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When a constant stream of new users come to MSE and repeatedly flout policy, deluge the site with bad questions, write them as PSQs, post images instead of MathJax, then get them serially downvoted, closed and deleted, we have to take a look at ourselves and ask what we're doing wrong.

  • There will some who say what we're doing wrong, is answering those questions.

  • There will be others who say, what we're doing wrong, is not onboarding those new users effectively.

  • Some may say both.

Whatever one's opinion, this obstructs the fundamental purpose underpinning MSE's existence, i.e. people getting good answers to their maths questions.

The CRUDE chat room co-ordinates policing of certain policies, predominantly taking the form of co-ordinated closure and deletion, with occasional discussion of reopen requests - and I'm sure we're all grateful for their hard work freely given to improve the site.

While this maintains standards, IMO, it's confusing and unwelcoming to a new user to find their question downvoted, good answers downvoted, their question closed and then deleted. Furthermore, I'm concerned about rapid deletion following closure which puts reopening beyond most users, sometimes possibly obstructing improvement of the question or coaching of the new user before they have had a chance to do so.

To complement the current community activity, I thought a new chat might be useful having more of a focus on the welcoming aspect of onboarding new users. Here, new users could be coached about what's expected, and being realistic I see a part of this room's role to mitigate some of the confusion created among new users by closure, deletion and downvoting, and perhaps co-ordinate the un-deletion and re-opening of good material that meets community standards.

To this end I've created a chat room - it will either live or die - with the idea of making MSE more welcoming to new users: Welcome to MSE

There is a handful of admins, but the idea isn't fully defined yet. I was about to put some time into thinking what its stated aims ought to be, then I thought I should ask the admins, but then I thought - actually I should ask the community for suggestions about its aims and how we think it ought to be managed - so please feel free to give any thoughts or suggestions... No answer is a bad answer.

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    $\begingroup$ I don't think a lack of welcoming is the root problem; the problem is that users are actively ignoring the site introductions. Every brand-new user who asks a question had to check a little box saying that they've read some basics on post quality and that their post conforms to them. In my opinion, too-rapid growth is a bigger issue, and Eternal September is a very real thing. $\endgroup$ – user296602 Dec 13 '18 at 17:47
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    $\begingroup$ @T.Bongers You are making a useful point, but I would add to it a quibble: "the problem" cannot lie only in the askers, new or not, since some other SE sites maintain quite effectively some quality standards. And, surprise, even the most superficial observation of the site confirms that askers are not the only ones actively ignoring the site introductions. $\endgroup$ – Did Dec 13 '18 at 18:25
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    $\begingroup$ @Did I absolutely agree. The experienced users who are actively encouraging low-quality questions certainly are to blame for the current issues. $\endgroup$ – user296602 Dec 13 '18 at 18:56
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    $\begingroup$ Don't forget that the newest of new users aren't even eligible to use chat! One needs 20 rep points to talk in chat. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 13 '18 at 19:04
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    $\begingroup$ I applaud efforts to make MSE more welcoming. I don't quite know what sorts of things you might try, but perhaps you'll find some success. Or not. That's uncertain. Good luck! $\endgroup$ – davidlowryduda Dec 13 '18 at 19:50
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    $\begingroup$ In additional to the comment of amWhy, the newest of new users might not find the chatrooms easily, IMO, the button chat its somehow hidden. Personally I didn't know about the chatrooms section until after a while here.. $\endgroup$ – Isabella Dec 13 '18 at 20:03
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks @davidlowryduda I suspect the achilles heel of this endeavour will be the 20 rep requirement to chat, as mentioned by amWhy but we can try and it will live or die. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 13 '18 at 20:41
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    $\begingroup$ @Isa we can signpost them there when working in the review queue, or if the project works on a smaller scale the stock closure messages could be changed to send them there too I guess. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 13 '18 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ I'd add the boldface I include here; else your statement about the goal of MSE is missing key factors: "Whatever one's opinion, this obstructs the fundamental purpose underpinning MSE's existence, i.e. people getting good answers to their good maths questions." (boldface mine.) $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 13 '18 at 20:45
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I half agree ;) $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 13 '18 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ If you envision "Welcome" chat to encourage users improve their own questions, that'd be a great service. If you envision the chat to "Let me write your question for you...", then it would be enabling askers and be a disservice to them in the long run. My point is, that helping an asker to put into their own words and formulate a cogent question is admirable. And it is a great educational experience for askers to learn how to ask good, or at least clear, questions. But if you envision this chatroom to coach an asker as to what exactly to ask, that deprives students of crucial learning. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 13 '18 at 20:47
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    $\begingroup$ I should also disclose that what I define as a good question is one that doesn't violate any of the reasons for the closure of a question: it is not seeking personal advice; it is not a question that solicits folks opinions; it is one question in one post, and not a list of several exercises; it is about mathematics primarily; it includes context as described in the help section (source of question, motivation, effort shown (and not just claimed), etc), and it is clearly stated and unambiguous, so commenters and answerers don't have to try to "guess the real question." $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 13 '18 at 20:55
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    $\begingroup$ I also have this question for you, user334732: Since you are so interested in welcoming new users, and the one current feature in which to do that best is the "first posts" review queue, I'm curious why I so rarely see you in the overall review queues, period, let alone the "first posts" review queue. You've had ample time and opportunity to welcome the newest of users, there (both first time askers, and first-time answerers, and to comment with encouragement and/or mentoring advice. If you, among others expressing interest in welcoming new users fail to use the tools currently available... $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 15 '18 at 21:44
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    $\begingroup$ ... it concerns me. I'd like to have confidence in your continued involvement in the project you've since started. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 15 '18 at 22:12
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    $\begingroup$ meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/378057/… Can't we do something like this here? $\endgroup$ – SHM Dec 21 '18 at 19:42
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I think amWhy's and Isa's comments above point out THE major problem with this for new users: a user needs 20 reputation to participate in chat, and most users who would benefit from talking to someone in a Welcome to MathSE chatroom don't have that much, are usually not asking the sorts of questions that will get them that crumb of reputation. Furthermore, the chat doesn't feel like a welcoming place: the link to find chat is hidden, so it very much feels like chat lives on the underbelly of the site, and exists only for established users to discuss the site. The chat pages aren't as pretty as the rest of the site too, giving them a "this page isn't for typical users" vibe. I think that sending inviting new users to chat so that someone can tell them why their question got closed/downvoted/etc won't feel like such a welcoming act to the new user.

