This is a case of straw that broke the camels back, in general I have found the community here to be very unwelcoming compared to other SE communities and the restrictions on question types seem to restrict them purely to things I could answer with a google/wiki/GameFAQs.com search instead. I have cancelled all my tag subscriptions to the site and will instead participate in other Q&A communities where I actually feel welcome – RobV 20 hours ago

From this question. Emphasis mine

The specific comment (now deleted) was:

This question is ridiculous. You seem to be confused with the fact that other people might need/desire different sensitivities for their controllers and then imply this is unfair? (score: 3)

I wish this were the first case were a user complained about our site in such a manner, but it's not. Obviously some users will complain, but this has been a trend as of late. In fact, I noticed it myself when I first joined and many other users have noted that there is a problem. So we have step one out of the way. We've admitted that there is a problem, but I think we have a long road ahead of us unfortunately.

The next step I think is to really listen to what our new users are saying and try and find the root cause of the frustration and barrier to entry. I don't even think we should be thinking about coming up with solutions yet. That will come once we know what our users are finding most frustrating.

I've created a chat room so that we can really start discussing what the issue might be. Areas to focus our discussion on might be:

  • Types of questions allowed (this one will be rough, I know)
  • Comments made by new users or users that have left
  • Feedback given to new users
  • Registration vs Post rate
  • Comments, responses, and dialogs with new users

Some of this will likely bring up what we want our site to be, and how we want people to use it. And it may boil down to "this is our site, we're sorry you don't agree with it" but I still think we need to have the discussion on it. Part of me hopes that it doesn't come down to that, because new users are too important to lose as many as I feel we have.

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+1, important topic, and it needed to be discussed. –  ElfSlice Jul 6 '12 at 19:18
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-1. The on-topic-ness of questions should not be on the table for discussion. Maybe the way we deal with new users asking off topic questions is important and can be improved, but such questions are off topic for a reason and we should not change that to cater to fragile new users. –  StrixVaria Jul 6 '12 at 19:29
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I think "types of questions allowed" has been beaten to death around here. Not sure anything good will come from discussing that. However, new users are more likely to ask a question that isn't allowed, so how we deal with that should be discussed. –  Jason Berkan Jul 6 '12 at 19:29
    
Agreed with all 3 of the above commenters. Our approach to new users and bad questions probably needs to be softened, but I think we're already doing a good job of determining (and more than enough talking about) what's on-topic. –  Matthew Read Jul 6 '12 at 19:32
    
Also agreed that we're in a good place with the content that's allowed; it's the approach that needs work. –  Shinrai Jul 6 '12 at 19:34
    
I'm not talking about discussion around what topics we should allow, but how we approach that. I agree there are a lot of those going on and I'm not trying to loop those into this. –  Ktash Jul 6 '12 at 19:37
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The rude comments seem to be a significantly more important than topicality. –  Ben Brocka Jul 7 '12 at 0:34
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Civility has nothing to do with "Your rules are too strict and I disagree with them." See my comment here: blog.stackoverflow.com/2012/07/kicking-off-the-summer-of-love/… –  Jeff Atwood Jul 22 '12 at 7:09
    
@JeffAtwood While civility ended up being the point we targeted (and the one in the example at the top), this question was meant to cover all user complaints. The goal with this question was to find the cause of new user issues, not to encourage civility (which I did previously in my answer to the other question). I still feel civility is only one piece of a larger hurdle for new users, and while we identified it as the piece we need to work on most, it doesn't mean it is all-encompassing for the new user issues. –  Ktash Jul 22 '12 at 7:17
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not everyone can attend Harvard. Or even the local community college. Stack Exchange has the rules it has about questions and answers because that’s what makes us Stack Exchange and not, y’know … Yahoo Answers or Reddit. Anyway, my point is that when people say "you guys are mean!" they often aren't actually talking about civility at all. They just want Harvard to let them in and/or loosen their requirements for applicants. Of course, doing that would make Harvard.. no longer Harvard. Please do not conflate these two very different things. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 22 '12 at 7:20
    
@JeffAtwood The point was to conflate them so that we could sift through the good and the bad to find out what is causing users to turn away. We found our root cause was civility in explaining things to new users and our interactions with them. But just writing off these complaints (yes, even the whining "I didn't get accepted" ones) does no one any good. Yes, we can and did ignore the "It's too hard" complaints. But that doesn't mean they weren't examined to make sure that is what they were and that we did what we could to be accepting towards new users. –  Ktash Jul 22 '12 at 7:27
    
@Jeff If you're looking for a meta specifically targeted at civility, I would check out How should we deal with rude comments?, which came out of this discussion. –  Ktash Jul 22 '12 at 7:31
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When the comment under discussion is "This question is ridiculous" (upvoted to three!!) is it really so hard to figure out that your root problem is a lack of civility and not "gee, your rules are complicated?" Because 98 times out of 100 when I get feedback like "man, Jeff, that Stack Exchange system you designed is full of jerks!" and I go take a look, I find out it's because they disagree with (and ran afoul of) the rules, not because anyone was actually rude to them in even the remotest way. I'm just sayin'. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 22 '12 at 7:32
    
p.s. I got into Harvard. No just kidding I got rejected like everyone else. Harvard sucks, they're all jerks there. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 22 '12 at 7:36
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I guess, but I'd appreciate it if experienced users could lead the way in disabusing users of the notion that "your rules are too strict!" and "you guys are mean!" are the same discussion. (Kind of as @ben noted above.) They aren't. p.s. Harvard still sucks. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 22 '12 at 7:40

5 Answers 5

@QATash, newbie perspective from a (as of July 2012) newbie.

I think we should hold questions accountable and sometimes it's okay to leave. In the end, we should encourage both good questions and good behavior.

Hold questions accountable

Don't underestimate the newbie. @RobV had an interesting question though I suspect fellow users reacted to the original adjusting sensitivity = cheating premise. At least that's what I read the original post.

Personally I have never had the need to change my sensitivity from the default and it seems like that this only serves as a potentially unfair advantage to the more hardcore players.

I doubt this was specifically meant to troll, but it was definitely rant-ish. I upvoted the revised version, btw.

SE has amazing opportunities for forgiveness--we can fix a question or answer, we can vote up or down. A bad question, answer, or remark shouldn't be the final word (I can't even see the specific bad feedback that prompted his exodus--did someone really say "kill it with fire?").

It's okay to leave. It'd be better to stay. Not all newbies are new.

I don't see RobV as a newbie with his technical background, a PhD in progress, several Gaming questions and even more answers. He's voted over 500 times as well.

I understand getting upset--I admit to intial "ouch" reactions to downvotes on StackExchange (SE) sites. But we learn to remove bad posts or improve on ones that we can.

It would have been nice if he offered a specific reason for leaving (what were the "other straws?"). It would have been awesome if he stuck around especially since SE's gamification model gives us the opportunity get more the more we put into it. We're free to join, contribute, make changes over time, or to leave. However, anyone should understand it's hard to take back a "You suck. I quit."

Encourage good questions and good behavior

I've learned (have had others drill into me) "good" questions follow a simple format.

  • "Hi, I expected this because of that."
  • "I tried this thing and got something else."
  • "What am I missing?"

This is specifically true on technical discussion sites as Eric Steven Raymond explains very well in "How to ask Questions the Smart Way."

So +1 on @agent86's sage advice on patience, constructive feedback, and understanding as well as to @QAtash for highlighting problems with the new user experience. As a newbie, I'm all for these somewhat re-hashed points.

  • Treat both new and long-time users cordially
  • Keep the same rules, FAQ, and Q and A format
  • Stay if you like the rules, FAQ, and Q and A format

But also...

