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I saw a user on SO today that has asked 32 questions on the site, but that's the extent of the user's total activity. The user has awarded no accepted answers (so 0% accept rate), no comments, no edits, no answers to other questions, and not even any votes. This appears to be the sort of user who Jeff would say "is not engaged with the community".

I was going to try to point the user to the faq, but the official faq says nothing about how to use the site. It describes what kind of questions to ask (that's a good start), a reminder to be nice, has some stuff about reputation levels (new users will glaze over this because it's not relevant to them), how bounties work (more of an intermediate user thing, since you need some rep to even start), a few other bits and pieces and that's about it.

A description of the normal question-feedback-accept workflow might be appropriate. Here's a quick attempt:

How do I ask questions here?

When you post a new question on Stack Overflow, other users will almost immediately see it and try to provide good answers. This often happens in a matter of minutes, so be sure to check back frequently when your question is still new for the best response.

If your question needs clarification, you will see comments in smaller type below your question. If other users ask you for more information, edit your question with the "edit" button just below your original question. Providing clarification promptly will help get you the best answers.

As you see new answers to your question, vote up the helpful ones by clicking the upward pointing arrow to the left of your question. Answers are normally sorted by vote count so the most highly voted answers float to the top. Other users will also vote on the answers to your question.

When you have decided which answer is the most helpful to you, mark it as the "accepted" answer by clicking on the check box outline to the left of the answer. This lets other people know that you have received a good answer to your question. Doing this is helpful because it shows other people that you're getting value from the Stack Overflow community. (If you don't do this, people will often politely ask you to go back and "accept" answers for more of your questions!)

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People who read are not the target for this. –  random Dec 20 '09 at 8:46
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I know, it's sort of like shouting in a hurricane, but I think it's worth a try. –  Greg Hewgill Dec 20 '09 at 8:47
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+1. Some people will read, we can't leave everybody in the dark. It is also good to have a place to refer to in comments to questions. –  Peter Mortensen Dec 20 '09 at 19:30
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+1 - seems worth a shot, and that seems a very well written intro. Having said that, Greg - I would take you more seriously, but you've only got a 19% accept rate on Meta ;-) –  Dominic Rodger Dec 20 '09 at 20:15
    
I tried the "pointing to the FAQ" bit: it did not work (see stackoverflow.com/questions/1873768/evil-twin-triggers, and his "answer" as a comment at the end of the same page) –  VonC Dec 20 '09 at 21:12
    
As for the simplified FAQ proposition, my take was meta.stackexchange.com/questions/481/… , with the same official answer: "they won't read it" –  VonC Dec 20 '09 at 21:17
    
@Dominic Rodger: I just accepted one more answer, which should now put me above your 20%. :) –  Greg Hewgill Dec 20 '09 at 21:20
    
lol. I never notice Gregs ratio here. My ratio on SO is much higher. And i cant simply accept 10 answers to raise it (i need to accept much more then that). Greg, i am working on it. My ratio will go up. –  acidzombie24 Dec 21 '09 at 9:40

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

What next.. a flash video tutorial?

Not to be snarky, but I agree with random. These kinds of users are beyond hope; they simply don't read.

The only thing we can do is

  • change the system to make it more self-evidently obvious how things work, without requiring explanation
  • change the system to make these sorts of users' lives easier or harder
  • or make it easier for the users who do read to deal with their actions.

Edit: while I think this is ultimately futile, it's easier to just put it in (thanks to the excellent copy Greg provided) than it is to argue the point.

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Not to be snarky back, but I don't think the things you listed are the only things we can do. We can improve the faq, and some users will read it. I've seen other examples of otherwise "engaged" users who in fact haven't quite figured out the accept checkbox, and they may be the ones who would have benefited from a small explanation of the usual workflow. –  Greg Hewgill Dec 20 '09 at 9:23
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apparently those users haven't figured out voting, either, as every new user has a <div> reminding them to accept every single time they upvote... –  Jeff Atwood Dec 20 '09 at 9:29
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That's right, this particular user had not cast a single vote ever. –  Greg Hewgill Dec 20 '09 at 10:41
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Having an authoritative document of the type Greg suggest would at least give us some to link to when we write comments to try to help them. Perhaps a few will read after you tell them "Hey! You're doing it wrong!". –  dmckee Dec 20 '09 at 16:02
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"cleverer way"? How about a two-step process for the first question?When a user post his first question, the post button redirects to a page illustrating (through a cartoon for instance) the main interactions (vote, answer, comments) expected from him? And then he "confirms" still wanting to post his question, which then get published for all to see. –  VonC Dec 20 '09 at 22:11
    
Thanks, the intent of providing suggested content was to make "just do it" the path of least resistance. It worked! :) –  Greg Hewgill Dec 21 '09 at 23:22

Even if you'd hit them over the head with the tutorial or the FAQ they still wouldn't see it. I've said it before and I'll say it again: People don't read!, it's as simple as that.

Have you seen the number of duplicate questions we have, even though the system is trying to help you find the duplicates as you type? That gets ignored. How about the acceptance rate? Ignored, even though some people refuse to answer questions from users with low acceptance rates. How about the FAQ? Ignored. Meta? Doesn't exist, never heard of it, sorry.

Whatever you do, some people will do their best to ignore it. Those people simply don't want to learn, they can't be taught.

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while I sort of see Greg's point about "it doesn't hurt", I think we should be trying to come up with cleverer ways for the system to kinda force these people to do the right thing -- or, if necessary, go away. That'll be way more effective than a /faq update IMHO. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 20 '09 at 10:21
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A while ago I listened to an interview with Kathy Sierra where they discussed the "Head First" series of beginner books. She talked about how the books use many different techniques to drive home the same material being taught. For somebody who gets it right away it might be a bit repetitive, but for people who have more difficulty picking up the material (and for SO, with a large audience of non-native-English speakers that's important) it's absolutely worthwhile to give them as many opportunities as possible. What works for one person won't necessarily work for everybody else. –  Greg Hewgill Dec 20 '09 at 10:39
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I'm a non-native English speaker, and I got the point without someone having to constantly remind me. Maybe some simply don't want to do things a certain way, they just want rep or answers to their questions, nothing else. –  alex Dec 20 '09 at 12:24
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@Greg: How idealistic are you? For our products we have readmes and documentation all over the place - only for one reason: if the customer shouts "Why isn't that important thing documented?" we answer: "It is. Just have a look here." They do NOT read! They do not even read "Head First" books. Period. In theory your suggestion is good, in practice it's a waste of time and energy. –  Ladybug Killer Dec 20 '09 at 12:43
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I'll repeat it again: Just because people don't read (trust me, I understand this) doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to make the information available. If it's not available, then they won't be able to read it even if there's the smallest possibility they want to! –  Greg Hewgill Dec 20 '09 at 18:21
    
I am starting to agree, as having this info in the /faq can't hurt, but it may not help either. And it can be negative, because the risk is that some will say "oh, we're done! we documented it!" when the system needs to change, not the static documentation. –  Jeff Atwood Dec 20 '09 at 21:52

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