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The Sandbox has undergone some evolution over time. After the first one accumulated over 200 answers (mostly deleted), we rebooted it earlier this year. We also discussed time limits, so that abandoned answers wouldn't live forever and make it harder to notice the new ones. And then, recently, we ran into the auto-protection problem -- the sandbox keeps getting protected by the system, blocking low-rep users from answering.

In an answer on that last post I reported some feedback from Shog9, including what some other sites have done to solve their sandbox problems. Comments there have raised issues with an approach that initially sounded promising. We could ask the other site how they dealt with those issues, but -- maybe it's time we gathered some requirements so we know what we need before we try to solve the current problem.

I'll list here some requirements that I believe are obvious and uncontroversial. (If you disagree, let me know in a comment.) Please use answers to add requirements, so the community can show (through voting) which ones have support. Feel free to propose requirements that we aren't currently satisfying but you think we should.

Base functional requirements:

  • Anybody, including new users, can use the sandbox to post draft questions for review. (Current: there is one sandbox question, and drafts are answers. Requires 5 rep; we could lower it.)

  • Anybody in the community can provide feedback on sandbox questions. (Current: feedback is mainly in the form of comments, and sometimes edits.)

  • Community members can easily see current sandbox questions without digging through obsolete questions. (Current: we delete inactive or completed answers, which sort to the bottom in the default view.)

  • Community members can easily tell whether a sandbox question is active or obsolete. (Answers that are not deleted are active.)

We also maintain an answer with links to graduated questions, but I'm not sure what the goal (or underlying requirement) is. If that's important, somebody please describe the requirement in an answer.


For those not experienced with writing requirements: focus on the outcome, not the implementation. I've included notes in parentheses about our current implementation, but details such as using comments or deleting obsolete answers aren't the requirements -- if we came up with another sandbox scheme that achieved the goal in a different way, that would be ok.

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Be just like the regular posting experience

We may be getting into territory outside of the regular site here, so I want to add that the “experience” of writing a sandbox question should be the same as on the regular site. Specifically, the markup should be exactly the same, the extensions like MathJax should be exactly the same, etc. If the post formats correctly in the sandbox it should work the same when simply pasted onto WB as a question.

Ideally it should have the same toolbar, too. This provides a learning experience for using the site.

nice to have

It would be good to have tags show like they would for real, and give the selection of choosing tags and their descriptions from the regular site.

It would be nice if Sandbox Notes and the Title line could have special formatting and be a semantic part of the post, rather than merely conventions.

It would be really cool if comments were stamped with the Revision number that they applied to!

It would be nice if the css numbered the paragraphs in the sandbox post, so commenters could easily refer to them.

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  • $\begingroup$ Mathjax is enabled here already: $\rm\LaTeX$. The toolbar is the same. And markup works the same way too. $\endgroup$ – Laurel Jun 22 '17 at 18:39
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    $\begingroup$ @Laurel you're referring to the existing implementation of the Sandbox as a Answer on meta. My first sentence explains that I'm explicitly listing these features we take for granted here in case we're looking toward a new implementation. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 22 '17 at 18:42
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The impact of the Sandbox is easily visible.

Currently we have an accepted community wiki answer where every graduated question is linked. This makes it very easy to see how often the Sandbox is used. In the future this might be important in the case the Sandbox "slows down" or "speeds up" and we want to discuss how important it is to keep the Sandbox going. We can compare how many drafts graduated in a certain timeframe and the metric is openly visible for everyone, even low-rep users who can't see deleted posts.

Furthermore this gives new users the chance to look up how to write questions and see whether they were well-received. This may improve the quality of their posts, as they are not deceived by Hot Network Questions, which sometimes do not quite fit the style of WorldBuilding.

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  • $\begingroup$ Aha. Thanks for explaining why we maintain that list. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 20 '17 at 14:17
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It's easy for members to give feedback about whether the question is ready for the Main site or not

Currently users post their draft as an answer. As such it is possible to vote on the draft. Votes are normally used in the form of up-votes to indicate that a question is ready for the Main site. A down-vote on the other hand means that there is still a lot of work to be down or that the question should be completely rewritten.

This is a good indicator, as it shows the OP very clearly whether the community thinks the question is ready or whether he has to think about where to go with his question from the current point.

It's also good because it doesn't take much time for people who want to help. A simple click shows if you feel strongly about the state of the question.

Voting on the comments is similar, but from my point of view weaker. Voting on comments indicates that you think similar to what the author of the comment suggested, which gives the author of the draft the feedback that multiple people share this opinion.

This makes voting a fast and easy to use feedback for both sides and helps in gauging how much activity there currently is in the Sandbox.

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    $\begingroup$ Votes on the answer are also reversible. If, as an alternative to post voting, we had two standard comments, "good to go" and "needs work", there'd be no way to remove your vote on "needs work" after the author addresses the issue. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 20 '17 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, the downvotes don't get cleared when you rework the draft. The same people have to notice and reconsider. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 20 '17 at 17:28
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    $\begingroup$ Is there a problem here in that the person most in need of that vote-information--the brand-new user with a question that needs work--can only see the net vote, not the breakout of up- and down-votes? (The established user privilege.) And being meta, they don't have rep gains/losses to figure that out.... $\endgroup$ – nitsua60 Jun 27 '17 at 14:02
  • $\begingroup$ @nitsua60 That is an interesting point that I have not considered until now. As far as I can tell there hasn't been any discussion about this. But from my experience from looking through Sandbox questions I can say that most of the time people share an opinion. Normally the post stays at 0 for the most time and once it's ready it might get 1 to 3 upvotes from people checking back on older drafts regularly. If a question is blatantly bad as was the case with certain users in the last months they would get downvotes quite quickly and rarely got upvotes at all. They would then start a new draft. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 27 '17 at 14:05
  • $\begingroup$ @nitsua60 I added this as another functional requirement. Thanks for bringing it up. I am looking forward to seeing what the rest of the community thinks. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 27 '17 at 14:22
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Maintenance of the sandbox can be shared by the community.

Whatever the mechanism is for keeping the sandbox clean -- deleting old answers, reversing auto-protection, editing whatever needs to be edited, etc -- we want the community as a whole to be able to handle it as much as possible. While flags for moderators to take actions not available to the community work at our current scale, they do depend on a moderator being available -- not a big deal for deleting old answers, perhaps a bigger deal for unprotecting questions.

(Note, in that last example, that high-rep users can also unprotect, but they have to notice the problem.)

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It's easy for new users to see the feedback others give them about whether the question is ready for the Main site or not

This point is inspired by a comment under the functional requirement It's easy for members to give feedback about whether the question is ready for the Main site or not.

nitsua60 wrote:

Is there a problem here in that the person most in need of that vote-information--the brand-new user with a question that needs work--can only see the net vote, not the breakout of up- and down-votes? (The established user privilege.) And being meta, they don't have rep gains/losses to figure that out....

My personal take on this is that in our current WorldBuilding Sandbox most of the time people share an opinion. Normally the post stays at +0/-0 for the most time and once it's ready it might get 1 to 3 upvotes from people checking back on older drafts regularly.

If a question is blatantly bad they would get downvotes quite quickly and rarely got upvotes at all. But there would be a lot of comments. In these cases the drafts were sometimes edited, but rarely got any upvotes and people rarely changed their mind to make a downvote an upvote.

I can't see deleted posts and therefore cannot check if my hypothesis holds its ground for the deleted posts that are currently there. And of course I didn't check every 5 minutes on every post if something happened and there is no visible history of voting on a post that I could see, so the above is more of a personal sentiment to indicate that I don't see this as a big problem or a big functionality requirement, as the sentiment seems to be coherent most of the time.

I am not aware of any drafts that generated a lot discussion and where a new user couldn't see a clear feedback and posted a draft that was something like +5/-3 because they thought it was positive and could therefore be posted.

Nevertheless I want to add that in an ideal world new users would be able to see the break-down to see whether everyone thinks a draft is good/bad or if people have different opinions. It could theoretically lead to a problem if new users cannot see the vote break-down.

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  • $\begingroup$ Or we could decide that voting on sandbox posts doesn't mean anything and the comments are the key. $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 27 '17 at 14:37
  • $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio That would mean that comments would have to be cleaned regularly throughout the evolution of a draft. As this is the Sandbox it is only natural to assume that the first few comments will propose ideas on what needs to be fixed. If comments are the important thing than we have to remove those once the question is ready. But they might be useful at a later time to look at tips again. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 27 '17 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ Yup, just brainstorming here. Thanks for helping us figure out what we need! $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Jun 27 '17 at 14:51
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    $\begingroup$ @MonicaCellio Same here. I try to find as many possible problems as I can so that we run into as few of them as possible "in production". Even if that sometimes sounds pedantic and might not be a big issue in reality. It's good that you made this requirement post so that the collect all of these considerations for the Sandbox. BTW: RPG might start with a Sandbox, too. They had a post today and I pointed nitsua60 to some of our discussions. $\endgroup$ – Sec SE - clear Monica's name Jun 27 '17 at 14:56
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(Relatively) fast feedback

Especially new users expect to get feedback on their ideas fast. They don't want to wait for a long time before someone starts to give them feedback and they might be discouraged from waiting too long. They have an idea or problem and need help and feedback.

Currently everyone with 5 reputation (which could theoretically be lowered) can post an answer in the Sandbox. The answer is immediately visible and the Sandbox post will go to the top of the active questions tab on the Meta Site. Because of the activity on Meta it will be visible at the top quite long.

Furthermore there will be a message in the chat indicating a new question in the Sandbox to draw attention to the new draft, which would not work if a post was only edited.

I say relatively fast because it still takes some time and that's okay. There are less people active on Meta than on Main, the bot sometimes takes an hour or longer to post the message and not everyone is active in the Sandbox. But we are doing a lot to give new users feedback fast and should try to keep at the current pace or improve wherever possible. For example introducing another review as with a community wiki that needs 100 reputation to be edited by a new user would slow things down.

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The graduated drafts do not take up too much space

High-rep users can still see deleted posts, which is why currently a graduated post should be edited to show only something like "Posted: title" before it is deleted to reduce the visual noise for high-reps.

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    $\begingroup$ The deleted post's comments still show too. We might want to hang on to some, and unlike the post which is stored in revisions, clearing the comments is gone. A bad post in particular may have instructive comments that can teach others. $\endgroup$ – JDługosz Jun 20 '17 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ @jdługosz The comments on deleted posts can only teach high rep users so probably aren't hugely useful. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Jun 29 '17 at 14:05
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The Sandbox cannot be automatically protected by the system

As was already said in the question we currently have a problem with the automatic protection by the Community-User. This is a problem because it prevents users with less than 10 reputation from answering the question. It would be very discouraging to tell new users that they can use the Sandbox only for them to discover that they are prevented by the system from using it.

While 10 reputation is not too much the Sandbox is especially for people who have problems with asking questions or are unsure about whether something is on-topic or not. New users with a not-so-good start are the ones that need this help the most and they sometimes are still under the 10 rep. Excluding them would be counter-productive.

The automatic protection is for example triggered by new users answering and deleting a lot. This is currently the intended usage of the Sandbox, which means that the automatic protection doesn't make any sense for the current Sandbox.

As the automatic protection cannot be controlled on a per-post basis this currently means manual work from people with the privilege to protect/unprotect posts and manual spotting of the automatic protection. This, again, means unnecessary work and there is a chance to discourage new users.

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