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(Largely cribbed from the 2017 check-in)

We, the elected moderators, wanted to take a minute to check in and see how the community feels like things are going on the site. About a year ago we did this and felt that it was pretty helpful in putting specificity on some issues, productively talking through some things, and recognizing where communication breakdowns were happening. It also prompted an election!

Out of that we were reminded of some things going well. We encouraged more and have seen more involvement/leadership from "regular" moderators--users who have reached moderation priveleges. We've quickly dealt with some abusive users--hopefully quickly enough that few of you even noticed! (Though some did, and your flags and pings are really helpful when you see something going wrong.)

So again we'd like to share our thoughts and also get yours on what is going well and what could improve.


How this specific Q&A is run so that we get good value out of it.

We'll post some of the things we've done/observations we have/things we think still need improvement. Please do the same.

  1. Post one kind of thing per answer, so that when people upvote/downvote based on whether they agree or not it's more clearly actionable - if you write an essay about 4 different things, it's not going to be clear what part(s) people agree or disagree with.
  2. Upvote or downvote based on your agreement.

    Let's not have long comment threads -

  3. If you disagree with an answer, post your own answer.

    This isn't just being pedantic. If we have a 30-comment thread on an answer, what does that tell us we need to do? Mostly it tells us whether one person is really irritated instead of whether a large part of the community disagrees, which is what we kinda want to get to.

  4. As usual, Be Nice applies to meta as well as the main site.

    You may strongly disagree with other users or with the mods or whoever, but we trust you can find ways to express what you like or don't like without being hostile or insulting to others. Focus on actions rather than characterizing people.

So here we go - our thoughts on things that are going well or need improvement. Feel free and add on!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is the first time I've been around for one of these "How is the community doing?" posts... how do they work? Are the answers supposed to be our own opinions/thoughts? Are they supposed to discuss specific matters? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 26 '18 at 6:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast This is the second ever time it's happened, and last time it was immediately following Bad Stuff. I don't think we have anything like an established etiquette, yet, but last time I posted my thoughts on stuff I thought were Things (stuff we were doing well, or badly, or just doing and and worth mentioning) with one item per post, and that seemed to go over well. I'd strongly advise against putting more than one Thing in an answer, because voting. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Apr 26 '18 at 6:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Makes sense! Thanks for responding. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 26 '18 at 6:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is not an answer on purpose because I have not actually been here enough over the last year and so I have only an abstract feeling: From the outside it looks like it took a turn for the better. \$\endgroup\$ – nvoigt Apr 27 '18 at 15:58

12 Answers 12

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Homebrew-related questions need to be received better

It's taken me a while to find a way to say this, but this meta question puts a finger on it. There is (or seems to be) a perceived bias against homebrew that is likely dampening some questions where the community's experience and expertise in this game form could be of great value.

At the risk of being a Jonny-one-Note, I will again offer a cogent observation on a core value of RPG.SE from @BESW

We aren't here on the Stack to read the rulebooks to people. We're here to help people learn how to synthesize the mechanics, the non-mechanical text, the social context, our personal experience, the learning of the broader community, to apply all that to a particular real-life problem someone's having and find a solution for it.

Part of the fun of many role playing games is homebrew, or minor adaptations to a rule set to get the game to fit better at a given table. What appears to be happening in some cases (though it's hard for me to put a magnitude on it) is a received negative connotation of homebrew.

I tripped over this comment and began to wonder how prevalent this perception is.

This underscores my complaint that moderation by people who are concrete reasoners vs those who are abstract reasoners creates lot of tension on SE, in general. It's probably the #1 reason I see questions on hold, because the questioner used abstract thought process in posting, but the people who put the question on hold are concrete in their reasoning, and can't get beyond the depth of something that was worded just out of their reach. It's painful to watch. – user9570789 20 hours ago

As @doppelgreener pointed out in a comment under the meta in question, some of this has to do with being open to multiple playstyles, but there may be more to this. If I can put a name to it (I can't at the moment) I'll either add it to this answer or open another meta. Full disclosure: I am pretty sure I have been guilty of what that comment complains about at least once, if not multiple times.

Actionable Suggestions

(1) Flag and report hostile comments (we should already do that), and be alert for dismissive comments directed at home brew content in questions.

  • It seems that VTCs as 'primarily opinion-based' are a common response to such material, as if anything that isn't first-party rules would somehow be off-topic. (thank you @the dark wanderer). That does not relieve the requirement to back it up -- GS/BS guidance must be respected.

(2) Work with querents to assist with the elements of a homebrew related question that can get an SE style answer, and identify those elements which remain within the domain of a table. Tone matters.

  • There was a time when questions involving homebrew got comments along the lines of "How open are you to changing your homebrew?" These were more common a few years ago than they are now, and are an example of how comments can help form and frame a question. (@daze413 thank you) Part of sharing our expertise is in helping someone to form a better question. As I learned the first few times I asked questions on RPG.SE, asking a good question (that shows some research) is a bit of an art form.

(3) Use experience with similar homebrew/modification as applicable.

  • make sure to link this experience to the problem to be solved in the question, and show how the two situations are similar enough that your experience adds value.

(4) We (the RPG.SE braintrust) need to create a canonical (faq-worthy?) meta post on how to ask good homebrew questions. Some research project taxonomizing the current homebrew questions would be the next logical step. (a call of #NotIt has been heard from @nitsua60)

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    \$\begingroup\$ It seems like a lot of people have the perspective that there can't be objectively correct or helpful answers about homebrew. There can be as long as the parameters are well-defined. I think the SE process works well to revise homebrew questions until they are well-defined enough to be answerable, but it does seem like a lot of people stop at "you shouldn't do this homebrew" or "you've homebrewed, that's your problem." The occasional frame challenge of that sort might be warranted, but I agree with the experience in hohenheim's meta that users are very antagonistic to homebrew questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 26 '18 at 17:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ I will confess to being often tired by and rarely engaging with homebrew questions; I hope that in the process I haven't come across as antagonistic when I do engage. It simply that so many come across where it feels like the querent hasn't done any legwork themselves.... It's so that when I see a homebrew question my instinctual reaction is "ugh" and I tab away, maybe coming back to the thing when a flag's been raised. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '18 at 17:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't want to sound dubious or turn this into finger pointing, but can anybody point me to some examples of where this has happened that I can see and better understand what to look for? I see this issue talked about among at least a few people but I'm not sure I've ever seen a specific example provided. My thoughts on the matter are basically what nistua60 said, so I may have just missed these things. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 26 '18 at 18:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Here is one, and remember that comments get cleaned up so that you may not see the whole story. When someone offers feedback like this, I think we need to pay attention. Did you take a look at the meta I linked to? I've been reading a lot of stuff over the past few years, on this site, and I have picked up now and again a (dismissive may be the right term) tone that crops up now and again. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 26 '18 at 18:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I did read the meta (both when it was posted and again now) and I think I'm seeing it a bit clearer. Have you seen any bleed into answers at all? \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 26 '18 at 19:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ The most flagrant way this happens is via VTCs, esp as 'primarily opinion-based', as-if anything that isn't first-party rules would somehow be off-topic. I don't want to discourage question closure, because honestly most of the time we need to be a lot better about doing that faster, but nonetheless these aren't 'primarily opinion based' and closing them as such is bad/wrong. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Apr 27 '18 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting topic that I feel deserves its own meta question rather than just an answer in this thread. It might even benefit from having multiple meta questions, e.g. One to more closely examine what the problem is and a separate one to discuss solutions. \$\endgroup\$ – Oblivious Sage Apr 27 '18 at 2:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I admit that I'm also not a fan of most homebrew questions — I'd have to think for a while to unpack why, but I can attest that I feel what Korvin's describing, so I feel like it's a real thing that's probably not just me. As a mod I do have to self-moderate much harder for things that I simply dislike, so I think — I hope — that I haven't actually acted detrimentally regarding homebrew. I would like to see how we handle homebrew questions somehow improve, though I can't say how that might work. There are some great, well-specced homebrew questions, and some that just, ugh, I tab away. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '18 at 6:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ As long as it's not Rules-As-Written, homebrew away. As long as you've done it yourself and can speak to it's efficacy. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Apr 28 '18 at 7:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie For me, it seems like homebrew is very rarely going to have any objectivity in it's answers, and the good subjectivity we look for seems to get swamped out by people pulling ideas out of their ass. On top of that, "balance" is a very deep dive for many game systems, especially the most popular ones, so it is very hard to write an answer which fits in the stack format. \$\endgroup\$ – fectin Apr 28 '18 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @fectin Yeah, and it's a shame that game rec was let go ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 28 '18 at 22:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ After reading today's homebrew question I feel like we should really be pushing querents to "show your work." Look at how many homebrew questions are posed where it's not even clear if OP knows their items/creatures/class features aren't first-party, or where readers lack lots of useful context that later comes out in comment-chains. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 29 '18 at 13:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Suggest a 4th action item: a canonical (faq-worthy?) meta post on how to ask good homebrew questions, probably needing to be based on someone's research project taxonomizing the current ones. (#NotIt) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 29 '18 at 13:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 done. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 29 '18 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Too localized" was removed as a close reason network-wide because it was misused, it was meant to be for situations like this: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/4818/… but wasn't used right so got pulled. A question that just helps you is OK. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 30 '18 at 19:11
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We are thriving!

Post counts per month are at an all-time high - March 2018 was the most active month in the site's history! (ugly Data engine query for posts-per-month)

The popularity of this site is clearly ramping up in long-term. While increasing traffic occasionally brings forth new needs for moderation (such as the hot topic of designer reasons), overall I see the increased traffic as a healthy sign of the relatively rigid format of the Stack (compared to the more "noisy" forums) gaining traction and acceptance among the RPG communities around the world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Internal analytics confirm this March just passed is our most active month ever in terms of either questions or answers or both combined. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 26 '18 at 10:22
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I'd like to see less answering in the comments

Current status

There are too many answers in the comments. Not only from new users but experienced ones as well. The only metric I have to quantify this is my own flag history, but I have flagged 16 comment answers this month alone which seems like a lot to me.

New users are understandable especially because other stacks have different enforcement policies. However, I've seen a surprising amount of this from experienced (and sometimes very experienced) users. This may mean that the community is not in agreement about the comment policy or that we are failing to educate even experienced members. In at least one case a comment answer from an experienced user was at least partially responsible for derailing attempts to fix/answer a question completely.

Note that this is the only stack site that I frequent, so if this actually really good then that is fine, but I think we can do better.

Suggestion - comment when deleting/flagging

Aside from the obvious things we should already be doing (not answering in the comments, flagging answers in comments aggressively) I do have a proposal that I think might be useful.

I think that we should try to always leave a comment when we remove a comment answer. I know we do do this, but I don't think we do it enough.

The reason I say this something we should be doing more is that as a new user this was exactly the way I learned how to behave. Seeing "comments are not for extended discussion" and "don't comment in the answers" comments in a lot of places is what helped me learn what is accepted in the community without having to make those mistakes myself first. It makes sense that this could be the case for other users as well.

Additionally, if the comment tags the person, they know that their comment was removed and why and hopefully won't do it again. This is helpful in cases where the person just leaves a comment then never reads the question again.

And, to be clear, this is something that every person in the community that has the rep to comment can and should be doing. This is not the sole responsibility of diamond moderators.

tl;dr When you (yes you) see an answer in the comments, flag it then comment saying that it goes against our policy. Doing so should create a greater awareness of the policy for new and experienced users alike.

This answer is now part of an answer to this question: What to do about comment misuse?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Maybe I’m looking at different questions, but honestly, it seems to me that RPG does far, far better with this than most Stacks. \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 26 '18 at 15:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I know that different stacks treat comments very differently, so I have no doubt that there are others that are worse. I'm not even saying that we are bad necessarily, just that I think we can do better. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 26 '18 at 15:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's an experiment running on Interpersonal related to this and other comment misuses: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2839/3556 \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 26 '18 at 15:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Rubiksmoose Yep. Sometimes it seems like people who post an answer then run to another answer's comments just to campaign for their own answer's superiority. I think I was guilty of this a couple times until I noticed how unhelpful it is. Generally, it seems like answer comments are worse when they come from the poster of another answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 26 '18 at 17:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ This would definitely help :) If the increase in site traffic from kviiri's answer is any indication, we have had a surge of new users that need to know this. Interestingly, this is the opposite of last year's We don't comment-answer post, but I'm sure it will go back to normal \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Apr 27 '18 at 0:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do agree, there’s been a recent uptick in answers in comments. I delete then when I see them or they are flagged, but it seems like I’ve had to do that more in the last 3 months than in the 9 preceding. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 27 '18 at 1:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's take this one to rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/7937/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 27 '18 at 16:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't know if this site is better at avoiding it in the first place than other SE sites, but it does seem like the mods are more on top of it here - and for that I am thankful. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Apr 27 '18 at 20:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast We RPG.se mods are unusually militant about that particular part of the comment help page, definitely. I (obviously!) think it's a good thing, but it's good to hear some feedback that it's appreciated. Too often we only hear the feedback from surprised/unhappy users who just had a comment removed. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '18 at 6:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm really glad that, even though we are leaps and bounds better than other stacks at this, we still seek to improve. I just went on a quick tour through several other stacks, and every question that could be answered with a simple yes or no had such an answer in the comments. That's not something I see as often here. \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Apr 28 '18 at 6:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is better than for example stackoverflow, where most answers are in the comments for fear of downvotes. \$\endgroup\$ – Tyler S. Loeper May 10 '18 at 17:22
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It feels like comments have gotten more argumentative.

When I first began posting answers on this site, I enjoyed it a lot. The last few months, I have not enjoyed it, so I've stopped answering for anything but the most trivial questions, even though I visit and read every day. This is my own perception, but I feel like comments on my answers and other people's answers have a disproportionately high number of unhelpful arguments in them now. I would call it trolling, and although I might be alone in calling it that, I see it affecting other people besides just myself.

I understand the need for comments that help to improve answers by pointing out ambiguities or weak areas to be edited, and I appreciate them and I try to incorporate genuinely helpful suggestions whenever I can, or I politely decline if I disagree. I try to do the same in turn. All of that works well. However, it feels like whenever I post an answer now, I expect a couple of those helpful comments... plus a slew of comments from people who will argue with my answer no matter how many times I may revise or reword troublesome sections or explain what it's actually saying.

Often the arguments are from those who posted different answers and could be summarized as "your answer is not correct because mine is correct instead." I'm uninterested in talking specific occurrences or culprits, but it's usually the same individuals, and every time I see their usernames show up in the comments for my answers or other people's answers I know I'm in for an unnecessary argument, as if I were on a forum and not SE. It's usually about red herrings, unrelated questions, straw-man interpretations of my actual answer, and misunderstandings of how English or first-order predicate logic works.

Sometimes this trolling has continued to happen even after word-of-god from a designer confirmed that my answer was correct and the querent accepted my answer as correct/helpful for them. I've actually been told my answer is ridiculous after adding in a designer quote and having my answer accepted as correct. A lot of times it feels like they're arguing with me about my answer because they actually disapprove of the paradigm or designer intent that informs the answer, not my reasoning. It strikes me as the "badwrongfun" that I've heard about, or in general a sort of "badwrongthink."

Basically, I find answering stressful anymore because of a handful of people with very unhelpful behavior on this site. It's possible my stressed reaction is not shared by others, but I doubt I'm the only one less inclined to post due to perceived trolling behavior. The comments on RPG.SE look a lot more like the comments on YouTube or Tumblr now, and that's discouraging.

Even posting this meta is stressful because now I'm expecting to be lambasted for being too touchy or sensitive or something. However, the vast majority of RPG.SE users are respectful and helpful with their comments and have genuinely helped me to improve my answer-writing skills and online-anonymous-interpersonal-communication skills, and for that I thank them.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks, this does totally happen. FWIW: You are not obligated to action every request a commenter might make. You may feel free to flag comments for removal, including suggesting it's time to nuke the thread or move it to chat. If there are requests you're uninterested in actioning, those can go as well. Reading your second-to-last paragraph: would you take it that many of these comments are violating our goal to embrace a plurality of playstyles? \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 26 '18 at 15:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ While I have spent a lot of years advising people on the internet "grow a thicker skin" I've been sensing what you've been seeing, so I am glad that you have brought this up. (And if I have been a contributor to your unease, I do write a lot of comments, my apologies). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 26 '18 at 15:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'll add to greener's note: please feel free when flagging to use the custom text to say "this person's been arguing a lot with my posts." It can be really helpful for us (elected moderators) to have pointers like that so that we can address a person (if needed), not just a particular comment. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 26 '18 at 15:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ Upvote for you on this...and I hope I'm not one of the users who comes across like that. I know I do question answers and ask for clarifications, but I hope I don't do it in the way you're talking about. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '18 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener It's sometimes but not always about playstyle conflict, I think, but usually just about other people's refusal to acknowledge that several answers can be logically valid and consistent without agreeing with each other. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 26 '18 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ More often than not the comment threads devolve into straw-man arguments, where I'm accused of claiming something that is neither stated nor implied by my answer. After I point out that that is not the case several times, make reasonable revisions, and am still accused of saying things I didn't say, I get frustrated and complain that the comments are not actually helpful or trying to improve the answer, and then I get victim-blamed about that. I've not seen this behavior from anybody who has commented on this, nor have I seen it in a moderation-specific capacity. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 26 '18 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder Thank you. That definitely sounds like a realm of commenting we'd be interested in seeing flagged for removal. You don't have to justify your answer to everyone who might want it justified to them, and you definitely don't have to go as far as it sounds like you've been going. Sorry to hear you've been put through hassles like that. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 26 '18 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I mean, I have as much of an ego as anybody else, I guess. Egos are pretty strong among GM's, and maybe they have to be. However, I teach propositional and predicate logic, so I consider myself capable of forming a consistent and valid argument, pending minor revisions, and I also can put aside personal opinions and preferences to appreciate a logically valid argument that starts with different hypotheses than mine happens to. As a teacher, I hate seeing bad logic from student work, and when I'm accused of bad logic that is not actually there... I guess I can't help but be troll-baited. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 26 '18 at 16:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder I completely agree. Strawman arguments are really frustrating to me and I have a very hard time not arguing against them (on my posts) because of the fact that someone else is misrepresenting what I am saying. And, even worse, often in a way that is intended to undermine my argument. As others have said, I hope I was not among those contributing to your issue. I've tried very hard to improve my commenting habits. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 26 '18 at 17:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also I feel like this comment that @doppelgreener left on my answer is very relevant here as well: "There's an experiment running on Interpersonal related to this and other comment misuses: interpersonal.meta.stackexchange.com/a/2839/3556" \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Apr 26 '18 at 17:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this seems to happen a lot. For me it seems to come up with a couple of specific users, and I very much agree it has to do with the badwrongthink thing, though I suspect they probably feel the same about me in reverse. From experience, flagging the comments and not engaging is a good idea, but it's hard to not engage... Also it makes answering weird cause it seems like answers come in packs with backing from certain playstyles most of the time, and the playstyle that answers first 'wins' the thread via this process. It's not quite that bad, yet, but it's definitely getting there :/ \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Apr 27 '18 at 0:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree. It seems to me like we'd gotten comment threads down to a reasonable level, and then it started shooting up. And it's not because the community isn't helping, there's more comment-flags-per-day than there used to be (I don't have metrics on that, but seems like). I think maybe we need a separate focused meta on cracking down on comment misuse given this answer and some of the others. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 27 '18 at 1:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wonder, as someone who hasn’t played much of 5e and hasn’t spent a lot of time looking at those questions and answers, if this might be due to... not new users, but, say, “sophomore” users, in that space? Because I haven’t seen as much of this as I used to (...as I certainly have done myself in the past.... hopefully just in the past... well, hopefully mostly in the past), which might be a sign of some maturity (maybe) in other question spaces? So I wonder if the “shooting up” that @mxyzplk mentions is related to 5e’s age on this site? \$\endgroup\$ – KRyan Apr 27 '18 at 12:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I wouldn't be surprised if it's correlated with D&D 5e somehow. There's a lot of push-pull tension around this edition because it purports to be the “embrace all playstyles” edition, but there's official statements and grognards and new players and RAW players and a bunch of different groups' approaches all pulling in different directions as to what is “correct”. And of course, SE emphasises a certain subset of varieties of correctness, too. 5e has felt like a bit of a powder keg, playstyle-wise, on RPG.se. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '18 at 6:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Oh I see. I wouldn't say that citizens aren't embracing the whole spectrum, so much as that the friction inherent in D&D 5e's simultaneous embrace of all playstyles while seeming to say “but really this is the right way” is just begging for sparks. In other words, I blame 5e for tempting people to argue. :) That we haven't often seen that powder keg lit is actually encouraging. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 30 '18 at 18:56
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This stack is run as a tight ship — thank all the gods!

I'm a little bit more immersed in Stack Exchange culture than I was last time one of these threads rolled around, and I've had the chance to spend some time looking at how things are done on other stacks. One thing that's struck me is how well this stack implements the "we're a Q&A site, let's optimize for useful questions with useful answers" approach.

There are other answers here lamenting answers-in-comments and argumentative comments, and no doubt these are genuinely areas where we can improve. But on the other hand, guys...have you been to other stacks? It took me a while to realize this, but we are so good at this stuff. Our comment sections could look like Worldbuilding.SE (once aptly described by our very own nitsua60 as "a lightly-threaded brainstorming site") or Interpersonal.SE (the poster-child for "how far can we push the boundaries of the Q&A model").

Instead, the SE model here is working. People ask questions. They almost always get answers (our list of unanswered questions is tiny). Most of the answers don't suck. Problematic content quickly gets closed/flagged/downvoted/commented with suggestions for improvement. The review queue practically never has more than maybe five items in it.

And it's not like this site couldn't have gone the other way. I imagine most folks here are (or have been) active on at least one other RPG-centric online community. We know the kind of discussion that's typical in the arguing-about-RPGs-verse. Whatever bumps it's hit along the way, this place deserves credit for becoming a functional, Q&A-focused stack, instead of just one more place to get in a shouting match about whether Monks are decent this week.

Good job!

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I wasn't around here last year, but the fact that RPG.SE keeps me coming back regularly definitely seems to support the assertion that it's run well! And I can agree that people stay well on top of the review queue... there's rarely anything for me to review :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 1 '18 at 6:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hmm. I rather prefer the style of Worldbuilding to RPG.SE, myself. I find RPG.SE terribly stifling to my own and others' expression, and the moderation and other limits keep me from participating except in the few cases where the stars align to create an opening for appropriate participation. Just saying. \$\endgroup\$ – Dronz May 30 '18 at 22:29
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We suck at not answering questions, especially in popular tags

Good questions often don't have easy answers. Officially, you're allowed to post a question within our scope whose answer would, at least theoretically, fit well within our format, yet which is in practice unlikely to be answered because of how difficult it is to answer/how few people have the required experience. For example, it is officially totally okay to ask a question about the best way to handle a specific technically complex mechanic in an obscure not-digitally-available rule system and require/expect a competent answer-- I might ask "When calculating fire trajectories in Phoenix Command, how can I best do it quickly?". In practice, such questions draw really terrible answers that get upvoted and deleting them just makes more get posted: our site hates to see questions unanswered and our site community on some level believes a bad answer is better than no answer, which is both wrong and against the SE corporate paradigm.

Let's take the example Phoenix Command question. Questions for obscure rule systems fare much better in terms of this particular problem, but I actually did post this not-nearly-as-complicated Phoenix Command question and, as you can see (10k only), it got a terrible answer. It's been okay since then, I think mostly cause it's an obscure rule system with no popular tags and an extremely not-subjective, not-advice-seeking category of question ('Is X content in Y book or not?'), but it still demonstrates the point. If a question isn't posted on quickly, people start posting terrible stuff in an attempt to help. These answers will often admit in their preamble that they are not real answers, saying something like "I've never played that game you're talking about, but here's my gut reaction anyways" or "I've never run that module, but why don't you XYZ?"

