10
\$\begingroup\$

I was around when this site used to be called Electronics, and I also remember when it was originally called ChipHacker.

During this time, I've noticed that the character of the questions being asked has changed with each name change. In the beginning, it was mostly hobbyist questions. With the adoption of the Electrical Engineering moniker, it seems as if you not only get a broader range of questions, but those questions are of a higher quality overall.

Is this true?

Programmers is in the midst of a name change. Programmers was the original Not Programming Related site, and it's had an existential crisis from the beginning. It's name was changed once already, but it now attracts many people who think anything having anything remotely to do with programming is on-topic. (Among other things, "fix my broken code" questions are specifically off-topic.)

We hope that a name change to "Software Engineering" will help break us out of Eternal September. We think that the name change is going to be a big help, and we have a number of theories backing our beliefs. After four years of discussions, Stack Exchange finally seems on board with the idea.

But none of us quite knows for sure.

So I would like your perspective. Did your name change help improve the overall quality of questions that are asked here? Why do you think that occurred? Or was it something else that happened that improved your site quality overall?

\$\endgroup\$
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ Causality is not causation. It may be the name helped, but a lot of stuff changes all the time. You may have noticed an Arduino.SE is now in existence, which is a very regular lightning rod for the frustrating and badly informed. As well, of course, at EE.SE new high-rep users seem to be somewhat happy to step into the moderation game, no idea how that is for Programmers. It may be there's decent causation, but without accurate graphs and clear trends, I'm very hesitant to prescribe any in a complex system of many gradual and/or instant changes. \$\endgroup\$ – Asmyldof Sep 9 '16 at 22:36
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ What frustrates me from participating in programmers.SE is I can't make sense of what they're trying to be. There's this historical Q&A archive they're holding on to, and yet also wanting to rename it and also steer it in a conflicting direction. Never mind what the "what questions can I ask here" list says, that's not how problem solvers actually decide whether the site is a useful resource. Instead, look at the top questions: Questions | Votes programmers.stackexchange.com/questions?sort=votes and Questions | Frequent as this indicates what's actually been upvoted and starred. \$\endgroup\$ – MarkU Sep 10 '16 at 4:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MarkU: The scope of the site is "Questions directly related to the Systems Development Life Cycle, except for code troubleshooting." The top questions, of course, is a catch-22 since, so long as people keep asking off-topic questions, that's all new users will see. I agree with you about the Tour and Help/About pages; nobody ever reads those. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Harvey Sep 10 '16 at 15:11
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Just wondering, why isn't it called Electronic Engineering? \$\endgroup\$ – Bradman175 Sep 11 '16 at 10:10
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @Bradman175 The issue is that terminology is different in different parts of the world. In some areas, electrical engineering is same as electronics engineering, in some electrical is superset of electronics etc. Right now, non-electronics electrical engineering questions are on topic too, but the majority of the questions are electronics-focused. \$\endgroup\$ – AndrejaKo Sep 11 '16 at 11:52
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I think you can't draw any conclusions from the ee.SE history, because our last name change was more than 5 years ago, and SE as a whole has grown tremendously in visibility since then. \$\endgroup\$ – The Photon Sep 11 '16 at 15:20
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ From someone who deleted their account on that site: "Programmers" has lots of bigger problems not related to the name, the main one being that the site has a very unclear scope. A name change will not solve anything by itself, you'd also have to state far more clearly what's on topic and what is not, it should be unambiguous. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Sep 12 '16 at 7:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am glad then that I haven't been around before the latest rename, as I sometimes can't keep up with down/close voting crap that pops up here \$\endgroup\$ – PlasmaHH Sep 12 '16 at 9:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Asmyldof: I think there are numerous reasons; I was attracted to the site for not only the quality of the questions (in general - exam season is a large source of closed questions) but for the quality of the answers when a good question is asked. A poor question will rarely be answered, although there may be some comments. A good engineering site (like a good location, to take Olin's analogy) attracts more talented people willing to answer (and ask) questions which is a self-sustaining situation. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Smith Sep 13 '16 at 16:11
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ One thing you should consider is changing the icon as well. Somehow a coffee cup makes me thing that complaining about Microsoft products would be on topic at your place. \$\endgroup\$ – Dmitry Grigoryev Sep 14 '16 at 20:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ IMO Software engineering pertains to low level programming and the design of microprocessors and CPU and firmware. Programmers is a general term that could include almost anything. \$\endgroup\$ – Voltage Spike Sep 15 '16 at 17:06
  • \$\begingroup\$ If ee.se has high question quality, that's probably due to its aggressive moderation. There are certain low quality questions that crop up again and again, mostly from people who know exactly one thing and it's ohm's law. But I see questions that seem reasonable to me get closed as well. \$\endgroup\$ – pjc50 Sep 16 '16 at 23:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have occasionally browsed and even answered some questions at 'Programmers', and have been a bit confused about its scope. So is it fair to assume the site will be aligned in scope and content with the wikipedia definition of Software Engineering? Or will some of the wikipedia scope be excluded? \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Sep 17 '16 at 20:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @gbulmer: This wikipedia article, minus "write my code for me" and "fix my broken code" questions. See also en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Systems_development_life_cycle \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Harvey Sep 18 '16 at 3:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wonderful! That seems like a straightforward definition to understand. I think some of the questions I've read in the past might have been in an overlap with stackoverflow, e.g. about floating point. So IMHO a simple definition might help reduce confusion and hence improve questions, and help moderation. 'Software Engineering' should be clear enough that people can work out for themselves if their question is an appropriate fit. Also I think people who'd class themselves as SE's (my degree, and teaching predates the term SE) might feel better about SE than "programmers", and be more involved. \$\endgroup\$ – gbulmer Sep 18 '16 at 3:35
16
\$\begingroup\$

