I am a new user to skeptics (1 day!) and found the forum rules to be very restrictive and frustrating. Luckily, I was able to quickly pass my trial by fire, so now I have some reputation and am able to participate as a second-class (or perhaps third class) member of the community. However, I imagine that a lot of prospective users are shut out by the restrictions and are frustrated by the bad/inapplicable advice on the FAQ and new user pages. So, I would like to know how a new user is supposed to start participating in this community.
From what I can tell, a new user can only participate in three ways:
- Ask a question
- Answer a question
- Propose an edit to a question
Importantly, a new user cannot leave comments. They can't even participate in Meta in order to ask for explanations.
So given that new users have these restrictions, how are they supposed to participate in a way that they can learn the community norms and gain enough reputation to lift the restrictions?
Asking a question does not seem like a good way for a user to get started (unless they came to the site with a question already in mind). Asking a good question is difficult, and bad or redundant questions just clutter up the site and distract other users. Questions are the most prominent feature on the site -- it seems like a bad idea for visitors to be inundated in the muddled, redundant, and frivolous questions that will be produced by new users if this is the primary way for them to participate. Likewise, it is discouraging for a user to have their question shot down or deleted because they did not understand how this community works.
Providing an answer is not a great path to participation either. As I quickly found out, this site has very high standards for acceptable answers. My first attempt to answer a question was quickly down-voted to oblivion. This was very discouraging, since it implies that new users are only allowed to participate if they make an extraordinary effort to provide a thoroughly documented answer to a question (or are lucky enough to come across a question for which they can quickly provide a good answer, as I was).
Some proponents of these high standards assert that "low quality" (i.e. partial) answers should be placed in the comments ... but new users cannot comment.
Even more discouraging, most of the questions did not merit substantial effort, since they are not framed clearly. The natural response to this problem would be to ask for clarification in the comments, but that is not allowed for new users.
Proposing edits seems to be the appropriate way for new users to participate. They can slowly gain the reputation needed to unlock other privileges and expand their participation. More importantly, this will guide them through the system and encourage them to think about what makes a good question and answer. It also recruits them for what may be the most important task on a large site -- cleaning up and organizing the mess that accumulates (rather than contributing to the mess).
I'm not proposing that new users be banned from asking or answering questions, only that they be guided to the activity of editing questions and answers as a way to contribute and learn how the community works without making massive time commitment. I'm still not aware of any outlet by which new users can communicate useful information that doesn't fall into the narrow constraints of question/answer/edit. Along these lines, I think that the discussions of community norms should bear in mind that new users are banned from commenting, and therefore comments should not be suggested as the solution for situations that new users would find themselves in.
So, to be very clear about my question: Is there any way for a new, casual user to participate in a casual manner?
I have not found a good answer at any of the following pages. I only now found the systematic description of what rights are tied to reputation, but it fails to mention when the right to propose edits kicks in (at the beginning):
At no point does the website tell new users "you are not allowed to do many of the things that we suggest that you do". It is very frustrating to be put in that position. What is a reasonable way for a newbie to get his 50 reputation points?