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TL;DR

Because the current location of the “Ask question” button is inconsistent, we want to move it. But first, we’re testing the proposed new location to ensure we don’t negatively impact question asking.


Howdy!

Today we’ve enabled an experiment that moves our “Ask question” button to the left navigation, instead of its current position of “kinda off to the right somewhere”.

We’re doing so to address the inconsistencies in its current placement. In some contexts, it’s all the way to the right. In others, it wraps with the page title. Sometimes it’s in the sidebar—and on the smallest screens it’s above the question title. This can lead to some rather strange white space. Now, this designer loves white space, but prefers it to be consistent. These inconsistencies have made working across the platform and supporting multiple product areas difficult.

We think putting the ask a question button in the left nav will be a more consistent spot for it. We also prefer the hierarchy of page layout in that position. But of course, we want to test it to make sure we’re not negatively impacting the question asking experience.

Let’s have a look at some screenshots.

Question page

Before

Question page before

After

Question page after

Question home page

Before

Question home page before

After

Question home page after

Stack Overflow for Teams

Before

Stack Overflow for Teams before

After

Stack Overflow for Teams after

Responsive (small screens)

If you have enabled “Hide left navigation” via your profile settings or are viewing on a mobile device, the “Ask question” button will appear inside the hamburger menu instead of being visible on the page itself. This experiment won’t tease out the impact on this specific subset of users. We aren’t able to track which users are viewing question pages from a smaller-sized responsive window. We are able to track users who have the left navigation hidden, but because only 0.3% of users have this setting enabled, we won’t have a big enough sample size to draw any meaningful conclusions.

Before

Small before

After

Small after


For the experiment, we are sampling page views at 2%. Half of this group will see the current design and half will see the test variation. To measure the impact of this change, we’ll compare the conversion rate of viewing a page => clicking the ask question button => submitting a question.


Experiment results

The experiment ran from Dec. 2 to Jan. 4.

There was no significant difference in the number of users who clicked the Ask Question button when the button appeared in the current position (control) or in the left nav (treatment). There was also no difference between the two variants in the number of users who actually asked a question.

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    Is this one of those cases where you are in a group, and will be in that group for the duration of the test? Or is this something that changes on every non-cached page load? – Luuklag Nov 30 '20 at 19:02
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    Also this seems like a big deal, should this be featured before the gazillion questions: "Where did the ask a question button go" arrive on Meta(s)? – Luuklag Nov 30 '20 at 19:14
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    "the current location of the “Ask question” button is inconsistent" How/where is it inconsistent? I have only ever seen it at the top right of the page in pretty much the exact same position. – TylerH Nov 30 '20 at 19:15
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    You want to hide the 'ask' button by moving to a sidebar outside the immediate FOV of the reader, in a sidebar that can be toggled off, no less. I actually support this, because I think it will mean fewer questions thanks to a higher barrier to entry. However, I'm not sure if that's what you intend with the change. – TylerH Nov 30 '20 at 19:16
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    @TylerH You can see in the screenshots provided that there is inconsistency between the question page and question home page. One is in the top right above the sidebar and one is in the top middle next to the sidebar. – Piper Lawson Nov 30 '20 at 19:18
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    @PiperLawson I see; it's consistent, but relative to the size of the middle section of the page. Anyway, seems like the better solution would be just add a horizontal rule and move the sidebar below that for the /questions page. But that would be assuming the real reason for the change is actually consistency. – TylerH Nov 30 '20 at 19:20
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    @TylerH you say "I think it will mean fewer questions thanks to a higher barrier to entry." Keep in mind that you need to have a profile to be able to turn off the sidebar. So it won't stop new users, who make up for the most of questions asked. I wouldn't be surprised if there is some sort of correlation between reputation and having the side bar turned off. – Luuklag Nov 30 '20 at 19:36
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    Status Quo, rightish, with no left nonsense. But, thanks for asking; hope nothing changes. – Rob Nov 30 '20 at 20:02
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    What does option B look like when the sidebar isn't visible outside a dropdown? – Zoe the 1337 Princess Nov 30 '20 at 20:24
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    I kinda like the button where it is, especially on SO, where there are enough buttons in the left navigation menu already. This would make it too cluttered. – Ollie Nov 30 '20 at 22:03
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    Not a fan. :/ I think the current design looks better, and I don't see any inconsistency that would be fixed by this change. – HolyBlackCat Nov 30 '20 at 22:04
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    @Ollie I'm not sure how that makes it consistent. Most pages don't have that set of tabs. – Catija Nov 30 '20 at 22:27
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    While we are on the topic of suggesting places to move the button, how about moving it to the unused right side of the banner area. Here is a mockup I created: i.stack.imgur.com/QLib2.png. This should be consistent across all pages. – Kodos Johnson Dec 1 '20 at 0:50
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    @KodosJohnson ... that's where it used to be but when we removed the banner from SO, we no longer had that option if we wanted consistency. It's easy to forget if you don't use SO, but they haven't had a banner in a while. – Catija Dec 1 '20 at 1:50
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    @Catija yep I knew about that too. That's why I also propose adding back in the banner for SO and make the top bar dark like the other sites. Why was the banner removed in the first place? Whatever the reason, I feel like the pros outweigh the cons at this point: It would make the interface consistent across sites, it would make the codebase cleaner, plus it would resolve this issue if we take my first proposal into account. – Kodos Johnson Dec 1 '20 at 2:27
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What is "negative" in terms of the question asking experience?

