I am relatively new to SE, but I have noticed something quite peculiar. I often am reading lots of old questions (years old) and encounter many that are very short, show very little self-attempt, and are probably just homework questions, yet, they have far more upvotes than I would expect. When I see these types of questions that are asked in the past year or so, they are usually downvoted very quickly, or have few to no upvotes.

I am not talking about massively upvoted questions, just everyday questions such as these: this question, this question, this one, and this one.

It seems as though the culture of acceptable questions on SE has dramatically changed over time, and I am wondering why? Perhaps when the SE was newer, users were more likely to upvote because there were far fewer questions?

My question is similar to this one, however, it was posted 3 years ago and it seems this phenomenon has increased greatly since.

  • 14
    $\begingroup$ (1) the culture has probably changed over time, but also (2) there are questions asked today which are not acceptable, but which nevertheless are not closed/deleted, as there are not enough eyes to deal with every question asked---this has always been true, thus there are questions asked ages ago, which weren't appropriate at the time of asking, but which have managed to survive. $\endgroup$
    – Xander Henderson Mod
    Apr 18, 2022 at 17:07
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    $\begingroup$ Another aspect of time is that upvotes can accumulate, so seeing older Questions with "tons of upvotes" may happen when users find that a problem they have was already asked and answered. I don't think it is bad if that's how it happens. The timeline of a Question might reveal how quickly votes accumulated. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Apr 18, 2022 at 17:17
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    $\begingroup$ Requirement for context was definitely a thing even a decade ago, but there was less pressure then to be obeying the letter of the law. $\endgroup$
    – ryang
    Apr 19, 2022 at 1:48
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have solid evidence for this, but i have the impression that COVID lock downs left lots of students with severely reduced access to teachers, and dealing with the resulting flood affected the population and the culture here. $\endgroup$ Apr 19, 2022 at 4:14
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    $\begingroup$ Some of this drift is natural and a product of MSE's success - there are fewer new questions that can get away without as much motivation/context/etc in the post after 10 years of this site's existence because they've already been posted. $\endgroup$
    – KReiser
    Apr 19, 2022 at 8:26
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    $\begingroup$ How many upvotes in a ton? $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2022 at 5:42
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    $\begingroup$ Seriously though, when an old question pops up I find myself wishing I were there back in 2011. Answers regularly got 50 upvotes back then, and they weren't anything special! $\endgroup$
    – Mike
    Apr 20, 2022 at 19:42
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    $\begingroup$ @Mike 10 years from now, many recent questions will have 50+ upvotes. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2022 at 22:46
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    $\begingroup$ Some of the old questions were dealing with elementary topics for the first time. Now such questions are inevitably duplicates one way or another and tend to be marked as such. I think the culture has changed, and partly because that elementary part of the question spectrum is pretty saturated. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2022 at 13:44
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    $\begingroup$ Another reason is that there has broadly been a move to abstract questions and to dealing with the mathematical content, rather than (as some of us did more in the past) trying to help people negotiate their personal mental blocks with the material. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2022 at 13:46
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    $\begingroup$ I see from this thread that "prohibiting answers in comments" has not made its way into the enforced quality standards yet. /s $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2022 at 11:30
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    $\begingroup$ I occasionally come here to ask quick questions when I can't locate an expert colleague or don't want to bother them with an easy problem. The "quality" police (who usually have nothing mathematically interesting to add) have been noticeably more annoying in recent years. They even downvote and vote to close. It's just completely rude. $\endgroup$
    – wzzx
    Apr 27, 2022 at 17:04
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    $\begingroup$ This is annoying, I am rarely here, usually in stack overflow as a CS researcher, but sometimes I have math related questions and a subsets of those times I can't find the answer and I don't have a mathematician at hand. Today I decided to see if I could get help with such a question here. Someone downvoted it and left no comment either. Usually when I downvote someone on stackoverflow I comment explaining why, particularly if he is an occasional user. $\endgroup$ Apr 28, 2022 at 9:55
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    $\begingroup$ I think more questions get zapped nowadays under the guise of 'presumed no effort'. Some get deleted without any explanation. There is an admirable effort to accumulate standard answers to standard questions, but I have difficulty locating it. $\endgroup$
    – copper.hat
    May 1, 2022 at 2:31
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    $\begingroup$ I have also observed that the site has taken a more formal and bureaucratic and less friendly atmosphere over the years. It has definitely dampened my interest here. I generally don't engage with low quality questions anyways, but the general air of hostility makes the place un-fun. It feels like a bad homeowners association, with self-appointed authorities going around harassing everyone for minor infractions. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Alger
    May 2, 2022 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


I left this website because my most interesting questions, to me, were closed or deleted on the basis of lack of research and notation. I do not believe the sight's guidelines are defined in such a way that they encourage the asking of new questions, because not only are questions which don't meet them down-voted and edited, but also closed, resulting in them never being answered.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ It may not be germane to making the point you want to make here, but your present account is less than a year old, so "I left this website" seems out of context. The Question you responded to was posed by a self-described "relatively new" user, and they relate interest in whether "acceptable questions changed on SE over time" to reading older posts (and noting theri upvotes). Closing Questions is intended to prevent answers being posted until edits bring the problems up to site standards. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Jan 13 at 15:41
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    $\begingroup$ So unless I left more than a year ago, I didn't leave at all? It seems like a slightly arbitrary cut off to me. All I meant is that (until my comment), I hadn't used the website for a long time, which seems like a reasonable definition of "left", and I thought it was relevant to the original question for obvious reasons. I understand the intended purpose of closing questions, but I was commenting on the effects, which are that it was (when I left), and probably still is, very difficult to get a question answered if you aren't experienced with mathematical notation or communication. $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 15:02
  • $\begingroup$ I should say that I didn't intend this to be an answer, but rather a comment, although it seems I am unable to comment on the main thread. I will add one more point here which seems to support @Clyde Kertzer's impression, which is that the Mathematics Stack Exchange website describes itself as a Mathematics question and answer site, yet whenever I asked any of the users here, they told me that the primary purpose of the site was to collate a "library" of mathematics, not answering questions. This seems to suggest the culture has changed to me. $\endgroup$ Jan 14 at 15:10
  • $\begingroup$ My point was to let you know that some of that context, so obvious to you, would be missing for your Readers. Yes, the FAQ highlights two purposes, to help learners of mathematics at all levels and to "collect and curate" answers to all questions in mathematics. There is an aspirational component of both goals, but rightly understood it explains the requirements for quality content and the mechanisms for voting and editing of posts. With a little effort one reaches the 50 points of reputation necessary to comment everywhere. $\endgroup$
    – hardmath
    Jan 14 at 16:57
  • $\begingroup$ I understand that both purposes exist, but it seems(from the way other users explained it to me, when I previously asked why questions are closed) that the way this site attempts to achieve the former almost entirely consists of the latter. It seems to me that the goal to "collect and curate" answers to all questions in mathematics,of which there are an infinite number, has superseded the goal of answering them (please correct me). You say with little effort one reaches 50 points of reputation, but in my experience it is not at all easy if you aren't experienced with notation/communication. $\endgroup$ Jan 15 at 11:51

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