15
$\begingroup$

There is a user who shall go unnamed (though many can probably guess who it is) that repeatedly posts questions and then answers the questions immediately after posting. This is not per se against the Stack Exchange rules as they do allow for self-answers, but the sheer multitude of posts by said user almost feels spammy. Moreover, many of the posts are light on background if they have any at all. At this point, it feels like Math Stack Exchange is said user's personal blog.

This is of course not to say that all question and answer format posts are bad. There have been many that were fairly insightful and even this user has had a number that were pretty good. I just feel that using the site in this way is bad form, and at this point few people even acknowledge the questions, probably due to fatigue. I have encouraged the user several times to keep the self-answer format posts to a minimum and instead shuffle a lot of this to a blog, keeping the really good ones for MSE. The user is very nice, if a bit stubborn in some ways, so I don't mean to disparage them and rather like them, but the posts are a little out of hand.

What can we as a community do to alleviate this? Should we take a firm stance on self-answered posts?

Here is a post by Potato from a couple of years ago that is quite relevant. Potato personally posted about 7 so questions related to the subject matter in the Meta post over a period of a few days (with none after that) so I wouldn't really call this behavior "spammy." Moreover, Potato stated that the behavior would be quite temporary while he was figuring out the subject matter and the general consensus was that it was fine given the short length of time. The user to which I am referring has been at this for well over a year with hundreds of questions of this nature.

$\endgroup$
  • 19
    $\begingroup$ As long as the quality of the posted questions and answers is OK, it doesn't seem like it's an issue... Given a satisfactory post and a satisfactory answer, I don't know why the names matching on the two would affect the evaluation. (I can't bring any judgement to bear on quality though because I have no idea who the user is. Perhaps they are not active in my tags.) I wouldn't want a user using us as a blog either, but the description given of this behavior does not really carry the worst qualities of blogging (i.e. high opinionation, obnoxious style etc). $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Oct 15 '15 at 16:55
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb The answers are usually detailed enough to follow (still could be improved a lot with some sort of narrative.. they're mostly just symbols but that's neither here nor there) but the questions are often very light on context. Somewhat like the question fell out of thin air, I suppose. This is likely an artifact of the fact that the posts are meant to be self-answered, so context is not important (since the user knows the context and isn't looking to receive input from others). $\endgroup$ – Cameron Williams Oct 15 '15 at 17:00
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ OK, then it sounds like quality is an issue, and I would also be concerned. Maybe another iteration of this question should be "should we have higher standards for questions intentionally asked for self-answering purposes?" $\endgroup$ – rschwieb Oct 15 '15 at 17:02
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @rschwieb I suppose that is the crux of my post at the heart of it. Do you have any thoughts about what standards should be imposed? $\endgroup$ – Cameron Williams Oct 15 '15 at 17:05
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I will just point out that a user cannot post more than 50 questions per months. Of course, over a longer period this can accumulate to much larger numbers. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 15 '15 at 18:22
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ What would happen if everyone upvotes his questions but not his self-answers? Also, he cannot accept his own answer, right? $\endgroup$ – Mr. Brooks Oct 15 '15 at 21:48
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I agree that it is good thing not to name the user and to discuss generic rather than discuss a specific user. Still it might be a good idea to ping that user on some of their post and link to this discussion, so that they are aware of this discussion. (Of course, it is your call - you know what user you had in mind, I can only guess. And there is also a danger that the discussion might become personal, which is certainly not a good thing.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 16 '15 at 10:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ The behavior described is a clear abuse of the purpose of the site, which is as much about the interaction between the asker and the answerer as it it about merely having an answer to a question. But it is unfortunately very difficult to do much about it. The Stackexchange company is not very worried about it, and indeed they have sometimes modified the software to encourage it without checking with the community first. The best you can do is to downvote and/or vote to close, unfortunately. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:20
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ The other problem with many of the blog-like posts is that they are bad blog posts. I have seen some self-answered questions which are essentially just private notes by an individual, with no motivation or context, just a statement of a technical lemma followed by a proof. A quality blog post would include much more in the way of background, explanation, and context. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:31
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Carl "[...] the site, which is as much about the interaction between the asker and the answerer as it it about merely having an answer to a question." This is a gross overstatement. Please, speak for yourself only, if you must make such pronouncements. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 17 '15 at 14:49
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ @quid: I don't view it as an overstatement. I have been a member of this site since very early in its history, and in my experience that was always the goal of the site. The idea that it was just a repository of questions was something pushed by Stackexchange.com (and a former employee) in particular, and it is a misconception some people bring from Stack Overflow, but it was never something that the community here proposed. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:51
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ @quid: no, I think that there is still a core aspect of this site that is about human interaction. For example, this is why comments are used so heavily here, and why we still have more reservations about editing others' posts in a way that might not respect the spirit of the original writing. In particular, I manage to have plenty of interaction with question askers on this site, which is why I am still here. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:56
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ I came across such a post, commented that a definition was missing, and got the response that the definition was in one of the previous questions of the series. $\endgroup$ – GEdgar Oct 17 '15 at 15:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ His posts usually leave me cold and salty. We should put a freeze on his actions ;). $\endgroup$ – Galois in the Field Oct 18 '15 at 2:11
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ Of all the problems the site has, F_S is one of easiest to ignore. I don't read their posts, and skip over them in the close queue. The energy is better spent elsewhere. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Oct 18 '15 at 4:56
17
$\begingroup$

I agree that questions and answers should be judged by their individual merits. Should a user provide a large number of useful self-answered questions, we should really count ourselves lucky that someone is taking the time to provide this service. I, for one, would greatly prefer this over the usual lazy homework/textbook/assignment/text/exam/contest/&c. copypasta with accompanying lazy HINT answer. (I should note that as of now I don't feel many of our highest total-score question/self-answer pairs are particularly useful, but I also don't think that this is particular to self-answered questions.)

On the other hand, users who are providing double-plus-un-useful content should be made aware of this through downvotes and comments (and possibly closures/deletions). Of course, this vigilance of separating the wheat (useful) from the chaff (not useful) should apply to all posts, not just self-answered questions.

It should be remarked that users who consistently post poor questions or answers can hit pretty major speed bumps that will temporarily keep them from further posting. (Outright question and answer bans are still possible to achieve, though pretty difficult.) This requires the community to use their votes (and at time even sacrifice some reputation imaginary internet points).

As a word of caution, none of the above should be used to justify going through a particular user's questions/answers to downvote/flag/close/delete them. Such serial activity will not be kindly looked on.

$\endgroup$
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ +1 Especially for the last paragraph. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Oct 18 '15 at 10:09
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Excellent answer. I do have one question: suppose said user posts something new and I downvote and vote to close. Over time, will this count as serial behavior? I know that short-term serial behavior is caught and appropriately dealt with, but I'm not sure about long-term. $\endgroup$ – Cameron Williams Oct 18 '15 at 15:58
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @CameronWilliams It may or may not (the details are not disclosed). If it's just an organic part of your downvotes, probably not. If you mostly downvote that user (and not others), and also you're the one who mostly downvotes them (and not others), then probably yes. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Oct 18 '15 at 17:33
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @Cameron Williams: serial downvoting is discouraged when it is aimed at a particular user in good standing regardless of content, such as in a ¨tit for tat" where you downvote someone's questions because they commented on a question of yours. If you downvote or vote to close because of poor content, well, that's what you're supposed to do. The automatic serial downvote detector occasionally has false positives because of such things, but the moderators are expected to look more deeply, rather than just trusting the software. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 18 '15 at 22:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl: Targeting a particular user with votes (up, down. left, right) can be grounds for suspension. The reputation (in the non-imaginary-internet-points sense) of the target is really immaterial. Sure, bad posts should be downvoted, and good ones upvoted, but this should happen, as Normal Human says, organically as you use the site. Going through a specific user's post history to mete out "justice" is not an organic use of the site. $\endgroup$ – user642796 Oct 18 '15 at 22:47
  • $\begingroup$ @Arthur Fischer: I posted specifically because there seems to be some "creep" in the description I see lately about rules about serial voting. For example, another user recently who was discovered to be posting many poor answers that were essentially just input and output of Maple. A combination of users seems to have focused on those answers, and many of them have been cleaned up now (n.b.: cleanup, not "justice") . When, as there, the actions are based on the quality of the posts, the moderators should (correctly) not attempt to prevent the cleanup. What other form of cleanup is possible? $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 18 '15 at 23:09
  • $\begingroup$ Moreover, the rules have always been about serial downvoting, not (for example) voting to close or voting to delete, which in any case require multiple users to have any effect. I cannot immediately find a thread on our site about "serial closing", and I understand there is no script to scan for "serial close votes" because (1) close votes are more public and (2) closed questions can be re-opened by the community. You even explained this once on a post on Meta Stackoverflow. So I am not sure that the last sentence of your answer is correct with regards to voting to close or delete. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 18 '15 at 23:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl there are numerous aspects to this. For what appears to be the current case, it seems that the contributions are made in good faith. Were made over a extended period of time and are numerous. It seems problematic on various levels if now some users (would) just form a team to "clean up" and cause major disruption in a users post-history. The user should better be notified about possible concerns. Personally I don't find many posts in their current form good enough(and believe to have voted on a couple of them negatively over time and recently), but at least in part they are not that bad. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 19 '15 at 16:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ With some guidance they might become a reasonable contribution. Except if one should oppose them out of principle. However, I really cannot see any justification for this. Under a different angle it is also problematic if some users are held to higher standards only because they somehow got picked up by some clean-up team. As a rule a kind of surveillance of a user just should not happen as it causes imbalances. The same goes for "fan clubs." (It's tangential but why you, given the importance you give to such matters elsewhere, just won't spell Stack Overflow is a mystery @Carlmummert :-) $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 19 '15 at 16:25
  • $\begingroup$ @quid: there is an issue that, if someone sees a post that is below the normal standards, but not obviously spam, they may think it is a one-off thing and let it go. That's fine - regular contributors should have a little leeway for occasional borderline posts. Only by looking at the activity history would it be clear that a user is posting 100s of "Maple only" answers, or large numbers of poor-quality posts. Once we discover those, we should not say that they are now unfixable because they slipped through the cracks originally! Separately, the user alluded to by OP is aware of the issue. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 19 '15 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ So I don't see this as "higher standards" - I see it as the regular standards, which the user has avoided following. That was certainly the case with Maple user. It is not the moderators' role to enforce such things - and they will complain if flags are used. The community is supposed to handle cleaning up that sort of content. Of course, other users can vote to re-open or undelete, which is not the case with upvotes or downvotes, which do not directly lead to a queue or log and which can't be completely undone by other non-moderators. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 19 '15 at 21:17
  • $\begingroup$ @Carl no-one said we should say they are unfixable. In fact what I am trying to say is that there should be some effort towards fixing the situation, which is not the same as just removing it. Besides, that Maple thing was pretty odd in some respects, involving what seems like very private biases and grudges, but let us not go there. (Also I do not mean you.) $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 19 '15 at 22:07
26
$\begingroup$

The user-interface actively encourages self-answers; I do not think it is reasonable to override this completely. Moreover, self-answered questions can be useful and I believe to recall various established users on this site used them on some occasions.

However, I do think quite firmly that it is alright to impose higher standards on self-answered questions. For a normal question there is the aspect of helping out the OP in addition to the idea of creating a repository of knowledge. For a self-answered question this point is not really present and the question should be judged on its merits in contributing to the site as a repository of knowledge. If the contribution is good under this angle, I do not see anything to be upset about. If it does not meet our standards the usual means of quality control (down-vote, close-vote, delete-vote) can be used.

I said something quite similar already earlier Can I post a question and an answer just because I think it helps others? (but the angle seems somewhat different so I did not vote it as duplicate).

$\endgroup$
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I actually was going to link to your old answer before but the topic was a bit different so I wasn't sure if I should. My suggestion about having a firmer stance was directly inspired by your answer therein. $\endgroup$ – Cameron Williams Oct 15 '15 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ The more annoying aspect of this is that it allows crap self-accepted answers on top. Prime example (from another site): electronics.stackexchange.com/questions/189285/… $\endgroup$ – Fizz Oct 25 '15 at 6:30
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @RespawnedFluff Self-accept does not pin the answer to the top. Check your example now. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Oct 25 '15 at 8:15
3
$\begingroup$

Why does it matter who the post's author is? If it is a useful on-topic question; it remains a useful on-topic question no matter who has asked it. If it isn't, then downvote and/or vote to close it so that it may be deleted later. It is wrong to judge questions/answers differently based on who is the author.

If you wouldn't downvote or close a question if it had been asked by somebody else, then you should not downvote or close the question.

If somebody produces a stream of good questions that represent actual on-topic problems (about understanding mathematical concepts and theorems, hints on mathematical problems, history and development of mathematics, solving mathematical puzzles, software that mathematicians use) with good answers, then the more the better.

$\endgroup$
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ The underlying purpose of the site is facilitate asking questions to others and answering questions others have asked. In other words, the purpose of the site is not to be merely a dry repository of answers, but more importantly to facilitate interaction between people with questions and people with answers. Users who want to interact just with themselves would be better served by using their own blog. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:24
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert In your opinion that's the purpose. From my own experience the statement "MSE serves as a repository of knowledge useful to people who aren't involved with the original question/answers in addition to people who are" is what I hear the purpose is. $\endgroup$ – Zach466920 Oct 17 '15 at 14:26
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert: the site is not a social network. It is not a help forum. It is Q&A site. Most (90+% for Stack Overflow) visitors are from google. $\endgroup$ – jfs Oct 17 '15 at 14:27
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @J.F. Sebastian: a Q&A site is, by definition, a help forum. The purpose of the site is to help people who have questions by answering their questions. And it is a forum where anyone can post. We need to keep the humanistic aspect of this in mind. Stackexchange.com (and Stackoverflow in particular) tries to emphasize other things, but that has never been the purpose of this site. $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:29
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This answer is an example of how users who are not part of this community should avoid imposing the norms of other communities (e.g. Stackoverflow) on this one. As far as I can tell, the answerer here has almost no activity in this community - math.stackexchange.com/users/1665/j-f-sebastian?tab=activity ! $\endgroup$ – Carl Mummert Oct 17 '15 at 14:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Carl the issue is what "their questions" means exactly. Sometimes I have a question, a tex-related one, so I search for an answer. Sometimes the good folks at TeX - LaTeX help me with my question but I never posted a question there (but the the content is there already). As should be clear from my answer I do see a difference, however I strongly agree with OP that this site is a not intended as a "help forum," by which I understand a site where individuals are aided in dealing with their problems in mathematics. It is a site to provide answer to questions. And, again it is Stack Overflow. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 17 '15 at 14:42
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Carl taking this to the end we should stop duplicate-closing. Perhaps from your perspective this is a good idea, but it is certainly not the site's policy. $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 17 '15 at 14:53
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @CarlMummert: do you see the irony? You are attacking the author of the answer which says that you should not attack the author: you should judge the content on its own merits — no matter who said it. I agree that each community on SE network may choose for itself what rules to enforce. See quid's comment on the meaning of "help forum" in this context. $\endgroup$ – jfs Oct 17 '15 at 15:05
  • 9
    $\begingroup$ While I may only agree with some of what @Carl have said, I do strongly believe that people who are not part of this community, should avoid pretending like we care what they have to say. Especially when they compare us to other communities. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Oct 17 '15 at 15:13
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @J.F.Sebastian: On the other hand, the truthiness of "Brides wear white dresses" changes depending on the culture one says it in. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Oct 17 '15 at 15:31
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @J.F.Sebastian: If you come to my house and decide to walk around naked "because that's how you do it at home", I can't give you any counterargument other than "that's not how we do it here". That's all I have to say about that. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Oct 17 '15 at 15:50
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @Asaf this is a bit disappointing. To avoid a misunderstanding the disappointment is that you cannot give an argument; on whether or not you allow visitors to walk around naked I am indifferent. :-) $\endgroup$ – quid Oct 17 '15 at 16:11
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @quid: Don't get me wrong. I do think and agree that input from visitors and transient users is important. That's how regulars are born. The question is on what subjects, and what is the opinion. It's fine that a toddler expresses the opinion that he will only eat chocolate cake from now on, it doesn't mean that it should be taken seriously. But since none of the users here are toddlers, there's little point in exercises in futility, like letting newcomers talk about norms they are not familiar with on this site, as if they were the same everywhere else. $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Oct 17 '15 at 23:19
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ (Regardless of the previous debate) @J.F.Sebastian The problem here is that all the questions asked by the user we are speaking about are missing context, are not very readable, use custom notations (and since s/he often makes "series" of questions you need to check previous questions), etc. So the questions, evaluated on their own, need to be closed. When a user exhibits a behavior that leads to most of their questions being closed (and in this case it's so bad it contributes to the clogging of the RQ), there's a problem. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Oct 18 '15 at 8:32
  • 8
    $\begingroup$ Don't bother wasting your delete votes on this answer, because I will undelete it (and, if need be, lock it). $\endgroup$ – user642796 Oct 18 '15 at 8:57

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .