7

Some stack exchange sites, such as World Building, have question sand boxes where users may work on questions and get feedback before posting it on the main website.

Given that several questions on Skeptics have to be closed, fixed, and then re-opened, should we create a sandbox for our site, and inform new users before they post about it?

  • 2
    As master asker , would you be able to run this initiative? – Sklivvz Sep 17 '17 at 11:07
  • 1
    This does seem like a good idea! Could you explain a bit more about how sandboxes are supposed to work? Kinda like a FAQ for the sandbox(es). – Nat Sep 18 '17 at 13:05
  • 1
    I suspect the vast majority of people asking the questions you want to avoid would ignore the sandbox suggestion and post anyway. – Kevin Sep 20 '17 at 17:30
  • 1
    I was hoping to follow up on this today or this weekend, but that may not happen. Apologies. – Andrew Grimm Sep 22 '17 at 6:13
  • @Nat I've copied the World Building's FAQ into an answer below. – Andrew Grimm Oct 2 '17 at 1:45
2

The following answer is a collection of information I gathered to form my opinion around the subject. Maybe it helps you too.


Main purpose of sandboxes

AFAIK the only sandboxes that exist are those in Codegolf and Worldbuilding.

Both sandboxes state their primary purpose like this:

[Posting your question in the sandbox first] is useful because writing a clear and fully specified question on the first try can be difficult. There is a much better chance of your question being well received if you post it in the Sandbox first.

So a sandbox's main purpose is to increase the chances of a question being received well. Why does it need extra help to increase the reception of question? Because it is hard to formulate a good question on the first try.


Analysis of the sandboxes

I think the main reason why a sandbox might not be a good fit for us lies in the description itself (emphasis mine):

This is useful because writing a clear and fully specified question on the first try can be difficult. There is a much better chance of your question being well received if you post it in the Sandbox first.

Do you notice it states "on the first try" and not "for the first time"? This means that writing a good question is hard for everyone on these StackExchange sites.

This is proven by looking at the at the proposed question in either sandbox. More than 50% of the users proposing questions are 1K+ members*.


A closer look at Codegolf and Worldbuilding

Why is it hard to formulate good questions on these sites?

Because these are sites that allow for multiple correct answers.

A question on CG could be some challenge where the winner is the submission with the fewest bytes of source code, this requires per definition more than one submission.

A question on WB almost always asks the users to be very creative to solve unique problems. These are questions along the lines of "under what circumstances could ponies evolve into actual unicorns?". There is just no single definitive answer.

So both of these sites have a major problem: every question could potentially generate hundreds of acceptable answers. To make sure not every question is Too Broad, they need to have a clearly defined scope. And that's problematic. Making questions is easy, defining a scope is hard .

The sandbox helps even the most experienced user to create a clearly defined scope (e.g. "can the dragons breathe fire through chemistry or magic?" or "can we assume that input is always a number?"). It's to avoid a possible confusion about the OP's intent and to make sure the question isn't ambiguous.


Sandbox for our community

We don't face the same problems. Once the rep raises, so will the likelihood of a well formulated question within the scope of our site rules.

The problem we have (IMHO) is that people don't understand what this site is for. Many people seem to think that this is a site for interesting/intellectual questions. And that is the real problem we have to fix.

There are evidently plenty of people who think that as long as they use some magical phrase such as "I am skeptical about..." or "What is the evidence for..." that it is automatically on-topic. This leads to many questions that are presumably perfectly fine for other SE sites such as Politics, Law, History and Physics, but not for us.

And the stupid thing is, Skeptics.SE has one of the simplest rules about which question is on-topic. It's just that people don't seem to know them:

  1. What did you read or hear?

  2. Was it from a notable source (famous person/relevant authority/mainstream media)? Or is it something that many people believe (there should be plenty of examples to prove that it is a widely held belief)? In any case, back it up with references.

  3. Is it self-evident why you are skeptical about this claim? Is it not referenced? Is it counter-intuitive? Otherwise explain carefully.

  4. Is it self-evident how this claim could be debunked or verified?

And that's pretty much it, that is how I evaluate questions on this site, but YMMV. On those other sites, every question is unique and needs an unique approach. Here we (should) have strict rules as to what constitutes as a good question, defeating the purpose of a Sandbox IMHO.


Conclusion

Propositions:

  • Sandboxes are for all users, not just low rep users.

  • New/low rep users should know how to formulate good questions through the site tour and help center.

