I noticed that many new users don't realize the fact that Stack Overflow is very active and their question can get comments and answers very quickly, so they just post the question and go away for a while. This sometimes makes people who interacted with the question become bored and have to wait.

I suggest showing a message box (like those that notify about badges) for the user if he is new and asking for the first time, that tells him something like:

Note: this site is very active and your question may receive interaction very quickly, you probably should keep a close eye on your question for a while.

If he learned that the first time, he is likely to remember it next times.

This, of course, seems too long, it's only a draft in case the suggestion was really useful.

Also this message box should appear only in really active sites in the Stack Exchange network, if the idea is to be applied.


The benefit is not only to keep the one who asked close, but also not to bore those who interact and are interested in the question.


Also it deserves mention it's hard to get attention/interaction to your question if it stayed inactive for hours, even though it might appear again in the stack when an activity occurs on it, but the chances to get attention are decreased and, by turn, the chance to get an answer are decreased.


Another reason is that users who ask for the first time may not know how to ask a clear question. If they go away, their question might be marked as "not clear what's being asked here" or "not a real question", and then closed.

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    They already notified of the actual activity that occurs. What's the point of a meta-notification? – Cody Gray Apr 20 '12 at 21:59
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    It's not just new users who do this. It's more an issue of whether they're in a rush. If they want an answer now because they're in the middle of something, they'll stay there waiting for replies. If they're just posting it before going to bed or have something else to do while they wait, it's less likely they pay as much attention to it. – animuson Apr 20 '12 at 22:00
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    If users do stick around, though, and then by chance their question isn't one of the ones that gets answered quickly--doesn't that make a worse impression on them? – waiwai933 Apr 20 '12 at 22:00
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    @TheEstablishment in general, I agree with you, notifications about actual activity are great. However, for this specific case, they're useless, because the hypothetical newbie asker will already be gone by the time they show up. – Pops Apr 20 '12 at 22:39
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    @animuson yes, it's not just new users who do this, but new users tend to do this for different reasons than established users. In other words, it's one thing to know full well how quickly responses come in and still consciously choose to walk away, and it's another thing to keep working on your problem somewhere else because experience with dlists/forums tells you that it'll be a few hours before anyone replies. New users tend to fall into the latter case, and everyone loses when they get back and find their questions closed because they didn't reply to requests for clarification. – Pops Apr 20 '12 at 22:43
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    @waiwai933 yeah, I could see the users in your scenario being unhappy, but they'd end up being unhappy later, too, unless a late answer came in. Seems like a much rarer problem than the one the OP is trying to address. – Pops Apr 20 '12 at 22:45

WTF? Around here, we tend to post silly suggestions on April 1st. You missed your date.

It is absolutely fine to post a question and then go out, go to bed, or otherwise drop off the Internet for a while.

You should keep a close eye on your question and respond to comments and read answers, of course. But there is no obligation to respond within minutes. Not everyone spends their whole life in front of a computer, with a browser open to Stack Exchange.

Stack Overflow already has a problem with people valuing speed over correctness and helpfulness. Your proposal would compound that problem. We need to tell people to slow down, take the time to write a proper question, take the time to write a proper answer, take the time to read answers before accepting them.

If you get bored with a question, move on.

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    I had this same POV initially. But then I realized that many potentially good questions get closed because the OP isn't around to respond to the near-immediate clarification comments. I agree with the "it's fine to go off to sleep blah", but if the user is online anyways(just with SO closed), then why not? – Manishearth Apr 22 '12 at 14:25
  • I'm not reading any obligation in you probably should keep a close eye on your question for a while. Also, it seems to me the question is specifically about (some/many) new users being unaware of how fast things might go, and just being used to not expect a lot. Explaining this to those new users might improve both their experience and the quality, I feel. – Arjan Apr 22 '12 at 14:29
  • @Manishearth If the question is closed then improved, it can be reopened. If the user is online anyway with SO closed, maybe they have other things to do, they could leave SO open if they wanted. Users who post crap questions don't read anyway, one more notification isn't going to do anything for them. Users who post good questions, on the other hand, would be negatively impacted (especially if they don't get good responses within minutes). – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Apr 22 '12 at 14:33
  • @Arjan We have a bigger problem with new users being unaware of how slow things might go, and doing things like leaving comments or flags complaining that they haven't had an answer within minutes. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Apr 22 '12 at 14:34
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    You can't help people that don't read by giving them more things to read. It's a universal law. If they care about the question, they've probably looked around and (gasp) read a bit and will probably stick around to see how it's received. Dumping crap and walking away is indeed a symptom of a bigger problem, and I think we've done all that we can do to curb it. (IOW, +1) – Tim Post Apr 22 '12 at 14:36
  • If you're saying there's no relevant use case, then that's another story. I don't know about that. But that's something different than calling this very feature request a silly April 1st joke, and using <h1> to make of point of something that I don't see mentioned in the question. – Arjan Apr 22 '12 at 14:48
  • @Arjan I'm not saying there's no relevant use case. Surely, amongst the hundreds of thousands of SO users, there must be a handful of cases where this would have helped. But there would be far more cases where this would be actively harmful, with a bias towards antagonizing good askers, promoting bad answers, and doing nothing about bad askers. – Gilles 'SO- stop being evil' Apr 22 '12 at 14:58

The comments have swayed my opinion on this matter, I had misinterpreted it as a network-wide change

Alright, let me first post my interpretation of the problem for clarity:

The pr0blem

New users are posting badly phrased/incomplete questions. Others comment quickly, asking for clarification, but the newbies aren't online by then. The newbie comes online some time later (day? days?) and clarifies. In the meanwhile, the commenters have to wait. Also, the commenters may not be online when the guy replies, so we get a sort of broken communication. Also, badly written questions get closed quickly if not improved.

