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I'm seeing SO MANY questions like this: How to get my server viewable from the internet?

From the FAQ:

Server Fault is for system administrators and IT professionals, people who manage or maintain computers in a professional capacity.

Frankly I'm wondering if we're not being hard enough on these sorts of questions. I would be very shocked to find out that anyone who works in IT professionally can't do a simple port forward, even if their expertise is in something else.

That particular question is just attracting poor answers, which will most likely attract more poor questions and more poor answers.

Should we be coming down harder on these questions? I'm not complaining that they're simple, or easy to google, or even a bad question - they're just questions that no competant IT person would ask, or if they did ask, they would know to provide more information about their situation.

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    Wow. Some of you are being pretty pretentious here, don't you think!? There isn't exactly some magical upper-echelon of IT experience that you reach where you know everything! To the contrary, working in IT professionally means you NEVER stop learning! If you do, your career dies. My background is in support (SysAdmin now), so perhaps being empathetic to users is why this is a touchy subject to me. At any rate, maybe step off your high-horse for a minute and try to see it from another perspective next time. Who knows, you might just learning something yourself. – SamAndrew81 Aug 30 '16 at 14:32
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    @SamAndrew81 There is a difference between learning and coming there to ask a question that even a ado can answer. At job we hire a lot of intern and even without any experience a lot of them just want to do network admin's job. If you are a newcomer that want to learn and did some research you will be welcome on SF, but SF is not for newcomer that searched nothing. – yagmoth555 Aug 30 '16 at 18:12
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    @SamAndrew81 I the intervening nearly 6 years things have got much worse. SF is a a river of crappy questions that that even a modicum of effort would find but people are just too lazy and want someone else to read the docs for them. SF's scope has been downgraded to hell desk for stakoverflow. – Iain Aug 30 '16 at 20:19
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    SO is trying to build a Q&A site. And "how do i setup a port forward on linux" is a question, which fits. It should be a short question and a short answer without any duplicates, but when it's there, every user searching for it profits. You can discuss what's the base knowlege of a professional admin, but the field is diverse and a windows admin may need to google some linux basics when getting the job of maintaining a linux system as well. And SF tries to build a more reliable knowledge base than some "here's how i did a port forward" blog article. – allo Sep 25 '16 at 22:41
36

My suspicion is that this is working as intended.

I feel that the entry-level questions are good practice for people new to the field to answer. If a question is relevant to SF, but completely uninteresting to me personally, I simply won't answer it - if NOBODY finds it interesting enough to answer, then the system has worked perfectly and the question will die a natural death.

I'm not sure it benefits anybody to vote to close questions simply because the asker doesn't know enough to post the correct terminology. Once upon a time, I'd never heard of an A record, either - but I'd been a professional in the field for a few years before I'd had cause to learn. Somtimes the career path is a winding one.

Also, their "uninteresting" nature makes them accessible to lower-rep members to rack up some points on questions that will be passed up by the rest of the community. I'd imagine that otherwise, there's bound to be a lot of frustration for someone trying to build up rep, when every question has a good answer already.

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    Good points. I guess I'm just sick of seeing the same few basic questions float around time and time again, but they do provide a great level of entry for newbies. – Mark Henderson Nov 26 '10 at 1:10
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    It drives me nuts, too. I was more or less playing devil's advocate, then the last point convinced me. – Kara Marfia Nov 29 '10 at 13:25
  • "there's bound to be a lot of frustration for someone trying to build up rep, when every question has a good answer already." -- wouldn't that also be the system "working as intended"? – womble Jul 17 '11 at 5:20
  • Well, if I'm trying to find an answer to a problem, finding 5-10 high quality questions with answers already provided has got to help me more than finding just 1 or 2. There's a good blurb somewhere (from Jeff, I think) about near-duplicate questions being fine, so long as they ask the question in a slightly different way. Results being a greater chance that the search engine spits us out to answer similar queries. – Kara Marfia Jul 17 '11 at 5:30
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    I think the same mindset that draws us to sysadminning might draw us toward seeking efficiency here. It took a while for me to appreciate the efficacy of ...keyword saturation (I guess?) winning out over my desire to have a tidy ratio of one question PER question. – Kara Marfia Jul 17 '11 at 5:35
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One way to look at the questions that are asked here is: how far away is the asker from even comprehending the answer?

Our favorite kinds of questions are the ones where the asker just needs a little bit of help getting over a tiny hill. "I need to do X. I tried Y and Z. Z almost worked, but I got X-purple. How do I get rid of the purple? I scoured the man page and found nothing."

It drives us crazy when questions show rather a lack of any kind of knowledge. "How can I get a server on the Internet? KTHXBYE!" In this case the asker has a huge MOUNTAIN of knowledge to get over before they can even BEGIN to solve their problem.

My advice?

  1. Don't answer a question if you don't feel like it. Not every question deserves an answer. On the other hand, if you think someone else might be happy to answer it, there's no reason to close it.

  2. When in doubt, an answer deserves about the same amount of effort as the question got. If someone writes a one sentence question about "how to get a server onto the Internet," they deserve about a sentence answer, either linking to a checklist somewhere, or just tell them to hire a damn sysadmin. On the other hand, if they put a lot of effort into asking a very specific question, they deserve more effort for the answer.

The other day I saw a question on Stack Overflow which was basically "Can I make a forum using Python." The question didn't show very much effort, but it was an honest question. So I answered it: "Yes. Python is a general purpose language, so it can be used for just about anything, including making forums." This actually satisfied the asker. There was no need to go into a dissertation about how to do this... I'm not going to give someone an undergraduate education in programming just because they typed a question onto the site!

Most importantly, look for common patterns and write canonical, permanent answers. If people keep asking how to get a server onto the internet, make a simple, clear checklist, and point people to that. The checklist doesn't have to have detailed instructions. It could be something like (a) get a domain (b) get a dns server (c) open the firewall (d) run appropriate services. If people keep asking what 128.0.0.1/24 means, create a general purpose question with the title "How do I interpret an IP address of the form A.B.C.D/E?", answer that question concisely, and close everything as a dupe.

But before you close things, keep in mind:

  • Just because you're bored by a simple question, doesn't mean it doesn't belong here! Help prevent repetition by creating canonical question/answer pairs that can be used as duplicate targets, or leave the simple questions to the newbies. You don't have to answer everything.

  • If you're bored by Server Fault, that's OK. Take a month off. Take a year off. Find something you can do where you're actually learning, not repeating yourself endlessly.

There are basically two ways discussion groups can go. They can stick with the same people (who are learning and getting smarter) or they can stick with the same subject. If they stick with the same people, the only way to keep them entertained is to get more and more esoteric until you have a site where nobody can get useful information except the 14 old-timers who have been around since the beginning. This is nice for the 14 old-timers, but doesn't make the Internet a better place. If you stick with the same subject, eventually the old-timers get bored. That's a better outcome, I think. I think the old-timers would be better served by finding a new area to learn about that's challenging and interesting.

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    I appreciate your answer, very useful food for thought. Are you proposing a new area for "old-timers" in the context of a different subject or a different site? – Warner Dec 20 '10 at 23:52
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    Mostly what I meant was -- if you're bored with the topics on Server Fault, maybe go learn a new programming language and participate on Stack Overflow, or mathematics on math.stackexchange, or business on answers.onstartups.com, or learn the game of bridge by going to a local bridge club! – Joel Spolsky Dec 21 '10 at 0:18
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    your answer has failed to take into account the major difference between SO and SF, apart from the subject matter itself. i.e. SO is intended for both amateurs and professionals, whereas SF is intended for professionals only. As a result we need to take a rather different approach in determining what questions are appropriate or not. Questions from amateurs should be made welcome on SO but should be actively discouraged on SF, hence the very question Mark has asked here. – John Gardeniers Dec 22 '10 at 4:17
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    I don't think that anything about my answer implied that this shouldn't be a site for professionals. Whether or not we approve of it, there are an awful lot of people being paid to manage servers who do not know how to use a command line, write a mod_rewrite rule, or get port forwarding to work. There are pro NT administrators who know so little about Unix that they look like rank amateurs when they have to face a Unix box, and vice versa. Most of the questions I'm talking about here could very well be asked by professionals. – Joel Spolsky Dec 22 '10 at 4:22
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    "an answer deserves about the same amount of effort as the question got" -- doesn't that just expand the scope of the problem, to the point where you end up with a lot of dross questions and answers? As for "pro NT admins working in Unix", a key part of being a professional is not working outside your scope of knowledge. If you don't know what you're doing, you're being unprofessional if you do that work. – womble Jul 17 '11 at 5:23
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    "Can I make a forum using Python" is a far worse question than the actual question cited by the OP here. That should never have been allowed on Stack Overflow; answering it is encouraging and perpetuating the problem of lazy no-effort askers, not to mention the "if you can imagine an entire book that answers your question, it's too broad" rule that emerged later. (Yes, I realize this is an old answer, but it's kind of dangerously bad old advice in a few areas here.) – Jeff Atwood May 26 '12 at 23:42
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Don't answer it and they won't come. Yes, we should enforce the scope of the site.

See also:

Perception of purpose

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    I really like and agree with Evan's comment on that thread. -- Personally, I don't care whether a question is coming from someone "sitting at home" or from "a corporate environment". I make the call on answering (or voting to migrate) based on whether or not the question and my answer will, later on, be helpful to someone who is a professional sysadmin – Zoredache Nov 22 '10 at 23:35
  • I agree, @Zoredache. I have considered that statement in retrospect on several occasions since. – Warner Nov 22 '10 at 23:43
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    The question is, are these kinds of questions going to be useful to a professional sysadmin later on? – Mark Henderson Nov 23 '10 at 2:00
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It's a tough one, for sure. Our traffic has certainly been increasing (quantcast), but the quality of the questions has gone down. Or perhaps more specifically, the interesting ones are still in there but there are a lot more 101-type questions. Witness all the mod_rewrite questions we're getting these days, and the "how do I serve on the Internet" questions we're getting.

Personally, I'm torn. There are two things that attract the professionals we want:

  1. High quality questions with high quality answers in topics that are interesting.
  2. Enough of #1 to make it look like a viable community.

I deeply fear that if we ensure #1, we won't pass #2.

4
  • Dont be hard on newbies!
    We are doing the best we can to be helpful!

  • Where were you ten years ago?
    At the very starting point of your professional career? Wouldnt you feel joy and informational happiness discovering such great community? Would you think then, oh wayt a minute, this great place boasting of great friendly helpful pros is nowhere for me to ask my questions?

  • Sorry, did not knew this place is exclusively
    meant for experienced professionals, only!

  • Boy i wished i was as knowledgeable as some pros,
    that way i could help them (or you) out with a creative solution, someday!

  • But first, we need to wander around here way more,
    byproduct: some silly questions inbetween very insightful ones

  • Dont feel sick of our questions:
    Instead, feel good you are sitting up there with a crown of experience, looking down to crazy starters who have barely figured out enthousiast level NAT routing / home FTP servers.

  • We are the ones who should feel sick!
    Of the countless pro-questions and pro-answers we dont even understand, but feel are very useful to learn and to master!

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    I would urge you to read the FAQ, it already addresses some of your concerns. If you do not feel the FAQ is accurate or clear enough, perhaps you should bring it to MSF or chat for discussion. – jscott Dec 16 '10 at 20:36
  • As very clearly stated in the FAQ this site is for those of us who are already pros. Nevertheless, those who don't qualify can get a LOT of benefit from reading both the questions and answers. It's just that we don't need the site made worthless by being swamped with inappropriate questions (or answers). – John Gardeniers Dec 17 '10 at 0:29
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    Very good points there @Sam ... but like i asked in my reply, does SF strickly need to cater to non-newbies? it's not a right or wrong question, but just an opinion of the stackexchange owners ... and as a user of the SF site (and as the posted has asked) ... some clear clarification would be nice. – Pure.Krome Dec 17 '10 at 0:37
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    Agreed. i myself always try to ask questions in appropriate places, so i was merely defending other newbies and trying to release the 'sickness feeling' of the poster. thanks for comments! – Sam Dec 17 '10 at 2:40
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Just to throw it out there .... where would newbies go if they are learning to become IT Pro's and have questions to their learning-process?

Is SF a proper landing place to ask Q/A, for them? Or, as the FAQ states, it's for peeps who manage and maintain .. implying that they are in the industry already, and not in uni, etc or learning to break into the industry.

Update:

Maybe a new type of tag could be added? newbie or beginner or something?

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    I feel, strongly, that any tags of that sort would be far too subjective. But please feel free join the conversation over in this MSF question. – jscott Dec 16 '10 at 11:05
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    "where would newbies go if they are learning to become IT Pro's"? Somewhere else of course. SF is for those who already ARE pros. At least that's what the FAQ says. No new tag is required. A new site perhaps but not a tag. – John Gardeniers Dec 16 '10 at 11:33
  • Kewl :) this type of clarification needs to be confirmed ... and i would love to know where the newbies should go, so we can direct their questions to there, etc. @ question poster :: Great question, IMO :) – Pure.Krome Dec 17 '10 at 0:39
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I don't know why I didn't see this question earlier but it reflects my view closely. In fact the swamping of what I view as inappropriate questions, using the FAQ as a guideline to decide what is appropriate, means I spend a LOT less time of SF compared to what I used to. I've dropped from over 400 consecutive days to sometimes only a visit or two in a week. When I do visit I often find myself spending more time voting to close such questions than reading or answering the rest.

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I'm just going to throw this out there. But I'm so glad that other people mentioned this. I'm new and all but I see a ton of questions seem to belong on superuser or otherwise not useful to a sysadmin and it really bugs me. I suppose I should flag them for closure, I was wondering if it was just me.

  • Those with 3000 or more rep having voting rights and will generally deal with those questions (mostly) appropriately. Flagging them for closure merely adds to the mods' workload. Be patient, it really doesn't take all that long to rack up 3000 points. :) – John Gardeniers Jan 17 '11 at 4:57

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