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I'm now on StackExchange for several weeks, having asked few questions and answered some. Now there's something I observed (in worldbuilding, but in other StackExchange-sites too) that moderators are being really strict towards newer members. Don't get me wrong, I'm very thankful for their work. But I feel like many users (including myself back then) are really discouraged by moderators directly deleting posts or closing questions without giving the newbies the possibility to correct their mistakes. And I fear that this may prevent possibly valuable new members to become more active.

So I wanted to start a little discussion:

Do you think newer people could/should get some "getting-used-to-it"-time so they can explore the ins and outs of the site and how to partake properly? Or do you think it's important to stay on the sites rules strictly to prevent "oh, but when he did it it was ok"-comments?

Or maybe that if people don't learn from the start, they may never will?

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    $\begingroup$ Hi miep. I tweaked the formatting a little, in the hopes of making your question easier to read. Feel free to Edit further, or even to roll back, if you disagree. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 15 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ thanks. I'm fine with the changes, as I'm not used to the mechanics, and as you said, it improves readability. Also my language may not be the best. I also like how well the argumentation in the answers went $\endgroup$ – miep Jan 15 at 20:15
  • $\begingroup$ From what I've seen, world builder isn't too bad... though there are definitely other forums on stack exchange that are. $\endgroup$ – Nosajimiki Jan 16 at 1:02
  • $\begingroup$ The way I see the hold procedures (whether L. Dutch's Mjolnir-like decisiveness or whether the community's more hit-or-miss approach) is that it is done for sòme reason. It then becomes an opportunity for the OP to improve the question. Being put on hold is not a bad thing (and I usually alert new folks to this fact), but is rather a chance to improve and focus . I get that it can be discouraging, and I think the fault there lies with us more experienced users. I'd just call on the community to write a rationale for closure before clicking VTC, and if you're not doing so already! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 16 at 16:52
  • $\begingroup$ One issue I'd like to bring up is the counter argument to "sure we close a lot of posts here" is "go refine your post in the sandbox before posting it to the main site." Which would be fine except that almost no one reads the sandbox. I tried and got 2 people commenting...one who was fixated on a point that was unimportant to the question and one who advised me to break it into two posts, but the first still got closed. Then a 3rd person after the fact. I was hoping for a conversation with multiple people, instead of being thrown to the wolves after being lulled into thinking it was an ok Q. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Jan 17 at 20:21
  • $\begingroup$ A question getting closed isn't the end of the world. Often they can be fixed and reopened afterwards. $\endgroup$ – Mast Jan 18 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Mast Often? More like only occasionally. When questions may be reopened few are fixed. More improvement is needed overall. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 20 at 3:23
  • $\begingroup$ @a4android Not all questions that can be fixed are fixed. $\endgroup$ – Mast Jan 20 at 9:54
  • $\begingroup$ @Mast That's part of what I was saying. I assume you italicized can as a way of intimating that questions that can be fixed & reopened, it's just that they aren't. Then we are in agreement. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 20 at 12:11
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I'm one of the mods here, but I have a tendency to stay away from unilaterally closing questions from anyone, at least immediately after they've been asked. The big problem with me voting to close, of course, is that a diamond moderator like myself can automatically close a question without needing approval from anyone else - which does reduce the community's agency. In some cases - like a spammer spamming spam - that power is needed (although of course that post should be spam-flagged, too, not just put on hold). Other times, like when there's a question that needs to be made just a little bit clearer . . . not so much.

I - and I actually think this holds for most mods network-wide - prefer the whole speak-softly approach:

  1. Comment if the user needs to improve something.
  2. Give a bit more feedback if they still need to work on it.
  3. Close the question if it still needs to be closed and if no other community members are stepping in - which they are.

No big stick needed, usually.

The key here is commenting. Mods have a lot of tools that help us do what we do, but words are the best tools of all. They can be gentle and customized based on who we're talking to, flexible and expressive, and, most of all friendly. Plus, anyone can use them. This is a popular approach among some mods in chat rooms - talking people out of arguments, when possible - but it also works on-site.

New users usually need more guidance than the average person, just because they don't know as much yet about how the site works. And that's okay. It means that talking and commenting is even more important.

Maybe this seems obvious to you - in which case, great! I just think it's something emphasize. Rather than maybe giving new folks extra time, we mods - and community members - should just be wary of what tools we're using to accomplish the same goal as always: making questions more awesome. And if required, yes, we'll close questions, as always. But hammering questions shut shouldn't be our first tool, no.


As Dubukay pointed out, I've basically said the same thing before. As I put it last year, if you want cook a steak, you use a regular oven, rather than lava (there used to be a video on this, but it's been removed). Why? Because cooking steak in lava is a bit overkill. Just as, in many situations, mod-hammering a question closed is overkill.

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    $\begingroup$ I'd just like to point out that only heathens use ovens to cook a steak, if its not a grill you're doing it wrong. Other than that I totally agree with your post. $\endgroup$ – James Jan 18 at 15:09
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    $\begingroup$ @James Bear in mind that I don't know how to cook. Also, heathens can be nice people sometimes. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Jan 18 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ @James If it's good enough for Kenji, it's good enough for me. I present the reverse sear. $\endgroup$ – Catija Jan 18 at 22:53
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I've got a few thoughts on this too, although I'm not a moderator so the answers you've gotten from L.Dutch and HDE may be more what you're looking for.

The challenge here is in error rates - because nobody cares if questions that should be closed are closed, or if questions that are good remain open. The problem arises when questions that should be kept open are incorrectly closed and when questions that should be closed are incorrectly kept open. Nobody is perfect, so we all make mistakes in different degrees.

What I notice happening recently is a massive decrease in incorrect non-closures, with a corresponding (small) increase in incorrect closures. This has been mostly driven by one of our new moderators, L.Dutch. He's certainly not afraid to use his mod-hammer to close questions! This is a new perspective for the site, as mods in the past have been pretty reluctant to use their overriding powers. In the past day, at least five questions that I could find have been closed by L.Dutch before they reached the five-person normal review. Some of these were clearly in need of rapid handling (e.g. here, here, and here), while others were more debatable (e.g. here and here). In the first case, those questions deserved to be closed rapidly and decisively, and we all are indebted to L.Dutch for his swift action. In the second case, these are less-obviously in need of mod-hammering and more in need of responsive and constructive comments. It appears that far fewer questions were mod-closed in the past - the last time this came up, someone complained because four questions had been mod-hammered closed in five days. That's much less activity than we've seen recently.

The mod hammer is a fickle tool because it overrides the normal review process in which a consensus is reached in order to close a question. This drives the mods much more into the spotlight and makes them far more visible, especially to new users. As I mentioned earlier, this has driven down our incorrect non-closures and the site is a lot "cleaner". However, there are also questions falling under the incorrect closures, and we're throwing some babies out with the bathwater.

This would be a trade I'm willing to make, except that we've already got an awesome team of active reviewers who aren't mods. We close questions all the time as a community, which allows the mods to work behind the scenes and step in in a more friendly first-contact to new users. The easier it is to mod-hammer a question closed, the more likely the community will also close it quickly.

My final point is that mods can also hammer questions open immediately, and that's a tragically underused tool and one that could engender a lot of goodwill towards our mods. Although I'm unable to easily see the stats on mod reopenings, they feel highly unusual, and that's just a shame. Our mods have, in a way, the best sense of what fits on the site, and as soon as they see something fixed the instinct should be to get it open immediately. The community is also much worse at reopening questions, so this is the perfect place for our mods to pick up a bit of the stack - er, slack.

I have a few specific requests to make, from this. First, please direct new users to our Sandbox!! It's a great place for discussion, style, and scope questions, and is perfect for new users. (Incidentally, everyone is welcome to give feedback there, and I think mod perspectives would be especially welcome for new users.) Often, the question needs a bit of touching up and can be ready for Main with just a few comments and recommendations.

Second, L.Dutch, please cool it with the mod-hammer closings. Trust your community to decide which questions are in need of closing, and leave it to the democratic (oligarchic?) process that's already in place. I remember you being a highly active reviewer when you weren't a mod, and it feels like those voting habits haven't changed, despite your voice being much, much louder now. Remember that the more obviously a question needs to be closed, the more likely it is that the community will handle it quickly and judiciously. Consider using your close-votes now as the fifth or fourth or even third vote, not the first and only. I firmly support HDE's stance here and in other places, as does the community, and will quote from the mod bible to back this point up:

The ideal moderator does as little as possible. But those little actions may be powerful and highly concentrated. Judiciously limiting your use of moderator powers to selectively prune and guide the community — now that’s the true art of moderation.

Finally, to all mods - don't be afraid to mod-hammer questions open! Being told by someone with authority that something has been fixed is a delightful feeling, and I personally believe we can afford the small increase in incorrect non-closure rate. Although I can't seem to find it, I remember a post (I think by Monica) about this site being rapid-close rapid-reopen, but we're forgetting to reopen.

EDIT:

Massive respect to L.Dutch: I just noticed he reopened this question as soon as the problems were fixed. Thanks for being such a responsive and active moderator!

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  • $\begingroup$ It might improve readability of this answer if you use something more descriptive than "Type I" and "Type II". Maybe "incorrect closures" and "incorrect non-closures", respectively? $\endgroup$ – a CVn Jan 15 at 19:01
  • $\begingroup$ @aCVn Perfect, thanks. I couldn’t figure out how to put it in concise terms! $\endgroup$ – Dubukay Jan 15 at 19:06
  • $\begingroup$ oddly enough, I've seen the opposite (that its us - the regular guys - who are closing things very quickly over mods) - even see the mod you named argue against and answer a question which was closed by the community...I also agreed with him so maybe it just depends on the tags you follow. $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 15 at 20:42
  • $\begingroup$ That question wad bad and got closed again not long after being reopened. $\endgroup$ – Renan Jan 23 at 12:22
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One of the moderators here.

Back in the first times of the Internet, it was good practice, when joining an internet community, to spend some time just lurking around and observing the behaviors in the community, with the purpose of learning what was accepted and what not.

I personally spent a few months on this very community just reading the questions, the answers and the comments before even registering an account.

While I can understand that not everyone is willing to put that much time into learning the ropes, I think one cannot skip the learning. And popping out a question without knowing the community standards and culture is a risk.

Moderators and other users are more than willing to help new users to learn (we all have been the new user, at some point), and this goes through the means that the community offers: comments and putting the question on hold.

Mind, out-of-standard questions are first put on hold, not straightforwardly deleted (unless they deserve it for serious issues like blatant spam). This is not a punishment for the poster, rather an opportunity to learn. Why is it an opportunity? Well, we like consistency, and, apart what you noted, that we prefer not to give leeway to newcomers and have to explain countless times the exceptions, there is also another of our guidelines that states that edits to a question shall not invalidate existing answers.

Now, imagine being the user who has posted an out-of-standard question: you are being prompted to refine the question, and also to respect the answers which you might have received. This is confusing$^2$, isn't it?

So, putting a question from a new user on hold is not a punishment, is a way to facilitate their learning, by addressing the points of improvements and helping him go through the learning steps. Once the question is improved, we are more than happy to reopen and answer it!

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    $\begingroup$ The problem i think with putting it on hold is that for a new comer the difference between on hold and deleting are not as clear as it is for long term users. I have looked occasionally into world building before I was a user but I didn't know what on hold is after I became a user and asked a few questions and for me it seemed to be very similar to a delete answer in the beginning. $\endgroup$ – Soan Jan 15 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Sloan while I don't disagree with that (in fact I completely agree and of all the SE sites I use think this one does the best job in getting new users to actually edit and re-open their questions) - since the "on hold" process and messages are network wide - this would seem to warrant a complete different question or even a question on Meta.SE $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Jan 16 at 13:01
  • $\begingroup$ @Soan -- that's why I suggest making that clear in the comments before VTC! New users have to be educated. I am 100% with L.Dutch on the lurk-n-learn principle that used to be common practice. If new users aren't willing to spend a couple weeks figuring the place out, then it falls to the community and to active mods to orient them properly and that may involve swift reprimand and it may seem harsh to melt the little snowflakes' first efforts here, but really, what we're trying to do is maintain excellent community standards. That means high quality questions & answers. (cont...) $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 16 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Soan -- ...If that means putting a query on hold or even outright deleting poor content, then so be it. Questions put on hold become an opportunity for the OP to improve the question. Usually it's just a matter of tweaking so that the question becomes more focused or more clear what is being asked. If the OP doesn't want to do the work, then, perhaps, some other keen user can reword the query and ask it the way it should have been asked in the first place. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 16 at 17:01
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas I just think that the process of putting a question on hold needs to be explained better than it is currently. But I agree it is important to keep quality standards as the are. $\endgroup$ – Soan Jan 16 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Soan --- I totally agree! That's why I said elsewhere that experienced users should always take the time to write a rationale before clicking VTC! This will help new users understand where they're making mistakes. I do this regularly; I know L.Dutch and JBH do as well, to name two. Even so, I do come across a number of queries in the close queue where no explanation is given; not even a welcome for a new user! I always try to write an explanatory comment as to why the query is being closed; and also suggestion to review the help center and the tour so they can edit and get it right next time! $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Jan 16 at 18:36
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Do you think newer people could/should get some "getting-used-to-it"-time so they can explore the ins and outs of the site and how to partake properly?

Not only on Stack Exchange sites, but in all communities in the Internet... If you get on stage and start talking without the slightest regard to the house rules you instantly become persona non grata. I am old, I have been on the Internet since before the time of search engines and social networks, and I have been everywhere. I believe the communities at Stack Exchange are the most forgiving towards dummies.

For people who are still learning how to use the site, WB has gone further than most stacks and created the sandbox: a post where you can present an unfinished question, and the community will provide feedback on whether it fits the site. If it doesn't, they also tell you how to change it so that it fits.

Or do you think it's important to stay on the sites rules strictly to prevent "oh, but when he did it it was ok"-comments?

Those rules are the reason for the SE model's success. That's why you find the best answers here and not on Yahoo! Answers, forums or 4Chan.

Or maybe that if people don't learn from the start, they may never will?

In my experience that is the case for the vast majority of people who are either unwilling or unable to read a help section or to learn house rules by actually browsing the site before asking.

That is not to say that people are born knowing how to use a stack. Almost every high rep user has had posts downvoted, locked and deleted. Don't feel bad about it. It's rare to be good at something (including asking and answering) without having failed at it at least a few times.

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    $\begingroup$ I am old, I have been on the Internet since before the time of search engines and social networks, and I have been everywhere. I believe the communities at Stack Exchange are the most forgiving towards dummies. Amen, Amen and Amen. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 17 at 20:57
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH I can't decide if your comment is (a) ironic humour, (b) sarcasm, or (c) a religious experience, perhaps, an epiphany, or (e) some other kind of whimsy whose categorization escapes me, and , even possibly, (f) all of the above. Yours somewhat puzzled. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 28 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ @a4android, Odd... it's an expression of agreement, which is the purpose of the word. Curious that it's basic definition isn't one of your options. $\endgroup$ – JBH Jan 28 at 1:22
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Tone, nuance and intention rarely communicate well with the written word. Humour often falls flat because it depends some much on nuance. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 28 at 5:01
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The purpose of closing posts is to give you a chance to improve your question before people start submitting inappropriate answers

There isn't a "nice" way to deal with the educational process — and we've all been through it. Here's the problem: new users almost never read through the Help Center pages, don't read the meta posts that explain all this, don't follow the links on the question page to help them formulate questions, and worst of all, new and old users alike tend to like answering questions whether it's appropriate or not.

As a consequence, rapid moderation is the only chance we have to help new users develop good question-asking skills before bad habits set in. We understand that it can be taken personally and we understand that it will chase some people away. But it's the only solution we have to guide new users.

This is an all-volunteer group and nobody is on it 24/7 to quickly intercede in what could be called friendlier ways. On the flip side, many questioners (OPs) have a habit of asking their question and then walking away from the site, so even if someone is there to intercede quickly, the OP isn't there to fix the problem before answers start rolling in.

Closing questions is the solution Stack Exchange created to solve the problem as best it can.

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I have been on scifi stackexchange for some time and only now learnt of worldbuilding. A new user may not know how to approach so many boards and ask the right question. There are a few moderators who are kind enough to direct a new user to the right board. Most feel that we should simply read all the rules and find out for ourselves. Not that I blame anyone. Spoon feeding is never encouraged in the real world, anyway. Only, for those who are not tech-savy, it becomes a hindrance. I have refrained from answering any questions after a first disastrous attempt.

It is not about gaining points - which I feel seems to be the only remuneration that many seek. I thought stack exchange is about sharing knowledge.

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Yes, in my opinion it most certainly is. In fact, it's one of several reasons I've never bothered to ask a single question.

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    $\begingroup$ The OP question is "Do you think..." a completely subjective question, that needs a subjective response. I answered with my personal Opinion Thanks for the downvote - it speaks well to my point. </snark> $\endgroup$ – Joe Jan 23 at 15:30
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    $\begingroup$ Naysayers who are opposed to any negative opinion about the site (no site is perfect & some negative opinions will always abound) and defenders of the Holy Mission of WB SE should remember even Cort Ammon has said he doesn't ask questions here because they would be closed under our rules. I would love see any questions from Cort Ammon. I expect they would be brilliant. $\endgroup$ – a4android Jan 28 at 1:12

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