I have noticed that as more new users are finding and using StackOverflow, there are more questions which do not get flagged as being answered, even though there are sometimes multiple working answers.

New users also seem to be using StackOverflow as a forum, often posting responses, furthering the discussion, or asking another question as an answer, rather than editing their original question.

How should these be handled? Is there a better mechanism to inform new users that this is not a traditional forum? Could StackOverflow perhaps provide more hand holding for the first few questions someone asks?

As mentioned in this other question, there are certain alternatives; however, I think there could be a preventative answer here.


Many people below have mentioned videos, tutorials, or even a quiz. These were not the direction I was necessarily thinking.

For example:

When a new user views the answers to his first or second question, perhaps a popup bar, like when receiving a badge, could be displayed mentioning to vote up the answer that best meets their criteria.

Then upon voting up, maybe another notification saying "If this persons's response answers your question, make sure to give them credit by clicking the check mark".

Nothing too intrusive, and it would only happen for the first few questions posed. With a little region highlighting it could probably work well for most people.

  • This all falls under the bigger question of "How can StackExchange guide users to being good users?" A good user is one who marks-up good questions and answers. Uses comments for comments and answers for answers, marks their questions as answered (when they are), etc... – STW Aug 12 '09 at 17:15
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    Horrible thought: ClippyOverflow – dmckee Aug 13 '09 at 0:30

Just keep pointing them to the FAQ and to meta for questions.

If the site isn't clear and self explanatory, then we have already lost the battle. There is no point to applying band-aids at that point.

We should be looking to reduce the barriers to entry on the sites, not increase them.

  • Requires too much effort. A better solution would be to educate them before they participate IMHO. – Sampson Aug 12 '09 at 17:14
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    How? A new user test before you are allowed to post? The barrier for entry needs to be as low as possible if you want new users to come at all. – EBGreen Aug 12 '09 at 17:15
  • The system should be (and is IMO) easy enough to use not to need instruction. That is the whole of idea of user interface design. – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 17:45
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    I propose -- nay, demand! -- a StackOverflow User's License. – Hilarious Comedy Pesto Aug 12 '09 at 18:27
  • @Pesto: With videos! – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 18:33
  • @EB I'm not suggesting you mandate a video lesson. Only place a couple videos on the "Congrats, you're registered" page in a "Getting Started" area. – Sampson Aug 12 '09 at 18:53
  • If the user interface were complex or the expected user base were terribly non-technical then I suppose you would have a valid argument. That however is not the case. The UI for S[OUF] is pretty simple. The target audience is the upper end of the technical scale. The sorts of things that a new user needs to know gain nothing by being in a video format. – EBGreen Aug 12 '09 at 19:27
  • @EBGreen: Bravo. Web site design and usability 101. – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 19:39
  • @EBGreen while the target audience may be on the upper end of the tech scale, ultimately we will (and do) have people from all levels trying to use it. – Darien Ford Aug 12 '09 at 21:17
  • @Darien Ford: Which is why we must keep the barriers down and the usability up. – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 21:40
  • Making videos shouldn't be scratched off no matter how easy your UI is. Google makes very simple things, and yet they almost always accommodate their roll outs with a short instructional video. You cannot argue with results - this works. An ounce of evidence out-weighs a pound of theories any day. – Sampson Aug 12 '09 at 22:52
  • So far, this is the best answer, but I think that (with a little dev help) there could be better ones. I'll give it another day and then mark this one if nothing else bubbles up. – Darien Ford Aug 13 '09 at 13:52

This issue has existed since the beginning of SO. The users either figure it out or move on generally speaking. The wiki nature of SO means that users that have been around for longer can clean up any mistakes that new users make and set them on the path to being properly overflowish.

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    I was tempted to correct you and say "This issue has existed since the beginning of the Internet," but I'm afraid the issue is even older than that. – Bill the Lizard Aug 12 '09 at 17:25
  • Since lizards have been named Bill. – Welbog Aug 12 '09 at 17:28
  • This fire thing sure is hard. – TheTXI Aug 12 '09 at 17:28
  • @Welbog: So roughly since chapter 4 of Alice in Wonderland? – mmyers Aug 12 '09 at 17:47
  • @mmyers: No, since that guy named all the animals. What was his name? Crazy Chuck. He went to that island and looked at how the birds were all different. He named the lizards Bill. Crazy Chuck his name was. – Welbog Aug 12 '09 at 17:59

Activate Francesca's more advanced AI features such that the suggested videos pop up in the middle of the screen whenever someone does something wrong. These videos cannot be dismissed until they have been completed.

I understand that for some, every click would prompt a video. I am comfortable with this.


SO needs a couple small videos they show immediately after registering. Small, 30 seconds. One showing how to ask a question (including accepting answers), and another showing how to answer a question (including up-voting/down-voting other answers).

Works for Google.

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    A short series on YouTube that we link to in the FAQ might be helpful. You'd be surprised how many moderator attention flags we get over users just not knowing how to use SO. – Bill the Lizard Aug 12 '09 at 17:24
  • My moderator flags are much better, right Billy? – Welbog Aug 12 '09 at 17:28
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    I'm not convinced some people are smart enough to watch the videos. – TheTXI Aug 12 '09 at 17:28
  • Videos are such a truly terrible idea. "You can use our site, just sit here and waste your time watching someone else using our site first." The site should be self explanatory. That is the only answer. – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 17:52
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    Oh god Sampson. This is shocking even from you. – belgariontheking Aug 12 '09 at 17:54
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    Goodness, guys. Any video wouldn't be required. Sometimes I think people here arbitrarily decide they want to complain about everything. Videos are appealing to many users, especially the large body of "noobish" developers who are coming to SO with simple questions. A short optional video would do wonders for the community. It's a measure to prevent the frustration. Much better than keeping the flood-gates opened and ridiculing new members for abusing the system (out of ignorance of how it works). – Sampson Aug 12 '09 at 18:50
  • If many people commonly misunderstand you, maybe the problem isn't everyone else. – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 18:51
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    Why would you equate "many people" with "everybody else"? If 5 people misunderstand me, maybe the problem is with them. – Sampson Aug 12 '09 at 18:56
  • facepalm facepalm facepalm – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 19:04
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    @Rich, what, you don't think five people can be wrong? I'd hate to see the requirements for a data-pool in your logic-factory ;) – Sampson Aug 12 '09 at 19:07
  • Whooooooooooooooooosh. – GEOCHET Aug 12 '09 at 19:10

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