Preface: I am posting this here as an adjunct to a post I just made on the meta site for “Science Fiction and Fantasy.” My post here will be far shorter and more “high level” since what I ask there is about a communication need and what I am asking here is for the proper tools to potentially sate such a communication need.
Let’s make the functional/usage differences between core SE sites and smaller SE sites more obvious to casual users.
Given that many of the smaller Stack Exchange sites have different cultures and given that many of the smaller Stack Exchange sites use the tools of the system to different degrees, would it at all be possible for there to be some very obvious and clear feature available to all sites that acts as a “Here is what we do differently from Stack Overflow…” page/guide.
I—like many others—discovered Stack Exchange via Stack Overflow and realize that is the main site and many of the tools available to all sites stem from them being “battle tested” on Stack Overflow. Utterly reasonable and pragmatic approach to feature integration.
That said, many of the small Stack Exchange sites simple use the tools available in ways that are counter-intuitive to anyone used to the way the main Stack Exchange sites work. For example, on the “Science Fiction and Fantasy” site, comments often have a much longer—and well respected—life than they have elsewhere across the Stack Exchange network. Expanding the comment management system functionality is truly a can of worms that I don’t believe anyone should touch with a gajillion foot pole. But I still think some way of conveying high-level usage/site-culture differences like this is necessary to the overall health of the community.
That said it would be nice for casual users—such as me—to have one canonical page/guide/welcome that states something along the lines of:
Welcome to this site! While you might be familiar with Stack Overflow, this site works like other Stack Exchange sites but with a few differences we find work best for our culture.
Link some icon or menu thing on the top of each page to that page and… Done! A quick way to understand why a site might be different from core Stack Exchange sites.
Now I am using “Science Fiction and Fantasy” as my example here but I can easily see this being useful for some of the other, smaller, more focused Stack Exchange sites.
To my mind, the overall user experience is visually and functionally so similar across all of the sites that when differences appear in basic tool usage, it leads to confusion and potential conflict. Instead of relying on the community to constantly letting users know about “unwritten rules” of usage, why not just be transparent and clear about these differences from the beginning with some very clear and site-moderator manageable tool that allows them to summarize these differences.
It seems that simple functionality like this would be a big plus to the smaller sites as well as the casual users who just want to participate lightly without finding out that “ZOMG! I don’t believe you said/did since we are not like Stack Overflow so don’t think this thing is treated this way!”
I believe being very clear about these differences will lead to better content from casual users which benefits everyone in the long run. If the barrier of entry to a smaller community is risking stepping on tripwires casual user’s don’t know exist, it will simply alienate them from even casual interaction.
NOTE/UPDATE: I have discovered—for example of one site—the “tour” page for the “Science Fiction and Fantasy” site thanks to a comment, but honestly this is not obvious, you have to hunt for it and I dare anyone to look at the “tour” content for “Science Fiction and Fantasy” and find anything past superficial, bureaucratic “glad handing.” A page like that with the wording it has and it’s non-prominent placement comes off as some kind of a disposable afterthought; reminds me of a pamphlet that comes with a set of headphones that gets discarded after you open the package. I doubt most users ever see or read that “tour” content. Perhaps the “tour” page simply needs to be made more prominent and clearly address some deeper site-specific differences? Like I said, I embrace the idea there are differences. But they really need to be made clearer and at a high level in many cases.
And look at the tour page text for the “Science Fiction and Fantasy” site; the broad statement is that “Science Fiction and Fantasy” is not a “discussion forum” and “there’s no chit-chat.” Really? Is that really accurate to what a smaller site like “Science Fiction and Fantasy” is?
This site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat.