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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 there has been success in addressing the overall quality of the sites from these discussions such as the dupehammer and throttle banning 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 be 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 the 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.

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    Well, despite of it being interesting solution, I'm afraid you'll just get 99% more vandalized posts and 101% more rants and whining. – nicael Nov 9 '15 at 21:06
  • Why do you believe this would lead to an increase in vandalization? – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:07
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    New users typically get angry about down votes and post vandalizing is, probably, sort of "revenge" for them. With the rep losing after downvotes, they'll tend to get even more angry (just assumptions) - this will be like you leave the signup level at 1 and fix the min rep at -3. – nicael Nov 9 '15 at 21:14
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    There is not much evidence to support the claim of post vandalization. New users being upset about downvotes should be amplified. It is the users who are not concerned about downvotes because they have no actual impact which this is addressing. I did consider suggesting the negative reputation aspect, however that would add complication to certain design implementations in place from a software perspective and did not want to introduce any large problems for the team like that. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:18
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    Why are you assuming that new askers care about reputation? In my experience, they primarily care about getting answers. You might see going from 5 to 1 rep as “losing 80%”, but most new askers wouldn't even notice, let alone care. – Gilles Nov 9 '15 at 22:05
  • @Gilles - Many users are concerned with reputation, this is not an assumption. Looking at some of the overall stats I would say that it is in the millions. They were all new users at some point. Most new users are shocked when their question receives downvotes, and sometimes end up in meta to figure it out. However, as there is no reason to remove the content since the downvotes do not harm them, it is not perceived as a real problem to them. Downvoting these new users has no effect because it does not have any noticeable negative actions that they can observe. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:15
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    Downvoting questions does have an effect that they can observe: it leads to their account being throttled so that they can't ask new questions. It seems to me that your problem is that downvoting questions doesn't have an effect that you can observe! – Gilles Nov 9 '15 at 22:17
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    @Gilles - First, your presumption is incorrect. There is no need to exclaim accusations such as that. The user cannot observe the throttle until it is in place, at which point it can be rather shocking. Sometimes this can take a long time as well depending on the overall quality of the questions being asked. I believe the throttle does help users improve their quality, but it would be better if they also received more balance on the way there. Immediately observing the loss of reputation would be a good start. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:24
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    @TravisJ This is incorrect. The user is warned when asking a question, if their past questions have been received poorly by the community. They are still allowed to do so, but they are warned about the question block. – jimsug Nov 9 '15 at 22:33
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    @jimsug - They are warned as the first ring of the throttle ban, but they are already part of the recividism system at that point. This can take several posts or weeks to reach. It is possible that users reach this point thinking that aside from a negative score there was no downside to being downvoted. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:36
  • Perhaps you could clarify this a bit, but I see your goal here as being to improve overall site quality by motivating new users, rather than per se to help those new users avoid running into harsh community moderation... although that might also be improved as a side effect. – Nathan Tuggy Nov 9 '15 at 22:58
  • The former is the goal here. To motivate users to want to retain their reputation. In the current environment, new users have no reputation to retain (as 1 is the minimum amount possible and reputation cannot go below 1). As a result, they are not subject to half of the design of the system which is to see the result on reputation from a downvote. If successful in motivating new users (which I believe it would be) this would also have the side affect of making the community happier by having less low quality to deal with thus improving site quality and community sentiment. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 23:02
  • On first impression, I support your proposition, but one aspect is unclear to me: Are you proposing the automated system is changed to disallow additional questions for some time when they lose all of their starting reputation? Many first posts correctly receive multiple (-1)'s- in effect, this 'incentive' works once- and results in the current status quo. Perhaps below the starting threshold, reputation decreases (-1) per question with downvotes, with the current automated system left intact? – theNamesCross Dec 3 '15 at 18:29
  • @theNamesCross - Thanks for your interest. I am only proposing that new users are allowed to interact with reputation just like everyone else. I believe that giving them 5 reputation to start with will provide for that because it makes reputation feel more like a resource that can also be taken away. – Travis J Dec 3 '15 at 19:32
  • @theNamesCross - I am not suggesting that users who have 1 reputation be removed from asking questions. I am not suggesting that reputation go negative. I am not proposing any change to automated systems. Just start them at 5 so that they can receive the signal from downvotes. – Travis J Dec 3 '15 at 19:34
14

From a gamification sense (which is a large part of how this community works) this removes the incentive to avoid down votes.

Not really. They'll see an increase (or decrease) in points, and they'll go crazy and scream to the world. I mean that literally.

Placing additional emphasis on the gamified attributes will quite simply hurt us if we are to get new, "smart" users in the long-term. These users won't care about reputation anyway, so what value will any of this have?

About users that run off, most of the time, I find that it's their question score, and not their reputation that drives them off. They see a negative value, and see people, in comments, yapping at them "Did you even try to search?", or even "What did you try?". It may be some level of quality control, but this is a consequence of that.


The biggest social issue here is Trust.

Really.

When I first joined SO, I posted a couple questions that were positively received (i.e. Got 0 or 1 up votes, and no down votes) and I was fairly satisfied. I came across an answer that suggested I simply make a new script, and do this:

from tmsx import *
tms.load('whatever')
# carry on.

That surprised me, and I asked. I was told to simply go ask a new question. Before I did, I looked in the docs. I thought that there was a function that was actually called *. As a programmer who was just learning, I've never even heard of the concept of a "wildcard" import. I even searched SO. Here are the search results I get now:

... You get the point. I simply didn't find anything that I thought would be relevant, and that would answer my question.

enter image description here

I didn't find an answer. So I asked. I linked back to my previous question.

Within 10 minutes, I had been slammed with nearly 10 down votes, and comments that were "Looks like you didn't even try to search." And comment answers with links to sections in the docs I thought were completely unaffected. No one seemed to even want to listen to me, and see how much I searched? I was upset, and I hated this. And I nearly left.

Thankfully, I flagged that, and voiced my anger, and the question was later deleted by a diamond moderator.

The biggest issue isn't really that new users care don't care about reputation, it's that we don't recognize and trust them enough so that we can reward them. That's what drives people off.


I know this will get down voted to oblivion, but I think it's useful to see this side from it. Although we believe heavily in gamification, a new user will simply want an answer to his question, and most of them don't always have the interest to come back either.

  • 2
    This seems like more a rant than a response. The goal here is to dissuade users from posting low quality content by increasing the signal that the community sends when that content is encountered. You seem to have had a personal experience with posting a question that the community felt was already covered or readily available. When we are talking about 10 million questions posted in some exchanges, questions asking about topics which are readily available becomes problematic. Further, it becomes worse when those questions are simply asking for an implementation or tutorial. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:32
  • While some users may not understand that is inappropriate, there is nothing dissuading them from posting a second or third time because the downvotes they receive have no long term effect on their reputation which is the only metric they can observe at that point for the most part. This would have probably persuaded your example to not have posted a second question in the scenario you outline, but since there was not enough signal you were not inclined to avoid posting questions which receive downvotes. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:32
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    @TravisJ Proving my point... It's trust and access that kills it. Regardless, you're arguments don't cut it for me. For many people, they leave because of the impression that they get, which is never caused by a single deciding factor. It's often a multiple of them. – Zizouz212 Nov 9 '15 at 21:59
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    Note that this isn't an effort to retain users who post low quality content. It is an effort to make them value the reputation they have and be more responsive to losing that reputation when posting an off topic or low quality question. You seem to addressing a different issue. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:03
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    @TravisJ The automatic question block system seems to accomplish that IMO. – ɥʇǝS Nov 9 '15 at 22:05
  • But what is your root issue? That we need to stop people from posting low quality content and keep them "alive"? Giving them 4 extra points won't do them much? That's essentially just a question up vote. Why is this so hard to get? That is your root issue, and that is what I answer. – Zizouz212 Nov 9 '15 at 22:05
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    I don't think the biggest social issue for new users is trust. It's seeing and expecting Stack Overflow to be a vending machine for answers that requires minimal (or no) effort on their part. They are not even part of the social system to begin with, since it's a vending machine - not a relationship or social entity at all! – enderland Nov 9 '15 at 22:05
  • @Zizouz212 - Your latter part of that statement "keep them alive" is probably where your misunderstanding is coming from. There needs to be a recognizable detracting from receiving a downvote, and for every user other than someone at 1 reputation, that is -2 reputation. I am not sure why you are misconstruing this. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:07
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    @enderland You've got a point there, that the vending machine analogy is a good example of the issue that we've got, but I think that the definition of "low quality" has broadened significantly for Stack Overflow, and covers a multitude of things. The "it's right there, open your eyes" is also a fairly large issue, and I think that we do ignore it quite a bit. – Zizouz212 Nov 9 '15 at 22:07
  • @ɥʇǝS - The throttle ban works well, and that is why increasing signal is a benefit. Moreover, while the throttle ban works once in place, it takes some time and may not even be necessary if new users more quickly reacted to downvoting on their posts. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:08
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    @TravisJ How would you expect to them to react though? I think that's the biggest misunderstanding I would have. – Zizouz212 Nov 9 '15 at 22:09
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    But wouldn't question score already be a good enough deterrent? If users don't value their reputation, would they not value the score of the question? The only thing that they value is their answer, which they go crazy for, to the extent of flagging, and even vandalizing their posts. They don't value reputation, because we don't value their question. Because we don't value their question, they won't put that effort, they'll rage quit when people point fingers at them, and nothing ends up good. It's a recurring cycle. – Zizouz212 Nov 9 '15 at 22:15
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    I believe your point of view comes from personal experience with this idea of "rage quitting". Not everyone has had this experience. Your inherent assumption that the community does not value questions from new users is misplaced. New users can be brilliant and ask stunning questions, and just lumping them all in one basket is a mistake. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:17
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    I disagree that smart, valuable users don't care about reputation. Rather, we value it in a more sensible proportion, and value genuinely improving the site more than simply optimizing for maximum rep gain through any means possible. Hyperbole like this is actively unhelpful, by separating users into "those filthy rep-******" and "us virtuous site maintainers that wouldn't take an upvote if we were starving". The sites are designed to make incentives align with desired outcomes; no one should pretend to an altruism that was never looked for. – Nathan Tuggy Nov 9 '15 at 23:04
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    Because the flood of people that don't show any effort has made it unfortunately impossible to give askers the benefit of the doubt and assume they have searched. – Peter Cordes Jun 4 '16 at 3:55
8

