With about 1 million views a month at the moment, Super User is turning out to be successful, however due to the general audience the concept of a Q&A vs. a forum is still something we need to deal with every day. Part of the problem is a few of the high reputation users do not understand Super User, and one idea to help improve this is to send an e-mail to all users with 3K+ reputation with the goal of explaining how Super User works, and the role these users play on the site. The content of the mail would be something along the lines of the following:

Dear Super User,

We would like to thank you for your contribution to the Super User website, and appreciate the time and energy you have put into being part of the site. As a high reputation user, your role on the site is slightly more than just answering questions, and we would like to ask your help with the following:

Due to the larger audience Super User caters to, and the lack of understanding about the site, we would like to ask that you are vigilant with closing duplicate questions, and identifying questions that do not meet the criteria listed at http://superuser.com/faq. Unfortunately, there are currently a lot of these questions being answered rather than closed, which makes it hard to control the level and quality of the content on the site. Please keep in mind that the goal of Super User is to be a canonical source of information, linked by Google, with a single up-to-date question providing the most up-to-date answer.

kind regards,
Super User Team and Moderators

There are a few of the top users constantly answering these questions instead of closing them, and this has actually created friction, highlighted by various comments on answers. The problem is that it reflects negatively on the site as well as causing these users to stay away or even needing the diamond moderators to intervene. Honestly, the diamond moderators are just that, moderators, not psychologists. As pointed out by the answers, some of the existing regulars have already started to leave Super User because of this.

Instead however of penalising users and potentially losing valuable members, there needs to be some way to encourage more positive interaction. However this can't be done unless these users are made more aware of the goals and functionality of the site, instead of it being treated as another forum.

Thanks to Jeff:

So the real implied question is, how much direct coaching should be/is appropriate for the 10K+ users on a trilogy site?

And how can we do indirect coaching, that is, make the software nudge them to do the right things and nudge them away from the wrong things?

Some more recent examples of where these issues occur:

  1. This answer on a question closed as subjective by the community caused some interesting comments.
  2. This question which is not computer related has 1 answer. Common pattern here: Vote to close and answer question.
  3. This exact duplicate generated 1 high rep answer.
  4. This question should have been closed outright.
  5. This is another multiple duplicate question.

Some more samples courtesy of random with comments:

Personal Note:

I do not agree with the stance "I am going to answer and vote to close just in case it stays open", I also do not agree that closed questions should allow accepted answers or voting. However apart from putting the high rep users in the penalty box, which is a negative solution, I would rather find a positive way to encourage correct behaviour.

Furthermore, the two items I would really like to see changed on Super User are:

  1. Diamond moderators having to intervene and close every question.
  2. Users staying away because of the actions of high reputation users.

Summary:

Is there currently any way apart from the suggestions already made in some very good answers on how to deal with this correctly? Is this really a problem? Currently there seems to be strong support for some sort of intervention, however is there also strong support for not doing anything?

Some Implemented Solutions

  • SVN Revision 6276: Introduced expanded closed boxes with more detailed descriptions for closing reasons, including detailed descriptions of the specific close reason once the question is closed.
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+1, good discussion to have. –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 13:44
    
Looks like my edit pushed the question over to CW; sorry about that! –  Ether Feb 6 '10 at 19:00
    
@Ether - No problem. I can live with it :) –  Diago Feb 6 '10 at 20:32
    
We still haven't got the migrate close reasons here on meta though :( –  ChrisF Feb 8 '10 at 10:38
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I just can't believe I spend so much time explanning SU's FAQ... I need 3000 rep to vote to close! –  r0ca Jul 26 '10 at 21:00
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Sadly this is still happening! –  JNK Sep 15 '10 at 2:04
    
Maybe put some of these examples on the FAQ page, examples of what not to do and what needs to be done as a high rep user? Since this site is so unique and all others are fourms, sometimes we just plain forget some of the rules when bouncing over here from our other forums we contribute to, no excuses just the human condition. –  Moab May 14 '12 at 23:27
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migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Jul 22 '10 at 18:01

This question came from our discussion, support, and feature requests site for meta-discussion of the Stack Exchange family of Q&A websites.

11 Answers

up vote 39 down vote accepted

Cracking through the 3000 rep level to start close voting, it's really been the only fun part of visiting the site now. Blowing through the meagre 12 votes a day and watching as either Diago, Ivo or Troggy come down with their power vote to close out the dupes or off-topic questions is the only reason to even visit the site any more. Barely.

The first column of the users page are notorious for rarely voting to close and always, always making sure they get an answer in. The current top two users are the worst of the lot.

Dupes that are eventually closed are answered by the high rep users who also post duplicate answers knowing full well that even if the question is eventually closed, they'll stick around collecting their precious reputation points.

They don't have any problem understanding how the site works.

The problem is that they couldn't care less outside their reputation and badges.

Examples please?

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Heey I'm in that first column! But your point is true –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 8:45
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Bitter response. I fully relate to how you feel, though. –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 9:02
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Sadly this is one of two things I want to see stopped. 1. The diamond moderators having to close every question, 2. Users staying away because of the actions of others. –  Diago Feb 5 '10 at 9:03
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@Diago me, random and fretje are active closers, but it's a frustrating job if we have to rely on moderators to help us out every time. We're completely powerless, no one is willing to help us in any way. –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 9:06
    
@pi Understood. I have seen this and we do appreciate the work of the many, unfortunatly the few is causing us headaches as well. –  Diago Feb 5 '10 at 9:07
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@Jeff: What do you mean? Can you clarify? –  fretje Feb 5 '10 at 9:46
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I wonder what would happen... if closing a question as a duplicate required only one vote... And re-opening duplicates required two votes. –  Shog9 Feb 5 '10 at 9:51
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@Shog9 a nightmare? Probably endless closing and opening. Still, not such a bad idea, especially if used correctly. –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 9:53
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@Shog9 - Having that power, it's a major headache. Enemy building 101 tip 1: Close a question. –  Diago Feb 5 '10 at 10:02
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@fretje - "Broken Windows" is a criminology theory that letting small acts of crime slide (say, littering), eventually leads to more serious acts of crime. It suggests that if you aggressively target the small stuff, more serious acts of crime will fall. There is actually not a lot of empirical evidence to prove whether this is in fact true. I think Jeff is saying that he's not sure if these questions are indeed "broken windows" that lessen community value and encourage more and more serious acts of "crime" in our community. (Crime, of course, being that which we here deem against the rules) –  Jared Harley Feb 5 '10 at 14:48
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@Jared: I'm not sure you made it clear now. :-s (no offence) –  fretje Feb 5 '10 at 15:13
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@fretje - Haha, sorry - It's difficult to explain criminological theories in 600 chars - check out the Wikipedia link: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fixing_Broken_Windows –  Jared Harley Feb 5 '10 at 15:20
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@Jared: Why would I have to read a whole Wikipedia article to understand a mans opinion about something. Why can't he (@Jeff) just be clear? –  fretje Feb 5 '10 at 16:17
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@fretje: He was clear. Understanding just required awareness of a referenced concept. –  Paul Nathan Feb 8 '10 at 16:23
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What do you expect? The same thing happened with TV.com and any other “knowledge/database/encyclopedia” site that provides points, levels, and medals/badges to users for contributing: it turns into a game (an MMOG to be specific). In forums, usually the only status symbol is the number of posts, but some forums offer all kinds of bling and flair as well, which makes them no better. Don’t get me wrong, these things provide a tacit incentive for people to contribute and help, but it also makes people do so for the wrong reasons. It’s like how achievements are now endangering games themselves. –  Synetech Aug 26 '11 at 17:40
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We should stop rewarding unwanted behaviour

For instance giving rep to duplicate questions/answers makes it worthwhile NOT to close it. If people know there are duplicates and they won't get rep for it if someone closes it as one, they might as well link to the original version instead of posting a needless answer

Another issue is that people will post similar answers. Instead of deleting their duplicated version and adding their info they think is relavant to the other person's version, they will leave their version to garner some additional upvotes. Sadly, I have no idea how to reward people for not doing this, without gaming the system. Perhaps rewarding editing a little bit more?

Similar to the previous situation is when looking to answer a question and find that it has already been answered, but poorly formulated or lacking certain info. Instead of editing this answer to make it better or up-to-date, a lot of people will just leave them as they are, since there's nothing to gain.

My bottomline is: we need better incentives for good behaviour

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I could go around and mark all duplicate questions as CW, that'll teach em! –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 8:26
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But by then they've already grabbed their rep and they don't care any more. –  random Feb 5 '10 at 8:41
    
Doesnt a recalc take it away? –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 8:44
    
@Ivo - I have already noticed your "CW" actions recently, like on this question superuser.com/questions/104610/…. Very good initiative, because there was a situation of a "silly joke", being upvoted. However, it remains a side solution, as this is hardly the purpose of this function to begin with. –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 8:53
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About duplicate answers, I don't think we can do something about it, as it relates to one of the most basic issues from the SOFU sites, simply. Often two will come with similar answers, and each will want their answer to be taken. The only "good behavior" to such situation would be to merge the both answers, to have the final goal, which is to answer the question on the best possible way. –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 8:56
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Currently with CW, any rep before the switch sticks. So recalc doesn't really affect things unless the post has been deleted. –  random Feb 5 '10 at 9:01
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@random - anyway, it's really only a temporary solution, I think. CW should not be seen as a "punishment". –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 9:28
    
@Gnoupi no one said it was punishment, but let's not run away from CW, either. It has its purpose. –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 9:35
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Just had a thought, why not make posts closed as duplicate CW, including all answers. Thus answers will only gain rep while the question is open. If the "closers" get in quick enough those just after the rep won't benefit too much. –  ChrisF Feb 5 '10 at 9:36
    
Just realised this is what Ivo suggested (in jest) but this would be automatic. –  ChrisF Feb 5 '10 at 9:44
    
Right now it depends heavily on mods being awake for the dupe questions to be closed. Until then, rep city. Closed by five is few and far between. @chr –  random Feb 5 '10 at 9:44
    
Note that "what to do with answers on closed questions" was discussed shortly there: meta.stackoverflow.com/questions/4303/…. However, it was more extreme, with an objective to take away reputation earned already, which I'm not sure would be something to really do. –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 9:57
    
CW is not a weapon. There is nothing wrong with answering questions that you vote to close, in fact it can be helpful to get a good answer out. Most 'Exact Duplicates' aren't very exact, so all answers don't transfer well. –  Lance Roberts Feb 6 '10 at 5:14
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@Lance that's exactly what "encouraging bad behavior" means. You encourage bad questions by answering them, that's as simple. –  Gnoupi Feb 6 '10 at 6:47
    
@Gnoupi, there's enough discouragement from downvotes and closing that far outweigh the encouragement of a few quick answers, especially since all but the dupes aren't really solving any problem they have anyway. They won't get the discussion they desire, so they'll eventually go elsewhere to discuss things. –  Lance Roberts Feb 6 '10 at 7:41
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This should have been done a long time ago. At this point, however, such an email would be a bit insulting for some higher-rep users; they might take it as an offense towards their work. The major problem is that the behavior we want to change today has been tolerated for way too long. This has lead to:

  • users not voting to close as duplicates, but rather responding over and over again,
  • few questions being closed as not a real question or not computer related (questions about websites are still answered by many, even though the FAQ says they're not SU related),
  • people giving vague answers to vague questions instead of asking for more details in comments (this leads to answers being edited a lot of times, making it a needless back and forth),
  • a complete fear of the community wiki flag. No one requests it, no one wants it, few people answer questions that are marked as such.

This behavior has to be changed, but moderators need to really crack the whip on this one. Good behavior should be rewarded by having a healthier community, not by throwing badges and rep at it.

Thinking about it, I think the whole concept of Super User is flawed. There's no direction, there's no clear-cut niche to fill, it's a dumping ground for anything even remotely IT related. We keep adding bullet points to the FAQ in the hopes it will somehow help things out. That's why it's failing; because that's the truth, it is failing, rotting from the inside. There's been endless discussion on meta about why SU's not working. There are simply no conclusions. Jeff doesn't really care about it (he's not involved in the site or the community that much), we can't change it because we only care about our own rep, leaving it to die.

We were left with a single active moderator (Diago) for the better part of 3 months. People might claim that they were active in the background, doing unglamorous janitorial work, but that's not true. There was one moderator, that's it! It's unacceptable to have one person left with so much work.

Using traffic as the most important metric means that we're steaming full speed ahead towards a very successful clone of Yahoo! Answers. I'd rather have a smaller, leaner, more focused Super User with users better prepared to handle the traffic that will inevitably come, than what it is today.

This might come off as just a bitter rant against a whole community, but I don't want it to be that. It is my personal opinion, one that I have formed over the months I've been active in the Super User community. I am part of that community, part of both the problem and the answer. I want this site to succeed because I think the idea in it is incredible; a place where people can help and get helped out of sheer good will, not through monetary incentives.

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The problem is the counter to this. Us cracking the whip causes more people to stay away. I do agree it was tolerated for a while, but we weren't getting 1M hits a month. Addressing this is going to be a problem, and to be frank, if a high rep user does not want to play ball, then they should not be on the site. However putting all of them in the penalty box is not a solution either. –  Diago Feb 5 '10 at 9:06
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About the community flag, I noticed something impressive recently indeed. As this situation was happening often, I suggested to write a "super user approved" faq for some situations, like "what to do with a virus" (superuser.com/questions/100360/…). It's a CW question, and the goal is to have a concentrate of answers from the higher users. One answered, made a great post... And that's all. No other high rep came on it, to improve, or else. So what to take from it? That the question was not interesting to begin with? –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 9:07
    
@Diago I'd rather have a smaller, healthier community that can deal with the additional traffic that will inevitably come. Those are just numbers, they don't impress me as a user. However, the behavior I see sometimes pisses me off. I gave up on SU because it was too frustrating! @Gnoupi nice effort, too bad I didn't see it (I'm not really active anymore on SU, it was too frustrating). –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 9:13
    
My problem with that FAQ question is that it answers too many questions in one breath, so I can't really add more info without duplicating what's already said and it might not answer every related question –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 9:32
    
@Ivo - as a CW question, the point is for people to edit the main answer, not especially add another. Anyway, it was more a single thing, as I don't think that such sites should really have FAQs questions. The point of it was only to regroup some "guidelines", to be proposed as addon to related questions. But in the end, every such question is particular, there can't be a "universal" reference. Anyway, not the topic here. –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 9:45
    
well, all I can say is, my apologies, and this is why we have Ivo and Troggy as moderators now. I don't agree that "it is failing", though. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 5 '10 at 11:19
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CW is still not well-understood, even on SO which has the most established user base. The most common opinion is that inappropriate questions become ok if they are marked CW, rather than the original intent for them to be collaboratively-edited collections of information. –  Ether Feb 5 '10 at 16:35
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How about emailing high rep users a link to this question with a short introductory paragraph. I've been using SU for 6 months & I just learned a lot reading this. –  DaveParillo Mar 29 '10 at 4:37
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This thread has some of the greatest discussion I've seen on meta in weeks.. awesome.

I have a few specific recommendations, which are just a synthesis of previous feature requests that have been raised earlier, but IMHO might help to start cleaning things up on SU:

  • immediately lock all closed questions
  • add the ability to flag locked questions (something we've needed for a while), so that questions can be unlocked over time by the mods and dealt with individually as needed
  • remove the reputation gained from any post that has since been closed
  • institute the change from -1/-2 to -2/-5 for downvotes (has been "status-planned" for many months)
  • global rep recalc
  • send Diago's letter to all users with +3000 rep, and another one (less specifically targetted towards closing questions, but still highlighting the issue of duplicates and inappropriate questions) to +200 rep users
  • put the highest rep users on notice that they are expected to uphold the highest standards on the site and they will be watched to see if they are able to help or hinder the site's goals.
  • moderators start the tiresome job of merging and deleting duplicate posts, possibly by temporarily enlisting the aid of users who have high rep on other sites but don't use SU much*

*e.g. I have <200 rep on SU but 10k on SO; I do at least know a dupe when I see one and can assist with many junior janitor roles, if only helping flag posts that need attention

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+1 for flagging locked questions (just moderator flags of course, not spam/offensive flags). -1 for locking closed questions, since that's only applicable to SU. +1 to get this more visibility. –  mmyers Feb 5 '10 at 16:32
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+1 Thanks for the input. High-rep users on SO are a bit more battle-worn, so you have more experience in some of the issues that can plague both SO and SU. Very good suggestions! –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 16:40
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@mmyers: yes, many of these points were intended just for SU, but there's some feature requests that have been in the pipe for a long time that would be really helpful to have everywhere. –  Ether Feb 5 '10 at 16:41
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I agree with that, as mostly shown by my regular comments on such answers.

We have indeed a bunch of people who provide good answers, and who are very active. They have an important role, because they provide a lot of quality answers. However, there is indeed "too much" of it, since many of them will simply answer on everything, even if they are themselves voting to close.

Moderators are doing a good job, but they can't (and shouldn't have to) be behind every question. For my part, I try to encourage good behavior and comment on bad behavior, to push in the good direction. But as visible on the first example, I obviously sometimes miss correct words to make my point of view understood.

Educating high rep users is indeed the best we can do, but it won't be easy. Such a mail is already a good start, because it comes from "higher". It shows that this is what the team, and moderators are suggesting as a good behavior. Other than that, I see only "watching" answers, and commenting under them to push to a better behavior. Unfortunately, that would be again something to be done by moderators, as they represent an authority (as opposed to a regular user like me, who is "lecturing" a 10k+).


Also of note, I noticed that while we have some 10k+ users who are not fully respecting the rules, we have as well a growing number of 1000-3000 users who understand the rules of this site, and start posting more and more often comments explaining why such question is not adapted, or how it could be improved, etc.

So the good news is that there is indeed a base of people who are ready to help this site go on the good direction, further than only gaining rep. Let's hope that once they reach 3000, they will help closing questions without "diamond" power.

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Know that your comments and flags are appreciated by the closing squad –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 8:55
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Comments of what the site is and why their question is going to be closed have always garnered an upvote. –  random Feb 5 '10 at 9:34
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It's rare, but it's always good to see a question closed by users without mod intervention. –  random Feb 5 '10 at 10:23
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@gnoupi: thank you for leading by example; i'd like to think i've picked up some good habits from you. –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 13:46
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As a 3k+ user, I think part of the problem really does lie with the 10k+ users. I would love to help out more in the community, but my only ability is to vote to close (which I use when appropriate). The problem is, to be more help, I need more rep, and every single question I go to answer has already been hit by a 10k+ user. So my rep gain is slow, and that drives me away from the site. I could always answer the dupe questions and then vote to close, but that doesn't seem right - heck, I even voted to close my own question when I discovered it was a duplicate! –  Jared Harley Feb 5 '10 at 14:37
    
@Jared the only other way would be to ask some quality questions or invest some more time to answer some of the harder questions. But I understand that it can be "hard" to gain rep when the top users eat all the lowest hanging fruit... –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 14:39
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@Ivo - I would ask questions, but anytime I have a question, I end up finding the answer on SU! :) –  Jared Harley Feb 5 '10 at 15:05
    
@Jared - Like I said, commenting, encouraging good behavior is a thing to do. You don't need 10k moderation tools to do that (these are mostly lists, not powers). Vote to close questions which are not matching to the rules, maybe flag them for moderator's attention. –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 15:31
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Voting to close one's own question ought to have a badge attached to it, like deleting one's own question. It's just as important. –  Ether Feb 5 '10 at 16:37
    
There is no rule against posting answers to a question and voting to close it. I think it's the best thing to do if you have a good answer. –  Lance Roberts Feb 6 '10 at 5:11
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@Lance - let's say somebody asks "where baby come from", on SO, and you have the answer. Are you writing it anyway? Probably a bit extreme, but it illustrates my point. If you answer questions which should be closed... then what for closing in the first place, since you answer it anyway, you satisfied the original poster, who will probably post another one next time, with hope that he will get answer before being closed. –  Gnoupi Feb 6 '10 at 6:46
    
I wasn't really thinking of completely non-computer related questions. I was just thinking of answers we'd want to keep on the site. Anything that far off would be deleted anyway. –  Lance Roberts Feb 6 '10 at 7:38
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Answering to alex's point:

Thinking about it, I think the whole concept of Super User is flawed. There's no direction, there's no clear-cut niche to fill, it's a dumping ground for anything even remotely IT related. We keep adding bullet points to the FAQ in the hopes it will somehow help things out. That's why it's failing; because that's the truth, it is failing, rotting from the inside. There's been endless discussion on meta about why SU's not working. There are simply no conclusions. Jeff doesn't really care about it (he's not involved in the site or the community that much), we can't change it because we only care about our own rep, leaving it to die.

We were left with a single active moderator (Diago) for the better part of 3 months. People might claim that they were active in the background, doing unglamorous janitorial work, but that's not true. There was one moderator, that's it! It's unacceptable to have one person left with so much work.

Using traffic as the most important metric means that we're steaming full speed ahead towards a very successful clone of Yahoo! Answers. I'd rather have a smaller, leaner, more focused Super User with users better prepared to handle the traffic that will inevitably come, than what it is today.

I don't think that the whole concept of SU is flawed. It might have been at the beginning, especially with the "let's dump not programming related trash there" which could have been then. But right now, there are people determined to make this site count, and this site is pretty effective. There are plenty of questions which are answered, every day, and in a high quality way. I can't even ask questions on it myself, because most of the time, a single search on it shows me the answer already.

However, I agree that SU is different from other SO and SF sites, for a simple reasons, the target is wider, and wide to a range of users which doesn't really have an idea of what the site should head to, and who don't care anyway. It is easier to have such a Q&A site moderated only by its community when you cater only to programmers and sysadmins.

In my opinion, if we want to keep SU clean, it will require more explicit moderation than other sites. As we target a wider audience, it is much more exposed to noise, even from its own regular users who will see their personal interest before the interest of the site. Even when there will be a lot of 3000+ users, it will still remain hard to keep it clean, because traffic will increase as well.

So yes, there should be several attempts to educate the regular users (with a mail, but also with regular comments on people's activity), but in general, Super User will require more explicit moderators, in my opinion, to keep the site in a good direction.

I'm aware that it might sound like giving up a bit on the community, but the facts are here, for now. When there is no moderator online, questions which should be closed remain opened. There are not enough 3000+ even for now to close them, even if they would all agree, you will rarely have 5 of them at the exact same time. So maybe for a time during which people will earn enough reputation to reach 3000, there is indeed a need for a bigger moderation, to keep the site in a clear direction.

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You must sure miss me during the weekends ;-) –  Ivo Flipse Feb 11 '10 at 6:57
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Current Implementation

My current approach to the above situation as a moderator is as follows:

  • When closing a question, inform the OP via a comment that they need to review the FAQ before posting questions to check for either valid contact, and in the case of a duplicate, carefully review all duplicates before posting as they will be closed.
  • Posting a comment to the answer of 3K+ users informing them that they should review the FAQ and ensure a question meets the criteria before answering. If not they should vote.
  • Posting a comment to the answer of users under 3K+ informing them to review the FAQ before answering and flag a question for moderator attention if it does not meet the site criteria.

This slows down the closing process in my case, but will hopefully start making a dent toward resolving the above.

Possible Solutions

  • High rep users continually answering questions that should be closed should be grounds for placing them in the penalty box.
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I completely agree. Even though Jeff said it's not a problem to answer questions before voting to close, I feel strongly against that. It's a waste of time, resources, it needlessly scatters information all over the site, it gives undeserved rep for duplicate answers. This behavior has to be adjusted, maybe not by sin binning, but certainly somehow. –  alex Feb 11 '10 at 6:25
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Liking the penalty box idea. It's one thing to answer one question with a dupe, but to make a habit of it, that's just wanting to spread all the dupe answers across instead of having a central question to fix. –  random Feb 11 '10 at 6:31
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I do not like the idea of putting anyone in the penalty box for answering questions except for spam/crap posts. Email reminder is an option at all times, but not everyone responds/receives. Most high rep users use a legit email from what I have seen though. Duplicate questions could be merged to combine answers and duplicate answers deleted. That can take a bit of time though. If going to the box is an option, it should only be done after sufficient warnings and attempts to resolve the problem. –  Troggy Feb 11 '10 at 6:32
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I saw Gnoupi leaving comments asking them to review a duplicate and then explain why it didn't work for them and with that info alter the question, so it became more legit. That off course takes a lot more work, but it improves the quality without having to close or change people's behaviour (except for users asking questions) –  Ivo Flipse Feb 11 '10 at 6:59
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To get started finding a solution, I think we should at the very least send the friendly reminder email to >xxxx reputation users to get the ball rolling. Just remind them of the goals/about of the site and maybe invite them to join in on this very question with there input and thoughts on the situation. Lets try the simple solutions first before jumping to the extreme ones. –  Troggy Feb 11 '10 at 7:01
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Just wanted to say my take on this after reading many of the answers here (will read them all in due course) and been told to do so a few times...

I am not sure if people have been directly referring to me as I am user 2/3, however after reading through some of the example links - I only saw an answer I wrote once - so I think that is a good sign.

I try to vote to close questions when I know that they are duplicates - but it is very hard to do so... The fact is, I do not know every question on SuperUser off by heart!... If the question says Close (1) I will always look at it and then if I agree, I will also vote.

When I see a question that I know I can answer, my first instinct is to help out and answer it - not to spend five to ten minutes doing a search for a duplicate question then answering when I know it isn't a copy.

Also on top of this, what makes it harder is that so many questions require very similar answers - For example, I have probably copied the same spiel about dead/faulty capacitors five or more times, but the question were different enough and required it.

In a previous question, I made a comment and I want to say it again - "I do not want to sound bad or unappreciative for the tools - I do flag and delete/close from time to time, but at no time did I ever say I want to be a moderator - I am happy to do this when it comes up, but I am here to help people and answer questions." - Again, I mean no disrespect, but it is hard to say that without coming across badly.

As for the FAQ, I did answer questions about Gmail and Wikipedia (I think it was) - but I had no idea that the FAQ was changed - It was brought to my attention and I haven't since - personally, as internet applications become more and more important, I hope this decision is changed. ... I just answered this and I did not give it a moment of thought at the time, but right now I am thinking it is really web related... Also, what about this one from not long ago?

I just have a little problem with people who have been answering here - it really feels like you are blaming the top users when I don't think that we are (well most) to blame.

Again, I just want to say that it is easy for many people to say these things, but as a user - it is harder than you think! I am getting on to 1,800 answers, I can not honestly remember the last few answers I have given - and if another question came up, I would probably give the same or similar answer - unless it was worded exactly the same to remind me...

I come from a forum/newsgroup background of simply answering questions - I think I have adapted and sorry if anyone thinks otherwise. In my honest opinion, this is not excluding repeat offenders but more responsibility has to be on the question asker to look for similar questions before they post...

(I was going to say, why not also display related questions on the question page... I feel like an idiot, but I just seen it is there! I will do my bit and look there in future when answering.)

There is much more I want to say, but I have typed and edited for the best part of two hours and this is turning in to a rant and I really do not want that. If anyone wants to address any specific points, please leave comments and I will be happy to answer.


To change slightly, I wasn't sure if this deserves its own question (It is the sort of thing that I guess would of been discussed before) - but as this is about various problems on SuperUser, I thought it is best I write it here.

A much bigger problem I have with Superuser is duplicate answers, I love the fact that on StackOverflow, I can get 3 duplicate answers that go in to great (different) detail. I have cancelled (or deleted) answers when I see someone else writing the exact same thing, but if I feel like I can give a detailed explanation, I think it is important to write it.

e.g. I say to use a tool along with a guide on how to use it. Whilst writing the guide, someone posts the same tool but just the name/link. I think it is ok to continue.

I would like an official answer on this... I never really had a problem with it (I say, let the votes decide who has the best answer, and the question asker decide if he wants the quickest or detailed answer.

This was a real sticking point between me and another user on the site, not so much that I did it, but the fact that he/she would always write in comments whenever I did it... on a few times that I saw him/her do it and I would say the same, it would start with excuses and arguments... I know the arguments were annoying Diago and I felt really bad doing it...

It got to the point where I felt like leaving - in the end, I significantly cut down my time on the site... That user is now gone (after having similar arguments with other users as well), but I would still like to get other peoples opinions on this?


Edit- One theme I have seen many people saying is that people are doing this sort of thing just for reputation - I would like to say again, I come from forums/newsgroups and a selfless background, I would be here if there was no reputation, it is simply a very nice addition... however, to be honest, I feel rather depressed when I see the large number and then think how much work I could of got done!... but I am greatful for the breaks between calls/emails!

(Now up to about 4 hours and by far, my longest answer on all the sites!)

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Personally and honestly. I think you take the site, and it's people, and the comments to you, too personally. My opinion. –  Diago Mar 13 '10 at 15:21
    
@Diago, +1 I completely agree, but when you are trying to help people, it is hard not to take criticism that way.... I have always been like this, but trying to change! –  Wil Mar 13 '10 at 16:15
    
I noticed this answer only today, but I'll add anyway that in my opinion, you were not included in this view. From my experience, you were (and still are) following rules, and not answering indeed to off-topic questions. About the FAQ change and the fact it went unnoticed, I complained about such events on this other question. –  Gnoupi Jun 11 '10 at 5:54
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I'm not sure there's much you can do without changing the rules to stop providing an incentive for this behavior. And even doing that may be a bad idea.

Your basic problem is that, unlike SO, SU has a far broader range of acceptable subject matter, while your user base is smaller (~50 users with 3k+, compare with SO where there are almost 500 users with 10k+)... This means that the rules are more open to interpretation, and there are fewer people interested and clued enough to intepret them properly.

Even if you could get more of your 3k users on board with stricter interpretation, I think you'd still have the basic problem. The rules that work for SO do not work so well for SU. Or, to put it another way, the problems that SO has are amplified and worsened on Superuser. After all, if nobody were voting for inappropriate responses, then there would be no incentive for the behavior. But this behavior is rewarded by the SU community, which is the root of the problem. Having more 3k people setting a good example won't get you very far, I fear.

Unfortunately, I don't think you can convince your userbase to shape up this far downhill from where the site started. I think you have to either live with the status quo, or the rules are going to have to change.

Talking about changing the rules for SU is beyond the scope of this discussion, but suffice to say that that's not exactly an attractive proposition, either. You could end up alienating enough of your userbase to effectively kill whatever progress you've made thus far. In fact, any intervention at this point carries that risk, including your proposed e-mail.

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That's a quite negative opinion, that I would call quite uninformed, based on the usual "SU is just a messy SO". The fact that there is a broader range of acceptable subject doesn't mean you can't have dedicated people following rules. Yes, there is a bigger noise on SU, this is caused by the wider audience. Voting an answer is possible for anyone with 15 reputation, so basically anyone who asked one correct question. So yes, there will be silly upvotes, nothing to do about it. –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 13:51
    
However, the question here is to educate dedicated users, who are coming regularly, not the occasional "mess" that you refer to. People who are managing the sites are 1000-3000+ users, people who come regularly to answer questions. And this panel of people is worth educating. Don't reduce SU to a simple "noise". –  Gnoupi Feb 5 '10 at 13:51
    
fair points, but remember that SO is (what, a year?) older than SU. that alone accounts for the smaller user base, and it means that comparing the current SU community's behavior with the current SO community is irrelevant. instead, we need to compare the current SU behavior with that of SO when it was SU's age (accounting for lessons learned on the part of organizers and mods) and consider the current SO behavior as where SU might be in another (what, a year?). –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 13:56
    
I always wouldn't want to disregard the efforts of the other 30 frontpage users who are doing their duties! They make it possible to keep the noise to a minimum. However, if these highly active users would participate as well, it would help a great deal –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 14:08
    
@~quack it's not about the size of th userbase, it's about their lack of willingness to change their behavior for the better. –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 14:09
    
@alex: bad users will always exist, and they'll stick out more with a smaller userbase. that's all i'm getting at. –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 14:21
    
@~quack they stick out way too much, unfortunately. And some of the bad users are high-rep ones. At least that is my opinion. Don't feel offended, I'm not including you. (by the way, do you get @replies?) –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 14:26
    
@alex: nope, i sure don't. one of many things i have to give up for the tilde, like anti-unicorn protection. :) –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 14:29
    
But does that mean the tilde needs to be stripped? @qua –  random Feb 5 '10 at 14:30
    
@random hahaha ... no, it means the @ notification feature requires a Display Name to work. i ain't got one (it's why i gots the tilde). –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 14:32
    
I do think that one of SU's problem is the lack of a central focus. SO is about programming, and SF about professional system administration, and these are understandable. SU is about hardware and software that don't relate to those. There also are fuzzy borders which don't completely make sense: why asking how to play an old computer game is different from asking how to run an old HVAC calculation program, for example. Finally, SO attracts programmers and SF attracts admins, who are task-oriented like the site is supposed to be, while SU attracts all sorts of computer fans. –  David Thornley Feb 5 '10 at 14:47
    
@David I agree. SU has no idea what it wants to be. –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 14:51
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On of the problems is that SU-users tend to be gadget freaks or people trying to do everything with a computer and now throw all there questions to the site. Also other SU-users are likely to be able to answer their questions, but it's just not what this site is for. It would also help if we got more of those question you regularly see on social.microsoft or technet, which are more within the scope of the site. Making all these borderliner cases just random noise within the vast amounts of appropiate questions –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 14:56
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Uh what is it you exactly mean? @random –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 17:31
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Users say SU has lost or has no focus. Isn't that what an editorial leadership provides? One that is supposedly the reason behind appointing How-To Geek as one of the mods? But he's not really there unless it's to post a reference to one of his articles as an answer. @ivo –  random Feb 6 '10 at 0:07
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Another idea: why not downvote any "extra" answers to duplicate, closed questions? If the only thing certain users respond to is votes, then maybe a few downvotes are in order? Or, perhaps disallow voting on closed questions entirely?

After looking at the examples Diago cited, I am not sure there is a problem.

  1. This answer on a question closed as subjective by the community caused some interesting comments.
  2. This question which is not computer related has 1 answer. Common pattern here: Vote to close and answer question.
  3. This exact duplicate generated 1 high rep answer.
  4. This question should have been closed outright.
  5. This is another multiple duplicate question.

None of these closed questions resulted in any significant rep, and the answers did not seem harmful.

The one exception is the cut-and-pasted duplicate answer on #5. In this case, I think the (answer to the) closed question should be deleted, primarily because of the blatant cut-and-paste rep gain, which means any rep gained would be removed on recalc as well.

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I think Jeff is just in denial (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denial). –  fretje Feb 5 '10 at 11:00
    
I really don't see a serious problem based on the examples cited. We had complaints about users answering, then closing, questions on SO for a long time -- and it was never a big enough problem to warrant treatment. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 5 '10 at 11:09
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@Jeff what recalcs? –  alex Feb 5 '10 at 11:18
    
@alex as a diamond mod on SU, I would click delete on that clearly cut-and-pasted answer, then click "recalc rep" on the target user. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 5 '10 at 11:21
    
I wouldn't know if #5 is a Copy & Paste action. Surely, the same user posted a reference to the very same software over 3 months earlier. Maybe he didn't recall posting that on Super User --like if he often refers to that software elsewhere on the internet as well--, maybe he couldn't easily find that duplicate, or maybe it's indeed a way to get reputation. But: it does not seem to be a blatant Copy & Paste of that other answer, does it? –  Arjan Feb 5 '10 at 11:22
    
@arjan well, that's also my point -- none of the examples cited seem to be done with the explicit goal of gaming the system. People are providing the best answers they can, though I'd say #1 was a huge stretch, a terrible question that didn't deserve answers. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 5 '10 at 11:27
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@Jeff Atwood So maybe it's not a problem in micro. But have you run queries against SO And against SU to determine if it's something that happens often in aggregate? Say How much reputation is gained by users asking duplicate questions or users answering duplicate questions? I think that'd provide the data you need. Could you update your answer with it? –  George Stocker Feb 5 '10 at 11:52
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@Jeff if you start counting who of all 3000+ users actually uses their powers, that SU probably has a much lower activity rate in moderating compared to SO –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 12:19
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I was surprised at closing the iPhone SSH question, I'd have been quite interested to see what the community folks do with a jailbroken phone. It also seemed in the right ballpark for SU. –  Kev Feb 5 '10 at 12:25
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Its useful for SlidetoAsk, not SU –  Ivo Flipse Feb 5 '10 at 13:33
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@Jeff: If you don't see the problem, please try using the site effectively and try to be really active on it for a couple of days, then you'll see the light, or rather... the darkness. Also: look at the links that random provided in his answer. –  fretje Feb 5 '10 at 13:37
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@Diago: the FAQ indicates that doing things with smartphones that involve a computer is OK to ask questions about. (or.. have i misread "except smartphones such as iPhone that interface with your computer" ?) as SSH isn't a standard feature of the iPhone, the device seems to be used more as a computer than a phone. this is one area that i think your interpretation of the FAQ is at fault, not mine. but since you are the SU mod here, i do try to respectfully defer to your judgement. i hope you don't take my disagreeing opinion as disrespect. –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 14:03
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@~quack. Not taking the disagreement in any way. The correct interpretation is: If there is a problem between your iPhone and Computer when syncing, ie, I can't get iTunes to connect or it is not syncing my calender, then it will be allowed. However anything running on the iphone with no computer involved, even if it is SSH, is not acceptable. The only reason I can be clear on it is because I asked for the FAQ update. –  Diago Feb 5 '10 at 14:06
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@Diago - ah. so "interfacing" has a specific meaning here. see, i assume that an SSH server running on an iPhone and being connected to from a desktop computer would count as "interfacing". the way you explain it is actually much more exclusive than the faq wording suggests. –  quack quixote Feb 5 '10 at 14:12
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@Lance I disagree, and I don't think Jeff is saying it's OK to do so either. If a question is meant to be closed, and you answer it anyway, your doing the OP, and the community a disservice, since you therefore invalidate the duplicate. Also your creating a duplicate answer. However, the purpose of this discussion is to decide if something should be done, either via stricter penalty boxes for SU, or by change the closing process, or nothing at all. In the end, no matter what community or myself feel or say, the site is Jeff's and he needs to decide what is best for the goals he has with SU. –  Diago Feb 5 '10 at 22:04
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I think throwing high-rep users who answer questions likely to be closed into the penalty box is too harsh, and we should not act in a manner that scares newbies away. The aggressive approach to moderation on Stack Exchange certainly has led to sites that are clean, but we also need to help users who have genuine problems. There are quite a few questions with "help!!!" and similar because they need an answer quickly.

The way to go here is to instruct experienced users to direct new users to the appropriate resources (FAQ, other questions, etc.) using a friendly tone. We need to encourage users to participate and assist others with problems. If a question is a duplicate, we can send out a notice through the global inbox to prepare users to edit their answers for merging into the other question, and merge the questions together such that subtle differences present in the two questions are reflected in the merged question.

I know this involves additional work on the part of moderators and high-rep users, but we need to do this in a way that encourages participation, not lock out desperate users seeking an answer they easily can't find otherwise.

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Agreed, but there's really no point in answering questions that are obviously off topic. I don't think this is a major issue though these days. As for duplicates, I don't think we have a massive problem like there used to be (just take a look at how old this discussion is). We now have a much bigger staff of community members who are able to vote to close, and there is a much bigger diversity in the folks who answer questions. –  slhck May 17 '12 at 8:55
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