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 we 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 can we 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
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 8:29
  • I might be exaggerating a little for the sake of argument @Bart Commented Jul 1, 2016 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
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 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
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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 Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 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.
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 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.
    – user50049
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 23:09
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    For now, it looks like the problem is reasonably well managed. The only setting we'd have to change this would be to add a rep requirement here, which we're reluctant to do; everything else requires bespoke design. I let the mod team know that if that changes, they're free to ping us for further support.
    – Slate StaffMod
    Commented Mar 3, 2023 at 22:28

4 Answers 4


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
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. :/ Commented Jul 1, 2016 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 ;)
    – user50049
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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).
    – user50049
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 8:55

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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 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 Mod
    Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 8:56
  • And I didn't propose to restore the 2-rep limit. Just looking for any suitable solution. Commented Jul 1, 2016 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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 9:16
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    An active user of 2 years has only gained 100 reputation? how
    – Insane
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 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. Commented Jul 2, 2016 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
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 3:41

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. Commented Jul 1, 2016 at 18:55

I think something that might help give an idea of the magnitude of the problem are some numbers. Thankfully, just using the 10k tools, we can get an overview of question closure here on Meta SE. Someone with SEDE skills might be able to showcase the issue more broadly (perhaps over the course of the last year) but this does provide a recent overview.


At the time of this answer's posting, over the last 3 months, 1798 questions have been asked. Of them, 1051 of them were closed for some reason or another. That's a 58.45% closure rate. That feels pretty high, but we do get quite a lot of duplicate questions here (218 for these 3 months, to be specific), so I'll let that slide for now.

Of those 1051 questions that were closed, 710 of them were closed with our "Not about the software that powers SE" closure reason. That's 67.55% of questions closed in the last 3 months, or 39.4% of all questions asked in the last 3 months. Of those 710 questions that were closed with this reason, only 2 of them were reopened.

Now, I should note that we had occur within the last 90 days, so I highly suspect that this data is actually reflecting less than the normal question closure percentage, but I don't imagine it's by that much.

Based on these stats alone and barring other activity, there's a 40% chance that the next new question you see posted on Meta SE will be blatantly off-topic.

Why are you throwing stats at me?

I should be clear, this isn't really that concerning for the denizens of Meta. I wasn't around for when, as Shadow says, we had floods of off-topic questions, which certainly would be a drain on moderation resources, but... For now, users with close and delete-vote privileges frequently help to close and delete these off-topic questions. Moderators and CMs will also help out rather frequently, both with closing and deleting these. There's not really a big drain on moderation resources here at present, though it should be noted that Glorfindel created a whole userscript designed to help quickly execute related moderator actions on blatantly off-topic questions, which might speak more to the problem. I've even seen some users suspended with the reason "for asking programming questions on Meta".

What concerns me more about this is that for a new user, this is really confusing. From a newer user's perspective, you've asked a question through a page that looks normal (even if you've got a bit of banner blindness), typically earnestly trying to get an answer to your problem, only to be met with question closure, deletion, and typically a comment explaining that this isn't the right place, along with a link to the All-Sites page and some links to various help articles. I just... I don't feel like that's a good experience for a user who's clearly lost enough that they posted on this site in the first place.

The design of the question page can do better. It hasn't changed since ex-Community Evangelist Tim Post pointed out that it needed improvement, and it's been confusing new users ever since. I don't expect a design change to make this problem disappear entirely or anything, but the least we can do is make that page a little bit more clear about what's on-topic here, and indicate where a user might find a better place for their question if it's not.


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