I expect everyone has noticed by now the rapid increase of badly written questions over the last several months. We seem to be getting higher traffic, but that seems to be due to a flood of crappy questions that then need to be closed. I haven't actually counted, this is just a feeling, but I strongly suspect it is true. Either way, it's the perception that actually matters in the end, and my perception that this site is rapidly declining is definitely there.

What should we do about this decline in quality? Is there anything we can do, or is the slide into drivel inevitable and those of use looking for more learned discussion need to find someplace else (until that gets overrun by the zombies and the cycle repeats)?

We do seem to continue to get some good questions. My impression (again, not actually measured) is that those are coming at about the rate they did before, but are getting drowned out in the drivel that is making the whole site look amatuerish and less and less a rewarding place to hang out. I seem to be spending proportionately more time writing comments explaining why a question is being closed and closing and downvoting questions than writing decent answers to interesting questions.

Here is my own take: This site has hit the maturity phase. That means most of the experts that are going to find this place have. It used to be a place of high quality discussion and high quality answers. Now in the maturity phase, the unwashed masses have noticed that good answers are to be had. Unfortunately, they don't bother to read the FAQ or spend a little time on the site before blurting out their question. To them this site is merely a resource to take from. So what if my question gets closed? I haven't lost more than a minute typing some barely-readable gibberish. I've got nothing to loose. This isn't "my" site, so what do I care?". Meanwhile those that would have spent the time writing better answers have to waste it closing questions and picking thru the pile of noise to find the few good questions we still get.

Eventually those that are here for quality discussions will get dissolusioned and leave. This has already happened to some extent. Look at the list of users with 10k or more rep and see which ones are no longer active. Some of that happened earlier so they just moved on before the downhill slide, but don't underestimate the damaging effect of the high drivel level.

If this slide into the swamp can be fixed, it will need a very concerted effort to in effect say "no, this is crap, go away" to those that post crap. We are too gentle now in closing and downvoting bad questions. It needs to feel more like a kick in the butt so that those that don't bother spending time on their questions clearly get the message that they are not welcome here. Just as important, others will see that crappy posts aren't tolerated. I don't know what the mechanism should be exactly. That's what this topic is about. Ideas?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you be a bit more specific with your time periods (e.g. Things were fine in February 2013)? Also, are you suggesting that this is an increase in "bad questions" without a corresponding increase in closings/deletions? Looking at the numbers right off, I don't see evidence to support your claims. \$\endgroup\$
    – W5VO
    Jun 25, 2013 at 20:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, one of the first things that should be done is to update the posted guidelines to match the new set of question closing options. Since most of the habitually abused options no longer exist, it's going to take a bit of adjustment on everyone's part. Bear in mind that the goals stated at blog.stackoverflow.com/2013/06/the-war-of-the-closes/?cb=1 are pretty strongly in conflict with your "no this is crap, go away" line. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25, 2013 at 21:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @W5VO: I sortof think last November or December is when the steep downslide started. More recently, I think we have been closing more questions. Most bad questions do get closed, although some unfortunately get some good answers. The problem is that by then it's too late. They have already noised up the site and caused wasted effort and mindshare in dealing with them. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25, 2013 at 22:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ About users leaving the site, it is a normal phenomena occurring on almost every community platform. Active users of any gamified platform usually have a 2 year engagement cycle after which they stop participating and may move on to another platform. This should not be interpreted as a shortcoming of the site or content. You should provide/have other evidence for that. This also means that there should always be encouragement for new users to join the site and participate otherwise userbase will overtime become small. \$\endgroup\$
    – asheeshr
    Jun 26, 2013 at 13:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Most bad questions do get closed, although some unfortunately get some good answers." If a question has a good answer, then it's not a bad question. Unless you define "bad" based on aesthetics, rather than practical answerability. And that's not really something you are supposed to be doing on stack exchange sites. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 15:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chris: Just because someone can go out of their way and give a lot of background or tell the OP what he wants to know despite a garbled question doesn't at all prove the value of the question. See electronics.stackexchange.com/q/74026/4512. That question is a mess, yet unfortunately someone gave the OP his cookie, so he'll probably be back with more sloppily written questions lacking obvious pertinent information. Note that 5 people agreed with me and closed it within 12 hours. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 17:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - that's a perfect example of a question which should NOT be closed because it features someone on the verge of real understanding, but momentarily confused by two similar, but different issues. In other words, it's a great positive teaching opportunity. You, on the other hand, would prefer to handle it with negative feedback - you are quite open that you would prefer to shun the person rather than teach them. And that, fortunately, is not what the Stack Exchange sites are about. The person who does not fit here is one who chooses your current attitude. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 17:08
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chris: You are once again confusing technical level with question quality. The two are orthagonal. This was a crappy question because there was a lot of handwaving. He is talking about a "diode rectifier with relay as the coil inside a relay". It's really hard to imagine what he's thinking. Posting two schematics, one using a diode and the other a cap and then asking about the difference would probably have been OK, as I asked for in a comment. Intead, he refused to provide comprehensible information. This guy doesn't belong here, and hopefully won't come back. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 17:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - you are fundamentally overlooking that aesthetic quality is not on the list of closing choices subequent to yesterday's system-wide revision of the close menu. Your views are simply out of touch with system-wide policy and goals. And as for that question, it would be tempting to guess I just must be a far more insightful engineer than you, as I had little trouble understanding exactly what they were thinking, and where their confusion came from - but the reality is that you probably could understand it, if your aesthetic distate were not impeding you. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 17:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Olin, I'm trying to formulate a coherent response to this question, but it's taking a bit of time. You're wrapping up a bunch of "policy" issues together, which makes it difficult to write a succinct answer. If I didn't care more, I'd close it as "too broad" ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – W5VO
    Jun 26, 2013 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @W5VO: Yeah, it is kindof rambling. It's more trying to start a discussion than asking for a specific "answer". Perhaps that's just inappropriate even here on meta. Overall, I'm looking for ways to address the recent slide into low quality and high drivel, but don't really know how to formulate a proper "question" around that. If that's not appropriate here, I'll understand. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 18:10
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Chris: You chose to hear what you want to hear. I gave several specific reasons that question was difficult to understand, information it lacked, and what could have been added to make it passable. If you ignore all that and try to dismiss legitimate technial issues as "asthetics" and then argue against asthetics, then I don't see how we can productively carry on this conversation. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 18:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop - you claim that the question is not understandable, but the factual counter evidence is that several of us (those who posted answers, and myself) understood it. Since that debunks the technical issue, your remaining complaint is only aesthetic. Your comment complaint - from that basis - against someone for providing one of those answers was a prime example of this present attitude of yours which is incompatible with the stack exchange system. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ No, you mistake taking time to look into something for guesswork. On the broader issue, fortunately, the overall maintainers of the stack exchange system disagree with your counterproductive attitude - perhaps you'd like to take time to re-read yesterday's blog post: blog.stackoverflow.com/2013/06/the-war-of-the-closes/?cb=1 The particular thing to note will be that the reasons you want to use to close questions just don't line up with the official choices. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 18:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ The inability to tolerate others having a better ability to comprehend the thinking of a beginner, coupled with an unbelievably egocentric attitude of "xyz I want to discourage"is probably harming this site far more than the sloppiest of questions. @ChrisStratton has very capably made the point, I'd say. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2013 at 7:46

4 Answers 4


I appreciate your concern. Let me start off with a few statements that come from fancy graphs that I have access to:

  • Over the last year, our question volume has roughly doubled.
  • New review queues were implemented around November 2012, which corresponds to a (roughly) month-long spike in question closures without a matching increase in question volume.
    • This allowed any question with close votes to be seen by anyone looking at the review queue instead of disappearing, making questions easier to close.
    • Close vote aging rules also changed so that they wouldn't age unless the question had over 100 views - also making questions easier to close.
    • Question volume increased mid-January, and the number of closed questions scaled with that increase

Eyeballing the graphs, I'll divide the timeline into three segments - before November 2012, November 2012, and after November 2012.

  • Before November 2012, roughly 13% of all questions got closed
  • During November 2012, over 25% of questions got closed (1)
  • After November 2012, 16% - 19% of questions get closed

It's hard to conclusively say what's going on because I believe that the changes to the close system in November created a huge queue of questions with close votes to be reviewed. I would argue that the review queues and previous close vote changes have improved the question quality as fewer "marginal" questions fall through the cracks. In terms of absolute number of closed questions, yes that number has increased considerably - but it has matched the rise in question volume. It remains to be seen how the latest (06/25/13) close vote changes affect the system. Personally, I am very excited to see these changes as I think it will make it more obvious what "closing" means to our community.

This site is growing, and part of my job (everyone's job, really) is to make sure it keeps growing. Again, while the volume of closed questions grows, it's not growing without a corresponding rise in the volume of questions. To me, this means that the site "is not getting worse". I'm not trying to be dismissive of your complaint, but I don't see it in the numbers.

