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I announced several weeks ago that the company was holding its fourth Community-a-thon event and that after the event I’d be posting a recap as we did last year. This year’s event was different from previous years and we held it for a shorter period of time. With that in mind this won’t be as in-depth of a recap as last year. Below are some highlights:

  • New user onboarding
  • Site navigation
  • Barriers to participation when not having enough reputation
  • Differences and similarities between the experience on the Stack Exchange Network and on the Stack Overflow Teams product
  • The site experience on mobile

Some specifics:

  • Some staff members who were less familiar with the platform didn’t know about the existence of the tour pages on each site. They found these really helpful in terms of understanding what was on/off-topic for a particular site. They wish these pages were more prominent and easier to find. Some staff mentioned that they wished the Stack Overflow for Teams product had a similar page and guidance.
  • Not being able to vote or comment as a new user without enough reputation was frustrating for some who were less familiar with the platform. That there is less of a barrier to being able to answer questions was confusing for some who felt that they’d rather have the ability to comment first so they could ask for clarification or more information on a question before jumping into an answer.
  • We received feedback that formatting and spacing on mobile (using a browser app on the mobile device) - particularly iOS - felt “off”. If a user was writing a question or answer and then backspaces to make changes, the spacing and formatting felt off.

In conclusion

I’ve shared a very small sample of some of the platform feedback. In terms of the event itself, we received feedback that was consistent with previous Community-a-thons. Staff who were less familiar with the Stack Exchange Network appreciated the opportunity to spend time there. Staff who are more familiar with the Stack Exchange Network enjoyed participating on the site through a different lens. Both groups (as in previous years) were blown away by the volume of knowledge from the communities.

We experimented with a shorter format this year. In previous Community-a-thons we found that the first week had the most participation and we want to be mindful of people’s time. We believe there is tremendous value in this event but we also don’t want to pull people away from projects or from working on bug fixes or releases that would benefit the community. All feedback has been logged and will be considered as we design next year’s Community-a-thon.

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    I wish the tour, on-topic and dont-ask page were more prominent too. Can we expect new goals based on these conclusions?
    – Mast
    Nov 21, 2023 at 19:46
  • Rosie, the start of the post mentions "Below are some highlights:", followed by a list of topics. Are these simply things that were frequently mentioned in internal feedback during Community-a-thon? I might suggest clarifying the phrasing before the bulleted list, if that's the case. (Though it's not as useful to know what topics people gave feedback on, without actually knowing what the feedback was - which is what your "Some specifics:" list clarifies.)
    – V2Blast
    Nov 21, 2023 at 21:39
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    ???? SO Inc has been told for years that you fail to reasonably educate users & warn new users & the first thing new users see is unclear & misleading. But you remain in denial insisting on a bait & switch because you are afraid of scaring away new users and cling to framing the problem with their bad posts & reception & consequent bad feelings as somehow inadequacy or unniceness of commenters & curators or a failure of comments + closure requiring replacing by specialized 'staging' whose functionality is effectively just comments + pre-closure + blocking the downvotes from bait & switch.
    – philipxy
    Nov 22, 2023 at 3:34

2 Answers 2

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Some staff members who were less familiar with the platform didn’t know about the existence of the tour pages on each site. They found these really helpful in terms of understanding what was on/off-topic for a particular site. They wish these pages were more prominent and easier to find.

The /help/on-topic page in particular should be way easier to find. Ideally, in my mind, it would be almost the first thing someone sees when they click "Ask Question" for the first time. If you want to save someone's time, tell them if they're in the right place as soon as you can. If you want to systematically and repeatedly waste the time of several people in a community, don't.

Not being able to vote or comment as a new user without enough reputation was frustrating for some who were less familiar with the platform. That there is less of a barrier to being able to answer questions was confusing for some who felt that they’d rather have the ability to comment first so they could ask for clarification or more information on a question before jumping into an answer.

You are missing what I see as the more-root problem: That there was a question(s) that needed more information. This is fine if the asker consciously tried their best to make their question well-defined and just didn't know what info they could provide. I'm happy to assume good-faith, and have many times been on the side of not knowing what I don't know, and therefore not being sure of what information is relevant to the question or not. But the golden path is that all the information that is needed to answer the question is in the question from the very first revision, and I think it's better for an asker to provide as much info as they can, because it's more efficient for an SME to edit out what they know is irrelevant, than to do the back-and-forth loop of soliciting more info on the global internet (provided that that info-providing is not done lazily in the opposite direction- Ex. on SO, not doing the work of turning something into a minimal reproducible example). It's is a deeply ingrained value of this platform that we do Q&A with no chit-chat (or as little as possible).

My suspicion is that the current maintainers of this platform choose not to push askers harder to read guidelines about how to ask a good question because they want there to be as little barrier to asking as possible for them. But this is the sacrifice that that comes at- same as I said above: The result is wasted time (for the people who have the privilege to flag / comment / chat and need to engage in that way to get the info necessary to write an answer), or wasted opportunity (for someone with subject-matter expertise to write an answer because there wasn't enough info for that to be possible). And really in either of those two scenarios, the asker suffers too. They need to go through an async info-soliciting process, or they miss getting an answer from someone who could help if missing info was provided. It's just harder to see/feel the impact of that sacrifice until you try being the answerer (from the asker POV, many askers come in with a wrong expectation that that info-soliciting process is perfectly fine and that they can start by giving less than all the info they have, and the impact of not getting an answer from someone who can't comment is invisible to the asker) I'm glad that some of you came to feel it.

And again, it's not like we don't have resources to teach askers how to formulate good questions for this platform. We have /help/how-to-ask, /help/dont-ask, /help/minimal-reproducible-example, tag wikis, etc. In my eyes, those resources are not being promoted enough to their intended audience.

As for the frustration on not being able to vote without earning the voting privilege, you can find some of my experimental ideas in this answer I wrote to If more users could vote, would they engage more? Testing 1 reputation voting on some sites.


TL;DR *with the sound of a broken record* for the benefit of both askers and answerers, please promote the Help Center more intentionally to new askers.

And by the way, before I forget, a huge thank you to all the staff who participated in the Community-a-thon. I may not know who you are, but I really appreciate you for doing that. I hope to see you around more!

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    It's funny how after all these years of complaints and requests this is mentioned in the OP as if it was a surprise.
    – Joachim
    Nov 23, 2023 at 0:35
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Not being able to vote or comment as a new user without enough reputation was frustrating for some who were less familiar with the platform. That there is less of a barrier to being able to answer questions was confusing for some who felt that they’d rather have the ability to comment first so they could ask for clarification or more information on a question before jumping into an answer.

As long as we're stuck with a trust system based on a single axis of fake internet points, the reasoning is obvious - getting those points needs to be bootstrapped somehow, and answering gives points while insightful comments do not.

If you aren't up for redesigning the entire system (not to mention the effect on existing users), it would be really nice if a site's moderators could (by consensus) adjust the reputation thresholds. They can be trusted not to abuse this, because doing so would have immediate negative consequences for them. Then lower-volume sites, where there is negligible risk of trolling from throwaway accounts, could allow comments etc. immediately. On the other extreme end, maybe Stack Overflow could make it so that people need to get an upvoted answer or a couple approved edits (and thus establish real familiarity with the site and its standards) before they may ask a question.

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    I have mixed feelings re the comment privilege. I agree that it should be lower, but not too low. We don't want to make it easier for spammers to comment. But more importantly, we want people who post question comments to have some knowledge of how the sites work, and what constitutes a good question. Eg, on SO we don't want people saying "please post a screenshot of your code".
    – PM 2Ring
    Nov 22, 2023 at 11:24
  • @PM2Ring how many recorded instances are there of spammers having more than 1 reputation and not using a purchased account? But yeah, it would be much better if form comments could guide the poster through fixing the question, and the access to such comments would also guide new users through the policy. Nov 23, 2023 at 3:04

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