For a long while the issue of addressing how to prevent off topic or low quality questions has been looked at from multiple angles. I have tried many times to take part in these conversations.
At times it ends up fruitless because of a few factors:
- Individual or social actions end up being crusades from a small group
- An automated solution can hard to identify
- Retroactively closing these questions doesn't work because of the large amount of them
Here is a recent discussion we had on this topic at meta Stack Overflow: Make it easier to close job shop "gimme teh codez" questions
Shog9 has taken part in these conversations, and has said that the problem is one that can only be solved socially. However, from the janitor side (trusted users of the site) it is hard to socially fix this because it isn't a problem with trusted users - it is a problem with the users posing the off topic questions.
One route that I would like to consider for addressing this group of users, predominantly 1 reputation users, is making them value their reputation. A new user starts with a reputation of 1. Any action they take has no negative observable consequence to them. If they post and receive several downvotes they do not take the indicated loss that should accompany those downvotes. From a gamification sense (which is a large part of how this community works) this removes the incentive to avoid downvotes.
The incentive to avoid downvotes for new users needs to be returned. The best way to have users both invested in their reputation from day 1 and also motivated to avoid downvotes and losses to their reputation is to give them more than 1 when they start.
Starting them at a very low value which allows them to experience the loss of reputation due to downvotes will balance out the motivation to avoid posting questions or answers which will lose reputation. I believe that starting new users at 5 reputation will accomplish this while still avoiding giving them any privileges that could be abused by spammers or malicious intent.
While it may seem like a small amount, some users will comment how hard it was to get to 20 in order to chat. Losing 4 out of their 5 reputation due to downvotes on a question will immediately incentivize them to either fix or remove their post on their own, otherwise they will have lost 80% of their reputation in one fell swoop. Further, if they do remove the content causing this loss in reputation, it will make them even more content oriented in the future when posting so as to avoid the loss.
None of this is possible when users have 1 reputation to start with. They see no actual loss reflected from downvotes and therefore have no incentive to avoid them. From a social standpoint, it is impossible for the community to send any signal to these users that they need to improve their quality as a result.
In order to allow new users to be motivated to avoid a loss to reputation and also receive signal from the community they should start at 5 reputation. This will allow them to value their starting reputation by default without needing an intervention from an automated system or from direct community involvement.