There are a few changes to the close system that recently went into effect. I think they will improve the "crap question" situation in two ways. First, they may remove inhibitions to close poor questions since the terminology has changed ([on-hold] instead of [closed]). Second, they do a better job of explaining why the question was closed in the first place, hopefully reducing the need to explain why a question was closed. In terms of moderator policy, I don't think having one closed question is enough for moderator intervention, but we do get notified after multiple consecutive closed questions, and I have been acting on those lately. I know you want a zero-tolerance policy, but I'm not willing to go there on mediocre questions. (Actual spam, vulgarity, etc.. are a different matter) I would appreciate it if you would give feedback after you've had a week or two to see the new dynamics.

I think something else that has been frustrating you lately is when people give good answers to poor questions. I see you coming from the angle of "Show solidarity against the morons - give them NOTHING". I understand where you're coming from, but if a "bad" question gets "good" answers, then surely it isn't that bad. Also, if people are deriving a benefit/enjoyment from answering questions, even bad questions, do you think they should be stopped? Separate the issue of "bad content" and "bad people". If people are continuously adding bad content, then I would rather the moderators do the "discouragement" instead of users. I think further discussion on this part of your question should actually be a separate, more focused question (or two).

In general, when people write good answers to questions that are on the way to being closed, they need to be aware that ultimately, closed questions get deleted. If I were to write a nice long answer to a (soon to be) closed question, I would look and see how I could tweak the question so that it would be acceptable. I would do this because it preserves my content, and because it preserves my reputation gained from that content - purely for self-serving reasons. There is a potential issue regarding questions that are too vague, in that early answers may be making invalid assumptions. This is again better split off and asked in a separate, more focused question.

Because no meta answer longer than a page can avoid a personal ancedote, I will give this one: Integrated Circuit Size. I saw that question, along with the characteristic comment about how it was impossible to figure out, and I took that as a challenge. Did I see close votes when I started writing? I sure did, and I continued anyways. Did I recognize the absurdity of the problem in the question? I sure did, and I continued anyways. And guess what... I enjoyed writing that answer. At it's core, there is a reasonable question - even if it isn't the question asked. I would probably reword it to something like "How do I calculate die area when pad limited".

I hope this perhaps starts a more focused dialogue, and also that I haven't said anything particularly stupid / in need of more proofreading. (2)

(1) Technically, these percentages are the number of newly closed questions divided by the number of newly asked questions, not the number of questions asked in that period that got closed. Normally, there shouldn't be a significant difference between the two, but I interpret this spike in November due to clearing out a backlog of questions that needed to be closed.

(2) OK, I didn't really proofread it that much after it got over a page. Don't expect a page-long question to get a quick, short answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Nice statistics, good work, great opinion. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Jun 26, 2013 at 20:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for putting in the effort to provide some real data. However, I don't think the 46% jump in close percentage from before to after November can be dismissed so lightly. That also roughly matches my feeling of when things started going down hill. Regardless of the numbers, my feeling of this site is a downhill slide. Perhaps that's valid, perhaps not, but the feeling is real. If I'm not the only one, we're headed for trouble. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 21:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ As for the "Integrated Circuit Size" question, I upvoted both your and David's answers, didn't downvote the question, and didn't vote to close it. That question was naive, and the answers reflected that. But, it wasn't poorly asked or off topic or unanswerable (in the way you and David answered it), which is why I didn't consider it a bad question and didn't vote to close it. Too many other people seem to have a problem separating the quality of the question from the level of understanding exhibited by it. This was a case where the quality was OK, and the level very low. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 26, 2013 at 21:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop It's hard to act on "feelings", and it's hard to suggest actions without data. I swear you're going to make me learn SQL. \$\endgroup\$
    – W5VO
    Jun 26, 2013 at 21:54

... it will need a very concerted effort to in effect say "no, this is crap, go away" to those that post crap. We are too gentle now in closing and downvoting bad questions. It needs to feel more like a kick in the butt so that those that don't bother spending time on their questions clearly get the message that they are not welcome here.

Some of these people posting crap are in fact useful to the site and therefore welcome, as long as they change their behaviour. You're going to say that that won't happen, but I disagree. I came to the TeX StackExchange and asked a question without reading the FAQ, about, etc. I didn't search for similar questions. My question was edited (the 'lead by example' thing moderators do) and a comment was added for more information. That was a very gentle way of letting me know I was doing stuff wrong. I invested some time in the SE format, and now I know how to ask a question.

It might be that the major share of the people posting poor questions will not improve. But even if that's true, that's not a reason to be inhospitable towards newcomers. We should try to mentor them gently first in any case. If you don't think there's room for improvement on a specific case, let someone else do it.

With the last paragraph of you, I get the picture of an aristocratic forum (in the ancient meaning of the word) where the say 10 best engineers of the world unite to discuss stuff on their extremely high level. You can join, as long as you're on the same level. That's not what we want. We want to be a school, where people can learn and develop themselves. They may or may not reach the top level.

I agree with you that some of the questions are bad. However, don't select people on a first impression. Try to help them learning and developing their (social) skills. If that's not your cup of tea: fine, someone else will do it for you, and you can wait until the user reaches a level on which you can think of communicating with him.

  • \$\begingroup\$ But then how do you keep all those bad first impressions from making the mess they have been lately? \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25, 2013 at 22:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ @OlinLathrop you try to mentor them - if that isn't possible, you can close or even delete if it's up to me. But everyone should get a chance to improve at the very least. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Jun 26, 2013 at 6:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Deletion has in the past few months been restricted for actively bad content, namely spam. Bad questions should not always be deleted as they can act as warning signposts for newcomers to the site. \$\endgroup\$
    – asheeshr
    Jun 26, 2013 at 13:37
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AsheeshR thanks for pointing that out. I think closing will suffice for the kind of questions we're talking about. \$\endgroup\$
    – user17592
    Jun 26, 2013 at 13:39

The answer is not to have a war between those who like outstanding questions and those who post what Olin would call "crap" questions.

Rather, the answer is to fill the middle ground with questions which are good enough to handle in this format. The truly poor questions can get lost in the volume (regardless if closed or not), and the really outstanding questions can continue to rise in rating and capture the interest of those who are especially inspired by them.

But it's going to take some attitude adjustment. This site is not unusually burdened with bad questions; rather it's simply made itself difficult to post average questions on, so the only thing to balance the terrible questions is the trickle of outstanding ones.

Stop worrying about the terrible; start working to positively encourage decent everyday questions.

And no, negative feedback is not positive encouragement. Learn to understand the difference.

  • \$\begingroup\$ I don't get the part about difficult to post average questions here. We get a lot of bad questions, so average ones are clearly quite possible and generally don't get closed. Sometimes great answers are possible for average questions. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25, 2013 at 22:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes, negative feedback is not positive encouragement, and I never said it was. Learn to read. The point of the unpleasant negative feedback is to make someone that noises up the site go away before he does it again, and if we're luck someone else that would have noised up the site. You are completely missing the point in that these people need to be discouraged. Being nice to the morons just begets more morons. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 25, 2013 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Discouraging non-malicious users is simply not part of site policy. Again, read the blog post on the close system changes - you are nearly 180 degrees out of phase with the goals expressed there. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 27, 2013 at 12:35

I am still, for the most part, a newbie when it comes to electronics. I've been tinkering for about 20 years, but never been serious enough to really know my stuff. That's why I'm here, to ask questions, and help people who are less experienced than I am.

I highly value experts such as Olin, who is obviously frustrated at times. The signal to noise ratio on the site is definitely more noisy than it was when I joined almost 3 years ago.

Sometimes I find questions which are basically crap, but I can't help posting a comment or answer in attempt to provide the OP a response that might evoke a positive change.

Here are some examples of "crap" questions (in my opinion) that I answered anyway:

I generally try to be optimistic, hoping the OP will be inspired with a little help, and try to improve. Why? Because, for example, here's a question that I thought was a total bomber (from the title), but turned out to be a rather better question than I thought:

Ultimately, every SE site seems to have a certain number of visitors that for whatever reason think they can get free handouts, without an inkling of research, effort, clear thought, or total lack of communication skills. The famous StackOverflow "Can I has the codez?" questions have always been the bane of seasoned programmers there. Here on EE, we have our own version in the form of "Give me schematic plz!"

It sucks to only have a few "good" questions out of every page of 20 or so, but I think we just need to do the best we can to use moderation tools to disappear or improve them.

Unfortunately, if the noise ratio continues to climb, despite moderation's best efforts, I cringe at the thought of true experts leaving. Not only would it mean lots of us lose the privilege of having questions answered by professionals, but that the SE model isn't working well enough.


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