SuperUser has been open for beta for a very short time and already the flurry of questions is overwhelming and vast. There is a lot of noise (i.e. "Must have...") and very little signal at this point as beta users try to get rep. I expect that to change over time as more novice users ask questions which are meaningful to them.

The concern I have is sending my father-in-law, mother, or other non-geek to SuperUser.com to get a question answered because I think they will be overwhelmed. I know a bulk of the traffic will come from search engines, but what small changes can be made (without effecting the overall code base too much) to make skipping Google and coming right to SuperUser more effective?

EDIT

Ok, really bad example on my part. Try this instead:

Assume you are a complete SO/Meta/Serverfault/SuperUser newbie and you have a problem with your HP Printer. Your geek guru says to check SuperUser for a solution. When you arrive at SuperUser everything not having to do with HP Printers is noise. It takes mental time and energy to look away from the list of irrelevant (to you) questions and find the Ask A Question button. The search box is one of the least visible items on the screen so existing answers may remain hidden if you do not phrase your question exactly right. Then 10 minutes after you ask your question it gets closed as Exact Duplicate of a somewhat related question. How likely are you to then stay and contribute to the site? How likely are you to continue to look to this site for answers to your question? Assume the Exact Duplicate is actually slightly different and doesn't help. Now what?

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5 Answers 5

The nature of your question determines (in most cases) the nature of your responses. The silly questions are getting silly responses. The more serious questions are getting serious responses. If your family asks a serious question, I'm confident the system will work to their benefit.

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Just look at the beta period of StackOverflow for example. That was when you had tons of "fun" questions and other noise as the community got its feet under it. Eventually the burn-out will happen and those topics will fade into rarity and the guidelines about what is and isn't acceptable will become more clear. –  TheTXI Jul 16 '09 at 13:00
  1. I think the "Must-Have" questions are going to die out very quickly (and I have been pretty quick to bump them to CW status if they did not start that way) because they will eventually run out of subjects to "must have" something.

  2. I am seeing some very good questions already concerning problems that people are having in various forms (whether it is networking, UI, browser issues, OS issues, etc.). I think over time these will become the dominant styles of questions as the more discussion-oriented topics start to die down.

  3. I am also seeing a very large set of product recommendation questions, which I believe SuperUser could potentially excel at. With such a large audience of technical users, it could become the go-to place for making recommendations when people come and say "I need a free/cheap/fast/powerful solution at doing Task X". What I have tried to do is make minor revisions to some questions that simply try to say "what is the best X" and turn them into more product-recommendation questions. If I am unable to revise, I will generally ask the OP to be more specific about what they are looking for.

Overall I think with some more gentle nudging, the direction of SuperUser will quickly turn into more of a Q&A + Product Recommendation engine than the garbage dump that most people feared it would turn into at first glance.

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I agree that the quality of question and answer will improve. My concern is for users who arrive at the site to ask a question but get overwhelmed by a long list of items irrelevant to their task. –  Rob Allen Jul 16 '09 at 12:58
    
Theoretically, the "must have" question will die out, but it may not be as soon as we hope. Shortly after "Must Have Games" went out, "Must Have Windows Games", "Must Have Mac Games", "Must Have Wii Games", "Must Have FOSS Games" all went out. That list could theoretically extend on for a long time. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 16 '09 at 12:58
    
@Rob, The front page isn't suppose to be relevant to your particular problem. Those are other people's problems. Let your family know that they must ask their own personal question to get items relevant to their personal issues. –  Jonathan Sampson Jul 16 '09 at 12:59
    
Jonathan: I had actually emailed the team looking for some guidance concerning all the game questions. –  TheTXI Jul 16 '09 at 13:01
    
@Jonathan - I understand that the front page isn't supposed to be relevant. What I am trying to advocate for (unsucessfully) is a stripped down version of the UI so that brand new folks who know nothing about superuser can still ask a question quickly. –  Rob Allen Jul 16 '09 at 13:04

My suggestion is to make a new tab which contains one big text box for asking a question. Instead of the ajax look-up of similar questions though, the user would hit a button and get back search results. If those results are unsatisfactory, then they click something else to go to the real "ask a question" dialog with their query pre-populated. That tab would be the default home/landing page for anonymous users and logged in people below 100 rep (or some other low threshold).

This is to prevent users from seeing the main list of questions until they have some understanding of the site and how it works.

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Shouldn't this be what the search box at the top is for? It's not great by any stretch of the imagination, but then again you can also do a custom google search as well. –  TheTXI Jul 16 '09 at 12:58
    
Sure but imagine someone you know going to superuser.com for the first time after you told them to. What are they likely to see and do? The search box isn't salient enough to take your eyes away from the laundry list of questions and thats a good thing for anyone who has been there a bunch or is familiar with the layout. –  Rob Allen Jul 16 '09 at 13:02
    
We have new users come to all of the sites every single day and they still manage to ask their questions without getting lost in the list of questions (sometimes we wish they would try and get a little more lost because they like asking dupes). There is a big question called "Ask A Question" on the front, I don't think it is that hard for newbies to get their question out there to the public (again, some might say it's too easy at times). –  TheTXI Jul 16 '09 at 13:25
    
Those have historically been technical users. SuperUser will attract a less knowledgeable audience. –  Rob Allen Jul 16 '09 at 13:34
    
I guess we're just going to have to agree to disagree then. I don't know how much more "easy" you need to make sites than "Ask A Question" being prominently displayed on almost every single page. –  TheTXI Jul 16 '09 at 13:38
    
Darn. And I was just going to bring you a new pony... –  Rob Allen Jul 16 '09 at 13:43
    
You cannot bribe me with miniature equine gifts. At least not on Meta. –  TheTXI Jul 16 '09 at 14:29
    
I absolutely hate "noise" on a website. I'm a busy gal - I don't have the patience to deal with noise. If I'm coming to SuperUser for a specific purpose, I don't give a hoot what the most recent questions are. They're in my way. The front page should NOT include recent questions. It should only include a way to ask a question and a way to search for questions. Will people still be able to figure out how to ask a question and search with the current UI? Sure. But the current UI is less than ideal from a usability standpoint. And I'll take that pony. 8-) –  Anonymous Jul 16 '09 at 16:23

For some reason I have really got involved in SuperUser, however slowly getting disheartened in the system working for the particular subject matter SuperUser is targeting. Based on the feedback here on Meta and some of the comments on SuperUser there is a lot of gray areas that need to be addressed around the community wiki's for example.

I am hoping that as mentioned the noise will start to lessen, however I am concerned with the potential of losing some very good members along the way.

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I think you make the point yourself. There is a lot of noise right now because it's essentially a community of experienced developers/it-admins asking questions on a site where they probably already know most of the answers because they are after some rep. Once it settles down a bit, goes public and gets some real users the more experienced people will stop asking random "must have x" questions and focus on answering the real questions.

Also, once all the possible "must have x" questions have been asked, we can start closing futures ones as duplicates.

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