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Codidact Meta is the meta-discussion site for the Codidact community network and the Codidact software. Whether you have bug reports or feature requests, support questions or rule discussions that touch the whole network – this is the site for you.

What's more important for codidact - quality or helping questions get answered?

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When I read through https://codidact.org/ I get the impression that the focus is on helping people get their questions answered. There are obviously other benefits, like providing a platform for people who want to share their knowledge, but the message that stands out to me most is:

This is a place where you can get your question answered.

If anyone disagrees with this, I can try to edit the question to provide examples/quotes, but I feel like it's kind of obvious so I'll keep it brief for now.

However, in my interactions with some regulars on here, sometimes I've gotten a different impression. Often, they assert that content quality is paramount, and seem very concerned about keeping the hapless newbies from posting stuff that isn't good enough for the site. The same people don't seem too concerned about trying to help the most people who come to the site - there seems to be an elitist sentiment of "if their content isn't good enough they can stay out". A lot of voting, moderation, discussion and feedback is currently dominated by this attitude, which I think is very confusing for new users. It's not clear what the site is about. Is it a populist site that tries to help everyone who asks, or is it an elitist site that maintains high standards?

I intend this post as feedback on either the text on https://codidact.org/ being misleading, or the culture being out of alignment with the site's vision. Notably, the word "quality" doesn't even appear on that page. Moreover, it mentions things like "community-focused" and "non-hostile" which seem to me at odds with elitism.

Of course the two things are highly related, but ultimately one must be the first principle. For example, if quality is most important, it is reasonable to close or delete poorly-written questions even if it means the asker might be denied help and other users are prevented from helping them. If answering questions is most important, there is an argument for helping the asker first, cleaning up the question later.

I don't think this is a philosophical question. I'll assert that the two biggest types of user on QA sites are:

  • People who want to create quality content - they want to see the site grow and evolve into a compendium of high quality knowledge, where only the best-written questions get asked and answered
  • People who want to create a helpful community - they want to see the site become a resource where you can go and ask your own questions, even if they're not the best written

I think currently the "marketing" is aiming mostly towards the "helpful community" group, but the actual site culture seems to be more like the "quality content" group. This is counter-productive to growing the site. Suppose the "marketing" works and you attract the "helpful community" people, and they immediately discover a dominant "quality content" culture - they will probably feel frustrated and not want to participate as much. Meanwhile, if you want the "quality content" group, you will keep getting confused "helpful community" people who wander in and annoy the regulars with bad questions and create more work for moderators. The site presentation should not be encouraging them.

And yes, I do see that these are not mutually exclusive. Some people would be happy with either type of site. My question here is about those people who want only one or the other - I believe such people are quite numerous.

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Confusion between 1st and 2nd (5 comments)

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Codidact started as an attempt to make something better/different than SE. When it was started, pretty much everyone involved shared a consensus about what it should not be:

  • Not run by a private company for profit where the agenda suddenly changes at a whim, depending on which buzzword is fashionable for the moment.
  • Not a place where representatives from a private company keep saying one thing and then doing something else.
  • Not something with closed source where the features to develop next were chosen by a selected few.

And so on. With everyone perfectly in agreement about what the site should not be, it is easy to make the assumption that everyone will also be in agreement about what the site should be. I remember the early forum we had set up, wildly brain-storming about literally everything. The ambitions were high, but also all over the place.

At that point, everyone gathers up their own personal but diverse experiences from SE and assumes that the site would be exactly as they personally envisioned it. Including often-contradictory opinions like:

Problem Solution
SE is rude/unwelcoming/elitist. We should make something more welcoming and friendly.
SE is drowning in low quality content. We should make something of higher quality here, in order to attract the subject matter experts and to increase search engine rankings.
SE is narrow-minded about what topics to discuss. We should make something with broader scope and tolerance to more subjective topics.
SE is drowning in beginner-level FAQ repeated over and over again. The so-called "canonical duplicates" are of diverse quality and we could do better.

Personally, I've probably been pushing for all of these at some point, but they admittedly risk clashing with each other in several ways. Another user might have one single thing they consider the most important of all and are pushing for that one, which isn't necessarily the same thing as yet another user. The end result will be a mix—a community consensus of what every user participating thinks is important. Individual users may have to compromise, but that is how the world works whenever dealing with humans co-existing in groups.

So I think what Codidact boils down to is community-driven. Not all sites under the Codidact umbrella need to have the same emphasis of what's important for that particular community.

For example, something like a Code Golf community probably needs to have a very strict scope/format/rules and with emphasis on quality. Whereas something like a Philosophy site would probably benefit from being more tolerant to broad and subjective topics.

So the way to go is probably to raise a local discussion per community over what the preferences and scope should be locally. And it's a never-ending discussion, as new users join and should have their say.

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Great re-statement (2 comments)
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site culture seems to be more like the "quality content" group. This is counter-productive to growing the site.

Absolutely not!

We strive to be a site where people can come to get good, reliable, peer-reviewed answers. Everything follows from that.

As good questions result in good answers, we slowly build a useful repository of information. That causes more people to find the site when they do internet searches. It also answers some questions immediately since they were previously asked and answered.

Over time, domain experts will find the place, see that there is intelligent interaction and that good answers are appreciated. The experts will then stick around, create more content, which draws more people in, which creates more content, etc.

All of the above only works if the site quality is high and the drivel level low. The internet is full of information. It's not so full of quality information, at least compared to the total volume. The only way we can compete and be noticed at all is by maintaining a reputation of quality.

After realizing that quality is essential to what we are doing, the question then becomes how to achieve and maintain that quality. One important way is to prune low quality content quickly and with as little noise as possible. At first glance it may seem counter-productive to remove that bad apple from the barrel because we need every apple, but the reverse is far worse.

Like a bad apple in a barrel, bad content begets more bad content. The drivel level rises, experts get disillusioned and leave, and you can't trust answers you get anymore. Even if you could, you have to wade thru lots of crap to find them. Nobody is going to stick around an environment like that as it becomes no better than the internet as a whole.

So while you are right that "This is a place where you can get your question answered.", it must also be a place where content quality is paramount. The first requires the second, no matter how unintuitive it may appear in the moment.

If we don't prune bad content today, we won't have a site tomorrow.

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At last we are getting to addressing the elephant in the room head-on. Lundin and Olin's answers both capture ideas that I feel are very important, that apply to varying extents across Codidact. I'll include a couple collapsed sections of background, and then present a proposal.

There are fundamentally varying communities here

The primary axis of comparison I want to consider here is how technical the subject matter is. While this is not a binary, it influences necessarily binary policy choices, and is in my mind by far the most important factor in those decisions.

Curiously enough, the current footer does a pretty good job of sorting the sites into technical sites at the top and non-technical sites at the bottom (notwithstanding the meta sites - Meta itself, and the Proposals site - which have their own considerations and which I consider out of scope here). The sites I'd expect to play by noticeably different rules, when a choice needs to be made, are the first seven - Software Development, Electrical Engineering, Mathematics, Power Users, Linux Systems, Code Golf and Physics - versus the others (although the latter disciplines do have some varying degree of technical precision to them).

To illustrate: almost every question worth asking about Software Development is either a precise how question - how to do some specific, concrete task - or a precise why question - understanding a surprising, but reproducible result from an isolated example. Basically anything else has rapidly diminishing value - no matter how interesting it might be to experts. For example, if historical questions like "when was X implemented?" are asked at all, they are better shuffled off to the side.

In particular, debugging a thorny problem with inter-related problems might be engaging, but the result is not reusable for others. Even the best-asked question of this sort is of a fundamentally different kind. In the long run, everyone's time is best spent primarily on "canonical", "reference" material that isolates single issues that can be easily described. There are two reasons for this: because decomposing problems into those issues is supposed to be a fundamental skill; and because the resulting questions are more easily answered directly, more easily phrased, more easily given accurate titles, and far more easily searched for.

On the other hand, consider for example Cooking. Most recipes are just not that delicate, and even for the ones that are (say, to make a souffle), one would hardly speak of "debugging" the process of making the food. Natural ingredients vary in consistency; taste is subjective; there is a fair amount of tolerance in cooking times and temperatures; and hardly anything interesting will come out quite the same every time. Suggestions about how to get a desired quality in the final product might be much more open-ended.

As such, while there are a few things that one might identify as reference material (perhaps about food safety, or explanations of basic knife skills...), most of what needs to be said about cooking is far more individualized.

Different communities are differently impacted

My basic idea here is that the less technical a site is, the less the conflict described in the OP exists. If the subject is a pure art form, a matter of historical interest, etc. then answering questions already inherently is producing quality, to the extent that it's possible. If I want to know why my recipe turned out poorly, it's relatively less likely that this can be answered by generalizing from a category of common mistakes. Or else, it's much more likely that there's more than one thing I could have done better - and it's unreasonable to expect me to try and take apart the process, check individual results etc. (Especially since trying to do so could involve tasting unsafe raw ingredients!)

But if the subject is a craft that uses reliable materials and aims for reproducible results; if it's something where new ideas are designed rather than inspired; or if it's something entirely abstract - then the opposite applies. On a hypothetical Furniture site, for example, it would be unreasonable to post a picture of my broken chair and ask why it failed to support an obese person. I should instead be expected to consider individual joints in my design (and the techniques used to fasten them), ensure that they are as strong as I expect individually, and then perhaps I can ask a question about why the whole system is weaker than expected (and maybe get an answer that uses engineering software on a computer to do a detailed model simulation).

So, in my view, it's in the most technical areas where the problem emerges most strongly. (And that's why it's been so noticeable on Stack Exchange: Stack Overflow absolutely dominates the entire rest of the network, and even "the rest of the network" is dominated by spin-offs from Stack Overflow.)

Fixing the problem for the communities that need it

Ironically enough, I conclude that this seemingly "social" problem is best solved with technical measures. Specifically: I propose that the day-to-day, personalized, "please fix this" questions should go in a separate category; and that sites should be able to opt in to adding such a category (and perhaps even making it the default for new questions.) There is one piece of desired new technical support here: the ability to close questions as duplicates cross-category. Everything else needed is, as far as I'm aware, already implemented.

Voting is not sufficient to separate out fundamentally different kinds of Q&A content, and it can have harmful unintended effects. In particular, keeping the useful content "above" less focused help requests generally requires downvoting the latter, which discourages new users. But on the other hand, while such voting is useful to the community, external search engines don't care about it. If a site is flooded with poorly-asked, unfocused questions, that makes it harder to find the good ones from outside - and such searches will happily find irrelevant questions with accidentally-clickbait titles (because OP misidentified the central problem).

By using a separate category, technical communities can keep useful reference Q&A filtered out from the chaff, while voting on it by separate standards appropriate to that content. Naively asked questions don't have to have terrible scores to keep them out of the way, and curators seeking to close a duplicate can instantly get better results just by filtering by category. Further, there is automatically a separate space that experts can trawl for recurring themes, which can then inform new self-answered canonicals. In short, it's valuable metadata that cannot be encoded by post scoring - since the Wilson score is already trying to tell us many other things.

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Cross-category duplicates work within the same community, *so long as* they are both questions. (You... (1 comment)
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The quality over everything and running the noobs off users have had their way for years at this point and nothing to show for it.

In the past year, Photography has had 2 questions, Outdoors 8. No one is going to look at that and ask questions, regardless of the "quality" because the lack of activity suggests that no one would answer their question. Stackoverflow as the biggest site had something worth gatekeeping, while I can and do get better answers on FB/Reddit than I would here.

Quality is also subjective,

  • Should I use a tippet ring when using dry flys?
  • Do I need to use Color Preserver when rod building with silk?
  • How to keep eyelets from icing up?
  • What side of the spine do the guides go on?

There are all perfectly fine questions and would get answers on FB, they do require expert knowledge, but anyone in the fishing/rod building community would have that. Here people would complain if I didn't explain what a tippet ring is, which means that I would get higher quality answers with less effort over on FB.

Without questions, the sites will die for lack of activity, and some of the loudest voices for "quality" aren't asking any questions so why should we cater to them?

I can get faster/better answers from wider communities who have way less quality control (both FB and Reddit lack duplicate closing) for much less effort, why should I bother spending the effort here? If someone is rude to me, I can block them and never have to deal with them again.

One time on Reddit someone was asking for help with getting the first layer of his 3D-printed object to stick and not only did we solve his problem, but we told him to flip the object 180 degrees because the level of expertise was so high that we knew exactly what he was printing based off only the first layer.

Mass has an expertise all its own, the more eyeballs the more chances someone will have of knowing the exoteric knowledge required. Instead of hoping for mystical experts who can't be bothered to Google things this site needs more users or it's going to end up more dead than it already is.

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The lack of activity isn't related to quality/helping (8 comments)
Quality is subjective - agree (4 comments)

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