Top Ten Things You probably didn’t know about Stack Overflow

As a moderator on Stack Overflow, there are certain areas of Stack Overflow that generate the most confusion among both new and older users.   Here are a list of the ten things that are probably the most surprising to users that visit Stack Overflow.

‘Google it’ has never been a valid close reason

This one always surprises older users. If the Eternal September wasn’t bad enough, there’s just the right amount of reputation available on Stack Overflow to people who answer questions that are so basic, they should probably already exist somewhere on the internet.

But, that doesn’t matter on Stack Exchange. In fact, you’re encouraged to ask questions and get canonical answers — otherwise what Good would Stack Overflow be as a canonical repository of useful programming knowledge?

Don’t believe me? Here are just a few of the early questions that were asked:

At one point there was an attempt to institute a “General Reference” (google it) close reason, but it failed miserably.

We are actually a do your homework for you site

We will absolutely do your homework for you; so long as you give us everything we need to solve your problem. Our How to Ask page even states what we need to solve your problem; check the fine print: a paycheck isn’t in there.

If you post a code dump, you probably won’t get your answer, but if you take just a teensy amount of time and put it in the form we ask you to, you can get pretty much anything you want.

Moderators sometimes disagree about the best course of action

We’re sort of like the pre-cogs that way. We occasionally disagree about what to do about a flag. This can cause heartburn among programmers (after all, what programmer loves inconsistency?), but it’s absolutely required when dealing with humans. Or, as Everett once said:

Effort doesn’t matter

You heard it here: You don’t have to show any effort to get your problem solved. Mind blowing, right? Once, there was a close reason that people abused because they thought it was for ‘effort’, but it turns out that was incorrect.

In fact, some of the best questions on Stack Overflow have been the ones that have no effort behind them.

There is actually a close vote cabal

If you ever wondered if there’s a roving gang of users that goes around and closes bad questions, there actually is. They hang out in the Tavern. They tag a question with “cv-pls” (Close vote, please) if they think it needs to be closed.

You can say pretty much anything you want on Meta, so long as you back it up.

We love discussion on Meta. Really! In fact, you can say just about anything you want on meta, so long as you back it up. All we ask in meta questions is that:

  • They seek input from the community
  • They’re grounded in actual problems (that’s why we want evidence; because we want to talk about concrete issues
  • They do not reek of rantiness

We love duplicates.

This may be strange; but duplicate questions help us know what people actually search for.

The question title bar even helpfully conducts a search for you when you type in your title.

Screen Shot 2014-12-18 at 9.02.20 AM

We ask that you search for your problem first so that if you do find other questions that appear to cover the same ground, you can tailor your question to why it’s different from the other cases. But on the off chance you don’t find any duplicates, go ahead and post your question! If it is a duplicate, we’ll mark it as such and the next person will be able to find good information, all thanks to you.

If you’re question banned, you can’t see the questions that got you question banned

That’s correct. There’s even a long standing feature request to let users see their own deleted questions, but it was declined. In 2013, Stack Exchange started to allow people to see ‘recently’ (60 day window) deleted posts; but you have to know where to find them. Hint: It’s here for questions and here for answers (check the bottom of the page: ‘deleted recent x‘).

Putting questions ‘on hold’ is there to help you

We may seem unwelcoming when we vote to put your question ‘on hold’, but we’re actually doing it to help you. And us, of course. Ok, so it’s half for us, and half for you. But still, that’s pretty good.

The reason we put questions on hold is to give you a chance to fix them. We’ve found that just leaving comments doesn’t entice a user to fix the problems with their question, and so we take it one step further. Putting a question on hold says, “We need you to do x, y, and z before we can help you”. It helps us because we want questions that are useful to more than one person. If your question doesn’t include the information we need to solve it (or is inherently unsolvable), it can never be useful to another person.

By putting it on hold, we give you an incentive to fix your question (so that you can get it answered), and we ensure that if you do those things, it will be placed into a review queue and re-opened; all done just by editing the question!.

Spelling and Grammar really, really, really matter.

Even if your question is the most obvious question on earth, the time you spend on making it look good matters immensely. Using correct spelling, grammar, and punctuation is the difference between a question ban and a lot of up-votes. If you spend a little bit of time on spelling and grammar, you’ll get it back in spades, even if you ask a lot of questions.