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This is an idea that splintered off from Which tags on stackoverflow do you think needs to be improved and how?. I decided to bring it up as its own question as a possible proposal.

While I do think stackoverflow is awesome for making the process of asking questions very straightforward and very accessible, I think there may be value in having perhaps specific wizards for certain tags.

Using [regex] as an example, MANY questions fail to mention flavor, which leads to:

  • "Which flavor is this?" comments
  • Various answers which, although they have their own merits, are simply not applicable to OP

Additionally sometimes the problem is so poorly specified, with little idea of what's being asked due to lack of demonstrative examples.

So I'm thinking, what if we have a "wizard" for asking [regex] questions?

  • It explicitly asks for specific flavor
  • For "I need to match these but not these" subcategory, it demands at least 3 examples of each
  • etc.

This does make the process of asking questions more "complicated", because it goes through multiple steps, menus, checkboxes, etc, but perhaps this will lead to better quality, more answerable questions being asked. This can be used as an automated supplement to the human process we already have in place (i.e. closing as "not a real question, it's difficult to tell what's being asked" etc).

This may also help identify dupes, because as the asker gives concrete information about the category of the problem, we can perhaps propose possibly related questions through topic instead of question title/tags/whatever is being used currently (which doesn't always work).

Just tossing ideas. Feedback?

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This is very closely related to meta.stackexchange.com/questions/16843/… -- I'd consider it a dupe, but I don't want to decide that alone, hence no close vote from me. –  balpha Jul 6 '10 at 13:32

5 Answers 5

There are several problems with this idea.

First, remember that tags selection comes after writing the question, so the extra fields can become very annoying, specially for the users who do ask proper questions - if one already wrote these details, they'd have to copy them to the new fields and reorganize the question.
Second, if the user understands asking a [regex] question is more complicated than other questions, the easiest course of actions is simply to remove the tag from your question.
Another point is that it makes editing and retagging a non-trivial task - if tags have their own fields it becomes messy to change them.

What might work is a short explanation for each tag (or combination of tags) with some guidelines and maybe FAQs (which nobody reads).

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Good points, although I think the subsequent avoiding of the regex tag could be overcome by steady frowning on behalf of the community. Maybe it doesn't need to be a mandatory list (re-tagging must stay untouched). Maybe a tag-specific check list the user can be pointed to? –  Pëkka Jul 6 '10 at 8:26

Maybe just have a little infobox that is populated when selecting tags:

  1. Tags can (optional) have a "did you remember..."-text stored to them in the database.

  2. When you enter a tag, a little box appear under the tag-line where the "did you remember.."-text populates automagically

  3. The tag can be configured to also have a checkbox you have to check before sending the question, if its a tag where people often forget to tell information needed. This should be optional per tag.

No problem with retagging or templates or anyting, just a friendly reminder box.

Like this:

alt text

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+1 Very, very nice. This doesn't force anything, yet gives useful information. I'm totally for this, although preferably without the checkbox - presenting the info is enough. –  Pëkka Jul 6 '10 at 18:59
@Pekka, yeah, but I think the checkbox (if used) could just be activated for very special cases where its very very common to left out important information, and maybe only for a short time to "learn" users to add the information needed. Another variant is that the "post your question" does'nt care if you checked it or not, its only there to activate the "i have to do someting" in the posters brain. –  Stefan Jul 6 '10 at 19:25
you can even provide default values as part of your user profile, or perhaps even different sets of configs, e.g. this is my "work" profile (OS, language, version, libraries, etc) and here's my "hobby" profile, etc. –  polygenelubricants Jul 6 '10 at 22:59
@polygenelubricants, It would be nice to be able to add TAGs to the user profile, that can be discovered when hovering with the mouse over the user info on answers and questions! –  Stefan Jul 6 '10 at 23:29

I'm sure the management won't like the additional complication this brings into the system, and I'm not sure whether I like it in a Wizard form, but something like it is needed, probably in many tags.

One gets tired of asking the same damn "Which flavour" and "which version" and "which OS" questions that have to be asked over and over again. The fact that questions get answered anyway is great for the OP, but waters down overall question and answer quality, because users have to accommodate for so many possibilities.

Examples from the PHP and Javascript tags:

  • "How can I do [insert task doable only with an external library here] in PHP" (What platform are you on? Do you have access to a shared server?)

  • "It does not work in IE" (sigh Which version?)

I'm sure I can find a dozen more, and if ten active SO users come together, there's probably going to be five hundred of them.

I am in favour of creating a mechanism that presents these questions to the user somehow automatically.

Only dead-easy basic questions could be asked, though: Anything more complex like "did you debug your output?" should not appear in the list. Also, there is a plentitude of frequent errors people make that will always have to be handled manually (and the correct duplicate pointed out) because they require manual looking through the code.

Some assistance to the OP in asking a clear question is bound to improve the quality of answers to the question.

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One can argue that the human-driven system we have in place currently works fine (e.g. closing, downvoting, commenting, etc), but I tend to agree with you that even the most accommodating community will get "tired" (as you put it) of doing what could be somewhat automated rather effectively. –  polygenelubricants Jul 6 '10 at 7:48

Consider one of the descriptions of Stack Overflow from the About page.

Stack Overflow is as frictionless and painless to use as we could make it. We believe finding the right answer to your programming questions should be as easy as falling into the pit of success. And maybe even a little fun along the way.

This, along with its free service and simple design, is one of the core reasons that Stack Overflow gets its users. There's no hoops you need to jump through to get answers to your questions, you just need to type it out (in a readable format). Kobi already covers how experienced users will frown at a required wizard. Consequently, new users who might not even know much about the tag might need some basic help at times, users who might not even know what a "flavor" even is. These users can easily be frustrated by what is promised to be a simple system requiring them to navigate through complex measures.

And in a tag-specific address as your proposal is, those users will feel like they have so much complexity because they're asking something "in the wrong subject". They'll turn away from Stack Overflow and instead opt for easier access (and most likely less effective) sites instead. Likewise, the lazy users who are just too lazy to give details will also want to avoid having to deal with a wizard. Perhaps their questions are low enough quality that it's not a big loss, but what it also does is mean Stack Overflow earns a reputation for turning people away because of difficulty. Which is very much against the very principle of Stack Overflow.

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You'd end up writing lots of logic on which questions need extra information and the whole thing would get really messy. You could however have extra fields for server operating system, programming language, etc. That way you'd encourage people to add the relevant information without being too annoying. It might also make tagging more relevant - I have CentOS ignored because I know nothing about Yum but could actually answer most questions because they're not actually CentOS-specific.

It might get a bit ugly adding lots of extra fields though, I don't know you'd handle that in the gui.

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