# Content on site slowly becoming more and more like Y! Answers

We're treading down a wrong path here, there needs to be some quality control in terms of answers. Just treating everything as "it's creative, don't hate" is such a bad way to regulate question and answer quality.

For example, this question: https://puzzling.stackexchange.com/questions/3911/a-man-pushes-his-car

An answer like this: https://puzzling.stackexchange.com/a/3925/4425 reads just like a Y! Answer. Completely random, made up. Sure it's a lateral thinking puzzle, but that's just a bad excuse for "anything goes in this question".

Is this just me?

• +1 for someone finally noticing the ever declining answer quality and how it's actually a problem... – Doorknob Nov 12 '14 at 2:41
• IT's so bad even the really bad answers get tons of upovtes for "creativity" – yuritsuki Nov 12 '14 at 2:45
• While I agree with your general point, I don't agree with your choice of example. That particular answer fits the problem precisely and cites a source. One could argue that the intended answer is the "random" one. But for every clever tangential answer, then 20 boring ones. – xnor Nov 12 '14 at 5:11
• @Doorknob Sorry, I was too busy noticing the poor question quality. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 12 '14 at 11:03
• For the records @thinlyveiledquestionmark the only downvote on that answer is mine, may I ask you politely why you did not downvote it? I know its primarily because you dont have enough reputation on this site, but what I am trying to point is, if people who are concerned dont participate in the process how will the site improve? – skv Nov 12 '14 at 14:59
• @xnor, again like I"ve stated, I could make up anything I want, provide the adequate Wikipedia sources so that it would somehow make sense, but not make any sense to any user. When I read that answer, I wasn't like "Dang, I knew that it had everything to do with that Wikipedia article on xxx, damn, how'd I miss that". That answer was so completely random it made no sense. – yuritsuki Nov 12 '14 at 17:09
• @skv At this point I don't have the rep to downvote. I downvote actively on Arqade, for low quality questions and answers. While you make a good point about people who are concerned but cannot participate, I feel like contributing to this site is a near waste of time, not meta-wise, but the normal site. Ridiculous answers that would make no sense but only in the context of specific puzzles, and even then, sound awkward gain huge community support, and bad questions also do so. – yuritsuki Nov 12 '14 at 17:10
• @thinlyveiledquestionmark I know some of my own questions and answers havent been at the top quality, in fact the first question I posted here was a test if such questions would even be "allowed", I initially thought this would be more about the art of puzzling more than the fun of puzzling, while the fun is good, I do feel the necessity to control low quality questions. But yeah this site will go where the community takes it, would be good if more well wishers like you participate – skv Nov 12 '14 at 17:20

## 4 Answers

I blame the questions.

If “solve this riddle” is a valid question, then those are decent answers.

These puzzles are officially off-topic, but pretty much nobody appears to be enforcing this.

• I guess its simple, we either agree as a group on improving quality of questions and answers or... well become extinct sooner or later – skv Nov 12 '14 at 12:25
• That's exactly the issue. Despite everyone saying "We'll all downvote it", generally nobody really enforces it, nor do they actually do it, so low-quality questions make their way to the top. Either that, or users who don't know any better and think this is a Reddit site will upvote it gleefully, drowning out the downvoters – yuritsuki Nov 12 '14 at 17:13
• Well, slight clarification: "solve this riddle" is on-topic if and only if the riddle will produce a single definitively-correct answer. Otherwise, it's off-topic. – user20 Nov 15 '14 at 2:11
• @Emrakul or it's too broad. – doppelgreener Nov 15 '14 at 22:45
• @Emrakul Can you please give an example of a riddle the produces a definitely-correct answer? – xnor Nov 17 '14 at 6:19
• @xnor British cryptic crossword puzzles. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 17 '14 at 6:33
• @Gilles Even though cryptic clues have layers of meaning, I wouldn't count them as riddles because of the codified conventions for the wordplay, and moreso in crossword form where letter overlap constraint form rather than meaning. I was thinking of riddles in the traditional sense, though I don't know what Emrakul would count as a riddle. – xnor Nov 17 '14 at 6:40

One reason for this is the way the 'hotness' scores are calculated.

Questions with high 'hotness' can reach the SE home page and the multi-collider-thingy, which gives them a big boost in visitors and rep.

The hotness formula gives a big advantage to questions with plenty of answers, specifically MIN(AnswerCount, 10); see How do the "arbitrary hotness points" work on the new Stack Exchange home page?

Puzzles which are more likely to get lots of answers are those which (IMO) are:

• easy

• open-ended.

Puzzles which are less likely to get lots of answers and therefore less likely to reach the supercollider are those which (IMO) are:

• hard (which is a good thing)

• clearly defined (which is a good thing).

The hotness formula also has a time element - it favours new posts over old ones - so the net effect is to favour questions which get a lot of answers more quickly than other questions. Which it seems to me is exactly what we don't want. A puzzle that lots of people contribute different answers to without taking any thinking time at all is perhaps not a puzzle with much depth to it.

It seems (if I understand the formula correctly) that questions which don't yet have any answers have a hotness score of 0. That's a real shame because the unsolved questions are some of our most interesting ones.

I had that wrong, was looking at an old version of the formula. The current formula is here: What formula should be used to determine "hot" questions? "This algorithm will heavily favor questions with LOTS of answers"

Just an observation.

I'd also like to point out that there's two different ways in which one can improve the average quality of content:

• One can criticise other people's contributions which one perceives as poor quality, in the hope that they will either stop contributing or improve the standard of their content,

or

• One can 'raise the batting average' by contributing high-quality content oneself.

thinly, I notice that (so far) you have contributed 0 answers and 0 questions to puzzling.SE.

I'm curious as to what it is about the poor quality you perceive in other people's contributions which prevents you from making any contribution at all?

Are you worried that your quality content will be overlooked, lost amid everyone else's content? Or that it won't be rewarded with the upvotes it deserves? If so then some adjustments to the site-specific hotness formula might help with that.

• I think the second part presents a false dichotomy. We can both contribute high-quality content and look at the poor quality content to see what we need to change. – user20 Nov 16 '14 at 21:48
• Regarding the first part of your answer, it's an effect of the bikeshed problem. – hichris123 Nov 16 '14 at 21:56
• @Emrakul: quite. One can choose what proportion of available energy and time to devote to each activity. I agree that it should not be either/or. Doing both is ideal, particularly if members whose content can be improved are helped to improve it in a constructive way. Criticising without contributing, not so good. – A E Nov 16 '14 at 21:56
• @hichris123, true that. – A E Nov 16 '14 at 21:57

It's not just you. The problems you've mentioned here are the main reason I stopped participating in this site several months ago. I have no intent to return in the future unless they are worked out (which I'm not hopeful of). I decided to describe what I expected this site would be and compare to what it actually became; while this isn't entirely relevant to the question I think it may provide some useful context.

Early on, based on the definition questions, I thought the questions this site would entertain would not be so much individual "puzzles" as trying to understand the theory and practice behind them. By puzzles, I mean specifically things like the following (not exhaustive):

• Rubik's cubes and other twisty/mechanical puzzles
• Sudoku and other similar puzzles
• Crossword puzzles, word searches, cryptograms, and other linguistic puzzles

And questions on the following aspects of these:

• The strategy behind solving a particular puzzle
• Mathematical theory of the puzzle
• "Practical" questions like e.g. how best to modify a Rubik's cube for speedcubing
• The history of various puzzles
• Very few (if any) questions of the nature "Solve this puzzle: [description]"

To be honest, I was almost exclusively interested in twisty puzzles, mostly for theoretically oriented questions. I have quite a bit of knowledge about higher dimensional analogues of the Rubik's cube, for example. I would not have minded sharing the site with the other topics above though, which are similar in nature. During private beta there were some signs that we were going in a good direction. Sure, the overall volume would have been low if we had gone in this way, but it would have been a high quality site.

Instead, a few new types of questions emerged which have basically completely took over the site. I'm specifically referring to , , , , , and other similar types of questions. These are very much "Solve this puzzle" type questions, and they use a very broad definition of the term "puzzle" which was not apparent to me at all when we were in definition and commitment phase. It seems that "puzzle" here means essentially any question (on any topic) which is cryptic enough to not be obvious, but not so cryptic that there are multiple answers, none of which is obviously correct (at which point it becomes "speculative"). So "what did I have for lunch today?" might very well be a puzzle if I chose to include a specific set of facts to make it into one. I find this simultaneously incredibly broad and very confusing. But at any rate, it's pretty clearly not the vision that I had for this site or where I expected we'd go from our Area 51 definition, and most of the questions I want to ask don't seem to fit in at all any more.

Given that this community accepts, and even encourages (by measure of voting), questions like this, it's not surprising how the site has turned out. There's little to no formal expertise or training involved in solving riddles that I know of. What sets Stack Exchange sites apart from Yahoo Answers and other Q&A sites is that the communities here are supposed to be experts on the topic. Without that distinction, there's really no reason to expect the quality here to stay high; it'll naturally go to the same level as most everything else on the internet of people talking about things they don't really know or care about very much. That's what you're seeing happen here.

Rather than trying to stick around and fix the site, I decided just to leave. I'm not interested in the direction this site is heading, and I'm not invested enough in this site's success to care if it fails. For the questions I do care about, many of them can go on Math SE or MathOverflow. Speedcubing questions still have no good home in the network, which is a shame, but there are other sites dedicated to it outside the network and I don't see any indication that such a question would be any better here than e.g. on Sports SE. For anyone who is still around and agrees that this needs to improve, I wish you the best of luck, but I think it may be too little too late to turn this site around and I have no idea how to do it.

• Thank you for this answer — I'm glad I'm not alone in being disappointed at where this site is going. So far I'm doing a last-ditch attempt to influence the direction the site is going by downvoting and close-voting crap. Would you consider participating? Just downvoting and voting to close all the brainteaser/lateral-thinking would help to show that not everyone thinks that it's all about the view count. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Nov 16 '14 at 11:52
• Logan, I'm not clear what it is about other people's contributions that's preventing you from making quality contributions to the site? – A E Nov 16 '14 at 16:56
• @Gilles Why close those puzzles? I don't see why this site can't allow both questions about puzzles and puzzles themselves. – pacoverflow Nov 16 '14 at 18:05
• @Gilles, the view count is only one aspect of measuring a sites success. Nowhere could I see in that link that it is all about the view count, but happy for you to point it out. Secondly if you wish the site to move in a different direction, (1) as you said close the questions you dislike but more importanatly (2) POST QUESTIONS THAT YOU BELIEVE TO BE BETTER SUITED TO THIS SITE. Close voting without replacing content with the stuff you like is just a form of stackexchange terrorism. – Kenshin Nov 16 '14 at 21:48
• I'm truly sorry to hear this. One of the most helpful answers I've ever gotten on Stack Exchange came from you. – user20 Nov 16 '14 at 21:49
• It is by people who care for this world that this world becomes a better place, while I agree with you on intent, I dont know why you call it quits, do you think you wont find supporters I doubt it – skv Nov 17 '14 at 2:01
• I'm feeling the same way. This site seemed pretty good quality when I joined, but recently it just seems to be an endless flood of low-quality puzzles from a few users with the occasional good question interspersed. – Miniman Nov 17 '14 at 4:02

That is actually a good answer by StackExchange standards. The answerer provided a link to a reputable source (Wikipedia) as well as summarizing the condition in his own words. Then he explained how it answered the question.

There's some debate here as to whether we want to include well-known puzzles like these that are easily found on the web. That answer is a great reason for why we should. Most people may know (or can easily find) the classic answer, but that doesn't mean that new answers can't be discovered. Finding new answers to classic puzzles is a great way of adding value to the site and also growing and improving the art of puzzle solving.

• Just because it cites Wikipedia doesn't make it a "good answer", rather, it was completely made up. I could have written an elaborate backstory about how he visited his orthodpedic doctor and how the doctor advised him to push his car to have a strong back, and cite everything to Wikipedia, but it doesn't make it anymore "good" than a made up answer. – yuritsuki Nov 12 '14 at 3:12
• @thinlyveiledquestionmark I think the community also has a say in what's a good answer. As you can see, that answer has very few upvotes relative to the other one. People should downvote answers that they think are bad. – pacoverflow Nov 12 '14 at 3:20
• Yeah, but no one will. What you've said only applies in theory. But from here, what I've noticed is blatantly bad answers are treated as "creative" and get upvoted like crazy. – yuritsuki Nov 12 '14 at 3:25