I think the users doing this don't see the difference between that and "I haven't ever [X], but I've [X'] extensively, and here's why I think that is relevant", which is a form often used in good answers to difficult questions.

Personally, I think this is one of the major factors leading to designer-reason questions going badly (the other being querents being steered into asking said questions to skirt site rules when what they really want is not allowed), but that's a separate conversation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is where I certainly rely on the community to go ahead and use downvotes and flags, too. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 5 '18 at 0:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ I definitely agree, and I think the problem extends to people jumping to answer poorly posed or otherwise unclear questions too. I suspect that the underlying reason is that we keep upvoting answers that don't deserve upvotes, which means that people posting bad answers still usually get net positive reputation. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire May 5 '18 at 0:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire Yes, this is absolutely the core problem, but fixing it requires a culture shift and in a direction contrary to our inertia, at least in my understanding of the situation. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer May 5 '18 at 2:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like it's not just that they're rewarded with votes. There's a sibling relationship between comments in answers and “I must fill this blank space” answers-in-answers: both are frequently born from the feeling that trying to help is better than nothing at all. (Removing answer-comments, especially on held Qs, often earns the complaint that we should “just help” them, missing the point.) I am concerned that there will always be people who miss the point of the blank answer box, and the site as a whole, and will take the invitation to post useless answers that are “better than nothing”. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 5 '18 at 17:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie Yes, but when those answers are downvoted, even just enough that they end up with negative scores, they don't look like correct use of the site to the next visitor to come along. When they are consistently upvoted enough to have positive scores it sends the message that the site thinks this behavior is good, even if the leadership of the site thinks otherwise, which leads to the new people participating regularly in the site being more people who want to participate in a site that behaves that way and less people who oppose such thinking, which moves de-facto site policy slowly \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer May 5 '18 at 17:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ Right! Yes, that is a good point and I realise now I should have said so. Downvoting the well-meaning but misguided answers is very valuable. I don’t think it will ever eliminate those, but I do think it’s important to do so and I do think it will reduce them. Thanks for poking me so I realise I missed my message. :) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 5 '18 at 18:08
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New User Experience remains a problem; it's never been solved

And maybe it can't be solved2. It's so easy to hide behind "this is now SE works" and "this site's not for everybody" attitude3 that comes from the top. The extended discussion under various answers in the linked question in this title made SE/SO top level leadership's view on this abundantly clear. The response to one of our most experienced users captures the attitude in a nutshell:

... it is very unwelcoming to have your first efforts be shut down, to have to read all of meta and then all of the SE blog to figure out what the {censored}'s off topic or an acceptable answer ... (@mxyzplk, from a comment under the linked question/answers)

Reply

@mxy well, our traffic graph data respectfully chooses to disagree with your opinion. :) (@JeffAtwood)

The discussion in more detail is under the linked question in the title. The reason that I included this specific bit, rather than other stuff from that extended discussion, is to illustrate that what comes off now and again as RPG.SE being "tone deaf" to new user disorientation starts at the top and isn't new. (The motorcycle analogy further down in that meta might be more apt as an example ... and I've been advised that some of the top leadership has since changed ...)

How do I know that it's easy to fall into the trap of contributing to barriers to the new user experience? Because I've done it myself ... and I've even defended it on a different SE.

A variety of users have expressed frustration with barriers to new users.
Common new user experience observation

Why this Answer?

As I've discovered over the three years of participating here, there is a limited set of ways to ask a question that won't get it closed, and it's not uncommon for new users to not yet have figured that out.

What needs to change

Each new user needs to be treated as a person, not as a name connected to a question that may or may not meet our usually accepted style of how to ask a question. Add to that the fact that not all of our new question askers are working in their native language and I will assert that helping new users is the better initial response for that case as well, rather than hoping that maybe a given new user will "get" how SE works as their initial offering is characterized as somehow not up to RPG.SE standards.

I was encouraged during some chat to raise this in on meta, after having reached my limit of frustration with the responses to new users during the early phase of this question. After three years of watching new users get this kind of treatment too often, I am no longer willing to just put up with it. This question is a single example of a long running pattern that I've seen since I first began to participate three years ago.

  • Scenario: a brand new user and brand new DM asked about "How should this work?" in the LMoP published adventure where she ran into a knotty problem.

    This was an opportunity for the body of experience based expertise resident at RPG.SE to provide a helpful answer to this problem.

    I (1) noticed a few spoilers and (2) a method of phrasing that was likely going to get the knee jerk "close as opinion based" responses that often crop up with first time question askers.

    What I did was edit the question to add two spoilers, and to adjust the phrasing to something closer to an answerable form than was originally offered by our new user. This person can't be expected to be familiar with our informal style guide. I then left a comment letting them know what I had done, welcoming them to the site, and offering a suggestion for a site search on some related questions that might address stuff related to that published adventure.

    Here is what I see as the core problem: while I was doing the above, and before I finished the edit in an effort to positively engage with and help a new user, I noticed that the standard lazy response arrived: drive by close vote, with no comment. (I know how this works, this lazy drive by close vote, since I know that I am guilty of having done that in the past when going through the review queue).

    A later close vote at least included a comment that a DM question is an opinion based question (that's since been resolved via the usual process and the question got reopened); what made the response more negative in my view was that it was not helpful to a new user, and as it worked out it wasn't even right. (Another user in a comment under the question pointed to a meta on why that reason to close wasn't suitable to this question).

    The straw that broke the camel's back for me was how that attitude is not helpful to a new user, but at least the commenter had the courtesy to explain what was behind one of the close votes.

    • Please note: that comment would not be an issue for an experienced user. Once any of us gets used to this site's tone, style, limitations and nature, the various styles and flavors of response become familiar and are far less likely to be annoying or off-putting. We already feel welcome enough to participate.

Repeated For Emphasis: this answer is about the new user experience only

No other topic is relevant to this answer.

This response to "how are we doing" is (1) rooted in the negative experience I received in first interacting on this site, is (2) a small subset of a larger SE/SO tone problem that is finally getting addressed by SE's current overlords, and (3) is a standing problem on this SE that was explicitly labeled by Brian Ballson-Stanton (a former diamond mod) as a problem with How Approachable This Site Is To New Users.
As an unsolved problem, it's at least six years old for this SE.

Experiential point

Making a first impression can be done well, but too often on this site it is done poorly. (See above example, and below I offer you an example of a good one). Were it not the fact that I am stubborn, I'd not have returned to this site after my firsts few interactions with people responding to this new user. Being me, I returned fire on what I felt was a cheap shot in comments, and I got some feedback from a mod on along the lines of "let's not do that flame war in comments thing." Thanks to @SSD for that
RPG.SE made a lousy first impression on me.
Getting hostile and rude comments under answers from experienced users like @Dyndrilliac and @KRyan didn't help, but we already have an answer to this meta on on garbage in comments; I won't digress further and I have since made peace with @KRyan

RPG.SE has also made a poor first impression on a variety of experienced SE users, not just new users to SE's system (this was my first SE). I'll use Conduit's point as an example; over the last 3 years, TuggyNE, nvoigt, and some others who are stack experienced have sounded off in a similar vein, each with their own concerns. Some of the other answers to this Meta Question here, and here, and here too look very much like the are addressing symptoms of what is the same problem. This question reflects a similar level of frustration with overall site tone, but it may not be a good fit for the new user issue.

OK, Korvin, you see a problem: what do I do about it?

In response to @mxy's encouragement for actionable items: you do three things.

  1. When a new user (150 rep or lower to account for cross-stack movement) asks a question, before you do anything else you click on their profile and see who it is. Remember that you are responding to a user, a person, not to a question. When I started doing that, I stopped doing the drive by during my community moderation actions in the review queue.

  2. Do it like @DuckTapeAl

    If you want an example of how to do it right, look at these two comments that Al left for a new user.

    Would love some feedback and answers; Physically blind pc but uses 3rd eye and chakras to see the environment

    Would love some feedback and answers; Physically blind pc but uses 3rd eye and chakras to see the environment

    That's a fantastic example of how to treat a new user well; thanks to @DuckTapeAl. Another user here who sets a superb example is @HeyICanChan.

