There are many sites claiming that Stack Exchange is becoming less that supportive.

Is there something that we can do as a community to make asking a question less unforgiving?

How about, for example, combining duplicate questions together, instead of outright blocking them? Or is there anything else that can be done to make the moderation of questions seem less cold to new users?

  • We have over 100 sites at this point and some of them are more welcoming than others. Are you talking about any specific communities? Can you elaborate a bit on "less than supportive"?
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Jun 13, 2014 at 20:18
  • Well as far as bedside manner, having welcoming communication should be rewarded. There have been times where my answer was hidden within the outrage of another user. And I'm usually on the programmer sites, but this sort of dialogue is beneficial for the growing number of sites as well. Jun 13, 2014 at 20:23
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    It certainly can't hurt to have the dialog, but I'm afraid it's hard to say anything concrete with the way your discussion starter is phrased right now. Some communities have a different flavor and one size advice unfortunately doesn't fit all. (As a side note, I'm also not sure what you mean by "blocking" duplicate questions and what aspects of question moderation you feel are cold.)
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Jun 13, 2014 at 20:25
  • The dialogue isn't requesting anything concrete because its being used as a way to build suggestions on how we can improve the community together. Is there a way that you think I should ask this question that could facilitate that sort of creative thinking on this site? Please ignore the part about "blocking". If you'd like can you please give me any suggestions? Jun 13, 2014 at 21:00
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    The thing is that without a concrete place to start or a problem statement of sorts beyond "things are bad", it's hard to offer specific or, frankly, potentially viable suggestions. For example, what is the issue you're seeing with how duplicate questions behave right now? It appears that you think those mechanics have an adverse effect, but I'm really not sure what you're going for here overall.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Jun 13, 2014 at 21:03
  • well, if I can avoid sounding like I'm taking anything personally, there have been several questions I've asked and others have asked that have been put on hold or closed for being "too vague". I've actually done some seaches and questions that were "too vague" had answers to questions I had myself. But there needs to be a different way to go about deciding how we give people the ability to moderate. Jun 13, 2014 at 21:35
  • If a man comes to see his doctor about a pain he tells his doctor he's feeling pain in a general location. The doctor in all his knowledge doesn't look at the patient and ask, "Can you be specific as to which organ is in the most pain? If not, your complaint is too broad to solve." Jun 13, 2014 at 21:37
  • And that Doctor example is the feeling a lot of new users get when they come to this site for questions. And they have to do that search through questions for the right answer. But for a new user, looking for their question and whether or not its been answered is hard. This whole thing is about helping people who know less than you. Jun 13, 2014 at 21:38
  • Nothing against you at all, and please don't take this personally. Jun 13, 2014 at 21:39
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    No worries, I'm not taking this personally in any way. I've been around for a number of similar discussions over the years, and in my experience being specific or at least starting with a concrete problem statement/examples helps rather than hinders. Clearly, we disagree, and that's fair enough.
    – Adam Lear StaffMod
    Jun 13, 2014 at 22:15
  • <internet handshake> Jun 13, 2014 at 22:25
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    @AaronArnold: There are several flaws in your doctor analogy. The doctor isn't seeing thousands of patients every day; he has more time to deal with one patient-we see many thousands of posts. Second, that doctor is getting paid-we're donating our time and effort-pay me $$$ hourly, and I'll hear all your vague questions. :-) Third, that doctor has a fiscal liability for errors based on not getting info before diagnosing/prescribing treatment-large amounts of money or his license to practice are at risk. Finally, the patient could die or suffer grave harm if the doctor makes a mistake.
    – Ken White
    Jun 13, 2014 at 23:16
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    And one more thing, just to make it clear: This whole thing is not about helping people who know less than you; it's not about helping individual people at all. It's about building a knowledge base that helps lots and lots of people, and if it happens to solve your immediate problem in the process that's a bonus. SE is a knowledge repository, not a personal programming and research assistant; that's why we work so hard to keep the noise and chatter and clutter down. Those are available; they're called contractors and consultants.
    – Ken White
    Jun 13, 2014 at 23:19
  • @KenWhite We already reached a conclusion that didn't need your further input. I understood what he was trying to say and he understood me. And it was fine. But what you added was useless to the conversation. And thus a useless waste of your time. I hope you get paid one day to waste time because you're excellent at it. Jun 13, 2014 at 23:59
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    @AaronArnold: 1) You posted here, and that post makes it open to everyone to respond to, whether you care for that response or not. If you didn't want any responses, you should have deleted your post after you "reached a conclusion". 2) Personal attacks are uncalled for here; I did not personally insult you, and I'd appreciate the same courtesy from you. I never said you wasted anyone's time here, and never said anything personally directed toward you, and I don't understand your need to do so toward me. I'd appreciate it if you would refrain from doing so any further.
    – Ken White
    Jun 14, 2014 at 0:26

1 Answer 1


You've had some good discussion in the comments already, but I think this deserves an answer, because whether we like it or not, this - the perception that Stack Exchange is cold - is reasonably common, even among some folks within the company.

A desire for warmth can be good, when it leads to a desire for empathy, for a user experience that respects the users and tries to lead them in positive directions, when it lauds those working together for a common goal and gently chides those who work against it...

But it can be entirely too easy to lose sight of that common goal when "warmth" becomes Priority #1. Warmth without empathy, warmth without genuine concern for the well-being of another... quickly becomes patronizing, hypocritical, outright dangerous.

The common goal here is not to create a big, warm, happy family of people who smile and pat each other on their respective backs each day. Rather, we are seeking to build collections of useful information. Much of the time, this can go hand in hand with some amount of mutual respect, appreciation and even warmth - but at times, those goals conflict: when someone posts something that detracts from that common goal, it must be either corrected or removed - no matter how politely we try to approach that task or what language we couch those actions in, it will at times necessarily be seen as cold. We don't have the luxury here of giving out awards for effort; if the results are poor and we pretend otherwise, that stands to hurt far more than just one person's pride.

The fence and the ambulance

This is a hard pill for many people to swallow though, and we've erred on the wrong side of this entirely too many times. Hopefully, we've learned a thing or two along the way... For instance: the quality-ban system...

For nearly 4 years now, our biggest sites have actively blocked new questions from folks with a history of poorly-received questions. You can find extensive discussion of this here on meta; but until very recently, we gave no explicit indication to folks approaching this ban that they were in danger. Some spent months, even years, accumulating cruft on their record; to be fair, most probably didn't care - but this was a tough break for those who might've corrected their actions a bit sooner, not to mention a waste of time for the folks who had to clean up after them.

Finally, we started just telling folks that their past questions were bad and liable to result in trouble ahead. We tried to phrase that nicely of course; but there's not a lot of sugar-coating if we want to be honest about it, and the whole point of warning at all was to get away from that lie of omission that was allowing someone likely to fail to continue failing without warning.

Whether you consider this "warmth" or not likely depends on your perspective. I've spent too many years dealing with folks who encountered these blocks seemingly-unaware to not consider it at very least courteous - but I'm sure there are people asking questions right now who are silently fuming at the message; we've definitely seen a few complaints along those lines.

At the end of the day though, I really don't care about warmth as long as these sites are useful. If we try very, very hard, we can achieve some reasonable measure of honesty and respectfulness in addition to that - indeed, I tend to think they go hand-in-hand. But warmth... If you want warmth, get away from your keyboard and go home to your family, get a dog, or invest in one of those saunas. With a bit of luck, the information we're collecting here will save you enough time during the day to let you enjoy those things.

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    Sorry, but that last paragraph elicits a feeling of warmth I can't suppress. :-) I wish I could have said it that well.
    – Ken White
    Jun 14, 2014 at 4:40
  • Be on the lookout for a feature request for Quora-style Thank You buttons sometime in the next several months (when I have time to devote to writing it up). I refrain from posting Thank You comments on posts, but sometimes you really just want to express your Supreme Gratitude for the help that someone has given you. Likewise, I've gotten my fair share of the Warm and Fuzzies whenever someone also expressed such gratitude towards me, which is why it also made me a litle heartbroken when I subsequently flagged their Thank You for deletion as "too chatty", even though I really did like it.
    – user163250
    Jun 23, 2014 at 4:19
  • Stack Exchange is too good at suppressing certain kinds of natural human expression :/
    – user163250
    Jun 23, 2014 at 4:20

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