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    As I was reading this, all I could think of is how this is not a Stack Overflow problem, but a cultural problem in geek circles in general. Obnoxiously trying to prove how smart you are at the detriment of others, having no sense of balance and just general arrogance is something I’ve seen time and again in many technical forums (and I’ve also seen it among smart people in other areas).

    The reasons are probably deeply psychological. The only way I think this can be solved is by calling out bad behaviour and if they refuse to listen, banning them from these discussion platforms. But that requires a leadership that feels the same way about this.

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      This is exactly right, but I think there’s an additional problem here. Feedback like upvotes/downvotes prime the sentiment of the next person to view the question/comment/post/tweet. I think if someone sees a question with a score of -3, they’re more likely to just lazily agree that it’s a bad question and not bother to interpret the question charitably.

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        Yeah, I agree it’s a wider problem, and I’m rather burned out by the entire thing (which is why this post uses stronger/more emotional language than I would normally use).

        People tend to behave according to the “normal”. When I recently visited the Netherlands after being abroad for 3 years I had something of a “reverse culture shock”. Dutch people can be really rude and selfish in ways that you wouldn’t really see in the UK or New Zealand. I didn’t like it much, but before I moved I never really noticed it, as it was “normal” for me.

        It can be hard to see these things unless you step back and have a different experience for a while. I think a lot of these people have been so steeped in this “tech culture” that they genuinely don’t understand/see the problems with.

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          Yeah, I’m also pretty sure that the lack of balance is a major contributor. If all you interact with is tech folks, you won’t get the hint that this behaviour is really not cool. In tech circles, the worst you’ll get is a passive-aggressive response, but usually people who are hurt by it will just leave the community instead of trying to argue with you.

          Also, I’ve probably done my fair share of assholery as well, so I’m not trying to preach a holier than thou attitude here.

          Regarding Dutch people: we can be pretty direct and even rude, yeah. In some ways that’s better than trying to keep up appearances and talk shit about people behind their back. It all depends on the situation, I suppose.

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        It’s generally much easier (and more satisfying, at least in the moment) to be a dick than to be nice, which is perhaps part of the problem these communities have with toxicity.

        If you don’t make an effort to keep people from being dicks the community will eventually turn bad. When it’s a big community this becomes almost impossible, so I don’t think there’s any chance for salvation for SO.

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          Basically, there is no risk in voting something down. If a question could be overturned, and down-voters each received negative point if case of an overturn, that might help.

          Even better, to remedy the dog-pile effect: Receive negative points proportional to the score of the post at the time. e.g. give a -2 post a (-1)? Get -6 points if overturned; give a -42 post a (-1)? -86 If overturned!

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          This is the same problem that wikipedia has, and OpenStreetMap has, for the same reasons: as it’s become a popular, largely-complete body of knowledge, the potential value of adding a new thing decreases (it’s probably either already there or not that important) while the potential for spam increases (due to popularity).

          As a result, gatekeeping becomes easy to justify.

          People engaged in the act of gatekeeping are not, as a rule, pleasant to deal with. The task encourages very unpleasant behavior and it takes tremendous emotional stability and effort to gatekeep politely.

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            Part of the problem here is that answerers have needs, too, and they often conflict with the needs of the askers. For example, answering the same questions over and over, or answering questions from people who clearly aren’t putting in the work to understand, is psychically draining. So far SO has heavily catered to the answerers, to the point it causes problems. But I get the impression that while people are starting to recognize the needs of askers, they’re framing it as if answerers don’t have needs at all.

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              For example, answering the same questions over and over, or answering questions from people who clearly aren’t putting in the work to understand, is psychically draining.

              Surely, answerers can simply step back and ignore a question too isn’t it? They are not under pressure to answer a noob question immediately. My experience has been that top answerers seem to be really happy to jump in and close questions only sparing a superficial glance at the question.

              Here is one question I asked. See how the first revision got closed almost immediately as a duplicate even though (1) the the question being asked is different, and (2) If somehow the answer to my question was contained in the linked question, the close vote should have explained how the answer is sufficiently related.

              To the credit of the close vote, they did eventually reverse their position, but it does not give me a good feeling about stack overflow when a top user uses a hammer to shutdown a question after only sparing a glance. Note also the number of points in that question 0. The reason is that every question that is being asked has a small time period during which it is in the front page, and possible experts see it. The person who shutdowns the question as duplicate essentially seals the fate of that question even if they eventually reverse their decision.

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                Here is one question I asked. See how the first revision got closed almost immediately as a duplicate even though (1) the the question being asked is different, and (2) If somehow the answer to my question was contained in the linked question, the close vote should have explained how the answer is sufficiently related.

                One problem here is that close votes are meant to be temporary. It’s not “closed”, it’s “put on hold”. The base idea is not bad, but there are many aspects that could be improved: how it’s communicated to the authors of questions, making it easier to reopen/redeem questions, etc.

                To the credit of the close vote, they did eventually reverse their position, but it does not give me a good feeling about stack overflow when a top user uses a hammer to shutdown a question after only sparing a glance.

                Even high-ranking Stack Overflow members can sometimes make mistakes. I actually know Antti a bit from my time in the Python chatroom, and he’s a pretty nice guy. From his perspective he’s trying to be helpful: “hey buddy, here’s your answer!”

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                  From his perspective he’s trying to be helpful: “hey buddy, here’s your answer!”

                  Perhaps. However, the way SO defines a close does not seem to indicate that it is a temporary hold.

                  SO does show the related answers on the sidebar as you type your title, and I think the answerers should give the askers the benefit of doubt and assume that the askers have seen the related links, and have explored them and found that those links do not answer their question. In this case, the minimum I would have expected from them is a comment first asking me if I have seen this question if they felt the question was sufficiently close.

                  “hey buddy, here’s your answer!” A close vote essentially says something negative about the question at hand, and I do not think that it will across as being helpful even if that was the intention.

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                I spent far more time answering questions than asking them, so I understand there are different needs for different people, but I don’t think they’re conflicting most of the time. If you go around assuming there are lots of lazy and idiot askers then yeah, that kind of negative cynicism feeds back and it becomes psychically draining, but you don’t need to do that.

                I have some more concrete ideas on how to improve things, and maybe I’ll make a second (more constructive, less rant-y) post in the future. I always felt like it was a waste of time since no action gets taken anyway.

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                  I think one of the problems is the high ratio of questions (in some topics) to answers, such that it is assumed that you are a novice/idiot. The experience is similar to calling company support and being given the usual list of basic “did you even try” question, or online support and matching your question to an existing knowledge-base/FAQ before giving you a contact.

                  That said, I’ve encountered plenty “expert” answered that take the position “If I don’t know the answer, there isn’t one” and will gladly tell you so - based purely on their ignorance of an answer. Saying “there is no solution” should require some reasoning beyond “I would know otherwise”.

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                  There usually aren’t technical solutions to social problems, but I would quite like to see a mechanism on SO whereby an unexplained down-vote incurs a major penalty, and over-enthusiastic down-voters could lose their down-vote rights.

                  On second thought, this would present its own set of challenges, and might not be feasible at all. Could the community self-govern through a mechanism like this without devolving into mob-rule? Would it be up to the moderators to more assertively moderate? Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

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                    I only write to SO in limited circumstances. I am very precise with my question (a la ESR), and I follow up after I’ve found the answer. I still have gotten downvotes.

                    I’m not sure what the right answer is because it is such a valuable resource. Maybe just let things continue as they are and if the community remains unfriendly to newcomers, the questions will fall off and the site will decay? I dunno.

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                      Don’t we have the same problem on lobste.rs? A rating of -20 not really common around here but technically certainly possible. Maybe it would make sense to cap the negative level to somewhere?

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                        On lobsters at least, I think a better idea would be to ask the downvoter to explain their reasoning in a comment private to the post. On the other hand, the current system of simply choosing a reason to downvote seems to work well. I rarely see downvotes here.

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                          The fact that new comments don’t show their score until they’ve aged out a bit helps a lot. I’d say the effect is still present but greatly reduced in impact.

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                            I always thought the down-vote concept a bit flawed as it is too easy to abuse.

                            Better not to have down-vote button imho.

                            It raises the bar for the use-case, so that the person wishing to down-vote and the original comment writer engage in a discussion instead; which seems healthy.

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                              TBH the few times I used downvote I didn’t really check if it was already at some low number.

                              /runs off to go look up if own downvotes are shown somewhere