Stack Overflow is a great place to get a quick answer to a really precise problem. For example, you made a small method that does X but it doesn’t work as expected. Go there, post your code (if it’s not too long), ask what it should do, and you’ll get an answer.

Most of the time this work great. If your question is precise, clear and not extremely hard, you’ll get your “fix”. If the answers are good or bad is another story.

What I don’t Like About SO

What I despise about SO is when really good “questions” are locked. You’ve all seen this happy little message:

stack-overflow-question-locked

“Not a good or on-topic question for this site”? Really? Says who? Was the OP asking where to travel this summer? Or was he asking about programming books? Here’s the original question about programming books by the way.

SO In Real Life – Story Time

Here’s how I feel StackOverflow “fanatic closing questions behavior” would feel IRL (please somebody make a comic out of it):

Some guy walks into a bar. This is a super popular bar. All his friends are there.

He doesn’t really feel like drinking alcohol so he goes to the bar and ask the barman for a glass of milk.

Then the barman takes a mic. The music stops. Then we can hear the barman say:

– Hey, look at this guy! He’s asking for MILK! What a moron! Hahahaha! He should know what we don’t serve milk here because that’s not a good beverage!

ashamed-bear

It’s not really the right way to react right? And by the way this is a really bad way of doing business. You don’t want more good customers?

Here’s what I think the barman could do:

  • He continues to laugh at customers that ask for milk.
  • After 5 different people asked him for milk he finally decides to sell milk. More happy customers and more money. Win-win situation
  • He redirects the customers to a grocery store. He’s losing money but at least he’s not punching the customers in the face.
  • He opens a little room inside his bar just for serving milk and other “unrelated beverages”.

Obviously, SO stays on the first solution path. And it gets worse and worse over time. There are much more “moderators” so the “unrelated questions” are shut down faster.

On old questions, we can sometimes see links going to Github to maintain a list of books, for example. But if your question is locked after 2 minutes, nobody is going to see it, so it’s not really possible all the time.

What do I suggest?

Fixing tools

It’s easy. If SO don’t want to mix “precise questions” with more “open questions”, use the the last solution I mentioned. Add a place that would let people ask “open questions”.

Either another StackExchange site like Open Programming Questions(?), a special tag, a section… Whatever.

Just stop closing interesting and really helpful questions just because it’s not “following the criteria mentioned in form B34″. We have to deal often enough with these kind of problems in real life and at work, there’s no reason why SO shouldn’t be enjoyable.

Credits for the image : Child by Mindaugas Danys, Ashamed bear by thelearnr, Tools by zzpza

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