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The community FAQ doesn't get enough respect. By definition, its entries carry the moderator-only tag , which bestows a degree of official-ness. The entire reason Meta Stack Overflow exists is to be the place where users can get support and discuss the network's nuts-and-bolts issues, and that starts with having a solid resource on how things work. Unfortunately, as Jeff said last year, "the community FAQ as it exists today is an unreadable, un-navigable mess."

Having our FAQ is, in some ways, worse than not having one at all. My suggestions here are geared towards making the FAQ a useful, usable resource. (Full disclosure: I've put a fair amount of energy into community FAQ entries, and I want it to have been for something.)

Discovering that the FAQ exists

The first part of the problem is that it's hard to even find the FAQ if you aren't already familiar with how it works, or how MSO works in general. New users are likely to try the "faq" link in the header, but not the one that says "meta." If they do make it here, it's still not obvious that special FAQ entries exist. The only link to the FAQ main page on MSO's main page is buried in the middle of a small house ad, ranking only slightly higher than "The Many Memes of Meta." The /faq pages do link to the tag page here on MSO, but only in an inconspicuous link at the bottom of the page.

Finding the right FAQ entry

The next part of the problem is finding the right FAQ entry. The FAQ does have an index page, but it's no easier to find than any other FAQ page, and it's pretty bloated and difficult to navigate. It's actually a holdover from a time when the entire FAQ was one question and each FAQ entry was an answer to that question. It's often more useful to search for [faq] KEYWORD than it is to use the index page.

Organization

The index page is currently organized into categories that make logical sense if you look at them in a vacuum. However, those categories aren't necessarly helpful to users who are coming here with specific error messages or topics in mind. We can increase usability by front-loading the FAQ main page with the most common problems people are trying to solve (e.g. "how can I regain ownership of a question I asked while not logged in" and "why won't SO let me ask new questions").

Since the keyword use case is somewhat redundant with simple search, as mentioned above, it might be nice to turn the index page into something written in natural language. That would be really difficult to do well, though, and it would still end up using a lot of keywords.

Volume

Another blow to readability and navigability comes from the sheer volume of -tagged content. We currently use the tag primarily for three types of posts: "problems," "instructions" and "general info about the network." There are still a few stray posts left over from when MSO was split off of SO, too. They were tagged before the tag was moderator-only, and may not be "real" FAQ entries.

This is mostly because MSO mods — who now control the tag — have no clear guidelines to follow for determining whether a question would make a good FAQ entry. The current workflow is just to slap on a tag and wait for some MSO mod to wander by, notice it and agree that the topic is important enough to deserve FAQ status for some reason.

Questions like "Who are the Community Coordinators, and what do they do?" and "RSS feed for responses to your posts" may be nice to have around, but they aren't frequently asked. There is a cost to having lots of FAQ entries: the more there are, the harder it is for users to find the one they need.

Quality

Some of the current community FAQ entries are based on good questions but don't have good answers, either because of content or spelling/grammar issues. These problems aren't really the focus of this post, and they do tend to get cleaned up over time, but I thought it was worth a quick mention.

Action items (AKA "the tl;dr box")

To start off, we need to create a set of standards governing what qualifies for the tag. Then, we should review the entire list of existing entries and strip the tag from posts that don't meet the new guidelines.

Next, the main FAQ page will need updating. While it's being edited, it should be reorganized into three main sections: Troubleshooting, Tutorial and General Information (in that order). We should consider replacing the current list-of-keywords format with natural language.

After those two things are done, we'll want to give our new, user-friendly community FAQ exposure commensurate with its importance. There should be a prominent link to it on the MSO main page and the tops of other sites' /faq pages.

Going forward, maybe we could even put direct links to relevant entries under the subsections of site /faq pages. (I think this may have been posted as a standalone feature request in the past.) Further down the line, I'd like to see the /faq pages and the community FAQ get merged, but... a few steps at a time.

Related post (just one of many): /faq HUHN! What is it good for?

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What about "historical importance" and "things we shall not do that everyone always asks" and what about "things which do not need to be answered but which get asked often" –  jcolebrand Oct 24 '11 at 20:20
    
I'm not sure what you mean. Could you give an example or two of each? –  Pops Oct 24 '11 at 20:23
    
I'm not sure either off the top of my head, but those lept from my gut, so I figured they were important. "things which do not need to be answered" might include "how does the vote fraud detection script work" and "things which we shall not do" to include "show me what others voted on, let me friend other people" –  jcolebrand Oct 24 '11 at 21:35
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1 Answer

A first draft of -tagging guidelines:

Each FAQ entry should:

  • explain a current/active feature that people Frequently Ask Questions about in practice
  • provide an answer that is supported officially by the team (or at least by strong community consensus if no official word is available)
  • be comprehensive
  • not be a duplicate
  • apply to all or most sites in the network
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One way to tell that an entry has strong community support is to find comments pointing to it on sites in the network. –  Kate Gregory Oct 24 '11 at 20:05
    
I've been wondering whether I should add the "FAQ entries must be CW" rule to the list. On one hand, they probably shouldn't generate rep. On the other hand, it's only worthless Meta rep. Also, we probably don't want low-rep users coming in and changing the FAQ much, although that hasn't ever been a problem in practice as far as I know. –  Pops Oct 24 '11 at 20:52
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