I just had the following conversation with a friend of mine, summarizing him grumbling about RPG.SE not being very useful to him.

Mikhail: Being a total stranger to the resource, i come there, and look at the front page of questions, just clicking on the ones that look interesting. half are trivial, the others have immediate comments of "rewrite this" or "too general/specific, throw away"

Mikhail: I don't feel like i'm wanted here

Brian: Well, what do you mean by wanted? Cause you do have a lot of gaming knowledge. So we can use your answers.

Mikhail: my input, whatever it would be, will be criticized for not fitting some criteria or others, until i learn what the spoken and unspoken rules are like. this presents 2 clear options

Mikhail: 1) put effort and time into learning the rules, observe how people post and answer questions

Mikhail: 2) shrug and not bother writing answers that will not be appreciated despite being correct

How can we make the site more approachable for newcomer experts?


12 Answers 12

One way to help: address the tone of the comments.

We're all geeks, and we prize efficiency. Some questions are closed in a way that feels efficient to the poster but brusque and dismissive to newbies.

Some posts are closed after a few terse "This looks off-topic" comments.

Often, posts are simply closed, with little or no explanation to the questioner besides the (also brusque) text "closed as not a real question...It's difficult to tell what is being asked here. This question is ambiguous, vague, incomplete, overly broad, or rhetorical and cannot be reasonably answered in its current form. See the FAQ."

Put another way: if a family member asked you a question, can you imagine answering him or her with those words?

So, a solution is to add a comment explaining the close in a friendly way, describing why the question is off-topic. I'm not suggesting we coddle people; just that the directness of the current interface could be softened by a human touch.


This started as a comment on @mxyzplk's answer... and then it got long.

If we're thinking of and describing our FAQ as "a big ol faq or whatnot" I think it means our FAQ could use some streamlining and editing. It literally is the "New to the site? Go read this!" page:

rpg.stackexchange page showing the message 'Welcome to the Q&A for gamemasters and players of tabletop, pen-and-paper role playing games - check out the FAQ'. 'FAQ' is a hyperlink to the FAQ page

One thing I find interesting is that our FAQ contains both sections What kind of questions can I ask here? and What kind of questions should I not ask here?... but more than half of What kind of questions can I ask here? is devoted to what not to ask and where else to ask questions which don't belong here.

I think the above fact is interesting on its own; it reflects the way the community seems really fixated on what rpg.stackexchange is not as opposed to what it is. Mikhail's opinion (from the original question) of the community also reflects that mentality; there are lots of concrete rules people can cite when pointing the finger claiming others aren't fitting in, but not as many rules for others to understand quickly how to integrate; the only way they can integrate is the long way.

So I think we need to brush up that What kind of questions can I ask here? section, thinking of it as a "rpg.stackexchange bill of rights" which anyone can easily cite saying "Yes, my question belongs here".


We still have the same problem: the "get off my lawn" part of the FAQ "What kind of questions can I ask here?" is still lengthier than the "welcome to our site part" - visually it's twice as big and textually it's 30+ words longer:

The FAQ on April 1 2011

This makes no sense and is redundant since there is another section of the FAQ devoted to "What kind of questions should I not ask here" later on...

absolutely! Feel free to edit the FAQ and make it better -- that's what the "edit" button on it is for! (note that only diamond mods can edit the FAQ, though) – Jeff Atwood Feb 6 '11 at 10:29
But anyone can propose changes here on meta and I think is a great suggestion for some brainstorming. – Pat Ludwig Feb 7 '11 at 17:38
Whoops! My bad, that's an unintended consequence of trying to communicate the guidelines. I'll open a new meta topic, please contribute your ideas for a better, more positive FAQ there. – C. Ross Feb 10 '11 at 21:19
@C.Ross - Not your fault at all for writing it; it's the community's FAQ, and it was written at a time where we more concerned about scope and quality. Now we're concerned about the new-user-experience. – LeguRi Feb 10 '11 at 23:21
This is probably the wrong place to keep talking about the FAQ problems since there's now a question specifically for the FAQ changes; C. Ross made edits based on the consensus there... meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/885/site-faq-attempt-2 – mxyzplk Apr 1 '11 at 22:50

I think that this group is too fast to close questions down. It seams that a few of the regulars have topics that they either don't like, find uninteresting or seam to think is an incorrect question. This makes it seam a very unfriendly place, it is better to correct a question, to improve it or to point it to a matching question before closing it down. Newbie are the life and soul of a community, frighten them away and you will be left with only the old hands, that can't post on anything as it has already been done. Also, sometimes an old question can be re-asked and new answers found, there is no point posting new answer to an already blessed answer on a previous question.

Some good points. We don't want to allow bad questions in just because the poster is a neophyte, but we do want to favor edit, comment, and flagging over down votes. And taking the time to explain things to new posters in a friendly tone when closing is necessary. – AceCalhoon Feb 8 '11 at 15:44

Well, a community like this has to balance "the Stack Exchange way" with "Not being dicks." I feel bad for people who come and ask a question that in their minds seems reasonable (like "where's the Star Wars license" guy) and bam it gets shut down. Justified or not, they'll be leaving and not coming back, obviously. But of course we need to have some concern (maybe not as much as we have, but some concern) over having good questions. Not every question on SO/SF is one for the ages, I'll note.

Now, I don't see as much of a problem with answers. It's "hard" to write a good SE question out of the gate, but the only real reason to not write a good answer is that you're not writing an answer, you're writing a discussion-forum-esque comment. And the response to those should be to migrate them to comments. I am dubious that anyone who is a real expert will write many answers that will get massively downvoted, massive downvotes tend to be for people being hostile in some way or completely off topic. Now, some people do get all butthurt about like one downvote, and that's sad but nothing to do about that.

Also, it seems like the rules are hard to find - we need to figure out a way to have a very clear "New to the site? Go read this!" that concisely (not as part of a big ol faq or whatnot) explains the basic concept of the questions/answers nature of the site. I can write one up, need to figure out how to place it prominently enough though.

"it seems like the rules are hard to find - we need to figure out a way to have a very clear "New to the site? Go read this!" that concisely" uhh.. I highly recommend you visit this site in Google Chrome Incognito mode (or some other web browser you never use) and see what the new user experience is like yourself. We practically TACKLE them with the damn /faq. – Jeff Atwood Feb 6 '11 at 10:29
Until you click it, making it go away, which is the first action most people take, and then you look around, then you go to post and have no cues... A one time banner is not full communication. We need to rewrite the FAQ to be "most important stuff first" and we probably need to get that content in more places. You know, it might be nice on someone's first comment, first post, first vote, etc. to be able to link them over to the right part of the FAQ - "Hey, before your first post, read this to make sure it goes smoothly..." – mxyzplk Feb 7 '11 at 2:18
have you viewed the question ask interface lately? It has multiple links to the /faq in the sidebar. If your argument is that people don't read -- well, exactly. Good luck fixing that. :) meta.stackexchange.com/questions/33482/… – Jeff Atwood Feb 7 '11 at 4:45
you might also go into Chrome Incognito mode on stackoverflow.com and click the ask a question button to see the difference there; documented at blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/10/asking-better-questions – Jeff Atwood Feb 7 '11 at 4:46

Your friend seems to be looking at how questions are policed and extrapolating that the same is done for answers.

That assumption is understandable, but incorrect. SE is extremely accepting of answers both in the system (you can't vote to delete them) and in culture (rarely do people argue in comments to an answer).

If we're going to think on how to make the site more welcoming to new experts, I think we need to somehow emphasise that not only are all answers welcome, but that eliminating bad questions is a feature of the system for the benefit of people who like to answer interesting questions.

And on that note I'm going to address the part of Mikhail's comments that have gone without comment so far, and go out on a 4e limb: A portion—not most or even many, but enough to taint the well—of the 4e questions asked here seem to be ridiculously trivial. I get the (perhaps mistaken) impression that many people are playing using only DDi without reading the books, and come here to ask questions that would be trivially answerable if they had ever Read The Fine Rules. To be fair, I've noticed this with 3.5 too, where a small number of questions look like the asker is trying to play using only the SRD, having never read the actual rules—but it's 4e questions that dominate the front page and end up setting the tone of the site.

I submit that a significant percentage of trivial rules questions—enough to form a visible trend—is a flaw for attracting experts. Those questions are just boring. To connect this to the first half of my answer, I don't think we're doing a good job of eliminating bad questions when it comes to The Most Popular Game.

Mikhail's impression was that the questions he saw were all either trivial or shut down, and if we are going to discuss how to make this kind of potential user more welcome, we should really be addressing both halves of that equally.

You make 2 very good points here. As someone who answers a lot of potentially trivial D&D4 questions, I am not opposed to the site taking a stronger stance against them. I would suspect that my definition of "trivial" catches fewer questions than some other people, but the site gives us great tools (close/downvote/comment) to come to consensus. – Pat Ludwig Feb 7 '11 at 18:10
On the other hand, while the questions may seem trivial, they are being asked, and presumably asked in good faith, by people hoping for answers. A Q&A site in which an on-topic honestly posted question is declared "trivial" and shut down will not be able to attract new people. – Simon Withers Feb 10 '11 at 2:32
@Simon That's true, but are they topical? I don't have a problem with seemingly-trivial Qs on the own, but we shouldn't increase their number by tolerating Qs that are just asking us to read the rules for them because they won't. I seem to recall that such Qs were considered off-topic at one point. – SevenSidedDie Feb 10 '11 at 5:28
"just asking us to read the rules for them because they won't" or "don't know where to find a rule in a game with a few thousand pages of rules"? Not everyone has a DDI subscription, and not everyone has a good enough memory of all the rules to know where to find a specific one. – Simon Withers Feb 10 '11 at 14:31
@Simon Since I'm not a 4e player, I'm not equipped to judge the difference in those cases. I can, however, provide the view of an outsider to those questions while having the perspective of an insider to the site. And what I see from here is a lot of questions that appear trivial, rules-reading trivial. I provide that view to stir the pot. I'm only suggesting that the people who know 4e and answer those questions should think about how such questions impact (or not) the site. – SevenSidedDie Feb 10 '11 at 18:51

Two approachability suggestions (just minor things):

Coming here from Reddit, the instinct to upvote is automatic and it stinks to click the arrow and be denied. Also, upvotes only give one karma on Reddit so you think "I have to get 15 upvotes before I can register my opinion? Forget it." I would change the hover text somehow to say say "Requires 15 reputation to upvote (15 rep = about two upvoted answers)".

The other thing is that I thought the privilege "talk in chat" sounded like "ability to banter in the comments under each answer," and I was confused trying to find the link. I'd change the privilege name to "talk in live chat," so I'd know whether I was interested in it.

UI suggestions should be posted as a topic to meta.stackoverflow.com, where the devs hang out. I think the upvote clarification would be a particularly good idea. This topic is more about what we can do as a community to help fold in new users, given that we don't have access to change the UI. – AceCalhoon Dec 28 '11 at 14:02
OK, I did that (fortunately I already had an ID on that site so it wasn't a huge pain). – Noumenon Dec 28 '11 at 17:31
You can also just post feature requests here, but on a separate question, as @AceCalhoon notes. – Pat Ludwig Dec 30 '11 at 23:13

I think perhaps you're asking the wrong questions.

What topical sites does this person participate on? How do they work? What audience do they have? Why do they work for him?

(And if the answer to the above is "he doesn't participate on any", then well.. that's that.)

There are a lot of people in love with the phpBB status quo and you will never change them. Furthermore -- we don't want to. We want the smart users who are sick of the discussiony, signature-laden phpBB status quo and want a higher signal to noise ratio -- even if, yes, that requires so many stupid rules!

You know, rules like.. stay on topic.. ask questions that can be answered.. don't waste our time with idle discussion, stuff like that. :)

Maybe I'm missing your point, but I don't think Mikhail has a problem with the rules: he specifically stated "I don't feel like i'm wanted here" - which really is a statement about the people in the community, not the rules of the community. Rules can't make you feel unwanted, and I think his criticism of them is less a direct criticism of the rules than it is a criticism of using the rules as tool to make him feel unwanted. (am I making sense?) – LeguRi Feb 7 '11 at 2:58
@leguri some people don't want any rules -- they want a discussiony community where EVERYTHING is on topic and everyone is always doing the correct thing. I've seen this thousands of times, and it never works out. Either you understand what the rules are for, and you see the benefit of a high signal to noise ratio in a community -- or you want a "favorite RPG cartoons" community where everyone's posts are welcome no matter what. – Jeff Atwood Feb 7 '11 at 3:04
I don't think that's what Mikhail is saying and as someone who's been with this site from the beginning, "nothing is wrong" is not correct or helpful. We don't have to let it become a discussion forum, but the current way people are getting introduced to "the SE way" is not friendly and is alienating potential users. – mxyzplk Feb 7 '11 at 4:19
@mxy the idea that everyone is capable of making the switch is also toxic and potentially destructive. The young turks who understand the benefits will migrate; the old guard never will, and trying to get them to is ultimately futile. Just some observations based on my 2.5 years of experience in our engine. Shrug. Take my advice and do as you please. – Jeff Atwood Feb 7 '11 at 4:34
Look man, IMO we're seeing large scale rejection of this site by the RPG community. There's blog posts on it and people like in this OP trying to indicate why. "There's not a problem" is not an acceptable answer, because the site is nowhere near a sustainable level. – mxyzplk Feb 7 '11 at 5:14
@mxy where is this blog post? I don't see any reference to it in the question. – Jeff Atwood Feb 7 '11 at 5:31
meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/774/… which references xbowvsbuddha.blogspot.com/2010/12/… and gothridgemanor.blogspot.com/2010/08/… plus various of our blog posts promoting RPG SE. – mxyzplk Feb 7 '11 at 5:44
@mxy I'm all for changing the /faq to whatever you think it should be. You hold the diamond, click edit and make it so. But this idea that the site can please everyone .. is a little dangerous. As I like to say, if you aren't pissing somebody off some of the time, you probably aren't very interesting. I can cite dozens of blog posts explaining why Stack Overflow is broken, why it will fail, why users are pissed off that other people edit their questions, the voting is unfair, etc etc etc. – Jeff Atwood Feb 7 '11 at 5:58
Pretty much no one I know in the RPG e-verse has taken to RPG.SE. It's the same eight people and a bunch of 4e questions. At this rate, I guess maybe it's not for me either. – mxyzplk Feb 7 '11 at 6:07
I guess what I'm trying to get across is that while we may be meeting some arbitrary metrics, as a community insider I do not consider us to be healthy or growing in a meaningful way. Some of the problem may be that there are not many RPG "young turks," it is predominantly an old guard hobby. But I am saying to you, there is widespread disregard of it, and I think that's a problem, and I'm concerned that y'all don't, since that means it's unlikely to change. – mxyzplk Feb 9 '11 at 0:33
In other words, if any of them participate on forums, then aha! they are obviously not a good fit for SE and we can wash our hands of it. The people above, and the many others I've talked to, participate on blogs and forums. Because that's what exists; anyone who's into RPGs online frequent the major forums (unless they've gotten unwelcome in which case they're in the second tier of forums). The core problem is that someone who DOES want to go to a lower noise solution, who WOULD be happy with solid Q&A on the topic, are being driven away. – mxyzplk Feb 9 '11 at 14:17
Not because the core SE format is "a stone to make men stumble," but because it's hard to get going and 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 f*ck off topic or an acceptable answer or community wiki means this month... It's a lot of into, it's inconsistent and rapidly changing, and that provides an artificial barrier to entry. Simply categorizing those who are turned away by that barrier as "old guard" and dismissing them is a tautological exercise that refuses to learn. – mxyzplk Feb 9 '11 at 14:31
@mxy well, our traffic graph data respectfully chooses to disagree with your opinion. :) I hear what you're saying, but the reality is that 70% of the random BS that happens on forums is really disallowed here, and for good reason. You want an omelette, you gotta break some eggs. That said: you have control over the /faq as a diamond moderator, so I support whatever you want to do to improve it. – Jeff Atwood Feb 9 '11 at 17:41
@mxy This is a motorcycle. If someone wants it to be a standard car, and gets irritated because it is not the standard car they have grown to know and love, and riding it is awkward and it sucks in the rain ... well, we can't magically convert our motorcycle into a car. However, if you want to offer some motorcycle education and training courses, I fully support that. I don't know how to say this any more plainly? Perhaps email me directly to clarify? – Jeff Atwood Feb 10 '11 at 1:00
@JeffAtwood Question: How many new-user click-throughs does the FAQ get? Via the top bar? Splash banner? The sidelined link in the new-question page? Is there a pattern of page element blindness indicated? Our experience is that people just don't read it until they're already starting to invest in the site's operation, but it's unclear if that's true—and if so, why. – SevenSidedDie May 9 '12 at 6:40

A certain amount of 1) is necessary when joining any new community IMHO. A newcomer to any regular forum isn't necessarily going to be welcomed into the inner circle despite demonstrating obvious expertise. Does he feel that it would be an excessive amount for this community?

StackExchange is optimized for getting answers to your questions. I'd agree that it isn't necessarily optimized for new experts.

I get the feeling that I'm not answering your question as so much as restating it. :-S

I would point out that due to the mechanism of reputation and increasing access to new functionality based on the same that everyone is guaranteed a seat at the table here, unlike most other forums/sites. Especially with the site still in beta, it isn't a lengthy process to get the rep necessary to influence things.

Yeah :) But it's that first hurdle of "why should he care?" That seems to be scaring him away. – Brian Ballsun-Stanton Feb 5 '11 at 23:41
@Brian I'd say that if someone is asking "why should I care?" they're probably not motivated by the SE system and wouldn't stick around even if they tried, anyway. There are going to be people like that. I myself fell into the "why should I care?" camp when I first heard about it, but when I finally actually looked at it I was hooked. – SevenSidedDie Feb 10 '11 at 19:41

I just joined today. Promptly after writing my first question I was told I used an incorrect tag line. I will say that it wasn't rudely stated but it was surprising to just be called out. It would be great if we could answer questions more freely and easier. I was scanning through some questions that I would have liked to answer but cant because I have 0 reputation and no one has answered my question or voted on it, I cannot. I am new to these type of board pages but I feel like if I have a helpful answer that no one has posted, wouldn't it be positive for me to answer and help that person? I feel a little intimidated but I hope my experience will change.

Any user can ask a question or contribute an answer, regardless of how much reputation they have. The only reason why you would be unable to write an answer is if you had somehow received a ban, which is quite difficult to do. (And I'm pretty certain you haven't.) – Miniman Dec 24 '14 at 1:29
@Miniman Triggering a ban is literally impossible to do with only a single question. You need many really bad questions in quick succession to trigger that. – KRyan Dec 24 '14 at 4:41
gh0stm0use Misusing tags is really, really common for beginners (and honestly, for not-beginners too), but since they're really important, they have to get fixed. People here generally think they're being courteous and helpful when they explain what and why they've edited your stuff. They are trying to help you learn how stuff here works, because above all else, this site is really weird by the standards of most other sites. We know that and we try to explain that to new users by pointing out mistakes like that. It's not a black mark or attack or anything. – KRyan Dec 24 '14 at 4:47
@KRyan I understand. I made a mistake prior about not being able to answer a question. I didn't realize that commenting on another person's answer was different from posting your own answer. I understand about you guys teaching too. It's hard to read text. Usually it comes off in the wrong way even when you guys are trying to be helpful. It's just a little disheartening for first time users to see that one of the first comments on their question is to have it closed. But thank you for your approach and your words. I appreciate it. – gh0stm0use Dec 24 '14 at 5:13

As a thought after reading @mxyzplk 's answer, I think having a tab pop up saying 'read the FAQ' is not effective - in this age of advertising being shoved down your eyesockets, everyone just goes for the X button without reading what the tab says. I propose we give newcomers an incentive for reading the FAQ - like have a quiz that is only accessible from a link in the FAQ page with questions about the rules of the FAQ and based on what people just read (not aiming to provide a challenge - so in that sense, I suppose it's not a real quiz - but to provide an easy way for people to remember the most important rules, if not all, of this site) and if they get an X number of them right (or all of them, depending on what message we want to put through to the newcomer) then maybe they win something, like reputation or some medal? I am not sure if we can do that, I think we are bound by the same medals and rules about how to gain reputation as any other S.E site, but why not apply this idea to all S.E. sites, they could all benefit from it.

If that still doesn't work, well then we'll just have to keep closing off topic questions (explaining why we did in the right way, of course). But I don't think we should be too pushy about it; something like, for example, not letting people with less than X amount of rep post a question without having to scroll at the bottom of the FAQ page and clicking on a "I have read all this" button is a bit too paranoid and sanitized.

One of the Bronze badges is Analytical, which you get by reading every section of the FAQ. meta.rpg.stackexchange.com/badges/71/analytical – Jadasc Jan 2 '12 at 13:39

I'm not sure how we would go about directing people to them, but there certainly are some questions that are more "expert" level than others on the site (and I imagine we would have a heck of a time distilling such a list).

I wonder if there are any views that are more conducive to encouraging new experts than the front page?


With all that's been discussed so far, here's a few (perhaps opinionated) conclusions I've reached.

  1. The FAQ needs some work. Plain and simple, although the work itself may not quite be. We need to make it clearer what is and is not acceptable here, while at the same time putting some more emphasis on the former.

  2. We're too soft on "trivial" or "off-topic" questions. If we're really going to push for a certain level of "expertise" or "complexity" in our questions, and really want to disallow certain subjects or types of questions, we need to get better about closing them. This statement of course is only meant to address questions that cannot be modified to more properly fit the intent of the site - whatever we conclude that to be.

  3. Questions that are closed because they are genuinely not appropriate for the site should be deleted in relatively short order. This is just a simple matter of maintaining a clean site.

  4. We should continue to gently prod people into asking better questions. If a question is salvageable, either edit it directly or post a comment to the OP with appropriate suggestions.

  5. We need to start cleaning up our comment space. If certain comments have outlived their usefulness, such as edit suggestions that have already been implemented or rejected, or comment-debates that have run their course, it's time for them to go. Again, it's just another part of keeping a clean site and pleasant appearance.

but how is this relevant to the problem? I guarantee you it's not unpruned comments chasing people away. – mxyzplk Feb 11 '11 at 0:20
@mxyzplk - To the contrary, @BrianBallsunStanton's original post seems to support my conclusions. Mikhail clearly appears to be quite intimidated by the proliferation of criticism in the comments here. – Iszi Feb 11 '11 at 1:55
Removing the comments won't remove the pickiness, and to the contrary it might make it even harder to figure out "right behavior" without seeing earlier back-and-forths and fixes. – mxyzplk Feb 11 '11 at 1:58
It won't remove pickiness, but it will remove clutter and help to make the site appear more friendly. And, hopefully, the "right behavior" will be learned from a combination of the good examples left behind and a well-formed FAQ. – Iszi Feb 11 '11 at 3:12

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