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Note

Please see my answer below. I am deeply sorry for having strayed so far from the principles of Stack Exchange. I have edited the post to remove the "wait before voting" text.

I've asked a follow-up to this question: Please assume good faith whenever reasonable when dealing with post-banned users


I like the idea of keeping low-quality posts on Stack Overflow and other Stack Exchange sites to a minimum. However, it seems we demand too much effort from users, especially new users, and don't give much hand-holding when they make a poorly written post. Here at Stack Exchange, low-quality posts are seen to simply waste the time of contributors. Can we treat new users better when their posts need improvement?

As an experienced Wikipedia editor with more than six years of experience, I am keenly familiar with the process of warning editors when they make nonconstructive edits, usually starting with simple messages intended to be gentle to newbies (example). Users usually aren't blocked until they've received several warnings, and blocks are intended to prevent disruption rather than punish users. From the Wikipedia policy on civility:

... do not assume any more intentional wrongdoing than the evidence clearly supports, and given equally plausible interpretations of the evidence, choose the most positive one.

What I see on Stack Exchange is completely different. Stack Exchange tends to be very intolerant of users who do not show effort when they post. An ambiguous, nonconstructive, off-topic, unclear, overly localized, or duplicate question gets closed very quickly, and the feedback users get can be very harsh. This Meta question (and especially this comment) clearly demonstrates this issue. Users with a desire to contribute in good faith but don't fully understand what is expected of their posts end up crying "miséricorde" when they get post-banned, and yet they often get no mercy from the community. The reference question and answer for post bans is written with a harsh tone and a bad faith assumption. This bad faith assumption becomes obvious when you consider that a shortened URL is used in the post ban message. It's this kind of bad faith assumption that drives people away from Stack Exchange, and we should be assuming good faith whenever it is reasonable to do so. Even where good faith cannot be reasonably assumed because of a long record of low-quality posts, we should not be assuming bad faith, because they generally aren't willfully trying to harm Stack Exchange.

Instead of assuming bad faith and treating new users harshly when they make low-quality posts, we should communicate problems to users in a friendly manner and actively reach out and assist them when they make low-quality posts, such as by making friendly comments asking for more details. The amount of effort we expect to see in posts can be disconcerting for new users, and using downvotes and close votes as a first resort for low-quality posts really hurts users desperate for answers to their questions. While it is important to weed out low-quality content, we need to clearly and politely explain the problem and give users a reasonable opportunity to address the problem, without making disrespectful or condescending remarks. (An obvious exception is spam and other clearly bad-faith posts.)

I understand that this can be very difficult to do as many of you are busy programmers who don't have the time to hold hands with newcomers. But the harsh treatment to well-intentioned newcomers who aren't aware of our quality standards is simply unacceptable to me as many users with questions that need urgent answers or are otherwise important are being turned away. I have honestly had enough with newbies getting beaten down when they simply needed to learn the ropes. It's about time we made Stack Exchange friendlier.

What do you think about this issue, and what other ways are there to address it?

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marked as duplicate by AAA, Doorknob 冰, ɥʇǝS, Emrakul, Rory May 21 '13 at 11:54