The concern here seems to be focused on trying to save users who provide crap questions. But really, I'd want to focus on saving users who can provide good answers, as they're much harder to come across.

You've said that new users don't care about reputation. I tend to agree. I don't think this problem is solved by giving them 5, 10, 15, or 100 reputation to start with. They'll just create a new account and start again.

  • Users are already warned when their questions are low quality. They're told that their questions are "not well received" and that continuing to ask these questions may result in a question ban. This happens very quickly.

  • Ignoring these messages generally results in the question ban. This is automatic and cannot be removed by moderators. This can also happen very quickly, should the user ignore warnings.

  • Trying to salvage these users is not a high priority - the ones who continue to ask low quality questions or post low quality answers despite these warnings, and despite comments from the community telling suggesting that they improve their questions, are generally those who aren't wanted - at all. (I say generally because I'm sure there are some exceptions.)

    Consider this comment on the Stack Overflow blog:

    As a questioner, I don't give a fig about reputation, nor about the ability to ask questions at some later date. All I care about is getting an answer to the question that I have right now. I don't care if I have to set up a proxy to get round a blocked IP (I could just switch my wireless off and on again to get a new one!), all I care about is getting an answer. So long as I can actually ask it, that's all I care about.

  • We don't need to find a site for every single off-topic question that's asked - I think of these users as off-topic, and we don't need to save every one of them. Smaller sites might benefit from this, but it's nothing that can't be done through commenting on questions and answers, and suggesting how they can be improved.


In my experience, from a community moderation perspective (as a trusted user and as a ♦ moderator on Law), the best way to reduce these users' impact on the community is to downvote them. This limits the question's visibility, and results in less attention given to these users. They stop getting answers, then they stop participating. Done.

In terms of closing and deleting these questions, there is already an automated process in place for deleting old questions.

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    Your experience on lower traffic exchanges has probably led to your assumption that these metrics work quickly enough. However, in larger traffic exchanges this is a real problem. While Law is an important exchange it does not even scratch the amount of traffic that Stack Overflow gets. In fact, every 8 hours Stack Overflow gets more questions than Law has total. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:19
  • Sure. But why do you think it affects new users differently? If anything, these processes are more likely to affect new users faster, just because there are more people looking at them. Anyway, there's nothing to say that the scripts haven't been tweaked for SO, and a lot to say that they have. – jimsug Nov 9 '15 at 22:22
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    It is a lot easier to moderate 11 questions per day versus 8000. This means that new users get more of a personal response when something doesn't meet the site standards. I am sure that you probably include comments often when you see new users posting questions which are off topic. That is just one example of the benefits that accompany a lower traffic exchange. New users on higher traffic sites do not get such a personal response, and therefore get a very narrower amount of signal. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:27
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    Sure. But there's also more users who can downvote and comment on higher traffic sites, right? In any case, I still really think that users who want to improve their questions will improve them, reputation or no. And those that want to ask crap will continue to ask crap. – jimsug Nov 9 '15 at 22:30
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    No, that is incorrect unfortunately. I said that you comment because you are a moderator and probably do very well working with users who post off topic content. However, while there are more users who can downvote and comment at higher traffic sites, often all that happens is a downvote. There isn't time to work with the new users to explain to them the fine details as the amount of users who would be willing to assist are vastly outnumbered by the new users each day. The only option at a large traffic site is to provide either automation or signal from a system wide metric. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 22:33
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    I think there needs to be more clarity here. Are you trying to save the new users? Are you trying to reduce the amount of janitorial work trusted users need to do? You don't need to do one to do the other. – jimsug Nov 9 '15 at 22:46
  • I never said I am trying to save new users. You said that, and then seem to have double or triple downed on it. Please just read some of the content here and it should be clear. The goal is to improve the quality of the site by motivating new users to want to retain their reputation. At present this incentive does not exist, and as a result new users do not receive the signal that a downvote sends. This causes them to potentially ignore downvotes and also to not value the response of the community. Eventually automated systems will stop them, but they should get that signal quicker and clearer – Travis J Nov 10 '15 at 0:16
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    I've read your content. And many of your comments are focused on new users: motivating new users, giving new users more reputation, commenting on new users' posts, explaining the fine details to new users. In your post, you explicitly state that you want new users to be motivated, and that you believe that granting them reputation to be lost will do this. Why do we want to give them reputation/motivation if we don't want them to stay around? If I've inferred incorrectly a focus on saving new users from what you've said, I apologise - but that's how it's come across. – jimsug Nov 10 '15 at 0:26
  • You keep taking me out of context, and it is hard to tell if it is intentional. The focus is not on saving them. motivated to avoid a loss to reputation is different to "motivating new users" in the broad sense you use. "explaining the fine details" was literally directed at you and has little to do with this post. The only small part there you got right was the granting them reputation to be lost which is the whole point. Without reputation to lose, downvotes are meaningless to new users. The significance is addressed in my post in depth already. – Travis J Nov 10 '15 at 0:37
  • Removing your off topic commentary on saving users the one part of your post addressing the actual topicality posted here in the question is , and you seem to agree "the best way to reduce these users' impact on the community is to downvote them." which would only be assisted by the idea that the new user would actually lose reputation when being downvoted as opposed to simply ignoring that signal. – Travis J Nov 10 '15 at 0:38
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    I don't care whether they see the signal or not. I care whether users who might otherwise see and waste time on a bad question see the post or not. For me, the vote is a signal to other users as much as or more than it is to the author of a post. I don't care whether someone loses reputation when I down vote them. I care that people see that it's a bad question or answer. If I care enough about keeping the post and I want to give them a signal, I'll comment. – jimsug Nov 10 '15 at 0:42
  • It is unfortunate that you do not care about this situation. Constantly seeing content that would be downvoted can be avoided if the behavior that leads to that content is addressed. As opposed to constantly wasting your time downvoting content the best case scenario is to have had that content prevented from being posted in the first place. That is what this solution proposes to do or at least improve. – Travis J Nov 10 '15 at 0:48
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    Based on the entirety of your last comment and your post, you propose to grant people reputation so that they feel the sting of downvotes, because constantly wasting time downvoting content is a waste of time. This solution is ill-thought out and your thought process is unclear. Do you have evidence that suggests that new users care about losing reputation and would change their behaviour if that would be prevented? Do you have any reason why it should be 5 reputation, and not 10, or 15? – jimsug Nov 10 '15 at 1:58
  • And for someone who's concerned about being taken out of context, you do a fine job of it yourself. I didn't say I don't care about this situation. Anyway, say what you want, I don't think I need to repeat myself and I don't think you're going to be convinced - we've reached an impasse. The best of luck with your feature request. – jimsug Nov 10 '15 at 1:58
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    You said that downvoting is a waste of my time. And yes, your post was unclear; I accept your apology for your lack of clarity. If you want to suggest a feature request, the onus is on you to prove that it would work. Your feature request is unsupported by any data or evidence; it seems destined to fail, so luck really is all you have. – jimsug Nov 10 '15 at 6:51
4

