Joke Questions: Please Refrain

by Jeff Atwood

on April 26, 2009

The problem of joke questions has come up more than a few times now, so it's worth going over how we will handle them. In a nutshell, please do not post joke questions.

What do I mean by joke question? It's a question that..

  • Looks authentic, but is a parody of a real question.

  • Describes situations that sound plausible, but are not based on fact or reality.

  • Posted with the intention of tricking users into believing it is an actual question from a peer.

  • Is successful when some users answer it in good faith, not understanding that it is a joke.

Am I referring to fun questions? No. We're not anti-fun. Even Amazon occasionally allows some fun to slip through, as Steve Yegge mentioned on the last podcast, with the Tuscan Milk and The Story About Ping. Fun questions are open and honest about their "fun-ness", and are often tagged as such. That doesn't mean the Stack Overflow community will accept your fun question, necessarily, nor do we want the site overrun with nothing but xkcd cartoons, wedding cakes with code, cool server names, etcetera. But you do get bonus points for being up front about your intentions.

Joke questions are different, because they are deceptive. Some members of the community might see that it's a joke or parody and treat it as such, but a sizable percentage of the audience won't. They will not understand that it's a joke and spend their time answering it -- while the original poster (and those "in the know") are laughing at them! This is unfair to those members of our community who provided detailed responses in good faith. It's a waste of their time. It's also kind of a rotten thing to do to people in general.

So, to be clear:

  • Joke questions are not real questions.

  • Joke questions do not belong on Stack Overflow.

  • Joke questions will be treated as abuse.

The bottom line is that posting joke questions or answers on Stack Overflow intended to deceive your fellow users is unacceptable and anti-community, and it will not be tolerated.