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We see a few misguided users here on Meta [asking programming questions], every single one I checked does have a Stack Overflow account...so I wonder what sends them here?

So I clicked Ask Question on Stack Overflow and got the usual site. One thing which jumped to my attention was the "How to Ask" help field...with a link to Meta.

Showing the help field.

Could it be that new users misinterpret that text as follows?

You want to ask a question on this site, ask here.

Additionally the same help field on Meta does not have a link back to Stack Overflow.

Same thing on Meta without the link.

Shouldn't there be one?

If you want to ask a programming or software development question, please ask on the main site.

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That might help but I think most of those are too lazy to read it anyway. –  slhck Nov 2 '11 at 10:32
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#1 could be the reason why so many people ask SO questions on Meta. –  Pëkka Nov 2 '11 at 10:33
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oh, a minecraft creeper. Be careful! –  Nick Dandoulakis Nov 2 '11 at 12:21
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We looked at this early on - a lot of us suspect that it is people who confuse it as meaning "ask questions about websites". So, website design, website coding... if it has to do with a website, it is asked on Meta. –  Grace Note Nov 2 '11 at 14:39
    
@GraceNote: Mh, would this qualify as Duplicate? –  Time Traveling Bobby Nov 2 '11 at 15:40
    
I think this is spot on. Not only that, but a lot of questions that go through to here seem to be made by users whose native language is not english, which might explain the reason for the confusion further. –  Xeon06 Nov 21 '11 at 18:44
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6 Answers

Change the text to: If your question is about the Stack Overflow website itself, ask it on meta instead.

Pronouns can be misinterpreted. Pronouns can also be deliberately misinterpreted.

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That is what happened to me on my first days on StackOverflow.

If your question is about this site

is very misguiding. Since many sites just offers a FAQ or Read before you begin type guides, asking about the site itself is really misunderstandable.

Something like:

Have questions about how SO works, and how it might be improved? Try asking on meta

might be better, more explanatory.

UPDATE: For the second part of the question,

Additionally the same help field on Meta does not have a link back to Stack Overflow.

I do not see it necessary, since people who visits meta for the first time already have an idea about what StackOverflow is (probably because they already come meta from SO), or they are enough familiar with it. But new SO users do not even know that a such site like meta even exists.

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But new SO users do not even know that a such site like meta even exists. That's the point. We might send them in circles (first to Meta and then back to Parent with that link) but that's better then being stuck on Meta...at least for them. –  Time Traveling Bobby Nov 21 '11 at 16:01
    
I prefer to offer users new options then tell them what they already know (: So, Stackexchange Sites [stackexchange.com/sites] link would be more meaningful in my opinion. –  FallenAngel Nov 21 '11 at 16:13
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Does the "How to Ask" field guide new users to us?

The sentence they read is "If your question is about this site, ask it on meta." If my question is about C#, Perl, or any other programming language then it is not about this site, except in the case the question is similar to "Is Stack Exchange software written in Perl?" If the users read it as "ask your questions on meta," then the problem is their understanding of written English. This could explain why some users ask questions on this very site instead of asking it on Stack Overflow, though.

I agree, there should be a sentence that users asking questions on Meta Stack Overflow should read when they asking a question. I am not sure about the sentence to use.
"If you want to ask a programming or software development question, please ask on the main site." would not be completely true, as I could ask a question about how Stack Exchange software implements some features: It would be a programming question, but it would be related to SE sites. It would also redirect the users to a single SE site, when programming questions can be asked in different SE sites, depending on the exact programming question.
Even leaving out the few users that are interesting in asking a programming question about SE software (which, I have to admit, they are a little percentage, and generally they are not new users), if the users understood the first sentence as telling them to ask their questions on Meta Stack Overflow, when they read the sentence on Meta Stack Overflow:

  • they are confused on where to ask their questions, and they will ask where to ask questions on one of the sites
  • they are confused, but as they understood the first sentence as saying to ask the questions on Meta Stack Overflow, they will ask the question on Meta Stack Overflow
  • they are confused, but they follow what suggested in the second sentence, and ask their question on Stack Overflow

In the latter case, if they ask a programming question related to SE software on Stack Overflow, there is probably less damage done. The questions is then, how much users who understood the first sentence as telling them to ask their questions on Meta Stack Overflow would understand that Stack Overflow is the site they are probably looking for, when they read the second sentence?

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I think that the stack network is probably very confusing to newcomers, and most users probably don't read the faq's soon enough.

In addition to the other proposals, I'd probably add a text linking to the network if other questions to other topics, i.e.

Have questions about how SO works, and how it might be improved? Try asking on meta. Is your question about ubuntu, photography, or fishing? Take a look at our other stack sites.

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On the meta site there should be a link to a page about other exchange sites with a brief explanation about what kind of questions is appropriate to ask there (Yeah I know the names of the exchange sites are a giveaway but you never know...) The reason for this is simply because programming these days can overlap esp if you're in web development. Questions could be server/service related with a developmental overlap. So in my humble opinion, Stack may bring new users here, but let's not send them back without making them aware of the other exchange sites (No the exchange link on the top left is not immediately obvious :) to new users) that will be more appropriate to their questions.

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This issue is becoming quite noticeable on meta, though they get closed so quickly. But here is my suggestion :

Normally when a new user attempts to answer a question on SO, a tip slides up and says :

enter image description here

The same could be implemented here on meta when a new user is about to ask a question. It may look like :

enter image description here

Just a humble opinion of mine.

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