At the moment when a new user gets downvoted, he or she has no idea what's going on, and while I do think that spending at least a minute to go through Tour is a good etiquette, most people just don't do it. The purpose is to keep SO of high quality and it would be so much more helpful if new users actually understood at least some of the rules, rather than simply getting new accounts or leaving in frustration.

My suggestion is to add automated standardized comment when a question from a new user gets, say, three downvotes. It can link to Tour / FAQ and say something along the lines of "Your question has got a few downvotes. It indicates that the community doesn't find your question useful and / or it lacks research effort. Please take a Tour to learn how the site works." The author can be Community.

I feel like it will benefit SO, as new users will have a better idea about the workings of the site. There is not much benefit in downvoting user to -10 if he or she doesn't understand what's wrong. We see the recurring situation when users come here and say "why my question was downvoted / closed" when the answer is pretty obvious (to us). That means, the visibility of this information can be improved.

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    It should be common sense. "I got downvotes. Something is wrong. I need help. Hey, here is help link!. Clicky. Tour. Help Center. How to Ask. Oh, I was really dumb. I will fix my question". User lacking the common sense to achieve this chain is very unlikely to read or understand any comment aimed at him. – Shadow Wizard Wearing Mask Feb 17 '14 at 23:04
  • @ShadowWizard It should be, I totally agree, however, I also think that often user doesn't automatically think "I got downvotes. Something is wrong.", he or she thinks "I got downvotes because a gang of elitists have a thing against me". It often comes from the misunderstanding of SO system, it is not an easy concept. Some of those come here with their questions, so they do click some links apparently, just not the right ones. Some extra guidance could help. I admit I didn't read rules myself initially, and I'm sure a lot of people over here. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 0:39
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    It should also be common sense for down voters "I just down voted a new user, I should welcome them to SO, explain why they got down voted and what they should do to fix the problem" – tacaswell Feb 18 '14 at 2:00
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    @tcaswell, The more time spent doing as you say is less time we spend providing high quality answers. Should we be more welcoming, absolutely, but the help documentation is always there, yet people aren't using it when we already call attention to it when people sign up, post their first question, or when we leave comments linking to them. How much more hand holding should we be doing? It irritates me that we even have to have the close reason "Unclear what you're asking". People can't even ask a question properly, let alone provide sample code, evidence, or good descriptions of the issue. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 2:34
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    @SlyRaskal And if we alienate and drive away new users there will be no more high quality interesting questions to answer. If you don't want to leave a comment, then don't vote to close, don't down vote, just leave the question alone. That way you do no drive-by harm and have more time to answer questions. – tacaswell Feb 18 '14 at 2:47
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    Are we really worried about losing people that ask low quality questions, a majority of which show no desire of improving? Should we try to help them, certainly. Should we try to help them more than we already are, probably not. Again, the reason for downvotes should be obvious and has been discussed ad nauseam on MSO. We don't need a system to explain the reason for a downvote. This request falls in line with many of the other requests that also asked for the requiring of comments when a downvote occurs, and I highly doubt this request, like the others, will be added anytime soon. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 2:52
  • @SlyRaskal These people which come to site are new. They are not the same old bad guy who comes and spoils your party. You asked only 7 questions, and at least a couple of those are off topic, so, and this is you who are irritated?! I asked a few questions which should have really been downvoted in early days, but learned how to use SO better with time and it is a long and hard process. Everyone deserves a chance to fix whatever they did wrong. Even though my proposal is probably not a good one, it is harmless. Your attitude towards new users is not, please be more patient. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 3:01
  • "This request falls in line with many of the other requests that also asked for the requiring of comments when a downvote occurs" - no, it is explicitly trying to not reveal the identity of the downvoter which was the main concern in previous proposal, it is radically different in that sense. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 3:02
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    @sashkello, please don't judge me by stating that my attitude towards new users is not harmless. Unlike many other users, I do leave comments to genuinely try to help people. I just don't think that automatic comments are going go be a big enough help. What you said about me was a shameless way just to make yourself appear superior than me. I'm done with you. Good luck getting your negatively voted feature request approved. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 3:05
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    "How much more hand holding should we be doing? It irritates me that we even have to have the close reason "Unclear what you're asking". People can't even ask a question properly, let alone provide sample code, evidence, or good descriptions of the issue." <- does not show a good attitude towards new and confused users. – tacaswell Feb 18 '14 at 3:08
  • @SlyRaskal So, address the issue in my question and why it is not a good proposal, don't get into talking about your emotions about new users. "What you said about me was a shameless way just to make yourself appear superior than me." - not true, I clearly stated that my questions are no better, and that is the reason why I'm making this proposal. "Good luck getting your negatively voted feature request approved." - I don't really care. I'm thinking about the ways to improve the community. If I'm convinced it is not a good feature, I'm OK with being downvoted. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 3:09

I think the problem with this is that we need to stop "spoon-feeding" users at some point. Yes, I was a new user at one point, also, and so I didn't post a question for awhile until I felt comfortable. I also read the FAQ, watched how others posted, and searched for my problems first. There is absolutely no reason that anyone who has a chance as a developer to be able to do these things themselves. So where do we stop? I already feel like it is in my face when posting a question (but not so much yet that it is a pain).

On your point of people getting 10 or so downvotes, when its a new user who just obviously doesn't yet know how to form a good question or post all relevant information I think we more experienced members should stop after it gets to 3 or 4 and leave comments. If it's someone who is spam or just completely not trying then I will happily downvote. But if it is clear that they are new and and trying then I usually won't if they have 3 or 4. I just leave a constructive comment and flag (if I feel it's necessary).

But as Shadow Wizard pointed out in a comment, it should be common sense that you are doing something wrong when you start getting a lot of downvotes. And SO already has plenty of tools to help new users.

most people just don't do it.

That's exactly it. How much help do we need to/should give if they aren't that interested in taking a few minutes to learn how to use a site where people are willing to give **free* help.

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  • In all honesty, how many questions with negative score have you seen where someone has really explained to the new user what's happening? I see those very rarely, but I'm trying to explain if I can what's wrong (if I think it is not beyond salvation). But there is not enough people who do it, far from enough in fact. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 0:44
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    I see quite a few where people ask for additional information, explain that they need to format the code, ask for a better explanation, etc... I am one of those, though I agree that not enough users do. So I agree that we, as a community, need to do a better job of that. But the new users who provide this additional information are the users who might benefit from something like this. For the others, it's probably not going to do any good. – codeMagic Feb 18 '14 at 0:49
  • My point is it won't do any bad as well, won't it? I just don't see a problem. It will help some, some will ignore it, that's OK. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 0:54
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    I don't think it is a completely terrible idea. My problem with things like this is the fact that so many don't make use of what is already available. If most seemed to be taking advantage of the already in place help features and well-written questions/answers but were still having a problem understanding then that would be different, IMHO. – codeMagic Feb 18 '14 at 1:36
  • I do agree, mate. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 1:41
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    @sashkello FWIW, in 1300 close votes I'd say the vast majority of closable questions have comments asking for clarification and/or telling the OP precisely what they've done wrong. – OGHaza Feb 18 '14 at 7:37
  • @OGHaza I'm not really concerned about close votes - unlike with downvotes, it is explained why the question is closed in the bottom. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 8:41
  • @sashkello True, but questions in the CVQ don't necessarily get closed, and most heavily down voted questions probably have a close vote – OGHaza Feb 18 '14 at 8:54

Where is the data?

Test Your Assumption

Go through manually. Find new users getting downvotes and post whatever comment you think is appropriate to 100+ of these new posts (if it's so frequent, this shouldn't take that long).

Gather Data

Take another 100+ of these posts where you (and nobody else) comments with similar amounts of downvotes in the same amount of time in a similar tag as a control group.

Gather information on each group:

  • How many edit their post?
  • How many post another question of much higher quality?
  • How many had the Informed Badge?
  • How many gained it after posting the question?

Analyze the Data

Was there a dramatically better reception for the posts where you left the comment? If so, people are far more likely to listen to your request because you've at least shown that it has a measurable impact when you do it manually.

Otherwise, you will collect tons of downvotes, because people do not take well to people suggesting that somehow downvotes are the problem, and not the lack of effort on the part of the people asking the questions in the first place.

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The assumption you are making is that people will read the comment, and then click the link to the help center to read the materials provided, which I can tell you from my experiences, many posters of poor questions do not. There are many posters that are what we call drive by posters, ask a question and move on, they have no desire to want to be an active contributor on the board, and only care about getting their issue resolved.

Maybe 1% of those that have asked a poor question take an interest in reading comments, and 1% of that actually uses that information constructively and rewords/updates their question. Of the hundreds of questions that I have tried to help with comments, many have simply ignored them, ultimately resulting in their questions being closed.

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  • "Maybe 1% of those that have asked a poor question take an interest in reading comments" - based on what? I also can say that I can see a lot of posters who come here on meta or ask in comments what's wrong. I don't know the statistics, but I would think that it would be a good idea to help the good ones. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 0:33
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    @sashkello Based on my experiences after raising over 600 helpful flags and commenting on many of them. Posters have ignored my comments and their question was ultimately closed. We're not here to baby posters. We assume that posters are intelligent enough and responsible enough to ask good questions. And if they are unable to respond to the comments that many of us are already providing manually, what makes you think that they would respond to an automated comment? – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 0:42
  • I have no idea what relation do flags have to id (after raising 900 helpful flags my experience is that majority, not 1% really get emotional about downvotes and start asking questions in comment or delete question). A lot do care and they do read it. Some questions are beyond salvation and OP ignores your comment because there is nothing to say really, not because he or she doesn't read it. If you are leaving comments, good on you, vast majority don't do it. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 0:51
  • If 1% reads the rules then, why do we even have them? Right, for those good 1%. And so even if you are right in your estimate, even if it is 1% reading comments, I would be glad to help to those 1% who are trying to improve. But again, it is not 1%, your experience is not a fair estimate at all. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 0:52
  • @sashkello, The rules are there to have something to strive for. regardless of how many follow them. Without them, what focus would we have. With the number of low quality posts, people obviously aren't reading the guidelines even when we link to them when people sign up and post their first question! I think a better solution to all of this is automated comments when a close vote is cast or flag is raised, rather than when people downvote. A downvote should be abundantly clear already that something is wrong with a post and has been discussed ad nauseum on MSO. Cheers. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 1:08
  • "automated comments when a close vote is cast" - they are already there for some closing reasons; the closing reason appears below the post when closed. It is always clear why it has been closed (well, at least there is some info), it is not "abundantly clear" that downvotes are because the post is bad. It is clear to you, it is not clear to new users. They take it personally rather than start thinking about the quality of their content. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 1:10
  • @sashkello, reread my statement. I said posting an automatic comment when a close vost is cast or a flag raised. This would mean the automatic comment would appear before the post is closed, regardless if a downvote is made. Casting a vote or raising a flag does not immediately close the post, unless it is a moderator taking immediate action. This would work better because there are times that people cast a close vote or raise a flag without downvoting. So this would help more than only commenting when a downvote is issued. Only flags for duplicate post have automatic comments AFAIK. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 1:48
  • I read your statement fine. Off-topic Custom reason appears as comment as well; In any case I don't see an issue with close reason appearing only after it is closed - when it is edited, it will bump in the reopen queue, no issues there. The only problem is the huge Close Vote queue, but that's another topic. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 1:53
  • @sashkello, Off-topic custom reasons appear after the post is closed, not before. And many times, the custom reason is altered into a simplified message by a mod. A post with a flag raised or close vote cast is more serious than a downvote and a point that you are missing that I'm trying to make. When the vote is cast or flag raised is truly when a poster really should be taking action to ensure that their post is not closed. Up until then, the downvotes only calls to attention the low quality of their post, which should be obvious and has been discussed ad nauseam on MSO. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 2:03
  • 1. I have just closed a question with a custom reason and it appears as a comment immediately. So, you are wrong here. 2. You can edit your question after closing, there is nothing final about it, that's why it has been changed to "on hold" instead of "closed". After it is edited, it goes into reopen queue. 3. It is not obvious what downvote means, that's why there is so much talk about it on SO. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 2:47
  • @sashkello, Perhaps because you have higher rep than I do with more privileges, but when I flag with a custom reason, the custom reason does not appear until a mod takes action. So perhaps we are both wrong? No matter the case, I highly doubt your request will ever make it's way to production. The ROI is too low to want to add it. That is the underlying problem with this feature request. Good day. – Anil Natha Feb 18 '14 at 2:58
  • This is because flag should be approved, close vote recorded immediately. – sashkello Feb 18 '14 at 3:03

The purpose is to keep SO of high quality

It is higher quality to have users who take the time to comment on poor questions, regardless of whether or not they downvote.

One potential downside to your suggestion is that maybe people won't leave a constructive comment if they already see a comment has been posted about the quality of the question. However, now the user just has a vague "You're question kinda sucks" message.

In writing this answer, and in reviewing random questions with -3 or more downvotes, the majority had comments explaining why (though just in general use of the site, it's pretty clear that most people do not hesitate to point out what is wrong with a question... maybe it is just the tags I frequent).

We see the recurring situation when users come here and say "why my question was downvoted / closed"

Many questions that are that bad will also have close votes, which does sometime include automated comments. These are convenient, but I sometimes delete them to provide a more direct comment. Then when a question is in fact closed, the reason is given.

Those who are asking the question above obviously aren't taking the time to understand why the question was closed, even though a direct reason was given. So again, I don't see how an automated comment will help the situation.

Pro-active participants, which SO undoubtedly has, will provide more value than a canned response. I think canned response will provide no more value than "no comments" or in fact could discourage useful comments.

Can we be better? Can we give more informative (and more polite) comments to newcomers? Definitely. Automated comments doesn't address this though.

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