I wasn't here before any name change, but it has been very handy to point to the "Electrical Engineering" site name to easily dismiss some types of bad questions (and the bad users that come along with them that we don't want here).

In this regard, internet places work like real places in real life. The more "high class" a place appears, the more high class clientele it attracts. If you have a bunch of bums scrawling graffiti on the walls and peeing in the corners, you're going to get more bums writing more graffiti and peeing in the corners.

Conversely, if you have to wear a tie to be admitted, nobody will complain about the rule that you can't write graffiti on the wall or when a bum gets thrown out for peeing in the corner.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I agree, also Electrical Engineering sounds more professional, even tho the site content and support is limited to about 1% of what Electrical Engineers actually do. like Power grid equipment selection and Communication research , excel spreadsheets , timesheets and employee reviews;) \$\endgroup\$ – Tony Stewart Sunnyskyguy EE75 Sep 22 '16 at 15:37
10
\$\begingroup\$

My perception with the problems that Programmers.SE face is that the name doesn't give a hint at the expected scope. It is remarkably easy to get to a point where one might consider themselves a "programmer" without even understanding the scope of what "professional programming" encompasses.

From that aspect, I think we benefit from a more advanced term in the title (Engineering). We certainly close questions, and I'm not sure that a name will eliminate low-effort/low-quality questions. However, I do think that you can reduce a lot more of the honest misunderstandings with a site name.

Specifically, if we were titled "Electronics", then I believe we would have a larger quantity of off-topic questions on the use of consumer electronics rather than the design of electronics. We still get some - it's not a magic bullet - but it's relatively clear that we're not here to help you pair your Bluetooth mouse to your Iphone.

\$\endgroup\$
5
\$\begingroup\$

I have not had the impression that question quality is rising significantly.

Quality questions can often result from ones which start off shaky if you can get to them before they are put on hold by people who do not understand less clear-cut material as well as some others others do. More effort in this area seems to useful add to quality but it's annoying to have to respond with alacrity before the kneecappers arrive.

It can sometimes hard to get Olin to stop doing things in the corners :-). (He has the same problem with me).

========================================

From comments:

RH: I've heard this argument before, that the moderator despots are destroying the communities. It could have some merit, were it not for the fact that the percentage of bad questions that ever get rehabilitated is vanishingly small. Swift moderator action has nothing to do with that; questions can always be reopened if they are improved.

There's nothing more convincing to an argument than a fore-formed conclusion - and that of course applies to all points of view. A major problem is that "were it not for the fact that the percentage of bad questions that ever get rehabilitated is vanishingly small" is a self fulfilling prophecy and that "Swift moderator action has nothing to do with that" is demonstrably untrue (but nobody who doesn't want to care cares) and "questions can always be reopened if they are improved" is true for values of CAN = "yeah right". ie if improved but not battled for, nothing happens, and battling requires a far higher bar to be crossed than many other unclosed questions meet. | People with English as a second language face far higher rejection levels - even when when understandable to me - many readers seem to be unable to read material not written in a tightly Euro/US centric English subset. OR pretend not to be able to, as the case may be. High exclusions occur, regardless of WHY, for (often several of): English as second language, non-"European". Being distinguishably female also seems not to help. |People who downvote almost never remove their vote when question is improved. People who are confused are more liable to be abused than assisted. People who appear electronically clueless vote to close on questions with merit, giving caned reasons that are usually specious. || Merit is a fragile concept in this environment.

