What is meta? ×
Meta Stack Exchange is where users like you discuss bugs, features, and support issues that affect the software powering all 127 Stack Exchange communities.

Ever since the new site proposals have gone into public beta, there has been a need to explain to beginners how the Stack Exchange system works. After all, the site can be overwhelming to anyone who has never seen it before.

Some of the Metas for the new sites contain questions like I am new here, how does Stack Exchange work?. There needs to be a place where new people can find out how the system works instead of just trying to figure it out and causing problems.

Now, I am well-aware of the FAQ and the series of questions here on Meta that describe the functionality of the site — they're great as a reference.

But am I the only one who thinks that it doesn't work very well as a guide or tutorial?

Thus, I have started a WikiBook that aims to be an introduction to using the Stack Exchange network as well as providing a brief history of the whole thing so that newcomers get a feel for how things work.

Here it is:


Please consider investing some time in making the guide a valuable resource for beginners or leaving your feedback below on alternative methods.

share|improve this question
Just FYI, Stack Exchange and Stack Overflow are spelled with spaces (even though it doesn't look that way in the site logos) –  waiwai933 Sep 22 '10 at 5:06
Doesn't this sort of both dilute and duplicate a lot of things? Shouldn't the existing FAQs be made better. At least the Math Meta has an active thread about [ how to improve the FAQ ](meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/107/…), and I bet some of the other sites do too. –  Peter Ajtai Sep 22 '10 at 5:27
add comment

3 Answers

@George, I would respectfully ask you how you learned to use Stack Exchange? And the other millions of uses who use the site? Rumors that we are just innately more capable than everyone else have been greatly exagerated.

Stack Exchange is like a well-designed video game. When was the last time you had to read the documentation to play a video game? You don't. You start by walking across the room. Then you learn to pick something up; and then jump. By time you need to, you're already strafing across a catwalk, jumping and spinning 360-degrees while simultaneously firing a beam riffle and throwing two plasma grenades through a window 40 feet away.

Stack Exchange is the same thing. 90% of user find the site through a search link. They are spoon fed the best answers because the text is coincidentally at the top where they are most likely to see it. If they want to ask a question: click the giant "Ask Question" button near the search; type in some text; click "Post Your Question." Done.

If they stick around, they'll notice that some of the questions have advanced formatting. "How do I do that?" Ah, when you care enough to notice, the markup help is there alongside the editor. "What about those crazy numbers next to the posts? If you hover, it tells you. If you click, the numbers change. People keep talking about up-voting. That must be it. Interesting. Maybe I'll talk a look a FAQ to see what this is all about. Cool, you mean I can start collecting my own votes for my stuff? I guess that's why there is a 'login' link at the top. I never needed that before. Now it's useful. Cool."

And so the process continues.

I'm not faulting the desire to document all this stuff up front. I applaud the efforts. I'm just disputing that the system is overwhelming without it.

share|improve this answer
While I agree in general, I'm not a big fan of your analogy. Games often give subtle introductions to controls with special tutorial levels or pop-up messages, and I have had to read game manuals in the past to figure out how to use some of the more obscure controls. Also, if you could let me know where to get the Stealth Armor for Stack Overflow, or what the cheat code for extra lives is, that'd be great, thanks! –  Pops Sep 22 '10 at 20:20
I've tried to address this point before with Jeff and other team members. This is a seriously myopic perspective that's going to cause longer-term problems. Everything said in this answer is absolutely true - for programmers and techno-geeks. The more we branch out into non-technical sites, the more this will prove to be simply inadequate. Case in point: Several of our most prolific members on Cooking.SE still don't understand the @mention feature and either use it unnecessarily in answer replies or try to @mention @multiple @people in a single comment. –  Aarobot Sep 22 '10 at 20:32
To put it bluntly, non-technical users don't want this to be a video game, they want it to be a place where they can get questions answered. The power users may figure it all out by themselves, but Stack Exchange sites don't have the critical mass and gravitational pull that Stack Overflow does; if they can't figure out how to get what they want on our SE site, they'll just go somewhere else. –  Aarobot Sep 22 '10 at 20:33
I understand what you're saying, but some of the more esoteric features of the site that come in handy (like the @mention comments) are not easily visible anywhere when posting a comment. A guide like this would help make things like that easier to find. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Sep 22 '10 at 20:59
@George, @Aarobot: I don't want to discourage creating documentation; Really. My post was only cautionary; not to lose site of the typical use case. Don't convince yourself that SE is dead in the water for want of this one missing, critical piece. SE 1.0 owners convinced themselves that their sites were failing because they lacked name/password authentication; even HALTING all other efforts. It wasn't a silver bullet. The same goes for system documentation. I'd hate to see a disproportionate amount of resources displacing other activities like, say, building your site. That's my only point. –  Robert Cartaino Sep 23 '10 at 2:54
when you compare SE to a good video game, you should add a tutorial mode to SE... –  Tobias Kienzler Sep 23 '10 at 12:06
By no means do I consider it a silver bullet; a few minor UI tweaks would probably be all that's required for the non-technical beginners. Where this documentation fits in is for the less technical users who we want to become to power users (i.e. they care about the site but don't feel like stumbling awkwardly through the motions). These people are few, but they are important in the early(ish) stages. –  Aarobot Sep 23 '10 at 15:58
Anyone else see the irony in Robert using a failed multireply that doesn't strike @Aarobot's comment about failed multireplies? –  Grace Note Sep 23 '10 at 16:47
@grace perhaps, but the correct answer was to improve the "just in time" feature of name completion as you do it, not to add some tutorial that will benefit exactly the people who would never spend the time viewing it. Just in time education is the most powerful, and best, tool. –  Jeff Atwood Mar 27 '12 at 19:08
add comment

I don't think anyone is going to read it. We already have a FAQ. People who don't read the FAQ will never do it, much less read a wikibook.

share|improve this answer
I know about the FAQ. I've read the FAQ. I just don't think it's organized very well, nor is it designed for people who want a step-by-step guide on using the site. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Sep 22 '10 at 4:07
@George: The problem isn't the FAQ. It's people don't like to read. They want to just ask a question. –  thyrgle Sep 22 '10 at 4:09
When people want to find out how to change their avatar, etc., a guide works much better than a poorly organized FAQ. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Sep 22 '10 at 4:10
@George: Either way, why not just ask for a better FAQ? –  thyrgle Sep 22 '10 at 4:11
This is my answer to a better FAQ - a WikiBook. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Sep 22 '10 at 4:12
@George: It says for further reference at the bottom of the FAQ. What exactly will a WikiBook do better? –  thyrgle Sep 22 '10 at 4:16
Bring the content together in a more structured manner. –  uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Sep 22 '10 at 4:25
@George: the problem, I've noticed, is that a lot of people do not even read the FAQ, they don't notice it or take the time to read it, unfortunately... –  studiohack Sep 22 '10 at 4:30
@thyrgle: That's not an insurmountable problem. You just need to get them to read it at the right times, and deliver information in bite-sized chunks. –  Aarobot Sep 22 '10 at 20:27
add comment

I can see the Wikibook being somewhat usefull. The FAQ's on some of the stackexchange sites seem to be fairly useless and incomplete, at least the last time I checked. The Math FAQ for example is just a generic copy/paste of every other SE site.

I would love to see how to do equations on that site or use math symbols.

share|improve this answer
add comment

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .