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I have seen a few questions recently that could have been answered (or not asked in the first place) if a someone had taken time to a web search first.

I am not talking about duplicates or frequent questions that get asked in different ways.

I am talking about questions similar to, "My page is displaying this error message, what does it mean?" and a simple Google search on the error message leads to several links with answers.

What is the appropriate response in cases like this? Should these be flagged? A stock comment that can be used (similar to the one in https://drupal.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/531/should-we-warn-user-about-low-accept-rate)?

EDIT:

Example: User warning: Incorrect key file for table

Searching the web for the error message brings up lots of pages with things to try, most of which are similar to the current answer.

  • Can you list some examples of these questions? – Joel Spolsky Sep 29 '11 at 3:09
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The cardinal rule is that Stack Exchange is here to make the internet better.

If you think that having a drupal.stackexchange question/answer pair would make the internet better, leave the question.

I would not concern yourself with redundancy on the Internet. Those other pages might disappear from the search engine. They might take 10 seconds to load while our pages take milliseconds. They might be trapped in discussion forums where there is no voting (so you can't see what the community thinks about the answers, and you have to try every possibility yourself). They might be trapped in discussion forums where there is no community editing, so wrong, harmful, insecure, and out-of-date answers can never be edited.

There are a ton of reasons why having a Stack Exchange question/answer page on the Internet is better than having the answer trapped in archaic PHPBB-style software.

There is a tendency to get annoyed at users who are too lazy to do a Google search, study each of the 16 answers that come up in the links, and try every single one as a part of a lengthy research project to solve their problem before they come to Stack Exchange. But this tendency ignores the fact that we believe that we have BETTER software, here, at Stack Exchange. We get people RIGHT TO THE ANSWER. We don't give them a list of things to try. We give them the answer, voted on by experts, right at the top.

  • If they haven't searched at all, which is what the question above indicates, they have no right to an answer. They are showing up for class without doing even the most rudimentary of homework first. – Jeff Atwood Sep 29 '11 at 3:48
  • Just because they have no right to an answer, doesn't mean that it wouldn't make the internet better if there were an answer on stack exchange. Sometimes you hold your nose and make the internet a better place for the next 100 people even with the person asking isn't living up to his part of the bargain – Joel Spolsky Sep 29 '11 at 3:51
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    that said, talking in the abstract is unlikely to lead to agreement. I want to see a sample question before we argue about how to treat it. – Joel Spolsky Sep 29 '11 at 3:52
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Our guidance is here: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/02/are-some-questions-too-simple/

If they are indeed failing the very first check, which is

Is this information trivially easy to find in a web search?

Then the question should be downvoted and closed, perhaps as "not a real question". (We have a "General Reference" close reason, but it is still experimental and only enabled on 2 sites at the moment.)

It is OK to point out another link in a comment that answers the question definitively, but please avoid formally answering such questions as it encourages the wrong behavior.

There's certainly no value in creating duplicate simple content all over the web.

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If you think that the question doesn't show any effort to search the solution, then you can down-vote it.

Anyway, the fact that googling gives back links for the topic doesn't mean the OP didn't first search: The OP could have searched, but he didn't understand what he found. This could be because:

  • The page is giving as implicit something the reader should already know; for example, if you look at the documentation page for a hook, that page will not remind you that the implementation of the hook is a function whose name is the hook name, where "hook_" is replaced with the short name of the module, followed by an underscore.
  • The page is ambiguous, which could happen because the page is not complete, or because the user doesn't speak English as first language, and doesn't understand a particular construct used in that page. With this I am not saying that users who doesn't understand the basic English are excused for asking a question for which they would have found an answer by googling (then, if they don't understand the basic English, they would not understand the answer given on a SE site too), but I am not pretending that all users know the difference between English and english.

Users who search for an answer probably find links to pages for the exact argument they are looking for, but those pages could not refer to other pages that explain what necessary to understand the page being read.

Clearly, questions similar to "Can I use the Recipe module to write recipes?" doesn't make sense, as in the project page for the Recipe module is reported:

Recipe is a module for sharing cooking recipes. It includes support for taxonomy, CCK, views, and bulk import/export using common formats such as MealMaster, MasterCook, and RecipeML.

I agree that too much easy questions have a negative effect on a SE site, but

  • the grade of difficulty of a question is not measured by the number of links Google returns
  • a question is difficult depending from the knowledge of the user who asks it

I can find many links to the theory of relativity, but that doesn't mean all the questions about the theory of relativity are easy questions.
A question that is the equivalent of "What is the result of 1 + 1?" for the SE site about mathematic is clearly too simple, but it is also true that all questions seem easy for who knows much about a topic. For example, if you ask a question about Drupal core code to a Drupal maintainer, he is probably able to answer you without to search too much (especially if the question is about the part he is maintaining), while you could have looked hundreds of code lines without understanding what happens, and what the answer to your question is; this is particularly true for Drupal 7, where it is more difficult to follow which functions are called from another one (in particular, when the function invokes the method of a class whose name is found in a Drupal persistent variable).

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