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Yesterday Jay Hanlon VP of Stack Overflow addressed a very important issue regarding Welcome of new users to the platform. Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change.

My personal experience on Stack Overflow had been horrendous. I dreaded whole Stack-Exchange platform.

After gathering courage(read being stuck critically) I decided to post on SFSE. My experience had been pretty amazing here, Thanks to the amazing mods and experienced user here.

I completely agree with the below meta posts.

Difficulties for New Users

Recently I have seen few posts on SFSE which were downvoted/closed without any description. How will the new user know what wrong he did? Which is a big-big turn-off.

Are we going the same way Stack Overflow is going?

  • 4
    And then someone down votes without comment. That happened to me on Meta too...would be nice if this drive by down voter would explain why. – Adrian Larson Apr 27 '18 at 15:24
  • Being a Mod you would be able to see who downvoted? – Pranay Jaiswal Apr 27 '18 at 15:33
  • Nope. Aggregate votes over a time range only. – Adrian Larson Apr 27 '18 at 15:34
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It's hard to tell exactly what users think of us; after all, it's not like we have an exit survey. However, doing some quick queries, it seems that we're not incredibly hostile; if anything, we're particularly generous with our votes. All users over 10,000 reputation have an average of 16:1 up votes to down votes, and less than 5% of all questions on the network have been closed for any reason.

On the flip side, 17,500 users have asked questions, but 57% of those users have only asked one question. So, it seems we have a problem with engagement, but it may not be hostility. Our questions, on average, have a score of 1, and all questions with a score of less than 0 still only have an average of -1. I think we're mostly too lenient with our down votes, if anything; 36% of all open questions have no score, our average score is only 1, and our average negative score is only -1.

Without doing too many complicated queries, I'd guess that of the 57% of users that haven't asked a second question are probably the majority of our down votes or zero score questions, but again, negative scores account for less than 5% of our questions. However, I'm not sure if this query counts deleted questions as well, so it could be that the problem is worse than I think because people are constantly getting a hostile vibe and deleting their accounts and/or questions.

I do agree that we can do more, and a guided question system would help, but I also think that we do a lot more than the average SO user to encourage a sense of being non-hostile, including a very low close/down vote rate, a willingness to educate new users about our expectations, etc. We have room to improve, but I wouldn't think of us as a hostile bunch; if anything, we don't play the SO rules very well as it is, but rather a lot like how it should be (and perhaps even what SO is trying to move towards with the new changes).


Edit:

Here's our current situation for questions:

Type     Count Avg
-------- ----- ---
Positive 44504 2  
Neutral  28651 0  
Negative 2218  -2 

Of all questions I can query, 59% of questions have a positive score, average of 2, 38% have no score, and 3% have a negative score. Ideally, it would be nice to see the 38% be a much smaller number. We need to get more people actively voting and providing feedback, especially to new users. I do think our negative count is probably where we want it to be; we should try to educate before we punish, and I think the numbers show that we do that. However, we should also start rewarding more, if possible, or even encourage users to make an edit to what we consider a neutral question so it can be a positive one. Let's encourage others to make better posts, posts worth upvoting.

Edit 2:

The numbers above include all questions, not just open questions, so the numbers are slightly different. The 2% difference in negatives, for example, is the difference in closed questions being calculated.

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I've been thinking about this a lot over the last few days. I don't actually think the hostility is coming from users, I think its coming from the cracks in the system.

Specifically, closing & downvotes are the most mentioned actions taken by community members to moderate new users posts. I think the real issue that's not being addressed is these votes "sticking", even if the content is improved.

A recent example is Fatal Error Deploying Apex from Sandbox to Prod, where the question hit -2, until the OP edited their question to include additional information, at which point, me and @adrian removed our downvotes, putting it back at 0. This does not always happen, and it's a lot less likely to happen if the user takes more than a few hours to improve their question (it'll probably be closed or hit -4/5 otherwise), or if the OP puts their improvements into comments instead of in the post (preventing downvoters from removing their vote).

A downvoted question should be either a temporary experience, or a learning experience, and right now, it feels a lot more like a permanent experience.

The same goes for closing questions - ideally, its a lock to say "This question needs to be improved", for whatever reason, low quality, off topic, no code/error, you name it, I've closed it. 90% of the questions I've closed could probably have been improved, but by the time OP arrives back, they've met a -4 & closed question, with minimal information on why their post was closed & how to re-open it. Even if they did, few users would click into a -4 question to try and answer it, and those votes won't go away. Notifying users sooner that their question needs improvement, and being able to clearly convey what needs to be improved could go a long way in helping new users keep their questions high quality and on topic.

I've closed a lot (1,597 reviewed items) of questions, but I've only voted to reopen a handful of questions (82). I might be the exception to the rule, but I very, very rarely see someone actually try to get their question reopened, and I think out of those 82, I've voted to reopen maybe 10 or so. I'd go as far to say that the average closed question stays closed, instead of being edited or otherwise improved.

I'd like to see more users trying to re-open their questions, it feels like most users give up once they face what they perceive to be rejection. I'd like them to understand that a closed question isn't the end of their question, but a chance to start again, and modify their content to be on topic. Ideally, the help center would be modified to try and convey this point, to get users to upkeep their questions.

I'd love to see a feature to ping me when a question I've downvoted, closed, or participated on has been edited or answered. Right now, once they drop off the first page of the [apex] tag, they're gone to me.


To a new user, it can feel like nothing they do matters. They expect an answer, they provide what they understand to be the necessary information, come back 8-12 hours later, and are left nothing to show for their time but a closed -4 question.

Personally, I think the most important thing a new user can do to improve their questions quality is to lurk, edit often, and ask a lot of questions. I would encourage (if any new user understood that meta is here) them to ask on meta about their questions.

Sticking around and answering questions in comments and talking to users on their answers has taught me basically everything I know about apex & salesforce. I've never taken a dev/admin exam, or had any formal training with salesforce. I've asked plenty of bad questions

What will updating a production server to Summer '14 do? (Unclear)

Which of these error handling patterns is more efficient? (Opinion Based)

DateTime.Format() Documentation example causes exception (Just me being dumb & on too much coffee)

Asking these dumb questions helped me learn not only how to work with the platform, but also how to communicate problems, and maintain content.


Take this question for example:

setFieldsToNull method not working in a custom webservice class

I have no idea what language this user was working with. I'm pretty sure it wasn't apex. But because they never came back to the site, this answer will sit at 0, until they come back, or util the servers go off. I'm tempted to close it, but what good will it do?

Same deal with these questions too:

Fetch PageLayout from Java using Metadata API

Get StackTrace in Custom Exception

Index on History Table Fields

how to programmatically identify Salesforce Governor limits are hit? can i create a workflow each time when governer limits are hit?

DML currently not allowed on Managed Package Code for other than Admin

Interesting questions, which could use improvement, which don't see it because the OP never comes back. Some of them could be closed, but why bother? They've been "answered". The OP may even have seen these answers, but decided to skip any remaining actions they could take (voting, editing, accepting), since in their mind, they've fulfilled their Q&A expectation of obtaining an answer.


I guess what I'm trying to say is that ultimately, it comes down to the user understanding the system and being able to work within it to obtain an answer. I think the system could be altered to make this easier, but it comes down to "you get what you put into it". I've put a lot of time and energy into this site, and I've gotten a lot out of it. I hope more users put the time and energy in to improve this site & themselves.

  • 2
    I mostly agree with what you wrote, but I think parts of the system forgets that users are humans (or at least, most of them :P). The "no thank you or plus ones" rule for example, which has a reason, but is ultimately really against the human experience. Imagine going into a super market and being told that you're not allowed to say thank you to your cashier before entering the store. The other side of the coin is "fear". What if I do the wrong thing and get judged? Is this potentially asking an opinion? Will I get down-voted? Will they say something mean? It makes me hesitate to participate – Mattisdada Apr 30 '18 at 7:25
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    I disagree almost entirely. This isn't a supermarket, and provides methods of saying thank you to users (up-vote, accepting) that don't add junk to posts. Once they ask a question, its really no longer theirs- it belongs to the community to vote & edit. Questions & answers aren't just for the asker, but the rest of the community, and future members from google. Everything removed is presented somewhere else, or just implied. Honestly, collaborative editing was one of the things which drew me to the site - it really shows the collaborative, community ideals SO was founded on. – battery.cord Apr 30 '18 at 13:30
  • That just sounds like anxiety to me. Lets play that out - what if the worst happens? Question gets closed, maybe downvoted, you lose, say, -10 rep. You waste probably, half an hour, tops? Mods ban whichever users were being abusive, probably in a day, max. You come back the next day, improve your question, get it re-opened, and answered. Easy. – battery.cord Apr 30 '18 at 13:36
  • (Sorry for ranting in comments) to run out the supermarket analogy, image you were recording a video to show ideal techniques for stuffing bags. This video will be watched any number of times, probably thousands. The people googling it already know some amount about putting things in bags - they do it for a career. Should they have to watch two extra minutes of pleasantries and tutorials of where the bags are? No, the video is about how to stuff things into bags - lets not include anything else. Theres another, linked video, on how to find the bags in the sidebar. – battery.cord Apr 30 '18 at 13:38
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    Eh, I think that proves my point more than anything :P The no 'thank you' was an example, my argument was that the fact that it's everywhere is a hostile user experience. The rule exists for a really good reason, it's a good rule and I'm not going to argue against allowing it. But that doesn't mean it is friendly especially for new users. First time posting is pretty genuinely terrifying for a lot of users. Maybe a better analogy is a building has warning signs everywhere, it is a perfectly safe building, but it appears scary, even if in reality nothing bad will happen – Mattisdada May 1 '18 at 6:22
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I love the idea of a more structured Ask page, because I think that a lot of the issues we encounter have to do with setting expectations - both expectations as to what a question should look like and supply, and what a good and complete answer can supply to the asker. While I don't think we have much of an issue with overt hostility, those relatively rare occasions where the tone slips from welcoming tend to have to do with dramatic mismatches of those expectations.

StackExchange has a pretty high level of conceptual investment required to participate. That's a feature, in my opinion, but it also puts a certain requirement on the site to ramp people into that shared framework. A lot of that work is currently pushed into the least-structured parts of the site (comments and flags) and delegated to individuals, which is probably not the most effective strategy. I'm glad to see them putting more work into how that can be part of the platform itself.

Meanwhile, I really wish that there were an intermediate "holding" state that we could apply quickly for a question that clearly doesn't meet expectations, but is capable of being improved - and suspend voting and flagging at that time. We need a better opportunity to educate users on how to use the site and ask effective questions than comment threads or waiting through a number of downvotes for the question to finally be closed, in many cases long after the asker and the community have lost interest.

One thing I definitely notice is that the community (and I'll certainly include myself in this) responds very negatively to questions that are perceived as "do my work for me"/"implement my requirement". They get a ton of downvotes, and occasionally sharper comments than might be really valuable. That's the only place I've noticed where we sometimes slip up on a consistently very high level of civility and friendliness.

On the one hand, I understand that - it feels like an abuse of the community's generosity, like disrespect. On the other hand, I really do think it's an issue of setting expectations, and I hope StackOverflow helps us out on that front with tools like a more structured ask experience or better registration and tutorial flow.

  • 1
    relevant meta discussion if you haven't seen it. Notable quote: "Methods which prevent low-quality content from being posted, or improve low-quality content before it is seen by the community, will improve kindness." @NicolBolas. – battery.cord Apr 30 '18 at 13:23
  • 1
    Very interesting conversation. Respect begets respect, but we're in a new kind of community where we need to define some aspects of what respect looks like. – David Reed Apr 30 '18 at 17:23
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I am still in my "Kindergarten" on this forum which is being mentored by excellent group of expert folks like you. I joined this forum thinking of giving back to the community and within few days, as much I could help others, I have instead learnt a LOT on this forum.

Going back to this topic, for a moment I had felt the same on Day 1. My first answer was "deleted" and I was really very disappointed and discouraged. However the way it was explained that why my post was deleted was EXCELLENT and welcoming, and few words in there - "Welcome to SFSE ... don't get discouraged", etc. helped me to overcome that disappointment. It really helped me to understand how this forum actually works. I have been coming across stackoverflow for almost a decade, but never knew its "internal working protocols". So I then reorganized myself, and in course helped myself learn things first before trying to help others in the forum and feel that it's really working.

For the new users asking questions, sometimes they may have a valid question, but probably downvoting it is not welcoming. I am not sure if there's a way to add a comment why it was downvoted, then that will really help the new users to understand what they are missing. And then there are constructive comments which guides a user on How to Ask questions. At times, however I also see as mentioned in other answers here, that folks want immediate answers without even giving it a try. Also there are few users who have asked a question, and even though it has been rightly answered, they never came back to at least say that if that solved their issue or not, forget accepting or upvoting it.

In particular, my experience with the forum has been absolutely great and I have found it welcoming. Definitely there's always a perspective to view things, and an alternative perspective helped me here. But if at all a new user feel like they are not welcomed, I would say they are missing it on their part.

  • 3
    I pretty much never down vote and I do try and ask questions or add suggestions in the comments to help improve the question as I don't like to jump on people for asking a poor question. I will be a bit harsher if they keep asking the same question without trying to improve it though. – Dave Humm May 1 '18 at 11:00
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While I really appreciate this service, I personally feel that the rules are too rigid and intimidating and the moderators take it all way too seriously. I am happy that Trailhead allows for SF questions and they don't "chew you up and spit you out" if your question isn't the brightest one.

Also, they allow "How to go about getting the following accomplished...?" type of questions. On the regular SF list, one gets multiple moderators wagging their fingers at the user even though it is apparent from the question that the user is clueless and needs direction how to proceed even before attempting anything. Once in a while, some kind hearted soul will reply despite the question was downgraded to a nano-number.

FWIW.

  • We try not to chew people up, honest. But we're not the other forum. By allowing "anything goes", you're decreasing quality and potentially wasting time. If someone asks "what would cause a workflow to fire twice?", there's already a few answers for that. A simple search would have found it. The system would likely have auto-suggested it. We want to be, in part, a Frequently Asked Questions collection, and FAQs rarely ever have duplicate questions, because that's the point; it's an aggregate of those questions. – sfdcfox May 14 '18 at 18:23
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    We do want to help everyone that comes by, and that means that they should ideally be able to find an answer pretty quickly without much fuss. When we answer a question, we're not answering that person so much as we're answering all future visitors. Again, it's part of being a FAQ-based ideology. Try finding answers on the other forums, and you'll see it's very challenging to do so. We tag and organize and deduplicate so it's easier to find what you're looking for. It takes a lot more work, but it's worth it. – sfdcfox May 14 '18 at 18:29
  • Sorry for the stream of comments, they're limited in size, by the way. One final point, though, for what it's worth, is that "How do I accomplish..." questions are allowed here if there's a specific, non-obvious way to do so, as opposed to being able to figure out how to do so from other common resources (e.g. if you can find the answer on the first page of Google, it's probably not a good fit here). We're not here to duplicate other content, otherwise we'd be Google and therefore redundant. Many questions that do get closed still get pointers to appropriate resources via comments. – sfdcfox May 14 '18 at 18:33

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