New users of a Stack Exchange site may not fully understand how the site works. For example, the user may not know how to vote, what reputation is, how to format a question or answer, or how to navigate the site. While the FAQ and privilege pages may offer enough information to teach new users some of the basics of Stack Exchange, they aren't the most coherent or beginner-friendly way to teach how the site works.
To help new users learn the ropes, I suggest a guided tour for users creating an account for the first time on a Stack Exchange site. The tour should consist of a series of pages that (suggestions welcome):
- welcomes the user to the site
- explain how to post (and edit) a question, answer, or comment
- specify the scope of the site, what questions are on or off topic, and other questions to avoid asking (such as those that are highly subjective)
- provide examples of good and bad questions and answers
- show how to vote on posts and accept answers
- explain the reputation and badge systems
- show how to navigate the site; how to search for questions using the search box, tags, etc.; and how to find users
- show users how to read user profiles
- explain what meta is and how to use it
- introduce chat and explain how to use it
- introduce users to the Stack Exchange network as a whole, and how the site forms part of the SE network (including a brief introduction to Area 51 and the new site proposal process)
- discuss more advanced features such as flagging a post, voting to close, community wiki, etc.
By creating a guided tour for new users, we can help keep users interested in Stack Exchange and make the site easier for novices to use. There should be a bronze badge for completing the tour. Personally, I'd like to have the tour give the impression that users are embarking on an exciting journey by posting their first question or answer.
We can use the suggestions on RFC - Stack Exchange 2-minute intro as a start, but I'd prefer an interactive page-by-page introduction on the sites themselves, where users can learn by doing, rather than by watching a video.
Edit: As an extension of this feature request, we may want to consider taking the approach Dropbox takes: create a series of "quests" for the user to take, each involving a key function of the system (which includes completing the guided tour). Once the user completes a certain number of these quests, award a reputation bonus (perhaps 50) to the user. These quests should include (suggestions welcome):
- complete the guided tour
- ask a question, earning at least one upvote
- answer a question, earning at least one upvote
- accept an answer
- share a link to a question or answer, visited by at least 25 unique IP addresses
- flag a post (marked helpful)
- participate in meta
- participate in chat
- associate an account on one site with accounts on other Stack Exchange sites
Here's how Dropbox does it:
Assuming we don't implement the "quests" above, we can nonetheless give users a reputation incentive (perhaps 10 or 15 points) on top of the badge for completing the guided tour. That way, we can encourage users to read about how the site works, helping new users write better posts and take better advantage of what Stack Exchange has to offer.
One of the key reasons to have a guided tour is to have all the important information on how to use Stack Exchange in one place, rather than scattered across places like the FAQ, the privileges pages, the meta site, and the blog. The way the rules are presently laid out on Stack Exchange can make it hard for beginners to fully understand the rules. A guided tour can make these rules and guidelines more cohesively arranged, which can greatly help users who need help finding a certain rule or guideline that they may have missed. The tour doesn't need to thoroughly explain every rule, but it should briefly mention most of the key points about using Stack Exchange; the tour text should contain links to full discussions of rules.