One question that eventually surfaces on many new Stack Exchange sites is this: What do we do about questions where the asker is looking for software?
These questions oftentimes are based on a legitimate need, but it's a need that can generally be solved with Google Trends or with some research. The asker has a problem that he or she believes can be solved by obtaining a piece of software, so the asker posts a question on a forum or Q&A site in hopes of crowdsourcing a solution. However, these questions tend to be problematic for a number of different reasons:
- The asker doesn't do any research on his or her own, something that generally produces much better questions more likely to attract experts.
- They don't describe the problem in detail that the software should solve.
- They don't treat our community as experts but instead treat us as a proxy to a Google search.
- They don't focus on learning. Stack Exchange exists to help teach folks how to fish, not merely give them a fish.
- These questions tend to attract spam and low quality answers that are nothing more than a link to a third party site.
- As technology moves very fast, the answers may soon become outdated and useless to future visitors.
In the Stack Exchange blog post, Q&A Is Hard, Let's Go Shopping, Stack Exchange Co-Founder and CTO Jeff Atwood describes how these questions could possibly be reworded to focus more on the Stack Exchange mission, to provide expert answers to questions that explain why and how and that teach not merely tell.
In general, if we can coax the motivation for asking such a question from the asker, we may be able to provide an actual answer to the problem, not just a link to a resource that may or may not still be valid a year from now. One way to do this is to ask how one might evaluate software that solves a particular problem, similar to the examples cited in the blog post:
Example of a bad question:
Q: What’s the best low light point-and-shoot camera?
A: Canon S90 and Lumix LX3.
Example of a better way to word that question:
Q: How do I tell which point-and-shoot cameras take good low light photos?
A: I strongly recommend looking for something with
- a fast lens (2.0 at least)
- reasonable ISO handling (at least 400, but preferably 800)
the biggest sensor available
The sum of these factors are really critical for low light situations.
While the former question will be useless in a year, the latter question will still be valuable long after the answers are posted.
Without serious editing, these posts may very well harm our quality in the long run, as people who visit the site a year from now, who find outdated answers, may be less likely to come back and use this resource again.
I propose adding these questions as a custom, off-topic reason and that we as a community do everything in our power to first try to edit them into shape. If they can't be improved, we should flag them or vote to close them if they don't describe a real, actual problem faced in the Freelancing sector.