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There is a distinct decline in the level of civility on all the sites here. Some of this is due to new users coming in and posting spam and other nonsense, but the off-topic and downvote buttons are doing a pretty good job of keeping this under control.

Unfortunately, a lot of this is coming from more experienced users, and the site's built-in moderation system does not (and probably cannot) handle this very well. Folks are rushing to pound new users down with "this belongs on meta!", "this is off topic", "this is a duplicate!" and "read the FAQ!". (Which is correct, but should be done nicer) All this, of course, is accompanied by a flurry of downvotes. This is not very welcoming to new users who don't know about meta, the FAQ, or what counts as off-topic.

Now I am not proposing that we just allow off-topic, meta, or duplicate questions. However, I think we could be gentler in the way we express these sorts of things. Explain what meta and the FAQ are and provide useful links. Just using please and thank-you when asking folks to read the FAQ or post something on meta would be an improvement. I also think we could rein in the downvoting a bit. Not that we shouldn't vote stuff down, but unless a new user's post is clearly spam, voting it down to -1 or -2 should be sufficient to send a message without piling on.

I like Stack Overflow and I want it to become a resource for everyone, not just an elitist site for people who were in the private beta.

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migrated from Jul 27 '09 at 10:57

This question came from our site for professional and enthusiast programmers.

The links to that information should be better displayed, and perhaps displayed more often. – Brad Gilbert Sep 16 '08 at 21:17
This is why I've suggested having comments for when things are voted down. That way people get helpful hints instead of just the big minus sign. Unfortunately, the suggestion was declined by management. :( – Kyralessa Sep 16 '08 at 21:21
For starters, let's stop using the derogatory term "noobs"? – Ates Goral Oct 17 '08 at 14:39
@Michael I think it's more likely it came from the word 'newbie' which I don't find offensive at all. – rustyshelf Nov 20 '08 at 23:42
As a noob here myself the most irritating thing I have experienced is being voted down without explanation. I'm not here to gain reputation but to get help. I try to be helpful in return. So if an answer is deemed unhelpful I would like to know why so that I can make better answers in future. – Noel Walters Jan 26 '09 at 11:08
Rolled back to "noobs". The term is used in our field and I don't think anyone takes it particularly offensively. Tired of political correctness everywhere. – mmcdole Feb 16 '09 at 2:04
I totally agree, I've caught wind of this myself and I’ve only been here two weeks. It takes a lot to not attack back via comments. This “decline in the level of civility” can lead to very large nonsense/bickering comment chains. – NTDLS Feb 21 '09 at 5:16
I agree. It's very offensive to be a new user, post a question, and have it hit with "topic closed". Even it's a duplicate question, don't bar people from answering it. Some questions that I thought were reasonable were IMHO inappropriately closed. My reaction was "**** this ****ing site!" – Anonymous Feb 23 '09 at 20:01
I've always thought that we programmers tend to be a little bit arrogant. Maybe it comes with the binary numerical system understanding – victor hugo May 10 '09 at 19:27
The beatings will continue until morale improves? – sparks May 12 '09 at 23:56
This is typical. Someone designs and creates a system (StackOverflow) that fails to take into account the nature of human beings, and then someone (in this case, you) criticises the humans for just being themselves and not adapting to the flaws of the system. – Timwi May 13 '09 at 0:40
I'd definitely change "noobs" to "newcomers", because standard English is always more understandable. – Daniel Daranas Jun 26 '09 at 10:39
@mcandre: where in the manifesto is that true: [This is a place for specific, complex questions] That's your personal wish for this place, just as my personal wish for this place is somewhere between experts-exchange and slashdot. Guess what, neither of us are going to get what we want, but IMHO, if we were closer to my vision, we get a better tool all-around and not just some silo to your ego of eliteness. – darthcoder Aug 18 '09 at 18:23
I find so ironic that this post has been "protected" against newbies... – yms Apr 24 '11 at 22:37
I know that when I started I found the FAQ to be singularly unhelpful and got downvoted on my first interaction with StackOverflow because I had no idea why I couldn't leave comments or make votes (probably the two most used features of this website), so left a comment the only way I could, as an answer. I got downvoted with no explanation except the advice that I should have commented and / or upvoted (which I didn't have the reputation to do). It wasn't until just recently that I discovered the FAQ does deal with comments and votes, but only under Reputation, not what I came here for – James K Sep 16 '12 at 1:46

49 Answers 49

I recommend some type of cookie-cutter response that we can just copy-and-paste depending on the mistake made. For example:

This type of question is considered a 'poll' and is outside Stack Overflow's scope. Please rephrase the question so that it can be answered definitively or it will be closed.

