The guidance for newer users is awesome, and probably even sometimes redundant. However, as soon as you get past some arbitrary rep threshold, especially on smaller sites, there's this huge learning curve when you want to learn more about the system, in other words look around a bit.

A good portion of users even have trouble finding here, but that's not my concern.

My concern is that whenever I'm trying to ask a meta post about site workings, sometimes the info is so dispersed out here and on meta.SO that I give up altogether. Of course, this doesn't happen really often, but it's indeed a pain to find fine details of how some feature works with all the punny titles and idioms.

If you're a regular here, you're already familiar with how hard it sometimes is to find information about, for instance, how flagging NAAs works. Finding this is easy, because I already remembered the title and that it contained a "castle". Not every post is as easily findable. Sometimes you post a question after already having searched on Google and looking at the related questions and end up having your question closed as a duplicate.

Even some interesting ways some things work is hidden in a comment by, say, Shog or Animuson, effectively unsearchable by "SE search".

What can we do to remedy this? What can we do to make obscure information more accessible?

Possible solutions are including, but not limited to:

  • Abandon ship and make another system from scratch — impractical, and I like repz
  • Edit titles and question bodies to include only Robotic English (RobE) — Probably not that much of an improvement. Most titles are fine.
  • Ask more canonical-ish stuff, that gather info from several posts, instead of one — Seems like a good idea, but might end up as messy as before
  • 2
    A lot of this information lives in questions tagged with the faq tag - I don't know if that's enough for what you are asking about.
    – Oded
    Mar 29, 2017 at 8:24
  • 2
    @Oded well, I was specifically thinking about things not documented in FAQs because they're not "frequently" asked. That info is nicely gathered in one place, but it's not all the info out there, and it shouldn't be.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 29, 2017 at 8:26
  • Don't forget the stuff that's mainly in blog posts too Mar 29, 2017 at 8:44
  • Much better much less punny title to question by @RobertCartaino
    – PolyGeo
    Mar 29, 2017 at 10:56
  • @Oded I have 9.2k rep on Chem.SE, and this is the first time I've ever seen faq pointed out explicitly in this way. (I'm not trying to claim it's not pointed out this way somewhere else; just this is the first time I've seen it.) Please see my ranty comments on Patrick's answer for some more of my perspective.
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 11:19
  • Oh, @Oded, I just thought of a simple example. It came up in chat that [faq] leads to the site's tour. Now that info is surely somewhere out here, but where do I find it? How do I search for it? etc. I know it's not such a glaring example because it's more of a fun feature than one direly seriously used, but you get my point.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 29, 2017 at 12:35
  • Ha. That's probably a hold over from when we had an actual FAQ page, predating the tour.
    – Oded
    Mar 29, 2017 at 12:53

2 Answers 2


The fact that all of this information is so dispersed across so many different areas is amplified by the fact that we sometimes use some pretty odd names for our features that seem completely obvious to an experienced user, but someone brand new has absolutely no idea. As someone who works in the support desk on a daily basis, I see this problem much more frequently. Plenty of users who can describe the issue or just take a screenshot and say "what is this" - people who know what they want help with and usually tried to find it but just have no clue what to type into the box or look for in order to find that help.

Solving both of these problems is actually something I've personally been working on and is essentially a two-step process:

  1. Redo the existing help center. Ours is nice, but it could be so much more if we didn't heavily rely on the existing "use a normal post as an article" system we currently have. Posts are just way too limited in functionality in order to function properly as a help center, and it makes it hard to do anything with it.

    One thing I want to implement into a new help center is expandable sections, where the overall topic gives some basic overview and then lists a bunch of follow-up questions. The user clicks on the specific information they want relating to that topic, and sees that information.

    We can't do this in the current system because then it would just be an enormous information dump that users have to scan through and hope they notice the information they want, which is what a lot of our FAQs are right now. We link them as duplicates and users say "I can't find the information so it's not a duplicate" - then someone has to either quote the specific information or point out where in that blob of text it's actually at. Not very efficient.

  2. Create something I call the interactive help center. It takes just-in-time help to the next level by literally just highlighting all of the things on the page a user might want to ask help about and says "click on the one you want help with" then takes them to the relevant help sections about that element.

    Help Center Prototype

    * This is a screenshot I took a few weeks ago to introduce the idea to the team. Please ignore all the modifications I've made to the site that don't exist for other users.

    Essentially, this is meant to replace the existing help icon (which is actually hidden for high-reputation users right now). Rather than the standard drop-down menu as seen today, it would open a second bar below the top bar prompting the user to click on one of the red-outlined elements, or visit one of the other places listed in the bar.

    It's a very rough prototype that essentially just presents the idea, but you might see me start posting on Meta at some point in the future to get some help from the community with it. One of the main things I'll request help with is compiling a list of all the various elements around the site that should be clickable (which is currently a list of like five things).

  • 2
    This looks amazing, and I think it would be awesome and you should absolutely do it. (1) What happens when someone wants to know about something that doesn't get a dashed red box around it? (2) This doesn't really seem to address helping people search for content-in-general.
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 13:33
  • @hby2py That's hard to say. We can set goals and everything but really we just have to wait and see what happens. Start using the system and figure out where users are still slipping through the holes and evaluate what we can do to patch those holes. It's usually bad to make several significant changes at once because then you don't know which part is the one actually making the difference.
    – animuson StaffMod
    Mar 29, 2017 at 14:45
  • 1
    As a research scientist, I wholly approve of only changing one variable at a time. :-)
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 15:01
  • 1
    This is indeed amazing and good news! I loved it, especially 2. I also think some people, like rene, are indeed very eager to help with this stuff on meta.SO.
    – M.A.R.
    Mar 29, 2017 at 16:47
  • Ooh, this sounds great! Both the expanding sections and the UI-driven access. How can we help? Mar 30, 2017 at 1:12

What can we do to remedy this? What can we do to make obscure information more accessible?

A lot of information is directly available through the FAQ. You can search all posts with the tag, or go to the FAQ index and search from there.

What would help in this case is making the FAQ easier accessible and visible. At least it should be visible in the Frequently Asked sidebar at the right, which lists quite some active questions, but never the FAQ itself. Maybe it could be pinned there? Maybe there are other ways making the FAQ more visible.

For not-so-frequently-asked questions, there is always the search option, which searches the body too. Using relevant tags helps a lot in narrowing down the number of results.

  • 2
    But the search option itself is a not-so-visibly-documented feature of the site. I was well into the multiple thousands of rep on Chem.SE before I finally noticed the various little help links for search. It really doesn't help that AFAICT the only access to the little search sidebar is after you've tried a search, and the only time I found the link to the advanced search help was from dropping down that sidebar. That was three actions required of me to find the detailed help, none of which were emblazoned with obviousness.
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 11:12
  • The search syntax is terrifically robust and fantastic, but it's different from every other search syntax I can think of (and logically so, given it's tailored to SE), so I had to find the help before I could start crafting useful searches. Also, a simple single-keyword search often gives so many results as to be not very helpful, and since search results are so big in terms of screen real estate it made it feel like a major chore to try to sift through them. So, I would usually just give up and bug somebody in chat instead.
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 11:15
  • 1
    Finally, I had no idea for a while even of the existence of Meta.SE. When I did discover it, I had no real idea of the richness of information it contained. Also, my first attempts at interacting with it (as happens frequently with SE subsites) were not well aligned with its operating habits, and were not well received. This discouraged me from exploring further. SO. Yes, the tools and information exist, but they are very, very, terribly non-obvious to the uninitiated.
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 11:16
  • 1
    P.S. If one hasn't come across something pointing out that [faq] exists for this purpose, and hasn't figured out how to restrict searches to a single tag -- this setup does them no good. There has to be a blatantly obvious, step-by-step primer on getting one's toes dipped into the resources, and the toolkit available for plumbing them.
    – hBy2Py
    Mar 29, 2017 at 11:22

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