The title pretty much says it all. As a proper question, though, what steps can we take to ensure that people unfamiliar with StackExchange aren't immediately downvoted to oblivion and talked condescendingly to? It would be useful if we could prevent people from driving off those knowledgeable about Latin but not familiar with the StackExchange format.
I believe we can do a better job at this.
This site needs to build more momentum to become viable. To that end, we need to attract new users and make sufficiently many of them stay. There are many excellent Latinists out there that I would like to see joining our ranks, but few of them have prior knowledge of the site. New users should of course learn to use the site properly, but they must be given time and support to do so. The site is not as simple to use as an SE veteran might think.
Another important thing to notice is that we are not being hit by a wave of difficult new users. I have seen no trolls here. We have few new users coming in every day, and we do by all means have the resources to say a warm welcome to everyone. This is not the case on some big SE sites. We can afford to be flexible.
Also, we are only just building our community and its standards. New users are welcome to take part in steering this site to a new direction. Some standards come from the SE framework, but not all. If a user does something wrong, we can tell them how to do things right instead of underlining that something wrong has happened.
There can of course be new users who post very low quality questions and answers, and we should not accept everything. If a new users posts something that needs improvement, I kindly ask the more experienced users to refrain from downvoting and to leave a comment that describes how the post could be improved to reach its full potential. If the new user refuses to collaborate even though helpful advice has been given, then downvoting might be in place, but please give time to react. A downvote can feel very hostile to a new user and they might not realize that the vote can be revoked once the post is edited.
As a side note, I felt that my initial welcoming to the StackExchange network was more harsh than necessary. (I do not blame any individual for this, but a certain overall harsh way of accepting new users.) I did seriously consider leaving the network alone, but I decided to stay. If I had walked away, I would never have found my way to Latin.SE.
Joonas's answer is spot-on. Let me suggest a few practical considerations:
- The votes and comments that a new user's post receives in large part are going to define his perception of the site's culture. Therefore:
- Disagreements related to moderation and site policy should not be aired in the comments of a new user's post. Of course, discussion of the actual content of the post is fine, but site-related arguments inform the new user's perception, even if the negativity is not directed at him. Questioning or challenging the actions of other established users is often fine, but if it relates to a new user's post it should take place in chat or in a new meta post instead.
- Comments should be uniformly welcoming and helpful. There's nothing wrong with suggesting improvements that would bring the answer in line with SE standards, but this can be done while maintaining a welcoming tone.
- Welcoming comments could point to meta pages that go into more detail about our expectations. A meta post like "What does a good answer look like?" could be referenced.
- Deletion, especially right now, seems permanent to new users. So consider:
- Flags immediately ask established users to make a decision to delete or not, even though they may wish to provide more time to the new user. So, before flagging the answer as low quality or not an answer, consider first taking action to bring the answer into line with site standards and explaining to the new user why that action was taken.
- Moderators can undelete posts. Once we have our own moderators, they will do most of the actual deletions, and when they do so in cases like this, they should comment, saying, "We encourage you to edit your post to bring it in line with site guidelines, and once you do, please flag it so that I or another moderator can undelete it for you."
And finally, remember: some people simply won't like SE's rules. They might prefer to contribute in a more relaxed environment like Reddit or a discussion forum, and there's nothing wrong with that. In such cases we'll simply need to agree to disagree and go our separate ways, but we should do our best to make sure that new users go elsewhere only because they prefer a different format, not because we failed to welcome them.