When you think of Q&A sites, you think of a place where you come to get answers to your questions. But, where do those answers come from? What doesn't immediately stand out for many folks is that it's not our software that's giving them answers, it's other people that are taking the time to share what they know. Our engine is a vehicle that you use to arrive at an answer to your question, and vehicles are things that takes a bit of time to learn how to use.

If you have a driver's license, you probably went through some kind of program where someone else taught you how to operate a car properly. It was most likely a special kind of car, where the instructor had a brake pedal just in case someone had to slam on the brakes and you weren't doing it. After all, things go bad when you don't hit the brakes in time, especially when you're going too fast.

Someone was texting

A while back, we introduced rolling rate limits for folks that get off to an initially rocky start when it comes to asking questions. The single most common mistake that folks were making was in fact going way too fast; some would ask three or even five questions initially and none of them did well. The system didn't have that extra brake pedal and many users sped, you guessed it, right into a wall.

We did what we always do, research:

That could be a picture of core development, we're not sure

Turns out, slowing folks down just a little when it looks like they're getting off on the wrong foot is the most effective way to help potentially great users become great users. We don't go from 100 km/h straight into a wall any longer, folks get a lot more help much sooner, when they need it. Additional just-in-time help (triggered while writing a question) is in the works.

New users who aren't doing so well initially will be shown the additional guidance and will be asked to wait anywhere from one to seven days before asking their next question, depending on how they've done recently.

The system is also pretty smart, and takes the following things into consideration:

  • How many substantive edits you've made to your own posts recently
  • How many good answers you've written recently
  • How long you tend to wait between asking questions

The more acclimated you become, the sooner the system will get out of your way entirely. Yes, it is still possible to encounter a much longer-term block on some larger sites, but you'd need to ignore a lot of help before hitting it.

Testing on Stack Overflow and several other large sites has gone very well, so we've enabled this throughout the network. Most users on smaller sites probably won't see these kick in, and that's fine - but they're in place for those that can really benefit from them, just like those brave souls that teach folks how to drive.

This feature came out of the SE Quality Project (MSE | MSO) and is one of several initiatives we're putting in place to help maintain the overall quality of our sites while providing new users with a better experience.

  • 18
    I like how you compare asking questions with driving a car :)
    – nicael
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 14:51
  • 51
    where did you get my photo? Back then in the driving school they told me it will remain secret
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:08
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    Can you please highlight the essential sentence in that post so I can skip to it. Thanks.
    – juergen d
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:21
  • 3
    I somehow feel I had a hand in the composition of this discussion. sniffs, wipes away a single tear
    – user1228
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:34
  • 1
    An extra set of brakes for the instructor? Such things don't exist in the United States.
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:39
  • 16
    @juergend Read the title; it's an effective tl;dr
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:43
  • 16
    Sure they do, @TylerH. My instructor (years ago in Minnesota) loved 'em.
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:47
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    @Shog9 Sorcery! Do they also have extra gas pedals and steering wheels?
    – TylerH
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:48
  • 32
    No, just the brake pedal. They don't drive for you, they just stop you from driving when you're not listening. Which is what makes this a good metaphor...
    – Shog9
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 15:49
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    @TylerH Where I live, most instructors have extra an accelerator and clutch pedal in addition to the brake, but no steering wheel (as that wouldn't integrate well into the steering mechanism, and they can reach for the steering wheel anyway if necessary). Only the brake pedal is required by law though.
    – ntoskrnl
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 16:06
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    I've seen driver's ed cars with two steering wheels, I look forward to driving one when I'm 72 and fighting to get my license back once Mr. Fusion becomes a reality.
    – user50049
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 16:12
  • 23
    what's KPH in 100 KPH? km/h or keystrokes per hour? hahah
    – user263469
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 16:55
  • 3
    I like how you compare beginning users to crash dummies. This explains a lot, actually.
    – matt
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 21:37
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    Tim or @Shog, can moderators see the current status of a user i.e. if he's rate limited and for how long? Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 9:34
  • 12
    Does this mean we need insurance now before posting?
    – Machavity
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 13:12

4 Answers 4

  1. If a low-reputation user is speeding, sometimes, once banned, he continues to ask questions belonging to the main site on meta. Maybe add a notice warning not to ask questions belonging to main if he was banned on main?

  2. The system is also pretty smart, and takes the following things into consideration:

    • How many substantive edits you've made to your own posts recently
    • How many good answers you've written recently
    • How long you tend to wait between asking questions

    Meta sites behave differently. Do new algorithms take this into consideration? (As far I know meta banning based on score of questions was more soft)

  3. Answering and asking questions are different things. Are you sure that providing answers should lift the ban? User could answer multiple questions good and still do not know how to ask good questions.

  4. How many substantive edits you've made to your own posts recently

    What is meant by "substantive"? Changing much? Note that some users vandalize their posts because of thinking of being hurt or some else reasons. So if this edit was rolled back by someone else, it should certainly count towards the ban.

  5. Ban algorithm should also "keep in mind" if a user was question banned on one site and something happens on other site that will count toward the ban (low-quality question, for example).

  • 3
    Per site metas don't have auto bans. And generally, users asking, say, programming questions on Meta site are not a problem: those posts are quickly disposed of.
    – user259867
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:28
  • @Rafflesiaarnoldii I know, thats why I mentioned it. Some users continue to ask on meta questions that they would ask on main, if they wouldn't be banned there. I don't propose to apply bans on meta, but add a warning saying: "You are banned from asking on main site. Please don't continue to ask [Programming] (depending on scope) questions there, [or it will lead to suspension] (or something else there)". Thats great that these posts are nuked, but shouldn't there be something automatic dealing with it?
    – nicael
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:32
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    Usually, the 5-rep minimum required to ask on the site-specific Metas is enough to block most people. It's worked wonders for reducing this on SO, for example. We are still getting some people who post on Meta.SE (no rep limit for posting there), but those are the kind of people who wouldn't be stopped no matter what information we put in front of them. Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 19:15
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    The rolling limits aren't enabled on child meta sites, they just don't make sense there. The rep requirement for posting helps curtail them trying their luck on meta if limited on the main site, we don't see much of it anymore except here on MSE. Providing good answers doesn't lift the ban, and we do not count votes that the system deems suspicious - however good answers will help you ask sooner if you're limited. It's not a ban, it's really just a waiting period that would naturally expire between 1 and 7 days anyway.
    – user50049
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 8:53
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    Users vandalizing their own posts is treated as an abuse case in and of itself, and out of the scope of this. If they're going around doing that, it's very likely going to be a timed suspension, not a rate limit that's preventing them from asking questions. The rate limits don't keep track of what's going on with other sites, but something else (much more intrinsic to the quality project) does to a degree now. Sites now share a bit of an 'immunity' to stuff the system has identified as low quality, but that's something for another post.
    – user50049
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 8:55
  • 3
    @TimPost not keeping close track of other sites is generally reasonable, but sometimes it would be helpful to somehow take this into account
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 14, 2014 at 7:44

All great except a tiny little thing:

  • How many good answers you've written recently

And I am not trying to say that new users can't write good answers. They definitely can (just as they are capable of asking a good question) but the problem is that some of those new users aren't yet familiar enough with how the site works so their answers can get them further in trouble...Just saying that if someone struggles to ask a good question(s) and gets into trouble - what's the probability they will post good answers?

... to help maintain the overall quality of our sites while providing new users with a better experience.

Writing answers is not very difficult, writing correct and outstanding answers is something you learn over time by participating on SE sites. for everything else you can pay with unicoins

  • 5
    On some of the 'Professional' sites you would expect someone who is working in the field to be able to provide some answers.
    – user147520
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:28
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    That is probably the exact reason for this exception -- if someone signs up, gives 3 terrific answers (say 50 upvotes each) and then asks 3 questions, probably all 3 questions will be good, regardless of the fact that he's only been participating for 20 minutes.
    – jmoreno
    Commented Nov 12, 2014 at 17:40
  • @jmoreno I think you mean 5 upvotes each. 50 upvotes in 20 minutes sounds like someone hacked the site.
    – jpmc26
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 2:48
  • @jpmc26: 5 upvotes is good, 50 is terrific -- assuming that it is not the result of hacking the site!
    – jmoreno
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 3:13
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    An answer that gets an up-vote that hasn't been marked as suspicious by the system can actually help you a bit. Sure, not everyone is capable of just jumping in like that, but quite a few are, so it's considered. We take cues from any evidence saying "This person is capable of typing stuff that we actually want on our sites" and adjust accordingly. Maybe you were just having a really bad day with some insane requirements, it helps account for that.
    – user50049
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 8:50
  • 3
    Yes, and, From a newb perspective all the 'good' or 'easy' questions have already been answered-- in 2009. Being able to provide meaningful answers to questions at this point is more challenging, as the site matures and the low hanging fruit is resolved. Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 18:04

I'd like to check because it came up on a smaller site where automatic question bans are not enabled:

Does this mean automatic question bans are enabled by default now in any way, or will be switched on where they were not switched on previously?

  • 14
    They aren't bans, they're rate limits. You aren't told that you can't ask questions any more, you're just told that you need to wait, and for how long. There are long-term blocks in place on high volume sites, but extremely hard to hit unless you just continuously ask really bad questions over a period of months, after waiting and receiving the guidance that we provide. And yes, rate limits based on your previous history are enabled on all sites now.
    – user50049
    Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 8:48
  • @TimPost thanks for clarifying Commented Nov 13, 2014 at 8:50
  • @TimPost Oded says otherwise. Who is correct then? Has this whole thing rolled back into the good old question bans after all? Commented Nov 22, 2014 at 11:39
  • @ShadowWizard As far as I understand it: this doesn't mean question bans are gone/removed. It just means that for sites that do not have the automatic question ban feature turned on, nothing has changed, and it has not been forced to be on by this rollout. They remain separate features, as far as I understand it, neither affecting the other - except that hopefully fewer people will run into the kind of trouble that gets them question banned. (I asked this because there was some concern on one network site that the rate limit feature necessarily did turn question bans on by default.) Commented Nov 23, 2014 at 6:04

This looks very promising. I really like the idea of introducing these rate limits both as a means to help new users and also as a way to make sure users stay engaged.

I believe (and have previously posted on this topic) that users who are able to slowly approach a ban (or large rate limit) will be more invested in their accounts and more likely to look at ways to improve their interactions with that account.

Releasing this network wide can only help with new users who may need some additional guidance. Or, to the car analogy, they should probably start with a go kart before they get to try out the lambo.

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