...or something like that. I think that the moderators on do something similar when their newbies break the rules.

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LOL! I was doing this for ages during private beta, it just got me downmodded! I have several snippets that I used in Google Notebook for easy access! – Rob Cooper Sep 16 '08 at 21:17
The wording of your example is still too harsh in my opinion. The frequently highly negative reactions of newbie Wikipedians to messages with similar purpose and tone is a case in point. – Michael Ratanapintha Nov 19 '08 at 5:39
best would be if there was just something we could type that would show up as the response, like bbcodelike: [rules] – Gordon Gustafson Aug 18 '09 at 1:20

While I agree, there are a few points to note:

  • 1 upvote clears the rep cost of several downvotes.
  • New users need to learn and those with the "mod" class rep levels simply don't have time to hand-hold all the new users.
  • I (and we) always take "n00bism" into account before smashing down (I tend to favour closing if possible to save them rep).
  • The up/down vote system is not just about rep, it is the quality control mechanism for Stack Exchange.
  • On the welcome page and the FAQ it clearly states everything that you have mentioned.

Now, like I said, we should take it into account. But the fact remains, the up/down vote system is the core of how we get the "good stuff" up and the "bad stuff" down. It is not designed to be a personal attack against the users in question.

Looking at "exhibit A"..

  • It's not offensive.
  • I don't even think it really belongs on uservoice. I would have commented and closed it.
  • I would not have voted down due to the fact that it is a valid question and not really covered by the official FAQ (the "unofficial FAQ" really pisses me off, that should not have survived private beta for this very reason).
  • The abusive responses are not helpful, I have modded them down, and everyone else should have done the same.

Can we please remember that we are supposed to be adults, we are supposed to be problem-solvers by trade. So, can we try to apply some brain cells to things please?

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The closing is a much larger slap in the face than a downvote IMO. You should be using this power as sparingly as possible. – GEOCHET Sep 16 '08 at 18:44
I disagree, a comment outlining why it as closed and suggestions on how to make it appropriate is good for two reasons. 1. It stops them getting slammed by other users. 2. It stops a flame war starting and helps the whole process move on. – Rob Cooper Sep 16 '08 at 18:47
"1 upvote clears the rep cost of several downvotes." While I think this is a good design decision, I wonder how many noobs realize this. A lot of them are probably freaking out at their question being at -5 not realizing that the one upvote meant they had no net loss of rep. – Chris Upchurch Sep 16 '08 at 20:21
Some people implicitly understand the need for civility. Others do not, unfortunately, so we need to say so explicitly. – Mike Dunlavey Jan 12 '09 at 22:20
Is it really in the spirit of SO that… is ok, and that is not? – Curt Sampson May 25 '09 at 23:41
@GEOCHET You must be joking. Rep matters much more when someone is just trying to get started (and the ones who care most are the ones you most want to hold onto as future contributors!). A small change in rep can impact site privileges more easily, and of course the relative effect of downvoting on total rep is much higher. I would love to know how many people have abandoned the site because of being downvoted on one of their first posts. – A.M. Jul 1 '13 at 19:09
Actually, there is probably a way to find out about this by looking at the records: Search for users who have not logged in in a long time, and see what the last votes on their posts before they left were. (I would be happy to be corrected on my assumption that downvoting chases newbies away, but I would have to see the evidence first.) – A.M. Jul 1 '13 at 19:16
Once someone's post gets a downvote, he rarely gets a upvote afterwards. – Jamie Mar 29 '15 at 8:37

Here are a couple of requests on

[Provide clear and solid guidelines for SO users][1] [declined]

[Formulate and publish moderation policy][2] [completed]

Admin response

... if site behaviors are not self-evident, we have failed....


Maybe it's time to acknowledge that users need clean guidelines?

If people keep asking such questions, maybe you really failed to explain what Stack Overflow is.

How can this be obvious?:


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what is is according to the designers' intent and what it will become based on community usage may be two very different things. Let it evolve for a while before pruning the shoots, it's only been two days! – Steven A. Lowe Sep 18 '08 at 3:40

I definitely believe this is a problem. I recommended this site to my sister recently. She is an inexperienced programmer, and her project director switched them from Visual Studio to Borland mid-project. She has a master's degree in mathematics and has only taken 1-2 college level programming classes, but she has been added onto a programming project as one of her tours in the entry level program of her department. She was struggling with some of the differences between the two development environments. She did find some help on certain Borland sites, but she had been largely at a loss for some of the errors she was running into. That's when I sent her here.

I've been following Stack Overflow since Jeff Atwood started talking about it on Coding Horror. I have to confess I am more lurker/observer than anything else. I was extremely pleased at how quickly questions were answered, and she joined up on my recommendation.

