It appears that StackExchange sites, including SuperUser, are designed to convey hostility to newbies, non-professionals, and other outsiders whose form of expression is not advantaged by the preferred insider culture.

I have written up several examples to illustrate that conclusion, so as to focus attention on the question of why: why do these sites penalize good, original questions and helpful answers -- and, on another level, why are such sites designed to discourage and punish those who question such outcomes?

Again, the focus here is on the intrinsic design of the site, not on the negativity that such design fosters in some users.

As I say, I have written up those examples. For reasons described in that writeup, it appears that SuperUser would be hostile to what I have written. Hence, I have posted it elsewhere.

  • 5
    Since I only really want to comment about two sentences I will submit a comment. “I posted an answer to a question. It linked to a blog post where I had gone through the answer in detail. What I posted did not seem any different from any number of other answers I have seen on Stack Exchange.” - So you submitted an answer which contained a link to your blog, which contained the answer to the question, and the answer to the question didn’t contain the actual answer to the question. We are not a forum. We are not here to drive considerable traffic to your blog. We want answers here. QED
    – Ramhound
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 2:13
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    What is funny is that, this very question doesn’t provide any of these examples, in the question body. We have to click a link, go to an unknown website, to view these examples. While it is a quality content, it serves the community little good, if it’s on another website. Furthermore the examples don’t do a good enough job of really fleshing out and supporting your point of view. It falls short, I am left wondering, and honestly wanting more examples to actually respond and submit an answer to your question
    – Ramhound
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 2:20
  • 1
    The Stack Exchange traffic volume suggests that you're starting from a bad premise, that the sites penalize good, original questions and helpful answers. That couldn't be farther from the truth. As for hostility, the Politics site kind of fits your description if your views aren't left wing. A couple of other sites have some domineering regulars with strong opinions and little patience. I haven't seen that on the big technical sites on an "institutional scale". It certainly is not intrinsic to the Stack Exchange concept. In fact, the first rule of Stack Exchange is "be nice". (cont'd)
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 5:02
  • 1
    In any community, you will see human nature, and it won't be exemplary 100% of the time. What little unwelcoming behavior I've seen here has never been directed at people posting good content. You've developed a negative perspective, which has led to selective observations and gravitating to like-minded expressions of dissatisfaction. If you see hostility, call it out. If you think the whole Stack Exchange is a festering pit of hostility, don't be a masochist. Just find a site that you like better.
    – fixer1234
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 5:02
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    -1 for disguising an assertion as a question. It's ingenuine to "invite" dialog about your observations if you've already reached a conclusion before hearing the other side of the story. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 12:14
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    I've added a link to my answer on his blog. Seemed appropriate
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 14:41
  • Per J.G. (below): "metas are relatively judgement free." An excellent illustration of the problem: by SU standards, "judgment free" means I get -10 for speaking up. ... Ramhound: "We want answers here." Wrong. See Help: "Unlike normal Stack Exchange sites, Meta invites the community to discuss..." Ramhound: "We have to click a link." Exactly. Even Meta is hostile to this sort of discussion. ... fixer1234: "Just find a site that you like better" -- i.e., go away. We do. Re hostility, if you don't want to read the writeup, Ramhound's answer and the score illustrate the problem. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 22:31
  • Tried to respond briefly to all, but not enough space. Twisty: wrong. Read what I wrote. The question acknowledges the impression that SU is designed to be hostile to outsiders. There is nothing "ingenuine" about having an openly acknowledged impression. The impression is supported by evidence. If you had read it, you would know your point is mistaken. It is disingenuous to advance a moral criticism of an opponent when you have not even bothered to understand his argument. In any case, I have posed a question. Your comment does not address it. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 23:10
  • @RayWoodcock 10 people disagree with you. That said, there's no actual loss of reputation or any other actual issues. People are welcome to their views - and disagreeing with people is an essential part of meta.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 23:21
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    You also haven't "spoken up". You've effectively spammed us with your blog post on how evil we are without giving us a chance to discuss it here. If you want any constructive discussion at all then you should be posting constructively on this site.
    – Mokubai Mod
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 9:35
  • Journeyman: I do appreciate the more thoughtful responses (below). But I have replied to those attempts. They appear to underscore the hostility to outsiders motivating the original question. The point remains: 17 downvotes, now, for essentially expanding upon your own observations of rudeness to outsiders (meta.superuser.com/questions/12972/…). Mokubai: wrong: as elaborated below, for reasons of brevity, I was actually not welcome to post the relevant material on this site. Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 4:50
  • Good observation! +1
    – user1061912
    Commented May 10, 2020 at 20:48

3 Answers 3


Kinda ironically, I'm torn between commenting on your blog and answering here. I'd like to start by saying I'll be reproducing sections of your blog post for the purposes of trying to address your issues. Having read through this though, I'm unsure that you'd be satisfied but I've tried my best.

This post contains the text of a question that I originally planned to post on SuperUser, a StackExchange website. By the time I finished it, however, I realized that its style and substance would draw hostility at SuperUser.

Unlike Meta.stackexchange (formerly meta.stackoverflow) - per site metas are relatively judgement free. There's no penalty for votes and your reputation is independant of the votes here.

For instance, Gaius Augustus asked, “Is superuser unfriendly to beginners?” His question pertained primarily to rudeness among users.

And folk have addressed his issues - we still don't have any examples

newbies were barred from basic participation (in this instance, the ability to volunteer a link), due to lack of SuperUser reputation points.

Its an anti spam measure - and has been effective there. That said, the community has been known to fix up inactive links or edit in links from comments or wrongly posted answers as needed.

The image shows that I had gotten as far as stating my question, and then the SuperUser site promptly responded with a criticism, as follows:

A quick search on meta suggests it was put in place years ago

What algorithm does Stack Exchange use to determine if a question may be subjective?

This does smell like a potential bug, and might need a dev looking at it. However, had it been a subjective question, it helps new users reframe their question to be better. These tooltips are things that have been added in response to actual, real world issues we've faced.

This was a question I posed on StackOverflow. It was a question about batch files.

Oddly enough, totally on topic here, and a better fit for us

The problem arising in that instance was captured by user623852, who asked, “Why is SuperUser such a negative board?” Data advanced by that user, and by respondents to his/her question, supported the impression of a negative bias.

Shog's a CM, and his word is as canonical as it gets.

Note that this includes posts that were deleted: spam, abusive trolling, blatantly off-topic, etc. If you exclude deleted questions, the picture is somewhat more rosy:

Of course stuff like this gets downvoted and closed... which looks a little worse overall.

The answer may be that the SuperUser site placed trust in its insiders. For some purposes, that trust was surely warranted. But people who have been doing this stuff for years can become impatient with beginners. Some of those responsible for building and maintaining the site may have become effectively incompetent, for purposes of instructing newbies, just as a college English professor might be incompetent at teaching first-grade reading. The site did not appear to be structured to counteract any tendency toward that sort of incompetence over time.

Citations needed - I've been here from since just past the beta and I'm entirely aware of how the QA format needs a certain amount of mental rewiring for someone used to the traditional forum. That said, our structure - of community edits (with benefits for newer users) helps with smaller issues. Folks also often comment asking for clarification.

SE's designed by nature to be about maximising signal - there's little room to be impatient. The smart, experienced ones don't react (too much). We go for stuff to answer. We sometimes try to guide - if we have the patience, but even those teachable moments are through comments (which are transient) or meta.

There's also, both formally and informally, various amounts of mentorship going on. If someone's unsure why a question got closed, or they got question/answer banned, I'm sure someone would be happy, if they had the time, to go through and fix things.

That said, if you must allege structural incompetence, please show evidence of this - at worst, we'll deal with it, but this is the sort of over-broad statement that's unproductive.

The foregoing examples involved the first of those two levels: they illustrated built-in support for potentially irresponsible negativity toward legitimate questions that were perhaps not phrased or conceived as an expert would phrase or conceive them.

The language here... Basically attempts to delegitimise anyone who disagrees. If a question is good but badly written we fix. One of the big changes in the site over time is how we went from closing questions to putting on hold. And I often comment "Hey, this is the issue with your post" and let them know that they can flag the specific post for undeletion or reopening.

The second level involved structural hostility toward those who would question this state of affairs.

And... you've basically gone "anyone who disagrees with me is hostile". We don't actually always defend the status quo.

In that case, someone summarized my question in these words: “Why am I getting push-back for linking to my own blog posts in answers?”

I've nothing to add to what lightness wrote. That's an excellent answer. This is the canonical question. You'll need to click through and read another post - which is what SE tries to avoid making you do - self contained answers are awesome.

The hostility toward me was particularly intensive, in that case, due to a rising level of personal dislike voiced by a StackExchange moderator who admitted having an emotional response — which, even if it had been appropriate, should never have played a role in the website’s response to my question.

Super vague accusation. If a moderator is being 'unfair' - you can take it up with the CM team. While we're only human, we're supposed to try not to let stuff like that get in the way. PERSONALLY, I'd pass it on to another mod or at least give myself some time for perspective.

I'd like to close by reproducing the tags on the post

This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged abuse, abusive, discourage, hostile, negative, newbies, newcomers, outsiders, rude, StackExchange, StackOverflow, SuperUser.

I'll leave it to the community to decide what they think of those.

  • I appreciate the time and detail in this reply. I also appreciate the generally balanced tone. The reply is unfortunately dismissive on multiple points. Example: "super vague accusation" in response to my remarks about the StackExchange moderator. The specifics are voluminous, and did not need to be reproduced; the reader could just click on the link and see them for him/herself. Generally, the reply seems to reflect a thoughtful insider's apologia. It tends to reinforce the original point: the outsider's voice needs to be heard more clearly inside. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 22:07

When I commented earlier, I hadn't read the linked material, basically for the same reason linked content is discouraged in general -- besides it becoming unavailable, it's a pain in the butt to go chasing after information that's critical to the post. But curiosity got the better of me.

I rarely succumb to posting something negative or hostile, but sorry, that whiny blog just got the better of me.

Including the links to like-minded posts, it goes on and on about micro-aggressions and institutional discrimination and conspiracy theory and connecting random sparse dots to make a scribble that means something. Out of hundreds of thousands of registered users and tens of millions of posts throughout the Stack Exchange, and uncountable components of user interface that have been developed to implement the SE concept, you found a few bad or suboptimal examples and a couple of people who, at one time or another, seemed to agree with your conclusion.

Despite a long association with the Stack Exchange, it reflects a complete lack of understanding of the site and its objectives. For that matter, I didn't see the badge that indicates that you have ever even bothered to look at the site tour on any SE site. While cherry picking a couple of threads favorable to your conclusions, you didn't bother to look through any of the discussion that explains the newbie misconceptions you complain about.

An analogy: when you drive down the street and come to a stop sign, it just says "stop". It doesn't say "Welcome to our friendly town. If it's not too much trouble, could you please stop here at your convenience? Thank you very much." The fact that it just says "stop" is not hostility, it's there to help you and others.

Packages of microwave food carry a warning that it will be hot when you take it out of the oven. That is not a statement about you, personally, being too stupid to know that.

You can find endless examples like these of government institutions doing things that you can interpret in a negative way if you are so inclined and try hard enough. Does that mean the whole country and all of its institutions are designed to be hostile?

Any massive enterprise starts with nothing but an idea. It gets implemented through a huge investment of effort, time, and money over a long time, and gets improved and refined along the way. At some point, an individual notices some examples of rough edges. They can look at those in the context of the significance in the big picture and in relation to the history, and marvel at how minor the remaining imperfections are. Or, they can compare it to a Utopian ideal in their head and complain about how bad and intolerable those problems are.

No enterprise can be everything for everybody. A vast number of people find the Stack Exchange helpful and inviting. The great majority of regulars and visitors don't find the atmosphere hostile, and most newcomers quickly become familiar with the culture if they have an interest in being here for more than their immediate question.

The site is what it is. Sure, we can identify things here and there that can still be improved. But keep in mind that with any system as complex as this, few changes are trivial or without the potential for unanticipated consequences. And anything based on a community of volunteers is going to reflect human nature.

You put a lot of work into that blog post. But it's basically a rant. Did you give any thought to the purpose of the post, i.e., what you wanted to accomplish with it? What audience did you think would be receptive to the message as presented?

There's nothing that binds anyone to the site. If you don't find it satisfactory and the community is not receptive to your observations, maybe it just isn't a good match. Why subject yourself to an environment that you find hostile? Don't keep poking a stick in your eye and then blogging about how painful it is and how bad the stick is. Just find a site that's a better match for you. Life is short. Choose to position yourself to enjoy it rather than wallow in an unsatisfactory situation you can easily change.

Even better, create your own site and show us how it should be done properly. If you do that, though, expect that someone will come along and complain about how bad it is because it doesn't fully meet their conceptual ideal of what the perfect site for them would be.

OK, I feel much better now.

  • 2
    This is a perfect example of an answer I wish I could upvote more than once :)
    – DavidPostill Mod
    Commented Sep 29, 2017 at 20:35
  • I wish I were this eloquent. One tiny point in the OP’s defense: he has been a user since before the “Informed” badge existed.  Of course that makes it all the more disappointing that, in all that time, he hasn’t managed to learn the rules. Commented Oct 1, 2017 at 2:35
  • Fixer1234 - you misunderstand what a "rant" is. My blog post is not that. As you admit, it cites specific instances in support. What you have written here, however, does qualify as a rant. Predictably, your fellow believers applaud it. I suggest cutting back on the wild rhetoric and trying to focus on specifics. For instance, instead of going on about "a complete lack of understanding of the site and its objectives," you might offer at least one example to support your claim. We can discuss that constructively, and then maybe you and/or I will learn something. Commented Mar 28, 2018 at 4:23

There are excellent analyses above so I will only summarize:

Everyone got very little time in life - no need to click on a link to a picture that can be embedded (we as a community edit those) - no need to link to an answer, we mostly flag those, that should be posted on SU.

The idea is that anyone coming here is able to find answers to questions already asked by others quickly - ideally with a glance, within seconds

also the site has pretty clear guidance - the issue (related to the above) is that very few newbies read it. We try to point them to the rules, best practices etc. but the success rate is low in my experience - very few would read and edit - those questions get flagged

  • Too darned true.
    – Journeyman Geek Mod
    Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 8:15
  • You've expressed the essential contradiction. Insiders expect the site to provide answers "with a glance, within seconds." Outsiders have the same expectation. That's how the web works. If SU et al. wish to depart from that, they can require non-insiders to take a test, before allowing them to participate in any way. SU et al. opt, instead, to let outsiders plunge right in. Then the attacks begin. Surely it's not a deliberate trap. But that is the net effect. Commented Sep 28, 2017 at 22:18

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