I just listened to Ep4 of the stackexchange podcast. I think Joel made a crucial point.

Having been around here a while I've come to take certain things for granted, like assuming that everybody knows what a good question is.

If I physically came into your office and just started spewing details without any ritual first, you'd probably consider me to be at least forward, maybe even rude, for imposing like that. With all the traffic on the "new questions" list, it might also feel like you're kinda lost and want to "grab somebody" to just be given a signal that it is OK to simply ask the question.

The "ask a question" page asks you to present an answerable problem. give details and be specific, but the fact that at this site we would like all this to be compiled into the first "post" of the "thread" may not be obvious. The SO style of a disconnect between the "root post" (the question) and the following posts is something you learn after sticking around for a while.

I would suggest that the "ask a page" would contain at least one example of a well asked question. At least until you have 30 reps or something.

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    The end of the last sentence of your second paragraph has been stolen by the Anti-Unicorn League; please pay their ransom so that we know what you were trying to say. – jscs Jun 25 '11 at 18:13
  • No, seriously -- you left a sentence incomplete in your post; please fix it. – jscs Jun 27 '11 at 0:03

So... even more text on the How to Ask page for these oblivious users to not read, then?

Joel is proposing a chat-based Q&A system in the podcast, that is, something like:

U1: So I have this problem with my code.

U2: Really? A problem with your code? That's a total bummer, dude!

U1: Yeah I know, right! Code that doesn't work. Totally harshes my mellow.

U2: If only there were some way I could help you. I live to help people with code problems.

U1: Right, so I get this craaaaazy error.

U2: An error?

U1: Yep, an error.

U2: What kind of error?

U1: Something about a process table.. let me try it again.

U2: Give it another shot, who knows, maybe it'll work this time!

U1: Nope, still getting an error. Darn.

U2: Well fragnasticagrabatraz! I was hoping it would work for you. {FROWNY WIDDLE SAD FACE}

U1: It says here that this is process table error 16201A dash zed strike 3 sublevel C.

U2: Oh, I have an idea! Let me put that error code into Google.

U1: Google?

U2: You know, the thing that searches the intertubes.

U1: Oh right, the intertubes.

oh god I can't do this any more

Hopefully it is obvious why this "conversational" thing Joel was talking about makes zero sense here. Imagine you were emailing someone with a problem -- do they have time to send you 3 or 4 back and forth emails to figure out what the heck your problem is? Probably not. You want answers? Fantastic. It's on you to ask a reasonably complete question, then. This is what I like to call a "life skill".

You can try it in chat, I guess, but I don't think writing up a reasonably coherent statement of your problem is an onerous or difficult to understand requirement.

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    +1 for FROWNY WIDDLE SAD FACE. I'm so sick of people using perfectly good punctuation to inject complex human emotions into textual response. Those poor, poor abused parens. – Pollyanna Jun 25 '11 at 18:19
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    Flagged the previous comment :) – Dr. belisarius Jun 25 '11 at 18:28
  • @Wether :( – Pollyanna Jun 25 '11 at 19:00
  • No, you missed his point entirely. Joel was not proposing this solution. Joel was pointing out that our model to mentally dump all info into one posting without any "ceremony" is not as intuitive or as given as we on SO would like to think. The topic was why there seems to be cultural "flavour" to the way people ask quesions. Joel pointed out that even what we consider to be a low quality question may be culture based. I tried putting on that mental model and went through the motions of entering a question to see where in the process I would get feeling that I wasn't doing the right thing. – Tormod Jun 26 '11 at 6:50
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    @tormod I look at hundreds of low quality questions per day, unlike Joel, and I can't say I see any of what you are describing. Generally when questions are bad, they are obviously bad in ways that are outright negligent -- as in, they provide no detail -- not subtle things like a misspelled word. If you'd like to cite specific examples in your Q, please do. – Jeff Atwood Jun 26 '11 at 7:13
  • @Jeff Exactly. We WANT all details in the first post. To us this is natural. However, it may not be intuitive the first time poster. The "ask a question" page does say that you should be specific and provide details. However, it does not say that all this info should go into "the first post on the subject". Human-to-human interaction, as well as a number of other sites, have a more chit-chat style. Why don't you do the same excercise? Imagine that you normally find it rude to just dump all your problems in someone elses lap. Then go to "ask a question" on SO and see if it changes your mind. – Tormod Jun 26 '11 at 7:32
  • @tormod if they want chit-chat, they are on the wrong set of sites and should go to chacha.com -- this simply isn't a problem we have. If you'd like to provide a series of 5-10 URLs of examples of this mythical "chatty but quality user" please do. All I see is users who are so low quality they'd ask terrible questions in any format, regardless of how "chatty" it was. – Jeff Atwood Jun 26 '11 at 8:57
  • @Jeff. All I'm saying is that the gap between our expectations and a norm (that I don't necessarily agree with) that is found both on other sites and normal people-to-people exchanges in general is not bridged by help on the "ask question" page. Even if you phone user support on some service, it takes some getting used to that the efficient format is to go straigt to your problem. Hanselman had a piece about him honing his skills in talking to airline service support. I don't have a crystal ball, so I can't answer your question as to what user response SO would be missing out on. – Tormod Jun 26 '11 at 9:12

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