I don't have a ton of SE experience, so take what I'm asking with a gain of salt. I am a fairly established Wikipedian, and over there we have a policy called WP:BITE which basically explains how to be nice to the new users. While it seems like we aren't being particularly hostile to newcomers in the things that we say, I have been noticing that we tend to down vote bad questions from new users into oblivion. Here's one example:

Why do new LEGO bricks feel softer than old bricks?

This is admittedly a somewhat vague and biased question, and could use some work. We seem to have done a good job of explaining what the issues were with the question, but then we down voted it a bunch (at the time of writing this it has 4 down votes). If I were a new user on an SE site, I wouldn't want my first question to be a -5. It would make me feel rather unwelcome. I'm not sure what we can really do about this, but I'd encourage us to not continue to down vote poor questions which are already negative.

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2 Answers 2

I have to admit I did notice the other day an fairly swift close on a question that could have had a gentle comment added to it prior to the close.

While I'm not saying that the question isn't without it's flaws (there are still many even after the first edit), I'm not sure what the best option is.

I think my preferred approach is probably:

  1. Comment on issues with question, maybe with a down-vote. In the case of the set quality question this could have been salvaged with some specific examples of what the perceived issues are - however even then it may end up being too subjective.
    1. If the question isn't updated after period, close.
    2. If the question is updated and has merit, remove down-vote.
  2. If there's absolutely no hope of salvage, close, but with a comment beyond the boiler-plate.
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I think the "give it some time" approach included in this is probably the wisest as it gives a chance for the newcomer to understand what's going on. –  Joubarc Mar 6 '13 at 8:42

I had hesitated to close the first question myself, considering it was essentially just a long rant and not a real question. However, seeing it did came from a newcomer, I considered trying a more gentle approach, but I knew this would take some time (as it required a well-written comment) so I didn't do it immediately, and then the question was closed by someone else. Frankly, I didn't shed a tear on that.

On the principle, I do agree that we should be welcoming to newcomers, so that the community can grow, and that so far we haven't been that gentle.

However, we are not wikipedia. We strive towards good answers as well as good questions. And sometimes, questions are just junk which just isn't salvageable. Maybe we should let the voting system do its job, but then we risk that junk answers are affixed to the junk questions, increasing the total junkiness of the site. We don't want that. So sometimes, it's better to just root it out as fast as possible.

Sure, it'll shun the poor newcomer who asked his question in good faith. But in all honesty, I also feel that if the newcomer is to become a valuable member of the community, he well be able to learn from the experience and understand what good questions are. And if he doesn't, well, that's harsh to say, but do we need him that much? Of course, there we have an important thing to do which is to document the reason for closure properly. A well-written comment is usually the best way to do. Possibly including some basic element of answer as well as the reasoning for closing.

I did close one speculative question recently myself, instead of relying silently on other moderators to do so. I can't quite shake the feeling that I have been harsh in doing so, but on the other hand maybe that's the best way of working.

Note that when we finally graduate, we will elect proper moderators, and maybe they will have other views on the subject; at the very least it should be a discussion point during the elections, so that the opinion of the community as a whole is better represented.


Edit: to expend on the "we're not wikipedia" part, keep in mind we're part of a network of Q&A sites, and while our focus is very different than, say, the one for Stack Overflow, it makes sense to follow the same guidelines to be consistent across the network. More importantly, if the approach worked on SO and contributed to make it thrive, maybe it'll work for us too.

In that regards, there are of course posts on meta.so which deal with new users, and I found the question On closing new users' questions quite close to this one. The accepted answer goes "If a new user asks a bad question, it should be closed."

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Personally, I think the spec question you linked to should have been closed - a more generic version would have been closed as a duplicate anyway. In general yes, I agree we should be trimming the bad stuff fairly fast, I'm just aware that (Ts & Cs not withstanding) we may attract a slightly younger audience that might appreciate a slightly gentler approach. –  Zhaph - Ben Duguid Mar 6 '13 at 11:22
    
Thanks for the response. Just to be clear, I'm not suggesting that we keep bad questions open or refrain from down voting them. I just don't like seeing questions from new users that have down votes piled on to -5 or so. I know that when I see a question that I think isn't constructive and is already at a negative score, my instinct is to flag it as not constructive if it isn't already closed, or just leave it alone. Obviously, those with more rep can just close it straight away. –  jncraton Mar 6 '13 at 12:49
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I think, having some experience with the other SO sites, that it shouldbe a good habit to comment when downvoting. I don't know if the system asks for this, but if not, it could. This remark refers to all SO sites. –  Voitcus Apr 23 '13 at 21:09
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Forcing comments on downvotes has been discussed ad nauseam on meta stack overflow, and it won't happen. However, users with less than 2k reputation should get a message advising them to comment when downvoting. I guess users having more than 2k rep are considered wise enough to understand it's usually good etiquette to comment. –  Joubarc Apr 24 '13 at 6:31

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