I was recently banned from asking questions, and appealed my case here. As I think about my problems, I have begun to realize that I was never notified of the question-ban policy - neither were others like me. To remedy the situation, I propose a question ban meter in a user's profile, which shows how close they are to being banned. The meter would look somewhat like this:

Prototype Meter
(source: bbc.co.uk)

New users would begin in the middle (where green and yellow meet.) Using the secretive algorithm, the users would then be able to see if they needed to improve questions (in the red) or if they should continue on their current path (in the blue).

This meter would also be used to help people who have been banned. Their pointer would show up to the right of the red, and as they gradually improved it would slide towards the meter until they were able to ask questions again.


  1. Users in the blue could give up their "question expertise" to help question banned users. This would add a small amount of user input on the ban algorithm, effectively adding much needed community moderation.

    • Alternative Idea: These "trusted users" (different from [this][4]) would be able to turn down the severity of the ban from permanent to temporary. The notches would be as follows:

      • Vote to have this ban reviewed (10 "Question Points")
      • One Month Ban (50 "Question Points")
      • One Week Ban (100 "Question Points")
      • One Day Ban (250 "Question Points")
      • Unbanned (500 "Question Points")
    • Also, users who were able to do this could pool their points together - this would make it even more of a community moderation process.

  2. People who have a good question reputation would show up further on the list of unanswered questions - this would mean that Stack Overflow visitors could find their answers quicker. It would also act as another incentive for people to ask thoughtful questions.

  3. This would help new users realize that there is a question ban in effect, potentially lowering the number of ban appeals on the Meta Stackoverflow Website.

Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Please let me know if you think that this is a good idea (or not) in comments and answer sections.


Many users have said that Stackoverflow could be "gamed" if this were to go into effect. Before you say that, please try to answer these questions:

  1. What do you mean by "gamed"? If "gamed" means using the system to make sure that questions are not downvoted, or to realize when to focus more on the question... then that is not "gaming" the system - it is using it in the appropriate manner.

  2. This is somewhat unrelated to the origninal question, but they are definitely intwined: What is the reason for the secrecy of the algorithm? If people knew what it was, most people would try to avoid doing things that would hurt themselves instead of using it to somehow "ruin" the experience for others.

  • 12
    Not a fan. I see this being used to "game" the system.
    – Makoto
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:19
  • @Makoto how could it be used to "game" the system? I am assuming that you are referring to point #1 - wouldn't this actually help the community fix issues in the system (as in, it is too harsh on new users.) Also, perhaps that could be changed... I will add an alternative idea. Feb 20, 2013 at 1:21
  • 6
    To your first point, sock puppets could be transferring around "question expertise". Also, giving a person a visual indicator of how close they are to the edge can cause people to try and game the system, to see how close they can get without actually going over it. Not just that, but I don't see the visual aid of "how awesome your questions are" or "how much suck your questions are" being all that beneficial to a person's psyche - all they want to do is ask questions. Let them. If they're not up to snuff, let the system/community do its thing.
    – Makoto
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:24
  • 2
    While I do like this idea, I also see the possibility of gaming the system here. Any feedback on the secret algorithm becomes a window of reverse-engineerability. (For a very good example of what I'm talking about, in a different domain, see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Timing_attack). Perhaps a watered-down version of this would be better -- just a simple notification a single time once you've gone too far into the red? Much harder to figure out the system that way. (Though it is kind of an open question to me whether this secrecy of this algorithm actually matters much).
    – Ben Lee
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:30
  • 3
    I proposed something similar (progress meter towards unbanning for users that are already banned) but it was downvoted to the point where Community automatically deleted it. I'm not sure why people think letting a user know whether they are on the right track is "gaming the system". The only way someone can use this to game the system is by adopting positive behavior, which is what we want anyway.
    – user200500
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:33
  • @Asad You could see what the filter determines is "low quality" by watching your progress go down and then figure out what doesn't trigger it. Why? I don't know, but look at how many people circumvent banned words and minimum character lengths.
    – Troyen
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:37
  • 2
    @Troyen The ban bot depends mostly on the reception of your content by other users, it does not rely on what words are present in your questions. The way to get further into the green is to have more highly upvoted questions and less closed/deleted/downvoted questions. This is desirable, regardless of whether you are doing this with the intent of somehow subverting the system by playing by its rules
    – user200500
    Feb 20, 2013 at 1:40
  • 2
    "Users in the blue could give up their "question expertise" to help question banned users." There is no need for a new system. Up-votes work against the ban. 'Course, for some reason these users seem to find it hard to get up-votes. Does that tell you anything? Feb 20, 2013 at 1:55
  • @Troyen I agree with Assad. Perhaps you would have a minority of people who would attempt to get as close to banned as possible and then reverse their course, but I don't see this happening in the majority. Furthermore, people learn more from visual stimuli than from unannounced, automatic permanent bans. The people who linger on the precipice of the ban would not receive good answers which would drive them away - while the confused new users would have time to learn graphically and gauge their progress Feb 20, 2013 at 2:08
  • 1
    @Makoto In reference to your point that you don't see the visual aid of "how awesome your questions are" or "how much suck your questions are" being all that beneficial to a person's psyche - all they want to do is ask questions Well... how is it beneficial to a person's "psyche" if they are banned without warning. Couldn't that abrupt ostracization from a community hurt their psyche to the extent that they actually leave the community? Personally, I don't believe that terrorizing new users with ban messages is a great way to create an enthusiastic Q&A community. Feb 20, 2013 at 2:28
  • 4
    If the continual downvotes don't clue them in, what makes you think they'll pay attention to their place on a rainbow?
    – ale
    Feb 20, 2013 at 4:06
  • 1
    @xxmbabanexx: Nobody is hitting the post-ban for having posts without votes.
    – ale
    Feb 20, 2013 at 13:20
  • 8
    Cue thousands of "I posted this question and the rainbow meter moved two pixels to the right. What did I do wrong????" posts on meta.
    – JJJ
    Feb 20, 2013 at 15:05
  • 3
    My biggest problem with this, ignoring the problems listed in the answers, is that it exposes fear of the ban to all users. The vast majority of users don't need to know this, showing them this bar will just instill fear in lots of people with nothing to worry about. Solutions should be aimed only at those who actually DO need to do something.
    – Ben Brocka
    Feb 20, 2013 at 15:23
  • 1
    @BenBrocka "We have nothing to fear but fear itself" - FDR. Isn't it better to empower our users with the knowledge of the decency of their questions, instead of fearing that they might become scared by the prospect of that knowledge? Feb 21, 2013 at 2:14