    "But that's more work for me ..."

  3. Yes, you are right, it's more work for you and our new users are worth that little bit of effort to treat them like a person, rather than to treat their input as the question (which is not a person)


A brief bibliography of things that ...

having read a while back, I had to go and find again2

scaring off new users, even experienced users get put off by tone, other SE user sees RPG.SE behavior as an outlier, New User Experience obstacles, New users addressed here, but maybe nobody bothers reading that far back, and some of the response looks like a case of newbie unfriendly as a norm being accepted, A diamond mod makes an appeal for eltism because SE is meant to be about experts, {Note: this might have been before the diamond in this case, and I generally appreciated waxy's modding} ... Comments under this answer send signals easily received as “newbie unfriendly” even if not so intended, One a number of unhappy new users, problems with how newcomers get treated 2015 version, Dogpiling new users with downvotes is OK
Common new user experience observation
Which takes us into the time frame where I began to participate in some meta discussions.
insular tight knit community, {which from the inside looks good, and from the outside looks unwelcoming, particularly to new users}
Users from other SE’s surprised by RPG.SE norms Rude in general, and to new users specfifically it isn’t just me who sees this
I am going to make a note here: I have in a number of conversations, with other users and with mods, applied my own term/neologism for this received rudeness, this atmosphere. I will now call it inherent hostility: I firmly believe that it is a byproduct of the format far more than any intentional stance by vast majority of users on this SE. I’ll break that term down here.
inherent in that it exists within the machine/organism and is part of it due to how the machine is built
hostility being how it is received with some frequency by new users.
It is certainly what I received on arrival, even if nobody intended to be mean.
How to mitigate inherent hostility? Mitigation can only be procedural (you can't remove the heart without killing off the patient).
I believe that the three steps proposed in my answer above will act as useful mitigation so that new users are less likely to experience that.


3 ... the structural hostility is a founding principle of all parts of the site design.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for posting this. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 8 '18 at 15:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I still have misgivings ... but thankfully I tripped over ducktapeal's comments as I was mulling this over and realized I'd been given a gift of a great example ... I have about six things that need to be edited, and I can't right now due to browser/SE conflict thing. Will revisit in a bit. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 8 '18 at 15:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ What you’re describing is “structural hostility”. “Latent” is simply the wrong word for what you’re asserting (“existing but not yet developed or manifested”), and you’re getting disapproval because “latent” hostility can only manifest by someone taking it & developing it into obvious (ie., banned) hostility. In the social sciences, the word for what you’re describing is “structural”. Unless you mean to say that we as a community have a store of secret hostility that we choose to suddenly reveal to ambush people with, I suggest using the word that matches what you’ve described instead. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 19:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie what about inherent/ Structural doesn't capture what I am trying to articulate. I will also point to the problem of SE being an engine not a community, as expressed by you and waxy here, such that it enables an impersonal response that is received as hostile, rather than intentionally sent as hostile. It's my neologism, and I'm keeping it until I get something better. So far, not better, but I do appreciate the offer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 8 '18 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's the system's lurking feature, not any given user's feature. An experienced user will not see the same thing as a new user. I'll try other synonyms later. You are reading into the term something that isn't there, and as I had offered to you before, that term comes to me from editing technical manuals and the latent errors therein. I don't want to use structural because to me that implies an intended design element, rather than a byproduct of a design. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 8 '18 at 20:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ You may stand by your neologism, but we expect people to say what they mean and mean what they say, so as we have previously told you, you are not welcome to accuse the community of latent hostility, and you’re familiar with how we enforce that. Please reconsider. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 20:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Aside, you would be right, the site is structurally hostile… but only to a subset of new users, and by design. They’re incompatible with the site, and the structural hostility is a founding principle of all parts of the site design. We have to filter out those who cannot or will not agree with the SE system. Those who are incompatible are vocal disproportionately to their percentage though, so it’s important to not commit an availability heiristic error and overestimate how many people in the whole population are affected/turned away. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 20:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie This is rather frustrating; I am in good faith trying to explain as clearly as I can what I mean, and you threaten me. When I told dopple and BESW that I have no faith in the meta process, your latest comment is the kind of response I was referring to. Can we please not do this? I'd rather not this answer to the meta, which two mods encouraged me to write, have been an utter waste of time. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 8 '18 at 20:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ The observation that the site contains structural hostility is good — it's good to finally recognise it — but it's not new. It's a founding principle of Stack Exchange. All the closes, holds, locks, reputation ladders, and everything else derives from that basic core principle that not everyone is interested in helping this engine run, and those who are against this engine need to be incentivised to neither try to change the engine, nor to throw sand in its gears. Objecting that the site uses its immune system is futile. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 20:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with (1) and (3) because they misunderstand the point of RPG.se—we are not supposed to treat questions as people, we are to treat them as questions. The decades-long goal of RPG.se is to curate good answers to questions. Helping people is the method, not the goal, of getting a good database of posts. (This is also all deliberate founding principles.) We are supposed to treat all questions equally, regardless of the name under them. (There's a reason the name is under posts, not over like on many discussion forums.) I agree with (2) but only because it's good question curation. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 20:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ So if we can be welcoming without sacrificing the whole point of the site, then we do. When welcoming methods conflict with the goal, those methods are not acceptable (which is why we will never not-close questions just to make people feel better about it). \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 20:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ All my efforts to help users has been to guide them into being constructive contributors to the purpose of the site. If they don't want that, or can't be, I'm quick to put out the barriers and site-protective spikes. We've lost high-rep users because they came into conflict with the goals of the site, and refused to adjust. That's as it should be. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 8 '18 at 20:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ @SevenSidedDie I am using "inherent" as a placeholder for the time being. Will cogitate further. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 8 '18 at 21:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ We see people advocating for less structural hostility all the time — close slower, allow answers in comments, allow discussion, allow opinion-based questions — in the name of being more friendly, and thus showing misunderstanding of the point of the site’s rules/mechanisms. So making this distinction clear is critically important to get on the same page in site friendliness discussions. We as a community can’t afford to endorse positions that don’t recognise the value of the moat. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 9 '18 at 2:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have slept on this, and we are indeed done. These two comments, 1 and 2 in particular are so far wide of the mark, and so wrong in detail, as to leave me even more puzzled, and to conclude that further discourse at this time is fruitless. Thank you for your time, and the effort, put into the discourse we were able to have. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 27 '18 at 15:59
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There's not much to do here if you don't like Dungeons & Dragons

Try it: put the main D&D tags (dungeons-and-dragons, dnd-5e, dnd-4e, dnd-3.5e, and pathfinder) on your ignore list and look at the main page.

RPG SE front page with most of the content greyed out

That's more or less how it looks every day. For everyone trying to do this yourself: on the left, under the "frequent questions" view, there's a "favorite tags" -- you can click "edit" and a list of ignored tags pops up. It's really easy to un-ignore so don't be afraid to play around with this.

I don't have the exact numbers, but my immediate impression is that about 85-90% of the content is D&D content — often quite specific "really only relevant to D&D" content.

That's not a bad thing in some kind of fundamental categorical way, because there's nothing wrong with having a question specifically about Dungeons & Dragons. There's nothing wrong with D&D being by far the most popular category, either: it's a big and popular game.

However, given the sheer volume of D&D over everything else, I think it does mean that the site is rather overspecialized compared to its stated mission. (For context: B&CG did some soul-searching about "are we just a Magic cards website?" after MTG was found to take up about 30-50% of the site.)

