I have recently noticed in increase in "how do I make an app that does this", which invariably yields comments like "go read the FAQ!"

I've been thinking about this issue, and think I have the solution:

Show the FAQ/About screen on first login / SE Signup

Really, the About screen is an excellently put together overview of the site - and the first few paragraphs of the FAQ could really come in handy for the new users.

Even better, we could just put a paragraph above the Ask Question field for the user's first or second question - something like:

Stack Overflow is for professional and enthusiast programmers, people who write code because they love it. We feel the best Stack Overflow questions have a bit of source code in them, but if your question generally covers …

  • a specific programming problem
  • a software algorithm
  • software tools commonly used by programmers
  • practical, answerable problems that are unique to the programming profession

… then you’re in the right place to ask your question!

Please look around to see if your question has been asked before. It’s also OK to ask and answer your own question. For more info, read the FAQ

This, I believe, could greatly reduce the number of questions closed as "vague", comments like 'read the FAQ!!!!' and, most of all, reduce moderator load.

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    They are told how to ask a question before they post the first question. If those users post bad questions anyway, I don't see how this would improve the situation. – Antony Apr 16 '13 at 14:36
  • @antony I'm suggesting that they also be shown the FAQ/About on signup. – Undo - Reinstate Monica Apr 16 '13 at 14:38
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    I think that someone who posts a "how do I make an app that does this" has already shown us that they are... lazy. I don't have high hopes this type of user will spend 5 minutes (actually) reading the FAQ, and I think this will only end up bothering well meaning users. – yannis Apr 16 '13 at 14:39
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    And any new users who wants to ask a question already has to go through the "How to Ask" page (stackoverflow.com/questions/ask/advice) which contains a good overview and a link to the FAQ. – Bart Apr 16 '13 at 14:42

Your suggestion assumes that 'showing' the FAQ to someone means that they will read it.

That is an assumption that strongly lacks any kind of real world evidence.

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    The exact opposite is the case...we have many questions here on Meta which show that users do not bother to read anything. – Time Traveling Bobby Apr 16 '13 at 14:45
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    @SulfurizedDemonbobby: that realization is not only found on meta (or on SO or on SE). Joel blogged about it in 2000. – Joachim Sauer Apr 16 '13 at 14:50
  • Remember new users are forced to click through the How to Ask as a EULA when they attempt to ask their first question. Perhaps it reaches a few percent of folks, we hope anyway. – Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '13 at 5:47

This is already shown to new users:

enter image description here

Which links to the about page.

There used to be an orange slidy that linked to the FAQ, but it is now a light-blue-circle notification.

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    We will be rolling out some more changes to help new users familiarize themselves with "How We Do Things Here". – Oded Apr 16 '13 at 14:57
  • The problem is this is only shown on the main page, and the users should be directed to /ask/advice instead of /about. Information about how to ask a good question should be shown at the time new users will actually need it, which is when they are going to ask a question. – Rachel Apr 16 '13 at 14:57
  • @Rachel - The question page has the minimized version. – Oded Apr 16 '13 at 14:58
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    @Oded Is that only for registered users? Because if I visit the Ask Questions page on Physics.SE while not logged in, I don't see the banner at all. – Rachel Apr 16 '13 at 15:01
  • @Rachel - Anonymous users only. And on physics, if you dismissed the banner (either on homepage or in the question page), it will not show up. Delete the "hero" cookie if you want to see it. – Oded Apr 16 '13 at 15:04
  • @Oded Oh yeah, stupid cookies. I'm used to incognito windows not saving cookies... thanks :) – Rachel Apr 16 '13 at 15:06

The problem is that most people sign up because they want to do something (usually vote or post a question/answer), and if you display the FAQ at the time they sign up, they'll just bypass it immediately because it is

  • preventing them from doing what they are trying to do at the moment
  • probably irrelevant to thier current action (from their point of view)

So it will not get read.

A better option would be to very clearly say "Please read this before posting a question" (links to the /ask/advice page) when they go to the Ask Question page to ask their first question.

This provides them with information immediately relevant to their specific situation at the time they will actually need/want it, so they are most likely to read through that information at that time.

(The "read the FAQ" and "asking help" links in the area usually reserved for ads does not count)


It has been pointed out to me that there already is a popup when users go to ask a question for the first time, however presenting a user with a popup when they're trying to perform some action will most likely result in them just dismissing the popup since it's in their way.

It would be far better to provide a link and be very clear that "You should read this before executing your action" at the time users are actually trying to execute some action, and let them initiate the content appearing.

There is a significantly higher chance that the user will actually read the content, and it has the added benefit of being available to users later on so they can go back to it again if they need it later.

  • Don't we already have a "please read this" before and during someone posts a question? – Time Traveling Bobby Apr 16 '13 at 14:46
  • @SulfurizedDemonbobby We have a "How to Ask" block in the area usually reserved for ads which contains "read the FAQ" and "asking help" links. I don't consider that as effective since its in an area of the page usually ignored, and nobody will read it unless they are interested in reading the FAQ, or want help on how to ask for help (which most people probably don't think they need) – Rachel Apr 16 '13 at 14:48
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    @Rachel Afaik, before asking your first question you are automatically forwarded to the How to Ask page. And you have to explicitly confirm having read it. Edit: yep, just tried it with my not-so-sockpuppet-y account. That's indeed the case. – Bart Apr 16 '13 at 14:49
  • @Bart Hrrmm is that for only some sites, or only for registered users? Because I tested quickly in a new icognito window with UX.SE (didn't want to bother creating a new account), and I don't receive any kind of popup or notice when going to the Ask Question page – Rachel Apr 16 '13 at 14:51
  • Hmm, could be... I'm explicitly lead to that page and have to confirm that "I will keep these tips in mind when asking" at the bottom. – Bart Apr 16 '13 at 14:52
  • @Bart Perhaps it has something to do with cookies. I'll have to clear them and give it another test. But regardless, presenting a user with a popup when they're trying to perform some action will most likely result in them just dismissing the popup. It would be far better to clearly state "You should read this before executing your action" at the time they are actually trying to execute some action, and let them initiate the content appearing. There is a much higher chance that the user will read the content, and they can go back to it if they need it later. – Rachel Apr 16 '13 at 15:05
  • @bart is correct, all new so askers are forced to read the How to Ask page when asking for the first time. Try it, you must create a new so account to see it, then attempt to ask a Q. I believe this is specific to SO due to volume though. – Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '13 at 5:42
  • basically exactly what you propose has been happening for the last two years already. The good news is that it is a good idea, that is why we implemented it, the bad news is that.. well, you cannot reach the unreachable. I know you and I have had disagreements about this in the past, so file this as a data point. Does it work? Probably for some small percent of folks, but the sort of people that will read this pre question EULA are not the ones who need it almost by definition. – Jeff Atwood Apr 21 '13 at 5:46
  • @JeffAtwood If we've had disagreements over this before, than I don't remember them :) I still think you might get more people reading the page if you have a clear link saying "Read this before posting" instead of some popup appearing that interferes with what the user is trying to do. But thanks for confirming that a popup does appear for new users :) – Rachel Apr 21 '13 at 14:27
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    @rachel it is not a popup, it is an interstitial page they must click through and confirm, much like a software EULA, but full screen. I really urge you to try it for yourself so we can have less misunderstandings about this. – Jeff Atwood Apr 22 '13 at 9:59

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