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Short version of proposal:

Provide us with a way to filter questions for more advanced or higher-quality questions, so we don't have to skim through the masses of beginner questions that exist if we don't want to.


Long version of proposal:

It seems like some SE sites are struggling to find the balance between maintaining a high quality Q&A site that will attract experts to answer questions, and a popular Q&A site that attracts users to ask questions

To quote one expert when answering why Literature failed,

On the one hand, the most popular topics - reccomendations, story identification, and reading order - seemed to me inconsequential and uninteresting. Their utility is obvious, but generally speaking, these are the opposite of expert questions. These are (usually) trivialities and everybody-can-answer questions. On a more active site with wider scope (e.g. SciFi), these questions might be a mere nuisance in my own opinion, but when they seem like the primary focus of the site, they drown it out. It becomes a site that discourages visitors who were hoping for more than that.

But at the same time the top answer to the question Is StackExchange supposed to be just for experts? is summarized by:

Stack Exchange is for getting answers to questions about actual problems you face. Your expert-level "status" is, with a few notable exceptions, irrelevant if you can explain your problem or help somebody else solve theirs.

But why should we have to choose between higher-quality questions that appeal to the small group of experts, or higher-traffic non-expert questions that appeal to the masses? Why not have both?

My proposal is to create an "Experts View" of the sites, which is basically just a filtered view (like the "hot" or "featured" views) of questions that only shows questions that will most likely interest people who want to discuss a topic at a higher level.

The algorithm wouldn't be perfect, but it should filter out most of the beginner level, common sense, general knowledge, and low-quality questions.

How we identify expert-level questions may need more discussion, however some examples I can think of would include:

  • Questions asked by users that have over X reputation in the question tags

    The assumption is that if you've accumulated enough rep to be in this group, then you probably understand the basics of the subject matter and know how the SE sites work, so questions you ask should be of a higher quality

  • Questions that have over X score

    This could be based on whatever algorithm SE uses to determine a "hot" question for the MultiCollider SuperDropdown, or it could simply be vote-based. I find that the algorithm which determines "hot" questions is pretty good at picking interesting questions, even if sometimes they're not always advanced questions.

  • Maybe even questions that contain X [send to experts] votes

    Similar to the vote-to-close links, have a link available which basically says "this question is of a higher-level than we peons can understand, so send it to the experts to get a good answer on it" (you'd need sufficient rep to see link of course, or perhaps sufficient rep within the question tags). After X votes, a flag is set on the question and it shows up in the Expert filter.

All you would need is an IsExpert flag on the question table, a few triggers that set that flag once the question has been deemed "expert-worthy", and then just add a question view that filters for questions where IsExpert=1

Nothing would stop a user from answering these questions, regardless of their rep. The questions would still show up in all the other question lists, and work the exact same way any other question would. The only difference is users who have been around on the sites for a while and have gotten tired of answering newbie questions, or who are not interested in gaining rep or helping newbies, could filter the list for more advanced questions.

Experts are important to us, but so are the users that ask questions for the experts to answer. This would give the experts a place to go for the higher quality questions that would most likely interest them, while still providing a useful Q&A site for the rest of us who are simply learning and looking for answers.

Note: I've made some updates to the proposal which may invalidate some comments/answers below

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The idea is intriguing. I still have trouble with the notion of declaring someone as an expert. The points requirement is a good start but I've seen a lot of low-level/beginner questions asked by people with 10k+ rep and hundreds of questions. What about those of us who are experts in one tag but beginners in another? –  user185346 May 8 '12 at 17:55
    
@user185346 At the very least, someone who has accumulated 10k+ rep should be able to write a good question worthy of receiving an expert answer. If we find out there are many exceptions, or repeated offenders, then perhaps a flag on the Users table would be sufficient to remove their "expert" status regardless of rep, and would stop their questions from coming up in the "Experts" list –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 17:57
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@Rachel well just because a user has 10K doesn't mean they will ask good questions see Blankman. However if you have a Gold Badge in WPF (which as you know isn't based on rep but on answer upvotes) I'd definitely be interested in your questions on that tag –  Some Helpful Commenter May 8 '12 at 18:04
    
@SomeHelpfulCommenter Hrrrm yes how to identify the expert questions would definitely need more discussion, although what do you think of the idea overall? I could use a place on SO (or other SE sites) to browse good questions every once in a while when I get tired of looking at bad ones :) –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 18:07
    
@Rachel well I like it. But if it doesn't get enough community support you could always create a Stack App to do it. –  Some Helpful Commenter May 8 '12 at 18:11
    
