Background. SE has periodically pressed forward campaigns trying to make the site friendlier to new users. Summer of Love (several editions), Be-Nice-policy,... Apparently they have largely failed. At least Sara Chipps seems to think so. The latest attempt was to increase rep rewards for questions. While a nice try, I doubt it will do much, because it does nothing to the root causes. I, for one, will continue to insist that the new user searches the site for duplicates before posting, and shows a due amount of effort.
My recovery from the events that lead to this outburst made me realize that I really don't have so much against new users. I quite understand that they have difficulties coming up to speed with what is expected. I have been teaching college math for 30 years, and I know not to stoke newbies math anxieties. Mind you, we actually get enough new users at Math.SE who actually bother to research their questions (I am willing to dismiss homework help seekers, I will educate them on my paid time).
I want to draw attention to a couple of comments:
Shog9: "A big part of solving that comes from recognizing that these sites are a shared resource, and working from that toward some sort of compromise as to how the site should be used."
Shog9: "No amount of pleading or nicely-worded signs are going to convince water to wet your parched plants when it wants to tear out a gully and carry away your precious topsoil."
So why I insist on the strict rules?
At the dawn of the SE network users started developing different ideas about how the site should be best used. Some emphasized quality, organization and generality of answers, others decided that speed and volume (of their own posts) are more important. The notorious 4 camps are just isolated points on a close to continuous spectrum. As explained there camps 1 and 3 have all the moderation power:
- camp 1 = users emphasizing content quality and organization, aka caretakers,
- camp 3 = users emphasizing content volume, I call them Sandmen from the sand vs. pearls dichotomy for the alternative terms are not conducive to dialogue.
The software imposed rules on voting heavily favor camp 3.
- No matter how many duplicates such a user answers per day, there are no consequences to their ability to answer.
- Even if camp 1 deletes 10 dupe answers to FAQs by the same user per day, that user can post many more - to reach the rep cap, or whatever other reason.
- If I downvote all the FAQ/dupe answers of such a user, the system will revert those votes as targeted downvotes.
Let me spell it out for the benefit of those developing the site SW:
No amount of pleading or nicely-worded signs will convince me not to vote to delete unpolished questions from new users if letting those questions survive will give fodder for [term redacted].
Why dealing with this camp 1 vs. camp 3 is important in relation to newbies?
Right now, a few chatrooms in Math.SE are a war zone. I don't think that the relations between these two loosely defined camps are amicable elsewhere in the network either. The war consumes a lot of resources, and probably many would prefer a lean compromise to a continuation of this bloody war.
The two sides have dug deep into their respective trenches. They cannot talk it over in meta for the camp 3s never come there. Or, they only show up to complain about an occasional deletion, but won't change their behavior. Even if some adjust their answering policies, the war will continue as new answerers join their ranks.
In the eyes of caretakers disenfranchised newbies are simply unavoidable collateral damage when fighting the true enemy of the site. Mind you, we will post nicely-worded comments when voting, but the newbies will still get their questions closed/deleted.
What I think should be done.
[Edit: I deleted a suggestion for a newbie tag, albeit with the extra piece of answers not being rewarded generously or at all. Apparently that has been discussed to death already. Concentrating on the (over)eager answerers for now.]
- If I were a dictator the wrongfully earned rep from answering FAQ/dupes would be gone, but... A) that's near impossible to do fairly and algorithmically, B) I said that we need a lean compromise, so the new rules should probably apply in the future only. Suggestions below.
- If you answer a duplicate, or your answer gets deleted because the question was deleted as poor, you get a speeding ticket limiting you to 6 answers per day and 50 per month for the next month (the recent change made the rules more symmetric between the askers and the answerers, and this would be in the same spirit).
- The rep lost on the deletion of an answer is deducted from the daily rep cap of the day the answer was posted (remove the possibility to "prepare" for deletions by answering more than is needed to reach the rep cap).
I think these would be very mild consequences. With 98% of the questions already answered, being limited to 50 answers per month should not really hamper anyone who pays attention. But these SW limitations would show that the software is not all in favor of the camp 3 lifestyle, and would be taken as a sign that the SE is not picking the side of camp 3 (more about that in another thread). Furthermore, these rules would steer the users away from trying to compensate lack of quality by quantity.
After all, Shog9 called for a compromise. Policies where camp 3 carries on unchecked are not compromises.
I didn't make the rules of this game, but I would very much like a level playing field in relation to the camp 3s.
Edit: Several points have been raised (some I foresaw but left out because this post is long enough already). A main objection being that accidentally answering a duplicate should not have severe consequences. I don't think being limited to 6 answers per day + 50 per month is severe (it would simply steer the answerers towards making their allotted posts better). But how about a "three strikes" -rule with warnings after strikes 1 and 2. Similar to the messages we receive from the review audit engine!
Anything that signals to these answerers that they should do their part in organizing the site, and not simply merrily pick low hanging fruits.
Acknowledging the difficulty of coming up with a rule limiting a practice that is tolerable when accidental, but disturbing and unfair when done excessively. Suspensions are IMHO too harsh a solution. That's why I suggest limitations on the number of posts.