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After a new user gets two questions closed, or two answers deleted as non-answers (or any combination thereof), send the following message to them using the moderator messaging system (it doesn't have to be copied to the other moderators):

Welcome to Stack Overflow!

We have noticed that a couple of your posts were closed or deleted. If you are familiar with traditional forums on the Internet, you should know that we work quite differently from those (we are a question and answer site, not a discussion forum).

We strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with the FAQ and learn how things work here, as there are automated mechanisms in place that permanently ban first-time users who do not engage effectively with the community. We don't want that to happen to you, so please take a few moments to learn how the site works and how you can participate productively.

Thanks, and happy hunting from your friends at Stack Overflow!

Note: The primary purpose of this is to provide the warning about the permanent, automated bans, and to point them one last time to the resources that will help them prevent that from occurring. It's not intended to save everyone (it won't).

This differs from the usual signposts, because it is a message directed at the user himself (whereas the signposts can always be dismissed as information for someone else).

6
  • Would rather it not be copied
    – random
    Jun 27, 2011 at 18:28
  • 8
    I think there needs to be an implied threat of violence in there somewhere.
    – user1228
    Jun 27, 2011 at 18:53
  • @Won't: Something about "Hunt you down with a rake", perhaps?
    – Cyclone
    Jun 27, 2011 at 19:52
  • 1
    "An implied threat of violence"... how about using "Love, \n Will" as the valediction? (@Wont)
    – Pops
    Jun 27, 2011 at 20:45
  • Unfortunately, moderator messages exhibit forum-like behavior...
    – Shog9
    Jun 27, 2011 at 21:10
  • 4
    Nice idea, but experience has taught me that the majority of people that would receive this simply don't read. It would give people one last warning before the system stops accepting posts, but I don't know how much it would pay off.
    – user50049
    Jun 27, 2011 at 21:11

3 Answers 3

8

I'm with Tim here:

Nice idea, but experience has taught me that the majority of people that would receive this simply don't read. It would give people one last warning before the system stops accepting posts, but I don't know how much it would pay off.

And Tom:

Telling users they are on the edge of a ban is discouraging, they can even prevent asking more questions because they want to be safe. In's like saying "Don't make me punish you!"

There are a lot of signals when things are going wrong for new users:

  • your posts are downvoted
  • your posts are removed (which shows a link to the faq#deletion, when viewed)
  • users (or mods) comment on your posts telling you about various problems with your posts

It's not like they aren't being presented with advice and guidance, already. There is:

  • the auto-help that pops up for new users when they focus the answer input area
  • the mandatory how to ask clickthrough page for all new users when asking questions,
  • dynamic mandatory how to answer help for short answers

... etcetera.

I don't really see the point of presenting these oblivious users with Yet More Help Text They Will Not Read.

If they can't follow these clear signals, to be quite frank, they don't need education, they need to go away.

5
  • It only has to work 5% of the time to be successful.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 22:34
  • 2
    @robert this is like arguing that the "best" 5% of the trash should not be thrown out. I'd rather focus on encouraging the actual good things in our system rather than playing the losing "what's the best of the worst" game. Jun 27, 2011 at 22:41
  • Fair enough....
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 22:41
  • @robert I think we've implemented all the self-help features we can at this point, and I am open to improving the existing self-help features.. but I am opposed to adding even more, as there is a point of diminishing returns. Jun 27, 2011 at 22:44
  • See my last comment(s) on @Tomwij's answer below. I promise I won't say any more about it.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 23:08
8

Yesterday I happened across a few posts that were getting flagged into oblivion, where members of the community had been trying to coach the author into using the system properly.

The generic response from said authors went something like this (meta comment):

K, thx but .. plz .. can U help me nEway now? can u reply me .... ...

Basically, translated, "Look, I'm too busy to care about that kind of stuff right now. Just give me what I want and maybe I'll remember next time."

I'm not saying all cases would be like that, and in fact I'm sure that some people would read the message and follow the given advice. However, I think many people would just skim over it, or just dismiss the header notification in their frantic search to get an answer.

I'm not saying it's a bad idea, but I'm a bit skeptical that it would do much good. In my experience, the majority of people who would receive that message:

  • Don't read
  • Don't care
  • Don't read and don't care

Then again, I have no better suggestion on how to slow these people down and 'strongly encourage' them to drop a heightened sense of urgency so they can actually use the system to their advantage.

1
  • 1
    Yep...I'm not trying to save those people, just the 5% to 10% that have functioning gray matter but, for whatever reason, didn't read all the signs.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 21:32
0

TL;DR: The long message doesn't point at what is different. Skip to the last section, my answer...


Example:

I'm a new user wandering around! Oh, an long alert, what does it say...

