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I signed up for an account a week or so ago so I could post a question. I had tried several things before resorting to SO, and got upvoted for my research before posting the question (putting my at 6 rep). That question remains unanswered...

Figuring I'd try and help other users, I set out to find questions for which I knew the answer. There were several, but they were already answered, so I moved on. Many more needed additional information, but I couldn't comment because I needed 50 rep for that. On one question, I suggested providing additional information as an answer because I had no other way of suggesting it. That was immediately downvoted (rep back to 1) and eventually deleted (rep went back to 6). I answered one or two questions with bona fide answers, only to see some of them downvoted, too, because I didn't explain enough or some such. Some of them were even upvoted, putting my above 15 rep so I myself could upvote. Those downvoted answers - and the original questions - eventually got deleted, too, and my rep went back to 6.

I go to post an answer to a question today, complete with an explanation and everything, and find that I am banned from posting any answers! I can't go back and edit my (deleted) answers because the question itself was deleted. I can't answer any new questions (which would then get upvoted) because of the ban, I can't upvote anything myself, and I can't comment on anything to have the OP provide more information. It seems the only way out of this is to post new questions myself, which seems like a terrible solution.

Why is it so difficult for new users to help out? What kind of community treats new users with such disregard that they don't have the privileges they need to help out effectively?

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How many deleted answers do you have? Links to them would help. Are they all on deleted questions, or are some of your answers themselves deleted? –  Servy Feb 19 at 19:51
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The answer ban appears to have been lifted. For the record, these were the answers that had been deleted: stackoverflow.com/questions/21866594/… , stackoverflow.com/questions/21741136/c-solitaire-card-game/… , stackoverflow.com/questions/21739538/… . The answer ban, along with the other restrictions you've encountered, were all put in place to combat repeated abuse of various kinds. –  Brad Larson Feb 19 at 19:56
    
@BradLarson should comments from everyone be allowed on recently active posts? –  Jan Dvorak Feb 19 at 20:01
    
@Servy You wanted links so you could go upvote everything and lift my answer ban? Doesn't solve the underlying problem... –  mmathis Feb 19 at 20:02
    
@JanDvorak - Not until we have better tools for moderating them, as the recent spam and trolling on Meta show. –  Brad Larson Feb 19 at 20:04
    
@BradLarson I'd be curious how much "repeated abuse of various kinds" actually happens (happened?) and how many new users get so fed up with these restrictions that they just abandon their account. Commenting, given how much using answers as comments is frowned upon, seems like something in particular that should be available to everyone. Spam comments will get deleted, after all –  mmathis Feb 19 at 20:05
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@mmathis I don't need links to your undeleted answers. They're on your profile. I needed links to the deleted answers to know why they were deleted, and what you did wrong when posting them. Deleted answers can't be upvoted. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:06
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@mmathis a lot. Stack Overflow is being spammed daily and constantly, there are also a lot of people who create a lot of noise. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 19 at 20:08
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@BenjaminGruenbaum I see abstract low quality and rude things, but I only see bona-fide spam once in a blue moon. In-fact, I see question-ban threads on meta more than I see actual spam. Are you sure it's really that big of a problem? –  Sam I am Feb 19 at 20:45
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@SamIam Post bans aren't there to get rid of spammers. Spammers get their accounts flat out deleted by a mod, so that there's no getting out of the hole. The post bans are there for users who continue to post low quality content (as is determine by the community's evaluation of their content) with very little to no positive contributions to offset them. This prevents people from continuing to post noise, or other undesirable post, continually when they have shown an inability to provide anything valuable. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:48
    
@SamIam I see it more on stack exchange and less on SO. By the way, are you looking for movers in Delhi?. Not to mention funny stuff like i.stack.imgur.com/l8RGH.png . So in short - it's filtered very well, a lot faster than rude and low quality. It's still there. –  Benjamin Gruenbaum Feb 19 at 20:49
    
The C# tag is pretty heavily trafficked, and thus is relatively highly scrutinized compared to other tags. You might have better luck finding questions which need your attention in other more specialized tags. –  KatieK Feb 20 at 0:50

3 Answers 3

Why is it so difficult for new users to help out?

Because Stack Overflow wants to be a site that is full of high quality content, and that has a very high signal to noise ratio. We want make great content really easy to find by minimizing and removing content that is not of great quality, so that it doesn't inhibit the ability of people to find the great information that experts have to provide.

In short, quality content is hard. To make matters worse, so many other q/a sites don't really care about quality, so people have come to expect that they can post low quality content and it'll be just fine, even well accepted. It won't be here. This both takes a lot of getting used to (we do as much as we can to help new users adjust, but there is only so much that we can do without sacrificing quality) and even when you're used to the system, generating really high quality content is hard. If it were easy there wouldn't be low quality answers all over the place, and thus no incentive for the SO founders to create this site in the first place.

What kind of community treats new users with such disregard that they don't have the privileges they need to help out effectively?

There are plenty of ways in which you can help out without having any more than one reputation. In fact, that's one of the most important reasons for having privileges in the first place. It helps teach new users that at the end of the day what really matters on this site is quality questions and answers, which is what users with 1 rep can provide to the site. Comments are not a primary focus of the site. You need to learn how to use them appropriately, and ensuring that users have posted a few good posts helps us do that. There are also other issues such as dealing with spam, which would run rampant if users could comment everywhere with just one rep.

There are always going to be questions that you can't answer. Lots of them. Too many to even count. This is simply something that you need to learn to deal with (really on any q/a site, not just here on SO). At first there may be some questions in which you can't answer them until they are clarified. Even after you have the privilege of posting comments, you'll still be forced to wait for a reply (which often won't come, or won't be satisfactory). Some questions will be beyond your expertise, or have answers beyond your capacity to provide by another user. When these things happen, you move on. You'll be doing that a lot, you might as well get used to it now. Most people, even really smart experts, aren't answering the vast majority of questions that they look at. They're skipping a lot too.

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I completely understand there will be questions I don't know the answer to - a lot of them. Given how many questions are posted on SO every hour (hundreds? thousands?), and the fact that a company pays me good money to write code, I would expect to at least be able to answer a couple questions in 2 weeks without my answers getting deleted. I don't have similar problems on other QA sites I am a member of; it just seems to be here on SO. –  mmathis Feb 19 at 20:25
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@mmathis As per Brad's comment above, you have three deleted answers. Two weren't answers at all. They were clarifying questions posted as answers. (Contrary to your statement that there was only one such answer; there were two.) The other answer wasn't itself deleted, the question you posted it to was deleted because the question was of very low quality. That answer of yours, as the comment on it stated, was not of high quality either. So none of your actual "answers" were directly deleted, ever. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:29
    
Frankly, I don't care that none of my "answers" were never directly deleted. I care that I couldn't post answers. I care that nobody is answering my question. I care that I can't be helpful and ask OPs for more information. I care that trying to be helpful on SO is becoming a waste of my time. Was my "low quality" answer factually wrong? No. Were there better answers or solutions to the problem? Probably. Does that make my answer any less of an answer, or any less pertinent? No. –  mmathis Feb 19 at 20:35
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@mmathis That's just it. SO is specifically designed to not be a place where people find answers that "technically answered the question, even though they weren't very clear/helpful/understandable/desirable/whatever. SO is a place where all of the answer are more than just correct, they're very high quality, well explained, understandable, and helpful (which goes well beyond "correct). If you don't want to post those kinds of answers, then you're showing the answer ban doing it's job. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:40
    
@mmathis To address the specific question of, "I care that I can't be helpful and ask OPs for more information." This type of helpfulness, while it certainly can help, is far less valuable than providing high quality questions/answers. That's a big part of why we want users to provide at least a few decent posts before they can comment. Also, as I said in my answer, a major reason is to curb spam/inappropriate/abusive/noisy comments. Probably a bigger reason, really. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:42
    
Could my "low quality" answer have used a little more explanation? Yeah, maybe. Was it unclear, unhelpful, undesirable, not understandable, unwhatever? No, if you know the most basic thing about c#. If you don't, I'm guessing SO is not the place to learn. –  mmathis Feb 19 at 20:46
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@mmathis The user who downvoted it felt that the post was not of the quality standard that this site expects, and downvoted it. You can certainly disagree, and people of course will. This is why one downvote on one post isn't enough to be post banned. It takes quite a few downvotes, or other harsher indications of poor quality (namely, having your posts deleted) on a number of instances, and without significant positive contributions to offset them. You weren't banned just for that post, you were banned because of the aggregation of all of them. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:51
    
All 3 of them. Got it. –  mmathis Feb 19 at 20:55
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@mmathis Technically all 5 of them. Every single post contributes in some way to a "score", whether it be positive, negative, or neutral. If that net score is below some threshold, you can't post. The exact formula of exactly what contributes, or how much, is not publicly disclosed. –  Servy Feb 19 at 21:00

First of all, I'm sorry for your experience.

Where wood is chopped splinters must fall. While you were attempting to act constructively, it is in the community's experience there is a high abuse potential in letting new users leave comments immediately.

I'm sorry it came in your expense. You did the right thing coming to meta when you were unsure about what to do.

I'm sure that if you stick around and post answers on some interesting questions you will gain enough reputation to leave comments and eventually leave bounties on your questions which will get them much more attention.

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Normally, I'm skeptical about people posting on meta complaining about how they were treated, but you actually hit some notes that I strongly agree with.

  • The first is commenting on posts other than your own. Commenting is a fundamental feature of this site, and new users should be encouraged to ask for clarification rather than just attempt to leave a potentially off-topic answer anyway.

My understanding for the comment limit is that the moderators are afraid that there will be problem amounts of spam if there wasn't such a limit. I've only been here a couple years, so I don't know if spam was a problem in the early stages of SO, but even if spam was a problem, there has to be a better way to allow new users to post comments. Maybe you can give them a captcha or something.

  • The second issue is that It seems that the question and answer bans are a lot easier to trigger than we've been led to believe. When I first heard of them, I was told that you'd "almost have to try to trigger them" in order to trigger them, but a recent influx of people triggering them makes it seem not that hard.
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For the second issue, I'm not sure that we actually have an influx of users triggering them. There might seem like a lot of meta posts about it, but how many new users are there per day? If it only hits 0.01% of new users, I'd say you can't get much better than that without disabling it entirely. –  Geobits Feb 19 at 20:47
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We don't see all that much spam precisely because there are so many mechanisms in place to deal with them, such as having a rep requirement for comments. When you remove them, then you get spam. Your proposal is analogous to the sick person who stops taking their medicine because they're feeling better. When they do that, they just relapse. –  Servy Feb 19 at 20:53
    
@Geobits I'm not so much judging the frequency of users hitting the ban as I'm judging the content of those user's posts. It seems as though posting 3 answers that get -2 each, and deleting one will get you the ban –  Sam I am Feb 19 at 20:53
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@Servy or is it the sick person who has never felt bad in the first place, but is taking medicine anyway? –  Sam I am Feb 19 at 20:54
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The problem with spam, trolling, and other pure garbage in comments is that we don't have the tools to review and moderate this like we do other types of content. Comments didn't even exist on the site for a while, and they're treated as second-class citizens overall. Captchas and other anti-spam measures have proven to be ineffective in the past, because we're not dealing with bots but actual people being paid a pittance to spam this stuff across the site. We need human eyes on a lot of this. –  Brad Larson Feb 19 at 20:54

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