Her first question was almost immediately attacked as being homework, while also being voted down and criticized for its format. While some of the reasoning (except the homework stuff) was accurate, the method in which it was presented was wholly inappropriate, especially for a new user. She was almost immediately turned off by the responses, and felt like she should return to her forum resources.

Thankfully, a few long time users came by, ANSWERED HER QUESTION, and encouraged her to keep participating. They redeemed both her opinion and my own about the site. There was a night and day difference between how the users, who basically took the same actions in showing her a better way to ask the question, responded.

While I definitely believe we need to be using up/down votes as they are intended, if members can't be respectfully helpful to new users, we need some new way of communicating the proper way to use the website.

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This is the crux, IMHO: people will overlook some brusque interactions IF there are others who actually help. – user169512 Apr 30 '14 at 16:59
I can't say how very helpful this is in depicting what is probably a sadly common experience here. – Ben Leggiero Oct 24 '14 at 19:13

We probably need to distinguish between two types of "new users":

  • New users to SO/SE
  • New users to a language/tool or whatever the subject of a question.

They are usually correlated, but we need to think about them separately. Personally, I prefer new user questions to questions so specific that they can be answered with a single line. But I understand that there are others different than me (and I do reply with one-liners from time to time).

My answer to the present question is to:

  • Establish a system of tags or ranks that allows askers to classify their questions as "beginner" / "real beginner" / "intermediate" / "advanced" / "postdoctoral". And allow potential answerers to search by difficulty level, of course.
  • Criticize questions according to the assigned difficulty level.
  • Guide users to become proficient in SO/SE as we are doing today: sweetly. Assume that question's difficulty is also an indication of SO/SE expertise level. Be lenient or demanding accordingly.
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the issue is not with easiness. The issue is with laziness and the resulting immense duplication of questions and thus fragmentation of knowledge. Easy questions in obscure topics are fine. Easy questions already answered by the manual are not. – Jan Dvorak Aug 18 '13 at 7:05
you are free to propose a site where heavily duplicated trivial questions are welcome. I don't want these lazy questions on SO. I will not use tha site as my source of knowledge. I might contribute with answers. – Jan Dvorak Aug 18 '13 at 7:18
I've been a Wikipedia editor and contributor for a long while, but I have encountered that SO is a lot more fun precisely because of the newbies. I'll follow them wherever they go. And come back to SO from time to time too, as well as Wikipedia. – Mario Rossi Aug 18 '13 at 7:28
There have been several occasions where I wanted to abandon SO (except that it's the fastest place to resolve code issues/puzzles) because I would send an hour refining my question to make sure I had everything I could to inform the answerers only to be downvoted because of a lack of information. It's not laziness, it's not because I didn't read the FAQ or guides. It's because I'm new. I just don't know... that's why I post here! – jtsmith1287 Aug 18 '13 at 18:46

Interestingly (to me, anyway), I think that moderation in Stack Exchange has just hit a new level in "social experiment". In a way, you might even say that this is a sign of maturity for SO (but still a problem).



I'm going to talk about moderators here, but I'm not taking a shot at anyone. Really. I think that this is more of an interesting social effect than anyone being bad. So before I write the next bit, I want to thank all of the moderators for donating so much time and working so hard to make SO a great site. I mean that, and there is no sarcasm or disparagement intended whatsoever).

Now: Think about this: We have a number of rules and guidelines for using the site, and now we have a lot of moderators. As they work to optimize their job of moderating, they apply group-think based upon supporting the rules. They are doing what humans do -- optimizing their actions to complete their goal. In this case, moderating. BUT, does that necessarily mean that the work is doing the best thing for Stack Overflow (just my opinion, but nowadays, I think twice before posting and sometimes go elsewhere, because I don't want my question getting closed -- I just don't want the extra "intellectual tax" of dealing with cleaning up or thinking about a closed question, when what I'm really looking for is an answer.

Now that I've said all that, where else so you see this sort of group think effect? government bureaucracy! In way, it's really interesting, because in order to have that, doesn't the object of the bureaucracy have to be something that everyone involved feels is worth worrying about? So, in a way, cool! (that said, I'd like for it to be easier to post questions :)

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The point to be noted is that, downvoting isn't the only trick to teach the new user, how to not post syntactically ill questions.

The experienced user here are much more aware of all the guidelines and regulations of this community. But the new user is not.

Whenever a new user logs in, they don't bother to read the FAQs of community. Not even someone else would bother to do so, if they are using the site for the first time.

I don't think there is anyone who reads the FAQs of each and every site they open. Nobody thinks it as useful.

