An ongoing discussion asks "What can we do about the tension on this site?. As I see it, some of the tension exists because there are (at least) three groups of users here that all want very different things:

  1. There are the "newbies," who want answers to their homework questions,
  2. there are the "professors," who like to answer as many questions as they can each day, and
  3. there are the "janitors," who spend much of each day going through the review queues trying to clean the junk off of the site and improve the diamonds in the rough.

(I hope that this goes without saying, but I am going to say it anyway: there is significant overlap between the latter two categories. They represent distinct enough patterns of behaviour that it seems like a reasonable division.)

Because these groups have different ideas about how the site should operate, tension ensues. Newbies get frustrated with janitors who try to improve their questions (or who outright close and delete them), which makes the site unwelcoming to newbies. Janitors get fed up with indiscriminate professors who try to answer every possible question. And so on.

I think that much of this tension has to do with the pace at which questions are asked and answered. For me, it is really frustrating to come to a question, start writing a comment that will help the asker improve their question, only to have an answer posted and accepted before I can finish typing. The newbie and the professor are happy—they have their answers and reputation, respectively—but the janitors are left out in the cold. If were could slow this cycle down just a little, I think that it would do much to ease the tensions on the site and, as an added bonus, improve the overall quality of questions and answers.

Here is my proposal:

When a question is asked by a "newbie" user (an initial suggestion is that a "newbie" is any user with less than 15 reputation or fewer than 3 questions asked, or an account that is less than 48 hours old), that question is automatically put "On-Hold" and placed in the "First Post" and "Reopen" review queues (or, perhaps, a new queue specifically for such questions). The question can be opened by the usual process, i.e. users with sufficient reputation vote to open the question.

Again, the intention is to slow things down a little and give the janitors a chance to help a newbie user improve what might be an initially poor question before it can be answered. I think that this has the potential to make everyone happy (aside from the students who want an answer now because their homework is due in two hours, but I am hoping that we all agree that we don't need to worry to much about making those users happy): newbie users are more likely to get some guidance, professors can keep on doing their thing (modulo a small delay), and the janitors have a chance to mentor new users and help them acclimate to the culture of MSE.

I would also like to stress that this is not at all punitive, nor is it a punishment for bad behaviour. Indeed, I view this as a positive feature, designed to help new users refine their questions so that they are more likely to get positive feedback, rather than an avalanche of downvotes and votes-to-close.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ This would need an entirely new kind of "on hold" at the software level -- for example, with the current semantics, being "on hold" would prevent a question from being identified as a duplicate. (Or, for that matter, from being given any other substantive close reason if it needs it). $\endgroup$ – hmakholm left over Monica May 5 '18 at 22:00
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ This is essentially a weaker triage? $\endgroup$ – user99914 May 5 '18 at 22:24
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Thanks for finding that, @JohnMa. I was aware of this term, and its use (?) on SE, somewhere, but I couldn't figure out where to find this discussion. I think the idea of a "triage" is spot on, for this site. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 5 '18 at 22:33
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ A better guide for triage is probably this one, @amWhy . Mixedmath talked about that in their answer and it seems a full triage system is not going to happen anywhere other than SO. $\endgroup$ – user99914 May 5 '18 at 23:28
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Thanks, @JohnMa. But, for your last comment, we have this from Mixedmath: "As noted here, triage was tailored to the needs of StackOverflow. This doesn't preclude its use elsewhere, but that's a discussion which needs to be had separately. Fortunately, triage makes sense on the largest sites on the network, and Math.SE certainly fits that bill (second largest on the network)." This seems pretty helpful, and hopeful and doesn't necessarily support your conclusion that it won't happen anywhere other than SO. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 5 '18 at 23:47
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JohnMa I had not seen that. It looks like a great idea! $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Mod May 6 '18 at 5:00

I like the idea, maybe with an option to comment while the question is on hold. These comments could serve different purposes:

1.) Point the new user to what he could improve.

2.) Give some hints on what to try in order to solve the problem - As comments do not give reputation, there will be little incentive for the "professors" to give elaborate answers here, I assume, so we would not run into the same problems as with the current open-to-answer model.

On the other hand the new user could rework and improve their question based on these hints, for example explain why he failed with the suggested solving stratiegies.

Also, as the SE model in general asks for "actual answers" and hints could be seen as having the technical problem of not being "actual answers" (I am aware there are different opinions about this...), this could be a way of encouraging tutoring answers.

However I see the problem that validating such on-hold questions would greatly increase the workload on the relatively few users who would be qualified to "unlock" them.

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I think the added motivation to those who might like to contribute to answering the questions, to help facilitate, or not, the validations, would go a long, long way to augmenting the workload of the "relatively few users who would be qualified to "unlock" them". Many current answerers are well qualified to help in such "filtering"/verification, etc. I think this idea helps to motivate more users to help in filtering questions, than just those janitors who frequent the first post queues. But I think your idea about commenting is great. On-hold questions remain open for all such comments. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 5 '18 at 21:34
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ My last point: There are absolutely no limitations, even currently, to commenting on questions which are on-hold or even closed. The only limitation is that while "on-hold/closed", a question cannot be answered in an answer field. All comments, suggestions, etc., would be welcome, just as they are now. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 5 '18 at 21:37
  • $\begingroup$ Thank you for pointing this out - I was not aware that commenting would remain enabled "by default" ("as it is"). This will make an implementation of that suggestion a lot easier, I suppose. -- Also from my perspective, I would agree with you, that the opportunity to help filter questions would be a great motivation boost - at least for myself I can say that I would "be on". $\endgroup$ – mol3574710n0fN074710n May 5 '18 at 21:51

Why not go further and place all questions on-hold by default. There could be a new category, "off-topic or not a real question or a duplicate (but not yet determined which)". Then the janitors can simply re-open the actually good questions at their leisure and that will make everyone happy.

Seriously I think this is a poor classification of users on this site. To the extent that it's accurate, the "newbies" are the only important group because without them nobody else has anything to do. But a better start would be a broader concept of what people are even doing here. How can you be a good "janitor" if you only see two other kinds of users?

  • 2
    $\begingroup$ I was not suggesting that there are only three kinds of users, and I freely admit that the original post is a vast oversimplification. However, I do believe that the greatest tension comes from the interplay between newbie users who are posting a first question and want an answer now; the speedy answerers who might answer any question that hits the front page; and CRUDE brigade who might like the newbie users to take a little more time to improve their questions. These are not the only types of users and these categories are not mutually exclusive, but they cause much of the tension. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Mod May 6 '18 at 5:05
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ On the other hand, I think that there is also a point at which a user has gained enough experience (i.e. earned enough reputation) that they can be trusted to ask questions without the need for additional guidance. Moreover, the volume of questions on this side would almost certainly deluge the reviewers (or render the review process useless through apathy) if every question required review. The point is to help newbies hit the ground running so that they are quickly taught how to ask good questions. $\endgroup$ – Xander Henderson Mod May 6 '18 at 5:07
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "the "newbies" are the only important group because without them nobody else has anything to do." Alternatively: The Answerers are the most important group because without answers, we have only increasing piles of unanswered questions. Yet again: The janitors are the most important group, because without them, unclear questions followed by possible meaningless, misleading, or inapplicable answers, and sometimes good questions are answered by meaningless gibberish, making answers untrustworthy. Lesson: Avoid championing only one group of users over and above the others. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 6 '18 at 19:22
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah as I explained my issue is with the ontology itself. If we all agree that it's a vast oversimplification then I think we can just leave it at that. $\endgroup$ – Dan Brumleve May 6 '18 at 20:19
  • $\begingroup$ My issue is your stated superiority of one group/activity over others. Of course it's a simplification, but that doesn't mean the most important group (errr, activity), is in the asking of questions. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 6 '18 at 21:50
  • $\begingroup$ The point of the question was not to propose a classification of users for discussion. It was to suggest that new questions from new users be filtered in some manner prior to their auto-posting. $\endgroup$ – amWhy May 6 '18 at 21:52
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ It's just semantics, what I'm reading is that there is one group of people this site is supposed to help, another group who provide that help, and another group who interfere. Not much of a starting point $\endgroup$ – Dan Brumleve May 6 '18 at 22:16
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ I am not sure whether this might be the reason for downvotes - but perhaps it should be made clear that the first paragraph is intended as sarcasm. (Maybe some people vote on your post as if it was meant seriously.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak May 7 '18 at 11:36

You must log in to answer this question.

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