  • Is it fewer people asking questions?
  • Is it that question asking takes longer?
  • Is it that question asking is a bit tougher?

...none of which I would objectively consider "negative"?

Would this metric (not the one I suggested, but a metric of negativity) be scaled to apply to different sites should this feature be considered successful and roll out to a wide distribution?

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If you have enabled “Hide left navigation” via your profile settings or are viewing on a mobile device, the “Ask question” button will appear inside the hamburger menu instead of being visible on the page itself.

That's going to be really annoying.

I keep the sidebar collapsed; I have almost no need for what's in it as a general rule, and I can use keyboard shortcuts to get there if for some reason wind up needing to. I almost never open that burger. (I don't even remember what it looks like on a non-SO site.)

The ask button, though, I use a heck of a lot; I've asked hundreds of questions around the network, and there are times where I'm asking a question a day (especially on Literature). To now have to open the hamburger every time seems like a waste of time and adding extra clicks. (The automated question checker already basically just makes me click twice; I'm experienced enough asking questions that if it warns me about something I go "I know better than you" and go ahead anyway. Adding even more extra clicks is just going to be frustrating, especially as I can't even use keyboard shortcuts to get there.)

Now; this isn't a very common perspective - frequent asker, collapsed sidebar - but I figured I'd chime in anyway. FWIW, I liked it when the ask button was higher up on the right, before the site redesigns; along the same line as the links to "questions", "tags", "badges", etc were (that are now in the sidebar).

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    "especially as I can't even use keyboard shortcuts to get there" bah, nonsense! Just press s -> Tab -> Enter. This corresponds to focusing the search bar -> tabbing to the "Ask a question" button there -> pressing it. See, easy when you know how. The only slightly unintuitive part is why is there an "Ask a question" button in the search bar. – VLAZ Nov 30 '20 at 21:09
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    Eh, just get used to typing /questions/ask along with /badges, /tags, /users, etc - I got sick of trying to adjust to nav changes years ago, but the paths have been stable for over a decade; memorizing them is worth the effort IMHO. – Shog9 Dec 1 '20 at 2:43
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    I suspect "move useful stuff to the sidebar" is a direct response to the very claim of "we hide the sidebar because it doesn't contain anything useful". – TylerH Dec 2 '20 at 15:28

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