Recently we have been treated to featured meta posts and blog posts about the importance of the "be nice"-policy, and how/why it should also apply to comments.
This is all fine. Educating each other about how we see their actions is surely the best way forward.
But, it seems to me the efforts of the offical SE are a bit one-sided in this regard. I like to discuss what I see as a cause of the untoward comments. After all, diagnosing and curing the cause is often more effective than concentrating on an isolated symptom.
A bit of personal background (explaining the rant-tag). I served as a diamond moderator on Math.SE for 3½ years. Lately I grew frustrated with the rampant dupe/homework asking/answering. I had, of course, nailed my colors to a mast of the flagship of the caretaker fleet. Eventually I lost my cool, and lashed out at a few repeat offenders. After this happened a few times I decided that rage makes bad fuel for a moderator, so I quit. I think I have counted to ten since - you be the judge.
On with my main point. Many of the borderline rude/abusive comments I have seen (and handled) were in my opinion caused by the commenter's frustration. Directed either at the asker or the answerer (or...). You see, neither group of users of types 2 or 3 pays any attention to site hygiene. Many questions were poorly researched (=the umpteenth incarnation of the same calculus or elementary number theory exercise), many were copy/pasted homework assignments. The answerers reproduced their versions of earlier junk answers, and danced along merrily. They got their 2 upvotes, the asker got their homework done. I'm sure you know the mechanism from elsewhere in the SE network. Sure, we put the question on hold, occasionally even manage to delete it. But, enough of those questions survive our wishy-washy site policies, so the incentive to keep answering them remains. The autocatalytic mechanism invites more copy/pasted homework. The word gets around...
My thesis is that giving users effective tools to stop the flood of poorly researched questions (and answers to such) would go a long way towards eliminating those unpleasant comments.
- It seems to me that the effect of the "be nice to noobs"-policy is to gradually throw away all the Burning Man principles Joel Spolsky described as necessary. Is this now the official SE view, or is it just a side-effect of the emphasis on politeness.
- Namely, a 2-minute guided tour is not gonna cut it, if the new asker doesn't internalize the message that they are not entitled to instant gratification with minimum effort on their part. May be this is a generation thing? Reminiscing the days when new kids on the block were cautious, timid even, taking their time learning the local do's and do-not's.
- The caretakes-types may be more prone to Duty Calls than your average user. But, these people got addicted to the SE model early on. They have contributed a lot. They are deeply invested in the well being of the site, and won't let the mob destroy it. Give them effective weapons, please. I'm afraid these outbursts will continue otherwise.
- I concede that targeting the newbie askers here is not really fair, but we should double the effort to educate them. The answerers have more skin in the game, and can be reached. But downvoting answers to sub-par questions is not really a sufficient deterrent. Pity upvotes are a thing here.
I see myself (probably many caretakers feel the same way) as a seasoned art fan in a museum, say, Guggenheim. What's happening is roughly the following (yes, I have tinted spectacles):
- While having quality time at an exhibition, I spot a hoodlum with a spray can doing their worst.
- Not forgetting the "be nice" -policy, I ask them to stop, politely.
- He just laughs at me. A passer-by comments on how nice the sprayed on piece of art looks. They high-five.
- I call the museum guard, who waves a finger at them, and adds the "painter" to the list of persona non grata. But, first things first, I need to save the true piece of art. So I painstakingly clean up the mess.
- Next week, the same thing happens. As does on weeks three through six.
- On week seven, the same things happens again. I've had enough. I tell the next dude with the spray can in unmistakable terms what I think. After escorting the dude out the museum guard comes to me, cleaning up the mess. He then reminds me of the strict "be nice to other patrons" -policy the museum has. You see, this visitor was a noob who didn't have the time to read the instructions not to apply a spray can in the vicinity of the pieces at this exhibition.
- On week eight. I see yet another dude wielding a spray can enter the museum. I lose it and punch him in the nose. The guard promptly escorts me out. "Sir, that person is a noob. May be they were just starting to read the instructions, and about to leave their spray can in a locker? I'm going to have to ask you to leave."
Education, I said? Can somebody educate me, please.
How can we best deal with our own (and each others) frustration?
Thanks to all for participating. I realize that my analogy was not fair. It is easy to understand that most new askers are a bit confused (also overwhelmed by the site rules). I came out as targeting the noobs, when in reality my words and actions lately have been targeting the enablers (those who answer bad questions without first engaging with the asker) aka type-3 aka [term discontinued]. I walk away from this thread with the following:
- Ignoring the force of human nature is not very wise.
- When serving I often referred to the SE staff as Overlords (when mere diamond powers were insufficient to serve a need). Subconciously giving them god-like powers. Cap'n Obvious called me and told me that they, too, have limited resources, and cannot fix everything right away, and need to prioritize.
- We all need to compromise to coexist (but my mind is still in a place where I don't see the type 3's doing their part...).
- May be the incentive structure needs fine tuning? Incentivize dupe hunting/closing? Disincentivize dupe/LQ answering?
- Or (more radical) ABOLISH rep score altogether. Well, not altogether, but may be only post per tag rep! I don't know about SO, but at least in math the rep user has earned on a relevant tag correlates better with their ability to give quality answers rather than the overall rep. Total score is inflated by the low hanging fruits.
- I realize that the suggestion in the previous bullet also has drawbacks. May be keep the old rep score as a currency for the purposes of privileges and bounties, but get rid of the weekly leagues and such that lead to extreme gamification (I learned that in SO some of those may boost people's job prospects, and that should be taken into account).
- I don't think I should walk away from this thread. Rather I should revisit it periodically.