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I have been looking at the endless stream of first answers users post on the Stack Overflow.

As it stands over 500 answers are posted a day on Stack Overflow, that are the first answer by users.

These answers are often thank you type answers. Sometimes they are I just don't know how to use the website answers. Sometimes they are spam. Sometimes they are insightful instructions on how we should be using jQuery. Sometimes they are soliciting work. Usually these first answers have 0 votes, rarely answers are very good.

How do we go about teaching these first time users the error of their way, when they are clearly misusing the site.

If we downvote a "thank you" we may scare new users away.

If we delete a "thank you" the user will have no idea what happened and why stuff vanished.

If we leave a comment, well we also leave yucky information rot around that may never be cleaned up.

How can we properly combat the "zero value" answers first time users are posting, while teaching them the error of their ways and encouraging them to participate properly in the site?

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Slightly related: If many comments are deleted by flagging, then show them as deleted for some time?, for kind of the same reasons. –  Arjan Dec 15 '10 at 10:38
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See stackoverflow.com/questions/4439292/… as a slight variation of your problem. You need 50 rep to comment (other than your own question), and that will have consequences on user long after their registration (if their contribute occasionally and/or on niche topics) . –  VonC Dec 15 '10 at 11:53
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Thank you for posting this. –  Wikis Dec 15 '10 at 15:00
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Lower threshold for commenting –  jmfsg Dec 15 '10 at 15:54
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Remember, users will not read anything you put on the screen. –  Josh Lee Dec 15 '10 at 15:55
    
For "thank you" answers, I've already asked that question: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/55708/… –  Time Traveling Bobby Dec 16 '10 at 8:59
    
Some implementation seems to be on its way. See also: Heuristics for detecting a bad answer? to help. –  Arjan Dec 17 '10 at 9:30
    
@waffles: I think I found the oldest thank you answer on SO: stackoverflow.com/questions/134/… –  MPelletier Dec 23 '10 at 13:40
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7 Answers

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Hello! Our system automatically detected that you appear to be posting an answer whose main content consists in "thank you". Here on Stack Overflow this type of posts is not allowed, read the FAQ bla bla bla bla.

[X] I want to post this answer anyway; I have read the FAQ and believe that this is a valid answer.

Submit

FYI: this has been implemented see: http://stackoverflow.com/questions/how-to-answer

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I am almost tempted to trigger this for any first answer shorter than X –  waffles Dec 15 '10 at 10:20
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And maybe this could also work for comments, including “Belongs on” comments? –  Arjan Dec 15 '10 at 10:35
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Other strings to look out for: "duplicate of", "also have this problem", posts that consists entirely or mostly of a link etc... –  Yi Jiang Dec 15 '10 at 11:52
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Posts that only contain a link to google.. –  Andreas Bonini Dec 15 '10 at 12:15
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With small children (and probably new posters also) "not allowed" is not helpful. Tell them what to do instead. For example you can thank the answerer by upvoting and/or accepting their question. You can point out a duplicate by commenting on the question. You can refine an answer by commenting on the answer. You can "me too" the problem by commenting on the question. Etc. –  Kate Gregory Dec 15 '10 at 13:25
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This seems like a good idea, but without user testing it's almost impossible to predict what effect it would have. It could happen that most users don't read the notice at all, or even that they're discouraged from posting again. –  dbkk Dec 15 '10 at 14:34
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Short answers containing "thank" are usually "Thank you" posts, long answers containing "thank" are usually follow-up questions ending in "Thanks in advance".... –  sth Dec 15 '10 at 14:44
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@Kate - I really like the idea (also suggested by Goran) about letting them know that the best way to thank a user is to vote up their answer. It would help with pointing out the truly useful answers and would educate new users on how the site works. –  Brad Larson Dec 15 '10 at 15:16
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@Kate: I thought about that too, but the fact is new users can't really do anything to thank the person. They can't vote, they can't accept it (unless the question is their own), they can't comment. –  Andreas Bonini Dec 15 '10 at 15:31
    
"Not allowed" -> "prefer that you don't do that" –  jcolebrand Dec 20 '10 at 21:25
    
@drac: it's that it's not a preference, it's really not allowed.. –  Andreas Bonini Dec 20 '10 at 21:25
    
but it's not really "Not allowed" because, well, the site is rather free-form. I just mean that the verbiage is wrong, somebody will be even more pedantic than my comment seems. –  jcolebrand Dec 20 '10 at 21:27
    
There should be a tiny mention in the FAQ that if they user wants to say thanks, a comment is better suited than an answer. –  MPelletier Dec 23 '10 at 13:42
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Lots of progress has been made in this front:

  • We implemented a new "how-to-answer" eula it will show up if our basic heuristic picks up that your post is of low quality. (Eg. short, low entropy, thank you and so on) This eula only shows up for new users (less than 15 rep) - This a success rate well over 50%.

  • On all sites except for Stack Overflow we automatically flag instances where a "how to answer" eula is ignored.

  • We increased the minimal length of posts from 15 to 30.

  • We implemented the review route which allows users to monitor low quality and new user contributions.

  • On the review route there is a very quick way to flag posts from moderator attention with a canned message. ("flag for removal" will only show up on posts with a score of 0 or less)

quick flag

  • On the review route moderators can act on a large batches of posts. (batch delete)
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It's funny to see how people accepting the EULA still post their crap ;-) –  Ivo Flipse Jan 5 '11 at 14:52
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I have also noticed a trend that these type of answers come from posts that has more then a certain amount of views, of in the 1K up range. On Super User we protect these when they get flagged since drive by viewing is obviously a major thing for these questions.

Maybe it would be a good idea if the system automatically protects questions that receive more then x amount of views.

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I'm not fond of auto-protection due to views for the same reason I disliked auto-protection due to age and acceptance. It's reactive to only do protection when a post is proven to attract junk, but a good question can still be openly seeking an answer when it hits 1k views, to which automated blocking of answers seems unwise. It's a bit safer at 10k as few, if any, stay open at that level. But I remain hesitant about this. –  Grace Note Dec 16 '10 at 13:58
    
@Grace Since protection only stops users with less then 10 reputation from answering, I am not sure it is such a big issue. I mean, how hard is it to get 10 rep? My experience on Super User has shown that is rare if not never that any good response is made to a post with 1K+ views from 1 rep users, solely because it is either Thank you's or I have the same problem posts. If you go through the amount of deleted answers on these questions you will be surprised how often we clean them up. –  Diago Dec 16 '10 at 14:26
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Hard? It's impossible to get 10 reputation when the question you could answer is protected. People have to start somewhere, and automation can no better determine that a question is solved rather than grudgingly worked around via acceptance than it can via views. I'm not opposed to protection. I'm simply not fond of automating the process. I know there's a lot to clean up, and protection is a fine and dandy measure to block it where it's necessary. –  Grace Note Dec 16 '10 at 14:32
    
@Grace,would it matter if the automation only applied to questions with an accepted answer? It is a matter of balance. The small chance a first-post by a 1 rep user will be useful to the poster versus the volume of low-value posts by those same newbies. –  Kelly S. French Dec 16 '10 at 15:45
    
@KellyFrench Speaking as someone whose very first post was an answer to a question with an accepted answer, acceptance only indicates acceptability and not necessarily conclusive ends. Stopping answers to an open question is harmful to both the asker and the answerer. It denies the asker a potentially good answer, and the answerer entrance to the community. The system cannot properly detect whether a question is truly open or not, by views or by acceptance, and for that reason I do not support automation. Sometimes a human element is necessary. –  Grace Note Dec 16 '10 at 16:12
    
Yes, how exactly is one going to get 10 rep when one cannot answer or comment or vote. The only way I see is ask a question(may be any dummy) then accept some answer. –  gbs Dec 16 '10 at 16:42
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Whatever be the reason to not allow comments from new users but there needs to be a way to let them do something e.g.

How about a link : "This solution helped me!" with following clauses:

  • Clicking on it will increase the count. Same like facebook "Likes".

  • This is purely for users with reputation <50 i.e. who cannot comment.

  • Prompt the user as suggested above by many, and instruct them to use this link if it is a thankyou comment and not an answer.

  • A user can click it once only per solution.

  • The click count should NOT increase/decrease the reputation of anyone. So if a solution has 5 Likes or 500 Likes it is just kind of information.

This might sound redudandant like Vote(up/down) but as I said it is purely for users who cannot vote or comment and does not affect reputation of giver and receiver.

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This is exactly redundant with upvotes. What is the point of creating a mechanism that is exactly like upvotes, for the sole purpose of circumventing the requirement for upvotes? There's a reason upvotes have a reputation requirement. –  Grace Note Dec 15 '10 at 17:09
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Rep limits exist so that you have used the site before you get power to do things - to give you exposure to how things should be done so that once you get the power you know how to use it properly. Providing a way to circumvent this would not be helpful to anyone. –  Rebecca Chernoff Dec 15 '10 at 17:19
    
The point you might be missing is an Upvote give +10 points while this will not give points. So there is no circumventing here. –  gbs Dec 15 '10 at 17:34
    
    
@Jan Fabry: But then it will be confusing because the user would press the button but won't see any increase in the vote count. I still believe that facebook like feature "Like" would be a better option for users with limited privileges. –  gbs Jan 9 '11 at 3:08
    
@gbs: If you clicked the button an info box would show up of course. I think it would be more confusing to have multiple buttons and vote counts, and have one of the buttons disappear once you have enough rep. I think my system invites more to participate in the site. –  Jan Fabry Jan 9 '11 at 8:24
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Clippy

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• Stab Clippy in his stupid wire face? –  Matt Ball Dec 15 '10 at 16:52
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Actually this is pretty awesome. People expect jokes in clippy talk-baloons nowadays so it's very likely they'll read it :) –  Oak Dec 15 '10 at 16:53
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Although I posted in jest, I do agree with @Oak, especially the confirmation aspect suggested. Kop's post is detailed too, but a wall of text may be skipped over unless confirmation was worked in to proceed. Adding a visual of some sort might help break the flow of text. An eye-grabbing stop sign might even work. –  Ahmad Mageed Dec 15 '10 at 17:19
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Not everybody can comment –  jmfsg Dec 15 '10 at 18:42
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Join the darkside, they have clippy. –  Toon Krijthe Dec 16 '10 at 8:50
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The thing with 'thank you' is that most new users are posting them do so because...

... well, I can' speak in everyone's name..

... but I at first did so because I felt it would be ungrateful had I not thanked to the person(s) who actually invested some time to answer my question or fix my problem.

Now, as I was corrected, these are allowed in comments, but new users can't comment anyway..

Now, the simplest possible fix for that scenario would be to include a pop up message shown to the users typing their first question few answers saying something like:

  1. Write only the answer. Not a comment or "I have this problem, too!"

  2. Don't use answers to thank other answerers.

  3. If you care to comment, use comments instead.

  4. Please, don't spam.

  5. If you have any doubts, read our [FAQ].

More complicated solution would be to include the popup in first several answers by new users.

Basically, an upvote by asker is a "Thank you" by itself, so just inform new users about that etiquette and I think problem would (mostly) be solved.

P.S. Even more complicated answer would be to add a "Thank you" button visible only to new users, which would just upvote the answer if the user has voting right, otherwise just light up.

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Thank-you comments are allowed also. –  mmyers Dec 15 '10 at 14:39
    
@Michael: They are? Cool. Anyway, the point is same nevertheless: Since brand new users can't comment anyway, they'd use one way available to thank the answerer - another answer. Now, if it is their own question they could do so by commenting it. But, say, I'm looking for an answer and someone else asked, and got a superb solution to his problem.. A popup, or a brief explanation shown on user's first few answers should do the trick. –  Goran Jovic Dec 15 '10 at 14:45
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They can comment on answers to their own questions. –  ChrisF Dec 15 '10 at 14:59
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@ChrisF: but not to the good answers of others' questions, that happened to solve their problem. –  Goran Jovic Dec 15 '10 at 15:03
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@ChrisF: Also, the SO concept is quite unique. Any user already familiar with other forums, might mistake a question for a forum thread. This could be solved by restricting new users from answering their own questions. –  Goran Jovic Dec 15 '10 at 15:04
    
a pop up message shown to the users typing their first question -- note that new users on Stack Overflow already get to see a mandatory advice page. –  Arjan Dec 15 '10 at 15:22
    
@Arjan: I forgot about that one. I'd suggest adding the advice about thanking to that message, but the very fact OP had to ask this question suggests it's not very effective. –  Goran Jovic Dec 15 '10 at 15:53
    
@Goran, note that this message is only shown when asking a question, not when answering one. Maybe you meant answer in your users typing their first question above? –  Arjan Dec 15 '10 at 15:59
    
@Arjan, I initially meant question, as to prevent new askers to thank their answerers in new answers. However, after reading your comment it seems it would be better to have messages on answers. But, if the messages haven't been effective with questions, I doubt they would solve the problem for all such posts (i.e. maybe these users don't read them at all?) –  Goran Jovic Dec 15 '10 at 16:05
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(Also, note that new users cannot upvote, but like ChrisF already commented: they can comment on answers to their own question, and to all their own posts.) –  Arjan Dec 15 '10 at 16:08
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I've noticed this happens quite a lot and - like waffles said - not only with "thank you" posts. I routinely scan the "new posts by new users" list and a very significant percentage of posts there are not actual answers. I propose that all new posts will get the following message, regardless of what keywords appear there:

Welcome to <site name>! Remember this is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum. Are you sure your post is an actual answer?

Yes, continue Wait, what?

Downsides:

  1. Nobody ever reads anything, especially if it's not obtrusive enough.
  2. Might annoy legit new users, especially if it's too obtrusive.

Upsides:

  1. Might decrease the amount of these troublesome posts, question is by how much.

Worth it? I don't know, but as I said - especially on gaming.se - the amount of new answers which aren't really answers is troubling.

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+1 for "Wait,what?" :) –  Joel Spolsky Dec 15 '10 at 21:32
    
"Nobody ever reads anything".. haha :) –  user154174 Dec 16 '10 at 8:39
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Flashing 72 point font in a <marquee>. Only the strong survive. –  Won't Dec 16 '10 at 14:25
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@Will: Is it really necessary to become that site about professional gender modification? –  Piskvor Dec 17 '10 at 10:35
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The "Wait, what?" button really made me do a double take and read the message. I think that would (have) worked. –  MPelletier Dec 23 '10 at 13:46
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