In regards to the "Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change" article, I have a feature suggestion that would help users write good questions that are less likely to be shut down by the community.

The article has me in two minds;

  1. Yes, it does stink when you try to come up with a good question, only to have it closed/down voted/dissed in the comments.
  2. How are people feeling they are being singled out when there is no real way to know that someone is a woman or a minority or even if you happen to be a dog.

As it says, hurt feelings are hurt feelings and you can't argue with that, but maybe we can get to the root of the problem, instead of focusing on the symptoms?

Namely, a lot of people just don't know how to ask a good question. The article talks about one plan in reguards to SO specifically, in that you'd have a textbox for your question, another for code snippets, etc. in order to help users format their questions in a useful way.

Another option that some sites have started using is to have a meta post that is used as a sandbox. A user can type their question in there as an answer, and get feedback on how to word things better or deal with potential problems in order before it hits the main question list and gets torn apart.

The question sandbox idea has several problems though; namely you have to have a little rep in order to post in there, which is hard for a 1 rep newbie, and you have to know it exists. Not all sites have them, and the ones that do can be hard to find on the meta question list.

The proposal:

Add a new "sandbox" review queue, and an option on the Ask a Question page to submit your question to the sandbox queue instead of the main site.
I am aware that the main goal of the site is to ask a question easily, and get answers quickly, but that does not work if the question gets closed or a lot of negative feedback.

I personally would have used this feature a few weeks ago, when I was trying to figure out if my question would be well received on DataBaseAdministrators, or if I should put it on StackOverflow instead. I really wasn't sure which would be better.
So I went into the DBA chat and asked the users if my question would be a good fit. But that's a lot of steps, if anyone is in chat, and you have to have 20 rep to use chat which won't help a new user.

I think that any tool we can give new users to better understand how Stack Exchange works is a good thing.

  • 4
    related: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/357198/…
    – rene
    May 3 '18 at 18:01
  • @rene Interesting. So my idea at least has merit, and wouldn't require dedicated mentors to hang out in chat or hope that new users stumble across it. Basically anyone who asks a question has the option to be mentored, and anyone with sufficient rep can choose to mentor just by looking at the queue.
    – AndyD273
    May 3 '18 at 18:29
  • 1
    @user149126 - If you add another review queue, then somebody has to clear it, there are sites which barely have enough users to handle the current queues.
    – Ramhound
    May 3 '18 at 18:31
  • @Ramhound Valid point. I guess it could be an option that sites can turn off if it doesn't make sense for them. And some sites may be more open to poorly thought out questions than others and not want it.
    – AndyD273
    May 3 '18 at 18:36
  • An additional problem I see with this proposal is that it does not focus on the new user's part of asking a bad question, and seems to only focus on what the community can do different (by having current users review question proposals). I have a hard time accepting people "don't know how" to ask a question, just because it's in a written form, some of the bad questions I have seen couldn't even be answered in person (they are that unclear).
    – Ramhound
    May 3 '18 at 18:48
  • 5
    Mentorship was a great thing, in my opinion. I took part in it, and it was 100% civil, and improved the quality of the questions going through it a lot. No idea why SE don't want to go ahead with it, I'm 100% sure there are going to be enough people who want to become mentors, if they'll only ask. But that's the best way. It's personal, it's welcoming, and it's also showing the mentors themselves how to behave properly sometimes. (As they review each other in the chat room) May 3 '18 at 19:02
  • @Ramhound If a question is that unclear, it'll just get closed as soon as it hits the main list. So by catching it in the queue you'd be able to keep one that bad off the list in the first place, with actual feedback as to what's wrong with it, instead of the drive-by close votes that seem to happen a lot. The queue would be voluntary, meaning that the user isn't sure if they are asking the right question the right way, meaning they want help. Which does focus on the new users part of asking bad questions. Knowing to add a code snippet seems easy, but apparently not everyone does it.
    – AndyD273
    May 3 '18 at 20:09
  • @ShadowWizard It sounds great. I wish it was still around. Maybe they were having problems finding enough people to keep it staffed? I think that having something like that again may be useful, and having it distributed out instead of a smaller preselected group would probably be good. Or maybe it's not practical.
    – AndyD273
    May 3 '18 at 20:12
  • 1
    @user149126 you better read this. May 3 '18 at 20:22
  • @ShadowWizard I did, it was the first comment that rene posted. Looking at "Next Steps", the Continue to experiment with the concept of a draft post. We think that this would enable ad hoc versions of mentoring particularly for smaller communities. It could even replace the “sandbox” that some communities have hacked together. sounds at least a little like what I wrote out. I really hope that they go through with it, or at least something like it, as I think it would make SE a more useful place.
    – AndyD273
    May 3 '18 at 20:39
  • @user149126 You understand that in most cases the community is hostile due to the feedback of that horrible question, now we don’t say the question is horrible, we provide feedback on what can be done to improve it. See it countless times, a new happy user in need of an answer to their question, becomes down right hostile the minute somebody says their question needs some work. I still cannot accept people are capable of forgetting, how to ask a question, due to the fact it’s written out instead of outloud.
    – Ramhound
    May 3 '18 at 21:36
  • 1
    @Ramhound Has a valid point here. As soon someone intervents about question quality and what needs to be fixed, a quite significant percentage of questioners starts getting hostile, and insists that everything with their question is OK and claim that their question needs an answer and not improvement. That's the whole point: They want an answer, asap (not going through a sandbox or review queue). They need their answer, they don't care about how useful it might be for anyone else. I am afraid we'll never have a chance to cure the attitudes of such people in a friendly welcoming way, May 4 '18 at 2:15
  • @Ramhound The fact is that there are people who just do not know how to ask a "good" question. Good is subjective, but generally means one that has enough information to be answered. Go on any site and look for the ones that are [On Hold] or [Closed] for examples. Some people do get hostile when you tell them they are doing it wrong. This is not for them. That's why it's opt-in. If you read that post on mentorship, you'll see that there are people who will ask for help, if only because they are tired of their questions being closed. Some sites also have sandboxes to help people who want help.
    – AndyD273
    May 4 '18 at 13:22
  • @πάνταῥεῖ You can't help someone that doesn't want to be helped. And they are still going to get comments that their question is bad. But they are not the ones I'm talking about. I'm talking about the ones that are tired of seeing their questions closed and just want some help to get the details right. These are the people who would seek out mentorship or a question sandbox. Of the 500 people who tried the mentorship thing, a bit more than half decide to go through the full process. I consider that a win.
    – AndyD273
    May 4 '18 at 13:36

Thanks to all the comments, it looks like Stack Exchange has already made steps in this direction in the form of the mentorship program experiment.

It also talks about something that at first glance sounds a bit like what I'm talking about.
Looking at mentorship "Next Steps":

Continue to experiment with the concept of a draft post. We think that this would enable ad hoc versions of mentoring particularly for smaller communities. It could even replace the “sandbox” that some communities have hacked together.

I'm really glad that Stack Exchange is already thinking about these things, and I look forward to seeing some of the other stuff they come up with to help users get the most out of this website, and make it easier for experienced users to find well written and thought out questions to answer.

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