I would like you to introduce to a math.stackexchange story I got involved in. A user first asked a question on math.stackexchange. However, that question lacked of effort so it got downvoted. The user edited his/her post and added the done effort to the question, however the question was still downvoted and the user received no reaction.

Later on, the user opened a new post, but immediatly got downvoted very hard for it. People asked him/her whether it was a duplicate of the previous one and the innocent user said yes, not knowing that our habbit here is to first delete your old question, before answering it over again.

However, this question was much better than the original question and shouldn't have been downvoted to -5. I added $\LaTeX$ but still the question is on -5. I surely believe the user is puzzled now and is not too happy of the bad support it got. I am not saying that this happens in most cases, but in some cases we can, as a community, still do a better job at being less harsh to new users who do things wrong they are not aware of.

So what I just want to say is that we still have a way to go, and I want to make us aware from the fact that sometimes, we can still do a little better job at guiding new users. However, we already made big progress by the new website tour, thanks to user Woodface. With this post I want to think of things we can do to prevent the thing that here just happened, from happening over again. All ideas are welcome.


closed as off-topic by Andrés E. Caicedo, Daniel W. Farlow, user26857, Davide Giraudo, J. W. Perry Mar 20 '15 at 1:29

This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason:

  • "This question does not appear to be about Mathematics Stack Exchange or the software that powers the Stack Exchange network within the scope defined in the help center." – Andrés E. Caicedo, Daniel W. Farlow, user26857, Davide Giraudo, J. W. Perry
If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • $\begingroup$ As always, please explain -1. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ It was downvoted more because it was a duplicate. I didn't vote on this post so this isn't the explanation. $\endgroup$ – dustin Mar 17 '15 at 16:21
  • $\begingroup$ My point is that the user was not aware of the fact that duplicates were not allowed. Maybe this information could be added to our tour? Other ideas to make it clear? $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ "What can we do to prevent that some people who didn't know..." If you mean "What can we do to prevent that some people repost the same question a short time later, not knowing it is in fact bad behaviour?" the answer is "Not much", except 1. posting this information on the site, for those who would worry to know how the site works before jumping in the pool (done), and 2. ensuring that every user experiencing some closure is exposed to this piece of information, for those who did not care to know before posting (done). $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 17 '15 at 19:53
  • $\begingroup$ Why is no one commenting on Jyrki Lahtonen's post. I think he maybe has a good point there? Maybe we can think about what he wrote? $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 23:26
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro: I would like to express my respect for your struggle to have the site present a more human face to inexperienced users. $\endgroup$ – André Nicolas Mar 18 '15 at 3:54
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    $\begingroup$ Given that a very diverse population of users manages to use the site just fine, while a very diverse population of users seems unable to do so, all simplistic attempts at explication seem misguided. Another issue might be a fundamental misunderstanding about the nature of this site: it is not the idea to have an all-embracing feel-good community, but to collect (high-quality) information on mathematics. It is desirable this goes hand in hand, but if it can not on some occasion, it are the needs towards the latter goal that are relevant. $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 18 '15 at 11:04

The user stated their reason for reposting in a comment:

yeah, but no one answered it so...

The original question was not even closed at that time; it just did not get as much attention as the user wanted. So they posted again.

This is abusive behavior and the user deserves every downvote they got.

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    $\begingroup$ I think the user thought it was acceptable to repost your own question if it was not visible on the front page anymore, as people often do on website where you can sell and buy goods. I believe that if the user knew this behaviour was not allowed, he/she would not have done that. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 16:50
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro So, they were wrong. Now, they know. Everything seems fine. $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 17 '15 at 16:53
  • $\begingroup$ @quid I do not know whether the user really knew what went on to be honest. I would have been confused in the user's place. I would assume that people would not punish me that hard for unintended bad behaviour, as people in my environment are often more soft for errors that you do unintentionally than for errors you do with purpose. I would actually start doubting whether the level of my posed question was high enough. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 16:54
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro I am not sure about what hard punishment you are talking about. Anyway 'Ignorantia juris non excusat' predates this site's existence by a few orders of magnitude and is still in good use. $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 17 '15 at 17:22
  • $\begingroup$ But shouldn't we be aware that all people are from different backgrounds and that what the downvote means might not always be clear. From me at least it wouldn't have been clear. How am I supposed to know that the fact that my question was voted down, is related to the comment that I wrote a duplicate post. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 18:14
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro The users helpfully closed the question as a duplicate in this case, so there's no need to worry. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 17 '15 at 18:16
  • $\begingroup$ But next to that, shouldn't we just do more effort to prevent people from not knowing the rules in the first place. This is again a user that first didn't know that effort was needed to be placed in the box (while the person clearly did effort), and after that was unaware of the fact that duplicates weren't allowed. The person received two times in a row a lot of downvotes because we failed to make things clear in the first place. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 18:16
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    $\begingroup$ And what do you suggest, @Pedro...? Besides dubious posts such as claiming that math.SE users don't have the "philosophical strength" (or whatever it is you wrote yesterday) to have a discussion with you or that we should "blame ourselves more", I don't see a lot of concrete suggestions. $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 17 '15 at 18:40
  • $\begingroup$ That post is already removed and has nothing to do with this here. If I am wrong, I am willing to close or even delete my post. What you said is thus off-topic. I also find that you should be more respectful to me. I admit that I was wrong so I deleted my post. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 18:43
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro I am not an expert on these matters but does there exist any forum / question site / whatever on the internet, where reposting the exact same question after two hours would not be frowned upon? You see me coming, I believe there is none and I think this fact leads to appreciate the actions of this user rather differently than you do... But again, I could be wrong. $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 17 '15 at 18:43
  • $\begingroup$ @Did What happened, happened. Can we leave this behind us? I already admitted that I was wrong. Side-note it was not the same question, anyway, I was wrong there. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 18:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro You lost me, are we not talking about questions 1 and 2, and are you not taking the pair anymore as Exhibit A for mal-à-propos downvotes on the site? $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 17 '15 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Did ah, ok you were talking on topic, I thought you were talking about those questions of previous time, you said they were the same. Ok, no problem then. $\endgroup$ – Pedro Mar 17 '15 at 18:51
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    $\begingroup$ "what can any one have against ... pointing out clear(l)y that this sort of behaviour is not allowed, just for the case that some people would do it without knowing it is a form of bad behaviour" But this is exactly what is done already, when the OP sees the following appear under their question: "This question appears to be off-topic. The users who voted to close gave this specific reason: "This question is missing context or other details: Please improve the question by providing additional context, etc. etc."" Maybe you view the experience as inherently traumatic, I do not. $\endgroup$ – Did Mar 17 '15 at 19:45
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro It seems to me that Woodface's post does make this clearer (as you yourself noted in your post above), so I'm not sure what you're proposing beyond that. $\endgroup$ – Qudit Mar 18 '15 at 0:43

Not entirely an answer to Pedro's topic, but something in his post caught my eye, and I cannot let it rest. Too long for a comment, so an answer it is.

(Taking off the moderator hat)

This is IMHO one of the major problems of the site. The new users seem to dive in head first, and put zero effort into learning the site culture. Is that really the way kids operate nowadays when joining in a new social circle? Moving to a new school and/or move to college, start at a new job? No time spent on learning the local do's and do-not's? Just thinking that they are entitled to bring their own norms, demands and desires with them? Is it no longer the norm that the new kids on the block are a bit cautious, timid even, playing it safe before they start adding their own jokes to the mix and such?

Wasn't their a time when a faux pas committed by a noob was very much frowned upon? If needed, the retribution was swift and occasionally painful.

Not forgetting about the hazing rituals of various social circles.

So my important advice to the newbies reads:

Familiarize yourself with the site culture by roaming a couple of days before you post. Or pay the price.

Get off my lawn!

(putting on the moderator hat)

So, assuming that the newbie instruction set is due to an overhaul how should I/we educate the new entrants about the site norms? And about the fact that this is not Reddit (whatever that is - it is just oft cited at this point) or some other cite where everything goes. In other words, this is not a place where you can expect instant gratification.

I am also wondering to what extent this is the root cause of many other problems on the site? For example the close/reopen/delete/undelete wars are to a great extent caused by uneducated noobs asking their questions in the wrong way or with false expectations?

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    $\begingroup$ I disagree with this, generally one dives in and gets corrected and then sticks with the corrections they received. Now I am very young so this new mentality is probably not shared by all but at least among my peers that's how things tend to go. It will be significantly faster and more efficient for this forum to adopt the same policy so new members, that have potential to contribute, stick around and learn the ways as opposed to being illogically booted out. I still agree, There is absolutely no need to accommodate people who don't meet the standards after being corrected. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 18 '15 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ But given that Math.SE has almost no true equivalent on the web (the only comparable forums are very very obscure and or dying communities) Most people need to be taught. People still think this is Yahoo Answers, and no our site rules are not nearly visible enough for people to understand otherwise. So we should seek to teach them, and then kick them out. Not just close our doors by creating a culture that is not conducive to learning. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 18 '15 at 21:49
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    $\begingroup$ @frogeyedpeas So, someone thinks this is Yahoo Answers. They post as they would on Y!A. Strangely, their post gets some negative number and closure banner. Hm, that doesn't happen at Y!A. Looks like this thing works differently. How does it work?... If they take any effort to investigate, they'll find out. It's a normal process of taking an action, receiving consequences, and adjusting future actions. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 18 '15 at 23:18
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    $\begingroup$ @frogeyedpeas You keep saying "booting out", "closing the door"... these things are something only moderators can try to do (though it does not always work, due to the nature of the internet). The rest of us don't have a button "boot out this user". We just rate their posts. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 18 '15 at 23:20
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    $\begingroup$ There is nothing wrong with rating posts. Rating without explanation is what I find counterproductive. If i make a post on any internet forum and it gets downvoted atrociously without explanation, I tend to make the default assumption "this must be one of those not user-friendly forums" let me go find another resource to use. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 19 '15 at 1:27
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    $\begingroup$ The reason I'm still at stackexchange, is because after posting, someone took the time to make a single comment saying something along the lines of "you should show your work, or not receive any response", and so I picked up that piece of advice and after some initial frustration finally understood why it was necessary. And that's a much better stream of events than just getting hit downvotes w/o explanation. The rules here are really really simple, its not hard to become a decent contributing member, it's just a single sentence or 2 that's required to educate someone on how to act while here. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 19 '15 at 1:28
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    $\begingroup$ Furthermore, one should look at the main site itsef, the "help" banner where people should go is an extremely small tablet put in a small box next to the name. This site DOESN'T give the impression that there is a strict standard to be adhered to. A one liner, "to get answers you need to show your own effort" is all that's necessary on a question to make this completely user friendly and have the asker understand their mistake. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 19 '15 at 1:42
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    $\begingroup$ Furthermore, @Pedro brings up the point that most users (myself included) gloss over questions with downvotes, EVEN if they have been fixed. In other words every question that has a site mistake, it's fair to say, is a question that will likely remain unanswered regardless how much merit and corrective treatment is made. Since reposting the same question, with corrections, is also against the rules. The site has made it so this question WILL NEVER be answered if the site is run properly. That I believe is a fundamental flaw that needs to be corrected. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 19 '15 at 1:45
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    $\begingroup$ @frogeyedpeas Those questions get automatically deleted in 30 days, which I consider a satisfactory resolution. I don't consider it a goal of this site to maximize the number of homework exercises posted here. $\endgroup$ – user147263 Mar 19 '15 at 2:03
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    $\begingroup$ All I said was to make the site easier to use, that is make it easier for people asking questions to learn how to do so properly. Whether they are homework or not is a completely different topic. A well posed homework question that is unique and not repeated is as good as any other in my opinion. Regardless, I still hold my opinion either we need to be a little friendlier or the front of the Site needs an overhaul to better explain "How this place works" until either happens, there is a problem that needs to be fixed here $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 19 '15 at 2:08
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    $\begingroup$ No one reads all the manuals, legal updates when updating their software, etc anymore because they keep longer and occur more often. That is why I proposed this which I believe would be more effective then a FAQ section with 50 hyperlinks and then another 50 more per link you click. $\endgroup$ – dustin Mar 19 '15 at 2:17
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    $\begingroup$ Now that! I think that would be a splendid way to resolve the issue! Does Math.SE allow us to modify it or does everything have to be done from the guys over at MAIN SE? Hell I would be willing to contribute some open source code if need be, I think stuff like this is the direction we should take. $\endgroup$ – frogeyedpeas Mar 19 '15 at 2:37
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    $\begingroup$ @frogeyedpeas New users should read the FAQ before posting. It is not the responsibility of other users to explain the rules to them. This isn't to say that it's bad when people do, but they are going above and beyond IMO. If you skip the FAQ and get a lot of downvotes, that might be a good indication that you're doing something wrong and should research the rules of the site. They aren't hard to find if you look for them. $\endgroup$ – Qudit Mar 19 '15 at 3:56
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    $\begingroup$ What happens when someone breaches a contract that they haven't read, in real life? They get sued. Here? Their homework gets done. When a question is put on hold (it's not even written "closed" during the first days), they get a text explaining why, and as soon as their question is edited it gets put in a review queue where users can vote to reopen it. The "door" isn't "closed". They can also post to the request thread, or in the chat room, if it doesn't work. When a user asks a question, they are told "Provide details. Share your research." Are you aware of all this, @frogeyedpeas? $\endgroup$ – Najib Idrissi Mar 19 '15 at 8:22
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    $\begingroup$ @Pedro just how invasive do you want the information to be presented? On asking the same question twice: on Ask page there is a prominent link "asking help" the first point is "Search, and research Have you thoroughly searched for an answer before asking your question? Sharing your research helps everyone. Tell us what you found and why it didn’t meet your needs. This demonstrates that you’ve taken the time to try to help yourself, it saves us from reiterating obvious answers, and above all, it helps you get a more specific and relevant answer!" $\endgroup$ – quid Mar 21 '15 at 18:54

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