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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"who aren't aware of our quality standard" - everyone has to go through stackoverflow.com/questions/ask/advice before asking a question. –  Jon Skeet May 4 '13 at 7:25
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@KnightswhosayNi: This is but one piece of the puzzle. I think we need to change our whole mentality when we see low-quality posts. No matter how you try to clarify the closing process, the simple fact that a question is closed inevitably causes frustration. The harsh, unrelenting approach the community has taken to moderation is simply not helpful. Being merciless with users who are crying "miséricorde" and simply need to be educated about how Stack works is simply unfair. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 7:27
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Stack Exchange != Wikipedia –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 7:31
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@JackManey: This may be true, but one of Wikipedia's core principles is civility, which is vital to building a stable community. People leave communities like these when they're not being treated with civility. Handling low-quality posts in a combative fashion isn't going to help, no matter the venue they're posted in. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 7:34
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You seem to be confusing downvotes with combativeness. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 7:36
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Keep in mind that Yannis' comment is to a user who is banned. That does not happen after your first lightly downvoted question. That has a history. –  Bart May 4 '13 at 7:36
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@DragonLord While I agree with you that our mentality is sometimes too harsh, I think it would be silly to be any less honest because a user is new. Is a question off topic? If yes, then close it as such. We could be a little nicer personally, but the site should always be direct and to the point. –  Emrakul May 4 '13 at 7:39
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@JackManey: That's not what I meant, and I probably used the wrong word. I meant that the response to low-quality posts in general is too harsh, and that includes votes and comments. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 7:41
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@DragonLordtheFiery - I vehemently disagree with you. In fact, in aggregate, we're far too kind to new users who put forth no effort. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 7:42
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@DragonLordtheFiery - Again, you're assuming that the problems of new users who put forth no effort are somehow mine. They are not. I couldn't care less about what they want to hear. And you've phrased it quite well: unless they clean up their act, why should I waste time on them other than a downvote and/or voting to close? –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 7:51
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@DragonLordtheFiery Do you have any idea how many points of information and help a user gets presented to him before he would actually be banned? About pages, FAQs, How to Ask pages, links to Meta, Close messages with links to the FAQ. And once they are actually banned, they are explicitly told where to go to figure out how to be unbanned, with explicit instructions they should follow. There is a ton of information out there for those users who need help. –  Bart May 4 '13 at 7:54
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Given that posts like this sound right, I occasionally try to provide some guidance in the comments to new users. I have to say that in something like 4 out of 5 cases (or even 9 out of 10) I don't get anything out of my efforts, hence quickly losing interest on my side of this equation. So from a purely statistical point of view I have to say that trying to help and hand hold a newcomer has a very low rate of return - unfortunately. –  Monolo May 4 '13 at 8:13
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Funnily enough wikipedia (especially the German one) feels quite unwelcoming to me. –  CodesInChaos May 6 '13 at 21:05
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@DragonLordtheFiery The issue is that you are trying to force everyone else who has already gone though the learning process here, to do more work for those that are too lazy to read and learn about stack exchange. I never read the faq before posting here, but I did look at a significant amount of content before I ever posted. And I did pay attention to the prompts when I wrote my first question. If others are unwilling to use the resources abundantly available, why should I spend extra time holding their hand. Aren't they professionals as well? –  ryan May 6 '13 at 22:12

6 Answers 6

The reference question and answer for post bans is written with a harsh tone and a bad faith assumption. This bad faith assumption becomes obvious when you consider that a shortened URL is used in the post ban message. It's this kind of bad faith assumption that drives people away from Stack Exchange, and we should be assuming good faith whenever it is reasonable to do so.

Do you know how much you have to fail to run afoul of the question ban? It's not something that afflicts all new users. It's not something that afflicts many new users. Or some new users. Or even a few new users.

It's something that happens to only the lowest of the low.

Question bans are not easy to get. You have to:

  • Ask several questions,
  • All of which are so bad that they get several downvotes/deleted.
  • And you must contribute no decent answers whatsoever.

In short, you must repeatedly be rejected, while contributing nothing to the site. At that point, bad faith is clearly in evidence. It has become clear at that point that this person is likely not capable of contributing meaningfully to the site.

So I disagree: bad faith has been demonstrated by the point a question ban is handed down.

And note: you do have the opportunity for redemption. Just answer some questions well enough to garner upvotes, thus proving that you can contribute meaningfully to the site.

Even where good faith cannot be reasonably assumed because of a long record of low-quality posts, we should not be assuming bad faith, because they generally aren't willfully trying to harm Stack Exchange.

