I used to think that Sonic the Anonymous Hedgehog's idea of a survey was a terrible idea - it didn't actually fix anything, and I suspect most folks asking off-topic questions here are drivebys.

On the other hand, we end up closing a few questions a day from people wandering in lost, asking utterly off-topic questions, and it's at least mildly annoying. It is sort of a problem, at least in terms of noise. I sometimes try to point them to the help center and the tour page but I've occasionally seen people post different off-topic things twice. It would be nice to help them know what they're doing, even if we don't all the time – I mean people with no accounts elsewhere, or even people posting off-topic questions more than once seem fishy.

I'd actually like to suggest something that might work in the context of other sites as well. Throw users who meet certain criteria a single question with say 4 options, with answers somewhere on the help.

If a user has no accounts elsewhere or has a question previously closed for an appropriate close reason (not being about the SE network) – triggering such a test makes sense.

I'd suggest scaling it if there's more than one closed question with no accepted questions. Maybe one additional question for each additional closed question. It's also likely slightly less painful and more annoying than a post ban, but I'm not sure if that's good or not.

It'd be zero friction for a new user, and only affects users with no real reason to be on meta (unless they somehow have issues registering at all, and doesn't throw a big barrier of entry for an actual new user).

Add a little explanatory text "We've noticed that you have no account on other SE sites and would like to confirm you know what this site is for." or "We've noticed your contributions on the site have been closed in the past – and would like to ensure you know what this site is for." and it's probably just a pop up.

Depending on the criteria, it might also work on other sites as a means of quality control or simply in addition to captcha type stuff.

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    Actually, about half off topic questions here are from users who are question banned on Stack Overflow. Maybe even more. Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 14:14
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    @ShadowtheHedgehogWizard you might be interested in this request then: Let's help askers who are trying to circumvent question block at Stack Overflow (can't tell about MSE but per stats provided by SE team a while ago over 20% of all questions at Software Engineering were asked by folks blocked from asking at Stack Overflow)
    – gnat
    Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 16:49
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    @gnat yup that is very related indeed. Commented Jan 28, 2018 at 18:22
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    Similar problem , but I think my solution is more (passive?) agressive. Commented Jan 29, 2018 at 1:15
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    It is not clear what this post is addressing or proposing or what point or argument many statements & paragraphs are towards.
    – philipxy
    Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 2:00
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    There's a few posts a day of off topic posts - I'm addressing that, and proposing an alternate mechanism of rate limiting. Commented Feb 1, 2018 at 2:16
  • I agree with this and have made a feature request I think would be related in helping this issue: Move the question/answer ban meta to per-site help Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 12:25

2 Answers 2


Let's use a question wizard (already active on Stack Overflow) here on Meta.SE. It would have one question: "Is your question about programming?"

We get a few of these per day:

screenshot: Python question

Aside from comments like that we can't do much to steer these people to the right place. We close and delete these questions quickly, so the users might or might not see those comments, but even if they do, the damage has already been done. Instead we want to prevent these questions, as this question points out.

Stack Overflow is now testing a means of preventing off-topic questions there. Let's do the same thing here. The SO question wizard asks a series of questions to weed out questions that don't belong on SO; I think a single question would catch most of these here, but we could add more filtering-out questions if we want (like "is this about something that happened on one specific site?").

I don't know what rules govern who sees the question wizard and who doesn't. But for a first test, let's use the code that's already been developed for SO, and either it will do everything we need or we'll learn from it more about what we really need, before developer time is spent on new rules. I mean, the ones in this question sound good, but let's start with something we could deploy tomorrow and see what effect it has.

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    Perhaps it should have 2 questions. a) do you have a programming question b) are you question banned on Stack Overflow. The question banned desperately asking anything anywhere are the other half of the problem. Commented Oct 14, 2018 at 23:20
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    @RobertLongson What would you do with the answer to question (b)? Would you prevent them from posting? Have some stricter criteria for posting? Why even ask, it should be possible for some sort of automated test to see if they are question banned. Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 0:39
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    @RobertLongson this question would be superfluous because it can be answered automatically: system keeps the record of attempts to ask that trigger block
    – gnat
    Commented Oct 15, 2018 at 9:26
  • Maybe ask a question with five options: I want to discuss something about Stack Exchange / I need support with something happened on Stack Exchange / There's a bug somewhere on Stack Exchange / I have an idea of a feature that I would like to see on Stack Exchange / None of above. While this may seem like an overkill, we can further direct users, say, looking for support to the support page before they protest their question ban, and stop whoever selects "None of above" beforehand. Commented Feb 23, 2019 at 5:57
  • I had been thinking about this too for a while now. Do you have any problems if I turn this into a full feature-request? Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 18:40
  • @MEEthesetupwizard go for it! Commented Apr 23, 2019 at 19:05

How about this, as an in-your-face obvious prompt that you're in the wrong place:

enter image description here

Should probably only be displayed for users under a certain rep score (5, perhaps?), since most off-topic questions are asked by 1-rep or low-rep users.

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    Makes the bad-faith assumption that every new Meta user wants to ask an off-topic question. Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 23:25
  • Neglected to mention a rep limit there, which I'd intended to include. Edited.
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 23:42
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    See also this Data Explorer query - about half of non-deleted questions posted by new users in the past year were closed; likely more than half if you include deleted questions (not possible with SEDE).
    – ArtOfCode
    Commented Jan 25, 2019 at 23:58
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    I think it should only be showed for a user's very first question. After that it can be safely assumed that they know programming questions are off-topic.
    – Picachieu
    Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 0:49
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    I think Monica's "Ask Question Wizard" would be a more appropriate solution. Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 2:07
  • Yes and no. The good thing here its "cheap' and relatively static - and dosen't seem like a bad short term solution. The AAQW is probably a longer term solution. While I prefer the latter, it feels like a possible short term solution. Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 9:05
  • I would prefer if this warning is shown on the How to ask-page that is placed before the question page. There is already some text but it might be highlighted in the nice way you proposed (neon-red): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/ask/advice? Commented Jan 26, 2019 at 10:46

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