I don't mean mentoring someone to be a programmer or a cook or a parent. I mean mentoring them on SE itself and how the system works. Here's how I would expect it to work (no idea how to implement it):

Two humans would communicate in some non-SE way (talking in person, for example) and agree to do this. The mentor would go to the protégé's profile and click a button, or vice versa. This would light up a button on the view of that profile seen by the person themselves, and send them an inbox notification: "Kate Gregory has offered to mentor you" or "Kate Gregory wants to be mentored by you." The person could accept the offer by clicking. (Or perhaps the button is on my own profile and I have to enter a user number. Something like that.)

And yes, I have to have a way of saying I will never mentor anyone or don't want to be mentored so leave me alone. Skip that for now, ok?

So then what happens is the mentor gets another pair of topbar buttons that use a different colour scheme. These show all the notifications the protégé sees, and have their "seen" status set only when the mentor sees them. I can notice that my protégé is getting comments, upvotes, downvotes and so on. I then interact with my protégé using some external mechanism (like going and talking to them, or emailing them) to advise them about the specific situation that is happening.

I think the coding effort on this is minimal since it leverages the topbar notifications. For those of us with time to take someone under our wing, it could make life far simpler than stalking someone's profile or visiting their questions and answers to see what is happening. Since the info in those notifications is public anyway, there's not really a privacy concern. Personally, I'd use it with people who I am recommending SO to. If you were concerned it would help puppets you could require a certain rep level to be a mentor. Heck, it could be a privilege to give out at a certain level.

If you were feeling super generous you could notify the mentor of things no-one is notified of yet: flags, votes to close, closure and so on that happen to posts by the protégé. But even without that I would find it worthwhile.

What are the advantages compared to strangers commenting on posts?

  • newcomers may not stick around to get their own notifications. If I get them I can contact them outside of SO and say "something is happening on that question you posted"
  • newcomers frankly misunderstand comments from strangers a LOT. They come here and complain about it. I can talk to my employee or relative or friend through some other mechanism and explain what people are saying.
  • the newcomer can feel they have a bit of a safety net and have someone looking out for them. While not everyone needs this, it can help some new users.
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    I assume the "external mechanism" is ad hoc and not built into the system? Do you envision mentors having multiple mentees and vis versa? – Jon Ericson Mar 11 '14 at 20:38
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    I would want Jon Skeet to be my mentor! :P – Walker Mar 11 '14 at 20:41
  • The only thing that prevents us from doing this today is the 20 rep barrier to chat entry. Granted, you don't have all the cool tools you describe. – Robert Harvey Mar 11 '14 at 20:41
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    In the majority of cases a mentee does something problematic the community will respond in some manner before the mentor ever has the opportunity to notice, even if they have inbox notifications. People simply provide feedback really quick here. The only way I see this helping is if the mentor can provide feedback before people post, but at that point you're holding up a post for quite some time while the mentor reviews it. – Servy Mar 11 '14 at 20:46
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    @RobertHarvey it's not so much the talking to them (I intend that to happen outside SE) it's the knowing there's something they need to be talked to about – Kate Gregory Mar 11 '14 at 20:55
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    On sites where there are < ~100q/day, its likely that you see all the activity for everything every day without any special mentoring. On sites where there are are nearly 9k q/day, it is likely that those who need help far exceed the number of competent mentors. It can also be very difficult to get people to interact with you (most of the "come visit us in chat were we can work on making this question openable" never get acted upon). – user213963 Mar 11 '14 at 20:58
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    @MichaelT that's right, I expect this to be something offered between people who already know each other. "You could ask on x.se!" "Oh, I've heard that's a hard site to use." "No worries, I will mentor you. I'll get notified of activity and can let you know if you're doing it right." Not approaching a stranger using the mechanisms of the site and trying to set this up. – Kate Gregory Mar 11 '14 at 21:00
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    IMO if things have got to the point that new users require a mentor to make sense of the site then this is itself a big failing and should be addressed more generally. Perhaps there could be automated canned messages for situations like first downvote received? – Martin Smith Mar 11 '14 at 21:01
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    @MartinSmith new users don't read canned messages. – Kate Gregory Mar 11 '14 at 21:04
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    @KateGregory New users don't get mentors either, generally. Most of the kinds of people who go out of their way to find a good mentor are the kinds of people that don't really struggle using the site to begin with, because they, you know, try. – Servy Mar 11 '14 at 21:08
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    Gang, I am not suggesting that a newbie who is feeling confused would somehow use the site itself to reach out and find a mentor. I am suggesting that as part of recommending an SE site to someone I can offer to mentor them on SE in general. Nothing in this idea would limit anyone to anything or stop strangers commenting. It's a mechanism to help a new user feel supported while learning a new system. It's a way for an established user to invite a new one and not worry they will hate it. – Kate Gregory Mar 11 '14 at 21:26
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    I worry that the formalization of mentorship would establish an undesirable precedent. We already have several mechanisms that limit communication to only that required to ask questions and get answers, and nothing more (i.e. we're not a social network). I would be happy if there was a simple mechanism mods and high-rep users could employ to hoist new users into Chat, for one-time mentoring. – Robert Harvey Mar 11 '14 at 21:32
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    Reading through this I feel you've narrowed it down to such an edge-case that, while it may work in that particular situation, I'm not sure it needs to be an actual feature on the site. (Or that it might not be worth it to make it one) If you recommend someone to use the site, and are willing to help them out, surely you can stay in touch by other means. Surely you can check their profile every now and then. Granted, that does not give you all the flashy notifications and buttons and what not, but wouldn't that do the job just fine? – Bart Mar 11 '14 at 21:38

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