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Per today's blog post, it seems Stack Overflow will in the future1:

test a new “beginner” ask page that breaks the question box into multiple fields – one for each of the key things answerers need to help

My train of thought on this went something like:

  • That's awesome!
  • ... Wait. Stack Overflow is not the site I use most often. My most prolific contribution is on Super User.
  • ... What about Super User? We might be able to use that!
  • Dang. The bulleted list of prompts doesn't really work for SU. They're too specific to Stack Overflow's subject matter.

So, where it might make sense for Stack Overflow to have ...

“Paste the shortest block of code that reproduces the problem. (We’ll format it!)”

... in their beginner question ask page as one of the prompts, for SU we'd definitely want to do something different.

The most amazing thing ever would be if our elected moderators on the site could design the beginner ask page with a custom set of prompts that are proposed and then agreed upon by the community. This would be following the same workflow (for changing and improving the prompts) as our current site-specific "Custom Close Vote Reason" system.

I'm not opposed to an even better workflow for this, but I just thought that it would be fairly low-risk and very consistent with existing site features to implement the workflow for this just like we do with custom close vote reasons, because of precedent, and because this workflow is tried-and-true by now.

However, if you decide to use another workflow, that's fine. I'd like for Super User to be involved in the early experiments around the beginner ask page, too. Using SO as a testing ground for the very first iteration is also fine in my book, but the sooner SU can get a piece of it, the better -- and I'm sure our community will have great ideas for how to structure the prompts to make it easier for users to give us useful, answerable questions.


1In 6 to 8 weeks, of course. ;)

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    additional request. Add that as a checkbox for everyone. As a experienced user and a mod, I want to set good examples, and have training wheels if I want it. Also if they say maybe, follow this up with a post on our meta on what we should have or something? – Journeyman Geek Apr 27 '18 at 2:30
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    My dream is for this feature to be available everywhere and to work more or less the way you suggest. For solid A/B testing, SO's size is a real advantage. But I think sites like Super User are a good choice for proof of concept tests. I'll suggest we look your way if we start testing other network sites. (Also, I bet this would be interesting on some Enterprise sites too.) – Jon Ericson Apr 27 '18 at 2:35
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    You might be interested in seeing how the first test went. In summary: 3% fewer bad questions were asked. – Laurel Apr 27 '18 at 2:54
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    Another model for workflow is the mod-editable pages in the help center. Treating the question template as a post, including revision history (like help, unlike close reasons) seems useful. – Monica Cellio Apr 27 '18 at 3:09
  • @Laurel Interesting, thanks for the link. I think it will help people to break out the various "portions" of a good question into separate text boxes, then concatenate them together behind the scenes at the end. Also, if you do it that way, the system can automatically interpret whatever is inserted in the "paste your code here" box as code, and apply correct formatting. Basically: if(!text_in_code_box_already_formatted_as_code()) { format_text_in_code_box_as_code(); } – allquixotic Apr 27 '18 at 3:59
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    My mind also races about the possibility of introducing a general "form" (with controls of the style similar to Google Docs Forms or SurveyMonkey) and having an "expert system" conditionally modify the structure of the questions asked based on what the user answers. For instance, we could have a Yes/No question, "Does your question involve a piece of code you're trying to understand or fix?" and if they pick No, they won't get the code box. Just a thought. – allquixotic Apr 27 '18 at 4:01
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    The exact design of said "form" for beginners would be extremely site-specific, and thus having a workflow for each community to customize the form's design would be great. – allquixotic Apr 27 '18 at 4:01
  • @allquixotic: I think that's a very good idea. It could be simplified to asking the user to select from among a few templates if the "expert system" were too complicated to implement. – Scortchi - Reinstate Monica Apr 28 '18 at 12:20
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    “Describe what you’ve tried so far (including searches, etc.)” -- I want this for Genealogy.SE right now. It's one of the things we really want new users to tell us, and they don't understand why. Trying to prompt them for the info is like an interrogation to them. – Jan Murphy Apr 28 '18 at 19:31
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While I don't speak for the mod team as a whole

I like this idea. Considering we're both a techie site, and hoping to serve a wider group of people, and one where I've been pretty vocal about making things better - this would be a great fit.

Whether or not we get it (and don't make me break out the puppy dog eyes), I do think having the template available for users new and old would be beneficial. I hardly ask questions and this might save me time and a few braincells, trying to remember my great questions of yore.

The most amazing thing ever would be if our elected moderators on the site could design the beginner ask page with a custom set of prompts that are proposed and then agreed upon by the community

Here we can disagree. We put it on meta. I feel using the model we do for Tag Cleanups - having a fixed phase for what we do - A proposal or 3, RFCs, then a final draft, over a week each feels like the best way to do it. We have a bunch of passionate folk on meta who we could make use of for something like this.

At the end of the day though, I whatever the decision is, having a resource to point people at for better posts would be nice.

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    How did you get the checkmark!?!? :P – Joe Friend Apr 27 '18 at 16:48
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    @JoeFriend He was the FGITW. :P Little do you know, but the crafty wauzer from the Super User moderator team has exploited a SQL injection vulnerability in SE's systems to check in fully functional, working code for the "AaQ" feature for Super User into your codebase. I mean, if that's not worth a checkmark, I don't know what is. :P (j/k, btw, about the hacking thing, in case it wasn't obvious) – allquixotic Apr 27 '18 at 17:34
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    Shouldn't that be FDITW? Of course, being in an active conversation in the same chat when it was brought up helps there, as does having a day off at the time. You can, however have the checkmark once we get it? I'll even bug @allquixotic about it – Journeyman Geek Apr 28 '18 at 9:05
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We will start iterating on the AaQ experience for new users on SO first. However, we're hopeful that we can come up with a model that can be optimized for each site as needed. TeamDAG often starts on SO first, but we are working hard to think about the whole network up front and then quickly get improvements out to as may sites as possible.

The exact mechanisms for how each site can optimize the experience will need to get worked out, of course.

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