Welcome to Stack Overflow!

This isn't my first visit...

We have noticed that a couple of your posts were closed or deleted. If you are familiar with traditional forums on the Internet, you should know that we work quite differently from those (we are a question and answer site, not a discussion forum).

Yeah, I saw that. What is so different?

We strongly suggest that you familiarize yourself with the FAQ and learn how things work here, as there are automated mechanisms in place that permanently ban first-time users who do not engage effectively with the community. We don't want that to happen to you, so please take a few moments to learn how the site works and how you can participate productively.

Does this tell me what's different? Where should I look exactly? TL;DR, why would I read all FAQs?

What did I exactly do wrong that's so forum like? How do I prevent doing that? What's an alternative?

Thanks, and happy hunting from your friends at Stack Overflow!

Erm... What should I be hunting?


Answer:

Even when they do read it, it can be really confusing.

Please come up with a shorter and more precise solution, an example:

We have noticed that a couple of your questions were closed.

Please note that we are a Q&A site and not a traditional forum; we generally focus on practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face. Chatty, open-ended discussions are not welcome because they do not lead to useful answers. Consult the FAQ for more details...

Thank you, and have a nice day on #SITENAME#!

Furthermore, I wonder if such a message is really necessary...

Shouldn't we get the close reason to link to the FAQ instead?

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  • 1
    I'm not picky about the wording. It can say anything you like so long as it includes the warning about permanent banning, which your verbiage seems to have omitted.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 21:59
  • @RobertHarvey: I left that out on purpose. That permanent ban only triggers for people that are unwilling to read the close reasons, this warning and the FAQ and continue to post extremely bad questions. It's more likely to lead them away than be of any use, for that very small percentage. If you disagree, something short like this should do: PS: We automatically ban users that continue to use the site like a forum. We don't want that to happen to you... Jun 27, 2011 at 22:11
  • I don't really understand why you would be reluctant to warn people about the ban. It's like putting grass over a bear trap. What if your trap catches something besides a bear? Well, I suggest there is a more intellectually honest approach. For the record, I didn't read any of this FAQ stuff when I started (I didn't feel the need to). Then again, they didn't have permanent IP bans then.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 22:18
  • @Robert: Telling users they are on the edge of a ban is discouraging, they can even prevent asking more questions because they want to be safe. It's like "Don't make me punish you!", that keeps people away... We aren't going to agree over this, ultimately voting should decide it... Jun 27, 2011 at 22:23
  • That's why you don't want to tell them about it? If they get banned, they're screwed anyway.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 22:24
  • @Robert: That's why you do want to tell them about it? If they flee, we're screwed anyway. Jun 27, 2011 at 22:26
  • So you want to beat around the bush, treating these folks with kid gloves, all the way up to the moment you slam them with a permanent IP ban?
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 22:28
  • 1
    @robert no, for the guy who just ran three STOP signs, we don't think adding a fourth "PLEASE STOP" sign is worthwhile. Jun 27, 2011 at 22:33
  • @RobertHarvey: We aren't allowing people of younger age, people are old enough to understand that they should listen to a warning the site gives. We don't have to use our kid gloves to say what would trivially happen if they wouldn't listen and continue to post extremely bad questions. The first close informs the user, the second close informs the user, comments inform the user, that warning informs the user; really, if he is still unwilling to listen then he simply doesn't care... Jun 27, 2011 at 22:36
  • 1
    @Tom: If you want to keep someone from entering an intersection, you put up a stop sign. If you want to keep them from going off a cliff, you put up a fence. Failing to put up a fence suggests that you want them to go over the cliff. That's all. We've developed such a contempt for these people that we now call them trash. Maybe that's true, maybe it isn't. But allowing them to go over the cliff without telling them they are going to go over the cliff (and without any possibility of appeal) is somehow...un-American.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 23:08
  • @Robert: The stop sign doesn't say that a car will crash into them or the police will give you a fine. If you drive through the fence, you fall. The fence warns them that that they shouldn't trespass the fence, but it doesn't tell us there is a large canyon behind it. Warnings only take place in life threatening settings where no earlier indications have been given; that's why we warn for land mines and guarding dogs but not for stop signs and a trivial cliff... Jun 27, 2011 at 23:17
  • It may not be a perfect metaphor, but I trust I've made my point.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 23:20
  • And now we're going in circles... :) Jun 27, 2011 at 23:22
  • 3
    @robert their contributions to our network may be substandard, but I'm sure they're very nice people. Not everyone is qualified to be a brain surgeon, or attend college, or drive a car. Jun 27, 2011 at 23:26
  • 2
    @Jeff: That does improve my understanding, thanks.
    – user102937
    Jun 27, 2011 at 23:30