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I’ve been a member of Stack Exchange (specifically, Super User) for almost a year and a half, but I’m slowly expanding into other SE sites (e.g., “Unix & Linux” and “English Language & Usage”).  Every time I do, I look at the “about” page / tour (for example, here is the one for Super User, and I see the same old familiar words that appear in all the Stack Exchange tour pages:

(This site) is a question and answer site for (some group).  It’s … part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites.

We’re a little bit different from other sites.  Here’s how:

where

  • (This site)” stands for the name of the site in question; e.g., “Super User”, “Unix & Linux Stack Exchange”, or “English Language & Usage Stack Exchange” (but it is usually actually bolded),
  • (some group)” stands for the target user community for the site.  For example, for Super User, it is “computer enthusiasts and power users.”
  • “…” stands for “built and run by you as”, which I deleted because it is irrelevant to my point.  (The complete sentence is “It’s built and run by you as part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites.”)
  • There’s actually another sentence in the first paragraph: “With your help, we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about (subject).”, where (subject) stands for the general topic area of the site.  E.g., for Super User, it is “computer software or hardware.”  I left that out because it, also, is irrelevant to my point.

Since I’ve been a member of Stack Exchange for almost a year and a half, and visited many SE sites, I know what this means: Stack Exchange sites, in general, are a little bit different from other Q&A sites on the Internet.  But still, every time I read these words, I fall into the trap of their ambiguity.  I feel as though this text is comparable to

Welcome to Hawaii, the Aloha state.  It’s one of the United States. We’re a bit different from the other states.  Here’s how:

  • We’re an island. (duh)
  • No, actually, we’re a group of islands.
  • We’re the southernmost state. (We’re way south of California and the Gulf coast states.)
  • We were an independent kingdom until 121 years ago.
  •                         ︙

And so on.  Because “the United States” is the most recent phrase, “the other states” looks like it’s referring to “the [other] United States”, and I wouldn’t expect to see Hawaii being compared to and contrasted with Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Bavaria, or Queensland.  Similarly, since “the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites” ” is the most recent phrase in the SE tour boilerplate, “other sites” ” looks (to me, at least) like it’s referring to other Q&A sites in the Stack Exchange network, and it’s saying that this site is different from those other sites.  So, because I’m momentarily confused, I page down to see how (this site) is different from the other Q&A sites in the Stack Exchange network.  To repeat, I know that’s not what it means, but (I believe) that’s what it looks like it means, and I suspect that people encountering it for the first time might be confused.  I suggest that the text, or at least the second paragraph, be rephrased.

  • Where is the feature request now? It seems there was a suggestion on how to improve this back in revision two, but now it doesn7t seem to be there. – jmac Jan 27 '14 at 2:35
  • @jmac: I ended up posting it as an answer. – Scott Jan 27 '14 at 23:32
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The sentence you're picking on isn't confusing and doesn't need to change. It's pretty clear: we (Stack Exchange and/or the site, both at once) are different from other sites (as in, every other site, ever, on the entire internet, including Q&A sites).

It's not about other Q&A sites or information sites - it's about other sites in general, including communities like forums (which are discussion sites), and explaining to first-time network users how the SE engine works. It's a first-time introduction for people new to the SE network as a whole, it says all it needs to say, and it's fine.

I think that the extent you have to go to just to explain why you find this sentence a bit confusing is a bit telling here. There's a lot to communicate for anyone to get things from your perspective, because... they don't find it confusing.

You are concerned it's confusing. But I ask: do you know if anyone actually has found it confusing? Is there any substantial reason to actually have that concern?