  • Skeptics.SE main source of bad questions come from new/low rep users.

Conclusion: Skeptics.SE doesn't need a Sandbox as is currently proposed.


*I only looked at the first page of either sandbox.

3

I vote no.

Every poor question is an opportunity for its asker to learn our values, and for the community to teach them. Besides being an ugly hack that the system wasn't designed for, a "sandbox" is just a layer of indirection: a bad question posted in the sandbox is still a bad question, and still needs to be dealt with. I also fear that a sandbox would cause bad questions to be buried such that only passionate users would see them, excluding less experienced or motivated users from the moderation effort.

Instead,

  • if we have a generic low-volume low quality question problem (like almost every SE site), I think the solution should just be to explain our criteria better.

  • If we've already explained our rules well, and are just being overwhelmed by the Eternal September's tides of dumb (people posting off-topic despite clear instructions), then we should just elect more moderators with insta-close privileges to mop the deck.

2

The following is based on revision 8 of the accepted answer to WorldBuilding Stack Exchange Meta post How does the Sandbox work? How do I use it?, with a few edits to avoid confusion. This is posted as an answer to keep it separate from the question post advocating that we have a sandbox.

Where is the Sandbox?

We don't have one yet.

Why should I use the Sandbox?

You might be thinking, perhaps, why would you stage questions on the sandbox instead of posting them directly?

To answer this, let's see what could happen if you post it directly:

  • If your question is incomplete, it will probably be quickly closed.
  • If people think that some point of the question is unclear, they will complain about it in comments and down vote your question.
  • You might edit your question and fix the problems pointed out by commenters, but some down votes will not get retracted.
  • If your question has some point that is unclear or vague, some people may misunderstand it and post some bad answers, leading to unnecessary arguments, down votes and frustration.

The sandbox is intended to mitigate all those problems.

How does the Sandbox work?

  1. You get an idea for a nice question for this site, but aren't sure of its format or structure.
  2. You post an answer to the sandbox. Your answer to the sandbox should contain the question that you are proposing. It is ok if your question is still incomplete.
  3. After you post it there, people will give suggestions to improve your question and point out potential problems.
  4. You fix the problems, improving your question.
  5. When people agree that it is good, they will up vote it here in the sandbox; you should wait until a sufficient number of people seem to support your proposed question via voting and commenting before posting it on the main site.
  6. Now that you know that most of the problems are worked out, you post it in the main site. Furthermore, the sandbox allows you to suggest improvements for questions from other people too. Upvote other people's questions when you think that they are ready.

When you post your question on the main site, edit the post here. You should remove the body and tags of your question, leaving the title and a link to the question on the main site. Then delete the post, and add a link to your question on main to the list of graduated that is the accepted community wiki answer on the current Sandbox. Currently the list for graduated posts does not exist, as the Sandbox proposal hasn't been accepted yet.

How should I review proposals?

You can contribute to the community by reviewing proposals to help them get ready for posting. Here is some advice to make your reviewing more productive and more helpful:

  • Sort the sandbox by active. While the Sandbox is young this may not make a huge difference, but as it grows, you'll see more active posts instead of just well-received posts.
  • Read the sandbox notes. For incomplete questions, the author should leave sandbox notes (see What should the format of Sandbox posts be?, below). Read these notes; if the author knows there's something to be done you don't need to tell them. Similarly, if you think the author has missed something, point it out.
  • Go through the close-vote reasons. You want to make sure that the question, if posted in its current form, won't fall victim to a harsh close-voter. Check that it doesn't come under any of the close reasons (or close flag reasons, if you can't yet close-vote).
  • Upvote complete proposals. You can also comment to indicate your approval. When a question gathers enough support it will be posted to the main site, so make sure you show when it's ready.

What should the format of sandbox posts be (title, tags, body)?

Questions do not have to come in an absolute format, but some general guidance makes it easier to use the Sandbox. In general, questions should include the title, tags and body. You can also use sandbox notes to show points about the question. Here's a general template:

# My Question Title
[tag:some-tag] [tag:other-descriptive-tag]

Here goes the body of your question, literally as you intend to post it on main.
Incomplete sections and notes intended only for the sandbox phase can be denoted
as follows: [**Sandbox note:** I still need to add test cases.]

-----

## Sandbox Questions

In this section at the end you can put a few general sentences/questions aimed at
reviewers in the sandbox, e.g. asking for specific feedback on parts of your question.
Any thoughts you have about the question should also go here for the community to give
you feedback on.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .