll follow them wherever they go. And come back to SO from time to time too, as well as Wikipedia. - Mario Rossi
I think that the tagging idea is a great one. I just recently posted a question that was downvoted because I was not aware there were multiple versions of regex, and I immediately specified with an edit to my post as soon as I could. I spent hours making something work that I had never done before and was looking for advice on a specific regex, and to my knowledge I posted more than enough information to get a solid answer. I was then expected to be "knowledgeable" with 183 total votes and with my first sentence stating I was new with regex. There should have been some grace there. - jtsmith1287
(1) There have been several occasions where I wanted to abandon SO (except that it's the fastest place to resolve code issues/puzzles) because I would send an hour refining my question to make sure I had everything I could to inform the answerers only to be downvoted because of a lack of information. It's not laziness, it's not because I didn't read the FAQ or guides. It's because I'm new. I just don't know... that's why I post here! - jtsmith1287
some of the tags (e.g. [beginner]) used to exist but now is categorized as "meta-tags" and they got removed (see here: - Old Checkmark
[-2] [2011-09-12 20:53:38] xanatos

I'll add an example of what happened today. Today I've seen two quite "easy" questions. They are so easy that they could be funny.

32 bit unsigned JavaScript bitwise operation is one short [1]

Now... Everyone that has a little of knowledge of IT should be able to answer both of them without problems.

  • The first one was upvoted 8 times (at the time I'm writing).

  • The second one was downvoted 24 times and closed by a moderator for "closed as not a real question". At this time it's the fourth most downvoted question (the wood spoon). I'll add that the question wasn't badly formatted (there isn't any revision on it and its formatting is quite good) and the English is good.

I hope this isn't "n00b friendliness" :-)


(2) The tooltip on the downvote button says, "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful." And a question about what && and || mean is about as basic a question as you can get. I'm having a hard time believing that question was asked in good faith. - mmyers
@mmyers But I have read the various Q/A here on meta about "I'll google it for you" and "Could we please be a bit nicer to the noobs?" (it's this one) and it seems that we should be pro-noobs and not try to scare away them :-) (and in fact the I'll google it for you is auto-banned) (and note that I'm an elitist. I DO think that I'll Google It For You should be the response for at least 5% of the questions, an I DO think that not researching before doing a question is a mortal sin). What I don't like is hypocrisy. Should I vote for close every question that can be googled in 5 minutes? - xanatos
Here is another example… Please be nicer to new people. - pal4life is now deleted. - Peter Mortensen
"Everyone that has a little of knowledge of IT should be able to answer both of them without problems." I've been in the IT sector for 25 years and I can't answer either. -1 for making a crappy assumption. - Johnny Bones
[-4] [2012-09-15 10:00:23] Sahil Mahajan Mj

The point to be noted is that, downvoting isn't the only trick to teach the new user, how to not post syntactically ill questions.

The experienced user here are much more aware of all the guidelines and regulations of this community. But the new user is not.

Whenever a new user logs in, they don't bother to read the FAQs of community. Not even someone else would bother to do so, if they are using the site for the first time.

I don't think there is anyone who reads the FAQs of each and every site they open. Nobody thinks it as useful.

The new user should be made aware of the point that Stack Exchange sites works on some guidelines that should be followed strictly to wrap your posts into relevant words.

There are better ways of doing so. Comment with relevant links are powerful enough to direct the new user to the FAQs page instead of a heavy volume of down votes. Two or three downvotes are sufficiently enough to let the user know about how this site works.

Getting a large volume of downvotes in the initial stages are worth embarrassing, as I got in first post of mine [1].


(5) I surely do read FAQs of sites I participate at. Also, I browse around to see how others are participating. In other words: I do put effort in understanding the site I'm using, before I use it. And, as already pointed out to you twice: downvoting might be different here. So, even nice comments don't help make you understand? Then I'd say: good that downvotes do make some feel something was not appreciated, and feed the ban. - Arjan
No matter, you read the faqs. but most users here are in hurry to ask questions and get their solutions. If someone is stucked with a problem and has few amount of time to solve the issue, he created account, asked the question expecting a rapid answer. would it be nice to ask him to first read all the faqs, then practice it and after a lot of time spent over it, ask their first question. Instead he could be conveyed to read the faqs for the next time he post a question. - Sahil Mahajan Mj
(4) These sites are not some personal help forums, to get one's problems fixed. Why wouldn't a community be allowed to get rid of content they don't appreciate, by downvoting it? - Arjan
I am a nob here to argue with you about this community as you are amomg the reputed users of community. but what i have learnt about SO is that everyone here is to help others and get help from others. Why wouldn't a community be allowed to get rid of content they don't appreciate, by downvoting it? for this, you are right, downvoting is good for content that is not appreciated by others, but syntactically ill content could be asked to review instead of large number of downvotes. - Sahil Mahajan Mj
(2) Just for some perspective: the last two weeks Stack Overflow had an average of 5,428 new questions per day. That's one every 15 seconds. - Arjan
(3) I always read the FAQ and possibly even ask a Meta question on a new site, to make sure my question is not downvoted into oblivion. :) And... it works! - Alenanno