Again, question bans are not something that are easy to get. By the time someone gets one, they will likely have gotten many comments telling them what they need to do. They'll likely have had questions closed, thus pointing them to more information. And so on.

If they haven't cleaned up their act by that point, then I don't see how you can assume that they are anything other than willfully ignorant of how to do things.

Also, as others in the comments have pointed out, you can still inflict harm on the site without being willful about it. Asking crap/off-topic/poorly-researched questions takes time away from people who ask good/on-topic/well-researched questions. That inflicts harm on the site by lowering the quality of questions. It damages the site by making the site seem more like a forum wasteland rather than an active, vibrant place where people ask solid questions that require something not entirely unlike expertise to answer.

The amount of effort we expect to see in posts can be disconcerting for new users, and using downvotes and close votes as a first resort for low-quality posts really hurts users desperate for answers to their questions.

Tough. Stack Overflow is open to all, but it is not open to people who aren't willing to learn how to ask good questions.

We expect to see the same effort from a first question as we do from a 3,000th question. To expect anything less is to give people a pass just because they're new. And we shouldn't do that; it only lowers the quality of the site and encourages the accumulation of garbage on the site.

Instead of trying to strike down low-quality posts immediately, downvoting and close voting should only begin when it is clear that the user isn't going to try at all despite assistance (excluding obvious bad faith such as spam posts, of course).

No. Downvoting and closing is for the quality of the post. Closing tells people that the question is bad and cannot be answered in its current state. Downvoting tells us that the question is not worth the time you would spend looking at it.

All of these are true regardless of how new the user is.

These are vital tools in maximizing the time spent answering questions. To not downvote crap is to invite more crap. To not downvote crap means that someone else will spend their valuable time looking at that crap and trying to find a question in the garbled mess of stuff. Not closing inappropriate questions means that someone may try to answer it with a guess or something. And so forth.

None of these are things we want to have happen on this site.

By stating that low-quality questions are simply wasting contributors time, you are basically saying, "we don't have the time to help you, get your act together first." This is precisely the opposite of that users want to hear. Users expect assistance and not putdowns when they have problems.

I understand now. You've mistaken Stack Overflow for a help site.

Stack Overflow is a knowledge database that uses the question and answer format as a means of categorizing knowledge. If you ask a question, it's likely that someone else will ask something similar enough to it that Google will lead them to that question. And therefore, they will be lead to the answer. Thus, knowledge will be properly transmitted.

This is what Stack Overflow exists to provide.

Now, if you have a crap question asked by someone who doesn't really understand what they're talking about, the process breaks down. Because they didn't ask the question lucidly enough, someone else who has the same question won't find it via Google, because their version of the question will be more lucid (and therefore too different).

And furthermore, if someone asks a bad question, you're likely to get the wrong answers. If someone thinks that they're asking about X when they're really asking about Y, then answers about Y (which they would upvote and accept) are not helpful to people who are actually asking about X. IE, the people Google would bring around to the question.

Garbage in, garbage out.

Stack Overflow does not exist to help someone when they have problems. Oh, we do that, but only as a means to an end: to help the next person who has the same problem. Helping you in a way that doesn't help anyone else is an anathema to what we do here.

If you're not able to ask your question in a clear, lucid, and precise fashion, while having done reasonable research to find the answer on your own, then you're not contributing to SO's goals.

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because they generally aren't willfully trying to harm Stack Exchange they are still harming it, potentially slowly hollowing out the quality that is so high at SO. –  Paul Hiemstra May 4 '13 at 8:40
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"I understand now. You've mistaken Stack Overflow for a help site." Yes, that's it. Well spotted! –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 8:45
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And not "wilfully trying to harm Stack Exchange" is simply not enough. Wilfully contributing good content is. –  Bart May 4 '13 at 8:45
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Your second-to-last paragraph should be added to the FAQ. –  Josh Caswell May 4 '13 at 19:24

Stack Exchange tends to be very intolerant of users who do not show effort when they post.

Exactly as it should be. This is a feature, not a bug.

An ambiguous, nonconstructive, off-topic, unclear, overly localized, or duplicate question gets closed very quickly

Closed questions can be edited and reopened.

The reference question and answer for post bans is written with a harsh tone and a bad faith assumption.

No, it's to the point, not harsh. Compared with what I'd say to question-banned users, it's downright polite and friendly, in fact!

Instead of assuming bad faith and treating new users harshly when they make low-quality posts, we should communicate problems to users in a friendly manner and actively assist them when they make low-quality posts, such as by making friendly comments asking for more details.

You're making the mistake of taking downvotes personally. And there is such a device to communicate problems to users; they're called comments.

The amount of effort we expect to see in posts can be disconcerting for new users

That's why it's best not to dive head first into any online community. It's always best to lurk as well as carefully read and understand the rules before joining.

and using downvotes and close votes as a first resort for low-quality posts really hurts users desperate for answers to their questions.

You seem to act as though you're able to speak for new users. Is there some kind of New Users Union that I'm not aware of? Who appointed you as such a spokesperson?

Instead of trying to strike down low-quality posts immediately, downvoting and close voting should only begin when it is clear that the user isn't going to try at all despite assistance

Absolutely not. Downvotes and close votes are excellent indicators of low quality questions, as they should be. And both are easily reversible.

But the harsh treatment to well-intentioned newcomers who aren't aware of our quality standards is simply unacceptable to me as many users with questions that need urgent answers or are otherwise important are being turned away.

Here's another major problem with your argument: you're assuming that the deadlines of new users--or any users in general--are our problem. This is not the case.

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Regarding "Compared with what I'd say to question-banned users, it's downright polite and friendly, in fact!": A user's failure to cooperate does not grant you a license to be mean with the user. You should always try to be civil, even when you can't assume good faith. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 8:28
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@DragonLordtheFiery - Again, you seem to be trying to act as though you're some kind of union spokesperson presenting me with a legally binding contract stating that I shall not behave in any way that you deem improper. You have no such control over me, and you never will. Deal with it. That out of the way, no such license is required, and lack of effort from a user does not necessitate hand holding. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 8:31
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@DragonLordtheFiery - And all of the issues in the previous comment aside, you're still making the mistake of considering downvotes and votes to close as hostile actions. They are not. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 8:34
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The problem is that they tend to be misinterpreted as such by new users. The wrong message is being sent to the user. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 8:34
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@DragonLordtheFiery - Again: you do not speak for new users. There are plenty of resources that new users can look at and plenty of opportunities to lurk and read meta in order to find out that votes should not be taken personally. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 8:36
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This is not obvious to a new user. Can you reasonably expect most new users to know what meta is, let alone read it? –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 8:38
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@DragonLordtheFiery Votes are explained everywhere. There are no surprises. And yes, as much as we can expect users to read the FAQ, we can expect confused users to take things to Meta. –  Bart May 4 '13 at 8:39
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@JackManey: "condescending douchebag": It's precisely this kind of incivility that we're trying to avoid. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 8:41
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@DragonLordtheFiery - Who is this "we" that you're talking about? You don't speak for me. Do you get that? Is that fact finally sinking in? And I did not ask that question tongue-in-cheek. In all honesty and sincerity, do you understand that you've been very, very condescending throughout this entire conversation? –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 8:41
    
