I see lots and lots of comments about reducing the noise:quality ratio that is strived for on SO. It seems however there is a lot of frustration by more avid and achieved users (moderators, high rep users, long-term users, etc.) vs. the newbies on the site. Even with my small amount of rep, I get this.

In fact the same frustrations seem to occur over and over by the more experienced users (in whatever category) having to downvote, close questions that are subjective, repaste links to similarly asked questions, tell people to read the F-A-Q, etc. An annoying cycle dealing with new and non-understanding users to keep SO moving in the right direction. How annoying it must be as a moderator or an experienced user to have to do things over, and over, and over because new or inexperienced users just don't read or get what this site is supposed to be. I know certainly I would get annoyed and even a little cynical if I had to deal with that on an ongoing basis.

I may not have a high rep, but I am an experienced software engineer and I read these forums often so I get the jist of what is trying to be achieved here: Don't be the same old typical forums where spam, jokes, repeated bad questions, bad answers, and ultimately a truly bad collection of data exists.

In order to prevent this you need well seasoned users to participate to create and achieve this goal. SO has several means to move toward that goal now like upvoting/downvoting, incentives, and active moderation, but none of it seems to prevent the reoccurring tug-o-war occuring between those that just don't get the philosophy of SO and those that do.

What if a more explicit means of weeding out hose that cause noise, don't get that SO is not like other forums, and don't know how to use it properly existed? Here are some ideas:

  • Make a new user take a multiple choice question quiz on the FAQ for SO before being allowed to participate. I can't tell you how many times people have to post: "According to the FAQ... We don't allow this because the FAQ states... You should not because the FAQ... And all valid points. User's must learn and understand the FAQ prior to acceptance to SO. After all we don't give out a driver's license without passing an exam.
  • Split the site or have a 'Graduation/Ultimate/SuperUser, etc' section for those above a certain rep point. i.e. users above 5,000 can be a part of the real SO, and those below are a part of beginner SO or something (don't be concerned with my verbiage - just the concepts please). It's like 1st class on an airplane: you typically know who will be in 1st class because it naturally filters by financial ability. In the case of SO, let's filter by document brain power (reputation). No reason the experienced users can't float back to the less experienced forum to help, but gives them a place to be segregated from the noise and annoyance and to collaborate on a higher and more productive level.
  • Be more like SO Careers where membership is only by invitation. This would really limit junk and noisy users by a great extent keeping the site to those more tight knit to the community with more productive use of SO.
  • Charge for the site in addition to other filtering techniques. I know this is rarely popular but the ideology of SO is not like that of an open forum anyways so charging for use might once again make people take the usage more seriously and follow the guidelines as set out in the FAQ and documentation.

SO is not the ordinary forum, we all know that and know it wants to achieve to be 10x better than all the other typicall forums around. But as a community it is difficult to achieve these goals when membership and acceptance is still allowed like the typical forums on the internet. To be different we have to treat how it is used differently as well in addition to all the other techniques already implemented on SO to help achieve this. It may be time to draw a line in the sand to help better achieve this goal.

share|improve this question
1  
Quizzes would make awesome CAPTCHAs. Oh wait... –  BoltClock's a Unicorn Mar 26 '12 at 16:44
2  
I've seen many questions on ux.SE about account creation processes. The decision there is unanimous:make signup as easy as possible. I'll dig up some links tomorrow, it's annoying to do it from the mobile site. –  Manishearth Mar 26 '12 at 16:47
1  
SO is the pre-qualification process. For the real SO, Programmers. –  Yannis Mar 26 '12 at 16:54
9  
Man, something like this would be great for other situations too, like being able to drive a car. Then nobody would ever break traffic laws! –  K.G. Mar 26 '12 at 16:56
    
The last (2) comments by K.G. and @David make fun of my suggestion in the form of stating implicitly that I am naive and my suggestions are not worth it. But yet you gain rep for the sarcasm. Something wrong with that don't you think? –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 18:19
    
@atconway: In what way have I gained reputation from sarcasm? If you're offended by my previous comment, then I'm removing it. No harm done. But there is no reputation for comments. –  David Mar 26 '12 at 18:20
    
Ahhh, just think: If I had taken a quiz before being allowed on Meta to know there was no reputaion for comments I would have know that already, and omitted that portion of my sentance. Guess I should dig into the FAQ some more... –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 18:25
3  
That's not just the case on Meta, of course. You don't get reputation for comments on any of the SE sites. And yes, on Meta you do frequently gain rep for sarcasm, but I don't think that's mentioned in the FAQ... :-) –  Cody Gray Mar 26 '12 at 19:27
    
@atconway If I intended an implication of naivete, it was harmless, I assure you. We're all naive about a great many things, and sometimes an analogy (strawman, whatever) can help us see things in context. If you're really sour about it, I'll delete that comment, and for a limited time only, this one too. –  K.G. Mar 26 '12 at 19:58
    
