Charlie Owen put together a great mockup of an alternative /ask page layout:

(Source: flickr.com)

Please do read the whole write-up here, which goes into great detail, with specific annotations and elaboration on the current (well mostly current) /ask page layout.


What are your opinions on this alternative layout? There are parts of it I like a lot, and I've already implemented some of the suggestions.

I really like the dynamic question suggestions in the sidebar, but I'm a bit loathe to give up the "How to Ask" and "How to Format" sidebars. I am wondering if there's some way to change the content of the sidebar dynamically that makes sense...

  • That SU question really is doing your UI rounds there.
    – random
    Oct 25, 2009 at 2:57
  • I like the second page preview. It gives the user a second chance to see how poorly the question turns out. Oct 25, 2009 at 15:39
  • This looks better than the current layout. Whatever happened to this idea?
    – cregox
    Apr 13, 2010 at 23:12
  • One of my real grip with the current layout is the related questions box. Sure I know you want to reduce the number of duplicates, but do you really have to essentially force me to look at the newly pop'd up related qns box that suddenly stands in my way of asking this pertinent question I want answered this minute. Okay I exaggerate, but you get the point...
    – Yi Jiang
    Aug 23, 2010 at 9:34

6 Answers 6


There's some good and some bad here in my opinion, but essentially I think he's answering the wrong question. The post gives a good answer to "How can we modify the Ask-A-Question page to make it easier to ask a question?", but I think really the question should be "How can we modify the Ask-A-Question page to improve the asking-a-question experience?".

The goal isn't necessary to allow the asker to ask a question as easily/quickly as possible, it's how to get that asker to the answer as easily/quickly as possible.

Viewed from that angle some of the current design choices make more sense than the alternatives suggested :

  • The current layout does in some ways try to steer the user away from asking a question, but I think that's deliberate. You want to discourage the zero effort question that's only going to get an instant "Duplicate" response and annoy the regular users (pushing them away in the long term and so leading to less answers for everyone).

  • The "How to ask" section may seem redundant, but again the goal isn't to ask any question, it's to ask the right question, and to this end users need regular reminding of what makes that right question. This also counts for things like the repeated FAQ links.

Some good points:

  • There's definitely a question over whether SU should be modified to be more friendly to lower res screens, which probably are much less prevalent than on SO (although Jeff should be able to give some stats on that?).

  • The "navigate away" nature of the related questions must confuse some people - I guess again many non-developers don't have the open-in-new-tab/window reflex.

  • for display resolution stats see here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/08/… -- about 12% at 1024x768, most higher. Oct 25, 2009 at 9:32
  • Does that contain data for SO+SF+SU or just SO? What I was getting at is that I suspect that SU may have a higher proportion of users with low res than SO or SF.
    – Whisk
    Oct 25, 2009 at 9:40
  • still, the vertical resolution is what is significant; 800px and 768px are 25% of the audience. Oct 25, 2009 at 9:42
  • 1
    I just checked and there are more users with high resolution displays on SU than SO. 1024x768 is 9%. Oct 25, 2009 at 9:44
  • +1 for identifying the goal here.
    – innaM
    Oct 25, 2009 at 9:53
  • That's interesting - you'd have thought that developers would run higher res than most users on average, or perhaps I'm wrong that SU's audience is more 'normal' than SO, if it's more power/enthusiast users then it may make sense their having better hardware than devs.
    – Whisk
    Oct 25, 2009 at 11:13
  • While not stated explicitly in my blog post the goal of the page I had in my mind while performing the analysis of the page was 'how to get that asker to the answer as easily / quickly as possible' as you mention here, Whisk. Also, I probably should have ranked the items from most to least important and provided additional commentary -- it's hard to do an all encompassing usability review when you self constrain to one hour! The Related Questions section is by far the most important piece if the goal is to provide the questioner with the answer they seek.
    – Charlie Owen
    Oct 26, 2009 at 18:36

I don't particularly like the number of answers he shows for the 'related questions' sidebar, and I realize it's a mockup, but it should be limited to some number that doesn't cause it to scroll past the screen. Maybe a Twitter style 'More' if you really want to see more).

He brings up great points about the 'Ask your Question' duplication, and since 'Submit' is universally known as 'Send the server whatever I just did', it works.

With regards to the WYSIWYG editor; he's both right and wrong.

He's right in that users that copy and paste are going to have formatting issues.

He's wrong in believing that some other WYSIWYG editor will solve it; and if his tone means anything, it feels like he thinks it'll solve all problems and cure cancer all at once.

If you can modify markdown to handle pasted entries, then problem solved. If not, then just be glad you have 1 up on every other 'forum' in the world: You allow people to edit each other's entries.

(Note to blog author: its is possessive, it's means it is.)

  • I don't really have a preference, but "Submit" seems as weak as the generic-useless "OK" in typical dialogs -- what am I Okaying, again? Describe it to me! Oct 25, 2009 at 3:01
  • 1
    @Jeff Atwood: Something other than 'Ask Your Question' is appropriate; and naming is hard. "Ask Your Question" makes me feel like I'm in that Star Trek Episode where they kept playing that poker game. I just clicked on 'ASk Question', so there's some queasiness when I see another button for 'ask my question'. The guy from Fraiser won't show up if I click it, will he? Oct 25, 2009 at 3:04
  • 3
    Maybe "Post My Question" Or something. Oct 25, 2009 at 3:16
  • Or Post Question. I'm not picky. Just something that doesn't duplicate "Ask" and "Question" if you're going to use it elsewhere. Oct 25, 2009 at 3:19
  • Post is better than Ask since you're already asking.
    – random
    Oct 25, 2009 at 3:59
  • 1
    ok, I agree that Post Your Question is better and more consistent, so that change is deployed Oct 25, 2009 at 4:17
  • My tone was meant to convey some suggestions which might increase the usability of SU (with an emphasis on 'suggestion' and 'might'). I love what Jeff et al are doing and have gotten quite a few answers from SU and SO myself so thought I could give back to the community by sharing some of user experience expertise. Oh, and thanks for the grammar check -- I've updated the post for proper use throughout -- and along the way discovered I probably use 'its' and 'it's' more than I probably should. You've just upped my usability. :-)
    – Charlie Owen
    Oct 26, 2009 at 18:14
  • @Charlie Owen Overall, and this is something I didn't address in my answer because it wasn't in scope, but your blog post was phenomenal. I never knew what that process was called, but I'd seen it done in Steve Krug's "Don't Make Me Think". I learned a lot from it, and though I don't agree with the particulars of some of what you proposed, overall I was just floored with what a good UX guy can come up with for consistency. Oct 27, 2009 at 0:07

Visually I think the proposed page looks much cleaner. Moving the related questions to the side-panel looks good. Perhaps this could be made a bit shorter, and retain the "How to ask" panel?

Before the user types a question:

Before entering title http://img248.imageshack.us/img248/341/askaquestionbefore.png

Being the only thing in the sidebar, the "How to Ask" box stands out.

After reading it, the user enters a title. The "How to Ask" box is moved out the way by something else they should pay attention to, the related questions:

Mockup when user enters title http://img259.imageshack.us/img259/3810/askaquestiontitled.png

After verifying it's an original question, they start writing their question body.

Once that is done, the user scrolls down to click "Post your Question".. but they spot a big brightly coloured flashing box with plenty of <blink> tags (okay, maybe no flashing or blink tags):

Mockup of lower part of page http://img229.imageshack.us/img229/2107/askaquestionwhensubmitt.png

Two possibilities: The question does indeed looks wrong, so the user reads the markdown primer, realises they need to add a few blank lines, and proceeds falls in love with the wonderfully simple Markdown syntax.

Alternatively: the question looks fine, because the user has experience with Markdown, from their blog or wherever - so, they click the little close button, and it is never seen again.

As a slight aside:

Issue: Offline writing then copy and paste doesn't work

With basic knowledge of Markdown, you can easily write your questions/answers in any text editor. Many editors have markdown previews, and there is even dedicated Markdown editors.

With a WYSIWYG editor, there is almost no way to write text offline, then paste it without having to reapply any formatting (at least not without lots of incredibly error prone paste-detection and auto-formatting)

Solution: Replace Markdown with a more elegant solution which understands CRLF. Even better, implement a true WYSIWYG editor if possible

It completely disagree with this. I think a simple prompt (as mentioned in the article, and mocked up in the above images) should solve this whole one-return-linebreak kerfuffle, without the need to fork Markdown..

If it doesn't look right in the preview, it's not hard to work out "I'm probably doing something wrong". The brightly coloured box, pointing the user to the formatting help, should point them in the correct direction (and should mention the "question formatting help", link for future reference)

  • +1 - nice idea for the sidebar
    – ChrisF Mod
    Oct 25, 2009 at 17:50
  • 2
    the ironic thing (and I'm not blaming you, this is a criticism of the original article) is that we're pushing related questions from where the eyepoint is -- directly under the title -- to the sidebar where everything is currently being ignored by most users as "that's where the ads are". Does that even make sense? To move something so important from the eyepoint to the "we're not sure if users even look at this area" area? Oct 25, 2009 at 20:47
  • @Jeff: Yes, that does makes sense.. Personally I'd much prefer the related questions being in the "mostly useless" sidebar, but since I've been using the site for quite a while, it's hard to say if moving it to the side bar would be [more/equally/less] visible for new users. Decluttering the sidebar, and having the related questions appear there, after entering a title, should be hard to miss.. maybe..
    – dbr
    Oct 26, 2009 at 12:07
  • 1
    I postulate the users ignore the sidebar because after they've read it once there is no value to paying attention -- it's static content. In a way, you are training them to ignore.
    – Charlie Owen
    Oct 26, 2009 at 18:25

The Ask Your Question button being on the page you're asking your question is stagnant and redundant.

Post your question would go with the Post Your Answer button, where you're describing the action to be carried out and isn't as weak as Submit or OK.

What about a more pronounced hint as to what that question mark above the box is? The words, "Formatting Help" only showing if you hover over it. Tooltip already exists, but this is more in your face.

finger for help

  • we had it that way (text instead of icon) in the early betas; didn't seem to help much. See here: is.gd/4A7UG Oct 25, 2009 at 4:12
  • ok, I agree that Post Your Question is better and more consistent, so that change is deployed Oct 25, 2009 at 4:19

Issue(1): Jeff says "What we're doing with the trilogy is not exactly rocket surgery. At its core, we run Q&A websites. And the most basic operation of any Q&A website is … asking a question. Something any two year old child knows how to do."

It is true that any two year old can ask a question, but a quick look at newsgroups, mail-lists, forums and everything that came before stackoverflow seems to quickly prove that bad questions do exist. When I say bad I mean there isn't enough detail, they are not addressed to the wrong audience, and so on.

Questions asked at the wrong place annoy the regular users of the system, and will frustrate the new users when they have to figure out how to link trilogy accounts because their question got moved.

I don't think the domain name/site logo alone gives a strong enough indication about what the focus the trilogy sites are for. In a perfect world everyone would go read the FAQ so they know, and the would scroll down and see the links to the other trilogy sites which are below the fold, and they would go look at the faq for those sites as well. Unfortunately we don't live in a perfect world. I think it is very important that the focus of the site be displayed. I would like to see the page also include more details about the other trilogy sites.


Many of the times users question marked with the the tag that the question is not related to the forum. Can we have such mechasim to either indicate before user post the question [means by tracking the keyword from the post] or after closing the question, it would transfer automatically to the related forum.

I suggest you this because I am a new user to stackoverflow and there are so many sites related to stackoverflow, which makes difficult to judge "where to post what".

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