The new user should be made aware of the point that Stack Exchange sites works on some guidelines that should be followed strictly to wrap your posts into relevant words.

There are better ways of doing so. Comment with relevant links are powerful enough to direct the new user to the FAQs page instead of a heavy volume of down votes. Two or three downvotes are sufficiently enough to let the user know about how this site works.

Getting a large volume of downvotes in the initial stages are worth embarrassing, as I got in first post of mine.

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I surely do read FAQs of sites I participate at. Also, I browse around to see how others are participating. In other words: I do put effort in understanding the site I'm using, before I use it. And, as already pointed out to you twice: downvoting might be different here. So, even nice comments don't help make you understand? Then I'd say: good that downvotes do make some feel something was not appreciated, and feed the ban. – Arjan Sep 15 '12 at 10:08
These sites are not some personal help forums, to get one's problems fixed. Why wouldn't a community be allowed to get rid of content they don't appreciate, by downvoting it? – Arjan Sep 15 '12 at 10:28
Just for some perspective: the last two weeks Stack Overflow had an average of 5,428 new questions per day. That's one every 15 seconds. – Arjan Sep 15 '12 at 10:38
I always read the FAQ and possibly even ask a Meta question on a new site, to make sure my question is not downvoted into oblivion. :) And... it works! – Alenanno Sep 15 '12 at 10:53

I'll add an example of what happened today. Today I've seen two quite "easy" questions. They are so easy that they could be funny.

32 bit unsigned JavaScript bitwise operation is one short

Now... Everyone that has a little of knowledge of IT should be able to answer both of them without problems.

  • The first one was upvoted 8 times (at the time I'm writing).

  • The second one was downvoted 24 times and closed by a moderator for "closed as not a real question". At this time it's the fourth most downvoted question (the wood spoon). I'll add that the question wasn't badly formatted (there isn't any revision on it and its formatting is quite good) and the English is good.

I hope this isn't "n00b friendliness" :-)

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The tooltip on the downvote button says, "This question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful." And a question about what && and || mean is about as basic a question as you can get. I'm having a hard time believing that question was asked in good faith. – mmyers Sep 12 '11 at 22:20

As Thevs said

Being noob here doesn't mean being noob in computing and communities.

I have only registered and asked my first question today. However, I am a senior developer (architect) with 21 years experience in numerous programming languages and technologies. I have found answers to other problems on this site and various others but never before needed to raise a new question. I have found that when Stack Overflow is listed first by Google, I get a warm feeling that the help will be of good quality so I chose Stack Overflow to raise my first question. However, I only ever search such sites for specific information. I don't browse sites otherwise. (I wouldn't be allowed to spend work time doing so and choose not to do so outside of work -this comment is an exception to prove the rule.)

Today, I had a problem that I needed to solve before leaving work. Having read the relevant formal documentation, experimented and googled for a few hours for related infomation, I raised a question on Stack Overflow.

I have to confess that pressure of my deadline meant that I did not spend any time working out what the various links and buttons on the question submission screen did, and I didn't find my way to any FAQ until later. I also found that my (employer dictated) Internet Explorer 6 did not display the question entry page properly - some fields displayed on top of each other. Somehow, although I quoted my sample code and could see that I had done so in the preview, after I had submitted my question, I found that the code was no longer quoted. Almost immediatly someone, commented rather abruptly that I'd failed to quote my code and voted my question down giving it a negative score. The commenter did not offer an answer or any advice on how to correct my presentation problem.

Shortly afterwards, some more helpful reader just quietly corrected the layout of my question.

Within a couple of hours my question had attracted more than 50 readers, 3 partial answers and a positive vote. One contributor tried to give a complete answer but someone else pointed out that he was wrong. Five hours later my question on a very common Java library remains unanswered, so I suspect it will prove to be a good question - I actually suspect a bug in the Sun libraries.

So my new user's view is as follows (and of course it is a subjective personal view):

  1. The links for edit|delete, the FAQ and other links are not as prominent as other buttons. In fact, even allowing for my Internet Explorer 6 problems, I find some of the screens messy. By that I mean buttons and links in different styles are scattered around the screen, and it is not obvious to a first time user where to look for a button or link or just find all the options available to them. For example, the link to the FAQ is in very small print at the bottom of the page but the button inviting users to submit questions, answers and comments is enormous.
  2. Standard comments from a drop down list (rather like FriendsReunited's messages) might help users to provide standard polite responses to the common errors made by new users.
  3. I'm happy for questions and answers to be voted up and down based on usefulness. However, since questions can be edited and the presentation improved, it would be nice if voting a question down because of poor presentation were discouraged and advice (or help with) improving presentation offered.
  4. My questions has only been half answered (sufficiently for a workaround but not a complete understanding). Even having read the FAQ, I'm unsure of the etiquette for updating my questions to ensure that it is clear to others that it is incomplete.
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I personally felt the answers to your question were quite good. As for IE6, we don't guarantee perfect rendering for browsers that old any more. The site will be functional, but it may look odd. IE7 is the oldest version of IE we test on. – Jeff Atwood Jun 6 '10 at 7:37

I just want to include myself as an example of this:

unless a new user's post is clearly spam, voting it down to -1 or -2 should be sufficient to send a message without piling on.