I think that it's a good thought to have such a chat to talk freely with brand new users, but a few things would need to happen first to make this truly effective:

  • Remove that 20 reputation limit. (at least on this one chatroom? is that possible?)

  • The chat should be redesigned so it feels like an established part of MathSE. More like how MetaMathSE feels: certainly part of MathSE but aside from, and not underneath, the main flow of mathematics Q&As. (although MetaMathSE is hard to find from the homepage too, but at least it shows up in Google searches.)

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    $\begingroup$ Participating in chat is an early privilege, one of the first few a new user can use. Let's keep that motivation in tact. I don't know how an exception for one chatroom, and none others, would go over. Every chatroom could line up and argue for the same reduction in threshold, for one reason or another. Secondly, the "welcoming committee" can now be realized, if the committee members spent the time, by visiting new posts, to impart their encouragement, suggestions, and coaching. Why think a user who doesn't read entrance requirements they claim they read, will go to a chat for guidance? $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 13 '18 at 21:45
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy How often do you comment on a First Question but then get no reply from the OP? I'm curious if such an OP would be more responsive to feedback in a chat environment rather than in comments on their post. Also, it seems cleaner in terms of site mechanics that such coaching not happen in the comments. "Comments are not for extended discussions yada yada," Because then if the question actually becomes good, them someone has to remember to go back and flag those coaching comments for deletion $\endgroup$ – Mike Pierce Dec 13 '18 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ Your point makes sense; but I'd like a clearer idea of the intent of "coaching" in the chatroom: "This is what you should write (copy the following) ... " or will it entail many referrals to information in the help center, meta posts like How to write a good question, etc, advice, a "how you can improve" vs. "let me improve this for you: copy the following:" $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 13 '18 at 21:59
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    $\begingroup$ FWIW, there was a mentorship experiment on SO using chat system. $\endgroup$ – Andrew T. Dec 14 '18 at 7:29
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    $\begingroup$ This feature request is related (to some extent) to the problem with the 20 reputation points limit: Invite low rep users to participate in chat. $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 14 '18 at 9:59
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    $\begingroup$ @amWhy I think your statement “Why think a user who doesn’t ...” misses how (I see) users typically engage with systems with lots of rules. Ignore the rules, do the best you think you can, and change what you do when people get mad at you. Users don’t like to read, and it’s much easier to have someone explain it to you. Assuming a new user can access this chat, and assuming the chat is easy to find, I could see the chat being useful. $\endgroup$ – Santana Afton Dec 25 '18 at 18:01
  • $\begingroup$ @SantanaAfton If an asker ignores rules, and doesn't want to read, nor take any initiative whatsoever to take advice, why think they'll take it upon themself to bother with finding the chat room (which they'd have to read something, somewhere, in order to know about it), and actually using it? If they can learn about the existence of the chat, and have the motivation to go there, and check things out, then they are already fully capable of learning about the very basics of the site, and actually applying those basics. Thanks for helping me prove my point. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 25 '18 at 18:07
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I wonder if, as an alternative to the mentor system, the triage idea could be augmented with "question sponsors" who approve questions from triage once they're up to scratch. This could also give lower rep users the opportunity to earn rep before the rep farmers jump on elementary questions. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 25 '18 at 19:53
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I would suggest to tolerate the lack of MathJax from newbies.