Respect me by holding my posts accountable

As a newbie, I:

  • Should participate, vote, and share what I don't like
  • Am free to stick around to make things better
  • Am also free to leave, come, and go
  • Understand that a downvote, rude remark, or closed comment is at worst temporary over my involvement with any StackExchange site.
  • Even as a newbie, I expect a learning curve, occasional tough love, and differences in opinion.

So respect me as a newbie by guiding my posts appropriately, letting me make and fix mistakes, and holding everyone to the same standards.

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This is an excellently written post. Thank you for sharing your perspective! It is much appreciated. –  Ashley Nunn Jul 9 '12 at 1:29
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Excellent counterpoint to some of the speculation from those of us who have been here for a long time. There was a post from a new user on Programmers who shared a similar sentiment, and to repeat what I wrote there, I'd much rather we cater to people like you who are interested in learning what's appropriate for the site than trying to cater to everyone who happens to stumble onto Arqade (and failing). –  user3389 Jul 9 '12 at 1:31
    
+1, thanks for writing this much better than I ever could have. And yes, someone did say 'kill it with fire'. –  ElfSlice Jul 9 '12 at 1:48
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That whole "kill it with fire" meta joke is something that needs to go away. It's fun for everyone who's been here forever, but gives a harsh impression to new users. –  Jason Berkan Jul 9 '12 at 1:59

Discussions around the new user experience tend to be polarized, and I've found that it tends to be because we've got two axes we're trying to optimize around here: Content and Users.

The Content Advocate vs the User Advocate

Not to imply that everyone is an extremist, (although I know some people will identify strongly with one or the other position) but let's look at the extremist viewpoints.

Content advocates believe that the quality of site content is most important. Without quality content, the noise of bad content and broken windows will overwhelm the site, and we'll be left no better than any other random site on the internet. Commonly content advocates will say things like "If they can't read the FAQ and post along those guidelines, we don't want them here anyway. I'd rather have no contribution than something that's potentially negative."

User advocates believe that attracting and retaining new users is important. Without new users, there's no content, right? They also don't want the site to become too elitist by only allowing very knowledgeable or specific users to participate. Commonly user advocates will say "The policy's really muddy, and the question's borderline. It could be salvaged or answered with a comment. Why can't we be nice to this person who is earnestly trying to contribute?"

The arguments tend to flow when these two positions collide.

"User advocates want to coddle the newbies. That's just terrible for content! Burn this junk with prejudice."

"Content advocates might as well just put 'I have to like it' in the FAQ. Their elitism is terrible for users!"

Although these are hyperbole, I've seen many an argument that essentially revolve around these lines.

There's a lot of overlap, but there's also a lot of things that would make the user experience better, but at the cost of enforcing quality content. Both of these are critical to maintaining site health. Neither side is right at the expense of the other. Striking the proper balance is critical.

On Policy and New Users

Policy is an important part of this - policy, enforced consistently, leads to quality content. Disallowing questions and types of questions that seem to consistently produce low quality contributions raises the bar for content, but makes the new user experience worse. The other problem with policy is that the more complex it gets, the more open to interpretation it becomes, and the more inconsistent enforcement becomes. Ironically, the more we attempt to regulate, the more chaos exists.

It's my opinion that simple, sane, enforceable policy that maximizes quality while being reasonably understandable is the best balance here. We've all got our pet peeves about what topics create mediocre questions, and some of these probably deserve to be restricted. However, banning everything we don't like without clearly articulating a reason why they are bad for the site (ie, contrary to the SE model) makes things confusing and difficult for new users.

Reacting to Ignorance

Our reaction towards new users is also something that is important and difficult. Most people on the internet don't read first. Undoubtedly, requiring new users reading the FAQ, read policy threads on meta, and passing a site policy test prior to posting something would improve content, but make the user experience far more difficult.

Hostile reactions to new user ignorance are often encouraged or reinforced. Downvotes, close votes, and hostile comments flow fast and free. In some cases this is justified, and in others we're needlessly antagonizing new users. Being patient, constructive, and understanding can still yield overall quality content without driving potential new users away.

If you're not feeling like dealing with new user ignorance, take a break. There's no need to go off on the 10th person who failed to read the FAQ today - it's still their first time, regardless of how many times we've been down this road already. I actually kind of prefer having a canned comment for new users who don't "get it" yet - it makes it easier to separate my current mental state from the post in front of me, and being able to think it over for a while and get the wording right means I'm more likely to convert someone into a productive user, and less likely to drive them away permanently.

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Perhaps we also need a page that expands on the prohibited question types. This page would also include moderately in depth explanations about why some topics are prohibited. For example, we don't explain why game recs are off topic in the FAQ. There are also topics that we've decided are off topic, but they aren't in the FAQ, such as "why did the devs..." and EULA/TOS circumvention questions. –  MBraedley Jul 7 '12 at 12:31
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+1 for balance, this is excellent. However, I disagree with your point that requiring new users to read the FAQ would lower the new-user experience below the current level of, say, feeling unwelcome or attacked (often the case, currently). Lots of communities require you to read terms of service, for example, and they're fine. –  ElfSlice Jul 9 '12 at 14:33
    
@GnomeSlicE, it was intended to be an example of something that's potentially more difficult/inconvenient for users than it is now. I'm not supporting or condemning that as a requirement. –  agent86 Jul 9 '12 at 15:16
    
@MBraedley Actually I've found on the sites I moderate that users are much more accepting of the "rules" when they're laid out without discussion in the official FAQ. My attempts to explain the reasoning in comments or to link to a broader discussion often invite more argument, particularly squabbling over terms. (Discussion is great for established users on Meta, but it's not very constructive when a new user rages against the community in comments on their post! :P) –  Matthew Read Jul 12 '12 at 18:18
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@MatthewRead: As BBz says, Skeptics has a welcome page for new users, which is really what I'm suggesting, albeit with more background as to why certain rules are the way they are. To take your point literally (which may be putting words in your mouth), there would be no discussion; it'd almost be a draconian "this is the way it is, here's why, if you don't like it, tough". That page would not be a place to discuss those rules. –  MBraedley Jul 12 '12 at 19:13
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As David Fullerton has said before, what you're really fighting against here is the fact that most sites on the Internet allow you to post anything at all (except obvious evil/spam/megatrolling) with no restrictions whatsoever. So when people encounter a system that actually has rules about what is and is not allowed, they a) can't understand how that could possibly be and b) reject it as unnatural. –  Jeff Atwood Jul 18 '12 at 0:18
up vote 13 down vote accepted

The discussion has slowed on chat and I don't think much more discussion will occur. Below is a summary of the discussion:

Take Aways:

  • How to deal with rude comments
    Ben Brocka

  • "Comments go a long way, don't underestimate them at all. The difference between "Read the FAQ: X is off-topic" and "Hi, [name], welcome to Arqade! We work a little differently than other sites, and X is off-topic here. Check out our FAQ for more info about these types of questions" is huge."
    Mark Trapp

  • "I think that one thing that may go a decent way to easing new users into the site is if you VTC a question and you see that no one has left a comment explaining why they're VTCing, leave a comment. If someone has left a comment that you feel explains the reasoning well, upvote that comment."
    FAE

  • "One thing we don't want to do is make the FAQ a catch-all any time someone questions a closure: then nobody will read it even if they happen to stumble on the page. We made that mistake on Programmers and got nothing but flak for it until it was simplified."
    Mark Trapp

Be a Community

Our responsibility, as a community, is to do what we can. And that includes stepping up to the plate when others are slacking. If people are failing to leave helpful comments, then those of us who know to do that should do so in their stead.
-Grace Note

All of the points above are important, but not everyone visits Meta and/or chat and so they may not know this. Those of us here who do know need to make sure that these guidelines are being used. If you see somewhere where we aren't handling things as well as we should, step up and do something about it. We are a community, and that means at times, we need to pick up each others slack.