Now, I do think I had to be voted down, and the community should express itself so I can see if I fit in or not. But, as far as I can see, the reputation system is also associated with spam and bot prevention up to a certain ammount of points. So, until that is reached by any valid user this should be the focus: making the user able to use basic resources, such as voting, posting links, etc.

Maybe even the system should change a little bit on that sense. One thing is getting reputation to be able to moderate. Another thing is to achieve "human rights" in the system. And that should not be too hard for newbies.

Anyway, yet again, just my two cents as a newcomer.

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Cawas, downvotes on Meta are different from downvotes on SO/SF/SU. On Meta, since there is rarely a "right" and "wrong" answer, voting is instead a means to express approval or disapproval. The downvotes don't mean you asked bad questions. – mmyers Feb 18 '10 at 17:13

When I started, I asked a couple of meta questions on Stack Overflow and people were nice about their answers. But, and I think this is an important point, I think the questions were NOT obvious and there was not a good place to get an answer to the question.

For example, I asked TODAY about how to get a better understanding of Stack Overflow and was directed to the "offical FAQ".

What I absolutely don't get is how come that official FAQ is not the page that new users see when click the FAQ link at the top of every page. I REALLY don't get it.

I wanted to learn, but I had to ask a question on Meta Stack Overflow to learn.

So until that is corrected, I think new users should be cut some slack. Not all of us are idiots or lazy.

And even the official FAQ needs work IMHO. I know it is a work in progress, but I am only arguing that patience with newbies should be the order of the day. That's what a community it; without it you don't have a community.

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Here is another very-new-noob who is experiencing (at least moderately) this same thing. I started by just wanting to be helpful. Then after realizing that I need reputation points to post comments, I started focusing on unanswered questions, hoping to get up-voted for helpful answers.

It seems like some people ask a question and then just forget to vote for any answers at all. I've even started learning concepts on the fly, to try and answer questions that I previously had no knowledge of (LINQ for example). I think I will stop trying this though.

I've done my best to follow the rules, make my posts meaningful and helpful, and not repost what others have already said (even though I have on a few occasions).

As of right now, the ONLY vote I have is a down-vote on an answer I provided that, at the time, I thought was a perfectly acceptable answer.

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I think Stack Overflow should really be strict regarding the quality of the submissions in this site.

Look at Digg now. They grew very very fast, and they didn't mind about the quality of the submissions and now look at where they are. Submissions are junk photos not related to NEWS whatsoever.

Compare this to Hacker News. They are very strict about the quality of the submissions. They have moderators who can down vote the article right away, they have complete control over the articles. They are growing fast. Very fast. But the submissions are still of high quality.

Let's see what's happening on Stack Overflow . Obviously this site is like Yahoo Answers but for coders. And let's be honest. Anyone can access this, not just coders.

Stack Overflow is growing super fast. And if Stack Overflow will tolerate the trolls, I'm afraid we will be heading to what Digg is now. Digg has high quality submissions + junk submissions that managed to get 5k+ diggs. If Stack Overflow tolerate trolls, Stack Overflow will still have high quality questions and answers + troll-like questions and answers that can also manage to have 100+ votes.

Let's follow what Hacker News is right now. Let's be like them.

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The good things we do in this life reflect in the next. We should all help each other. No question is too small, and no question is too large.

Long live Stack Overflow, and I hope its good ethics rub off on the old school elitists. Let's all work together to make Stack Overflow what it deservers to be.

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I haven't been here long, but I see:

  • Sarcastic non answers getting up voted
  • People with "High Reputation" being complete jerks and personally attacking.
  • People with high rep giving completely inaccurate answers
  • Down voting everything a user says because he made you mad
  • Answers with the most cheer leading getting more up votes than clear concise answers.
  • Too many people have innacurate information and excessively repeating it does not make it any more accurate.
  • Post Whoring
  • Holy Wars

In general, I feel there are too many people with rights they shouldn't have.

Reputation is far too easy to obtain and there are a lot of people drunk with power.

I don't trust 90% of people, why should Stack Overflow?