@JackManey: While I do not intend to speak for any other person, I am very sorry for making these comments and for posting this question to begin with. I think I may have strayed too far from the fundamental principles of Stack Exchange, and I have come to realize that post quality must come first, even at the cost of user friendliness. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 8:45
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Yes, the quality of questions and answers within SE are far more important than user experience or being friendly to users. The internet is a big place, and there are plenty of other sites where you can hold all the hands you'd like. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 8:47
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@DragonLordtheFiery That still leaves the impression that you think SO/SE is not userfriendly. But just because these sites are not everyone's cup of tea, doesn't mean they are not userfriendly. We can only go so far in holding hands and providing explanations however. At some point a user will have to figure out things on their own. And given the lengths we will go to here on Meta, far beyond all the information that's already there, I'd say we're doing more than enough, if not too much from time to time. –  Bart May 4 '13 at 8:47
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I don't come to SO/SE for friendly, social interaction, I come here for information. There is always Facebook if that's what you want. –  vascowhite May 4 '13 at 9:35
up vote 19 down vote accepted

I have decided to answer my own question because I have now realized my mistake when I asked this question. I ended up losing sight of the goal of Stack Exchange when I saw how some users were being treated.

Stack Exchange, first and foremost, is a network of question and answer sites. This is a relatively restrictive format when it is compared with the likes of Wikipedia. In order for Stack Exchange to attain its goal, it must make sure that reasonable quality standards are met and any inappropriate content weeded out, even if this comes at the cost of user friendliness. This is not to say that we shouldn't be friendly to users who don't understand how it works.

It means that we need to communicate clearly and politely to the user about the problem and staying cool even if users don't seem to be cooperating, rather than changing the standards for them. Lowering standards for new users would jeopardize the fundamental goal of Stack Exchange: to provide a reliable venue for asking and answering questions.

I will always keep in mind the end goal of Stack Exchange, and while civility is always important, I sincerely apologize for making suggestions that are grossly inconsistent with the goal of providing high-quality Q&A.

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But again, staying civil is really, really important. An atmosphere of bashing noobs is just as bad as having a lot of low quality questions. –  Paul Hiemstra May 4 '13 at 8:55
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Yep. And if you ever see comments which are uncivil, rude or offensive, flag flag flag. –  Bart May 4 '13 at 9:01
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I do not believe that your suggestions were "grossly inconsistent with the goal of providing high-quality Q&A." Even if you're now convinced that no changes are necessary in the community, you really ought not feel ashamed of having asked for more civility. It's something sadly lacking in this world. –  Kyle Strand May 4 '13 at 9:17
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@KyleStrand: A heartfelt thanks to you. I really felt like I was attacked by the others, and I simply wanted to see better treatment of users who were getting locked out of Stack because of honest mistakes and misunderstandings. I didn't expect this kind of negativity to come up... –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 9:20
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Well...perhaps you shouldn't have been surprised, given that you're saying we're a bit rude :D –  Kyle Strand May 4 '13 at 9:24
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@DragonLord: I sympathise with the premise of your question, even though I do think that the ability to close questions or downvote them is a welcome mechanism to combat help vampirism. For what it is worth, many posters come to sites such as Stack Overflow essentially wanting free work, but do it in a culture of expectation that needs to be gently addressed (i.e. they are genuinely surprised when such a question closes). I certainly would be in favour of "softer" close messages, and a greater visibility of the fact that questions can be re-opened if they are improved. –  halfer May 4 '13 at 11:40
    
@DragonLordtheFiery - It was not my intention to make you feel attacked. However, if you didn't want such confrontation, then why did you come charging out of the proverbial gate swinging? –  Jack Maney May 5 '13 at 6:26

I totally agree that we should be civil at all times. If a user posts a poor question, there is no need to post snarky or derogatory comments. Simply stating what the problem is with their post, and possibly adding some links with information, should be enough. In the r tag for example there is a FAQ that describes how to write a good reproducible example.

There is however a severe limit to the amount of energy I am willing to invest in training people beyond pointing them to the appropriate resources. SO is a site for to-the-point, reproducible questions, not for poorly phrased, incomplete questions.