RH: Then why bother with moderation at all? The purpose of closing questions is to prevent new answers while the question is being rehabilitated, and if what you say is true (that my viewpoint is demonstrably false), then the theory of moderation is fundamentally misguided, and should be abolished. Regarding your ESL and female argument; meh. I've seen people abuse the minority/race card for their own personal motivations so many times it doesn't carry any weight anymore.

A few hours in a comfortable lounge with a few jugs of Coke for me (the black wet kind) & whatever lubricant you favour would be a bettwr way of addressing this :-). 1/3 of a world and some large oceans make that hard.| Note I applied "demonstrably untrue" (not 'false' fwiw) to ONE point out of 3 - and that means I can demonstrate it if anyone cares. I did not say moderation always fails - just that its never perfect. I'm a moderator elsewhere. Olin will happily tell you how imperfect my moderation is :-). Language/Asian/(female) - that's been what I see. Questioning my motivations is allowed (even though 'the 2nd' does not hold here in NZ :-). BUT my statement is based in what I seem to see. I have helped a significant number of people get their questions into circulation. Not a large % of total posts as it's just too hard to fight the system. I have see intelligent capable people with good questions so confused by the system that they've given in. Being easy for us makes it hard it is for others. That's standard in many areas. || My comments are based on substantial experience and ongoing attempts to assist newcomers - with many successful ones.

RH: I appreciate the candor. In my experience (on Stack Overflow and on Programmers), the number of people who are willing to moderate are far outnumbered by the number of new people willing to ask off-topic questions, and the moderation process itself is too difficult (it requires 8 people to remove unsalvageable questions) to keep the front page clean, so some of the responsibility for asking good questions has to reside with the askers themselves.

I'm not at all anti-moderator - but we contend fairly regularly, as they will tell you. You have my permission to ask them about me (should that be needed).

Over some years I've asked on a number of occasions for marginal cases to be given time to work on their questions IF there are people willing to work with them - and there are. But this request has ALWAYS been declined.
The logistics of global timings, people going to work/school/sleep/weekends/ ... mean that a person not looking at their post for 12 hours would be usual, for 20-24 hours not unusual and for 1-2 days normal enough. Our 24 hour presence means that "marginal " questions are reviewed and POH (placed on hold) "before they blink" in many cases.

I have had too many questions POH while I am typing an answer. One yesterday.
I started answering incrementally so I could at least finish what I had started and not waste maybe 20-60 minutes in some cases. And the moderators complained about me doing that - and DELETED a good answer to an understandable (to me) question to (presumably) teach me a lesson.
If I had eg downvoted an answer and given the reason that was given for the deletion I would have had my account placed on hold for abuse of the system. (Yes, that happened too in the past - even though my statement was misunderstood and my action legitimate).

I downvote ALMOST never - and tell people that I have, and why I did so, when I do.
I have people downvote my technically good (OK , superb :-) ) answers occasionally largely because (it seems) they don't like me helping the 'underdogs. Go figure [tm].

Look at my rep score. Big deal. If you have access to my site history you'll see it has a distinct change in slope some years back when I changed tack.
I'm happy to comment rather than answer, to try to assist than to score points. I have "enough rep" that it really doesn't matter. But for reasons which no doubt make sense to some my efforts are unwelcome.
**THE aim of this site is at core: "**To produce high quality question and answer sets that are of long lasting value and which will attract search engine traffic".
That's the site owner's spec, as I imagine you know.
Everything I do is aimed at achieving that - it's a secondary goal for me but one I'm aware of and try to meet.
Most people are unaware of this goal - and the moderation process sometimes seems to not only not be advancing it, but also to be trying to stop me advancing it.

If you gave a few people who are happy to do so a bit more time with SOME of the "unsalvageable" questions you could save some of those 8 people. Sure, some questions MUST die - but in some or even many cases a marginal question can either be improved to where it meets the OPs intention and gets good answers OR is changed to be good enough as a question even if the OPs purpose is too obscure to be certain of. In the latter case, if the OP will not or cannot express themselves then getting good Q&A rather than spending the effort of 8 person deletion seems to be a win.

My claim that I'm NOT antimoderator would probably be debated.
I'm not.
I'm pro-moderator, BUT I'm also pro-user, pro-newcomer and pro-education. Some like Olin (who I respect immensely, even though our vuews differ radically in some areas) think (or say) that I seek to dumb things down, promote sloppiness and laziness in question asking and seek to set a lower quality bar. I don't. But I believe that we can both treat many (not all) newcomers better and get better results.

