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It is pretty common for a new user to show up asking truth questions ("what should I believe about X"), pastoral questions ("what should I do in situation Y"), trojan horse questions ("how do Christians explain the fact that doctrine Z is irrational"), or any number of other off-topic questions.

When we do occasionally get a constructive question from a new user, it is common for it to be poorly formatted, poorly-researched, unclear, or any number of other things making it worthy of a down-vote.

Then there are the additional difficulties of new users not knowing how to post links, or format a quote.

No one wants to see our new users discouraged by having all of their questions down-voted and closed, so some moderators (etc.) will often show up desperately trying to paste relevant links to our faq and meta discussions in hopes of band-aide-ing the user's posts before the answers spiral out of control or the user disappears. Others will take it upon themselves to try to salvage the post by editing it themselves.

My concern is that as the site grows, this is likely to happen more and more often. At some point the handful of trained moderators are not going to be able to keep up. (Frankly I feel like that is already happening.)

Theoretically, if a new user knew what the faq was, or were aware that they should scour the meta forums for any discussions that might be critical to their post, some of this could be avoided. But they don't. Because they are new. They don't know what they don't know.

This got me thinking: do we need some sort of required entrance tutorial prior to posting on the site? Possibly even a test as well? Before you are allowed to drive a car in the United States, you have to learn how to drive a car and then demonstrate your knowledge by answering questions, etc. Would that sort of thing be helpful here?

  • I highly doubt we could implement such a "required entrance tutorial" mainly because there's no functionality to support that. Also, these sorts of "off-kilter" questions are common to most, if not all sites in the SE network, not just us. | Yes, there is too much for just us four mods to deal with, which is why we need the community to help out, and have repeatedly asked the community to pull their weight. So far, it's going fairly well, actually. – El'endia Starman Apr 10 '13 at 18:31
  • @El'endiaStarman With that said, would it be worth suggesting on SO that we add this functionality? – Jas 3.1 Apr 10 '13 at 18:32
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    I for one don't think it'd be worth it. That's my opinion, but I think you'll find others expressing the same sentiment. Besides, most of the new users we get are drive-by users; they post one question and then they don't come back after that day. – El'endia Starman Apr 10 '13 at 18:33
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    @Jas3.1: You just described 90% of all newbies on all StackExchange sites. This isn't a Christianity.SE problem, really... – Mason Wheeler Apr 10 '13 at 18:33
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This is a great opportunity to talk about the new /about page.

One of the first things new users are now linked to is the new https://christianity.stackexchange.com/about page. This is a new page where we have the opportunity to educate our new users in the ways of this site. How it's different from other places on the Internet, including some of the specific things about our community.

Please look this page over and see if you see anything missing. We are allowed to edit the following sections:

  • The first paragraph blurb

  • The Example Question

  • The "Ask About" section

  • The "Don't Ask about" section

We're definitely open to suggestions on how to improve our custom text.

Some more things are coming down the pipe to help us be friendlier to new users when we close their questions, look for more changes later this year.

The best thing we can do for a new user is to greet them at the door, shake their hands and then tell them why we're voting to close their question and how they can go about fixing it. That's what we have to educate our users and it's truly the only way we're going to get through to them.

  • Awesome page. How are new users linked to this? – Jas 3.1 Apr 10 '13 at 18:48
  • @Jas3.1: When I link new users to this, I link them to the FAQ and About pages, in that order. I should probably link them in the opposite order, hmm. – El'endia Starman Apr 10 '13 at 18:51
  • @Jas3.1 it's at the top of every page. testing to see when else it appears. – wax eagle Apr 10 '13 at 18:53
  • honestly not sure, seems they get "how to ask" linked a lot more than "about" – wax eagle Apr 10 '13 at 18:57
  • I can't determine where those sections are. Can you screen shot with red circles or something. – fredsbend Apr 10 '13 at 19:01
  • Yes, the site desperately needs a single page that handles most of the issues. – fredsbend Apr 10 '13 at 19:02
  • @fredsbend about appears at the top of the page for low rep and annonymous users. its at the bottom for high rep folks. How to ask is a secion of the faq – wax eagle Apr 10 '13 at 19:03
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    Note: the SE programmers, being as awesome as they are, have made it super easy to link to the FAQ and About pages. Literally, just put them in square brackets. [faq]/[Faq]/[FAQ], [about]/[About]/[ABOUT] => faq/Faq/FAQ, tour/About/ABOUT – El'endia Starman Apr 10 '13 at 19:20
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    @El'endiaStarman even better, they also magically convert anchors like [-faq#dontask] to faq – wax eagle Apr 11 '13 at 2:31
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I think wax eagle pointed to some useful stuff along the lines of how to bring new users up to speed. I wanted to comment on one other issue raised in your post:

At some point the handful of trained moderators are not going to be able to keep up.

It is not the role of moderators to "keep up" with this sort of thing. Our job is more about the exceptions than the rules. Helping new users format posts, linking them to the stuff they need to read on meta, explaining how their posts can be improved and like tasks fall squarely on the shoulders of the community. Anybody with a smattering of reputation here can edit, comment on, close and even delete posts.

Moderators come into play when things come up that need exceptional handling. Migrations, spam, handling people who are trolling the site rather than just struggling to figure it out, accelerating some normal processes when the community is slacking off, etc.

As a team of moderators, we can't even keep up with reading much less acting on all the posts that come through the site. This is why as a community you need to be busy flagging things that extra special bit of attention, but before you do that you need to make sure it isn't something you can and should be acting on first yourself.

  • Good points. Thanks. – Jas 3.1 Apr 11 '13 at 18:15

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