An article about Help Vampires reinforced my believe in this. Help Vampires can be indentified by the following properties(direct quote below):

  • Does he ask the same, tired questions others ask (at a rate of once or more per minute)?
  • Does he clearly lack the ability or inclination to ask the almighty Google?
  • Does he refuse to take the time to ask coherent, specific questions?
  • Does he think helping him must be the high point of your day?
  • Does he get offensive, as if you need to prove to him why he should use Ruby on Rails?
  • Is he obviously just waiting for some poor, well-intentioned person to do all his thinking for him?
  • Can you tell he really isn’t interested in having his question answered, so much as getting someone else to do his work?

Allowing help vampires to become dominant in a community such as SO will threathen its long term existence.

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What do you think about this issue, and what other ways are there to address it?

I'm all for civility and we sometimes fail at it—badly—though I'm not necessarily agreeing/disagreeing with your specific examples.

"Stack Exchange tends to be very intolerant of users who do not show effort when they post."

I don't think that's a bad thing. It does not take technical acumen to show effort; it takes character. A complete novice can show effort.

Even when the user puts forth effort, not all questions are a good fit; that's the price of having a high-quality, focused site (and with your Wikipedia background, you know this). SE is not the Walmart of answers; you can't buy everything here.

All that's required of us is good manners in letting people know what fits and what does not fit.

Instead of assuming bad faith and treating new users harshly when they make low-quality posts, we should communicate problems to users in a friendly manner and actively assist them when they make low-quality posts, such as by making friendly comments asking for more details.

It depends on "low-quality". Did they throw together a single paragraph of stream-of-consciousness thoughts disguised as a question? How would we respond to that in the "real" world?

People can/should/do assist users when effort has been shown. It's not uncommon even for closed questions to receive many helpful comments/links.

The reference question and answer for post bans is written with a harsh tone and a bad faith assumption.

To be banned, a user has to have ignored the more friendly (and abundant) signposts along the way. By the time they are banned, it's a logical to assume that they need things spelled out very, very clearly.

Do we always get it right? No, but consider:

  • Many, many users are extremely articulate and polite. There are some of us that use sites like StackOverflow as a professional artifact.
  • There was a formal initiative about a year ago to measure/analyze/improve politeness. How many organizations in the world (online or not) put metrics around manners?
  • Moderators regularly step in and clean up rude comments.
  • Automation is in place to remove unhelpful comments such as "What have you tried?"
  • Anyone can post their concerns on meta.
  • Users have abundant material available to them on how to post, and thousands/millions of questions from which to learn.
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Stack Overflow is only able to maintain its high standard of quality by aggressively weeding out anything and everything that doesn't live up to it. Yes, there are instructions on how to use the site and contribute back to it, but there is no training ground; we are a sink-or-swim community. That is by design; and for the most part, it works extremely well.

That said, I completely agree that we should make more of an effort to assume good faith.

The implicit assumption that everyone who might someday be a valuable contributor to the site will be able to teach themselves how to do so is simply not true, even though the FAQ and other helpful "how to contribute" information is quite good and easily available. Yes, parts of it are practically shoved in new users' faces, but that doesn't mean that they'll comprehend it right away or even realize that it's something that they don't already know just from participating in other online communities. Moreover, not everyone learns effectively simply be reading a large block of text once.

This is particularly problematic for users for whom English is not a first language or even a language in which they have a huge amount of experience. Yet as coders, they have no choice but to learn English. These people simply are not going to get much out of our FAQ, and there's not a lot we can do about that--except be kind to them and as helpful as we can.

In other words, despite all the instruction that is available to them, it is in no way fair to assume that all users are capable of making a valuable contribution from the get-go. Nor is it reasonable to assume that anyone incapable of making their initial posts valuable is incapable of improvement.

I realize, of course, that we do not in fact make such an assumption; bans are not permanent, and there are ample opportunities for users to improve. And sometimes we reach out helping hands to guide users through this process.

Other times, not so much.

