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The SO-family is nicely evolving, day by day, there are new features, changes, etc. These changes, however, are not clear nor explained to the non-regular user.

This was discussed a bit earlier there, and answered by Jeff. In case of a new feature, or major change, there is usually a blog post going with it, to explain. And before, there is a "status-completed" on Meta, or a mention in the podcast.

The problem is that I think easily 80% of the people coming to the S[OFU] sites don't follow the blog, never heard the podcast, or never set foot on Meta either. They only come to their regular site to ask questions, or give answers.

Even more regular users are surprised by new features. The big FAQ change on SU went completely unnoticed, not even a blog post. The reputation recalc generated countless "Dude, where's my rep?" questions. The bounty system change, even if only adding a functionality, is confusing some users as well.


So what can be done to improve communication to most of users?

There is a notification area used sometimes on top of the recent questions, why isn't this used to communicate on every new feature or such major change? With a message like:

We just added a Linked sidebar to the question page! Read more about it here.

In the end, if you provide a new feature to users without explaining it, presenting it, it's useless to them, or worse, it's confusing them.


Edit: this proposition is to notify the majority of users of important changes, not to have a changelog for any modification. This other case is discussed in this question.

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possible duplicate of meta.stackexchange.com/questions/47433/… –  Ether Apr 28 '10 at 16:47
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@Ether - not exactly the same thing. The "monthly summary" is answered by the blog or the "status completed", more or less. It's more a "changelog" approach. The point in the request is to have information visible to all users about major changes and new features, when they happen. –  Gnoupi Apr 28 '10 at 17:05
    
@Gnoupi: ok fair enough; one is more push-based, the other is more passive. –  Ether Apr 28 '10 at 17:42
    
the way global rep recalc was handled (that is, no direct email or notify bar to 200,000+ users; blog post only) was intentional though. Not accidental. Very much a conscious decision. –  Jeff Atwood May 9 '10 at 12:18
    
(Thanks for pointing out those FAQ changes. Didn't know that either...) –  Arjan May 9 '10 at 12:31
    
Hmmm, according to the lower-right corner, Meta is at revision: 2010.5.9.4 now. So, something changed May 9th 2010, being today. Probably just a not very interesting bug fix? ;-) –  Arjan May 9 '10 at 15:21
    
doesn't the blog almost always have this information? –  Gordon Gustafson May 11 '10 at 19:31
    
@Crazy - then again, most people using the site don't follow the blog, like I said. The point of this request is to push this information, when it is changing the way they use the site (faq change, new major feature, etc). –  Gnoupi May 12 '10 at 7:36

3 Answers 3

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Aww, my "funny" answer got deleted. My serious answer:

The problem is that I think easily 80% of the people coming to the S[OFU] sites don't follow the blog, never heard the podcast, or never set foot on Meta either. They only come to their regular site to ask questions, or give answers.

Right, so why would we pester them with an endless stream of minutiae about what we changed on the website? They're here to ask, answer, and comment, not to obsess over every little feature.

I mean, we do, so we read the blog, so we hang out on meta, and that's because we enjoy it. Which is fine but the average user could care less, and I don't blame them.

In any case there are already notifications in place, for almost every change:

My general philosophy is that the functioning of the website should be obvious, without any serious explanation necessary (hint tooltips and good design should be sufficient). If it isn't, then we're just doing it wrong.

(and the behavior of the Linked sidebar is, IMNSHO, quite obvious.. it's stuff.. that is linked.. to this post)

See: The paradox of the active user

a common observation in several user studies done at the IBM User Interface Institute in the early 1980s (later confirmed by many other studies, including my own): Users never read manuals but start using the software immediately. They are motivated to get started and to get their immediate task done: they don't care about the system as such and don't want to spend time up front on getting established, set up, or going through learning packages.

The "paradox of the active user" is a paradox because users would save time in the long term by taking some initial time to optimize the system and learn more about it. But that's not how people behave in the real world, so we cannot allow engineers to build products for an idealized rational user when real humans are irrational: we must design for the way users actually behave.