The answer is 4, not 5.

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.

...

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 ...

I have read:

  1. Giving new users a reputation of 1 as a starting or association bonus (when they don't have 200 reputation on any site) leaves them with nothing to lose; as you have explained.

  2. Giving new users a reputation of 5 makes a change to how reputation and privileges work, a small one but one of some significance. That has also been explained, and voted against.

But, if we gave new users a reputation of four (or even two) then it would be a greater benefit for everyone, especially the established users. It's two to four times better for the new users, reputation wise, but it benefits the community too.

As it stands now if we see someone with 1 reputation we don't know what the story is without a little investigation. Maybe they are new, maybe they are suspended, maybe they have downvotes on the site; but how many?

If new users started with a reputation of four (which they may not: notice, care, understand) and received one downvote then they would have a reputation of two, another downvote and now they have one. If they received one upvote then they'd have a reputation of either 9 or 14.

Whichever way you slice it the privilege afforded to them wouldn't be changed, but we could easily see what the initial reception for their activity was. If someone has a reputation bonus of 100 (for being recognized on other sites) they can lose something if they are downvoted, and it shows, but someone with a reputation of one loses nothing and one must investigate their profile to determine if they have a bunch of downvotes - that's not a fair advantage compared to established users.

Giving new users a reputation of four (or two) is better than five, or one.

-2

I like the idea of starting with a larger reputation pool so new users having something to lose. Unfortunately though, I think many of those users see no value in these Imaginary Internet Points. Most, like myself before I became a user, do not even know that there are rewards for having more points. To further incentivize these users, perhaps you should be able to lose some basic rights on the website for having a score lower than what you started with? This could mean that you lose the ability to ask questions once you've received a large number of downvotes.

Such a system would require means of getting those points back. Users should still be able to answer questions, but might not be knowledgeable enough to do so. Maybe once you've fallen your missing points will regenerate over time? Of course many people with too low a rep to ask questions will probably just make a new account.

To further "gamify" the system there could even be some sort of placement exam that dictates how much rep a user starts with. Maybe linking an active GitHub account or other service that proves a user's adequacy could also bolster that starting score.

In the end though, is anything like this necessary? I'm no moderator so I need not deal with the endless deluge but from my point of view as a regular user of the site I don't really feel like I'm drowning in poor content like I do on some of this site's competitors. I'm not saying nothing should be done or nothing will improve, but I also don't think we can look at this battle as something actually winnable.

Edit: It looks like you can already lose the ability to ask questions. In this case, these suggestions would only act as a method of more clearly displaying that downward spiral to users.

  • The idea of having other systems tie into having reputation below a starting value is a good idea I believe. Instead of preventing all questions, this could simply trigger some aspect of the throttle ban (anti-recividism system) in place already. It would provide an automated way to slowly throttle new users who post this material, and would also have the benefit of incentivizing them to remove the content themselves (and thus also removing the loss of reputation). – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:32
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    You already do lose the ability to ask questions if you post poor qualify questions that attract down-votes. You can also lose the ability to answer questions as well. – ChrisF Nov 9 '15 at 21:36
  • @ChrisF - Yes, that is true to some extent. Although that is mostly over time and can take several weeks to reach. This would give an instantaneous preview of that system to these users, and would similarly be remedied immediately by removing the post that generated the downvotes. There could be a metric which only introduced the throttle or a small version of the throttle, or even just a message when posting a question as a 1 reputation user that pairs with it being their first set of posts (first 5?). – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:41
  • It is just more signal to work with, which means that there is more availability for automated systems to help moderate the quality of the sites. – Travis J Nov 9 '15 at 21:41

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