New questions are quite often downvoted and/or closed without those doing the downvoting and/or closing even bothering to comment (I'll dig up some examples later; or, better yet, someone who understands how to do a query on the data site should make one and post it). This deeply disappointing to me, especially considering that we have in place a mechanism to encourage commenting after downvoting.

We can do better than this. We don't have to necessarily leave these questions open, but we should communicate with the OP in an effort to help them improve. Take, for instance the comments discussion here (>10,000 only; I'd be grateful if someone who can do so would post a screenshot or something, since I myself am not even close to 10,000). There are three users involved: OP (whose first language is apparently not English), myself, and someone else whose only contribution was to snidely post a link to the ELL Stack Exchange site. (This comment was deleted, so I don't know if even >10,000 users can see it.) The question, frankly, was beyond salvaging. But instead of flagging it for deletion, I did my best to explain concisely what Stack Overflow is really for and how to make his next question better before asking him to delete his original question. He thanked me and did so.

Now, in this case, the OP was obviously making a concerted effort to do the right thing, so it was quite easy for me to assume good faith. But it does not seem to me that anyone else assumed good faith; there were at least three downvotes with no explanation, and I'm sure there were a couple of closure votes as well.

The fact that there's so much resistance to this question here on Meta demonstrates an unwillingness to recognize that there's a problem. This is somewhat reasonable, since the system we've devised works quite well in many ways, and I truly appreciate that (I believe the party line here is basically "our snobbery is what separates us from Yahoo Answers").

But I firmly believe we can do better. We need to stop relying on our tools--the FAQ, the pop-up suggestions, and so on--to teach new users to become valuable contributors, and start teaching them ourselves.


EDIT: Perhaps part of the problem is that we don't have a good way to communicate with new users except in the comment threads on their posts, which is really not a great place to do so, especially when it's important to close and/or remove these posts quickly if they're not high-quality. Perhaps we should open up a permanent chat room for new users to ask questions and get quick help (without needing to clog up Meta), and make an effort to direct users there when they seem genuinely confused as to what they've done wrong? Yes, Meta's supposed to serve that purpose somewhat, but I'm not sure it does so as effectively as a chat room would, especially since the Meta community tends to use downvotes as a (perfectly reasonable) way of saying "I disagree with you," which can be quite off-putting.

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The ELL comment in your example was rude and not welcome on Stack Overflow. Always flag those as "offensive". Re assuming good faith and politely explaining, it's great when people take the time to do this, and it's occasionally rewarding as in this example. Hoever, the sheer numbers of bad incoming questions make it impossible to give everyone this level of service. The key really is in the FAQ - I'm pretty sure a chat room dedicated to help newbies would get swamped with "gimme teh codez" trolls. –  Pëkka May 4 '13 at 9:24
    
@Pekka I did flag it as offensive, which is, I'm guessing, why it was removed. –  Kyle Strand May 4 '13 at 9:25
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The beautiful thing about a chat room swamped with "gimme teh codez" trolls is that you wouldn't have to go there unless you were feeling really charitable. I think I'll put some more thought into the idea before proposing it more formally in a new question here on Meta. –  Kyle Strand May 4 '13 at 9:26
    
"New questions are quite often downvoted and/or closed without those doing the downvoting and/or closing even bothering to comment (... someone who understands how to do a query on the data site should make one and post it)." Number of closed or downvoted questions without comments and 10000 most recent closed or downvoted questions without comments –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 15:25
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The former query says we have more than 85,000 (!) questions that are downvoted or closed with no comments. That's how bad this issue is. –  DragonLord the Fiery May 4 '13 at 15:27
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@DragonLordtheFiery 85,000 of... 4.95 million? –  Emrakul May 4 '13 at 17:33
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It is largely a settled matter that downvotes and votes to close do not require accompanying comments. –  Jack Maney May 4 '13 at 20:00
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@Jack I realize that it's settled that we shouldn't require comments when downvoting. But surely we should encourage it? –  Kyle Strand May 9 '13 at 5:51

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