I don't know if there's a solution here, because, on the face of it, we actually do have an expert base that can answer questions about a significant range of systems (PBTA-style, Fate-based, WoD, many other popular "second-tier" and "indie" games, in a pinch), and I don't think any policies overly favor D&D, but it's worth observing that right now the usage patterns very much make this a D&D-centric site.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I've noticed this as well. It seems to have got worse recently and doesn't show any sign of changing given how successful and popular 5e is. Not sure there's anything we can actually do about it though \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jun 8 '18 at 21:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Alex, I am not sure how well socialized the use of tags to mask content not desired is, but I think that adding an advocacy or pointer on how to use the tags as you do -- spell it out -- would help any number of folks who feel as you do in terms of D&D saturation. Could you drop in an example of what your mask looks like? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 8 '18 at 21:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Good point! I added a picture. For everyone trying to do this yourself: on the left, under the "frequent questions" view, there's a "favorite tags" -- you can click "edit" and a list of ignored tags pops up. It's really easy to un-ignore so don't be afraid to play around with this. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 9 '18 at 0:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ You can also add *dnd* to your ignore list, which matches o/adnd or dnd-anything. (* can match nothing.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jun 9 '18 at 0:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree this is a thing, and that I’m not sure what, if anything, can or should be done. I’ve often found myself in a period of time playing a non-D&D game and wishing there were more related questions here, but rarely do I have questions about those games to contribute, making it hard to be the change I want to see. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Jun 9 '18 at 0:12
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexP A picture is worth a thousand words. :) Thanks. :) I edited into your answer part of your comment reply to me. Does it look like it fits there? If not, another edit to get it to the sweet spot ... \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jun 9 '18 at 0:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Thanks! Your guidance really helped improve this post. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 11 '18 at 17:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ rpg.se.com is a D&D-centric site, because D&D is the main tabletop rpg. The site reflects the reality of how the hobby is in real life. At least, here, it is easy to filter :) \$\endgroup\$ – aloisdg Jul 17 '18 at 9:02
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We have an active and healthy chat

The RPG General Chat is active and remarkably nice. Discussion topics include (but are not limited to) tabletop RPGs, culture, curation of the main site content and birdwatching. Occasional arguments over matters of RPG paradigm flare up, but people are generally very good at managing their passionate opinions. No feuds, no vendettas. The occasional discussion that threatens to "clog the chat" gets neatly extracted to a dedicated side room.

It could be more open, though

The chat is an excellent place to get more personalized advice in matters not covered by the main site (eg. idea generating questions) as well as to reach out to more experienced site users for informal guidance, but despite the site getting more posts recently, the chat remains rather small - at times it feels more like a secret clubhouse than an open discussion space. The discussion is largely by the same, small set of regulars, with new users finding their way in very infrequently. The chat link being hidden in the footer of the site is not exactly a good way to promote its existence.

I'm in favor of promoting chat to more users, eg. by reinvigorating the chat event idea. However, at the same time, it needs to be stressed that the chat's purpose is not to replace any other site functionality (main or meta) and the present discipline of raising policy questions in Meta instead of "informal" discussion in chat needs to be maintained.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Chat events didn't really work last time, & I've never actually seen a chat event that increases attendance in the room outside the event itself--and rarely then. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Apr 26 '18 at 9:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree that chat's great! I think the role of chat is being met quite nicely. Extremely high chat activity has, in the past, caused problems with mainsite coherence, making chat mandatory for understanding what's going on in the site proper--leading to resentment and a sense of exclusion by people who don't want chat to be part of their Stack experience. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Apr 26 '18 at 9:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think you might get some traction out of digging into what makes chat feel like a "secret clubhouse." If we can better understand those symptoms, perhaps that'll help us diagnose the problem (if any) and prescribe a targeted cure. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Apr 26 '18 at 9:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ There's also a chat link in the site switcher (but that's also pretty hidden), and some users who are now chat regulars have said they were aware there was a chat from the “moved to chat” comments but just never stopped by for a while. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 26 '18 at 10:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Perhaps a functionality of moving a chat sequence to a meta question (or just a general policy for regulars to be aware of for giving a link) would help new users who are asking policy questions in chat become aware of that space (if they aren't already). It could also serve as a reminder to experienced users who forget (me) to use this side of the site for its purpose. \$\endgroup\$ – David Coffron Apr 26 '18 at 10:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ Let's not forget another common source of links to chat - user comments. I believe many long-term users have a rough template of a welcome message for new users, which may or may not include a chat link. Perhaps we should encourage such links more explicitly. Additionally, these messages seem to be more frequent on problem questions than just newer users. Should we also broaden our scope on such messages? \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Apr 26 '18 at 11:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon Several years ago I toyed with pointing new users to the chat alongside the help and tour, but since chat has a 20+ rep floor it mostly just came off as more secret-club-like to taunt folks with a thing they can't do (unless I've got a specific reason to invite them personally, I've got a template for that). \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Apr 26 '18 at 12:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JoelHarmon I'd love to see a more boilerplate new user language that could copypasta from chat. I generally avoid doing a welcome because i'm not sure what to say or where to link. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '18 at 17:18
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  • \$\begingroup\$ @BESW Well, that makes things easier! Not saying I'll do it, but good to know :) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Apr 26 '18 at 20:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Someone could do up a community ad that promotes the main chat room, so it would cycle through the side bar on mainsite. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '18 at 6:25
  • \$\begingroup\$ I used to use chat a fair bit but haven't for a while, when I tried to rejoin recently it was a real hunt around the UI to try and find the link for it, it's really not obvious - to me anyway! \$\endgroup\$ – Rob May 18 '18 at 12:37
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This site needs to be humanised

Please don't take this as an attack but I find it amusing that I see this post just after reading the blog (Linked on this very page) about being nicer and more inclusive.

This post is the very definition of the elitist 'don't do this, don't do that' thing that was referenced in that blog.

The 'kindest' sentence:

We'll post some of the things we've done/observations we have/things we think still need improvement. Please do the same.

You actually used the word please, but managed to make it sound like you are a teacher scolding a naughty pupil.

The site is FULL of that kind of attitude. There seems to be no place for sounding like an actual human and I think that is a shame.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I don't take it as an attack, and thank you for bringing your concern forward. I will admit, though, that I'm struggling to find a takeaway--I wrote something in just the way I write, so advising me to sound like an actual human (which I think I am) doesn't help me, personally. I'd love to hear if you have observations on how word choice conveys that impression (of scolding) or suggestions on phrases to embrace/avoid. Or, going in the other direction, maybe you could pull in some other examples that the site's full of so we can see the pattern for ourselves? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Apr 30 '18 at 15:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I wasn't really writing it as advise personally. It was just a general comment (Your post just happened to be the closest example of something I wanted to say generally) on what I think the community has as a weak point in general. In your case from above the simplest thing is to start with the please, rather than end with it; "Please can you do xyz" not "xyz needs doing. please get it done". One is a request, one is a nicely phrased order. I know you might feel examples are beneficial but I am not sure I want to be picking holes in specific examples, it is just a general thing. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Apr 30 '18 at 17:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Given this community is pretty much entirely humans [citation needed] I'm not sure what to take away from this. Your complaint seems to just come down to an opinion about how nitsua60 should have phrased their request, which I'm willing to put down to writing preference. You seem to be indicating there's a much broader "general thing", but I have no idea what that is. We're human, we write like humans, what's the issue here? Please elucidate on what the general thing is. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 30 '18 at 18:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Uh oh, my search results aren't being helpful in grabbing a citation ... pretty much entirely humans [citation needed] ... did we get assimilated? 8^o \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Apr 30 '18 at 18:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Well there might be some dogs. I can't say for sure. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 30 '18 at 18:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, I have no idea what "attitude" you see in a post asking the community how things are going. Perhaps you should just try reading things more charitably in general because IMO the only way to take this question negatively is to already have a pretty big set of preconceptions. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 1 '18 at 2:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener et. al, while I don't think we have a significant tone/politeness problem on the site in general, I think that the sarcasm in this comment thread is the kind of antagonistic attitude that SeriousBri's talking about. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire May 3 '18 at 5:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire For what it's worth I'm not trying to be antagonistic or sarcastic. I'm trying to understand what someone's complaint is. Was it the citation needed thing? (I mean, I made a sweeping generalisation, maybe it was a poorly timed joke.) \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 3 '18 at 12:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener I don't think you and and others were being intentionally antagonistic. It's fine if you "read it charitably", as mxyzplk explains, but my first impression after reading these comments was that a bunch of high-rep users were mocking the question by deliberately misinterpreting the word "humanised". \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire May 3 '18 at 16:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire For me it's not that line, it's the last paragraph of the post I'm responding to: the complaint nobody here can write like an actual human. I don't know how to wrap my head around that when we're a site full of humans writing like humans do, in so many different ways we sometimes have to remind people to respect each others' writing styles when editing. Now, suggesting the site needs to be humanised, that could mean a lot of things in changing how we behave, so hopefully also gets helped by explaining what the general pattern is, but human-ness of writing doesn't seem to be missing. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 3 '18 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, again, try reading what people write charitably. No one's mocking anyone here. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 5 '18 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is the focus of this response the way people give procedural guidance (comments, close vote descriptions, FAQ, meta posts, &c.), or the would you say you see a similar problem in the main-site questions and answers themselves? \$\endgroup\$ – Alex P Jun 11 '18 at 17:33
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I think the rules on opinion based answers are a mismatch for a forum which is about role playing games. Especially some which are deliberately designed to encourage interpretation - which is of course opinion based.

I post mostly on stack overflow, I develop.
The rules on there make sense under most circumstances.
Boolean logic is Boolean logic and your code will work or not work due to fixed rules which are not re-interpreted by any reader.
Even then, development is often more art than science.
I notice some questions there which are closed as opinion based where it's not terribly helpful and I can see the OP really could have done with some help.
Overall the rules generally make sense on Stack Overflow.
Over there if you don't have a "full" answer but have some suggestion to offer then you are actively discouraged from posting an answer.

Stack overflow's rules seem to have been adopted as is for dnd 5. Since rpg is largely opinion based this seems an inherent mismatch.
Maybe someone should be considering whether somewhat different rules ought to apply.
What seems particularly strange is where different rules already apply.
Any comment that could be interpreted as helpful ( some sort of an answer ) gets deleted. This seems particularly strange and I don't see how that helps anyone or makes the site better.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On that last paragraph, see Why are site comments getting deleted? — and all we're doing is actually enforcing Stack Exchange rules that Stack Overflow can't enforce because the volume of work there is too high so they focus on higher priority issues. As for opinion oriented stuff, is there anything specific you think we're missing support for that we should support? We've done our best to adapt the rules to our circumstances and it tends to work fairly well for us, but we're open to improvements. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 1 '18 at 12:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ See also we are not a forum and my question is better-suited to a forum for some of the historical discussion around what Stacks are good at vs. not. To be clear: it may be wise to periodically revisit those notions, so thanks for bringing it up! \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 1 '18 at 13:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Any comment that could be interpreted as helpful ( some sort of an answer ) gets deleted." This usually occurs after the information in the comment has been incorporated into the question or answer through revisions. The purpose of comments is for question/answer improvement, so once the improvement is handled (or declined) then the comment doesn't serve any purpose anymore. Essentially, comments are like proof-reader's marks. They help improve the draft of the document, but eventually you redact them. Their purpose has been served. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder May 1 '18 at 13:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...And if "some sort of answer" is posted in a comment then that's not helpful to the site in general because all the normal mechanisms available for searching, voting, and displaying answers is useless when an answer is buried somewhere in a comment. When answers-in-comments get deleted, there is almost always a warning to re-post as an answer, to make sure it gets categorized in a way that can be more helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder May 1 '18 at 13:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Bloodcinder True. I, for one, delete comment-answers the moment I see them regardless of whether it looks like the author incorporated, rejected, or even saw them. And to be clear, I'm even talking about things that seem to newish users as helpful and innocuous, like "you should check out xyz.org/essay-on-your-thing, it's really useful." (Nvm earlier version--we're simul-commenting. Edited for standalone-ness.) \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 1 '18 at 13:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just to be clear here, I am most definitely not criticising people who are doing their best to implement rules. I'm not complaining about people stifling my creativity or something. The rules are made and moderators implement those rules. I think the rules as they stand have a negative effect on the site usefulness. I think they are also likely to discourage new posters... Or those that think form should suit purpose. Better. \$\endgroup\$ – Andy May 1 '18 at 13:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ So oddly, we have thought about it. In fact, Stack Exchange has, and there's guidance that's normative for all the other sites. See the SE blog post "Good Subjective, Bad Subjective": stackoverflow.blog/2010/09/29/good-subjective-bad-subjective RPGs are not completely opinion-based - answers can derive from experience, or they can just be people wagging their jaws. There are plenty of forums for the latter - SE is not a forum, as nitsua60 points out. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 1 '18 at 16:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey Andy, just a note on your “adopted as-is for D&D 5e” and “a roleplaying game” (my emphasis, quoting the original edit of your post): beware that RPG.se regularly covers dozens or hundreds of RPGs other than D&D 5e, and that there are thousands of RPGs in existence that we potentially cover. Being careful to not mistake RPG.se as for only D&D 5th edition can help avoid some common faux pas, like writing answers for the wrong game or neglecting to mention the game a question is about. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 2 '18 at 20:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Andy D&D 5e came out in 2014. (play test began IIRC 2012) ... RPG.SE began in 2010 ish ... ;) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast May 7 '18 at 22:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 A link to an answer is not an answer. A non-answer consisting of a link posted as an answer is closed as "not an answer". Deleting a link to resources because it is a partial answer doesn't make sense in that context; it is "not an answer", it is a sign pointing where an answer may be. Do you have a link to a policy about deleting comments that links, as opposed to answers? \$\endgroup\$ – Yakk May 11 '18 at 13:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @yakk that's a fine attempt at logic twist, but link only answers aren't "not an answer" in some cosmic logical sense, they are poor and disallowed answers. Posting it in a comment isn't ok because poor, partial, etc. answers in comments are also not OK. rpg.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/6533/… \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk May 12 '18 at 17:23
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Concrete vs Abstract Reasoning

One of the most frustrating hurdles I come across in the various SE sub-sites is moderators who are quick to put a question on hold, because the moderator (or even a group of moderators), cannot grasp the context of the question. This might be due to the questioner being a poor communicator. It might also be due to the fact that I have a very high intuitive ability.

Regardless, moderators put a question on hold, and I'm looking at it thinking "this is easy to answer, you just have to suss out the questioner's context a bit". As a new user who's had this happen to him, I can tell you it's quite embarrassing to have your comment put on hold, because it's "off topic" when you're quite sure it's on topic, and you just don't know how better to express what you're trying to get across. In fact, from your perspective, the meaning couldn't be more clear, and you don't understand why you're having to babystep adults through your already clearly communicated issue.

Regardless of what you might think of the MBTI test, I liken it to the difference between Sensors and Intuitors, which is doubly apt in my mind, since a lot of SE is comprised of software developers who tend to be Sensors. Let me define these two words:

  • Sensor: This is a person who processes input from the world around them via concrete reasoning. They must step through A, B, C, and D to get to E or they will get lost. They will not assume any intermediate steps, unless they can personally experience those steps.

  • Intuitor: This is a person who processes input from the world around them via abstract reasoning. If they see A, C, D and E, they will assume B and F and keep on trucking. This might get them into trouble from time-to-time, but if they feel like they've got 80% of the data, they know they're probably okay to assume the other 20%.

This is a very base description, as no person is all one or the other. It's a sliding scale, and each person falls on that scale somewhere. As a high Intuitor, I can tell you I often see patterns and can pick out other peoples' meaning even when they've done a very poor job of communicating their thoughts.

In an environment like this one, it is the Sensors who are going to tend to rise through the ranks fastest, as they are most likely to follow the rules to the letter, and to punish those who fail to follow the rules.

By the same token, it is the Intuitors who are most likely to allow things to slide, to get taken down a path as it were that the site expressly forbids, because they "kinda get where the other person is coming from" and so don't need them to follow the rules to still achieve the desired result.

I'm not saying either one is better or worse. Both are excellent for some things and terrible for others, but it certainly helps explain the greatest areas of tensions between the two types of users, especially new users.

More to the point, I don't think this is the type of thing you can teach someone. It's kind of hard-wired into people. But I believe it's the biggest reason certain types of users are driven away, and why the moderators seem to exist within their own echo chamber. They will naturally agree with each other, especially because they all will tend to view sticking to the rules of the site the same way. To people like me, it's going to feel very draconian, and that's coming from someone who sees the other perspective.

To wit, me and a lead developer at my first job would have legendary arguments. We couldn't talk about anything for more than 5 minutes without shouting at each other. We were clearly at opposite ends of the spectrum. He'd regularly shout the words, "You can't know that!" or "You can't make that assumption!" Whereas, I'd be the one shouting, "Christ, you can see X, Y, and A1. Z HAS TO FALL IN BETWEEN!"

It's worse when people operate under the common misconception that "Other people think like me." I used to despise people who refused to talk about the obvious elephant in the room. It took me years to realize that I really was the only person who could see it, and that it was my responsibility to walk the rest of the group through the process to get to the point I'd been standing on for weeks. Moreover, that same realization is what allowed me greatly value what other people brought to the table, even when it wasn't my brilliant ability to intuit seemingly unconnected events. The diligence embodied in the aforementioned software developer is what made him really great at his job. He is, bar none, the best developer I have ever known.

How does this translate here? I don't know. I'm just trying to draw a road map of the problem.

Optimizing for Sand, and Smashing the Pearls

SevenSidedDie turned my on to this blog post, which describes why StackExchange shifted their focus to questions. Having read that post, I have a much better understanding of how the leadership of SE has actually helped to create the problem I've described above.

If we don’t do our part to cull the bad questions, then we risk alienating the true experts who provide what really matters: the answers!

This quote took me by surprise. I had to read it a few times, because the context seemed very strange in terms of an effort to better serve the community. That is, until you realize that the community is the answerers, and not the questioners. If StackExchange were a for-profit enterprise charging for answers, it'd go out of business very quickly. No one will pay to be insulted, regardless of how much of an expert the answerer is.

I am a recognized industry expert in a highly technical field. I've written dozens of whitepapers, given talks to groups of 80+ people. I worked at my first company for 15 years and established myself with companies around the world. 5 years after leaving, I still have customers hunting down my cell number to talk to me.

I used to troubleshoot extremely complex industrial equipment over the phone. It was great when I could teach my customers to contact me with the right information (Asking the right question in the right way), but much of the time I had to guide them through the process to get to the answer. Had I taken the attitude that I couldn't or wouldn't help you without properly formatting your questions, I would not have the reputation I have today.

This site doesn't exist to stroke the egos of some experts. It exists to help people around the world find answers to their questions. Based on some of the comments below, some people have either lost sight of that, or they couldn't care less. The questioners are your customers, guys. I don't care that they aren't paying for the service.

Perhaps you’ve noticed a theme here. Incoming questions are a universal constant, all around us in countless billions. But answers — truly brilliant, amazing, correct answers — are as rare as pearls. Thus, questions are merely the sand that produces the pearl. If we have learned anything in the last three years, it is that you optimize for pearls, not sand.

This quote is a stunning mindset. Questions are merely the sand that produces the pearl? Holy cow, what an arrogant mindset. If your experts are so full of pearls, why don't they just sit down and write wikis on their specific areas of knowledge? Then, all the low-sloping foreheads can muddle through searches of wikis-of-wisdom to find the answers they seek.

There's a weird set of mutually exclusive mindsets at work at StackExchange. An Executive Vice President writes a post that he wants SE to come off as friendlier, easier to use, more inclusive. Yet, here's a co-founder explaining why that will never happen. It demonstrates that SE really doesn't have alignment from top-to-bottom in the organization.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It can indeed be frustrating, but let me suggest two points. 1) There's nothing shameful about having a question put on hold. It's of course alarming the first few times it happens, but it's not like getting banned or censured or anything like that. There's no reason to be embarrassed by it. Ideally, when the question is getting put on hold and the asker is a new user, somebody will point that out to avoid having a sour experience. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 27 '18 at 22:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ 2) Although the asker might think it's clear and some members might think it's clear, the goal is for everything on SE to be clear to everybody, not just to specific people. I too have had occasions where I couldn't figure out why other people didn't understand something "obvious," but since not everybody is me (or you) and not everybody has the same ability to fill in the gaps and infer subtext, it's helpful to the community as a whole to be able to clarify above and beyond to make sure that the information makes sense to the widest audience. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 27 '18 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the community could take steps to make the on-hold process seem less embarrassing and punishment-like, but I don't think it should be at the expense of maximizing clarity for the general audience. \$\endgroup\$ – Bloodcinder Apr 27 '18 at 22:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Hey, I guess I'm a sensor, because I'm not sure I'm correctly intuiting what you're getting at. Could you be more specific about how this applies to this site and this community, in particular? \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Apr 27 '18 at 22:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ We put on hold so that it can be 'sussed out a bit.' \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 28 '18 at 0:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have an interesting perspective here. Before I became a mod, I semi-regularly “rescued” questions that were semi-incoherent. I am on the Intuitor side of the spectrum, and would see a post that others were voting “unclear” and be able to tell what they were meaning to ask. I'd do a complete rewrite, ask if that said what they meant, and it would often get “yes!” and reopened. I'd semi-regularly get into arguments with closing mods that a question was fine. Now I'm a mod… and I understand more now that mods have limited time. We apply the rules, move on, and hope people fix their posts. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '18 at 6:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ One thing that hasn't changed though: I understood then and now that the text needed to clearly say to everyone what they were meaning the text to say. My editing then (when I had that flexible time) was toward that goal. My holding now (as a mod with limited moderation time) is still toward that goal. I wish we had someone who liked rescuing questions to take the place of old-me, but on the other hand, encouraging askers to revise their own posts is not a bad thing either. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Apr 28 '18 at 6:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ I just want to add that it's not always a moderator that closes or holds a question. It recieves votes from memebers with enough rep. It's rare that I see any of the diamonds close a question by themselves. I'm not a moderator and I have enough rep to add a close-vote to a question. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Apr 28 '18 at 7:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agree with SSD - part of the benefit of closing is helping teach those posters how to effectively use their words. ‘Oh but 10% of the site can figure out what they are saying” is not an acceptable endgame. They can improve so most of the site does. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Apr 28 '18 at 11:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ I engaged in a bunch of question-rescue edits as well during 2014-2016. Usually the system was clearly stated, but the question was a mess, expressed in a super muddled fashion or with poor English or it was one giant mega-paragraph or it was 10 paragraphs when it could just be 2. There'd be comments asking what they meant and close votes. If we could discern their angle we'd edit then ask if the new revision matched what they meant; if we weren't certain we'd check what we thought their angle was with them first in comments then revise. We'd still VTC, and reopen once the dust settled. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Apr 30 '18 at 13:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @user9570789 The names attached are the members with enough reputation that voted to close. Once a post receives enough close votes it displays the reason with the most votes and the handles of those that voted. They don't necessarily need to be mods. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o Apr 30 '18 at 19:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't speak for anyone else, but I downvoted this because I've reread it several times and still have no idea what you're trying to say. \$\endgroup\$ – Miniman Apr 30 '18 at 22:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ Your latest edit seems to turn this post into more of a rant, and Im afraid I've lost sight of what you're trying to say, specifically. You call yourself a "genius intuitor" but could not intuit how close-votes work. I don't mean to be abrasive, but I find what you're doing harmful and am seeing old hostilities between longer-standing members emerge in the comments to this answer that I haven't seen in about 2 years. \$\endgroup\$ – Jason_c_o May 1 '18 at 21:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ah, I see where the misunderstanding is. You’ve assumed this is a help site, when it’s a Q&A site. The distinction may not be obvious, so let’s look at the purpose of each. A help site has the purpose you stated (“to help people around the world find answers to their questions.”). This Q&A site doesn’t have that purpose; its purpose is to create a curated database of easily-searched knowledge. Questions exist only to prompt knowledge-submissions and be searchable. Each Q&A is intended to serve later readers; helping the asker is only incidental. Weird, eh? But that’s the goal. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie May 2 '18 at 3:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note: Stack Exchange is for profit. Profit comes from ads, from Careers on some sites, and in future from things like Teams. "This site doesn't exist to stroke the egos of some experts. It exists to help people around the world find answers to their questions." Absolutely true, but the subtle twist that makes the genius in the sites is that the post called a question, the one that gets the answers attached, doesn't have to be their question. Upwards of 90% of people on SE get their question answered without asking it, via search. \$\endgroup\$ – user17995 May 2 '18 at 19:50

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