The set of problems:

  • the culture around "homework" questions creates a negative user experience, yet people legitimately want them filtered
  • experienced users can get bored with seeing too many simple questions

It seems that both of these issues might be addressed by creating a better filter. Consider video game matchmaking services that use experience as a way to match questions to the viewer.

Right now we've got "favorite tags" and "ignored tags" which do a pretty good job of making sure that your list of "interesting" questions is at least on topic. However, that doesn't solve the issue of matching your level of experience with the level of experience of the askers - meaning you see all questions that are "on topic" for you, but there's no experience filter.

Part of the issue, I think, is that we try to extend tagging to solve this problem, via meta tags like homework - but tagging isn't meant to be a quality filter - it's supposed to be fact filter. c++, algorithms, routing - these are all tags that help filter based on topic. When we tag things as homework we place a value judgement, not on the question, but on the asker, and with that value judgement come all the emotion around the values that people personally hold.

I should also say at this point, that my general sentiment is largely in agreement with this blog post: http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/08/the-death-of-meta-tags/

So, the proposed solution is to use a system similar to the one on careers.stackoverflow.com - if you have a profile on that site, it will list the tags in which you are in the Top 10%, 20%, or 30%. I propose we add a filter (which is off by default) that allows you to filter questions in your "interesting" feed by how active you are. I'm defining "active" as how much reputation you've gained in that particular tag.

For example, if I'm in the 10th percentile for a given tag, it might be nice to turn on a filter that only shows me questions from other users in the 10%-30% range (adjustable via a simply slider). This keeps questions hard, and interesting, while filtering out questions from users who are less active in that tag (which, in my experience, would filter out the vast majority of "newbie" questions, and/or homework questions, as these users tend to be less "active" in the tag in which they are posing the question.

If you're not one of the top users, maybe you're in the 50th percentile, then the range could work +/- 20% (i.e. show me only questions that are from users from 30%-70% in that tag).

I think this would simultaneously allow people to filter out "easy" questions (if they care about that sort of thing), while not discouraging easy questions from being asked, so long as they are well formed, and otherwise good quality questions.

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    I don't think I agree with that last bit. The homework tag applies only to the post it's explicitly placed on. It doesn't have any impact on any of your other questions. – Bill the Lizard Dec 22 '11 at 15:51
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    Creating a better filter... how, exactly? How can the system quantify the difficulty of a question or the experience level of the person asking? – David Dec 22 '11 at 15:56
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  • "Experienced users can get bored with seeing too many simple questions"? Come on, either they want to help or they don't. Let people ask their questions, we have a lot of people moderating content anyways, the community moderates what is acceptable and what not. – Marcelo Dec 22 '11 at 16:10
  • @David - sorry about that - I accidentally posted the question before I was done typing it. I'd added my proposed solution. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:10
  • @Marcelo - I absolutely don't want to discourage people from asking questions - that's not the goal here. The goal is to make the "interesting" feed the best tool for making the list most interesting to the person reading the list. It would be off by default, and is absolutely optional. I'm completely fine with answering "easy" questions myself - but sometimes I want a way to change them around. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:12
  • @Popular Demand - I've read those questions, and I think those proposals amount to meta-tags, which I don't think is the right solution. I apologize that the version of my question that you read was actually not fully formed - the proposed solution is now included (where it wasn't previously). – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:13
  • @balpha - thanks for the reference. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:13
  • @BilltheLizard - It's true that the homework tag only applies to that question (and not others that you tag), but the meta-tag nature of it, and its connotation ("this question is not worthy") is (1) contrary to the spirit of knowledge sharing, and (2) has been ineffective preventing accusations from flying when homework because homework and other tags are used as value judgements instead of fact-based labels for the question. That is, homework results, in my experience, in more argument than assistance, which seems to miss the point of StackExchange. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:18
  • I agree that the homework tag is ineffective for what people are trying to use it for. Is this proposal something you'd like to see as a separate view of questions than the ones we have now? – Bill the Lizard Dec 22 '11 at 16:28
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    @BilltheLizard - sure that would work - maybe a view called "similar rep". That might actually be better than a filter that's on/off. And of course when I say "similar rep" I'm talking about on a per-tag basis. So, if I'm in the 80% of rep on algorithms I would see algorithm questions from other users who were in the 60th-100th percentile rep in that tag (like careers.stackoverflow.com) - as opposed to filtering on total reputation (i.e. I wouldn't want to create a "club" of 100k users - that would seem to be against the spirit of help). – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:32
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    @BilltheLizard - it would also mean that when I'm learning a new language, that I'd be able to see questions by other people that are also new to that language, because we both have very little rep in that tag. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 16:34
  • I don't understand the down votes, they are for off topic, bad, rude questions, not if the assumptions and opinions of the question are incorrect. This is meta, it's where you are meant to ask questions like this. (this isn't here to promote a discussion) – Russell Dec 22 '11 at 22:33
  • @Russel - I think it's a reflection of the controversy at the heart of it, and a lot of other things. On the other hand, people are free to vote their conscience, for any reason. It's not a big deal. There will be a lot more discussion around this to come, I'm sure. – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 23:41

the culture around "homework" questions creates a negative user experience, yet people legitimately want them filtered

You assume that the purpose of a tag is filtering. While this is one purpose of a tag, tags provide valuable information about a question beyond that.

The homework tag in particular allows the user to know that they're dealing with homework, not something that should be answered normally. If someone posts a homework assignment, and you answer it with code that they can drop in and use, you are contributing to cheating. You are denying the student the opportunity to learn. You are helping the student get something that they did not earn.

It subverts the whole purpose of school, for that student, their classmates, and their teachers.

The purpose of the homework tag is to let the answerers know that this is homework. And if they so desire, they can treat answers differently. Instead of giving a direct answer with source code, they can describe a more general answer that helps the student past the block, but without just giving them the answer.

This does not necessarily stop someone from just regurgitating some code at them, of course. But it does allow those persons who are so inclined to limit their ability to contribute to the subversion of academic integrity.

So your presupposition about the purpose of the "homework" tag is simply incorrect. It is not a way to say, "I don't want to see questions from stupid people." Indeed, most stupid questions are not homework questions, so someone using in that way would not get much solace.

I propose we add a filter (which is off by default) that allows you to filter questions in your "interesting" feed by how active you are. I'm defining "active" as how much reputation you've gained in that particular tag.

That's... not useful.

Interesting questions can come from anyone with any reputation. It doesn't take a high-rep user to ask something valuable. Indeed, many good answers come on questions asked by moderate-to-low rep users.

Furthermore, this encourages people to ignore new users, regardless of the objective quality of their questions. This encourages a "walled-garden" mentality, the idea that experts should never dirty their hands with the hoi polloi.

Tag filtering exists to insulate yourself from a cavalcade of questions that you cannot answer, because they're outside of your area of expertise. If you know nothing of JavaScript, looking at a JavaScript question is a waste of your time. If you know nothing about C++, looking at a C++ question is a waste of your time. The question itself might be absolutely superlative, but you don't know anything about the language, so you can't help. That's perfectly valid and understandable.

What you're suggesting is a quality filter that does not actually filter based on quality. It filters based on a poor measure of quality: the rep you've gained in certain tags. Reputation is not a reliable measurement of quality.

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    Thank you for your answer, Nicol. I've decided that my views on the homework tag are actually better expressed as a blog post. I think you make some very good points here, and I appreciate the time you put into them. Throughout today as I've read many more posts on the subject, conversed with you, and tried to educate myself further, I do feel that my proposal is pretty heavily flawed. However, I also think there is a middle ground. I will say this is a more complex topic than I initially realized. I happily except all the down-votes as a learning experience. More thoughts to come... – jefflunt Dec 22 '11 at 20:13

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