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I think you've seen this pattern: a new user have an interesting idea, it contains a "grain" of a good, suitable question (sometimes several), and they post it in a way that don't fit our site's model - typical "offenses" include asking multiple questions in a single post, or just presenting an idea and asking for comments in a forum style. We respond by down-voting and VTCs (as we should - that's how SE works and maintain quality). Many times the user is confused, thinks they are harshly punished for being out of line, and leave.

Now, while personally I tend to lurk in a community long before contributing - so I have a good grasp of the etiquette and conventions when I post, not everybody does. I feel it's a shame to lose an enthusiastic user and a good question just because they didn't nail it on their first go.

I think that our sandbox could really help here, but it's not discoverable - even for new users trying to be "good citizens", it's not mentioned in:

  1. Our Help Center > Asking
  2. Our tour.
  3. The "How to Ask" pane when asking a question.

So:

Should we add a link to sandbox to any/all of the above to improve its discoverability?

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  • $\begingroup$ Regarding (1), the Sandbox actually is mentioned in What topics can I ask about here?, which is the top link in Help center > Asking. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Feb 4 at 14:54
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    $\begingroup$ @aCVn it's under a wall of text; I myself TL;DR'ed it. We should give it a highlight and some repositioning if we want it to be read. $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 4 at 15:00
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    $\begingroup$ I created a Community Promotion Ad to try to improve visibility. I don't know how well it works. I'm all for adding a permanent link to the help center pages (I don't think it's worth adding it to the tour). $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 4 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ Yes. And it needs it's own review queue. $\endgroup$ – Dan Feb 5 at 23:51
  • $\begingroup$ @Dan, regrettably,. that would require SE to change exchange-wide code. I'm not holding my breath for that. It's basically the reason why G0BLiN posted his question: because there isn't an automated way to do it. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 6 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ @JBH Ah, I see. Thank you. $\endgroup$ – Dan Feb 6 at 7:01
  • $\begingroup$ why are you a new contributor btw? $\endgroup$ – Mr.J Feb 6 at 8:05
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    $\begingroup$ @Mr.J because this is still status-review $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Feb 6 at 13:20
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    $\begingroup$ @aCVn even after you mentioned it, and I was actively looking for it, I totally missed that part and had to read it a second time. $\endgroup$ – Aethenosity Feb 11 at 9:08
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While steering new users to the Sandbox is good, the real problem is that experienced users don't read it and comment. I've used it myself and got almost no comments on my question proposal (the people who skewered it when it went live had a chance to help out in Sandbox but they never read it there). I've also commented on other people's proposed questions and been the only one to do so.

The Sandbox needs a commitment from experienced users of Worldbuilding to go there periodically and leave some constructive comments.

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    $\begingroup$ I agree, if the sandbox is to be effective I'd suggest that new questions in the sandbox be added to the a 'sandbox' review queue, along with the votes and edits. $\endgroup$ – Nahshon paz Feb 5 at 13:51
  • $\begingroup$ I honestly cannot figure out how to use sandbox (and I thought it was a chat thing not answer/comment thing) so I agree with this - plus I can never find interesting questions to comment on because its just basically scroll through all these (no tags a lot of the time) $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Feb 5 at 20:57
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    $\begingroup$ That would be this Community Promotion ad, which wasn't upvoted enough to make it visible last year and isn't showing promise this year. $\endgroup$ – JBH Feb 6 at 5:49
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    $\begingroup$ To be honest, I don't even know where it is! While I've not been here for ever, I've been here a while. I've heard about the sandbox and have seen it mentioned often enough in comments, but I don't recall seeing it linked (the way you can with tour) and there are no clear links in the sidebar or anywhere else. What new people don't see they can't use; what experienced people don't know how to find they won't read & review. $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Feb 12 at 3:15
  • $\begingroup$ @elemtilas It's a post here in Meta. It's not pinned to the top, though it's usually within half a dozen posts of the top because it's modified every few days or more. And yeah, that's all a big problem. $\endgroup$ – Cyn Feb 12 at 3:19
  • $\begingroup$ @Cyn -- Thanks, didn't know that! Maybe a button (on Main as well as Meta) that says [Sandbox] would be more helpful than having to undertake a difficult and perilous Quest to find it? $\endgroup$ – elemtilas Feb 12 at 3:26
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Absolutely

While I can't say I entirely agree with Renan's interpretation of new users who experience the negative impact of a poorly formed question, I do agree with him entirely on the fact that the sandbox should be more readily discoverable and I would support any attempts to do so.

I'd actually take it a step further and say that it should be an intrinsic part of the site.

New contributors should all have the Ask Question button pointed to the sandbox by default, where they can get the help they need and then there should be an option based on either a voting system or a single user with sufficient rep to graduate the question to 'Prod', so to speak. In other words, new contributors shouldn't (in my opinion) be able to get to the main site and the negative commentary in prime; they should be routed through the sandbox in the first instance.

I'm not currently sure how long the 'new contributor' flag stays on a new user, or whether or not we should be able to flag someone based on questions only (not rep or answers, or votes, etc.) as being routed to the sandbox, but it is my view that it should be an intrinsic part of the site that new users experience prior to their questions being released. This could be managed through the conventional queues that we all get as it is and users of sufficient rep should have the 'sandbox' queue come up so we can work on what goes in there regarding new content in a supportive way.

Will that discourage some users because they don't get their post on the site in real time? Perhaps. But I'd argue that getting your content up in real time and getting it criticised is even more discouraging, and SE can take some getting used to as a community whether we remember that or not.

So; my proposal to SE would be that the sandbox become a queue that can be enabled on a site by site basis by those responsible for it; if enabled, the question is written up and is basically suspended (made invisible to the main site but put up on a queue) for review. Once people on the site are happy with the framing and layout of the question, it is released, making it visible on the site (preferably with a 'cleared' message naming users, much like the one we have for On-Hold right now).

This would mean that it doesn't rely on threads in Meta, or any other content driven medium for delivery but would be built into the behaviour of the site directly. That would put a greater burden on our senior members and Mods, but it would have the following benefits;

1) Less poor quality questions on the front page distracting browsers from the quality content

2) No longer would we have a sea of On-Hold questions through the site, making us look unwelcoming

3) Prior engagement between new users and senior members of the site in a supportive framework before a question goes live; they get to know us a little before we pull their question apart in front of their eyes.

Whether or not this can be done easily is (to me at least) the real issue. I think it is at least worth the ask given the value that could come of it in terms of image let alone better quality questions.

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  • $\begingroup$ As far as the noob flag, at least until they give us a way to turn it off in settings (I still hate being called a noob), it lasts for one week after first question/answer on a site which is not deleted (yes, this includes first post on meta and people with contributor bonuses) $\endgroup$ – JGreenwell Feb 5 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ Stack Overflow had been moving to sandboxing new users automatically last year. Might be a matter of time until that is applied to all sites. $\endgroup$ – Renan Feb 6 at 1:26
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On Programming Puzzles and Code Golf, their Sandbox is always , so it shows up in the sidebar.

One drawback of this method is that featured posts are un-featured a month after the tag was added. In other words, it becomes a long edit war between the Community bot and moderators. The other drawback is that there are fewer slots for "Hot Meta Posts" in the sidebar.

But there are also several benefits. First of all, it can be done immediately (without the need to escalate to a CM). It will make the sandbox link convenient for everyone, including the high-rep users we need reviewing. It's also just as easy to reverse this decision if it doesn't pan out. For these reasons I think that making the Sandbox is definitely one thing that should be done.

I guess I would also support putting links into the areas you mentioned, but I don't think I've ever actually read any of those sections on this site (oops), since it's all just very similar across all the sites. Also, "How to Ask" is only shown when the cursor is in the title box so it's easy to miss.

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  • $\begingroup$ Good idea. Should be doable without waiting for SE to implement sandboxing for all new users. Actually access to the sandbox should be readily available to all users. At least, that experienced users can give feedbackt on sandboxed questions. $\endgroup$ – a4android Feb 22 at 12:33
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I do not see the merit in the WB Stack sandbox.

A sandbox type forum would be indispensable for endeavors where the money or prestige of the company were at risk, or if there were a possible safety hazard. New concepts should definitely be tested in ways that minimize risk before rolling them out publicly.

A sandbox type forum is appropriate in an educational setting - trainees and students and novices must learn to write and present and convey their ideas. Having that done for you by people who already know is less educational.

I do not think the Stack is any of those situations. There is no money or prestige at risk and no safety issues. I do not think the Stack sets out to improve the compositional skills of contributors. It is just questions and answers.

Instead of Sandbox, Stack enthusiasts can and should just fix things on the fly. Change questions with merit to fit the format of the stack. Just edit them and make them right. If a question sucks so bad that fixing is impossible then vote to close. If edits miss the point of the OP and he/she cares, he/she can edit them additionally to clarify or post another question.

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I feel like the proposal doesn't go too far enough. A link to the sandbox should be plainly visible near any question/answer text box. Any stack that enables MathJax should beat you over the head with the sandbox at every opportunity, in fact.

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Should we improve the discoverability of our Sandbox?

Yes, obviously.

I make no judgment about the underlying values regarding the sandbox's existence, but if we want it to exist then we should appropriatley facilitate it's use.

To the OP's list:

  1. Our Help Center > Asking
  2. Our tour.
  3. The "How to Ask" pane when asking a question.

I would add two points:

    1. A magic link in the form of [sandbox] or similar should be added to the list of magic links in the top answer to this question (if an edit of this kind is seen as acceptable by the community), for the reason anyone familiar with the use of magic links will be aware of already.
    1. Reviews, personaly, I never get reminded about anything to do, the activity level there is so low that it's not an attractive place to hang out if one wishes to be busy.

I tried [sandbox] a few minutes ago to give a newbie a pointer and was astonished and disappointed to discover it didn't exist, that's one of the reasons that I'm posting in this thread.

I've no idea how to use the sandbox - I've been there multiple times and see no clear path to making good use of it, there are few answers, no reviews, and essentialy little meaningfull feedback. To an extent this is because of lack of interest by the membership - I feel that we can generate interest through enabling reviews.

In despite of the inadequacies, I feel a duty to refer others to use it. I strongly urge it that the whole thing needs reappraisal to make it work in the context of this site.

My conclusion:

If the creators are not prepared to "change exchange-wide code" (as per JBH's comment) to enable the thing to be accessible and usefull in a meaningful way to new members, or even reasonably experienced members then the whole exercise becomes pointless.

If so, then the sandbox should be closed, because referring anyone to it (by whatever arcane means that some may know) will only add to any confusion (and for newbs a feeling of being slighted) that they may feel about why they've been referred there in the first place. Putting aside the (Kafkaesque) idea that this is what's intended, we need to make it work - which, I feel, it presently doesn't, or stop expecting anyone to (try and) use the thing, and just dump it completely.

Ultimatley, we should try to make it work in whatever way we can, making the creators realise it's potential value to both the network and to themselves as a commercial training/educational/idea prototyping subset of the package. The but, the big but - there comes a point when if six years of people's attempts to make it effective in spite of substantial unresolved coding-support issues ultimatley fails, then what's left is that we need to call it quits.

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Many times the user is confused, thinks they are harshly punished for being out of line, and leave.

There is a word for that kind of person: quitter. I don't think quitters are a good fit anywhere.

If not for the negative first reaction, a quitter will quit for whatever other reason. I wouldn't bother about those people.

Should we add a link to sandbox to any/all of the above to improve it's discoverability?

Totally.

I disagree on the reason for improving visibility - that won't help quitters. But it can help the ones who do stay. I don't know if we can get it on the tour easily but we sure should mention it in the main help page and anywhere else we could pin it to.

I'm all for asking the SE devs about getting a link to the sandbox at the top menu.

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