Choosing between this site and StackOverflow for posting a question

It's simple.

"Can I ask this on SO?"

  • YES: Then post it on SO
  • NO: Then post it here.
1 Like

Again, curse of knowledge (i.e. why SO can be tough for new coders, as @garrett mentioned)! If you're just starting out with coding, you simply may not know/understand if something can be asked on SO.

I totally agree that the goal is to get there, and, for me, that's totally a good rule of thumb, I'm just kind of advocating a patient/gentle approach to Qs that come up here that might be good SO fits.

It's like saying JFGI to someone who really doesn't have the vocabulary to successfully Google something yet :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:!

Also, based on what JD described in the ropensci community call (~first 10 mins max), it sounded to me like basically reenacting a Q&A from here on SO for the sake of public knowledge would be kinda ok!


I don't have a strong opinion on this topic, but I do have a strong opinion that should be warm and welcoming. That means we need to be careful to not create a hostile environment where you need to carefully think about exactly where you should post before posting. It's ok to post in the wrong place here, and the community will help you find the right place.


Ha! This is a perfect gotcha moment! :rofl::joy: Because I am very new to coding, to SO, to Github, and to R in general. Honestly, cross my heart, most of the times I have no idea what I am doing.
I am scared of Github - I have no idea how it works. I am shocked that my blogdown site is up and running - I don't know how that happened!

Same with SO. I've been working in R for like 2 years, and most of my interaction with SO came from googling a question and then finding like 10 topics with the same problem and a bunch of solutions. A few times a had to post my own question, but I swear by the old gods and the new that it wasn't difficult.

So, as a data science, computer science and R novice, I call this SO intimidation a BS :wink: :smile:

Huge! Because I think that's something that's lacking elsewhere (and in general).

  • And it's totally not something I'm obsessed with and think about all the time, including but not restricted to the middle of the night :wink:


Small sample size there...also there are quite a few other variables that translate to high variance among sub-groups vis-a-vis level of intimidation.


Decades spent on message boards prove that it's easier said then done though :smile:
So much of context is lost in the text form...
Which means we all have to be even more careful, as our benign comments can be perceived as negative on the other side of the screen...

It's all tongue-in-cheek of course. And anecdotal evidence is never good evidence.
I still wonder what's intimidating about SO though and how to bridge that gap...

It's not all anecdotal...


no no no, I meant my individual experience as anecdotal evidence, not the other way around! :blush:
Sorry for the confusion!

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Be nice to each other, or else :face_with_symbols_over_mouth:, right? :wink:

It sounds like people won't be actively discouraged from asking/answering questions that could potentially go on SO, which I'm glad to hear. There have been highly informative discussions created by reasonably straightforward questions that could have been answered on SO (like Extract single list element as part of a “pipeline”).

There may be a point where we'll start getting questions that, if they started a discussion, would essentially be a repeat of earlier discussions. That's not an issue now, and readily dealt with by linking to earlier threads once it starts happening.


Writing a good (for SO) question is hard, and failing in the attempt is often no fun.

My experience as an asker: I deleted my first question and got a -1 on my next one as well. I’m a fan of SO, but am not surprised that people find it intimidating and discouraging.

( EDIT: D'oh, I was browsing my questions sorted by score instead of date, so my initial representation wasn't accurate (see edit history on this post by clicking the pencil in the upper right). Anyway, I stand by my assertion that asking is hard.)

Regarding how to bridge the gap, folks need to grok what an MCVE is and why it is so important when posting a question (on SO or elsewhere). Took me a while. Also, it helps to understand what SO is about (building a repository of good Q&A) and what that implies about when to post there.


I know that feel bro.

I've been shamed for asking stupid questions on SO before and was getting into negative scores. The struggle is real.

For example, I still don't have enough reputation to comment on others' answers, which for example prevents me from solving an existing blogdown issue because I can't comment on @yihui's solution in the thread, and my post to address the same issue in that question was deleted by a moderator and got negative reputation... (And guess what - if I create a separate question - I bet I'll get dinged for that too. You just can't win!)

Even still, I never felt discouraged by it though and never stopped looking up solutions online.

Also, if you're new to the topic and can't find an answer to your question on SO, there is a decent chance you're either not searching right, or asking the wrong question. I suspect that the amount of unique questions that haven't been asked and have no alternatives is somewhat small...

Thanks, I agree with your points and use SO more productively these days, mostly as an answerer and savvier searcher.

(Fyi: I fudged the numbers by browsing my SO profile wrong; but have edited my post to fix.)

@jennybryan's is easily one of my most visited and recommended sites, because Github can be terrifying - but it doesn't have to be.


You should have the privilege to comment anywhere on SO now. I just upvoted one of your own Q&A's, so you have got 50 points. I think the person who deleted your answer on SO was reasonable, although he/she should have explained to you why it was deleted (because it wasn't an answer; when you didn't have the privilege to comment under an answer there, you should work a little bit more to earn at least 50 reputation points). I think the intention of SO is good: it is good for beginners to stay there for a while and be familiar with the environment before they can have different sorts of privileges, and the intention is to encourage you to contribute enough before you ask for more, which is a good mechanism in my eyes. However, I can tell you that I absolutely hate the way some people with high privileges treat beginners. As an active SO user, I have seen many cases in which these people are extremely hostile and irresponsible to beginners, e.g. sometimes they close or delete questions without explanations, and what is worse, some people, even though with big reputation points, do not even understand what they are doing (e.g. I have seen people with zero contribution to the r tag on SO close r questions).

Anyway, I'm with Hadley that I hope can be a friendly place to beginners. Personally (i.e. not representing RStudio) I tend to see specific questions on SO, but general discussions here. That said, it is totally okay to ask specific questions here, too. I don't have a strong opinion.


I don't want to take the convo too off course, but there are over a thousand R questions on SO each week, so it is only natural that the people who moderate questions will (i) sometimes not be R experts (nor need to be for the decisions they're making); and (ii) sometimes not engage with the OP when closing or deleting.

I don't think you should read hostility into silent deletion or closure. I wouldn't think twice about silently deleting a question posted as an answer, anyways.


One under-sung option for SO rep (imho) is that, once you've gotten 200 points on any of the SE sites, you automatically get 100 on the others. I think answering questions on the other sites also teaches you quite a bit about helpful question-asking, and gives you empathy for both sides of the Q&A. Personally, I did this through WebApps and English, I can't remember which was first, but there are a ton of SE sites to choose from.

Just some food for thought :wink:


I will show you some concrete and ridiculous examples when I have more time. I didn't keep track of all the terrible cases, but I did bookmark four of them recently since this problem bothered me more and more. It is extremely rare for me to delete or even downvote a question on SO, especially when I see it was from a beginner (in terms of reputation points). The problem with those people deleting or closing questions is that I feel these questions are completely valid, and sometimes a tiny bit patience can improve the beginner's question a lot.


As a long time mailing-list and SO answerer (and occasional poster), I'll play the devil's advocate here because I can see two potential issues if the purpose of this community is not given clearer directions:

  1. Many questions will be cross-posted, often without links, which is infuriating when you spend time to craft a nice answer and find that it was answered somewhere else in parallel. People who put real effort in their answers generally don't appreciate seeing their time wasted (at the very least, they'll quickly grow tired of it and stop contributing).

  2. Placing all emphasis on "complete newbies", that they feel welcome even when posting clueless questions, is a commendable initiative , but I believe it needs to be complemented by other discussions of higher quality, otherwise experienced users probably won't join or won't stick around [**]. Without their contributions, the site would risk becoming a Rstudio help-desk rather than a real community. I don't think that would be very sustainable, unless Rstudio staff are prepared to be the main contributors.

My broader point is that a thriving community needs a core of highly-knowledgeable and motivated contributors, and I have not seen much effort to draw them in. On the contrary, in fact, a lot of the emphasis on newbies will sound discouraging to them: why would you join (yet another online experiment) if

  • the guidelines are very critical of other sites where you've been positively contributing for many years
  • it appears that the focus is placed on basic questions, not interesting ones
  • the community is hosted by a company, Rstudio, partly as a replacement of their previous forums for Q&As and customer requests: they have staff paid to answer such questions, why would you do it for them, for free?
  • you've already invested considerable time on previous forums (SO, mailing lists, github issues, pull requests, ...). What's the incentive to start over on this new platform, with no clear directions, no recognition of your past efforts, and no clear message that it will have interesting content for you (a seasoned R user), to make it rewarding and worth your time?

I have asked "newbie" questions on other, unrelated StackExchange sites, and the reaction has often been very disappointing and unproductive. I know how unpleasant the experience can be from that perspective.
[**] for instance, I was a very active member of the original ggplot2 mailing list; I unsubscribed a few years ago partly because interesting questions had shifted to SO. In fact, I have gradually lost motivation to engage in ggplot2 discussions on SO since its developers shifted it to maintenance-only mode. The interesting technical contributions and philosophical discussions have been scattered into individual, disconnected efforts from largely independent developers.
The range of motivations to contribute good answers is hard to pin down, but I believe the prospect of a "warm community" is not a motivation by itself; I would even argue that it's double-sided because it fosters unproductive repetition, rather than conciseness.