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It used to be so quiet here, a nice place where users understanding the basics of the SE network of sites discussed important matters, made wonderful feature requests and sometimes even filed a bug report.

Nowadays, MSE is filled again with programming questions, as in the old days. Since the 1-rep user ban was lifted yesterday, MSE got flooded again with useless questions.

How do deal with this? Can we have some sort of threshold for this site specifically? Tim Post hinted on some changes in a previous post on this subject:

I'm going to put some more thought into it and make it an actual initiative I track on my calendar, I'd rather fix (or really diminish) the problem at the more fundamental level.

So Tim, and others, how to fix this?

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    "a nice place where users understanding the basics of the SE network of sites discussed important matters, made wonderful feature requests and sometimes even filed a bug report." ... HAHAHAHAHAHA ... oh wait, you're serious? :p – Bart Jul 1 '16 at 8:29
  • I might be exaggerating a little for the sake of argument @Bart – Patrick Hofman Jul 1 '16 at 8:30
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    "Please give us Meta back!" === "Don't let users who can't post on their own meta any place to go to". – Oded Jul 1 '16 at 8:58
  • @Oded that would be harsh. I would love to welcome users, but not for programming questions. I didn't propose to restore the 2-rep limit. Just looking for any suitable solution that would leave the crap out, like spam and blatantly off-topic stuff. – Patrick Hofman Jul 1 '16 at 9:02
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    I appreciate that, and I would like to see the same. And frankly, we don't get nearly as much spam as we used to. Programming questions, though... I still don't understand how these individuals get from SO here (ok, many though the inbox notification on the change of terms - but the others... no idea). – Oded Jul 1 '16 at 9:03
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    Indeed. So how to fix that group of users so they won't post here? That is the question. @Oded – Patrick Hofman Jul 1 '16 at 9:04
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    Maybe we could ban questions containing code until x rep? That way it would block most programming questions, while letting everyone else go about their thing. – angussidney Jul 1 '16 at 12:27
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    Good idea @Angus, but the thing is that most of these programming questions don't contain proper formatting. So your proposal would help, but only ten percent or what. – M.A.R. Jul 1 '16 at 12:32
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    @TIPS - You might be able to hook into the system that SO uses for warning people about unformatted code to catch those. Combined with a targeted warning about where they should be posting, this might be pretty effective at redirecting lost folks. – Brad Larson Jul 1 '16 at 13:55
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    I don't want to shop half-baked ideas in a proper answer here, but I do want to note that we're looking at onboarding as far as the ask question page goes completely. It's not a stretch at all to make meta sites a bit different in how people ask questions (as in the UI they see). That would solve people knowing they were probably in the wrong place, solving for whether they care or not isn't a problem software can really solve :) Anyway, stay tuned, I'm going to be posting about some of this on MSO in the next few weeks. – Tim Post Jul 1 '16 at 15:24
  • @TimPost I presume that the site design is just not optimized for some people. I like to think that that's the kind of people we don't want... but that will be rude for AoC friends. – Braiam Jul 1 '16 at 23:09
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I'm not opposed to having a noticeably different 'ask question' page here on MSE and the rest of the child meta sites. Take a look at the current UI, can you guess what I think is wrong with it?

enter image description here

If you guessed:

  • The only text really saying what you can ask here is a little ambiguous, light gray, and kind of hidden there in the title box and,
  • The box to the right asks a question, but gives no guidance if someone reads it and decides the answer is 'no' :)

... then you're correct!

To be clear, I want this page to be optimized for the use case of folks being in the right place to ask their question.

I don't want to put a bunch of signs that read like a flowchart to help someone decide if they should go away. But it can look much more like something that makes a programming question seem really out of place.

The page also doesn't do a good job of setting people's expectations, or things like letting folks know how important it is to include the browser / OS if reporting a bug. It doesn't do a lot of things that a major channel for engagement should be doing.

I'd like to look at fixing the off-topic question issue as a bonus to making the ask page more inclusive and helpful to the group that we're actually selecting for; the folks that are at the correct place to ask their question. If we're able to make it very clear how to succeed here at that entry point, then we're much closer to being able to just treat cases of people ignoring it as deliberate noise.

Right now we simply can't do that, the UI is just way too similar to every other site.

We're in the process of examining some changes to the ask question page that new users would see on Stack Overflow and possibly some of the other larger sites depending on how that goes. Including MSE and child metas in that effort is not at all out of the question - and if you've got ideas on how we could make it better here on MSE, I'm totally open to them.

So, this is getting a for now, and it's going to be a few months before we're in a position to move much on it, but it is something that's been biting at me for quite a while and I do care about fixing it (even though what I want to fix is a bit broader than the symptom you've stated).

  • Instead of a reputation limit, how about only allowing users who already have an account on another SE site? That's a pretty low bar to clear. – mmyers Jul 1 '16 at 17:02
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    Even with an alien Ask Question page, I doubt it will reduce more than 10% of the off topic questions here. People simply don't read. :/ – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Jul 1 '16 at 17:12
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    @ShadowWizard They do when you have to click dropdowns to pick a tag that's required for the question to be posted instead of just typing 'discussion' and being done with it. There's a lot to test, but I'm not counting on text alone being effective ;) – Tim Post Jul 1 '16 at 17:29
  • @mmyers Not ruling that out completely, but I'd like to see what can be accomplished through other means first. I don't want to alienate researchers, and the folks that report about research (though that can be solved with much more deliberate ushering into our contact form). – Tim Post Jul 1 '16 at 17:37
  • Tim, can you please check the rate limit for new users at MSE? I just saw two questions posted in about 20 minutes - 1, 2. Consider setting the limit to network wide default 40 or better yet to 90 like at Stack Overflow. Last time I checked with Shog this was possible – gnat Jul 2 '16 at 8:55
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Even though I shared your opinions in the beginning, and despise the off topic questions littering this precious site, I don't think it's a big problem any more, or at least not one that justifies such an extreme measure.

As Oded said here:

We have expired all the remaining unread "terms of services changed" inbox items, which was what caused a lot of people from Stack Overflow to drop here (and then ask their off-topic question here).

So it means we won't be getting 10+ off topic question in matter of minutes as it was due to thousands of people reading that inbox item and landing here. We are back to "normal", which is 5-10 off topic questions per day, maybe some more, but not anywhere near what we had when the block was set.

So, why not a permanent block?

This place isn't ordinary per-meta site. There is no main site where user can get 5 reputation and have the per-site ability to post here. Let's take John (Doe) as example. He got one account, in cooking. With 100 reputation, two years on the site, pretty active. John want to discuss about reputation and voting in general. He posts on the per site meta, and being told this belongs on a site he never heard about before, called Meta Stack Exchange. Thrilled, he deletes the question on Cooking Meta, comes here to MSE and.... getting a "You must have 2 reputation to post here". He's... disappointed. He is not familiar with the site, and got no motivation to start becoming active here, or look for posts he can edit. He just gives up and move on. MSE lost a possible valid discussion and antagonised a good user.

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    "So it means we won't be getting 10+ off topic question in matter of minutes", no indeed. Just 5-6 in a few hours this morning only. – Patrick Hofman Jul 1 '16 at 8:49
  • and being told this belongs on a site he never heard about before, called Meta Stack Exchange If I'd notice the user had no reputation on Meta SE, I'd ask a moderator to migrate it, instead of asking the user to post it there. – Glorfindel Jul 1 '16 at 8:51
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    @Pat well, still not 10 in few minutes... nothing we can't handle. Even with 30 daily OPQ (Off topic Programming Questions :)), we have enough close votes and delete votes, enough 20k+ users, and SE employees also roam this place and nuking those from orbit. – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Jul 1 '16 at 8:52
  • @Glorfindel that is the ideal case, but flags take hours and days to handle. Many people will just delete and try to repost if told such a thing, instead of waiting. – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Jul 1 '16 at 8:56
  • And I didn't propose to restore the 2-rep limit. Just looking for any suitable solution. – Patrick Hofman Jul 1 '16 at 9:00
  • @Pat oh, didn't notice that, sorry. Still, I don't really think there is such a solution, at least not one that won't require complicated development, which isn't worth the time for something we can handle ourselves. – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Jul 1 '16 at 9:16
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    An active user of 2 years has only gained 100 reputation? how – Insane Jul 2 '16 at 1:43
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    @Insane not active like Jon Skeet, or even you or me. Active like arriving once in a while, post new questions, answering other questions, etc. Someone like this one, or this one who gained about 100 rep over two years. – Shadow The Dragon Wizard Jul 2 '16 at 3:40
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    @ShadowWizard Good point. Actually, with association bonus it's hard to remember what being brand new feels like. – Insane Jul 2 '16 at 3:41
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Remove the {} in the toolbar above the question field. Make a tooltip that explains that programming questions don't belong in Meta.

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    That won't help. It will only cause questions to be even worse formatted than they already are now. – Patrick Hofman Jul 1 '16 at 18:55

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