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Regarding my recent meta: So, what's your story?

I'd first seen a similar question on Interpersonal Skills (IPS) and I was initially the strongest voice against having it on the site, since it was a question more about the users, and not exactly about the site. Few days later, reading the answers and similar questions on other metas, I had second thoughts. The similar metas are asked and answered by their top users and moderators, and are well-received.

I understood that those metas had a purpose, that is to engage with the users, to have them open up about the good and the bad about the site and why they keep returning to it.

ELU is sorta my home site, and I thought I could have a similar question here. But I'm told it's not a good fit for ELU. And cue the downvotes.

To avoid extended discussion in the comments under it, I've created this second meta.

  • What went wrong? Why was my question received poorly?

  • Can it be on-topic here as well?

  • How may I improve the question?


Related discussion on MSE; thanks to RaceYouAnytime.

Is asking for user stories off-topic on meta sites?

The general view so far expressed by moderators of other stacks is that this can be on-topic on those stacks.

I hope we can accept this question here as well. What does the community say?

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    It's too soon to draw any conclusions, but as an FYI to the community, I've posted a question on SE Meta about this subject. – RaceYouAnytime Sep 26 '17 at 3:03
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    EL&U has been around since 2011, many of its original members are no longer active, and many have left and/or deleted their accounts. Moreover, the time for getting to know each other has passed, EL&U has never been "touchy" or "feely", and neither is Stack Overflow (It used to be "fun") and SE Meta, so.... EL&U is in good company. – Mari-Lou A Sep 26 '17 at 7:33
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    Your determination to insist on this issue is just adding negativity to negativity, not a good job, I’d say, unless that was your ultimate aim. – user66974 Sep 26 '17 at 10:31
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    @Josh Not sure I understand what you mean. I am using the meta to ask a valid question about my other meta. Am I not? :) – NVZ Sep 26 '17 at 10:32
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    I don't follow the logic of "EL&U has been around since 2011, many of its original members are no longer active, and many have left and/or deleted their accounts. Moreover, the time for getting to know each other has passed." – ab2 Sep 26 '17 at 20:53
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    @ab2 why would a bunch of jaded middle-aged men from the old boy network be interested in hearing each other's story? Or that of new members who will never belong to the club? They've probably revealed more about themselves in six years of chat, and ephemeral comments then a short essay could ever do. And the old vanguard are the ones who visit meta the most, and possibly the ones who still care most about the site. They are the faithful spouses :) – Mari-Lou A Sep 27 '17 at 0:05
  • @Mari-Lou A A bunch of jaded men (of whatever age) from the old boy network who will never let new members into the club. Faithful spouses or not, this is a recipe for .....darn, what is the word? Starts with "st". Can't think of the word, but it makes me think of antlers. :) – ab2 Sep 27 '17 at 0:46
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Update:

I posted this question on Meta.SE because it seemed to me that the Help Center page being cited as evidence that the question was off-topic doesn't actually address this subject. The relevant portion is quite vague, in a way that struck me as possibly intentional.

Meta is for...

  • ...English Language & Usage Stack Exchange users to communicate with each other about English Language & Usage Stack Exchange (asking questions about how the websites work, or about policies and community decisions)

In my reading, this snippet does not seem to prohibit asking questions about users' experiences on the site, nor does it explicitly condone such questions.

I didn't find a definitive conclusion in the help page, and I couldn't find anyone citing why the question was off-topic with any other justification. I expected that my question on Meta.SE would get squashed, or that my viewpoint would not be shared, but instead (at least so far), the answers on MSE seemed to be largely supportive with the widest consensus being that this is something that has to be decided by our site. That means our community can choose to allow and accept these sorts of questions, or not.

I don't want this to be a post cluttered with hand-picked quotes from the MSE page that support my opinion, but there were many interesting and relevant viewpoints shared and I would especially recommend reading Catija's answer, which includes links to relevant comments by community manager Shog9♦. I will include one of those comments where Shog9♦ seems to interpret the Help Center snippet I pasted above as meaning "whatever the community agrees is acceptable discourse."

This is the generic "What is meta" description, @Matt. Purpose #1 covers pretty much anything where y'all are talking to each other. What that means in practice is mostly up to you: if there are things you don't want to talk about, then they're off-topic. My point was simply that this was rather less controversial before the question was asked than it has become afterwards - hence encouragement to cite an actual problem rather than hand-waving at non-existent rules. – Shog9♦ Dec 30 '16 at 2:47


I hope users here understand why I posted that question on Meta.SE: It was not my intent to raise a fuss, but rather to get some outside perspective on a vexing question. Having said all this, below is my opinion on whether the question should be on- or off-topic on EL&U Meta:


I believe the question is on-topic for Meta because the stories it solicits are specifically about users' relevant experiences with the main site. Discussing the main site is the purpose of Meta.

It is true that Stack Exchange is not a social network, but stories about people's background with EL&U and what they value about the site are already a central part of moderator elections. During these elections, candidates essentially give a breakdown of their experiences, background, and vision for the site. In my view, the question posed by NVZ is an opportunity for ordinary users to express themselves similarly.

I think the most important point is the one mentioned in this question here:

I understood that those metas had a purpose, that is to engage with the users, to have them open up about the good and the bad about the site and why they keep returning to the site.

With that in mind, it seems like the original question has the potential to do good for the site, in that it could expose the elements of EL&U that are attractive to ardent members, which could lead to insight on how to keep the site relevant and interesting for serious users with the potential for significant contribution.

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    Stack Exchange is a social networking site for know-it-alls... – James McLeod Sep 26 '17 at 1:57
  • I've rewritten the question. Please see. :) – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 18:15
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I didn't vote either way on the close question, but I think the question is probably on-topic for Meta, in the spirit of asking "how and why this site works the way it does." Knowing more about users' ELU-relevant background and why users use the main site ought to provide some insight into the many small individual decisions that feed into the character and foibles of the site as a whole.

That said, I'm not surprised that the question was initially closed, and I'm not particularly excited to answer it myself. Taking the last point first, I'm just one of those users who "prefers to maintain an air of mystery". I don't mind if others want to answer, though.

For why the question was received as it was:

  1. You set yourself up for failure. The very first comment on your question is from you, saying that the question is probably off-topic. That's just inviting close-votes on your own question.
  2. You didn't answer it yourself. Instead, you directed folks to another Meta answer of yours whose main point is that you are "disheartened" by ELU and prefer to put more of your time and energy into answering questions on a different site. That's not exactly enthusiastically inspirational.
  3. You didn't (initially) focus on English language and usage. About half of the other similar questions that you mentioned are somewhat tailored to their particular main topic or site. For example: PPCG's question focuses on how the site can better fit into the SE model/system as a whole; Code Review's focuses on how to turn one-time users of the main site into repeat visitors (and why that might not be happening); Worldbuilding asks whether answerers have "any worldbuilding projects going on"; etc. Several of the questions were also asked when their respective sites were in beta, and really still trying to define themselves. Your question in its original form was fairly generic when it could have been more specific. For example, perhaps you could have asked whether folks consider themselves linguists, etymologists, and/or serious English language enthusiasts. For those who don't consider themselves any of the three, what brings them to a site for such folks?
  4. You might be overestimating the popularity of these questions on other sites. MathematicsMeta has accrued the greatest number of answers of the questions linked: 29 since the question was asked in March 2014; most of the other linked questions have somewhere around 15 answers, and a couple have only five answers (including WorldBuilding's question, which was asked in April 2015). Your question has so far collected six answers in two weeks, which seems like a respectable response.

The question is reopened now, with a net positive score, so hopefully it will ultimately serve its intended purpose. I would still encourage you to go ahead and post your own answer, though, for the look of the thing if nothing else. Even if you just move the paragraph about why you're not answering, with links to other answers, out of the question and into an answer.


Some specific suggestions:

  • As mentioned above, move your penultimate paragraph to its own answer. Consider saying a few more words about yourself in relation to ELU.SE.
  • Rephrase your specific questions to have something to do with either EL&U the site or EL&U the topic. In particular, "how [the site] has helped you" seems out of place. Ask about something like why people are interested in the English language, whether they mostly ask or answer or just read, where they see themselves fitting in to the official user base of "linguists, etymologists, and (serious) English language enthusiasts," etc. If your primary concern is a perceived barrier to becoming a regular user, then focus on that (and maybe link to some of the meta posts that led to your concern).
  • Move your first paragraph, about all the other similar questions, later in the post. Right now you start out comparing us to other sites; let the focus of your question be THIS site. Maybe drop the bit about "blatantly stealing an idea from IPS", since you will in fact have substantially modified the question and properly attributed it.

Take all those suggestions with a grain of salt; some folks are never going to like the concept, no matter how you word the question. And of course don't make any changes that you think might invalidate any existing answers.

  • Thank you. That is a very in-depth analysis of the situation. This actually answers this question "why it's negatively received?". – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 16:58
  • In my defense, this is a first time. So, it had to go through this phase anyway. Now we learn how to avoid such controversial subjects in future. There's always something to learn from the past. :) Again, thank you for this. – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 17:00
  • My first comment there "probably offtopic" was tongue in cheek. Had a wink smiley as well. Alas, it's in the past. :) – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 17:01
  • And in case you have a plan to improve my question, feel free to edit it. I'm struggling to find the best words. – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 17:04
  • I've rewritten the question. Please see. :) – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 18:15
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It's off-topic.

Meta is explained in the Help pages, which say

Meta provides a legitimate space for people to ask how and why this site works the way it does.

Meta is for...

  • asking questions about how the websites work, or about policies and community decisions
  • posting bugs, suggesting improvements, or proposing new features, and
  • for Stack Exchange to solicit feedback on new ideas or features, or discussing policies that affect the whole network.

I referenced this in my comments on the other question.

This certainly is off-topic. "Stories" like this are what the profile page is for. There's nothing wrong with encouraging the use of available facilities, or with asking about how to make rage-quitting or other upsets less likely. Meta is intended for questions about the site, not about users.

Users' background and goals are not on-topic on meta. Meta is for "asking questions about how the websites work, or about policies and community decisions; posting bugs, suggesting improvements, or proposing new features; soliciting feedback on new ideas or features, or discussing policies that affect the whole network." Discussions about users don't fit.

Can you point to where it says that discussing users is on-topic?

So far, there has been no justification of how discussing users fits into the on-topic subjects which the Help lists.

This question is on-topic. It's asking whether the other one should be on-topic or not. The evidence from documentation is that it should not be.

If something is on-topic, it's on-topic; if it isn't, it isn't. If something should be on-topic, then make the case. You can do that in an answer to this question. Say how it encourages better use of the site; if it is actually on-topic, then justify that. But appealing to a "one-off" nature of the question is irrelevant: if it's off-topic but allowed then other similar questions may follow the precedent, which means it won't be one-off.

Other sites may still be formulating their own policy, particularly something like IPS which is very new. But that doesn't mean that what might be accepted there should be accepted everywhere.

Opening the door to off-topic issues, however interesting, however harmless, would take the site out of its scope. I guess there are other more suitable places on SE where this sort of personal disclosures are appreciated and welcome. [Comment by Josh]

As I commented elsewhere, there's nothing wrong with encouraging the use of available facilities, or with asking about how to make rage-quitting or other upsets less likely. That is about using the site, and encouraging best practice. Simply getting users to introduce themselves does not encourage best practice.

What you should have done was to ask whether such a question would be on-topic (or granted a derogation) before asking it. Making your case in a preliminary discussion on whether and how the question was beneficial would have saved you having to mount your rearguard action. If community consensus was that such a question would be beneficial, then there would have been enough in the discussion to allow it to be asked in such a way to steer answers to point to best practice with the site.

The issue is that you have unilaterally decided to post a question which is off-topic, however superficially attractive it might appear.

I see the question has [currently] gained two more close votes since it was re-opened. In total, it's had six close votes (including my moderator vote) and one "Recommend closure" flag, and Review yielded one "Reopen" against three "Leave Closed" votes. The "Reopen" reviewer also cast one of the five reopen votes, along with your good self and one of the answerers.