SO has to make some sort of profit to keep the servers running... –  ben is uǝq backwards Mar 26 '12 at 20:16
    
Nobody will have to worry about my meta suggestions soon anyways - a few more ones that nobody likes and I will not have enough rep to even ask a question anymore. –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 21:25
    
All I am trying to say here is that I a good majority feel this way about SO: "Come ye, come all to this open base of knowledge on software engineering/programming. We want everyone to join... Shhhh... oh yeah not really - we just want specific types of users that adhere to our philosophy but will wait until they fail to tell them how we really operate around here." Instead it should be "Welcome to SO, home of the premier programming community. Now accepting applications for accepatance into our world." Now in reality I know that's a bit extreme, but something in the middle would be +1 –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 21:50
add comment

4 Answers

I get where you're coming from, I really do. But I just don't see a solution in creating a barrier to Stack Overflow use.

Make a new user take a multiple choice question quiz on the FAQ for SO before being allowed to participate.

This will discourage people who don't really want to participate, sure. But it will also discourage people who potentially do want to participate. It's a barrier to all new users, even the ones we want to encourage. Even a small barrier that's overcome in a few moments/clicks will drive away a significant percentage of users.

Consider any time you click a link or a button and expect to see something, but are instead presented with something else you have to click in order to see that something. It's aggravating. And it incites a rage-quit.

Split the site or have a 'Graduation/Ultimate/SuperUser, etc' section for those above a certain rep point.

No. We do not want to encourage elitism. Imagine all of the useful content that Stack Overflow wouldn't have generated if all 20,000+ rep users were hiding away in their own version of the site.

(I'd also like to point out a flawed statement you made... "brain power (reputation)". The two are not directly linked by any means. Please don't make the mistake of assuming that all high-rep users are by definition more intelligent or better programmers than all low-rep users.)

Be more like SO Careers where membership is only by invitation.

The size of the community would be dramatically reduced if this had previously been implemented. The growth of the community would be dramatically slowed. The amount of useful content of the community would be much lower. Stack Overflow is open to the community, and we're all part of the community. Even the people we don't like.

Charge for the site in addition to other filtering techniques.

Absolutely not. Again, it's an unnecessary barrier to entry. It promotes elitism. It doesn't welcome users at all. Besides, what would unregistered users see on the site? Maybe a question and a bunch of obscured answers with links to register in order to see the answers? That model's been done before, and endless frustration with it was one of the things Stack Overflow originally set out to avoid.


Stack Overflow is open to everyone. Everyone. Even people we don't like. Everyone is welcome to come here and ask/answer/participate. Not just the nicest people. Not just the smartest people. Not just the most connected people. Not just the people with disposable income. Not just the most experienced professionals. Everyone.

The community occasionally has to get rid of a small number of people (either forcibly, which I understand to be a relatively rare event, or passively by just allowing them to rage-quit and simply walk away). That happens. But I'd rather have to temporarily deal with a very small number of people I don't want around than have to permanently deprive myself and the rest of the community of a very large number of people I do want around.

share|improve this answer
    
"No. We do not want to encourage elitism." I don't know if I totally agree with this statement. The whole/rep badge program does this implicitly. It's like being a 'Chairman' miles member on an airline. It may not intend to encourage elitism, but it does none the less... IMO (which here on meta seems to be worthless so take this comment for what it's worth according to my rep :P) –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 17:58
    
@atconway: Some may perceive and infer elitism, but we certainly don't wish to encourage it. And if there are any cases where it's outwardly noticeable, you can feel free to call attention to it. (That is, if any high-rep users are saying things like, "Look buddy, you don't have a lot of rep, so you don't know what you're talking about" then that's certainly worth flagging for a mod to delete.) The reputation system really only reflects active participation in the site. –  David Mar 26 '12 at 18:02
    
"Stack Overflow is open to everyone. Everyone. Even people we don't like."* BTW, a lot of this stemmed from thoughts I was already having in addition to this comment from a high-rep user: "Learn to write good questions from the feedback you get or go away" See my point exactly: we all say "Everyone's welcome" but I do not believe for one second it is really meant. My suggestions were those of being more explicit about entry and the philosophy of SO to reduce frustration by the general user. –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 18:03
    
@atconway: For example... Jon Skeet is a skilled developer. He also has a lot of reputation. But I would argue (and he himself seems to agree) that his reputation comes more from the fact that he has tons of answers, not that he has the absolute best answers every time. Someone once tweeted a picture of Jon standing in line at a cafeteria with a laptop so he could continue to answer questions while in line. That's participation. –  David Mar 26 '12 at 18:04
    
@atconway: That does sound like an unnecessarily confrontational comment, and I imagine it should be flagged for a mod to remove it. –  David Mar 26 '12 at 18:05
    