  • Agreed and since question now locked I'll ask Scott here: what point did you try to prove by vandalizing the question? What makes you think it's acceptable behavior? – ShaWiz Jan 24 '14 at 0:01
  • @ShadowWizard I tried to interject a blank revision between my previous version and my new version, so the revision history would be readable. If you had left me alone for ten minutes, you would have seen. – Scott Jan 24 '14 at 0:08
  • @JonathanHobbs: “It isn’t confusing.” That’s your opinion. My opinion is that it is confusing. The fact that my question got five upvotes suggests that some people agree with me. … Has anyone found it confusing? Same answer! I found it confusing, and the question got five upvotes. – Scott Jan 24 '14 at 0:09
  • @JonathanHobbs: Confusing is as confusing does. I guess this is like one of those optical illusions, where some people can only see the young woman, some people can only see the old woman, and some people can see both. If the only way you can interpret the words is the “correct” way, bully for you. But I expanded on the question because you had so much trouble understanding what I was saying. – Scott Jan 24 '14 at 0:10
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    @Scott that's totally pointless. What will such a thing give? Anyway now you have all kinds of revisions. – ShaWiz Jan 24 '14 at 0:10
  • It also got three downvotes, and upvotes don't mean "I found it confusing too." Having upvotes isn't the same as actually demonstrating a significant number of people actually find a fairly simple sentence confusing. You appear to find it confusing because you're taking it to imply a lot of things it doesn't say, and part of that is based on information which the target audience of the tour page - completely new users with little knowledge of how SE works - probably wouldn't have. – doppelgreener Jan 24 '14 at 0:12
  • @ShadowWizard As I said, it would have made the revision history cleaner. Am I the only one who finds it annoying that the revision compare tool matches individual words from totally different sentences? “Anyway now you have all kinds of revisions.” Yes, but whose fault is that? – Scott Jan 24 '14 at 0:16
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    @Scott In major overhaul edits, we wouldn't even really pay much attention to the diff itself - there's very little to differentiate. The diffs are more useful when something distinct is added or removed, not when everything gets rewritten. You don't need to be particularly concerned with what the revision compare tool says, and you don't really need to add extra edits just to leave it in some state of being clean. – doppelgreener Jan 24 '14 at 0:20
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I believe that the most direct solution is to rephrase the second paragraph:

Stack Exchange sites are a little bit different from other Q&A sites on the Internet.  Here’s how:

Plausible variations include:

  • Replace “Stack Exchange sites” with “we” (or replace “Stack Exchange sites are” with “we’re”):

    We’re a little bit different …

    which, I guess, is friendlier (more casual and familiar) than saying “Stack Exchange sites”, but it’s still ambiguous, as it’s not clear whether “we” refers to this site or the entire Stack Exchange network.

  • Replace “other Q&A sites on the Internet” with something broader (more inclusive), e.g.,

    … different from other sites on the Internet where people might go to find information.  Here’s how:

    I offer this because one person submitted the opinion that “other Q&A sites on the Internet” is too restrictive, and that the tour page isn’t for telling you how it’s different from other Q&A sites; it’s for telling you how it’s different from “other sites everywhere on the internet … especially includ[ing] the forums a lot of people think we are.”   I believe that this is pretzel logic.

    • Anybody who believes that a forum site is a kind of Q&A site will interpret “Stack Exchange sites are … different from other Q&A sites on the Internet.” to mean that Stack Exchange sites are different from forum sites.
    • The first paragraph already says, “(This site) is a question and answer site.”  Anybody who believes that a forum site is a not kind of Q&A site will interpret “(This site) is a question and answer site.” to mean that Stack Exchange sites are not forum sites.


    And clearly “all sites everywhere on the Internet” is too broad.  Having said that we are a Q&A site, we don’t need to differentiate ourselves from all sites everywhere on the Internet, such as commercial sites, news outlets, or even static knowledge bases.

  • Rephrase both paragraphs to remove all reference to “Stack Exchange”:

    (This site) is a question and answer site for (some group).  It’s a little bit different from other Q&A sites on the Internet.  Here’s how:*

    (or, alternatively, “We’re a little bit different …”, discussed above.)  The fact that (this site) is part of the Stack Exchange network of Q&A sites, and (perhaps) additional information about the Stack Exchange network, could be included further down in the tour.

    I’m not fond of this, because it seems to be declaring that (this site) is different from all other sites on the Internet, and thereby intensifies the impression that (this site) is different from the other sites in the Stack Exchange network.  I don’t expect this variation to be popular.

    I included this because one person said, “People viewing that page might not even be aware of the Stack Exchange network – they’re there to learn how the site they’re visiting works at all, not how it’s different from other sites they haven’t visited.  …  Saying that brings up more questions and confusion than answers.  …  the user probably doesn’t really care about Stack Exchange in general – they care about the site they’re on and are looking for answers on how the site they’re actually trying to use works.  I think it’s best to keep the terminology that actually sounds like it could be referring to the site they’re using.”  Of course, this could be interpreted as an argument for deleting the entire “We’re a little bit different from other sites.” theme.

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