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For me, the Stack Exchange mindset is: ask good questions (e.g. practical or theoretical problems, clarification on a particular subject or about a moment from history) - and provide equally good answers.

I must say, these days it's good to focus on learning, history, developing new skills... Quite often, as a new user I notice other new users falling-off as a result of them not having understood the nature of Stack Exchange - the rules and etiquette. In fact, the onus to contribute effectively is on the (new) user.

Is this the correct Stack Exchange mindset? An aide to learning, a place to advance careers, a place to share knowledge? Including all those who participate and contribute long-term, over time - and including those who simply seek a one-off answer.

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    Thanks for your kind words Dylan, but is there an actual question here. If not I'm afraid we need to close this. – Luuklag Jan 11 at 13:52
  • Thanks Luuklag. Actually, now - I think it's more of a declaration. I think I was influenced by the apparent difference between those who contribute (commit) long-term, and those who just need to solve a one-off problem. But, I guess now I appreciate Stack Exchange. as a learning platform too I suppose it's self-evident that these are the ideals of Stack Exchange. – Dylan Jan 11 at 13:55
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    Perhaps it is better if you copy most of your post into an answer, and leave a short question. That way we allow for more discussion on the question at hand "the ideal SE mindset", and in that way people can value both your question and answer seperately. – Luuklag Jan 11 at 13:59
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    It could probably also help if you could clarify why the ideal SE mindset should be discussed here. Asking us what the ideal mindset is seems nice, but what kind of problem would we be solving here by all just posting our opinions on what we think is ideal? What goal does knowing about the ideal mindset work towards? – Tinkeringbell Jan 11 at 14:06
  • I suppose, @Tinkeringbell - following the examples of yourself, new users and contributors can learn to make good use of Stack Exchange. So, I - well, actually, it's obvious isn't it. So, on reflection - yes, I think it is a declaration of intention. But, I also thought to highlight the subject with other new users. – Dylan Jan 11 at 14:14
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TL;DR: What is correct highly depends on the person holding the mindset and how they turn their mindset into actions.

Is this the correct Stack Exchange mindset? An aide to learning, a place to advance careers, a place to share knowledge.

Someone thinking of Stack Exchange as 'an aide for learning' could also be turning that into the action of using it like it's free private tutoring. Other people use it like they should: as any other textbook, except to this one they can contribute by adding new chapters or editing existing pages. Sites do need good questions to be able to continue to improve.

The same goes for 'advance careers'. If people turn that mindset into the action of sockpuppeting to gain SO reputation they can then use to get a job, this of course isn't a helpful mindset. More problematic would be putting too much participation on SE during work hours; this can be detrimental to your career if you're not careful. If you're using the sites to gain knowledge that you can then indirectly turn into a benefit for your career, it may work.

As for sharing knowledge, the same thing: it could be detrimental to hold this mindset if that leads to users pushing e.g. personal theories or posting off-topic questions and soapboxing answers. While this is definitely a place to share knowledge, this again has its limits. Some people may have a wealth of knowledge on a particular topic, but if that topic doesn't have a community on SE already, they will have to start their own or refrain from sharing this knowledge. On the other hand, without having people that want to share knowledge, this site would be nowhere.

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It... doesn't exist.

I personally find one gets more out of a site going in with a certain intellectual curiosity - but one finds that the success factors for say... meta are very different from my other main site

There's folks who treat their SE experience as 'a place to ask questions' (Something I personally feel is an antipattern. I am not here to ask questions, the main value is in getting and providing answers). Others purely focus on getting reputation.

So the ideal is to find what you're looking for. Crafting the perfect question (and maybe finding the answer in the process!), finding someone else apparently is in need of some obscure bit of knowledge you have found. Then have fun.

As a 100k user (on one site, and coming up to a second in 6-8 weeks), two site mod and active community member - there's little extrinsic benefit for me. The occasional swag, maybe and an inside track on goings on, but fundamentally, the value for me right now is I enjoy what I do, whether is answering questions on superuser, or helping folks find their way around meta (with the occasional side of chewing on a spammer or two).

There is no ideal user, but maybe a good way to describe it, to borrow from the works of J. Michael Straczynski - the ideal experience, in life and SE...

We do,we explore, we ask questions; we pursue our heart's desires, we dream of achieving greatness

So I guess the question is... what do you want to do and learn about

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  • The greatest expression of Michael's idea - practically, is to begin - firstly - and then progress with basic concepts, and overtime, advance, so that answering questions becomes the main activity. Eventually, some (experts) will switch from asking to answering - from learner to expert. But, whether correcting question typos through to solving a technical problem, to me - there is strong educationalist aspect to all SE users. Some call it strict and tough. I think it's reasonable given the context and diverse range of questions. – Dylan Jan 11 at 16:11
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This is my fourth attempt at contributing to, and benefiting from Stack Exchange, because in the past, I didn't ask proper questions, and I didn't follow etiquette.

But recently I decided to focus - not only for practical problem solving, not only because of the pressures caused by the pandemic (focus, new skills, positive mindset) - but to learn for the sake of learning - to enjoy learning from the sheer abundance of freely available information. We are lucky! Never before have we been able to access such wealth of information about all those numerous subjects.

The greatest benefit of Stack Exchange is to be able to engage with experts and learners alike, focusing on specific technical and theoretical problems - but also to create a personal central hub for all things related to learning about programming, science, mathematics... I think this approach is even more important in the current trend of Internet information overload and social media distraction.

I tend to agree with that argument, but there are still a few websites following what was perhaps Tim Berners-Lee's original inspiration: a way for people to connect to share knowledge and ideas - an ecosystem of information.

If there is one website more strict in its structure and intention than Wikipedia and Stack Exchange, it must be the World Wide Web Consortium - the original Internet standards organisation. But with this, we find certainty, assurance, correctness and accuracy.

Uncertainty can help us to focus on meaning and learning.

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  • What do you mean by "create a personal central hub"? E.g., where is it and what form does it take? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jan 11 at 18:47
  • Well, for example, currently learning C Programming, so I have website bookmarks, a folder for 100 coding tutorials, and a learning path, so this is my own learning approach. Stack Overflow is essential simply because it contains every possible question about C. So my own personal learning begins with SO. By personal I mean 'my own', central - 'convenient', 'hub' refers to different sources of information. Virtual and self-directed learning is a challenge, alongside the rules of a forum and community. I think the idea is from UK's 'Open University' institution. – Dylan Jan 11 at 19:03
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There are a lot. Actually, I would not call them "SE mindset", but "SE strategies". An "SE strategy" is your behavior which optimizes your own results, which also includes that you get what you want while you minimize the confrontation with the system.

However, this "strategy" (mindset) depends on what do you understand on "results". Some examples:

  • To collect the maximal rep?
  • To get answers to your questions?
  • To make your account famous?
  • To clean up the crap?
  • To fix the crap?
  • To help others as much as possible?
  • To cause as much harm to others as possible?
  • To get the most possible power, ideally by becoming a moderator?
  • To fight illiteracy?
  • To make your online account ideal to refer in your CV?
  • To get jobs?
  • To collect online friends?

I've seen many examples for all of these. Practically all of us are motivated by a linear combination of these. Some of these goals are nice, and others are not. Some of these goals can be effectively reached over the SE, and others are not (but it is widely believed as if they would be).

What is the "Stack Exchange mindset" depends on these goals. All the goals have a different one.

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    I assume lot of users also switch between strategy, either over time or based on current context. – rene Jan 11 at 15:35
  • @rene Yes, I agree. – peterh Jan 11 at 15:36
  • I see. Some motivations are to do with just legibility of question - some with educationalist intention. And with it all combined, demonstrates, on a processional level, commitment to the subject, and to learning, which can help with career goals. But I also think demonstrating an interest and perhaps passion for a subject leads naturally to all other positive things. – Dylan Jan 11 at 15:59
  • @Dylan Yes. The motivations boil down to 3 basic activity types: questions, answers and moderation. Roughly this is how the badges are divided up. – peterh Jan 11 at 16:22
  • Some of us still believe in the original vision of building a (high-quality) knowledge base (with perhaps the selfish wish of benefitting from it sometime in the future). Perhaps an item for your list, in whole or in parts? – P.Mort. - forgot Clay Shirky_q Jan 11 at 18:55
  • @P.Mort.-forgotClayShirky_q That is right. I think wanting it is not really selfish. But... I've seen so many people saying this, and voting down 28000 questions with 8000 rep. I've seen so many people saying this, and rejecting more than half of the cases in the suggested edit queue, with crap reason. I believe in the idea but if anybody says this, first what I check, is his up/down ratio and recent review stats, particularly the suggested edits review (imho that says a lot from a real attitude of someone - we can dislike content on many reasons, but who dislikes improvements...). – peterh Jan 11 at 20:33

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