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So you really don't want to update one more place, do you? –  Gnoupi Apr 29 '10 at 12:42
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Joke aside, when you change something which is not "obvious", then it should be notified. "Linked" may be clear, but a FAQ change is not, a rep recalc is not, the @ answers are not. When you get countless questions "what is this", that's usually because communication failed in the first place. If you change something in the way what they use regularly works, it should be explained. –  Gnoupi Apr 29 '10 at 12:42
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@gnoupi I just don't agree that the majority of users like to be nagged about this stuff. Those that do, can opt in by reading the blog. Everything you listed, is covered there. –  Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:40
    
@Jeff - about that, when the SU FAQ changed, we had a lot of complaints of people not understanding why suddenly some questions were "not good anymore". Hopefully there was a blog post to explain this? If so, point it to me, still can't find one. This communication had to be done by users following Meta, repeating again and again that it changed, with only the meta topic to point at. –  Gnoupi Apr 29 '10 at 15:29
    
I agree with your point, let's not clutter the page with notification about any new feature. But when something is a major change in what people usually do, tell them. It's not about being interested, they don't even have "desire" for these changes in the first place, why would they follow the changes by themselves? But if you change something important from one day to another, communicate directly on the site, or people will only get confused. –  Gnoupi Apr 29 '10 at 15:31
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In the little list of recent changes, I'd say "@reply to editors of a post even if they haven't commented", "Search now supports +apples +oranges", and the older "Direct links to last activity", are VERY useful but also quite hidden for existing users who think they know how to use the sites. Also, the older "Show up/down vote totals" resulted in some bug reports of oblivious users. ;-) –  Arjan May 9 '10 at 12:30
    
@arjan these are all discoverable and even documented in normal use of the system (except @reply to editors, I will grant you, but that's advanced). For example check out the search help page meta.stackoverflow.com/search -- if users can't make their way to the help page how does anything else matter? –  Jeff Atwood May 9 '10 at 13:10
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Existing users might have no reason to think they might want to peek at FAQs or whatever again. (Like: users who use Google to search, as some time ago the SOFU search didn't handle search operators that well. Or users who didn't notice that the timestamp got to be clickable, or when clicking it once, happened to end up at the last answer, while ending up at an edited answer is the real added value of that last activity link.) I once asked: "Are all Great New Things the result of a feature request or bug report then?" Let me add: be proud of improvements. ;-) –  Arjan May 9 '10 at 15:06
    
It seems like you do a lot of little changes that aren't put into the blog, and it's kind-of a pain to search the status-completed posts constantly to see if something has changed. If you just had a change list (on Meta), then we could just check that. Even better, you could ding our response envelope when something is added to that list that we haven't read. Maybe by adding the same tab to every user profile, but maybe in a less duplicated-data way. –  Lance Roberts May 11 '10 at 18:59
    
As demonstrated in your comment on this question, it's indeed not a matter to discuss. Accepting your answer, you can put a "status-declined" now. I won't lose more time on what I thought was a good request. It was my opinion, obviously not shared. No problem with that, it was just a request. No need to show me the door for that. –  Gnoupi Jun 20 '10 at 21:24
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@gnoupi the needs of the minority of avid users for aggressive notification of minutiae, do not outweigh the needs of the vast majority who simply don't care. We would be harming the majority by adding noise to their site experience. I simply do not believe in it. –  Jeff Atwood Jun 20 '10 at 21:37
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Then again, it was only for the big changes, this request. Changes likely to generate 10 "What happened?" questions on Meta. My only goal was to tone down the "surprise", when you change the tool people use daily. It is not about the avid Meta users who want to know about any change. But if you believe it will do more harm than good, no argument. –  Gnoupi Jun 20 '10 at 21:57

I think a Change List (just on Meta) would be great.

We could then check it easily every now and then, instead of having to constantly browse the status-completed tag.

They could also set it up to ding our Recent Activity envelope, but if not, at least just give us a simple list of changes. Those of us on Meta who care, care about those little changes, that usually don't get mentioned in the blog.

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We have something of an unofficially maintained Change List here. Won't have the direct nature of an official one, but hopefully it will tide us by. –  Grace Note May 11 '10 at 19:13
    
The changelog request is discussed at the question @ccornet refers to. Here, it is more about pushing major changes to users who are not even aware about meta or the blog. –  Gnoupi May 12 '10 at 7:38

One thing you can do is watch meta on Sunday evenings. I tend to get on about 8:30 (central) for a few minutes and almost always there's a set of new set of questions on the main page marked status-completed. After the first couple times I noticed this by chance I made a point of making sure I saw the meta question list each week before they roll off the front page. There's not something up there every week, but most of the time it's worth the trouble.

If you wanted to take that and turn it into something that easier to follow (like a change log) no one would stop you.

Of course, now that I've pointed out to the Jeff the rut he's in he might change that behavior ;)

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the obvious thing to do is just browse the [status-completed] tag.. meta.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/status-completed –  Jeff Atwood Apr 29 '10 at 13:42
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@Joel - Like explained in comment under the question, I'm not asking about a "changelog" approach. This is a request covered by another question. The point here is to communicate about major changes to most users who don't follow Meta or the blog. –  Gnoupi Apr 29 '10 at 15:40

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