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First impressions are important, and one specific restriction SE places on new users can easily lead to a very bad first impression (see here for a recent example). If you add more than two links or any image to your post you'll encounter the following surprise when you try to submit your post:

enter image description here

One aspect that leads to this very bad first user experience is that there is absolutely no warning about this before hitting submit. The first time you're notified about these restrictions is when you already did all the work of adding links or images. Then you have to do even more work and break those links and images again, just to be able to submit your post. I wouldn't be surprised if a lot of users just give up and don't post their answer.

You also can't just put the links as plain text, they'll be automatically converted to links in most cases (if the http:// is present) and you'll be stopped from submitting your post. To avoid this restrictions new users have to either completely delete the link or obfuscate it in a way that breaks the link detection.

Users should be warned the moment they want to add too many links or any image, the link and image buttons in the editor should also be disabled when using them would cause the users to run into these restrictions. New users even get the same Markdown explanations directly in the editor that mention how to insert images, but not that they actually aren't allowed to do that. There is absolutely no hint that image uploading is not possible for new users, before you hit the submit button. On the contrary, it's a prominent feature with its own button on the toolbar and a whole tab on the Markdown quick help.

Another very problematic aspect of this restriction is that it hurts those new users that are making an effort, it doesn't hurt users that just post crappy one-liners as answers. On Skeptics specifically, users that have observed our site and understand our citation requirement will inevitably try to include several links in their answers and fail. We're punishing exactly the kind of user we want to attract to the site. If a user tries to emulate the way our top users answer on the site, they'll run full-speed into the link limit and might get discouraged from posting there ever again.

Now, I've tried to convince SE to remove the link restrictions from Skeptics and also started a discussion on whether this restriction makes any sense anywhere in the SE network, both unsuccessfully so far. So while I still want this restriction lifted, reducing it's negative impact would be a good first step.

The image restriction is understandable, I think it would be a good idea to just disable that functionality for new users. Instead of the image upload dialog, they should get a notice telling them that they need 10 reputation to post images.

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I don't understand the whole spam/image thing anyway. It takes less than a few minutes for the community to flag spammers to death, so it actually doesn't matter if they post a gazillion links or just one. Same goes for images. Heck, that'd make spam even more obvious. –  slhck Apr 20 '12 at 7:51
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@slhck: I would say that images should stay restricted, let 'em post links. The obliging community can convert the images if they wish. Maybe we can leave a message when they try to post images: "sorry, you do not have sufficient rep/privs to post images. Please post a link and ask for it to be converted in the comments". –  Manishearth Apr 20 '12 at 8:09
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@slhck I understand the image restriction, a malicious user posting NSFW images could cause quite an annoyance. The link restriction doesn't seem to do anything useful, though. –  Mad Scientist Apr 20 '12 at 8:11
    
Well, I'd the annoyance would be dealt with in seconds, since it only takes a small number of spam/offensive flags to auto-delete a post. But I have no idea of what images have already been blocked, so that could be an interesting number to evaluate. –  slhck Apr 20 '12 at 8:14
    
Your "recent" example is from over a year ago. And how do we "warn" about pasted hyperlinks? Disable the string http:// in the editor? –  Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '12 at 9:02
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@JeffAtwood The recent example is from yesterday, the wife of one of our top users. Disabling the buttons (for inserting images and links) with an explanatory tooltip and adding exactly the messages that appear after submit directly while the post is still edited would help a lot. And for links I'd like to remove that restriction completely anyway, I don't see how it helps with spam, and it leads to an absolutely toxic new user experience on Skeptics, for those user that bother to learn how the site works and try to add many references. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 9:08
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@JeffAtwood Ah, I see what happened, you got auto-redirected because the recent example was closed as a duplicate of my initial feature request. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 9:09
    
@JeffAtwood: if $('#wmd-preview').find('a').length > 2 show some kind of warning message in a large font. shouldn't be too complicated –  Kip Apr 23 '12 at 18:17
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@JeffAtwood This is still frustrating new users that are trying to submit high-quality answers and are playing by the rules. The "workaround" we have sucks. This is a terrible user experience - they are being punished for doing the right thing. I hate to think how many answerers have given up and closed the tab instead of editing when they were told they couldn't submit. –  jozzas May 11 '12 at 0:12
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@jozzas: we're working on collecting data for this - I understand it's frustrating, but I don't want to disable the check until we're sure we have a better one in place. Incidentally, this includes finding out exactly how many users give up instead of editing - which we probably should have been tracking already. –  Shogging through the snow May 11 '12 at 5:51

3 Answers 3

Disabling the buttons (for inserting images and links) with an explanatory tooltip and adding exactly the messages that appear after submit directly while the post is still edited would help a lot

This toolbar change would do nothing for users that cut and paste links in the editor. Absolutely nothing, and I'd argue the advanced "they used 12 links in their first post" users you are referring to are precisely the ones that would not be using amenities like "click this toolbar to insert a link", they'd be cutting and pasting.

I understand the idea that it's better to warn earlier, but the only effective way to do this is continually parse the text in the textbox, and invent some other kind of real time "oops you can't post this" notification system, which seems like a lot of engineering work for a very narrow set of users and limited use case.

Another very problematic aspect of this restriction is that it hurts those new users that are making an effort

You can already make quite a substantial effort in your first answer with the two link limit. And users that are willing to make an effort are exactly the ones that won't be hindered by this "limitation" anyway.

On Skeptics specifically, users that have observed our site and understand our citation requirement will inevitably try to include several links in their answers and fail.

Yet again, I'd argue that the type of advanced user you're referring to could make do with the two best links and have the rest entered as URLs. The specific post you are referring to is here

Did the USSR send a flying disk with mutant childlike aviators to Roswell in 1947?

It contains a grand total of four, count 'em, four, links.

Is it really the end of the world for this user to construct the other two links like

Popular Science did an article about this on the 50th anniversary back in 1997. A telling line is:

versus

Popular Science did an article about this on the 50th anniversary back in 1997.

muller.lbl.gov/teaching/physics10/Roswell/RoswellPopSci.html

A telling line is:

Remember too that you're talking about 10 rep, which is just one answer upvote (or two question upvotes). It is an exceedingly temporary limitation if you post a two-link answer of any value whatsoever.

I'd argue that editing these posts to help the new user build in necessary links is also a nice gesture, showing that we don't just upvote great answers, we edit them into shape which is entirely the goal and purpose of our system -- we edit everything together.

What better day to learn that key lesson than on their very first day?

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How is a new user supposed to know that the plaintext link will not trigger the limit? I'd rather just break the links automatically if that limit has to stay, than forcing the user to manually break all the links. And for images I'd suspect that nearly every new user uses the toolbar, I doubt many new users are familar with markdown syntax at all. Having the button there, and then telling the user only after submitting that they are not allowed to post images is just completely baffling. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 18:52
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Another point I never figured out is what exactly restricting the number links is supposed to help. I could understand how zero links would stop spammers, but I see no difference between allowing two links or twenty. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 18:53
    
Sheesh, Jeff. You haven't had an upvoted answer for so long that you forgot how much rep that gives? Let me remind you. –  Daniel Fischer Apr 21 '12 at 18:59
    
@dan it says more than 10 rep in the above screenshots, but I guess you're right -- since you start with 1 rep, 1 upvote would get you to 11. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '12 at 19:15
    
@fabian so on the one hand we have a new user who has no idea how to make links so they must rely on the toolbar, on the other hand we have a new user who is capable of researching their answer and putting in 4+ links. Which is it again? :) Remember too that literally pasting in the link as a bare hyperlink (no markdown whatsoever, in fact markdown official spec doesn't even auto-hyperlink) works fine, as it does in most places on the web... –  Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '12 at 19:16
    
@JeffAtwood A new user likely never encountered markdown syntax before, and for non-programmers adding the links in markdown syntax is not really something they'll immediately do in their first post. And I don't see what the big problem is with just showing the exact notice you see currently after submission instead directly when more than 2 links are in the post. You're constantly parsing the source anyway for the preview, it would just need to keep track of the number of links and images. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 19:22
    
@fab overall I am sympathetic but I think this is such a narrow case on a single site that it's really not a problem. It's also paradoxical to me that these 'advanced' well researched answer posting type of users would be so flummoxed by a 2 link restriction on a site they didn't even have to register to post at, I simply can't believe that. Does it happen once every six months somewhere on the SE network? Perhaps. Is that reason enough to radically revamp the way we do this. I don't think so. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '12 at 19:24
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One big problem is that the restriction directly contradicts what we're trying to tell our users at every point. We bombard them with requests to cite their claims, and if a new user then tries to follow that advice he's greeted by that error. I suspect most users just work around it (but I don't know how many never post their answers due to it), but it just leaves a bad first impression. Skeptics is not exactly the most newbie-friendly site of the network, we don't want to make it any worse than necessary. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 19:27
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I'd be fine with this restriction if I thought it would actually do anything, but I'm not convinced that it helps with a single spam message. –  Mad Scientist Apr 21 '12 at 19:29
    
I agree that this is a pretty limited use case, but to be fair, changing PageDown to show a warning above the editor (like the help is displayed) if you've gone over the limits wouldn't be too tricky (though admittedly I can't think of a reason to add the necessary hooks except for this purpose). –  Tim Stone Apr 21 '12 at 19:33
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@fabian you think that because you never see all the link-stuffing spam. The #1 criteria for spam is "massive numbers of links relative to content". Which gives me an idea.. if we switched it to be more like "as a new user, must have n characters of non-link content for each link" that would be pretty awesome actually. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '12 at 19:58
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I like that idea... Also encourages link+content, which is good even apart from spam. Making a note to do some quick n dirty checks for useful threshholds next week. –  Shogging through the snow Apr 21 '12 at 20:33
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@shog maybe "must have (n) characters of non-link content for each link" should apply to all users. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '12 at 21:44
    
@Jeff Definitely. One could discuss whether there should be two thresholds, a slightly lower one for users above x rep, but I favour equality in that. –  Daniel Fischer Apr 22 '12 at 1:38

We've got AJAX all over the place; how about some nice inline validation Just In Time? If it's a new user, check if they've attempted to post too many links/images and give them a visible warning before they attempt to submit. I wish more validation messages on SE were like that because if you get a validation error, you're 80% certain to get a CAPTCHA after correcting the error and submitting again.

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Maybe I'm missing something, but wouldn't a fairly simple solution be to automatically convert the hyper-link to a plain-text link once a low-rep user has surpassed their link limit?

i.e If a user with 1 rep attempts to post an answer with 5 links then the first 2 are displayed as normal, and the other 3 are converted to plain-text (sourced at the bottom of the post). Since a low-rep user can already add links in plain text without penalty(*) this would simply be an automation of the current work-around (it doesn't help spammers since they can already paste a huge list of links sans "http://").

(*) Demonstrating my point since my rep is 1: google homepage, stackoverflow homepage, meta stackoverflow homepage(1), meta skeptics stackexchange homepage(2)

imo It would be far less confusing and aggravating for the user as opposed to the current message which implies that the only solution is to remove the links entirely. And linking in this format is a well recognised method of citation and should be easily understood.

Regarding the images, a simple rewording of the Error Message to include "please replace your images with links, the community will edit your post in due course" would do.

(1)(meta.stackoverflow.com), (2)(meta.skeptics.stackexchange.com)

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