@SomeHelpfulCommenter I'll keep that in mind, thanks. Personally I don't mind the beginner questions, or even the bad ones, but would like to make the SE sites better for everyone involved. I'm told that the most significant reason such experts give when they leave a community is that the signal to noise ratio is terrible, so was thinking something like this would help them cut through the questions they are not interested in, and only deal with higher-quality questions. –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 18:17
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Related suggestion (but focusing on the questions alone, not the authors): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/106717/… either way, +1 for the general direction because there's oh so much boring stuff coming in. I see that even while not active on SO at all (like right now) - occasionally I'll end up on SO's front page out of habit, look at the list of new questions, and think to myself "oh my, I'm glad I don't have to deal with this stuff :)" –  Pëkka May 8 '12 at 18:31
    
@Rachel here's a query I wrote which shows the questions by a user with a Gold Badge for a tag that's included in the question (Top 40 Tags Only) –  Some Helpful Commenter May 8 '12 at 18:36
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@Rachel yeah, an automated algorithm would clearly be totally superior. If someone'd be willing to put in the time, it might be worth building an experimental application against the new API that attempts to find good questions - if it works really well, it could become a useful 3rd party service, or maybe eventually be integrated into SE/SO proper. One could name it "nugget finder" or something. (the analogy of finding tiny pieces of gold in a stream with loads of sand would totally work) :) –  Pëkka May 8 '12 at 18:42
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So instead of asking the experts to dump the bad questions into a trash can (which has been tried before)‌​, you're now saying ask your question in the ghetto first, and be promoted to the promised land if your question is worthy? Ahem. –  Robert Harvey May 8 '12 at 18:49
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@Robert basically, yeah. There is a gap between what is okay to ask, but boring and what is really interesting. Dealing exclusively with the former (which is the vast majority of new content, even after quality filtering) becomes incredibly dreary after a while, especially when rep becomes meaningless. Thinking about ways to pick out the interesting stuff as an additional, optional thing is no sin IMO. –  Pëkka May 8 '12 at 19:00
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@Matthew but what if I've helped beginners 5,000 times (I have - quite literally) and I'm tired of seeing the same mundane issues over and over and over again, no matter how nicely asked and properly researched they are? I'm exaggerating, but you know what I mean. I'm not advocating not helping the newbs; it's great and a part of the site. I'm looking for a metric that allows me to find the kind of question that, say, makes Jon Skeet go, "I have no idea. Let me take a look at the spec and send an E-Mail to Eric Lippert." there isn't currently a way to reliably find those. –  Pëkka May 8 '12 at 19:50
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@Rachel, the problem is that higher quality answers don't lead to a higher rep (more so if there are fewer voters in the expert corner). You're neglecting the gaming aspect here. It's just a bit of fun (or should be), but that certainly helps SE work. For actual expert answers, there are other places (e.g. obscure mailing lists that only the experts would know about). –  Bruno May 8 '12 at 19:59
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@Rachel, the other aspect you're neglecting is that some low rep users may actually be experts already, just without anything in the SE currencies. As I was saying in my answer, I now have a high rep, mostly based on the ssl tag. Most of the things I answer now, I knew them when I joined SO with my little 1 rep score (I've learnt a few things since, but not that much). If I had only been able to participate in questions for low-rep users, I probably would have been bored soon and never made it to the higher rep corner. –  Bruno May 8 '12 at 20:13
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@Rachel, look at this question on password hashing for example. Before the experts turned up, non-experts had already given their share of insecure answers (some of which had already been upvoted). Non-experts don't necessarily know that they don't know. That's the problem. –  Bruno May 8 '12 at 20:36

3 Answers 3

I'm speaking predominantly as a Stack Overflow user here, so keep in mind that my view may be badly skewed.

Questions asked by users with over X reputation (or within the top X percent of users based on rep)

This would have to be based on tags, not overall reputation. I'm an expert in a handful of tags on SO, but have no business poking into others. It's also easy to gain reputation on some sites in "softball" tags where anyone can answer.

Questions that have over X score

This would not work on Stack Overflow at all, and scores would be badly skewed on any site when an easy question gets posted on reddit. This might be salvageable if you normalize for number of views.

Maybe even questions that contain X [send to experts] votes

This might work if only other experts could cast these votes.

Overall, I'm not convinced that a special area for experts is necessary. I think the real problem faced by new sites on broad topics like Literature is that not enough experts about the topic are experts at using Stack Exchange. It's fairly easy to ignore [recommendation], [story-identification], and [reading order] questions and only pay attention to those types of questions that you want to answer. I think better educating new users on how to use these tools would be a more worthwhile solution than trying to quantify expertise.

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While I mostly agree with this, I'm inclined to think that the occasional easy question that gets reddited is not a problem. I have yet to see a single user get lucky more than once with an easy question that gets reddited. At least I've yet to see someone where 5/5 of their 100+ answers are all basic. –  Mysticial May 8 '12 at 18:27
    
Well the criteria would definitely need more discussion, however I'm told that the most significant reason such experts give when they leave a community is that the signal to noise ratio is terrible, and was thinking this would be one way we could provide experts with a way of accessing better quality questions, without trying to kill ourselves maintaining Q&A sites full of nothing but good-quality questions (can you imagine the sort of work that would require for SO?) –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 18:27
    
@Mystical I understood that part of the suggestion to mean that any individual question above a certain score would automatically be sent to the expert section. –  Bill the Lizard May 8 '12 at 18:30
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@Rachel No, even from the vantage point of a moderator, I doubt I could make an accurate estimate of how much work that would be. :) –  Bill the Lizard May 8 '12 at 18:32
    
@BilltheLizard And yes, the algorithm to determine which questions get shown in the experts list would be automatic and determined by SE, but even if a few non-expert questions slip through at least the list should be much better than the current list of questions. Also, if there is some kind of voting system put in place to send to experts, you could also let experts vote to kick stuff out of their list –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 18:41
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From what I've seen over the past 6 months. I'd say about half the SO questions that make it high on the SE hot-list are basic. Mostly because basic questions are more likely to be understood and upvoted within the 10 second attention span of a passer-by. Reddit on the other hand seems to prefer funny or longer articles that are interesting or that teach something. Most of the SO submissions that make it high on reddit are actually pretty good. (as in not basic, long and interesting - more advanced topics) –  Mysticial May 8 '12 at 18:46
    
@Mystical This guy's 100+ questions didn't seem all that hard to me... –  Some Helpful Commenter May 8 '12 at 18:51
    
@Rachel Again, I think my SO-centric view might be biasing me here. We have lots of different views (greatest hits, active, unanswered) that make it easy to find good questions to answer. This might be a chicken-and-egg problem with newer sites that don't have enormous volumes of questions filling up these different views with good questions. –  Bill the Lizard May 8 '12 at 18:52
    
@SomeHelpfulCommenter Oh come on... High-profile users aren't a problem anyways. I'm sure Jon Skeet has a few basic 100+ answers out of his 50+ total of them... –  Mysticial May 8 '12 at 18:54
    
@Mystical I'll have to pay closer attention to the SE Hot list to see what the proportion is. My experience with SO questions on reddit is mixed. I find that most of the ones posted on the r/programming subreddit tend to get closed for being too open-ended and discussion-y. People seem to post better technical questions to the smaller, more focused subreddits. Not really surprising, but just my observation. –  Bill the Lizard May 8 '12 at 19:01
    
@Mysticial yeah I was kidding around and I also had mistakenly thought you were talking about Great questions not Great answers. –  Some Helpful Commenter May 8 '12 at 19:03
    
@SomeHelpfulCommenter I guess I took you a bit too seriously... :) –  Mysticial May 8 '12 at 19:10
    
@BilltheLizard I dunno, most of the good questions that make reddit don't seem to need much moderation because they are - good. And they are not likely to bait any spam. –  Mysticial May 8 '12 at 19:12
    
@BilltheLizard I think I see what you mean now. If you include all the submissions that never make it above 50 on reddit, then yeah most of them are crap. But the few that make it big tend to be pretty good. I just finished digging through the list: There are 14 SO submissions that went 200+ in the past 6 months. 3 are pretty bad, 3 are basic, and 8 are good/advanced. If you're interested I can post them somewhere. –  Mysticial May 8 '12 at 22:00
    
@Mystical Yeah, I wouldn't mind taking a look at those just to see what kind of posts reddit is interested in. Do you have a place to post them, or do you mind if I email you? –  Bill the Lizard May 8 '12 at 22:10

But why should we have to choose between higher-quality questions that appeal to the small group of experts, or higher-traffic non-expert questions that appeal to the masses? Why not have both?

Because an onslaught of non-expert questions leads inexorably to the next Yahoo Answers. If you can solve that problem, I'm all ears.


Behind all close reasons are some higher, but subjective principles: is this question interesting, clear and understandable, and helpful to future visitors of the site? Does the overall question base tend to attract experts or bikeshedders?

The real purpose for close reasons like "Not Constructive," is that questions having those characteristics tend to be subjectively terrible questions, and we can use "Not Constructive" as a reasonably objective metric to close.

This leads to two problems:

  1. Some "Not Constructive" questions are genuinely well-written and interesting, even to the experts. How do you save these questions and keep them productive without giving the bikeshedders an excuse to ask theirs, and allowing the site to devolve into mindless banter?

  2. Some questions that objectively meet all of the rules are genuinely uninteresting, or no effort has been put into them other than that needed to skirt the rules. How do you get these off the site?

If you could solve those two problems, you wouldn't need an expert distinction at all. In any case, I don't see how separating the question pools into the "haves" and "have nots" makes things better. All it does is push the problem to a different place.

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The purpose of this proposal is to provide experts a more efficient way of getting questions that interest them. It separates out the question they will probably be interested in answering, from the hundreds of other questions that they're not interested in but that are perfectly valid. –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 19:09
    
Yahoo Answers is a site that allows ANY question. SO is a site for coding questions. DBA.SE is a site that allows database questions. Gaming.SE allows game questions. English.SE allows english questions. That part isn't going to change. SE gathers users interested in a specific topic together in one place to collaborate and learn from each other. It's a great system, and it will not degenerate into Yahoo Answers –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 19:10
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@Rachel: Degeneration into Yahoo Answers is not a hypothetical; it already happened. –  Robert Harvey May 8 '12 at 20:15

That's been done, in the form of separate sites:

Theoretical Physics failed, ostensibly because it didn't manage to attain a sustainable level of activity. Both MO and TCS were already established when their general public counterpart came onto the scene, whereas TP started well after Physics.

I encourage you to read the many discussions on the respective metas of the research-level sites, on the merit of such sites. A significant number of users of research-level sites are not interested in the more general site (and vice versa, of course).

Mixing the advanced community and the general community wouldn't work well:

  • Questions asked by top users by reputation: No, I'm one of the top users on CS currently, that doesn't mean I ask expert-level questions. Reputation is an indicator of activity far more than expertise; most of my CS reputation comes from didactic (I hope!) explanations of simple matters, not from expert answers to advanced questions.
  • Questions that have over X score: having frequented Programmers, you're well aware that score is primarily an indicator of popularity, and that easy questions and easy answers tend to have far higher scores (“hey, I understand this, +1”).
  • Send-to-expert votes: as in vote to migrate…

The separate audiences have different habits, different site policies, different ideas of what questions are answerable (the interpretation of “not constructive” and “not a real question” varies a lot between sites), different voting power… There is no mechanism to identify the expert questions; tagging wouldn't work, because these things spill over tags, and there's no real separation of audience between tags. You can't mix these different communities on the same site.

If you wish to create a more expert-level site with a topic similar to an existing site (or not), propose it on Area 51. You'll have to show very strongly that the site needs to exist, though: does your expert community really need a separate site? Are its needs not served by the existing site? Will there be a significant number of people on the expert site who have no interest in the generalist site?

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This is not a request for separate sites, which have separate user bases. This is a request for a separate view on existing sites for experts, so they don't have to go through tons of perfectly valid beginner-level questions. Many beginners grow into being an expert, and having a single community for users interested in a topic makes more sense than two separate communities based on skill level. This is a proposal that would help that single community to accommodate both skill levels –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 19:20
    
@Rachel My claim is that you need separate sites (or at least separate policies, separate votes on posts, separate reputation, separate votes to close…). And I do invite you to read the discussions I mention, especially about why Theoretical Computer Science is and cannot but remain a research-level site. –  Gilles May 8 '12 at 19:23
    
I would disagree about needing separate sites for beginners and experts. I think a single site is better, with a way to separate the expert-level questions from the beginner-level questions. Beginners can someday become experts, and it doesn't make sense to me to have a whole different site and system just because the skill level is different. Your link to the meta question about why Theoretical Physics failed actually provide some great reasons why it's not recommended to have separate sites. –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 19:40
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@Rachel Um, read all the answers. TP was shut down for lack of traffic, but not all the participants were happy with Physics (which is why TP was created in the first place). –  Gilles May 8 '12 at 19:47
    
Do you think they would have been happier with TP if they could have filtered the questions they saw to only view higher-quality expert-level questions? –  Rachel May 8 '12 at 20:01

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