Solution #1 (your solution)

When they submit the question, tell the OP to stick around for a while to receive comments/tips on making the question clear.


  • No extra work on the commenters' behalf
  • If the OP listens, we can establish quick back-and-forth communication, and improve the question in a jiffy
  • Easy to implement


  • What if the question is perfect? The OP will still wait for comments that never come. Bad UX. And it's not necessary that the question will get immediately answered--many questions can be too deep to get a quick answer. Fix: find out how long it takes for an average clarification comment, and tell the OP to wait that long only. Make the message somewhat like Please wait 5 minutes--if there are any clarifications we need to be able to answer this, we shall ask you soon.

  • What if the (badly written) question is neglected? Bad UX again. Fix: Apply this only on active tag/tag combos. If possible, only display it when enough people are currently stalking the tag via review/main page favorites.

  • Such messages tend to be ignored at times (I ignore them :P ). Fix:Make it clear and hard to miss (Jin, halp plz?)

Solution #2--watchlisting

One thing that bugged me was "why should commenters mind waiting?". I mean, you're not going to stay stuck to that question, go do something else! I'm active on Physics.SE, a smaller site, where immediate replies are rare--I just go off and do something else. I don't care about the post so much that I'll want an immediate reply--I'm perfectly fine with a reply the next day, as long as the question ends up being clarified.

There are just two issues with waiting: One is the broken communication mentioned above (which I personally am used to), and the other is that, sometimes, users edit or comment without @replying.

Some of these problems can be fixed by a watchlist feature. Let users "watchlist" a question--basically they will be multicollider'd on the event of a comment, edit, answer, anything. Maybe make this customizable so that the user can choose whether or not to include comments, edits, answer edits, and whatnot. This way, the commenter can just "watch" a question and be notified when it is clarified.


  • No need to rely on the newbies for this to work
  • Useful elsewhere


  • More work for the devs Fix: Feed balpha unicorn waffles. Other than that, no fix that I can think of
  • More work for commenters on a question that's not really their problem. No fix
  • Broken communication No fix

Solution #3 Fix the root problem

The root problem is that questions are not clear. This isn't easily fixable, but we can at least ask a newbie to reread it carefully before submitting.

Please reread your question before submitting. Make sure that all the relevant parts are present, it is in good grammar, and it is clear. We shall not waste time interpreting your question for you.


  • Saves us the trouble of attempting to interpret questions in the first place


  • Easily ignored. Fix: <blink><marquee>(text here)</marquee></blink>.

Solution #4 onBeforeUnload timer

Similar to your original proposal, just make the "please wait 5 minutes" on an onBeforeUnload triggered messagebox.

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    Why do you want them to stay close? -- I'll tell you why. Many questions that get asked need more work before they are answerable, and if the OP is not there to fix them... [door slams] – user102937 Apr 21 '12 at 2:16
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    @RobertHarvey: Yes, but that's not the general case. Telling them to check back often is better than telling them to stare at the page on tenterhooks, pressing f5 every three seconds. Remember, not all sites have that much activity. On SO, maybe, a question is caught and criticized quickly. Not on the other sites. And I've seen a sizeable chunk of neglected questions on SO as well. – Manishearth Apr 21 '12 at 3:23
  • @Manishearth: You are still not considering the situation from the viewpoint of people who interacted with the question. – Tamer Shlash Apr 21 '12 at 6:06
  • @Mr.Tamer In my experience, as a commenter, it is better to just wait for the OP to come back online. Remember, not everyone is in the same timezone, so a reply may take a day. If the user is genuinely interested, he will reply soon once he checks back. – Manishearth Apr 21 '12 at 6:12
  • @Manishearth: I don't think I got your idea, are you saying that a commenter prefers to wait for hours rather than get a quick reply/fix? – Tamer Shlash Apr 21 '12 at 15:44
  • @MrTamer No, I'm saying (1) No use making the user stare at a question waiting for a comment if it never come. Not all bad questions get immediate comments, many are missed. On smaller sites, this is even more so. (2) As a commenter, why can't you just wait for a reply when it comes? Agreed, a nice compromise would be the ability to 'watch' a question and be supercolidernotified on every edit/answer/comment. – Manishearth Apr 21 '12 at 16:08
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    @Manishearth: (1) This is a rare situation, mostly if the question is clear then it will get solved (answered, closed... etc), if not it will get commented. Besides I said that that this message should appear only in really active sites of the network. (2) Who is supposed to wait for a reply: this (singular) who seeks help or those (plural) who will offer it? – Tamer Shlash Apr 21 '12 at 16:18
  • @MrT alright, you're only talking about major sites. Now I support it, though I feel that this could be implemented better. I shall revamp this post tomorrow, I'm on a phone atm. – Manishearth Apr 21 '12 at 16:29
  • @Mr.TAMER: Revamped. – Manishearth Apr 22 '12 at 7:33
  • @RobertHarvey: I've seen the light and rewritten this answer. – Manishearth Apr 22 '12 at 7:33
  • @Manishearth: This is too much, we are only talking about the first_time newbies, i.e, I've said in the question that this message box should appear only "if the use is new and asking for the first time". – Tamer Shlash Apr 22 '12 at 13:30
  • @Mr.TAMER: I know--where am I refuting that? I just wanted to give a full analysis. – Manishearth Apr 22 '12 at 13:32

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