Possible duplicate or follow-on of: Questions lacking minimal understanding

One of the perennial cries in ServerFault is that new users' questions often show a lack of research. This leads to a quick jump on the downvote button and a Vote to Close from the veteran SFers.

A hypothetical example would be someone asking how to open up a port for SSH on their firewall. It's a simple procedure that could be Googled, sure. It could also be answered in a canonical way, and it's completely relevant aside from the answer already being present on the first Google hit for "Firewall model X open SSH port".

What would we lose by allowing such questions, as long as they're otherwise on-topic and answerable in the Q/A format?

As a case for tolerance, I believe that newer SF users would be able to participate more by answering the simple questions. Even if all they have to do is Google for it, it adds pageviews and visibility for SF and helps both the asker and askee learn. SF vets who don't particularly care for uninteresting questions could just pass them over.

As a case against, I could see this lowering the average quality of questions a bit. Editing and high standards would have to be applied so that this didn't turn into a slightly refined Yahoo! Answers.

What does the community think?

  • 6
    IMHO, the response to "no research" questions should be closing... As a duplicate. Hence the recent efforts to make dup-closing faster/easier - there are a lot of poorly-researched questions that should be closed. If there's no duplicate, then all it takes is one good answer to damn all future poorly-researched questions... Related: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/210840/…
    – Shog9
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 23:20

3 Answers 3


Absolutely not.

You're basically suggesting that we allow the help vampires to take over and run rampant. This is a horrible idea. And I do mean a literal horror.

The problem is that encouraging people to not do their own research encourages them to interrupt others for a simple question they could have looked up themselves in a few seconds. You've probably had at least one annoying coworker exactly like this, who comes up to your desk and asks you a simple question which Google's I'm Feeling Lucky would have answered faster and in better depth, and more importantly, without you spending the next 15 minutes trying to figure out where to hide the body. Eventually you're spending more time plotting his murder than actually getting any work done.

But it's somehow OK to encourage this behavior on SF, or for that matter, anywhere? I don't think so. It doesn't do us any favors, and it doesn't do them any favors either:

Eventually people burn out after being faced with an onslaught of help vampires. (If they survive at all.) This means the sort of high quality people who write high quality answers leave Server Fault, which is exactly the opposite of what we want.

And let's not forget the detrimental effect on the help vampire. If they don't eventually change their ways, this field is going to end up full of people who can't or won't think and rely on others to do all of their work for them. There are already too many such people in IT; do you really want more of them?

  • 5
    Additionally, it's usually quicker to make friends with your favorite search engine than asking (typing up) a question on virtually any SE site, and waiting for someone to come along, read it, understand what your needs are, and type up an answer. Even in the best of cases, that's a lot of time you could have spent Googling! (Or reading tvtropes.org, but make sure you turn off web proxy URL logging first...)
    – user
    Commented May 14, 2015 at 22:13

I'd disagree as well, but for a different reason than Michael Hampton suggests (though I agree with all of that).

This is a rant I've typed up many times, but never shared because it never seemed on-topic. Well, in this thread, it is on topic!

I consider these type of questions (the "Help Vampire" type) to be a bane and disease on the Web. So much so, that I've even come to hate Google for even indexing them.

These questions come, in their endless repetition, and each one has a slightly different answer by someone different. That alone isn't the problem; the problem is that Google, and the other search engines, index these endless, duplicate posts about tier 1 issues, and suddenly you can't get a meaningful result from search engines without digging through over a decade of the same crap over and over.

I'll give an generalized example of what I mean.

I come across an annoying problem; I'm knowledgeable enough (in my day job, I'm a tier 3 sysadmin) to have tried some of the more obvious solutions, but I'm still stumped. Maybe there's a quirk, or a differing configuration, or something, but the stock two-second answer just doesn't cut it.

So I head to Google. Now, my Google-fu is not the best, but I craft up a decent query about my problem. And I hit search.

And then I'm greeted with page after page of the same question, and the same stupid tier 1 answer, from blog after blog after forum after SE site.

Sometimes I might get one that's both current (and I define this as 3 years, but even that is too long for some questions/problems) and matches my problem. But of course, due to the aforementioned Help Vampire-type posts and the fatigue they cause, the newer questions don't have a reasonable answer. Or perhaps someone 5 years ago (and keep in mind, that means twenty-freaking-TEN, practically yesterday in terms of Google results) ran into the same quirk I did, but the one answer doesn't work due to [older software/different software/another problem]. And if I want to comment in that thread on a random forum from 5 years ago because I truly think it might be relevant? Well, that's "necroposting", and for reasons that I have seriously, in my 15+ years on the web, never understood, that's considered bad.

Now, I realize that this is a general rant, and frankly in my experience it applies more often to crappy blogs and forums that just reblog and repost the same garbage across the Internet, yielding two pages of results that all say the same thing.

But Stack Exchange is huge. And it's indexed. So the more crap that is allowed to remain; not just bad questions, but also bad and lazy and repetitive answers; the more we end up with search engines polluted by junk answers that don't actually help anybody.

We're in 2015. We've had over 15 years of Google. 15 years of old blog posts and forums and cruft. That alone is bad enough; we don't need to pollute our precious search engines with even more crap because stupid and/or lazy people can't do their own research.


  • 5
    We like new answers to old questions, provided the answers are good, of course. Commented May 29, 2015 at 0:43
  • 5
    Precisely. I love giving new fresh answers with my modern experience. But I see problems in the other direction as well: things like Docker containers and premade VMs and templates and (basic) walkthroughs are numerous and make it easy to be a very lazy sysadmin and/or programmer; someone who just follows a walkthrough or set of steps with no thought behind it. I think good question platforms like SE are crucial as long as they are treated like a fine garden: well-pruned and maintained. Commented May 29, 2015 at 1:24
  • 4
    I like you. Please stick around!
    – Jenny D
    Commented May 29, 2015 at 6:49

I feel like many of these simple questions fit into a handful of common topics:

  • firewall configuration (iptables in particular)
  • email spam avoidance
  • securing SSH or other SSH auth issues
  • apache/nginx vhost problems
  • maybe a few others.

Perhaps instead of just closing them outright, we should make canonical QAs for each of them so they can be close/dupe'd.

I don't have the time right now to devote to writing these answers, but I would very willingly fund a generous bounty for good-quality canonical answers.

Beyond that, though, we're not doing these people any favors by enabling their handout-seeking behavior. Perhaps instead of LARTing them into oblivion, we should gently point them to the relevant documentation and tell them to come back with specific questions after they've banged their head against the wall for a while.

  • 1
    As a side note, if you're intending to leave a canonical answer to deal with these problems I recommend labeling your answer as such. I can't even count the number of times I've answered "how can I use PAM-based two factor with GSSAPI or ssh keys" (not possible, but honestly not a bad question), only for the Q&A to get shunted over to another site.
    – Andrew B
    Commented May 15, 2015 at 13:33
  • 1
    On a rainy afternoon I typed up something that might form the basis for a canonical iptables question here
    – HBruijn
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 20:46
  • @HBruijn Outstanding. I've only had time to skim it so far, but looks great. I'll give it a full read later.
    – EEAA
    Commented Jun 2, 2015 at 21:12

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