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As a former new user of stackexchange, who used to think these were just open forums like any other, I had a hard time in some of the sites (and I still have, every once in a while) when asking basic questions in some of the sites.

Rules like what is on scope, how to ask questions, or a basic knowledge of the site's topic, tend to be presumed known, but new users sometimes just don't know them. Some just have honest inquiries with little or no previous knowledge and expect simple, (even quick), answers. While that kind of q/a is not the goal of SE, new user engagement is important to us. Too often, a bunch of quick, succinct comments implying these expectations of previous knowledge sound pedantic or impatient, and might result in a frustrated visitor who's less likely to come back.

I think Latin.SE has always been an exception to this trend, especially thanks to Joonas' patience and didactics. But lately I'm starting to become concerned about how we treat some of our new users.

I don't want to blame anyone (our intentions are rarely explicit in being unwelcoming to anyone), but please reread the comments to this question in the shoes of a user who just created an account and seems to have no previous experience of SE.

I don't have anyone specific in mind when writing this, and I think all of us can improve our attitude. It takes just a few more words to explain things in a more polite way.

Can we please renew the effort to make new users feel welcome?

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    I don't disagree that we should be welcoming, and the mods have been concerned about how we e.g. close threads. I should point out though that that user is not new, but creates accounts periodically and has been welcomed in the past (they've also bucked gentle advice). I presume this is why no one said "welcome;" they've been here and is well familiar with SE. I do agree with you in principle, and thanks for bringing it up.
    – cmw Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 14:39
  • Comment chains are a strange beast - I understand the issue of piling on, but I'm not sure what the best path forward is. Perhaps some of the answers to this question can suggest ideas.
    – cmw Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 14:40
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    @cmw My preferred reaction to a comment chain going off the tracks depends greatly on the specific circumstances. It's rarely as simple as just bickering. If the comments point out a serious misunderstanding in the question or if the OP is hostile towards suggestions, an amount of bluntness is justified. Selectively deleting some comments also distorts the discussion. I'd be happy to hear of any suggestions more detailed than judging things case by case.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 15:12

2 Answers 2

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Thanks for bringing this up! Worries like this must be aired so that we can take corrective action.

Here area a couple of miscellaneous comments on this specific case and the matter in general:

  1. This appears to be a serial user who has created a number of unregistered user accounts. This is at least the third account (first and second and third and fourth and fifth; I may have missed some). I requested merging and registering accounts under an earlier post, but the reaction was poor. And this just happened again.

    It is reasonably justified to not treat this user as a neutral newcomer, but someone with a not entirely positive history.

  2. If you ever see something unfriendly towards a new user, please raise a flag with a low threshold. If there are comments that fall too short of welcoming or only air disagreements between experienced users, they should be deleted. Moderators can only act quickly if they know quickly.

    Flags are a very valuable input from users, especially when raised by experienced ones like you. We discuss them in the moderator chat room and act in the short term and plan in the long term.

  3. Some questions are just bad, and some users have a tendency to produce such questions. Although we must be civil in dealing with these matters, there are problematic posts and users that cannot become acceptable on the site with any reasonable amount of help. The badness can take several different forms: lack of elaboration, unclear communication, hostile reaction to comments, behaving like a customer, being off topic… Whether this particular user or post suffers from these problems is for anyone to judge; my point here is only a general one.

    For this site to remain interesting and useful to our core contributors and those who stumble upon us via Google, we need to maintain some standards of quality. If we are extremely lenient and let anything go, the most valuable users will be fed up and leave. I know I will. But what those standards are is a matter of discussion, and our rejection should be friendly when a rejection is in order.

  4. Whenever you see a new user posting on the site and you have the energy, please leave a welcoming comment! It can be about asking for details, pointing to relevant other posts, or just thanking them for a great first question. Sometimes the first of us more seasoned users who sees the post is grumpy after a long day and struggles to find a friendly tone in the face of an issue.

    If you're feeling grumpy, please skip the question or flag it as appropriate. If you're feeling positive, please let it show to our newest user. It's no joke to ask people to be the change they wish to see in the world — on a site as small as ours that is very tangibly true.

  5. New and old users want different things. (Not all new ones are alike, nor are all old ones, but there are clear tendencies.) Many new users want a quick and simple answer to their quick and simple question — without realizing that it might have been asked, that it is unanswerable without context, that it is actually complicated, that the question is better answered by a reference book than a person, or something else. Many old users want to return every night to the familiar and interesting site where the nuances of Latin are discussed and debated, and can be irritated to see new users fill the front page with questions that appear to be uninteresting, ill-researched, of no broader use, already asked several times, or otherwise unfit. (These are exaggerations, but I hope the general directions are clear enough. These are based on my experiences across the whole network.)

    We need to strike a balance between the needs of new and old users. Neither end is good: We can't completely close our doors and keep the site exclusive to the core users, nor can we be open to everything and let go of standards. Where exactly to aim between the two extremes is up to debate and I will not go into any details here. I just wanted to record that I find both extremes detrimental. I strongly want us to be welcoming and supportive to newcomers but to keep relatively high quality standards that make the site useful and interesting — but this leaves a lot of room for implementation choices.

    (Thanks for bringing up this point of balance, Cerberus! Striking balances is the typical kind of problem we moderators discuss, and this one is certainly among them.)

  6. Keeping our welcome positive is an ongoing effort and cannot be solved once and for all. I'm glad that not only moderators have this goal and that the matter keeps being brought up every now and then. We have had very similar meta discussions before and we should continue to have these in the future. We need to continuously gauge our friendliness.

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  • Thanks for the feedback! While I understand now the specs of the linked post, I'd also like to underline that my concern goes back to a number of other recent posts, as you suggest.
    – Rafael
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 16:48
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    @Rafael That's how I took it, so I gave a combination of general and specific thoughts. The occasional positivity reminder on meta is good (we have had these in the past and should keep having in the future), but I'm not sure how many people these meta things reach. Therefore my recommendation to anyone who reads is to be active: Leave a positive comment, flag, vote, and receive new users like you'd like them to be received. A culture like this is built with small daily practical decisions.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 16:55
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    I admit to being too overworked lately to follow the tones of discussion very closely, but I share the general concern. Keeping our welcome positive is an ongoing effort and cannot be solved once and for all. I'm glad that not only moderators have this goal. This is also being discussed in our chat room.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 16:58
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    @Rafael The entire mod team is very much on board with "keep it civil, polite, and welcoming." If you think anyone, including a mod, crosses a line, don't be afraid to flag it!
    – cmw Mod
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 18:25
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    @cmw, ok, count on me for that!
    – Rafael
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 18:38
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    @Rafael I should also not neglect to invite you to communicate with us in the conloquium chat.
    – cmw Mod
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 18:41
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I don't find much to disagree with in Joonas Ilmavirta's answer, but I would have a somewhat different general reaction on this topic.

For people who don't know much about the subject of a given SE site, and who are honest about their own newbie-ness, it's generally best to be permissive and presume that their questions are asked in good faith. Massive downvoting is more appropriate for people who pretend to be authorities but actually don't know what they're talking about. For these fake-authority users, downvoting is crucial in order to keep them from amassing an exponentially growing amount of reputation and becoming influential purveyors of misinformation. This is a serious problem on some SE sites such as physics.SE.

Classics is a field that has an unfortunate tendency to attract a lot of negative behavior. On online forums, there tend to be a lot of prima donna personalities. The field has historically had a creepy tendency to reinforce racism, classism, and slavery. Even today, we have texts like Athenaze that explicitly apologize for slavery. There is a kind of negative haze hovering over the subject, which is apt to repel newcomers. Adding to this problem is the tendency to take seriously ancient nonsense like Aristotle's ideas about physics and Plato's ideas about politics.

For these reasons, I think it's best to bend over backwards in order to be tolerant of newbies. Personally, when I write answers on latin.SE, I try to be very explicit when appropriate about my own lack of expertise, but when it comes to newbie questions I try to be very generous with upvotes.

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  • I agree with your approach that we should make an effort to be friendly to new members. In regards to downvoting, someone new to stack exchange may not understand what that even means so it may send the wrong message.
    – Adam
    Commented Dec 18, 2021 at 22:11
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    I do agree that we should take extra care to welcome new users, and accommodate their needs. But there is also the issue of experienced users, who will no longer find the site interesting if a certain type of questions (translation requests without enough context) make up most of what's here. So I think a compromise must be reached: we want to bend over to accommodate new users, but not completely. I'd err on the side of new users, knowing that there is a tendency in online communities to grow grumpy and less open with time, regardless of the new input received.
    – Cerberus Mod
    Commented Dec 20, 2021 at 21:01
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    +1, but as a philosopher, I must disagree with the dismissal of Aristotle’s physics. It’s not without reason that such physicists as Heisenberg have written about even pre-Socratic physics. And we have much to learn from Plato’s political dialogues, unless we read them in a painfully literal-minded way. That said, you’re right that some persons are distorting ancient sources for ignoble purposes.
    – Thérèse
    Commented Dec 22, 2021 at 17:13
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    This is going to sound cranky, but downvotes have specific meanings on SE and are an integral part of the way the sites work. So if someone asks a bad question, I reserve the right to downvote it, whether the user is new or established, and whether that person has taken the trouble to learn what a downvote does and doesn't mean or takes 'the wrong message' from it and feels offended. If people go to an unknown site and post a question on it without taking the trouble to learn how the site works, that's on them. We should expect visitors to take a basic level of responsibility for their visit.
    – cnread
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 0:29
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    @cnread Well said! Without quality control measures like closure and voting down, the SE sites would devolve into the kind of chaos found on other sites across the internet. I fully support being welcoming and kind, but that should not mean accepting all questions.
    – Joonas Ilmavirta Mod
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 9:43
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    Just to echo a previous comment: the dig about "taking seriously ancient nonsense" is too perfunctory for my taste. If you're unwilling to take the Republic or Laws or Physics seriously (=/= dogmatically), that's pretty silly.
    – brianpck
    Commented Dec 23, 2021 at 20:30

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