I'll start with this other question which sparked my thinking cap. It's becoming extremely overwhelming with the great number of new users who seem to think that Stack Overflow is a forum, that they can ask whatever they want, ignoring the FAQ and the strict guidelines we have here. It seems that anyone who has a simple question can come create a new account here, throw their entry-level question up, and expect a bunch of people to tell them exactly what they need. Unfortunately, that's of course not how these sites work.

Imagine a new user who's never used any Stack Exchange sites, and doesn't know how it works, coming to Stack Overflow for the first time. They are new to programming, and have a lot of learning to do. They create a new account, and ask their question such as "How to write a web hook with a third-party API?". Now imagine how critical people will be to them. That user will cringe and start fighting back in the comments with "Why do you have to be so mean?"

Now, imagine a new user, same as before, coming to Stack Overflow for the first time. When they go to register, first of all a page will show with a message explaining that Stack Overflow is not a forum, and doesn't work like the rest of the sites they might be used to. Make this mandatory for them to read and approve before even creating an account. Then, once they've registered, require that they go through a short but thorough step-by-step tutorial to understand how they should contribute to the site. Make sure they understand how everything works before they dive into it.

I personally work for a software company which has troubles getting our clients to understand how to use our software, and they always mis-use it. Kind of like selling someone a 747, but instead of flying it, they strap a bunch of mules to the front and sit on top with a whip. It's very huge and complex (inventory/point-of-sale) and there's a lot to know before using it. Well, Stack Overflow works in the same precise manner, and it's expected that people follow by the rules of how it was designed. So now I'm making training videos for them.

Currently, when you sign up, there is nothing that really forces you to read and accept before using the site. I signed up for an account a short while ago, and I did not face anything which really made sure I knew how the site worked before letting me in. Sure, there's a first question guide, but it's just one single step, kinda like a terms & conditions checkbox, which everyone tends to ignore anyway. This needs to be a step-by-step (not all in one page) tutorial. And a clear warning before they even create an account. It really sucks when you sign up for something all excited, then when you finally get to ask your first question, you're faced with terror. It's a lot better to tell someone the truth up front before they begin than to lure them in and once they're here we practically say "Oh, by the way, your questions probably will not be answered."

It's simple. We educate the newbies.

  • 1
    Have you created a new account and used it to ask a question lately? It might be relevant to this discussion.
    – blahdiblah
    Apr 17, 2013 at 2:10
  • Actually I just did, will edit to include that... Apr 17, 2013 at 2:17
  • However I did not attempt to ask a question.............. until now. Apr 17, 2013 at 2:20
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    It's not that people don't know how to use the site... the mechanics are quite easy. It's convincing people that it's not their God-given right to enter the house without wiping the mud off their shoes.
    – user102937
    Apr 17, 2013 at 2:44
  • 1
    It's not up to each individual site on the Internet to provide an interactive tutorial on how to not be a douche. Read the rules and lurk before posting. This simple rule will serve you well on every single online community ever. The fact is, many quality users didn't any of the help that today's new users have, and they posted good content from their first post onward.
    – user229044
    Apr 17, 2013 at 3:00
  • Does it hurt to push more knowledge to them? The trick is knowing how to do it in a way that everyone will know what to expect, not just throw a bunch of guidelines in front of them. Apr 17, 2013 at 3:10

1 Answer 1


Good idea.

Currently new users on SO are shown https://stackoverflow.com/questions/ask/advice when they attempt to ask their first question. (And can't get past it until the check the box saying they've read it.)

I'm sure that suggestions for improvements to that text, or possible changes as to when it's shown (you mention before account creation), would be welcome, but the gist of your suggestion is already in place.

And yet still we get bad questions...

  • 3
    Well true, but my main point is that it's just not enough. I just edited my question to mention this. I had created a new account with nothing facing me, but all I really have to do is pass one single page, similar to how people treat terms and conditions. I'm talking about at least 5-10 pages where a user has to press next. Apr 17, 2013 at 2:27
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    @JerryDodge: Either the user will fed up, or they just click next all the way.
    – nhahtdh
    Apr 17, 2013 at 2:30
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    The fundamental problem with the welcome pages are that they give you general advice about what to do, but don't tell you all of the things you shouldn't do (because that would be too negative... and too lengthy).
    – user102937
    Apr 17, 2013 at 2:40
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    @RobertHarvey That's very true, but it's also sometimes good to be critical to them during the welcome, if we will in turn be critical to them once they join. StackOverflow isn't a site that likes to reel in as many users as possible. They need to know right off the bat if it's the right site for them or not. Apr 17, 2013 at 2:43
  • 3
    Smile when you say "Beware of Dog."
    – user102937
    Apr 17, 2013 at 2:46
  • I never thought of it that way, that's a perfect expression. Maybe not a yard full of signs running people away. Just one large bold sign on the front gate warning them that there may be trouble if they come in. Apr 17, 2013 at 2:48
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    @RobertHarvey "Don't be an ass" <-- It doesn't need to be lengthy. Seriously, that's the only thing you shouldn't do as a new user. If you make a mistake, people will quickly point it out. Don't be an ass when they do. If you want to know more about the place, ask on Meta. But please don't be an ass when you do.
    – yannis
    Apr 17, 2013 at 2:48
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    I also don't like being the one to tell people they're doing it wrong. And there's also some people out there who enjoy telling people they're doing it wrong. Both of these shouldn't be necessary for us. Given the fact that StackOverflow is a programmers Q/A site (and not a reputation-hog or forum site), we should really aim towards giving its true users more time to actually get real work done, rather than tending to help vampires. Apr 17, 2013 at 2:51
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    @Yannis It's worth noting that that rule goes both ways - if you're pointing out someone's mistakes, don't be an ass about it.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Apr 17, 2013 at 4:01
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    I think the Tour page does a better job than this page, so instead of this How to Ask page with the boring text, the Tour page with its short descriptions and visual animations should be used, or a similar visually appealing, captivating page should be created to replace the current How to Ask page. Otherwise people just tend to "tick-and-go" like it's an EULA -- and that's a problem. Basically you must have something that captures a new user's attention, and a bunch of paragraphs isn't going to do it.
    – ADTC
    Jan 4, 2014 at 20:26
  • 1
    @ADTC Great point, right on to what I was getting at Jan 5, 2014 at 5:00
  • Let me shamelessly plug my question in: Reduce site misuse by new users - mandate getting the Informed badge
    – ADTC
    Jan 5, 2014 at 6:04

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