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You pointed out these inaccuracies, right? – mmyers Apr 24 '09 at 17:57
"Managed code is waaaay slow compared to native even with JIT." Your phrasing is awfully close to trolling (there's no way you could back that over-generalized statement up); I'm not surprised it was downvoted. I notice you still had a net gain of 12 rep from that answer, though. (And I flagged the top answer there as spam.) – mmyers Apr 27 '09 at 14:08
I'm sorry, what did you just say? Is that slang or something? – mmyers Apr 27 '09 at 14:50

I'm a noob. I've been following this site for a few days and so far I really like the format and the quality of topics and answers.

From what I've seen so far there most of the answers to questions are constructive and well thought out (exhibit A in the original post doesn't work). If Stack Overflow was just another forum site flooded with questions from people that won't do any footwork before bombarding a board with questions, I wouldn't have bookmarked it.

The FAQ was useful for me, maybe add some of the good examples of bad questions to the FAQ for us noobs too.. It might be fun to go through those too.

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I agree, thanks for bringing this up. I have at times been attacked personally just for making a logical statement. It's not always whether you are newbie or not, but it can be other subjective things such as if your question is liked or disliked (for example, Jon Skeet-related questions seem to get a lot of cheers here) regardless of its merits), which is why I brought up a related discussion in question Why is there a double standard regarding non-programming related questions at Stack Overflow?.

I am sensing a much higher civility in this thread, probably due to the way the question was posed.

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I am a newbie myself, and I really like the idea around the site. Reputation-based is really great and fun and makes it like something of a Wikipedia 2.0 in my opinion. There is just one thing that annoys me a bit. I saw a couple of newbies being heavily downvoted without any answer or explanation. While this has not yet happened to me personally, I can imagine how frustrating this is. What about downvotes requiring mandatory comment? Now I agree that 'RTFM' would be enough of a comment - still it would definitively look less cowardly.

If you don't agree... Well... Weapons Free ;)

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It's also nice to give a reason when upvoting. Both positive and negative feedback will help to improve the quality of questions and answers on SO. – Noel Walters Jan 27 '09 at 19:12

I think civility could be improved in general, not just regarding questions about Stack Overflow. For example, the first question I asked here was a CSS question and I got a rude and slightly off-topic answer: "if you say liquid that usually means percent based dimensions, start associating things like that in your head" (I had not even said "liquid", and in the end there was no satisfactory answer to that question, which suggests it was not dumb).

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Follow-up comment on that answer: "then your solution is the same but with a new 400px div as child element of #rightnav (the terms liquid and fluid are interchangeable) " - none of this strikes me as terribly rude; if you don't find it helpful then ignore it / down-vote it. – Shog9 Aug 13 '10 at 18:49

Wikipedia has a solution to such a problem. This is done by a nice short welcome message explaining the importance of a few rules, rather than simply pointing out the FAQs, and tons of best practices papers and guidelines it has. On top of this, whenever a user makes a mistake he is given a chance to correct it by opening a dispute page. Perhaps we can consider something like that here. If a question is a duplicate, give the user a chance to defend it and maybe even go so far as to stop downvotes on a disputed page? Because on Stack Overflow, once a question is disputed, downvotes seem to fly off faster than the speed of thought.

So what we need is a template for disputed content. A few such categories would be:

  • Duplicate
  • Belongs on UserVoice
  • Offtopic
  • Offensive
  • Read the FAQ (This tag might be too vague?).

Once a post gets tagged with any of the above tags, a small block explaining the details of such a tag should appear by default on the question itself with an automatic link to a resolution page where the community can vote and discuss it. If consensus is gained, the question can be deleted without getting voted down. This will preserve the reputation points of the user as well and this will make the responses of the question more clean, as right now the discussions on such disputed questions seem to be more about the dispute and less about the question. Just my 2 pyas.

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Wikipedia's solution wouldn't work here. The entire point in SO is to be easily accessible. The ruling clique on Wikipedia have no problem keeping up with a few rules, but someone visiting SO for the first time to ask why his C program crashes will simply stay away if he can't just post his question directly. "What we need" is simply to not assault people with downvotes. – jalf May 12 '09 at 19:09



I, being a n00b myself, didn't realize there was already a system called Badges (yes, I see the big button up top, I just hadn't gotten around to investigating it). Below is my original suggestion, but now that I know there is already a badges system implemented...

I suggest we extend Badges to incorporate tests on various subject matters, instead of just auto-generated values, as it does now. Just like real boy-scout badges. Learn how to tie a knot, take the knot tying test, get a badge. Read the FAQ, take the FAQ test, get a badge.


(Read below for a wordier way of saying the same thing.)


Implement a n00b training and rating system as part of the user account. When a person makes a new account they start out as a n00b, with a score of 0. If they want to increase that score, they have to take tests. The score on the test advances your n00b score. There are multiple tests in different topic areas, and the various tests are weighted differently.

For example, there could be a test about basic site navigation. It could be a low valued test, so even if you get a 100% score on the test, it only boosts your n00b level a little.

Another test could be proving you know the answers from the various FAQs. This could be a medium weighted score.

Another test could be proving you know how the various social systems work, and what socially acceptable behaviour is. It would help to have a "coding standard" type document that covers this, so that people who don't just "get it" can learn it.

This kind of system is already in place on a lot of forum software, but they rate the users on how many posts, giving them various levels of experience, starting at n00b and ending at SysOp (or Admin for you youngsters).

This will be an additional rating system to reputation, and it's opt-in. Reputation is socially controlled. User experience level is something you can learn and test your way to success with, whether anyone likes what you have to say or not.

In this way, you can prove that you've read the FAQ, and understand it enough to answer the questions in the test, and get the appropriate "scout badge". That way, when people are answering your questions, they know at what level to start.. A respondant might think "Should I mention the FAQ to this guy?.. Oh, no, I see he's read the FAQ already, and he's still asking this question. Let me think about it a little deeper, or see if the FAQ is ambiguous or lacking in content.", etc.

I think a system like that would be very cool. You could even have technical topic area "certifications" that can contribute to that... So a user can prove that they know what the heck they are talking about in C++ or Win32 COM programming. The tests could be user generated, and people could add new ones, evolving the site as it goes on.

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I see a lot of discussion about "noobs" and such, but aren't we all technically new to the site. It's not that old yet (for example, if this site was slashdot instead, we'd all have really low UIDs).

I mean, the only difference between people joining now and people who "have been here since the beginning" is something like two months (if that). And most of that time was spent in private beta. I think the question itself promotes hostility to those who didn't join the private beta as it starts to create cliques of users in the community.

Pretty soon we'll have the group of guys who were in the private beta, the group who joined during open beta, the people who joined the first month, the people who know Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood personally, and it will be a mess of down votes and bickering in the answers and comments with moderator powers being thrown about willy-nilly.

Please, let's just ask questions, give answers, vote on the best of each and try and ignore who said what and concentrate on what was said.

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As someone new to Stack Overflow, I have to agree, to a point. I've noticed a certain SlashDottishness around here, though it's pretty limited so it is not that large an issue.

I think the environment will take care of itself over time. Those who don't need, want or deserve to be here will leave or be encouraged to leave.

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I know I stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed that to post anything on uservoice I had to create yet another user account and that I couldn't even use my OpenID ID like I could on Stack Overflow.

I mean, if the websites are so closely related, wouldn't it make sense for them to behave in the same manner or even better to actually share the same user system?

As it stands, asking a question on UserVoice is more difficult than asking one on Stack Overflow and many people discover Stack Overflow directly and only see UserVoice later (if they even do). Given that, is it so surprising that people go for the easiest and just post their questions on Stack Overflow?

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If lots of people are asking the same questions about Stack Overflow, then that's potentially a usability problem.

And if lots of people are asking (and answering) poll-type questions, then that is apparently an interesting use-case.

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I am a noob. I've been registered for less than 24 hours after finding Stack Overflow on Reddit, and I've been impressed with both the level of civility and usefulness of many of the questions and answers. I'm also very intrigued by the reputation system and the inventiveness of the site's designers in trying to design a system that keeps up the site's quality and doesn't let it devolve into something like Digg.

Both of these things encouraged me to try to engage with the site (in spite of the OpenID painfulness) vs. just lurk and go away. I have 63 mod points now, so I don't think the 15-point up-vote hurdle is too high at all if a dumbass like me can pass it.

In short, from the noob perspective I don't think there's a big problem, but I do appreciate Chris' advice that you all be nice to us (except for the cretins with the "How do I use Windows?" questions). The system is complicated enough that the real, AKA "unofficial", FAQ really needs to be linked to in the menu (as levhita suggests), not the useless one (or merge the two).

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Maybe Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky could put together a video tutorial explaining how Stack Overflow works and explaining some of the do's and don'ts.

From seeing a video of Joel giving a presentation of FogBugz and listening to the podcast I imagine they could make it humorous enough that people would watch the whole thing and informative enough that they could raise the level of n00bism here.

In fact, I think it's such a good idea that I've made a uservoice suggestion for creating a tutorial video.

And it's been declined: "if the site isn't somewhat self-evident, we have failed -- video or not".