Transcripts

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Well summarized. Criticism of anything and everything is always better received when it focuses on the positive -- we made a decision on this subject as a community, we believe in solving specific problems, posts can be revised and re-opened, you can ask a new question that's a better fit for the site. "X isn't allowed, voting to close" and "Kill it with fire" communicate nothing except rejection, which is not at all what we want. –  Matthew Read Jul 12 '12 at 18:13
    
I like the point of picking up each other's slack - we can all work to make this site more welcoming. :) –  Ashley Nunn Jul 13 '12 at 3:33

After reflecting a bit about the abuse of pro-forma comments on Stack Overflow and a discussion with LessPop_MoreFizz regarding the closure of questions bearing a superficial resemblance to questions, I have one suggestion that I think would significantly improve the quality of the new user experience after a closure:

Stop leaving pro-forma and pro-forma-esque comments explaining a closure.

Things like:

  • "Identify this" questions are not on-topic here. See the FAQ.
  • Read the FAQ: "Why did they design it this way" questions are not on-topic here.
  • Hi, [name]! We made game recommendation questions off-topic after a long discussion: see meta for more details.

These comments are functionally meaningless to users who aren't invested in meta. Moreover, depending on who sees them and how poorly they're worded, they either convey "we decided you and your question is not welcome here a long time ago" or "your question's topic is up for debate and we really want to hear your argument about how our site's scope is incorrect and should be changed".

That is, rather than actually helping a new user understand what just happened, they invite the user to confront the closure and the people who closed it. We don't want that. We want users to feel welcome, not hostile.

Beyond that, they say to a new user, "in order to ask questions here, you need to know the complete list of what's on and off-topic here before asking again. You've found one type of off-topic question. There are others. Good luck!" New users should not have to find a list of what's on and off-topic. To enumerate such a list is to completely miss the point.

Instead, I argue that the close reason itself sufficiently explains what just happened: merely repeating why a question was closed in a no-effort comment that uses shorthand to encapsulate countless discussions about the site's scope is next to useless. If you can't be bothered to engage the user and help them understand, it's better if you don't comment at all. Just down-vote or vote to close and move on.

But if you do want to engage a new user and mentor them through one of their first negative experiences on Stack Exchange, you need to explain things on a more basic level: avoid the use of shorthand phrases like "identify this" or "why did they design it that way" like they mean anything to new users. Explain the basic premise behind why those types of questions are off-topic:

  • If it's a game identification question, explain the fact that ITG tend to be unanswerable:

    Hi [name], welcome to Arqade! We work a little differently from other sites, and we've found that questions that ask for help remembering a game tend to not be very helpful because they fall outside our site's expertise, so they wind up attracting really bad answers, if they get any answers to begin with.

  • If it's a recommendation question, explain that SE doesn't do opinions:

    Hey [name]! Arqade is somewhat different from forums in that we focus on questions that have verifiable answers, not opinions and recommendations. Check out [insert some place they can go for general gaming chit chat, like chat here]: they can help you find something you like.

And so on. Don't use what I wrote up there: the point is to not leave a one-off canned comment, but to try to engage the user in a conversation so they better understand what's expected of asking a question here. If that's not your bag, don't sweat it: you don't have an obligation to leave a comment.

And I say that last part unconditionally: if you don't have the time, fortitude, or ability to actively engage a new user and walk them through the closure, don't leave a comment, even if you see no one else has left a comment yet. It doesn't help, and you're more likely to make it worse.

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Moments like this, I wish we could abuse bounties ala MSO. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Jul 14 '12 at 5:36

I like this welcome post from Skeptics,

Welcome To New Users

It addresses the concerns that feedback can be harsh and questions often closed.


Even with a good welcome message and FAQ, a remaining concern is users who don't read the welcome messages and guidelines.

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