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I've noticed recently that among the various posts here on meta.stackexchange.com that appear clearly intended for one or another main network site (and there seem to be a handful per day) that:

  • The OP usually is a new user with 1 rep
  • The OP is usually already also signed up on the right site for the question (or at least a reasonably good guess)

It seems to happen commonly enough that new users sign up for a network site specifically to ask a question, but then somehow end up posting it here instead of in the intended location. Typically these really are new accounts created the same day or almost as recently - so it doesn't make sense that this is Q-ban evasion from users whose questions have all been deleted.

What exactly is going on here? Does something about the Stack Exchange UI make it easy to post on MSE accidentally instead of on the main site where someone has just finished signing up?

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    Related meta.stackexchange.com/questions/306329/… Commented Jun 1 at 3:52
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    Also for extra fun, sometimes people don't realise per site metas exist, or better yet, think MSE means math.se :D Commented Jun 1 at 3:57
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    Not posting this as an answer as it is only a guess. Visit the main SE site and look at the top of the screen. Immediately to the left of the "Search Box" is the clickable Meta that takes the novice to a page that looks like an overview page for Q&A... Some people just want their question answered ASAP... As said: just a guess...
    – user1242880
    Commented Jun 1 at 4:09
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    I don't know about leading them here, but when I press the "Ask Question" button, I get a screen with a big box on the right hand size, which contains "Is your question about the Stack Exchange engine that powers the Stack Exchange network?" along with bunch of useful links providing further help. If that's not enough to stop what they're doing... then let them hit the wall and learn the hard way. We can't personally pamper every single user on a site with millions of accounts.
    – Dan Mašek
    Commented Jun 1 at 17:07
  • @DanMašek The right-hand column of any given webpage (that has one) might as well be invisible to anyone who doesn't already have a specific reason to look there. Commented Jun 1 at 17:17
  • There are 3 boxes on that page. If that's too much... who are we trying to cater to? Then make it a wizard, with first page asking "Is you question....". Big "NO", tiny little "Yes" tucked somewhere away. And I bet people will still post nonsense here. :/
    – Dan Mašek
    Commented Jun 1 at 17:22
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    The problem isn't the number of boxes. The problem is the physical layout. Commented Jun 1 at 17:26
  • It is missing a helpful banner: meta.stackexchange.com/a/278564
    – rene
    Commented Jun 2 at 6:54
  • Whenever it happens, why not simply ask the user how they ended up here? It happens frequently enough. Instead of guessing.
    – Amarth
    Commented Jun 2 at 11:04
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    @Amarth because they almost never reply. The only reply I recall is from someone who was question banned and knew this wasn't the right place but asked anyway. 1 reply from hundreds of questions from various people asking why they have posted here doesn't really allow one to draw much in the way of sensible conclusions. Commented Jun 2 at 11:08
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    Since that was deleted. I'd assure you that if we didn't delete them quickly, they'd overwhelm legitimate questions. On a mature network/site metas are generally quiet , this one included, unless someone gets up on a soapbox, or sets something on fire. 4-5 of these posts... adds up Commented Jun 2 at 13:57
  • @JourneymanGeek So does squashing ants forever instead of dealing with the ant hill, but... ok Commented Jun 2 at 14:05
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    Better options needs a little more engagement/understanding from the company than we have. People have tried asking the posters, people have suggested solutions, but this has been what has gotten us the best results. Whack a Mole might not be efficient or elegant, but sometimes, when its all you have at hand, you can hammer in a nail with a sufficiently large wrench. Gimme the TINIEST bit of friction and the problem would go alway Commented Jun 2 at 14:20
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    @CDR in typical cases I see an account created on the proper site, but no questions on it. Although it's entirely possible that these accounts all have one or more deleted questions, I suppose. Commented Jun 2 at 22:54

2 Answers 2

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My own best guess is that many times the reasoning is the "Featured" links in the right sidebar.

They appear on each and every Stack Exchange site, and stand out.

So I believe that's a possible scenario:

  1. User reach the proper site and browsing it a bit, intending to post a question there.
  2. The user notice the Featured links, and finds one of them interesting.
  3. The user clicks the link, and reach the post on Meta Stack Exchange.
  4. The user read it, and doesn't notice it's actually on a different site.
  5. The user is done reading, and proceed to ask their question.
  6. Kaboom. Question posted here, and user has no idea it's wrong.

That's easy to handle in the UI level, as each link in the Featured box already has clear indicator that when visited, the user clicked the link, it's done by appending extra querystring parameter: cb=1. (Community Box flag.)

So it's possible to check for that flag in the question page, and when the flag is raised i.e. user arrived by clicking it in the box, show a very clear sign that it's Meta Stack Exchange, and possibly even detect what site the user reached from (e.g. using the referer header) and link back to it.

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    UV'd... Just like to add that newbies (and I'm still one after almost 2 years) often fail to appreciate 1) SE and SO are two separate "roots" of highly diverse branches; 2) the site(s) have been around for ~16years and are, therefore, much larger and intricate than the typical 12 page "web brochure" sites people mostly interact with. My two cents... :-)
    – user1242880
    Commented Jun 1 at 8:39
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    In a sense, its easier to find the wrong meta than the right site? :D Commented Jun 1 at 12:13
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    Can the "horizon" be made slightly smaller for wet-behind-the-ears newbies? Suppress the right sidebar (or parts thereof) until newbie has clicked around the limited range of their primary site for a few days... Drop hints of wider horizons as rewards for actually reading a few pages from the Help Center...
    – user1242880
    Commented Jun 1 at 12:29
  • @JourneymanGeek it’s certainly hard to find the right site even via searching, IMO. If I use “search all sites” on the main StackExchange landing page, looking for “Astronomy”, all I get are results on other sites like StackOverflow. And the “All Sites” link doesn’t really help unless you also do a Ctrl-F on the page to look for a site. Idk if there’s a better way to find a site other than Google for it, but it’s certainly not intuitive. (In fact, there are results for Hinduism, Arqade, Statistics, and Code Review, among others, that come before the first result from Astronomy) Commented Jun 2 at 9:29
  • Also, in a sense the 'old' design is a lot more intuitive for finding things - Meta's right there. That said, Ironically, I think site discoverability is one of those things that needs an outsider's perspective. I know how things work - and our lost souls clearly don't. I'd also suggest no one has any idea what the network front page should be like :D Commented Jun 2 at 9:39
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I'm a big fan of Adam Savage's concept of first order retrievability, and I'd say meta is too easy to find on the front page. Ironically I've been complaining per site metas are too hard to find, and this is the sort of discoverability I would want

I'm not a UX person so feel free to tell me when I'm wrong.

Lets look at the top bar and a chunk of the front page

enter image description here

note: A unregistered user won't see the filtered questions link.

Its a pretty busy page. I've never been a fan of icons as links, and the set to the right don't tell a new user anything.

Unlike every other site/landing page you have direct links to essential help pages and meta on the top bar. Its literally the first page you'd see, and it follows almost the same pattern that the SE landing page. Its a list of questions, and it has an ask questions page.

Finding meta is too intuitive.

While I'd rather have aspects of the 'old' style SE page into our more modern site designs - I'd wonder if removing the meta link from the top bar would help. I see the value of quick access to the tour and about us for a new user first finding the network - Its in an obvious place to find, on the top drawer so to say. Instead of that perhaps move the "All Sites" link up as communities, or have something in the style of the digests page, that has a really good summary of what each site is to help people find a site - but isn't a mailing list sign up

enter image description here

I'd want someone to end up somewhere like here from the front page, not meta. A link, a short write up of whom the site is for. A search on top. Its not meant to point someone to the right site as designed but it seems like an elegant platform for that if someone finds it. It just needs a little refinement.

The top bar workflow I'd see is - "Find out how we work" "Find out who we are" "Find the right site for you" (rather than here's meta, go nuts).

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