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I like this idea. His FogBugz presentation was great. – Chris Upchurch Sep 16 '08 at 21:13
If our community needs a video to use such a simple site we are doomed for failure. – GEOCHET Sep 18 '08 at 4:03
If it stops just one person behaving in a way that will get them voted down, and potentially put them off the site then surely it's worth doing. – Sam Hasler Sep 18 '08 at 12:10
The issue is broader than coding. It's a simple matter of maturity and the golden rule. Shaming people is not what we should be doing. It wouldn't take much video to say "Look out for the other guy, and they'll look out for you". – Mike Dunlavey Jan 12 '09 at 22:17
...and just for fun, they could make the video in the style of those old 1960s instructional movies they used to show in schools: "Stack Overflow: the silent free-time killer!" – gnostradamus Jan 27 '09 at 20:29
"we have failed" Yes, you have. Anything that has to have pages and pages and pages and pages of FAQ, is not simple and will NEVER be read. NEVER. So redesign it – adolf garlic Apr 21 '09 at 7:14
@adolf garlic, we're programmers, we like to know exactly how something works. So it's not surprising that so many FAQ pages exist. As it is most new users don't seem to have to read them to understand how to use the site. They are just there to refer to for the minority of users who ask such questions. – Sam Hasler Apr 21 '09 at 10:39
> it's been declined: "if the site isn't somewhat self-evident, we have failed -- video or not" And yet... there are training videos for FogBugz. – Ether Aug 27 '09 at 3:21

I think there is this inherent fear--perhaps a subconscious one learned after spending time on Digg, Reddit, Hacker News, and other similar community-run sites -- of a flood of new users decreasing the quality of posts on a site like this. If anything, such a fear dates back all the way to the Eternal September of Usenet, back in 1993.

This fear leads to an overreaction when people see what they think are junk questions posted by newer users -- whether the questions are simply offtopic, or perhaps trollish or ignorant, or perhaps highly subjective. People are afraid of the quality of the site being ruined by such things, and whether justified or not, they break out the downvotes in droves.

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As well they should. If the content is not helpful, downvote it. That is the whole premise here. – GEOCHET Sep 16 '08 at 18:26
Thinking about Endless September still makes me cringe. – dmckee Mar 22 '10 at 15:55

I think there's nothing wrong with closing (as duplicate, belongs on UserVoice or whatever else) a newcomer's questions. Of course, adding a comment explaining why is always nice, but I think the main thing is to just not downvote.

If the question is made in good faith, and it's going to get closed in another 30 seconds anyway, why bother downvoting it? Does it deserve it? Does the poster deserve to have the negative votes on his record, simply because he did not yet know how Stack Overflow works?

I try to reserve downvotes for questions that are either

  • made in bad faith, as spam or to otherwise disrupt Stack Overflow
  • or are simply bad questions (unreadable questions, no information supplied to actually make it possible to answer, or "questions" that aren't questions but blog posts or rants).

But a suggestion to improve Stack Overflow shouldn't be downvoted. It should simply be closed and directed to UserVoice. An off-topic question shouldn't be downvoted, but closed (as not-programming-related, or moved to Server Fault in some cases.

I often see questions that get downvoted because they belong on UserVoice, are not programming related, or whatever else. When I do, I generally leave a comment saying that there's no need for downvoting as well as closing the question, and encouraging people to bump the votes back up.

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Stack Overflow is perfect the way it is.

It's not a place to "chill-out" and have fun. It's a place for programmers and software developers to share their skills and learn new skills.

There are plenty of other forums and tutorials to learn programming for starters. Stack Overflow simply isn't the place to start learning about programming.

As a general rule of thumb, if the concept of a stack overflow doesn't ring a bell for you, you might want to learn a bit more about programming before posting here.

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Clarification? If someone is an experienced programmer, would it be OK if they ask a question about a language they're just learning? Or should they wait until they're expert in a language before asking a question about it? – Ethan Jun 21 '09 at 20:01
Programming languages all share a common concept base, so the experienced programmer doesn't really start from scratch when he learns a new language. Obviously, you can't wait to be an expert to start asking questions here... But you can do some reading before. In my previous post, I just said that this site should be for relatively experienced programmers and not complete newcomers. It's not discrimination: it simply sets the standard for question and answer quality higher. That's what I like about that site. It's not bloated with trivial questions. – Wadih M. Jun 21 '09 at 21:41
Wadih, it says on the main FAQ, the one linked to from the top of this page you're looking at right now, in the answer to the very first question: "No question is too trivial or too 'newbie'". Your opinion regarding what the site "should be" appears to conflict sharply with the intention of the site's creators. – Ethan Jun 26 '09 at 17:36

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