Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A life ban from Stackoverflow

So, today I decided I'll spend an hour looking at StackOverflow and helping out where I could. It has come to the rescue on a few occasions in the past so I thought I'd return the favour.

I signed up and started looking at the > 3 million questions. Bound to be something in there I can help with. I looked at the newest questions and clicked through. Many of the questions are poorly phrased, some aren't even asking a question and others just want the code; they don't want to do any thinking, they don't want to write the code, they just want the code sent to them.

So I tackled a few questions, some on mongodb, some on jquery, some of java and some javascript.

Some question gets answered so quickly, so you have to be quick. The reason is your post can be deleted if it is deemed a duplicate answer and deletion count against you. There were a couple of occasions where there was less than a minute between my answer and a similar answer were posted and one of them being deleted as a duplicate. 

As a new user I cannot post comments. I didn't think anything of it at the time, so I put my requests for further information in the answer boxes. I had a few responses and started to earn a few points. Then I started to get lambasted for not answering the question and just asking more questions. I've always thought it is difficult to answer a question if it is unclear what is being asked. Eventually, whilst posting an answer to a mongodb question and the 16M BSON limit I received the message stating my account was now banned from posting and would never be reinstated; a life ban.

So basically, I had to earn 50 points before I can comment. But I can't earn any points until I understand the question or there is at least enough information in the question for it to be answerable, or at least until it is actually a question.

Apparently this has already been discussed here

I guess that is the good deed of the day shot down in flames. I'll think twice before I attempt to help again.

So, should we boycott Stack Overflow?

Hell no! It has saved my life on a couple of occasions. They could/should however make easier for people (esp. those new and/or under 50 points) to ask for clarity in poorly phrased questions, or in some instances ask the asker what it is they are actually asking.


  1. Harsh! Your incredible StackOverflow career ends as quickly as it began!

  2. SO's vetting process is a bit harsh, but overall it helps keep the quality high.

    For others afraid of getting such a ban, instead of "answering" to ask for clarification, skip questions where you're unsure (or edit them, accepted edits are +2 points!). Answering only questions you know gets you +10 points per upvote. Asking good, clear, non-duplicate questions gets you points too, so there's plenty of ways to get to 50 rep before you can comment on other people's questions.

    Take it slow and try not to look like a low-quality contributor; SO has so many problems with them, certain automatic filters like this are in place.

    Alternately you can participate on one of stackexchange's other sites and get 200 rep total, which gives you 100 rep on all SE sites, so you can comment anywhere.

    1. This is horrible advice. I just had editing spam today where some idiot tried to edit my question which was extremely carefully worded. He only removed a single word ("Windows program" to "program") and added 2 totally unrelated tags. It was very apparent that he was just after the rep as there was no real reason to edit anything. That's also one of the reasons why this horrible site is so broken. The entire rep system is counterproductive as it encourages ignorant people to ask badly researched questions or flood the site with awful answers.

  3. Hi Jan, I'm a moderator on Stack Overflow. I just wanted to let you know that there's no such thing as a lifetime ban on SO. The automatic ban can be lifted if you gain enough reputation through other means. If you can't answer questions, then you can still gain reputation by asking great questions or (more slowly) by suggesting edits to other people's posts that get accepted.

    See What can I do when getting “Sorry, we are no longer accepting questions/answers from this account”? for more details on the automated answer ban. I don't know what your account name is on SO or I could take a look to see if there's anything that I could preserve to try and get you back on track.

    1. damn you're everywhere. They're talking about your great deeds here :

  4. Stackoverflow is nothing but a newbie swamp, a collection of Indian IT idiots asking questions without doing basic research.

  5. Thank you for your great SO tips +SirTapTap. There is a lesson there for everyone.

  6. +Bill the Lizard. I didn't know you could suggest edits. Thanks for the tip.
    If the automatic ban is lifted automatically, then I'll take your and +SirTapTap's advice.

  7. +Anonymous I must say I did see so many poorly constructed questions. I was difficult to see what the actual question was; it was like the asker assumed we had direct line of site to their desktop.
    It may be an option to vet the question that are asking purely for the code to be posted, rather than the responses from those who are just trying to help. #JustSaying

  8. hello guys, i am very much new in programming and i have ask basic question regarding designing in asp.net. on stack overflow one of the member said that "sorry! this is not designing forum" so i decided to delete that post and i have deleted it. when i saw after 10 min, they have put ban on me. i want ask one question to stack overflow is this way to treat newbie developers. and if maintaining quality of forum is your concern then if i deleted my post which low quality from your sense what is the meaning of banning my account.sorry to say i hate stackoverflow now onwords.

    1. StackOverflow is a strange place. I never go there these days.

      A typical question/answer on SO
      OP: I'm a contract coder that doesn't really know what they're doing. I don't know how to, and I can't be bothered coding functionality 'xyz', can someone give me an example of how they would do it.

      Response1: Here you go, full source of whatever is currently open in my IDE. It doesn't answer your question, but it looks good. Just copy and paste. BTW, how clever am I? Mark this as the answer.

      Response2: The author of Response1 is an idiot, this is how you do it. I'm super clever. Mark this as the answer.

      Response3: The author of Response2 may have given the right answer and the code will work, but you could do it like this... There is ten times as much code, but it makes you look super smart. Mark this as the answer.

      How to get an answer on SO
      You need to ask a question in such a way that you give people the opportunity to make themselves look super clever.

      Good luck.

  9. Thanks for the excellent THEREFORE ideas +SirTapTap. There's a training presently there for everybody.

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  10. All forums inevitably have problems with low quality answers, SO to fight that created a problem with moderation: too stiff and not balanced by reasonable ways to discuss its mistakes. It does not seem unlikely now, that factorizing the problems of moderation, SO bring a non positive return for a non negligible number of "good" users. Have a look at some discussions and will notice that sometimes looks like and integralistic cult