With left nav, responsive design, and various new-user notices, this is what an anonymous user currently sees (browser window here is 1090px wide):

screen shot

I realize that a lot of this content -- code of conduct, new-user intro, cookies notice -- is important. And I get that the left nav is an important design element, and responsive design dictates the width of the right column. But when you add it all up, Q&A -- what the site is about -- gets a distressingly small portion of the screen. Can we do better?

  • Maybe we can make that intro/mini-tour shorter?

  • Maybe we can hide the right column for anonymous users?

  • Maybe some things can wait until the user's viewed a few pages?

  • Maybe other things I haven't thought of?

My concern is that anonymous users -- people coming from Google, people who were referred to a site by users hoping to recruit them, or others who find their way to us but aren't invested in us -- will turn away before seeing how rich and helpful our sites are. Which would be a real shame, because our sites are awesome.

First impressions matter. When I'm asking a rabbi to check out Mi Yodeya or a professional chef to check out Seasoned Advice or my vet to check out Pets (all of these have happened), I want to make a good impression. I want the person to see more than 2.5 questions; I want to increase the chances the person will see something interesting or say "oh I can answer that!" and dig deeper.

Yes, the other stuff is important, but maybe not now? Is there a better way to "stage" all this information for people we haven't yet hooked?

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    Hmm. There's a bug where dismissing that signup hero doesn't actually dismiss it for some reason. I thought it only affected question pages, but apparently not. Not that that is great either, but at least the impact would've been smaller. I'm back from vacation, so that's going to the top of my list of things to fix this week. – Adam Lear Aug 14 at 1:44
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    and you haven't looked at the main site: SO is even worse than that. – Federico Aug 14 at 6:37
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    Also, why are there two "Sign Up" buttons? – Snow Aug 14 at 7:04
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    New users don't need to see a message about "The New Code of Conduct", because, to new users, it's simply the Code of Conduct that they're going to get pointed at anyway as part of their induction. – Snow Aug 14 at 8:38
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    Obviously this is a bit of a perfect storm with the announcement banner (CoC), GDPR related footer announcement and the long standing sign up/welcome hero all showing at the same time. I'm going to write up a full answer regarding how we will address this but wanted to let you know that we will be addressing it. – Joe Friend Aug 16 at 17:45
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    @JoeFriend Is it possible to only show the GDPR banner to visitors from the EU? IIRC this is done by YouTube. – Sonic the Inclusive Hedgehog Aug 16 at 17:49
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    @SonictheInclusiveHedgehog, at least half of the text of that banner is nothing to do with GDPR. The privacy policy and terms of service are relevant to everyone. – Peter Taylor Aug 17 at 11:00
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    @Snow there's even a third (fake) signup button in the form of the Azure ad (which is bigger than the other two...). Honestly if I was SO I would negotiate with MS not to have that specific ad show up for anonymous users, given how it could be somewhat misleading. – mbrig Aug 22 at 14:25
  • Glad somebody mentioned this, I've just made a habit of not going to the home pages of sites when I'm not logged in... – jrh Aug 22 at 23:31
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    Stack Overflow is even more welcoming... probably more than 50% of my screen taken up by announcements and banners when I open an incognito window. – James Whiteley Aug 23 at 14:53
  • Can't we do it the other way around? Give a single screen with everything they need to know, good-sized button on it at the bottom when they've read it all to go to the real Q&A part? There's simply too many users not reading the rules, so leaving those out is a no-no. – Mast Aug 26 at 13:38
  • @Mast that seems like a bad way to draw them in, expecting them to read a bunch of rules before they've even seen if the content is worth their time. We should show people appropriate guidance before they take actions for the first time, like asking or answering, but we should make reading easier, not harder. – Monica Cellio Aug 26 at 16:25
  • @MonicaCellio I completely agree with you, but I don't see it happen. We already do something like that at the moment and it's not working. – Mast Aug 27 at 5:44

Ahhhh! I really don't like the view a new user gets.

I actually looked at the same thing here on Meta SE over the weekend with a throwaway account and while logged out, and was similarly dismayed. There are a couple of things that stood out in my mind then, and still do now:

  • The darker colors grab my attention first - both the really, really big pseudo-tour banner, the top bar, and that add that happens to be on the side. So I feel like those are the things I'm supposed to be looking at.
  • Honestly, most of those dark panels don't tell me anything I need to know about the site. The one sentence - "Ask Different is a question and answer site for power users of Apple hardware and software" - gives me an idea of what the point is of the site I'm looking at.
  • The logo gets squeezed between panels and I feel like I'm not supposed to be looking at it . . . even though that's like the one big bit of individuality left in the new designs.
  • AHHHHHH! TOO MUCH STUFF! I do feel like I'm being bombarded; it's not quite as bad as sites with popup ads . . . but it's still not great. There's a whole gaggle of disparate panels and tiles and boxes and words that are telling me different things when I really don't care about any of that and am only here for the content that's now buried towards the bottom.
  • Also, yeah, if I'm visiting the network for the first time, I probably don't care about the HNQ. Why would I want to get directed to other sites when I'm just visiting this one for the first time?

To make a long story short, I'm being shown a whole lot of information that tells me nothing about 1) the actual content I'm looking for and 2) why Stack Exchange is so awesome, which is what keeps new users coming here. The first bit obviously needs more love, as Monica said; the second bit is really just promoting something that we should all be really proud of. I suppose the Code of Conduct is a part of that, yes, but it's still not an SE-specific thing, is it?

So . . . if I could essentially have the birthday wish list I want, here are the things I'd ask for:

  • Cut out the HNQ for really new users and anonymous users. Period. If you're visiting Ask Different for the first time, you've probably got a question about Apple products and don't care about what random havoc Worldbuilding is wreaking today. Maybe introduce them to it after a day or so - if they stick around for a while, then perhaps they care about other network sites - but also explain what the heck it is. There's some point to the HNQ, after all.
  • Make the big box containing the "_____ is a question and answer site"/"Anybody can ask"/"Anybody can answer"/etc. lighter and smaller. And maybe expand the leftmost pane a bit - tell me slightly more about the scope. Regarding the right side panels, what Q+A sites don't let anybody ask and anybody answer? It's not really a Stack Exchange-specific advantage - and we have plenty of specific advantages.
  • Maybe - and this is a huge maybe - cut the ads out when a person clicks through to the page for the first time or two? My mind tells me this is, technically, either very difficult or even impossible, but there are a lot of people smarter than me, so who knows (well, I guess those smart people do). Ads are . . . a bit of a turnoff for me. That said, I understand if 1) it's not technically feasible or 2) it defeats the purpose of having ads in the first place.

    Alternatively, could we replace those right panes with big obnoxious clicky links to the tour and help center, which do tell me about why SE is unique and awesome? Or, perhaps a mini-tour could go on 1) the left sidebar, which right now has a painful amount of empty space, 2) the HNQ section, which isn't really necessary, or 3) where the ads are now (or all of the above!). After viewing that mini-tour thingy, all of the above would eventually reappear - the tour would be obsolete.

  • More space for the posts, please, as Monica said. That . . . needs to be one of the top priorities of the first page users see. They need to be convinced that they're viewing high-quality stuff, even if, yes, there are some ads ('cause something needs to pay the bills) and lots of . . . boxes. And more boxes. Too many boxes, really. The page needs fewer boxes.

  • Did I mention fewer boxes? Or at least smaller, consolidated, less distracting boxes?

Here's what I see when I visit Ask Different when I'm not logged in, with some, ah, choice annotations:

enter image description here

Now, as I scroll down a bit - having dismissed the cookie banner, and having accidentally refreshed the page - I see this, again with some . . . modifications:

enter image description here

In both images, the "X"s are stuff I'd like to just have gone. Notice how the right sidebar gives me nothing of importance and just confuses me - recall my HNQ point. That would be an excellent place to stash a mini-tour - or on the left, where there is currently nothing. Essentially, half of my screen is, from my point of view, wasted space.

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    Ooh, a vertically-oriented tour that replaces the right column for new users would keep the spirit of the design while using the space better! And they see the tour instead of the ads and HNQ. Maybe there's other new-user content that should go there after they dismiss the tour, too, delaying the usual right column. – Monica Cellio Aug 14 at 2:03
  • @MonicaCellio Yes! That would be a great use of the blank space on the left left sidebar, for instance (unless there are going to be things added to it, and there might be - but this could be one of those things). – HDE 226868 Aug 14 at 2:05
  • There could still be an add in the side bar, but underneath a vertical tour. I think that would be great! – curiousdannii Aug 14 at 2:47

Inspired by HDE 226868's excellent answer, I have some ideas about how we could present new-user guidance in a way that better uses the screen space. The core principle here is that the stuff in the right column is for experienced users, not first-timers, so let's put something more immediately important there.

Let's show a first-time visitor something like this (please ignore the cut/pasted color mismatches in the tour):

vertical tour in right column, no "new CoC" link at top

(I left the "sign up" button in because it flows from the rest. I'd rather it not be in the top bar, but if it is, eh, we already had it twice and I'm just moving things around, not making that worse.)

After the user dismisses this introduction, we show something like this (precise contents TBD):

right column contains important help links and a "getting started" heading

This would be a great place to link to an ask-question wizard, but since only SO has only a beta version I've left it out for now.

I've shown it as dismissible here, for consistency, but we should explore making this display time-based or event-based instead -- show a new user the help for the first (day? few days?), or until the user gains some small amount of rep, or until the first post, or until the user is no longer a "new contributor", or... something. I'd want to tap the collected wisdom from SE's community managers and data scientists before deciding how this part should work.

When this getting-started information is dismissed or ages out, the new user sees the same right column that the rest of us do.

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    I was preparing something similar to this, but what I had in mind isn't much different from your screenshots. Just some points I can think of: 1. We could leave the advertising in at the top of the right bar, and the other content you have suggested could go just below it. 2. The "cookie overlay" at the bottom may be reduced to one line somehow, it looks like too much information. 3. The tabs can be moved next to the site name banner and "Explore our Questions" can be dropped. The real estate in that general region can be better utilized to emphasize that this is a Q&A site. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 6:00
  • The "actual" content of the site is Q&A and that should be obvious by just glancing at the site, even for someone who isn't told in advance what the site is about. The Q&A starting at about 40% of the page height and occupying roughly 40% of the home page real estate means that there's some further room for improvement. The right bar can probably also be narrowed a bit, because as a new user who doesn't know what SE is about, that is what draws the most attention, whereas our goal is to bring their attention to the centre which is where our "actual" content lies. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 6:06
  • I realized that what I had in mind was actually significant enough to post a separate answer. – Masked Man Aug 15 at 13:14

HDE and Monica have already written excellent answers addressing this issue. I would like to contribute my $0.019999 from a slightly different perspective.

While it is certainly important to leave a good first impression on someone who you asked to check out a site, the issue runs a little deeper. Someone who has been told a couple of sentences about the SE site will probably be dazed for a few seconds, but they will either figure it out after a bit or ask you what they are supposed to do there. This is still an unnecessary hassle, but at least it works somehow.

Now consider a different usecase: Let's say I have heard about Stack Overflow for the first time. I don't know what kind of site it is (discussion forum, technical news site, price comparison website, social network, financial advice column, etc.), but I am curious to check it out and I find this:

screenshot of stackoverflow.com

What does this tell me about the site?

  1. They want me to join them in building a learning community. (I wonder what that actually means?)
  2. There was apparently an updated Code of Conduct. (Uhm, alright, as a first time visitor to the site, what is the relevance of this to me?)
  3. Developers come here to learn, share knowledge and build their careers. (Ok, so it is some kind of a knowledge sharing forum, right?)
  4. Login via Google, Facebook, or Display Name, Email Address and Password. (Wait, I'm confused now. Why are you asking me to sign up before I can even see the site to decide if I want to sign up or not?)
  5. They offer some Business Solutions which will help me understand, engage and hire developers. (Ok, now I'm really confused. This site is a job board now?)
  6. Their site uses cookies to show me ads and job listings. (Alright, that sounds reasonable, but what's a Stack Overflow network?)

My overall impression at first glance is unless I sign up, I won't be able to access the site. This is extremely unfortunate because one of the great things about Stack Overflow is logging in is not mandatory to access the site. If a new user has to scroll to get to your actual content, then you have already lost them.

To address this problem, I propose that users who have not logged in be presented the following layout. This is roughly the same as the second screenshot in Monica's proposal, with a few improvements:

  • More real estate used for the site's core content, which is Q&A. As a result, it is much clearer at first glance what the site is actually about.
  • Advertising is retained, including the "Teams"and "Jobs".

Proposed layout for Stack Overflow

My proposal would retain the first screenshot from Monica's answer, except for taking care of the above two improvements.

I would also consider trimming the "cookie overlay" to one line, possibly with a "Learn More" link, because the current three line description is way too long, especially for a first time user.

Once the user has clicked Sign Up, they can be shown the "hero" banner. After the user has actually logged in, then they can be shown the Highly Noteworthy Quality questions, Code of Conduct, etc.

For completeness, since the question was about a non-Stack Overflow site, and at least presently, some of those are handled differently, here's what I propose for those:

Proposal for non-Stack Overflow site

The tabs bar and the "Ask Question" button can moved in the same row as the site title. You will have to cut me some slack for those elements not lining up perfectly. I could have figured that out too with some effort, but it demonstrates the idea well enough in my opinion. The design team can take it further and fix it within minutes.

Ideally, the site title should be in the same place as Stack Overflow was in the previous screenshot, but I understand that the company wants to use that space for branding, which is reasonable.

The severity of this issue depends heavily on the device. It’s somewhat tolerable on large desktop monitors, but even more terrible than the example in the question on devices like tablets.

The following are two screenshots on a regular iPad with default settings. There is either a single question excerpt or no Q&A content visible at all above the fold.


stackoverflow.com


meta.stackexchange.com

Thanks everyone for lots of good feedback here. Yes, we need to get this sorted out. There are several separate, but related issues that we need to consider.

  1. Stack Exchange network sites sign up "hero" are big and don't fit well with new themes.

  2. The cookies notice (aka GDPR) at the bottom of the page is basically always there unless you explicitly dismiss it.

  3. When we run other campaigns (new feature notification or announcement banner ala CoC) all of these items can overwhelm the site content.

Put all those together and it is a bit of a perfect storm. I don't have any solutions right now, but I do commit that we will come back to the community with some proposals.

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    About point 2, the issue is not with the presence of the notice per se, but with its size. Especially on mobile browsers, where it occupies half the screen. – Masked Man Aug 21 at 7:49
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    @MaskedMan Yep, totally get that. I'm working to see if we can come up with a shorter version that can be expended on mobile. My point was that the combo of these things creates the perfect storm and a really bad experience. Thanks for keeping us honest. ;) – Joe Friend Aug 21 at 19:12
  • @JoeFriend Ok! :) Just wanted to be sure the point wasn't misunderstood. Thanks for the update! – Masked Man Aug 22 at 11:13

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