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Questions are the lifeblood of any Stack Exchange site. But asking good questions can be difficult, for some people entirely too difficult to bother with. When the Trilogy sites reached traffic levels that made manual review and filtering of questions burdensome for the good folks answering them, we began building systems to detect and slow down the folks who weren't putting any effort into learning and improving over time:

We believe asking questions on our site is a privilege, not a right. If, after a few fair attempts, you haven’t been able to prove that your contributions to Stack Overflow make it at least … not-worse … then we reserve the right to refuse your questions. If we don’t do our part to cull the bad questions, then we risk alienating the true experts who provide what really matters: the answers!

Mathematics has reached traffic levels where this sort of rate-limiting and outright blocking of questions makes sense, so we've enabled quality blocks here as well. These blocks are based on the community's collective rating of posts from both a user's account and other accounts on the same IP address, thus limiting the ability of folks to abuse the community by just creating new accounts. Blocked users are directed to this page, which explains what that person must do to lift the block. Moderators have access to information on whether or not a given user would be blocked, as well as whether or not they've previously encountered the block, for those cases where it is desirable to provide one-on-one support.

What you can do to help

Quality blocks are based on the community's rating of questions and answers, therefore the most useful things you can do are:

  • if you see a great, thoughtfully asked, well researched question, vote it up — please! Great questions are an art!
  • if you see an egregiously sloppy, no-effort-expended question that you feel was asked in bad faith … vote it down.
  • anything in between that’s salvageable, edit it!

Don't worry about the exact details of the algorithm used for blocking - in general, it's fairly conservative as far as who or what gets blocked. As always, vote your conscience and encourage new members to participate constructively.

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    $\begingroup$ Is this enabled on meta too? (I hope it's not, because downvotes work differently here). $\endgroup$ – user Aug 21 '13 at 0:25
  • $\begingroup$ No; this has never been enabled on any meta site beyond MSO. If the mods find the volume of crappy questions here overwhelming it is possible to enable it, but I'm not sure it'd be useful. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 21 '13 at 0:27
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    $\begingroup$ Good to know. Also, I think that the help center page could use some customization. It sends users to MSO formatting sandbox instead of ours. Most formatting issues here involve MathJax, which can't be tested at MSO. The relevance of "How do I format my code blocks?" on Math is questionable. I wonder if our mods have or can be given edit access to this help center page? $\endgroup$ – user Aug 21 '13 at 3:03
  • $\begingroup$ Excellent point, @user. I've added links to those resources and marked the page as moderator-editable. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 21 '13 at 3:13
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    $\begingroup$ What happens when the user is an unregistered user which has more accounts than natural numbers? (And as history tells us, that's not a hypothetical case...) $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 21 '13 at 4:46
  • $\begingroup$ Chances are, the IP-address fallback applies in that case, @Asaf. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 21 '13 at 4:47
  • $\begingroup$ Well, I sure hope so! $\endgroup$ – Asaf Karagila Aug 21 '13 at 4:48
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    $\begingroup$ For the record, this action contributes its bit to the alienation of at least one user who provides a few answers now and then. Probably not a large bit, since I’ll probably not be constantly reminded that it exists, but a bit. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 21 '13 at 22:02
  • $\begingroup$ Can you elaborate on that a bit, @Brian? $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 21 '13 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ I don’t know that there's really anything more to say: I dislike anything that (in my opinion) makes the site less friendly to fairly new users. I think that this qualifies, and I don’t think that it’s needed. I recognize that I’m not a typical user, or even a typical regular, and I also don’t pretend to be entirely in sympathy with the SE philosophy, so I don’t expect my opinion to carry much weight, but I couldn’t let the risk alienating line pass without comment. $\endgroup$ – Brian M. Scott Aug 21 '13 at 22:29
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    $\begingroup$ Fair enough, @Brian. There's certainly room for improvement in how we treat new users; at the same time, I've seen frustration with a handful of exceptionally annoying users boil over into interactions with new folks who've done nothing majorly wrong - I believe there's value in giving folks a few chances to prove themselves first, and this system reflects that; but there's real harm in making it too easy for folks who continually attract the ire of the community. $\endgroup$ – Shog9 Aug 21 '13 at 22:52
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    $\begingroup$ I am concerned about how this new feature may be used by people with an unusually low pain threshold. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Aug 22 '13 at 6:21
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    $\begingroup$ I see many questions at an "advanced" level that are just as fundamentally obvious (at their level) as lower level questions that quickly get closed (Oops, held). These "advanced" questions are often clearly of the homework kind, though usually the question poser is sophisticated enough not to say so. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Aug 22 '13 at 18:10
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    $\begingroup$ I guess the answer to my question is that there is no notification before the time of the blocked posting. While this could be for implementation reasons, such as not checking the permission until the post time (after all, the parameters like up- and down-vote counts can change until that moment), there is an accumulation of the parameters over time to a point where they go well into the blocked range. In addition to the previously stated problems, a natural reaction from a blocked user not totally new to the site would be "why did you not tell me earlier?". Especially the cooperative ones. $\endgroup$ – zyx Aug 23 '13 at 18:09
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    $\begingroup$ The description suggests that a lot of 0-vote questions could trigger a block. I don't think this is appropriate. 0-vote posts tend to be reasonable ones that most people don't understand or don't happen to find interesting. Also, part of the structure of this seems to break the reputation system: if someone writes a lot of good answers, I think they've earned the leeway to ask some really awful questions. In fact, even if someone writes only bad questions, but great answers, I think it's quite reasonably to let them keep asking if that will keep them around. $\endgroup$ – dfeuer Aug 27 '13 at 3:56

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