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So JA wants to restructure the /faq page for SE sites. Because current /faqs suck. Or at least that's my assumption.

I think there's another assumption we should examine...

Why have a /faq page at all?

Here's my reasoning.

  1. Nobody reads the /faq.
    • When was the last time you read it?
  2. It isn't a "faq" at all.
    • What "Frequently Asked Questions" do you see in the /faq?
    • "Be Nice" isn't a question.
    • Compare the /faq to an average chunk of questions here
  3. FAQs suck in general
    • When was the last time you actually saw a frequently asked question in a FAQ?
    • Your average FAQ is just questions that some website designer thought might be asked, and are about that accurate
    • When was the last time you had a question answered by one?
  4. Meta is the best FAQ
    • We've got a whole bunch of tagged questions
    • They actually ARE frequently asked questions
    • They can be edited and expanded by high-rep users

Perhaps the page should be removed, and the link be retargeted to ?

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+1 for the title (and the rest really) –  davidsleeps Jun 15 '11 at 11:27
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HUHN? ---------- –  Pëkka Jun 15 '11 at 12:17
    
@Pekka: moorhuhn.de - apparently they're coming back, now that DNF is released, and this is a clever viral cross-marketing scheme ;) –  Piskvor Jun 15 '11 at 12:21
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@Pekka: GudGawdYawl. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 12:25
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Good luck finding whatever you need on Meta when you're a new user. The sheer volume of noise here is daunting to say the least –  Ivo Flipse Jun 15 '11 at 12:27
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@IvoFlipse: if you're unable to figure out how to find what you need here <strike>you might be an Android developer</strike> you probably shouldn't be participating here. (note: I have scourged myself for using the <strike> joke) –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 12:30
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@Wont I've always found that post far more useful to us, the denizens of Meta, to find the associated posts for duplicate closures, than to a new user who probably doesn't know it exists or how to find it. –  Grace Note Jun 15 '11 at 12:34
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@Wont You know, I know, but if they won't read a single page named FAQ, you believe they're going to read that humongous FAQ thread? –  Ivo Flipse Jun 15 '11 at 12:44
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Funnily enough, I must have got the joke subliminally: I've been humming "War" the past half hour, but only now figured it out :) –  Pëkka Jun 15 '11 at 12:45
    
@IvoFlipse: Then why bother trying to craft the perfect FAQ for them? –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:15
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Who said it has to be "the perfect FAQ"? What's wrong with something that's simply serviceable and compact? –  Grace Note Jun 15 '11 at 14:18
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@GraceNote: Part of the reason why that is (sadly) true is that it is not promoted. If you want real "frequently asked questions* you will only find a watered down hints and tips page. Let's have a hints and tips page. But don't call it a FAQ because it is not, and cannot ever compete with the faq tag here. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:18
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@Wont I think we all agree that we could change the name, but getting rid of the page altogether is what you're proposing here. Like I said in my answer, calling it an "FAQ" is most likely an artefact of how its utility mimicks what an FAQ on other sites traditionally performs as - a quick way to understand the basics as the first-stop. The Meta faq tag, alongside being on a completely different site for most of the network, is not even remotely new-user friendly. –  Grace Note Jun 15 '11 at 14:19
    
@GraceNote: Well, I never said which circle of hell the /faq page should be sent to, but I definitely don't think it should be called a faq, because it most assuredly is not. I can see it kept as a beginners/users guide, just not as the official faq. I'm not very concerned about "user friendliness" as the website isn't targeted at grandma (hmm, at least on StackOverflow, but I guess that's another angle of the conversation). With weeding out the lowest common denominator trending as it has lately, I wouldn't consider it that much of a hurdle... –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:28
    
Fine, break almost every link I've ever left in a comment since being elected. See if I care!! (tongue in cheek) –  Tim Post Aug 10 '11 at 12:40

7 Answers 7

The FAQ is much smaller than Meta. It makes it a lot easier to get people to browse through it.

This is especially helpful when you have policies for particular on-topic and off-topic elements that are... pretty dense on the Meta site. If someone (especially a new user) asks a question that happens to run afoul of your off-topic policies, which is easier to link to?

  • The one-line statement on your /faq
  • The 4-8 questions on your per-site-meta that each consist of at least 20 paragraphs each

You don't need to walk a user through all of the arguments and debates that your community went through each and every time someone asks a shopping advice question. If they want to research the rule, that's perfectly in their capability to do so, but if all you want to do is tell them the rule exists, the snapshot punch of the FAQ is best for it.

Perhaps it could use a different name than FAQ - I think calling it an FAQ is something of an artefact of how the "FAQ" is the first thing you'll read on most a new site. It's more like a "getting started", or "general rules". Especially on the sites where you don't have dozens of questions that cover everything (read: most every Meta site other than Meta Stack Overflow; I don't think any Meta site other than Meta Stack Overflow even covers the basics of the Reputation system on their), it covers the basics in a very compact format that makes it very usable.

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+1, I always check out the faq section of a new-to-me SE site to learn what to ask and what to not. This bit is definitely must stay. The rest may go, I assume, there are indeed nice explanations on rep levels etc. –  GSerg Jun 15 '11 at 12:28

Overall, I think a faq is useful and it should be kept/improved.

Responses:

Nobody reads the /faq.

Well, when I first started using Stack Overflow it was really useful to me.

It isn't a "faq" at all.

True, but it is very clear to users that it contains information meant to be helpful.

FAQs suck in general

I have to agree with this point.

Meta is the best FAQ

Yes, but it is not clear to brand new users what Meta is. Maybe if the faq link actual pointed to a Meta tag search of questions, then this could work. But it would have to be easy to search the faq questions and they would have to be maintained nicely.

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When was the last time you read it?

Not that long ago - there has been many times i have left a comment for a new user and pointed them to the appropriate FAQ page.

When was the last time you had a questioned answered by one?

Also not that long ago. The page i visited the most often was the one on Markdown. But this page is actually very hard to find if you are not in the process of typing a question. Go on, type markdown into that little search box and see what you get back.

Meta is the best FAQ

No it's not!! 99% (just a rough estimate) of the new people on SO have no idea Meta exists, and they almost certainly don't know how to search specifically for FAQ questions unless they... read the FAQ first.

A FAQ is a common idea that most computer users have some comprehension of. You just need to make it useable, searchable, and easy to navigate.

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Your link to the Markdown page isn't a FAQ, but it is apparently an example of what JA wants to pattern the FAQ rewrite against. It is a nice, short, help page for markdown syntax. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 12:07
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pointed them to the appropriate FAQ page - Right, and the new "magic link" syntax will make this easier and hopefully a more widespread behaviour. See meta.stackexchange.com/questions/92060/… –  Charles Stewart Jun 15 '11 at 12:42
    
@CharlesStewart: See it? I asked it! The links could just as easily point to individual faq questions here. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:21
    
@Won't just as easily: I don't think so, unless people are to memorise question numbers or we are to have an ever-growing table of nicknames for FAQ qns. –  Charles Stewart Jun 15 '11 at 14:34
    
@CharlesStewart: lol, you have to memorize the Ids of the different sections in the faq, so what's the difference? –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:37
    
@Won't: They're mnemomics for the section headings of a single text: I can already remember several of them from glancing over the FAQ. If you're serious about "just as easily", why don't you come up with the beginnings of a list associating keywords to the most important FAQ questions? My guess is that it won't be quite as easy to use. –  Charles Stewart Jun 15 '11 at 14:41
    
@CharlesStewart: In order to get a link to a part of the /faq page, I have to 1) open the page 2) find the section, 3) inspect element 4) edit as html 5) try to select just the id 6) copy. PITA. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:46
    
@Won't: The first-time experience is not good (though I don't see the point of the "edit as html" and select steps: just use the magic link syntax), but after that, I do guess-remember the tokens from glancing over the FAQ. The point is that I don't have to spend time searching for either the FAQ question I am after or list of keywords. –  Charles Stewart Jun 15 '11 at 14:56

Perhaps the page should be removed, and the link be retargeted to [faq]?

I don't think so. The [FAQ] tag on Meta is great, but /faq is a resource that you can simply link to for the most common problems; a condensed explanation of the basic workings.

While you could say/write/link "this question in [faq] concerns reputation", "that question concerns subjective questions", the FAQ is a short (really) and abstract summary. You rightly mention that people don't read - if they won't read the FAQ (pun not intended), would they read the Q&As on Meta? Also, the [faq] questions tend to be somewhat specific - so you'd get complaints of "and he linked me to that question on the Meta concerning a subjective question, and my question is nothing like that, and people support that OP there anyway, and [whine whine whine]".

TL;DR: /faq provides an useful, authoritative summary - it could be shortened in parts (e.g. the privilege list), or dynamically hidden (as per /newfaq), but IMNSHO shouldn't be deleted.

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if they won't read the FAQ (pun not intended), would they read the Q&As on Meta? I don't believe they will. But that argues for the uselessness of a FAQ page. We all know Meta is useful whether or not noobs read it. The FAQ page is only useful to noobs who do read it, which they don't. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 11:48
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@Won't♦: ...and uselessness of Meta ;) Some frequently asked questions are actually well explained in FAQ ("how do you know it's subjective then?"), and I usually provide an even shorter excerpt when linking to FAQ - as in "here's the basic gist, see this for more". If newbies don't read at all (not even the comments), it's all pointless anyway. –  Piskvor Jun 15 '11 at 12:04

4 . Meta is the best FAQ

I agree but I don't think that simply linking to the Meta FAQ questions is the way to go.

The new FAQ is actually spot on in my opinion. We just have to find the really frequently asked questions and add them to the new FAQ. This isn't hard to do because we have the view count on the questions and can tell which questions are really frequently asked.

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While I agree that the page isn't strictly speaking a FAQ, it does contain useful information (including the aforementioned "be nice").

Therefore, why not:

  1. Rename the page to something more descriptive of what it is - "rules" or "guidelines" spring to mind immediately (but I'm sure someone else can come up with a better name).
  2. Keep the link to the page on the header - it's useful to be able to point people at something they could have read for themselves.
  3. Have "faq" link to
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I think points 1 through 3 are quite good, and would +1 again if I could. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 11:46
    
/faq is useful as it gives a quick report about which questions are not allowed on a specific SE site (see EL&U FAQ and Drupal FAQ). I agree, the URL is not the best one, and having a link and a tab both named "faq" is confusing. –  kiamlaluno Jun 15 '11 at 12:05
    
Definitely agree - if you want a new name, how about S.O.P (Standard Operating Procedures) for the current FAQ material? –  John C Aug 10 '11 at 13:28

Of course experienced users are going to point to meta and say "here's where you get your questions answered" ... we all (generally) know about meta and (generally) have experience finding what we need and asking about it when we don't. The FAQ pages aren't aimed at us except to use as a link in a reply to a newer user.

Features like FAQ, links to SE sites, markdown help, etc. are there to help people who don't know or remember how to get what they need ... we may not need those features, but it doesn't hurt to have them, even if they could stand to be improved. (I have to confess that it was months before I noticed the SE links at the bottom of the page. I'm not much for reading footers.)

I think Jeff has a point about current FAQ pages, but I think saying "Current FAQs need help: this format will work better" makes more sense than saying "Current FAQs need help: let's get rid of them."

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I'm more of a "FAQs don't work in general, almost never cover what you are looking for, could be better replaced with other resources, so lets burn FAQs with fire" kind of guy. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:14
    
@Won't, fair enough, we can agree to disagree on this. –  Dave DuPlantis Jun 15 '11 at 14:48
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No, you must agree with everything I say. Them's the rules. –  Won't Jun 15 '11 at 14:51

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