I am certain (case studies available) that our system is newcomer unfriendly and does not serve many as well as it easily could. Newcomers often do not understand the basic rules and also often have trouble finding out what they are. Commenters are OFTEN rude and unhelpful and sometimes actively misdirect and misadvise newcomers. They would probably in such cases say that they are "being funny", but there is some rather malicious jesting being done on occasion.

Once a question is put on hold it is more often than not the death knell for the question. The reasons for closing are USUALLY spurious - the canned reasons are inadequate and more often than not the reasons given are "just plain wrong". It also seems that the core active subset of closers must have a very poor grasp of other than formal English and a marked inability to understand clearly enough expressed concepts questions and explanations.
Some commenters have taken it on themselves to deliver morals lectures to thos whose face they dislike - we don't do that here - yout\r question is type xxx - we don't like xxx here, he doesn't like it either, I have the death sentence in 12 systems ... [ah. wrong cantina scene - but too often too much like that].

We can do better by the newcomers, AND by ourselves.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I've heard this argument before, that the moderator despots are destroying the communities. It could have some merit, were it not for the fact that the percentage of bad questions that ever get rehabilitated is vanishingly small. Swift moderator action has nothing to do with that; questions can always be reopened if they are improved. \$\endgroup\$ – Robert Harvey Sep 11 '16 at 14:43
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertHarvey There's nothing more convincing to an argument than a fore-formed conclusion - and that of course applies to all points of view. A major problem is that "were it not for the fact that the percentage of bad questions that ever get rehabilitated is vanishingly small" is a self fulfilling prophecy and that "Swift moderator action has nothing to do with that" is demonstrably untrue (but nobody who doesn't want to care cares) and "questions can always be reopened if they are improved" is true for values of CAN = "yeah right". ie if improved but not battled for, nothing happens, ... \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 0:12
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertHarvey ... and battling requires a far higher bar to be crossed than many other unclosed questions meet. | People with English as a second language face far higher rejection levels - even when when understandable to me - many readers seem to be unable to read material not written in a tightly Euro/US centric English subset. OR pretend not to be able to, as the case may be. High exclusions occur, regardless of WHY, for (often several of): English as second language, non-"European". Being distinguishably female also seems not to help. |People who downvote almost never remove their .... \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 0:17
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ ... vote when question is improved. People who are confused are more liable to be abused than assisted. People who appear electronically clueless vote to close on questions with merit, giving caned reasons that are usually specious. || Merit is a fragile concept in this environment. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 0:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertHarvey A few hours in a comfortable lounge with a few jugs of Coke for me (the black wet kind) & whatever lubricant you favour would be a bettwr way of addressing this :-). 1/3 of a world and some large oceans make that hard.| Note I applied "demonstrably untrue" (not 'false' fwiw) to ONE point out of 3 - and that means I can demonstrate it if anyone cares. I did not say moderation always fails - just that its never perfect. I'm a moderator elsewhere. Olin will happily tell you how imperfect my moderation is :-). Language/Asian/(female) - that's been what I see. Questioning my ... \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 2:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ ... motivations is allowed (even though 'the 2nd' does not hold here in NZ :-). BUT my statement is based in what I seem to see. I have helped a significant number of people get their questions into circulation. Not a large % of total posts as it's just too hard to fight the system. I have see intelligent capable people with good questions so confused by the system that they've given in. Being easy for us makes it hard it is for others. That's standard in many areas. || My comments are based on substantial experience and ongoing attempts to assist newcomers - with many successful ones. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 2:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertHarvey I'm not at all anti-moderator - but we contend fairly regularly, as they will tell you. You have my permission to ask them about me (should that be needed). Over some years I've asked on a number of occasions for marginal cases to be given time to work on their questions IF there are people willing to work with them - and there are. But this request has ALWAYS been declined. The logistics of global timings, people going to work/school/sleep/weekends/ ... mean that a person not looking at their post for 12 hours would be usual, for 20-24 hours not uni\usual and for 1-2 days ... \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:42
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ ... normal enough. Our 24 hour presence means that "marginal " questions are reviewed and POH (placed on hold) "before they blink" in many cases. I have had too many questions POH while I am typing an answer. One yesterday. I started answering incrementally so I could at least finish what I had started and not waste maybe 20-60 minutes in some cases. And the moderators complained about me doing that - and DELETED a good answer to an understandable (to me) question to (presumably) teach me a lesson. ... \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:44
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If I had eg downvoted an answer and given the reason that was given for the deletion I would have had my account on hold for abuse of the system. (Yes, that happened to me too - even though my statement was misunderstood and my action legitimate). I downvote ALMOST never - and tell people I have and why when I do. I have people downvote my technically good (OK , superb :-) ) answers occasionally largely because (it seems) they don't like me helping the 'underdogs. Go figure [tm]. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:45
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ || Look at my rep score. Big deal. If you have access to my site history you'll see it has a distinct change in slope some years back when I changed tack. I'm happy to comment rather than answer, try to assist than score points. I have "enough rep" that it really doesn't matter. But for reasons which no doubt make sense to some my efforts are unwelcome. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ || THE aim of this site is at core: "To produce high quality question and answer sets that are of long lasting value and which will attracty search engine traffic". That's the site owner's spec, as I imagine you know. Everything I do is aimed at achieving that - a secondary goal for me but one I'm aware of and try to meet . Most people are unaware of this goal - and the moderation process sometimes seems to be trying to stop me advancing it. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ If you gave a few people who are happy to do so a bit more time with SOME of the "unsalvageable" questions you could save some of those 8 people. Sure, some questions MUST die - but in some or even many cases a marginal question can either be improved to where it meets the OPs intention and gets good answers OR is changed to be good enough as a question even if the OPs purpose is too obscure to be certain of. In the latter case, if the OP will not or cannot express themselves then getting good Q&A taher than spending the effort of 8 person deletion seems to be a win. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:46
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @RobertHarvey WHEW!!! [tm] - I copied most of the above into the answer to make it more readable. | My claim that I'm NOT antimoderator would probably be debated. I'm not. BUT I'm also pro-user, pro-newcomer and pro-education. Some like Olin (who I respect immensely) think (or say) that I seek to dumb things down, promote sloppiness and laziness in question asking and seek to set a lower quality bar. I don't. But I believe that we can treat many (not all) newcomers better and get better results. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:52
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I am certain (case studies available) that our system is newcomer unfriendly and does not serve many as well as it easily could. \$\endgroup\$ – Russell McMahon Sep 12 '16 at 4:52
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ @"the moderator despots are destroying the communities" Well, that's kind of true for Programmers. I was a user there for quite some time, mostly posting questions/answers related to program design and programming language rationales. Such questions would very often get closed out of the blue, for little or no reason. Eventually I got fed up - if program design is not on-topic for that site, then obviously nothing is on-topic there. I concluded that the site and the user base was a lost cause and had my account deleted. I would never go back there either. \$\endgroup\$ – Lundin Sep 14 '16 at 9:59
4
\$\begingroup\$

I'm not sure how significant an effect it is, but it's certainly something very easy to point to. It's easier for someone to argue that "why isn't my iPad working?" is on topic because it pertains to a piece of "Electronics" than that it's "Electrical Engineering". They would be wrong, because the site name isn't everything, but they might still ask the question, create work for the site contributors and moderators, and feel wronged when their post is closed. If the name "Electrical Engineering" makes them think twice and go somewhere more appropriate, then it's to everyone's benefit. It's hard to prove that this happens, but I think it's reasonable to think that it does have exactly that subconscious effect on new visitors.

Similarly, the name "Programmers", at first glance, seems to legitimize almost anything, if the person posting says "this is the site for programmers, and I'm a programmer!" (Amusingly, I remember that when the site was first being launched, one of the strong candidates for the name was "Not Programming Related", which had great humor value but would have been even worse). If "Software Engineering" conveys the intent of the site more accurately, then it can hardly be a bad thing.

\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

Engineering tends to hint about having a degree. In many countries, engineer is a diplomated title which you obtain after 3+ years of university studies. In other countries, people label themselves engineer just because they work with technical things.

For example, I suspect that in some countries, people working IT/helpdesk may consider themselves software engineers because they work with software all day, even though they don't write a single line of code. Similarly, I suspect that electricians (as in the people who install VAC equipment and wires in our homes etc) might consider themselves engineers in some countries, even though they don't have a clue about components, low-voltage electronics or PCB design.

So I believe there's some notable cultural aspect to this and I suspect people will interpret "engineering" quite differently around the world. It might be more meaningful to ask people over at Programmers meta what "engineering" means in their respective countries. Ask them what kind of tasks a software engineer would be expected to work with in their respective countries.

As for this site, I haven't been around long enough to tell if there's been an improvement, but it does suffer a bit from the awfully broad scope. One moment I could be reading about some amateur struggling with repairing their home electronics ("what is the burned thing on this picture?") and the next moment I could be reading some advanced, in-depth physics discussion about radio waves.

It's kind of charming, but it also makes it very hard to browse the site. The stack exchange model simply doesn't work well for broad sites, unless there are some defined question categories. You have to bookmark a bunch of likely tags and hope that the questions you are interested in pop up there.

\$\endgroup\$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .