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Hi Guys & Gals and fellow golfers.

I just want to ask a question and hopefully get some meaningful answers.

I am a relative newbie on PPCG with a rep of only around 2.5k. That suits me but I am continually seeing questions closed for newcomers as dupes and unclear and get very little chance to compete against the mathematical geniuses that make up most of this site. No disrespect intended guys.

I have made my feelings clear on a couple of discussions that have gone on about "How can we attract new members" and "Closing duplicates" in the past. I have also made it clear that I joined because it was a fun way to get away for my "real job" of writing readable code in my real life and having some banter with some fellow coders who think the same way out of work hours.

It now appears that too many members are taking PPCG far too seriously. Maybe it is me that is misunderstanding what PPCG is supposed to be about. I've only been here for a year but am seriously thinking of quitting because the fun has gone out of it.

Just a suggestion for Meta. Am I wrong? If not, then can we do anything to improve things?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, I overestimated my rep by 27... \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 7 '17 at 22:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ It now appears that too many members are taking PPCG far too seriously. Could you elaborate? What do you mean by taking too seriously? \$\endgroup\$ – Dennis Jun 7 '17 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ I totally agree with the fact that it isn't as friendly as it used to be, especially to newbies \$\endgroup\$ – caird coinheringaahing Jun 7 '17 at 22:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hi Dennis and thanks for responding. I am not 100% sure what I mean to be honest with you. The site just feels different now. Maybe more aggressive in some ways? \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 7 '17 at 22:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Dennis One example of taking PPCG too seriously is disallowing unimplementable languages. While it makes sense by the rules, the rules are the only way it makes sense. \$\endgroup\$ – dzaima Jun 7 '17 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dzaima: although I'm not generally a fan of the current rules for allows languages and interpreters, the reason for that rule is pretty clear: it prevents people trying to twist a very vague language specification into meaning that they have a trivial answer to what should be an impossible problem. Look at a language like Eternity, for example; that's a) clearly impossible to implement, and b) would get a very good score on many longer challenges if it were. Rules have proven necessary because without them, people keep trying stupid cases like that. \$\endgroup\$ – user62131 Jun 7 '17 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ Related (and fairly interesting to see the answers, especially compared to, e.g., this). \$\endgroup\$ – user62131 Jun 7 '17 at 23:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it is a big loss that we banned underhanded and that we don't do much obfuscation. While there can be no objective winner, they work fine as popularity contest, and are really fun. See e.g. the innovative answers to this. \$\endgroup\$ – Adám Jun 8 '17 at 0:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Adám I tried \$\endgroup\$ – Stephen Jun 9 '17 at 1:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ElPedro try joining a chatroom while you work on answers, this will quickly dispel your opinions that "everyone on this site is a mathematical genius" and help you progress toward learning new things about esolangs. I feel like people here are, well, people lol. \$\endgroup\$ – Magic Octopus Urn Jun 9 '17 at 14:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ carusocomputing - thanks for that. It is probably the most positive and helpful comment so far. I am currently thinking about and formulating my own answer to my question based on the comments and the great answer from @ais523. Guess I am not going to quit because I have grown to respect a lot of the posters on PPCG whether I think the philosophy of the site is right or wrong. I think from your comment that you may actually understand what I am trying to say (maybe more than I do :)). \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 9 '17 at 20:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @carusocomputing Also please see my answer to this meta post. It's not about that I don't win. I don't care as long as I can compete and have fun. The attitude of many posters these days seems to discourage that way of thinking. (Sorry for making you scroll down - i don't know how to link to a specific answer). \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 9 '17 at 20:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can tell that we're getting too serious about the rules because I tend to have at least as many Meta tabs open as tabs on the main site. \$\endgroup\$ – Esolanging Fruit Jun 12 '17 at 6:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ElPedro Just to let you know, there is a "share" link beneath each answer that will give you a direct link to the answer which you can copy and paste. \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax Jun 18 '17 at 9:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for that @trichoplax. Something learned today :) \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 18 '17 at 21:22
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First of all, if you see a question closed as duplicate, then assuming the close is correct, that really shouldn't prevent you participating in the site; just answer the duplicated question rather than the duplicate one. A duplicate mark should only exist if the questions are similar enough that working on one is much the same task as working on the other; they're likely to need the same techniques to solve, have a similar level of difficulty, and the like. (If you think the duplicate questions are different enough that that doesn't apply, you should let somebody know, e.g. by bringing it up in chat, or flagging the post.)

With "unclear what you're asking", the other common sort of closure, the issue here is more of a failure of everyone to get along with each other. Because people are competing for the best possible score, that means cutting every corner they can get away with, and that can sometimes lead to very bizarre interpretations of a question. (I know I've got highly annoyed with some people's interpretation of questions in the past; a question of mine I'm quite fond of had to be closed because a user was persistently trying to claim that the equivalent of fprintf(stderr, "error") was a run-time error, a definition which seemed maliciously absurd to me.) As such, if a question isn't massively precise, it puts the answerers in a really awkward spot: should they try to force their way into a loophole, or should they carefully not exploit it and let someone who's willing to cut in front of them? Writing Perl, 12 or 11 or 10 bytes and giving a different version of the program for each possible interpretation of the rules is a pain.

As for the more general question, of why the site's taken seriously, it's the same reason that many other recreational games and sports have for taking things seriously: if your opponents aren't trying hard to win, it's much less fun. (This isn't the only recreational site I'm on; another one, which has nothing to do with programming, has a rather strict rule that you must always play to win, as failure to do so would be unfair on both your opponents and team-mates.) The PPCG version of that is a bit different: it's "here's a problem, you can probably solve it, but can you do better?". The best challenges here are the ones that have almost unlimited scope for continuously improving. (Oddly, those tend not to be pure ; with that, it's sometimes but not always obvious that an answer can't reasonably be improved whilst staying within its parameters for language, algorithm, unused loopholes, and the like.)

If your problem is simply that you feel you can't compete because other programmers are better than you, there are a few solutions there. For example, you can learn (or invent!) an obscure language to compete in, and thus have fewer competitors. Or perhaps you can pick a language you know well, and try to learn golfing techniques; after a while you start to be able to at least tie the best competitors on simpler problems, and then maybe win occasionally when you have an insight nobody else does.

Note that it's entirely possible to compete "privately", without posting the answer; I've lost count of the number of times I've seen a problem, instantly come up with an algorithm for solving it in Jelly, then scrolled down to find that someone else had already posted the answer before I saw the question (this also happens with Brachylog too sometimes, but it's less popular so it happens less often). That's disheartening, but it's also encouraging, because it means that at least I wasn't outgolfed by anything other than the timestamp, and that my skills are probably up to scratch.

Anyway, if you find the fun is in solving the problems, rather than solving the problems with an optimized score, you're likely to have more fun elsewhere; PPCG isn't too friendly to non-serious contenders, as that's not really what the site is for (and it'd mean that people who did want to compete would have a hard time figuring out what answers they should pay attention to to compete against). If you find the fun is in optimizing the score, though, it serves its function fairly well (despite the fact that it's hosted on Stack Exchange, which is almost completely the wrong backend software to be powering the sort of frontend we'd ideally want).

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really agree with this answer, In order to have fun we need rules. \$\endgroup\$ – Sriotchilism O'Zaic Jun 7 '17 at 23:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ Or do what I do, and this is fine for me: the only things I participate in are King of the Hill challenges. I can't golf and doing so isn't fun for me, but Koth challenges are ones where I can look at other answers and think "hmm, if I did this, but changed that, and implemented an idea from over here..." I can generally get a unique answer to post that performs well (until someone else comes along and out-does it). I think Prisoner's Dilemma v3 is the only one I've won but I enjoyed the 12+ hours I sunk into it. I'm now thinking about a spec for a Prisoner's Dilemma v4. \$\endgroup\$ – Draco18s Jun 8 '17 at 17:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it's worth noting that in regards to your first point, if the duplicated question is fairly old, there may be little motivation to answer it, because they might think nobody will see it. That can be a little bit off-putting to some. \$\endgroup\$ – numbermaniac Jun 10 '17 at 14:14
  • \$\begingroup\$ Every time we strive closer to some of these guidelines, we hit a point where "we don't get new members because they don't conform to our competitive rules" and become a niche community \$\endgroup\$ – tuskiomi Jun 14 '17 at 15:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ @numbermaniac although it won't get as many views as a recent challenge on the Hot Network Questions list, the old challenge will be bumped to the top of the front page when the new answer is posted, and this often prompts other new answers, so there may be more new views that you suspect. \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax Jun 18 '17 at 10:10
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I'd just like to express my disagreement with this post.

I love PPCG. I technically joined 6 months ago but I became active only 1 month ago. The PPCG community has welcomed me with open arms, such as in The Nineteenth Byte where I am now a regular. Everyone has been great to me. Proving that newbies can become part of the PPCG community. (On top of my being a noob here, I came from StackOverflow. If for some reason you think PPCG is not receptive to newcomers, StackOverflow is about a hundred times worse.)

I've also found lots and lots of perfectly good questions to answer. Initially I answered questions in C and BASIC, and got plenty of rep from that while none of my answers were very short, per se. Proving that if you're not super competitive you can get reputation.

More recently I've been developing my own languages - which, again, the community has been very helpful with - and have been dedicating my time to that instead. I solve challenges in my languages to help improve them. Proving that even if you're not an avid answerer there is still fun in PPCG.

However, I am/was not the perfect newbie. I asked a couple awful questions when I first joined; they were downvoted and closed as they should be. If you think people should decide to like a bad question just because a newbie posted it, well, no. I soon leaned to use the Sandbox. Bad questions are bad questions regardless of newbie-ness.

I now have questions with 30+ votes. Newbies can and should learn to ask good questions. It may not be particularly easy, but that's no reason not to try.

In regards to your statement that you have to compete against the mathematical geniuses the make up most of this site, do what I do. Don't browse the tag. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Anyway, just saying thanks to the community here. Not all newcomers think you're too competitive or dislike competing with brilliance.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This has my upvote. Also, about the OP's comment compete against the mathematical geniuses, for me it's the other way around: I love interacting with people who fit the definition of "mathematical genius" much more than I do. I see it as a privilege, not as a drawback \$\endgroup\$ – Luis Mendo Jun 16 '17 at 16:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MDXF I agree with much of what you say, I am not going to bother rolling back your edit to OP to which you gave the reason "it's readable now" for a question that already had 14 upvotes and answers and comments from members with far higher rep that you. I guess it is that kind of sanctimonious response to posts that the original question was about. \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 18 '17 at 21:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ElPedro I didn't change any of the actual question content, I just spaced it properly to make it more readable :) \$\endgroup\$ – MD XF Jun 18 '17 at 21:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ No offence intended @MDXF and I apologise for using the word "sanctimonious". It was in no way intended as a personal attack. I'm just a bit sick of seeing unnecessary edits and closed questions taking away from the fun of being here. Apologies again and no personal offence intended. \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 18 '17 at 21:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ElPedro Nor is it a personal attack to you. Nobody's perfect, and some people prefer formatting one way, others prefer it another way, etc. I simply prefer it in a way that makes it appear a bit cleaner. I'm pretty sure the majority of people prefer it in the way I edited; I hope it wasn't a problem. \$\endgroup\$ – MD XF Jun 18 '17 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @LuisMendo - The "mathematical genius" was a sideline to my comment and was not intended to be in any way disrespectful. I also have the utmost respect for the people who have better math skills than me. I just don't think that the site should just be about that. \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 18 '17 at 21:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @MDXF Let's just agree to differ :) You made some good points in your answer and many thanks for taking the time to respond. \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 18 '17 at 21:32
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I'm a very, very big noob (this is my first answer to a question that didn't turn out to be a year old) so I'm not very qualified to form an opinion, but here it is:

We need to bring back underhanded*+ make more KoTH

Why? Because you can enter and understand them much better as a beginner (especially King of the hill). Whereas code-golf uses objective measurements, underhanded rewards accessibility and king of the hill can be as bodged as you like, as long as you have a good idea. Reading these questions has helped me build up my understanding: King of the hill helps me start to understand other programming languages , and underhanded answers usually contain 1 concept rather than the 'throw all skills at it' nature of code-golf which is hard to understand as a beginner. Thanks to KoTH and underhanded, I can now (sometimes) understand how one might approach a code-golf question.

To summarize

I do not think the problem is the community. In fact, I love the community; they are the nicest of any Internet site I have seen

I think it is the type of questions that is the problem. This is not a dig at code-golf...I'm saying it's hard to access at first, not that they are bad or anything.

I just wrote this then realised this question is a year old too... :(

*EDIT:After looking at some replies and doing some research I realise that there are probably significant problems with bringing back underhanded. Although it seemed like a fun idea, I realise that it was not having a positive impact on the site and the image the site was showing. I still think that having a wealth of non-golfing challenges is important, for making the site friendly and not too 'dense' and serious.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your opinion is very welcome - it drives more discussion so whether people agree or disagree it's useful either way \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax Dec 10 '18 at 13:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the answer overall - and I agree more different types of challenge makes a good way for more people to get into golf. I'd like to see more KotHs but wary of underhanded \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax Dec 10 '18 at 13:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ If you want to bring back underhanded then the appropriate way to do it is to create a new meta thread with the "Ask Question" button above and present your argument. However, I would advise that you link to the most important meta-threads in the history of the tag and make it clear that you understand how things got to their current state and offer a proposal for how to avoid a repetition of the previous problems, because otherwise there's a moderate probability that the new question will attract downvotes (for lack of research) and close-as-duplicate votes (for not offering anything new). \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Dec 10 '18 at 14:57
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OK, so with 13 upvotes and a fair few comments this seems to be a question that has attracted some attention so maybe I can now clarify what I am thinking with the benefit of what you guys have said so far.

  1. Many thanks to @ais523 for taking the time to submit such a well thought out and well presented answer. Most of my points are related to what was said in the above answer.
  2. Duplicates - as mentioned by @numbermaniac, many duplicates are duplicates of old questions and things have probably changed since then. new languages, new users, etc. I really don't think that the response "Go and answer the original question" carries much incentive to do so. By all means identify it as a duplicate if it makes you feel good, by all means don't answer it if you don't want to but why close it? This is not a Q&A site. I often come on PPCG just to read what people have done and I can gain a lot from other peoples answers to dupes. I agree that we don't want the same questions coming up every week. Maybe a time limit could work? If the original is more than (e.g) a year old then let it run and see what happens.
  3. Unclear what you are asking - I have actually been surprised by this response to some questions as they have seemed perfectly clear to me. I sometimes wonder if this is just being used as a "catch all" by people who just don't like the question for their own reasons. On previous threads I have made my opinion clear that the sandbox should be mandatory for all users below xxxx rep (to be decided) before they post live. A bit like users cannot comment until they reach a certain rep and that other privileges are gained as rep increases. The idea is not a new concept.
  4. On the subject of sandbox, I have read a couple of times that people do not use it because they leave their questions there for a week and get no negative comments then have their questions closed when posted live. Maybe we could all make more effort to monitor and help in the sandbox. I admit I am as guilty as any. Although I have used the sandbox for all of my questions (and received valuable feedback) I sure don't spend enough time helping others there.
  5. I guess, as I said in the original question, the site seems to have changed in the year since I joined. There have been questions on meta about e.g. "What can we do to support new members?". My answer would be not to be so aggressive and not close questions so quickly without a decent and detailed explanation why. One thing I suggested on a previous comment was a one month read-only membership requirement (or maybe only be allowed to answer questions and not ask them). I seem to remember that it was suggested that this is setting a very high barrier to membership. Which is better? Fewer member or more "duplicates" and "unclears"? I certainly feel that the attitude to new members who maybe don't have a full understanding about what the site is about has become far more aggressive in recent months.
  6. Finally, this is nothing to do with not being able to compete. I am currently learning Pyth, regularly post Python answers which are never going to beat @xnor (or the other more gifted Python programmers many of whom have given me some great hints in the past) and also post using Lotus Notes Formula which is only slightly less verbose than VerboseScript (which I am writing at the moment ;-)). As I have said before I joined because it is fun. Let's keep it that way.

@Dennis. I hope this helps to clarify what you asked in your comment.

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    \$\begingroup\$ 2. This has been suggested many times. I feel like Peter Taylor's answer best expresses my feelings. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jun 11 '17 at 15:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ 3. I agree that this does happen, but usually when it is a matter of two people who disagree on a question, the argument gets hashed out in chat or meta. We've had many "why was my question closed" here, and some of them get reopened, some of them get valid (IMO) explanations for its closed status. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jun 11 '17 at 15:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ 4. This has been a hot topic issue right now. If all else fails, post it in chat, or reread it again, and revise it so it appears at the top of the list again. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jun 11 '17 at 15:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ 5. I'd prefer more members and more duplicates/unclears :) If our closing policies pushes people away, then we should be nicer in our comments. Furthermore, I don't think a read-only membership would improve anything. Good question writing comes from practice, not from reading. \$\endgroup\$ – Nathan Merrill Jun 11 '17 at 15:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ 1. Thanks @NathanMerrill for your comments. 2. Agreed. 3. Chat? Meta? That doesn't solve the problem with questions that are being posted now. 4. Does it really work like that? I honestly don't know. 5. Disagree - sorry. Good questions come from reading good questions :-) Again, thanks for your input. \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 11 '17 at 17:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Now I understand why you made a new comment for each point. I can't get <br /> to work either :-) \$\endgroup\$ – ElPedro Jun 11 '17 at 17:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: 3., it's worth having a separate conversation about inappropriately closed challenges than the conversation about appropriately closed challenges (i.e. "why do we have rules for challenges?", the question I answered, is different from "why are challenges sometimes closed despite not breaking rules?"). I've brought the latter issue up here. \$\endgroup\$ – user62131 Jun 12 '17 at 22:55
  • \$\begingroup\$ The reason to avoid duplicates is so that we can view all the answers in one place. If you enjoy learning from other people's answers, then all the more reason to have them all in one place and sortable... \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax Jun 18 '17 at 10:16

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