Proposal: Stack Overflow Academy

This seems like a complete waste of time. Surely it'll be overwhelmed with vampires and half-asked questions, and anyone able to help will leave in disgust?

  • I'm more concerned, it's actually a meta-site, and the existing sites has already their meta sites. Commented Jul 28, 2014 at 8:51

2 Answers 2


I do believe there is need for an outreach program to help people learn how to ask for help; but I am having huge misgivings about this particular solution, creating another standalone top-level site. Consider the experiences of the random Internet traveler…

A users comes across a site to ask questions about programming, or… a user comes across a site to ask about how to ask questions about programming. See the problem?

Area 51 has this problem in spades — "No, this isn't a Q&A site; it's a Q&A site to talk about making Q&A sites." So folks wandering in here looking for a bit of help return to find ridicule that they're doing it wrong, or in this case standing in the wrong line the whole time. It is a terrible end-user experience. And this will happen. Alot.

We can try to explain this away through another round of faqs and popup tooltips and a big dose of heavy-handed moderation; but that never mitigates that first-time user experience of just getting it wrong.

Look at the example question already proposed for "Stack Overflow Academy":

  • SQL Server is being very slow. How can I ask for advice on making it faster?
  • How can I transform my wall of code into a "minimal, complete, and verifiable" example? I don't know where to begin, can't I just post everything?
  • There has to be a library for creating PDF files. How do I find one without my question being closed?

At a glance, these look like perfectly legitimate "programming issues". Google certainly won't know the difference; they'll bring people here in droves. You would have to parse that list very very carefully to realize this isn't a site for programming problems at all.

This whole thing is just too subtle to be a top-level detached site. People will end up here for the wrong reasons. I'm not talking about the select few people who follow these meta post and study all the faqs to learn all these nuances, but the average person we are trying to help with this site.

I don't want to overstate the problems with creating a stand-alone Q&A site to learn how to use that other Q&A site, but I just don't think this is the way to go here. Maybe something more closely integrated into Stack Overflow. Maybe.

Good idea; I just think this particular solution is taking the wrong path.

  • 3
    Yes, if this site ends up polluting Google search results for actual programming questions, nobody will be happy. I'd disallow bots from crawling the Academy, and add prominent links to it in the close reasons on SO. Maybe with a one-click migration tool: "help me improve this question", which takes the user and their question to the academy.
    – user109720
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 21:30
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    You're quite right, of course - but that's going to be a problem regardless of venue; it's just the nature of the topic. As far as that goes, our sites for Writers, Photos and Biblical Hermeneutics have all attracted the odd programming question; at some level this is a problem with being in any way associated with Stack Overflow, even without questions that look sorta programmerish. Existing sites like Code Review and Software Engineering have to deal with this every day - so, they close, explain, and move on.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 11, 2014 at 18:49
  • 2
    Meta Stack Exchange already has this problem. Just pointing out another example of where this problem already exists. Commented Jul 30, 2014 at 15:15

So we got to talking...

Folks have been asking for a coaching / mentoring / tutoring / purgatory system for years... I'm a bit skeptical that such a thing could work, but, hey - I'm often wrong about things I don't care about. So maybe it's time to give something like this a chance.

Here's what I'm thinking: what if we provided folks who were struggling or intimidated about asking a good question on Stack Overflow a place to run their concerns past folks who've already learned how to ask an effective question. They could get feedback on their wording, help learning how to debug and write a minimal example, one-on-one guidance.

I don't think this would be of much interest - or use - to the "vampires" who grind their way through their jobs without learning; if they wanted to put more effort into getting their questions asked, they wouldn't be a problem. But for that minority of folks who do want to learn but aren't sure where to start... It might actually be useful.

The big question in my mind is: does anyone really want to participate in such an endeavor? Or have all these requests been just "talk", the usual "this would be great of other people ran it and still others used it, so I didn't have to deal with either of them" blather.

Fortunately, that is the sort of question that Area51 is designed to answer...

  • 1
    So, the expected "accepted answer" on a question on this site would be a better worded/formatted version of the initial inquiry that would then be copy-pasted to Stack Overflow?
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 20:38
  • "They could get feedback on their wording, help learning how to debug and write a minimal example, one-on-one guidance." There could be a canonical question or two on how to debug certain types of languages (print statements vs debugers, C# vs PHP, etc). Do we then close repeat questions of those as duplicates, without guidance? Same with how to write a minimal example. Or we could go the other way, and provide help for thousands of minor variations of those canonicals. If that is acceptable, wouldn't this stop being Q&A and turn into a discussion forum? Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 20:51
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    There may indeed be experienced SO users who would be willing to help people ask better questions, but is Stack Exchange's Q&A format really a good fit for that? Wouldn't an actual forum be better suited to this task, if in fact it comes down to having to host personalized discussions? Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 20:59
  • Would this actually become a full-blown site? I mean, if it's going to be used specific to Stack Overflow, it sounds like it'd be better off being like a second Meta site for Stack Overflow. Obviously it wouldn't make sense to have a Meta site for a Meta site, and it wouldn't make sense to have separate reputation for this site since a user's reputation on Stack Overflow is still a pretty direct correspondence to how helpful they'd be here. But then, who really wants to visit two separate Meta sites for one topic? This whole things sounds like we're just on a path to splitting Meta.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 21:07
  • 1
    Possibly, @Anna; I'd prefer to see answers similar to what we often find on Code Review though: specific suggestions for improvement that can then be used by the asker to generate an appropriate question. Something like this.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 21:26
  • @Cupcake: one of the persistent problems we've had developing this guidance on SO is that it is always a compromise between being general enough to apply to the thousands and thousands of different people from different background asking different questions... And still specific enough to be useful to them as they attempt to apply it to their problems. Perhaps... There is a long tail of questions about questions.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 21:29
  • I talk a bit about that here, @animuson
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 21:30
  • @Shog9 so about Animuson's question about whether this would be a full-blown site, if this does turn out to be a more discussion based thing instead of being suited to Q&A, would it be easier to set up a feature with SO/MSO were users wanting personalized help can request a mentor, who would then help the user out over in a private chat room? I guess the real-time nature of chat wouldn't work out for users who have to be asynchronous in scheduling though. Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 21:34
  • Pretty down on private chat for this purpose, @Cupcake. Not that we already see creepery people inviting folks into their rooms for "tutoring" or anything, mind you - purely philosophical objection. But yeah, it's possible a Q&A site isn't the best model here. Worth a shot though - I was pretty down on the whole idea of Code Review too, but I think they've done ok.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 9, 2014 at 21:39
  • @Shog9 can we expand the scope to include how to ask good questions on Meta Stack Overflow too? This newbie, for example, could sure use a few pointers. Asking Meta questions is an art, perhaps more difficult than the technical stuff. There might be some overlap between Meta and SO that we can take advantage of, e.g. need for prior research, etc. Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 9:31
  • 1
    Not overly-concerned about meta right now, @Cupcake. Folks tend to get back what they put in.
    – Shog9
    Commented Jul 10, 2014 at 13:40

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