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I'm wondering if some sort of change is needed to inform people the sorts of questions they should be asking, either improving the FAQ or placing it somewhere else more in your face.

I don't visit programmers very frequently, but this time I noticed that 40% of the most recent questions that had been asked had been closed... which is a shocking percentage. Is there something that can be done to reduce this percentage and provide a better experience for new/existing users asking questions deemed inappropriate?

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Even if this does get closed as duplicate, it is fine to bring up the topic.

We are aware that the home page has a lot of closed questions and if there were something that could be done to help this without sacrificing the vision and principles on which this site is based then we would do it in a heartbeat.

either improving the FAQ or placing it somewhere else more in your face.

The first one can be a good suggestion as the FAQ really is a living document of sorts. We have a process that involves community input around changes to the FAQ. The second suggestion I am not sure will help. How many sites try to shove a Terms of Service agreement in your face?

How many users do you think actually read the TOS before utilizing the site?

In my opinion there are a number of different types of common reasons that we get so many closed questions.

THIS IS NOT A DISCUSSION FORUM

It is a Q&A site to get expert answers from software developers to quality questions regarding software development.

  • I would like to have a discussion about...

  • Can anyone recommend a good book for ...

  • OMG someone PLZ decide my life for me!

  • Should I learn X technology next and is Y technology a waste of time?

  • I HATE MY BOSS AND MY COMPANY AND EVERBODY WRITES SPAGHETTI CODE BUT ME! How do I deal with this?

  • X is a worthless programming language and I would rather eat horse manure than have to code in it. Am I right guys?

  • Can someone please help me with this code?

  • Can someone please help me with this code? I posted on StackOverflow but nobody responded to me after 5 minutes!

  • What is the job market for COBOL programmers in Bangalore like?

All of the above are mostly tongue in cheek and humorous exaggerations about commonly closed questions on Programmers. It is not that many of them are fundamentally bad questions to ask... many of them are downright interesting and fun to try and answer but they don't lead to the kind of expert questions and answers that we are looking for on this site.

We are about quality over quantity.

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    With all due respect, you are oversimplifying the reality with your own subjectivity and judgement. People post questions here seeking solution to their problem because the place looks like a place to ask questions. Now if the place is seeking for a certain type of questions, the place has to clarify. – user2567 Aug 8 '12 at 14:25
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    @Pierre303 How pray tell? Hold a gun to their head and force them to read the FAQ before posting? Even a gun to the head wouldn't ensure comprehension. – maple_shaft Aug 8 '12 at 14:27
  • @maple_shaft Add a New User? Click Here link to the top of the faq that goes to a short meta post explaining exactly what a new user needs to know before posting. Expecting new users to read the entire faq before posting their question seems unrealistic to me. Its too long and contains too much information that a new user doesn't need right away. Skeptics.SE has a good example – Rachel Aug 8 '12 at 14:56
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    @Rachel Good in theory but how is that really working out for Skeptics? If you look at their newest questions, 8 of the last 15 posted questions were closed! That is a close rate of over 50% on questions alone, I am not even taking into account how many negatively voted answers, post notices and deleted answers exist on Skeptics because of people choosing to ignore the basic guidelines of the site. Forgive the pun but, I am Skeptical that this New Users guide on Skeptics is really making much of a difference. – maple_shaft Aug 8 '12 at 15:08
  • @maple_shaft Perhaps you should ask their mods. I looked through those closed questions, and think most of them were by users who made an effort to understand the site and provide references for their claims. They just happened to be off-topic, or their claims were bad. I think they'd get far more bad questions without it. The post had another benefit in that I saw it used in the closure comments as a friendly way to explain downvotes to new users. Why not simply give it a try? All it takes is a meta post and a line added to the top of the FAQ. – Rachel Aug 8 '12 at 15:18
  • @Rachel Agreed that it couldn't hurt. And on those grounds alone I would support it. I am pessimistic however that it will make any noticable difference. I was on data.stackexchange trying to run some statistics on closed questions on Skeptics compared to before the meta post was put on their FAQ. Unfortunately the data filters on questions that were deleted or that became deleted automatically over time from a low score and no answers. The numbers I came up with are pretty useless as a result. – maple_shaft Aug 8 '12 at 15:44
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    @maple_shaft: no, we all know that very few new users are reading the FAQ, just like every electronic consumer skip reading the manual an turn on the device immediately. The SE sites are pretty well designed and try to inform the user early. The specific problem of P.SE is elsewhere. It's name, for instance, is leading the new users to wrongly evaluate the purpose & goal of the site. A chinese restaurant can't be converted to an indian restaurant without changing its name & decoration. We need a radical design & name change. – user2567 Aug 8 '12 at 15:53
  • @Rachel: maybe there is no solution and SE structure & design is too rigid to fit the world's diversity and ways of thinking. – user2567 Aug 8 '12 at 15:57
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    @Rachel Skeptics is not a good example, the nature of the site attracts a lot of crazies. Oh, wait! Maybe it's the perfect example after all ;) – yannis Aug 8 '12 at 16:43
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    @Pierre303 I completely agree that we need a re-design and re-branding of the site - we are the only SE 2.0 site that got a new scope without going through the Area51 definition phase. Unfortunately SE said no, and we need to cope with what we have. – yannis Aug 8 '12 at 16:45
  • @YannisRizos Agreed. For example, try to ask a question on Skeptics that is even slightly political, and it will become flooded with comments like, "OBAMA IS THE ANTICHRIST WHO DROWNS PUPPIES FOR FUN!!!" – maple_shaft Aug 8 '12 at 16:47
  • @Rachel You're right, this guy obviously made an effort to understand the site and provide references for their claims. ;P (and it's not a new user) – yannis Aug 8 '12 at 17:07
  • @YannisRizos: That question looks like a Yahoo Answers question from the Politics category... "Is it true that Mitt Romney was once a neo-nazi who shaved his head and burned crosses in his front yard?" – Robert Harvey Aug 8 '12 at 17:24
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As an experiment, surf any SE site in incognito mode. What you will find is that the instructions for posting questions are already in your face. You even have to click an "I understand" checkbox.

The problem is threefold:

  1. The charitable explanation: people have become desensitized to these "legal agreements," and don't read them. The cynical explanation: people ignore them, and ask what they want. The truth is a little of both.

  2. The FAQ and "How to Ask" outline what you should do, not what you should not do (with the exception of "questions you should not ask here," which can easily turn into a laundry list if not properly managed).

  3. People are presented with "How to Ask" when they ask a question, not the FAQ. Many people who ask a question have never seen the FAQ.

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The best thing we can do to fix this is to down vote crap when it shows up in addition to closing it. The faster hopelessly off topic questions like maple_shaft's examples get to -8 and drop off the front page the better.

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    I think its a bad idea to downvote decent questions that were asked simply because of a misunderstanding. The majority of closed questions are from users new to the site, and greeting them with a lot of downvotes in addition to closing their question is a great way to drive them away. I feel its better to simply close the question, and explain whats wrong with it in a comment. Also, I think it looks worse to have the questions page full of negatively scored questions than it would be to see it full of [closed] questions with comments explaining why they're closed. – Rachel Aug 8 '12 at 14:18
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    @Rachel your view is perfectly fine for some questions, but others have no chance of being saved, and the best you can do is get them off the front page. Getting a bunch of down votes on a question may not be nice for a new user, but seeing half the questions closed on the front page is bad for all potential new users. – Ryathal Aug 8 '12 at 14:35
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    That's why I specified "decent questions" in my comment :) I agree that some are not really salvageable and should be downvoted. I also agree that seeing half the questions closed on the front page is bad for potential users, but I think its even worse to see half the questions on the front page both downvoted and closed. The downvote tooltip reads "this question does not show any research effort; it is unclear or not useful", and downvoting otherwise decent questions simply because they don't belong on Programmers and you don't want to push them off the front page sends the wrong message. – Rachel Aug 8 '12 at 14:49
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Maybe I'm a bit late with my answer, but I think this would be a good idea:

  1. Analyze what kind of inappropriate questions get asked the most.

  2. Summarize what's wrong with those questions in a few short sentences. It has to be short.

  3. When a new user tries to post a question, display those sentences in a large font, maybe even forcing the user to check some boxes or whatever.

"New user" could be, for example, someone who has asked less than three questions which got upvoted... Or whatever definition seems the most appropriate.

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