8

I've been a little bit disappointed by some behavioral patterns I've seen among users posting answers on this site.

We all know that gaining dedicated users is one of the primary metrics for measuring the success of the Skeptics.SE beta. One of the key parts of that is welcoming new users, not driving them away with scary rules or onerous posting requirements.

That being said, the community will ultimately be harmed by users who:

  1. Rush to post the first thought that comes to their mind as an answer.
  2. Post their own research without verification.
  3. Post things they believe to be proven by research without verification.
  4. Post links to research without actually answering the question.

As Borror0 pointed out #1-#3 require us to suspend our skepticism and #4 really just makes this site a glorified Google.

So what do we do?

We want to build a valuable resource, but we also don't want to drive users away. In fact, we want to bring new users in to share the same goals.

The burden is on those of us who believe this can be done to help these new users learn what is beneficial and what is detrimental. And frankly, after an answer has been posted is already too late, since the user is more likely to take even polite correction as an attack, and to feel their effort has gone unappreciated.

Twice in the past couple of days I've seen new users respond on their own answers with "do your own research" to comments asking for expansion. This is a terrible thing to see from answerers, and I think we can help new users do better.

To this end, I think the new answer box is lacking. Can we, as a community, come up with some help text that explains what a great answer contains to help the user before they push that "Post Your Answer" button?

  • 1
    You should read this - specifically, the "How can I help?" section. This isn't a battle that has an end to it - you'll be fighting this as long as the site lives. – Shog9 Mar 28 '11 at 23:44
  • @Shog9 I have read it, it's a good post. I am looking for things we can do before having to resort to the rest of those measures. – Nicole Mar 29 '11 at 3:06
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    One thing that could be done to combat #1 (First Post FTW!), is to have a time delay for upvoting the earliest answers. It seems like the earliest posts get upvotes quickly and, as more answers trickle in, users who have already read and voted don't return to vote on later answers, even when they provide more depth. If there was a ~2 hour delay timer that started when the question is posted, that would not allow upvotes on any answers until the timer expired, it would allow more time for users to provide answers containing critical thought. – oosterwal Mar 29 '11 at 21:46
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    @oosterwal There is a name for the problem, a tag about the topic and several proposals (1, 2, 3) over at Meta. Something similar to your idea has gained popularity, but I think with a much shorter timer. – Nicole Mar 29 '11 at 22:02
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    Thanks for the links. The only reason I propose such a long delay for skeptics.SE is that, compared to many of the other sites, it can take much longer to write a well-researched answer, with references, and pictures with circles and arrows and a paragraph on the back of each one... – oosterwal Mar 29 '11 at 22:10
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I don't think EULA-style warning warning before posting an answer would be prudent, for reasons Jeff Atwood explained very well.

However, when you ask a question on any SE site, you get an awesome little blurb to the right of the form that succinctly explains the guidelines for writing a question:

Skeptics Ask Question screen

When you answer a question, what do you get? Nothing! Just a big white space:

enter image description here

I think creating some answering guidelines in the style of the question ones and showing them in a similar manner would go a long way into alleviating this problem. Anybody who would actually read a EULA style warning would read that, and I think even more people would end up reading it because it's not getting in their way.

It helps everyone out without annoying anyone.

  • +1 Yes, this is the along the lines I was thinking. Thanks for illustrating how it would be unobtrusive. Can you think of what those "guidelines" would be? – Nicole Mar 29 '11 at 23:22
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    @Renesis: "Back up your answers with references or Borror0 will be angry. You don't want that. Trust me." – Borror0 Mar 29 '11 at 23:51
  • Yes, something about being verifiable information in the answer or something about what a 'good answer' is, would be very helpful. Since it costs reputation to downvote, I tend to shy away from doing so... – Glen Wheeler Apr 12 '11 at 11:19
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Hmm. I guess we could put up a required EULA before answering. We do something similar for questions on Stack Overflow because that site gets 3,000+ questions per day; it can afford to throw some away in the name of quality.

Hoewever, I am unconvinced a mandatory answer EULA would help. I'm a little worried you are running into this:

That is, the types of users you're speaking about are simply unreachable, no matter how many EULAs you put in front of them or gentle comment reminders you give them.

I am not saying we should not try, but rather be realistic about what your success rate will actually be, and how human nature works. The idea that you can save the world is a recipe for burnout. I'd rather concentrate on reaching those that can be reached.

We want to build a valuable resource, but we also don't want to drive users away.

I think this is an unreasonable goal; you can't reform the world. In fact, you do want to drive certain types of users away.

Twice in the past couple of days I've seen new users respond on their own answers with "do your own research" to comments asking for expansion. This is a terrible thing to see from answerers, and I think we can help new users do better.

Indeed, if they are unwilling to be reached through polite comments, they should be turned away.

4

I think you've got the reverse problem: we don't need to turn more users into good users, we need to drive out the bad apples quicker. We have some great users - Kit Sunde, anthony137, Rusty and Jason Plank being a few obvious examples - but we also have some really bad users around.

I think the problem is far much one of bad users sticking around, even after we've repeatedly told them that their posts are not up to our standards.

In that aspect, I agree with Jeff when he says:

That is, the types of users you're speaking about are simply unreachable, no matter how many EULAs you put in front of them or gentle comment reminders you give them.

I am not saying we should not try, but rather be realistic about what your success rate will actually be, and how human nature works. The idea that you can save the world is a recipe for burnout. I'd rather concentrate on reaching those that can be reached.

With that said, I think that something can be done to educate well-meaning new users before they write their first post. Right now, Sklivvz, Fabian, and I are running right and left leaving the same "please back up your claims with references" message over and over again. A nice friendly warning on the answer box could help that problem, maybe. Nothing like Stack Overflow's full blown EULA, just one or two line saying that we're more strict than most site they're used to, in that we ask for references.

We have a decent success rate converting users into good users, I think, but if we can reduce the amount of manual work necessary, I'm all for it.

  • I know that there are some great users and that reminder is very helpful (and polite enough, I think). My issue is that at the moment it seems like 95%+ of answers are falling into those categories above. It's more dangerous to have speculative answers on this site than most others, given the subject matter. I feel that there are probably very few who haven't visited meta that know this is a problem. – Nicole Mar 29 '11 at 15:30
  • @Renesis: I think the only solution is to pester users who repeatedly post bad answers until they either leave or change their behavior. – Borror0 Mar 29 '11 at 15:33
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From Meta Stack Overflow:

We now have dynamic answer help that pops up for new users (< 100 rep) when they focus the answer box.

enter image description here

And yes this can be customized per Q&A site.

See this thread to discuss what our message could say.

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