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Create a guided tour for new users

Yes, I've read all the faqs here and on the stack exchange site I joined only yesterday, meta and otherwise. I know about the off-site Wikibook guide but what there really needs to be is a simple new-user guide to how the interface and system works.

I wasted a lot of time to either figure out or ferret out by various searches on how such simple things as... why I couldn't find a way to add a comment to a list of them, but could post the same query as a partial answer? Even understanding the user page, yes, there're some pop-up info fields for some of the items, but for one example, what does 'Recent Names' indicate?? A FAQ is not the same as a userguide, both in its organization and utility. And watching a video is a slow way to look something up.

There were places and stumblings where my time was wasted - and that means every new user of the Stack Exchange engine (SEE? :) wastes some of their time. Yes, there's always a learning curve but as developers we're always trying to reduce it. I'm an old pharte with computers; I've been playing with them for about forty years and making my living with them for over thirty years, and the first and most important thing I learned about them is they mean you should never have do the exact same thing twice.

Whether it's auto-completion or macros in a wordprocessor, automated document assembly for lawyers, the 20-year old technology of voice-recognition, -control, and -dictation, or if-then-else or do-while or arrays, computers automate our tasks and make our lives easier by reducing repetitive actions (among other things). And that doesn't mean just for one user at a time - a user guide or help structure or whatever you want to call it - is an array or database of information, organized and indexed - and will help each future new user by stopping them from having to ferret out the information on their own. Isn't that what SEE is all about? Looking up information that's already been compiled?

So, does anyone else think this sounds like a good idea?

  • Something like this? meta.stackexchange.com/questions/91447/… Apr 16, 2012 at 6:32
  • So you have read through the entire list of faq tagged posts?
    – Lix
    Apr 16, 2012 at 6:55
  • 1
    You're on it right now...
    – casperOne
    Apr 16, 2012 at 11:49
  • I find it hilarious that that my question has been voted down, especially as stackoverflow oldtimers have apparently said pretty much the exact same thing. Shouldn't newcomers be encouraged to participate? May 5, 2012 at 2:55
  • Sha Dow Wiz Ard, yes, although pls see my later comment to an answer, re videos as a learning tool in general. I found the actual presentation of the 2-minute intro almost dizzying and motion-sickness-inducing with fast switching and zooming in an out, but I don't play video games and can't read on a bus so I'm probably not a good reviewer. I found the second link to be very thoughtful and indeed pretty much a pre-cursor of mine; I wish I'd found it first. May 5, 2012 at 3:02
  • Lix, I'd read the FAQs and following the instructions at the bottom of them, "If you’re looking for excruciating detail,..." I had indeed come in the meta area and looked at some of the FAQ-tagged questions. That's exactly what lead to my posting my original question. May 5, 2012 at 3:05
  • casperOne, :) thanks, but I still refer you to my comment-reply to Lix. May 5, 2012 at 3:06

1 Answer 1


I just don't understand why the existing site FAQ isn't an acceptable guide for new users. If you read the whole thing, you'll have a sufficient understanding of how the site/engine works and you'll be able to get started asking and answering questions.

Sure, you won't understand everything and there will be things that are possible to do that you won't yet know how to do, but realistically, you don't need to understand and be able to do everything in order to get started using the site. In fact, I would argue that trying to teach new users everything that is possible with the Stack Exchange engine would be overwhelming and counter-productive.

There are a heck of a lot of features, and most of them are fairly advanced. The ones you need/desire, you can figure out as time goes by, either by watching what other users do, by looking them up in the FAQ here on Meta, and even by asking questions on Meta yourself.

Note that I'm definitely not against coming up with a nice visual "getting started" guide to the SE engine. But I still don't think such a guide should try to be completely comprehensive. It should literally be just a getting started guide to help new users get up and running quickly. The focus is and should be on asking questions and posting answers. Anything else is gravy (i.e., a more advanced feature), and should be left to learn as one gains more experience using the site.

For example, you mention:

I wasted a lot of time to either figure out or ferret out by various searches on how such simple things as... why I couldn't find a way to add a comment to a list of them, but could post the same query as a partial answer?

That's because we don't want new users posting comments. We funnel users toward the answer box for a reason—because answers are what we want to encourage. Comments are a "bonus" feature, not a core part of the engine. The fact that you were able to post a bad answer to a question is the real bug that we should be fixing here, and in fact, attempts have been made to do just that.

  • The Establishment, obviously I don't agree with most of your answer, especially the first and second paragraphs. Equally obviously, after reading the FAQs I still had questions and did explore the Meta. And did ask my question. I'm not trying to troll; my question was and is completely sincere. A FAQ is just that, a list of frequently answered questions. Its usefulness for new users depends on its being accurate, containing the actual questions that are most asked, or it's just an inferred FAQ. Who rates user-queries as 'frequent', who maintains the current FAQ and is it editable like a wiki? May 5, 2012 at 3:22
  • A guide doesn't have be "completely comprehensive" or "just a getting started guide". Maybe my choice of "user guide" wasn't the best, but I still think the success of the stackexchange sites would benefit from a user quide or help system. The value of a guide or enhanced help is that they usually have a table of contents and an index, allowing an easy drill-down approach to getting the specific information you're looking for. New users will come from a wide variety of backgrounds, with quite different skill sets. Making varied and specific items of information easy to find is the whole idea. May 5, 2012 at 3:25
  • Personally, I find videos to be the worst learning or information-gathering method. They're linear, you acquire a set of specific information at a specific inflexible pace, with no 'random access' ability to seek specific bits of information. However, different people learn from different methods, so a multi-pronged approach is probably best. Re the issue of comments; it's fine if you don't want new users to post comments, but let them know that, and why. You all know that, assuming it's a universal belief - but do new users? A new question for the FAQ or part of the guide/help system? :) May 5, 2012 at 3:28
  • My final comment to you all is this: Thank you and yes, it's true that all the information is there to be ferreted out via various methods, but my whole point was about saving multiple new users time spent on the learning curve. That's the whole point of stackexchange, after all. May 5, 2012 at 3:33
  • @Smarter One thing you're obviously still missing is that Stack Exchange is not a discussion board. I'd like to respond to many of the points you brought up in the comments here, but this is not the place to do that. Comments have a character limit for a reason. I recommend editing your question here to reflect the insights you've gleaned from reading my answer, and any new questions that might have brought about. May 5, 2012 at 7:03

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