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A few times, I've seen questions where a considerable bulk of the question text is devoted to a question that's really more appropriate for StackOverflow or Programmers. But by posting code, the question manages to technically fulfill the requirements for a code review question, essentially adhering to the letter, but- I'd suggest- not the spirit of the site.

A recent example is this question: Dependency Injection into an Abstract Class, where the edit history is particularly revealing. Another one is Exceptions or something else? .


One possible line to take on this is that if an asker posts some code and a question relating to one particular aspect, an answerer isn't obliged to focus their review on the question. So we say: sure, an asker can try this box-ticking approach, but there's no reason to think they'll be happy with the result.

But often, especially if the off-topic question is interesting enough, an answerer will want to answer it. This happened with both of the above example questions- and for the second one, the "guilty" answerer was me. Plus, I'd suspect most askers who do this simply don't realise their question would be a better fit for another site. If their question is a better fit for Programmers, then they'd probably be happier with the response they get on that site.

So what you end up with is an off-topic question with a token code snippet attached to it, matched by an off-topic answer with a token code review attached to it.


So my questions are:

  1. Is this actually a problem at all?
  2. If so, is it a problem we can do anything about?
  3. If so, what can we do?
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I've been wanting to leave my thoughts on this matter for a while now. It's been difficult for me to articulate my feelings about this, but I'm going to try.

Is this a problem at all?

Yes. I believe it is a problem, albeit not an earth shattering "this will ruin the site problem" it is a problem. More often than not, these kinds of questions get answered with the same types of answers that we would write for any question. After all, "an answerer isn't obliged to focus their review on the question".

However, you see, that's a confusing thing for people who aren't familiar with how we work. That's different from any other Q & A site out there. OP has a problem, so they asked a question and expect an answer to that question. Some one answering to their post may or may not address that question.

If OP's actual question isn't addressed, they are likely to get confused and frustrated. This leads to a poor experience in my opinion.

If so, is there anything we can do about it?

Yes. I believe there are a few things we can do.

  1. We can close them.

    Recently there was a (now deleted) question asking about code behavior. The question was otherwise on topic, but OP didn't really want a code review. They had a problem to solve and wanted an answer to a direct question. I voted to close using the "Other" reason and left this custom close reason.

    This question appears to be off-topic because it is about understanding the behavior of the code and not a request for a review of the Code.

    This sends a clear message to the OP that their question is off topic along with why it is off topic. We close an off topic question and OP learns a little bit about being a good citizen here on CR.

  2. We can flag the question for migration.

    Until we are 100% out of beta, the only direct migration path we have is to our meta, but posts can be flagged for moderator attention asking for a migration to another site. Please only flag for migration if:

    • The question is off topic here.
    • You're confident the question is on topic for the target site.
    • It's a new question. (There are time limits on migration.)
    • Any answers on the question would be acceptable answers on the target site.
    • As a general rule of thumb, don't migrate crap. We don't like it when people do it to us, let's not do it to others.
  3. We can leave a comment letting OP know that we think the question is a better fit for another SE site.

    If you're not entirely sure the question is off topic here, then it may be best to just leave a comment letting OP know that they might get a better experience on another SE. Again, please be sure the question would be on topic at the target site. If you're not 100%, point them to the target site's help center and meta. Like migration, we get upset when people point off topic questions to our site, let's not send off topic questions to theirs. Also, if you know the question will need some rephrasing/reformatting in order to be a good question on the target site, please let OP know that too.

Of the three options available to us, I like this one the least. It often leads to cross posting and a lack of understanding about the target site can lead to two bad questions being posted. Personally, I prefer to just close off topic questions.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the answer! I think there are two issues that make these approaches less effective than they could be: 1. By posting code, the question does check all the boxes to be correctly within the scope of this site. So the line will always be blurred about whether closing/migrating the question which is apparently technically okay for this site is actually correct. 2. As I mentioned, if the real question is sufficiently interesting, often an answerer will actually want to answer it, so they have no reason to pick one of these three options \$\endgroup\$ – Ben Aaronson Jan 4 '15 at 14:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @BenAaronson I would argue that questions like these fail the "Do I want feedback about any and all facets of the code?" test. Your second point is much harder to deal with. Unfortunately, there's not much we can do other than set a good example for others to follow. \$\endgroup\$ – RubberDuck Jan 4 '15 at 15:03
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My guesses:

  1. Is this actually a problem at all?

From the POV of the OP, closing the question is a problem. That's why I hurried to answer one of the two questions above. What are are alternatives:

  • The questions gets closed here and the OP comes never again. Not optimal, right?
  • The questions gets closed here and reposted elsewhere. Then there's a duplicate, at least temporarily.
  • The questions gets moved. I've already asked somewhere why can't we simply vote for moving?

But it can get more funny. There are people on SO which thing that any snippet disqualifies the question for SO and vote to close it as it supposedly belong here. And so on...

I guess, there are about the same people here as on SO or programmers, it's just that on SO there is much more of them. IMHO unless the question requires some very special knowledge, there's no difference in the quality.

Unlike SO, CR has little value for future searches, so it's all less relevant. The OP get their answers and nobody else really cares.

If so, is it a problem we can do anything about?

The only problem is the strange site split. There are always border cases and there are newbies amazed (or shocked?) by this strange decision. YMMV.

If so, what can we do?

Lower the barrier between the sites? Imagine, you would have ignored the CR aspect of the question, answered the real question only, and voted for moving to SO. The OP would see your vote as a movement proposal and most probably accept it (the question could be moved also without his cooperation assuming enough votes).

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    \$\begingroup\$ We can't move cause we're still beta site. \$\endgroup\$ – Pimgd Oct 3 '14 at 20:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ We can't move cause we're still beta site and because of a rule stating that beta can't move. However, voting for moving does not exist on other sites either. IMHO both should be changed. \$\endgroup\$ – maaartinus Oct 3 '14 at 21:01

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