Typically, I do it so that I fix only a part of his/her post, and advice him to follow in a comment. So he/she can see, that it is possible and how well does it look, he/she also gets a strong motivator to continue it on this way, and using the example they can also continue it much easier.

Of course, typically the lack of MathJax happens coincidentally with many other problems, these should be handled as usual (for example, copypasted homework screenshot should be handled as a copypasted homework screenshot and not like a lack of MathJax).

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    $\begingroup$ I do the same. Point them to the MathJax reference in a comment and also edit their post and invite them to review the edit. This is because when I first started, it took me a couple of days to work out that $ were needed, and the Mathjax debugging tools are very limited (nonexistent). $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 23 '18 at 16:00
  • $\begingroup$ The question asks "What should be the role of [the chatroom named] Welcome to MSE?" (brackets mine), and not what can be done on-site to welcome newcomers, though I can appreciate the spirit of this post, and it sounds like a reasonable response to both assist the newcomer, and encourage the use of mathjax. So while I would vote up the response if it were an answer to "How to better welcome new users", I don't believe it answers the question that was asked. $\endgroup$ – Namaste Dec 23 '18 at 19:50
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In my opinion, content level is an important aspect of the problem. A lot of questions from the mid-undergraduate level and above are left alone and less scrutinized overall than those below this line. It seems that this is what the problem is about. I propose some partitioning of the site addressing only questions from this lower range, while the more advanced be pushed over to MSO, or some other category. I believe that those with less patience with new users should be banned from seeing new questions, and should spend their time addressing more advanced questions from more advanced users. Those advanced users with patience should be able to see the newer-user questions. Just a thought.

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  • $\begingroup$ I agree and this is a major bugbear of mine, that elementary maths is moderated much more harshly than more advanced maths. I think after years using the site there's a danger of becoming jaded with the endless stream of homework questions, which results in what I perceive to be bad behaviour. But on the other hand, the vast majority of poor posts legitimately moderated, do fall within this category too, and virtually all is essentially duplicate of previous material. So the vast majority of strict moderation of elementary maths is valid. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 25 '18 at 9:57
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    $\begingroup$ I am not sure whether this is along the lines of what you have in mind, but there are some previous discussion related to possible splitting of the site, for example: Three levels of Math and Would splitting the site into more elementary and more advanced questions help? $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Dec 25 '18 at 17:50
  • $\begingroup$ @MartinSleziak I happen to come down on the side in favour of the split, but I don't think the network operators fully appreciate the benefits that would accrue. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 25 '18 at 19:48
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My suggestion: 24+ hour delay b/w account creation and first post. This removed the epidemic of regular people thinking "I just had this idea that overturns all of math, let me go post all about this on websites I've never heard of which use formatting I don't understand.". A delay makes it so that only people who plan on long-term use of the site.

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  • $\begingroup$ If you look at my early posts, I certainly did my share of this. However, I now like to think that I have had a positive influence on the site. This seems similar to the debate over American immigration. There are people joining the site who make it worse, but many who start out as newcomers, as we all did, and make the site better. In this case, because no one's life depends on joining the site, I think that a strict "immigration policy" would make the site better. Restricting posting privileges for a period of time seems to make lots of sense here. $\endgroup$ – William Grannis Dec 25 '18 at 19:49
  • $\begingroup$ That one example is a relatively small proportion of the "problem" questions. The 24 hour delay will probably solve some of the other problems too, but then it will also discourage other new users with good questions. Personally I'd prefer the previously discussed option of a triage queue for new users over this. $\endgroup$ – samerivertwice Dec 25 '18 at 19:50
  • $\begingroup$ I am very libertarian (small "l"), and think that the upvote-downvote reputation system provides a reasonable approximation of the free-market. Good people rise to the top. Let those with the most upvotes in other communities have shorter waiting periods. $\endgroup$ – William Grannis Dec 25 '18 at 20:02

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