2 Answers 2


I have had the bad experience of being banned on Meta. I, too, didn't know that my actions could lead to limitations; I was unaware of the fact that deleting questions, or getting too many negative votes, or some kind of combination of those could lead to a ban.

I found the reasons for my ban afterwards, so from my point of view, and my personal opinion is that the only need is a simple, one time warning, before the ban, with links to the questions and answers here on meta about the ban risk.

If a user knows that he or she is on the wrong track, then this is enough to change course.

The meter that you suggest can lead some people to try cheating the system and to continue doing things that will not help the community in general.

  • 8
    Now this I could get behind. 'Course I also think that it won't help most users in danger of being banned, but it would be nice to help those who can be helped. Feb 20, 2013 at 1:59
  • 4
    This is a good compromise. It prevents total confusion when someone is banned, since they get a fair warning, and also placates those that feel the secrets of the ban bot would be compromised if a full fledged metric was instituted.
    – user200500
    Feb 20, 2013 at 2:36
  • @Asad Yes, this is what I am say, in life the the ignorance of the law is not an excuse but from the other hand you do not punish your baby with out a warning - and here the new users are like the babies, new and with out known how to walk around.
    – Aristos
    Feb 20, 2013 at 2:40
  • 3
    @Aristos: On the other hand, most bad questions show that users have completely ignored the interstitial which they have to explicitly accept before asking a question: stackoverflow.com/questions/ask/advice
    – Jon Skeet
    Feb 20, 2013 at 7:22
  • @JonSkeet Yes yes, of course they do. I do not know when a user read that pages, on the first question maybe is just "test" the SO, to see what type of is, maybe only after some questions/answers reads more details. Here I like to note that on this pages, even on yours pages with tips on how to ask, there is not even a hint about the ban.
    – Aristos
    Feb 20, 2013 at 9:45
  • 3
    @Aristos: Indeed. I have no problem with having a warning. My point is that the "you do not punish your baby without a warning" isn't quite such a good fit, in that I certainly would tell a child off for disobeying explicit instructions. (If I said "don't kick Fred" and then the child kicked Fred, I don't think it would be unreasonable to send the child to their room.)
    – Jon Skeet
    Feb 20, 2013 at 9:50
  • 5
    I think this is a great idea; it provides a warning to someone in danger, without giving them information to try to toe the line artificially. Feb 21, 2013 at 0:31
  • 2
    Make sure that the devs see this, it should definitely be implemented. Feb 24, 2013 at 1:28
  • I agree. I logged in today to find my question privileges revoked because of down-votes on what, I thought, was a good question for here. After all, I rarely ask because the answers already here.. A warning and guidance would have been much preferred.. Feb 26, 2013 at 5:43

The inherent problems with a ban meter preclude it from being a useful heuristic for anyone.

Some of the problems include:

  • There are multiple criteria that could cause someone to be question banned (from experience -- I don't actually know what the algorithm is). It could be a ratio of deleted questions to undeleted questions ; closed questions to open questions; downvoted questions to upvoted questions; number of answers to any of the above, or even some of those metrics being compared against others. That makes it really hard for anyone to have a useful linear metric. If anything, it'd probably be three or more sliders -- and that would defeat the purpose of a secret ban algorithm.

  • it optimizes for the wrong thing. The goal is to have users ask quality questions. If a user doesn't want to take the time to put effort into their question; but would rather game some algorithm, then that defeats the purpose. Any guidepost to the user should include encouraging them to ask better questions. "Oh no, I'm an orange! How do I improve? Maybe I should delete this question?" "Oops. Now I'm question banned."

I do agree that users get surprised by the Question ban algorithm, but that's at least in part their fault. If they had taken the time to research their issue, post all relevant research, and phrase their question well, they would not have been question banned.

The way to fix this is not to add another metric.

Reading my own post, I realize it may sound a bit harsh.

I hate that users get question banned from the perspective of, "Hey, let's help out people who have problems." That's where the question ban sucks. From the "Hey, let's make sure we have a high quality Q&A site" perspective, the question ban is absolutely necessary.

No matter how much we try to educate or help programmers to understand that we can't always give them fish, there will always be programmers who want to do that. I mean, think about the phrase, "Teach a man to fish" -- it's probably an ancient chinese proverb. That means in thousands of years, people have been trying to get others to do their work for them.

That's not what we're here for. I've got plenty of my own work to do without writing someone else's code for them. I will, however, share my knowledge -- but I'm going to expect the person on the other side to put some effort forward as well.

That's what banned questioners lack in their posts: effort. If you've got a better way to encourage effort than cutting people off who aren't giving any, then I'm all about it. Just remember that there's an entire community who will be affected by any decision you make.


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