+1 for reputation != brainpower / experience –  ben is uǝq backwards Mar 26 '12 at 20:15
    
@Ben: Someone once asked me what the number of upvotes on a question indicates. (Implying a measure of quality, popularity, etc.) I answered that it indicates how many people have clicked the little up arrow next to the question, and nothing more. –  David Mar 26 '12 at 20:29
    
Don't put it down too much! I like it when people click the little up-arrow; and if they're doing that, whatever their rep, they must be intelligent / experienced :-) –  ben is uǝq backwards Mar 26 '12 at 20:38
1  
Very few users for example with 10,000 rep (maybe a few) are dummies. If rep doesn't somewhat correlate to a user's potential which partially stems from brainpower (or ability and knowldge which does not come without brainpower - can;t just guess and get high rep), then the rating/rep system is partially broke. –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 21:29
2  
@atconway It correlates somewhat with brainpower, but the stronger correlation is with time spent on the site. –  Daniel Fischer Mar 26 '12 at 21:44
    
I could spend years on the site, but if I have no knowledge of the topics my rep will go nowhere. Last I checked hovering on the site garners no rep. You have to particiapte, and in this technical world, you need some brainpower to have meaningful and correct solutions to problems. –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 21:52
    
@atconway: Statistically, yes, good programmers get high rep. (There are exceptions. I don't have a link handy, but I remember a user who had almost no answers, all of which were low quality, but had tons of questions and, as a result, statistically gathered a respectable reputation score.) The inverse, however, is most certainly not true. Low reputation does not equate to a lack of capability. –  David Mar 26 '12 at 22:12
add comment

This is not a "for experts only" site, so all of your suggestions but the first are non-starters.

The only thing we could possibly implement is:

Make a new user take a multiple choice question quiz on the FAQ for SO before being allowed to participate.

But I'm not really sure that would solve anything. People would just take the quiz and then post their questions anyway. It's not scientific, but in my personal experience of closing a zillion and a half questions, the person who posted that question was not completely unaware of our guidelines as set out in the FAQ; they just chose to ignore them. Sometimes people think that the question is different and therefore not a violation, and other times they just think they're so special that the rules don't apply to them. A quiz is not going to solve this problem, it's just going to make it more difficult for users to join and participate on the site, even users who would add something valuable and constructive.

Note that there already are a lot of things we require new users to click through before they're allowed to ask a question, and if I'm reading your question correctly, you don't think they're helping. So I'm not really sure why adding another barrier to entry would suddenly improve the situation.

If you see noise, we already have mechanisms in place by which to deal with it. Depending on your reputation, you can edit and improve it, downvote it, vote to close it, vote to delete it, and/or flag it for moderator attention. All of these things work, and there's a bunch more cool stuff that happens behind the scenes in response to users taking advantage of these mechanisms in order to discourage low quality questions. For example, if a users asks too many questions that get severely downvoted, closed, and deleted, they can be automatically blocked from posting any new questions.

I don't mean for this to sound harsh (and I'm not even sure if it applies to you because I didn't check your SO profile), but if you're just sitting around complaining about the noise and low quality content without taking advantage of the many existing mechanisms provided to improve the site, then you're part of the problem, not part of the solution.

share|improve this answer
    
Nope no complaining here. The content is fine if not superb. However there is a constant tug-o-war and sense of wide frustration about those not understanding this is not another run of the mill forum; it's different. Something to be more explicit about how it operates rather than a such a brute force 'manual' process of implementing it: i.e. heavy moderation to police the philosohy. My ideas were only a few and I didn't want everyone to get stuck on them and focus more on the original question with the overall intended outcome. –  atconway Mar 26 '12 at 17:55
add comment

Simple sentence: "Information wants to be free." That is the spirit of (most of) the internet, and I think Stack Exchange should help this along.

share|improve this answer
add comment

When I notice a user with very low rep (below 30ish) who's only asked a couple of questions with no accepted answers or questions that seem mediocre, I leave a comment saying "Welcome to StackOverflow. Read the about(linked) page if you haven't already", and they normally leave "thank you" reply comments. This leads me to believe that they might just not know that the about page exists.

I didn't realize those links where there when I first started, and I think part of that could be because almost all of the visual focus is "Question and Answer", and that neutrally-colored, super-thin bar across the top of the page that holds the real navigation goes unexplored due to lack of interest. Even if a new user notices the "About" link, it's not obvious that those are general rules, and they likely assume it's normal gloating about why Stack Overflow is good (like most about pages ever).

My 2 ideas:

  • When a user goes to post their first question, they must check a check box that says "I have read the About(linked) page". Not sure if this should be first question or first answer because there seems to be no focus on what makes a good answer.

  • Rename the about page to something like "Tour" or "Tutorial". Perhaps even change the background color to something other than a neutral shade of gray so it's more noticeable.

share|improve this answer
add comment

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .