If you land on a protected question and are not able to answer (because you don't have 10 reputation earned on the site) you find this notice where the answer box normally lives:

protected by MichaelT Mar 7 at 21:16 | This question is protected to prevent "thanks", "me too!", or spam answers by new users. To answer it, you must have earned at least 10 reputation on this site. | Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged [java] [data-structures] [api-design] or ask your own question.

That's weird and a little hostile. The call to action assumes you are here because you're trying to solve a problem. But if you land on a protected question, the truth is you probably are here to read something cool that was linked to from somewhere else.

We already build the page differently based on whether you have enough site rep to answer, so there's no need for one-size-fits-all here. If you are new to the site, the person who protected a question and when they did it serves no purpose. Calling out new users for writing spam answers when we know the person reading is a new user seems rude too. So instead of reusing the same notification banner, we should customize it a bit:

We are no longer soliciting answers from new users on this question. Can you help us answer one of the following questions instead?

Then instead of linking to the tags and the "ask your own question", list a handful of unanswered, upvoted and related questions. Telling people to browse the tags is a bit unsatisfying since there's no reason to expect they were drawn by the particular tag set. And telling them to ask a question just after reading a possible (probable?) bikeshed question and answers is asking for trouble. But showing them some example questions that are not terrible and that they have a shot of answering first will direct potential good contributors in a healthy direction.

  • Send them to the Unanswered hole – random Mar 18 '14 at 19:37
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    I don't think saying that the question is barred from receiving answers because it's already got answers is a good idea at all: that's absolutely not how we do things, and that would make a bad introduction for a new user. But something along these lines does make sense. A more gentle phrasing of "This question is just too darn popular for its own good", perhaps. Linking to other interesting related questions is a nice idea, too. – jscs Mar 18 '14 at 19:45
  • @Josh Caswell: That's true. My first version tells a half truth. The full truth is "Odds are good your answer will be terrible, newbie." ;) I've changed the wording, but I'm open to suggestions. – Jon Ericson Mar 18 '14 at 20:08
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    How exactly is the current wording weird or hostile? You can sugar-coat it any way you like, but it does describe exactly the situation. How does steering the user to other questions make it more friendly? – user102937 Mar 18 '14 at 22:23
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    @RobertHarvey: You seem to be focusing on the wrong aspect of the proposal. If you are new to the site, protection is a sort of catch-22: you need 10 rep on the site to answer, but the question you are most likely to be interested in answering can't be answered until you get the 10 rep. Suggesting they ask a new question seems like an exercise in frustration for all involved. That's why I suggested pointing people to unanswered questions rather than tags or the "ask a question" page. – Jon Ericson Mar 18 '14 at 23:03
  • Who is telling them to ask a new question? Oh, I see. – user102937 Mar 18 '14 at 23:06
  • @RobertHarvey: The text just below the banner. – Jon Ericson Mar 18 '14 at 23:06
  • Yeah, we could probably just axe that. Simplicity is everything. – user102937 Mar 18 '14 at 23:07
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    I'd quite like to see the protected question feature changed. So people can still answer but the answer must go through a review queue rather than prohibiting low rep users from answering full stop. – Martin Smith Mar 18 '14 at 23:22
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    @Martin, pretty sure there's a feature request asking that, but it was not looked upon fondly by the Powers that Be as it violates one of the fundamental tenets of SE (allowing anyone to answer immediately). I totally agree that would be preferable, but it requires a lot more thought in to how to explain to users why certain answers go through instantly, and others don't. – jmac Mar 18 '14 at 23:55

We've rolled out a change to the wording of that banner for new users. It now reads:

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

We'll keep an eye on whether people actually click anything from that banner. I suspect that very few people will, but if we wind up seeing a lot of people clicking, we may revisit the notion of displaying specific questions within this notice (to try and give them something specific to engage with).

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    For some reason, reading the second paragraph in this banner makes me see an image of Clippy. – user102937 Apr 8 '14 at 20:21
  • Maybe it's just me, but I feel that second sentence is missing an "Unfortunately" ("Unfortunately it has attracted a few (or 'some') ..., thus ..." or perhaps "... now unfortunately requires ..."). – Bernhard Barker Apr 9 '14 at 5:03
  • I find this message on a lot of questions with very high-quality answers (often more than one), not "low-quality" as this message indicates. – mawcsco Jan 26 '15 at 19:12
  • @mawcsco "because it has attracted low-quality answers"...low-quality answers tend to get deleted, which means you wouldn't see them unless you were a mod or 10k+ rep user. – Laura Jan 26 '15 at 20:08
  • @Laura I was addressing the ambiguity of the language. The way it is worded, it implies that it has only attracted low-quality answers. Sure, after careful reading, I can tell that the language was intended to say that it also attracted low-quality answers in addition to some good answers. But that required re-reading and analysis. – mawcsco Jan 26 '15 at 20:29
  • That's actually a good point: new users won't be aware of that Laura so they will be looking at the surviving answers and think SE considers them low-quality. That's a bit of misteaching potentially. (My comment very and too late :P) – Lightness Races in Orbit Dec 21 '19 at 20:04

At the risk of obsessing over banner verbiage (which we do really well here on Meta), all you really need to do is point out that it is not their fault:

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because this question has attracted a lot of views and some low-quality or spam answers, newcomers to the question are now required to have 10 reputation or more to post a new answer.

It's another way of saying "This is why we can't have nice things here."

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    Optional: Add "Sorry about that" at the end. – user102937 Mar 18 '14 at 22:36
  • Perhaps also with a link, I want to hold your hand – Travis J Mar 18 '14 at 22:44
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    This is the easiest fix, and that is better copy. – Jeff Atwood Mar 23 '14 at 7:37

After thinking about this problem some more, there are several use cases to consider with protected questions:

  1. Site users who have at least 10 reputation.
  2. People who do not yet have 10 reputation on the question's site.
  3. People attracted to the question because they have the same problem.
  4. People attracted because the question and answers were interesting to read.
  5. People who would like to answer the question.

The current page design addresses mostly 1, 2, and 3, while my proposal focused on 4 and 5 only1. Since site users read a different notice (at the top, not the bottom of the page), we can set that case aside. Borrowing verbiage from Robert Harvey and inserting three related questions, we get a question notice that looks something like:

question-status block

Key features:

  • Removed the "inside baseball" information useful in user case 1, but not 2.
  • Softened the notice to explain why the question was protected in more general terms.
  • Retained the "Not the answer you're looking for?" footer for 3 users.
  • Added some Related Questions for so that people in 4 and 5 have something to do.

People who scroll all the way down are highly likely to want more engagement on the site. There's no real cost to listing more than three links. Originally I suggested unanswered questions. But that's only relevant to people who want to get enough reputation to answer the protected question. Rather than telling people what to do next, this version simply provides links.

1. Besides 1 and 2, which are exclusive, there's plenty of overlap in the categories.

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"we don't want to needlessly miss the opportunity to promote the site and attract new users"
Jon Ericson ♦

If there are heuristics indicating this is a missed opportunity, perhaps it could be prudent to provide an alternative place of prestige to answer. The bounty mechanism may fit well here because it offers a sort of fast track to new users gaining reputation. It could be included in the end of the message.

enter image description here

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