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    Fair enough, I just wanted to point out that among non-mods the voting has been mostly evenly distributed, so there is no overwhelming consensus one way or another – RaceYouAnytime Sep 25 '17 at 17:22
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    @RaceYouAnytime I didn't double-count my moderator vote. It's one of the six and should not be excluded. – Andrew Leach Sep 25 '17 at 17:23
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    Also I would suggest that in addition to being off-topic it's harmful because it focuses on people instead of content. This is a community, but it's not a social site. What inspires us and brings us together shouldn't have anything to do with our personal history; it should be what we contribute to ELU. If someone tells me that they're a Bieber fan, I will forever be biased against everything they write. I can fight it but I can't help it, so it's best just to avoid all that social stuff entirely. – ColleenV Sep 25 '17 at 17:25
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    @RaceYouAnytime I don't think it's fair to exclude the moderator votes when deciding if the sides are even. They are not autonomous drones, they are a part of the community. To further Andrew's point, the matter is about whether it is IS on topic, not whether it SHOULD be. Judges have to make decisions like this every day: ones they may not believe in but know the law is explicit. And regardless of whether we think something should be allowed, the current rules do not allow it. If you think it should be, then it needs to be proposed. – Hank Sep 25 '17 at 17:29
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    @ColleenV I get your point. It focuses on users more. But what is content if there are no regular users to contribute quality content? I was, like many others here, noticing a decline in the participation from the regulars. I was hoping that those who still remain could give a little insight into what keeps them here despite the general rumour that everyone is leaving. I was not asking for their hobbies, favourite music, or personal diets. I wonder how you got that from my post. It's unclear to me. I'd also recommend skimming thru some of the related 7 other metas I've linked in my post. – NVZ Sep 25 '17 at 18:00
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    To be lawyerly about this, there is a precedent for allowing some totally orthogonal, off-topic posts on main and meta. There are not many, but one in this direction is the winter hat bash style questions that are intended to be community building. But of course that is started by the SE employees/community mods and not the community itself and so has some authority behind it to provide legitimacy. – Mitch Sep 25 '17 at 18:58
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    @NVZ You missed my point. Asking "what's your story" has the wrong focus. I shouldn't care that someone discovered ELU while camping out for Justin Bieber tickets, and that they stick around because they enjoy putting JB lyric Easter eggs in their answers. Story telling is a social activity, not a problem solving activity. The question should be more focused. – ColleenV Sep 25 '17 at 19:01
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    @NVZ That helps your case none. If anything it hurts it. You're saying, "Why can't I break the rules if others break it?" That's the exact fear many have with allowing this type of question. What's to stop others from using that same argument for their off-topic posts? What's to stop them from using your post as an example of an accepted off-topic post? It will never end. The other rule-breaks need to end also. – Hank Sep 25 '17 at 19:24
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    @NVZ That's an opinion that some obviously disagree with. All it takes is, "Yall let NVZ's off-topic post be an exception, why can't mine." It doesn't have to be a strong case, all they have to do is argue that their post brings people together socially. – Hank Sep 25 '17 at 19:28
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    That is, we have lots of 'strong suggestions' which allows a lot of room for going beyond those. But there's still judgment about how far is OK and it all depends. Why am I commenting here instead of answering? Exactly. Also, I really am hoping for there to be another meta question about why this question is getting more traffic than the original. – Mitch Sep 25 '17 at 19:30
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    @NVZ I agree with Hank on the approach to take. My answer below argues that the question is on topic. I think that's the way to go if you want to convince people to give the question a chance. If you call it a one-off, people assume it's the beginning of a slippery-slope effect. – RaceYouAnytime Sep 25 '17 at 19:30
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    @AndrewLeach what exactly makes it off-topic? The help pages don't really address this. It says Meta is for "English Language & Usage Stack Exchange users to communicate with each other about English Language & Usage Stack Exchange [...] This is not a random discussion area; rather, it's a place for improving our community and website, together." I don't see how the question doesn't qualify according to those standards. It needs to be clear to those who would answer that the purpose is to improve the community and website, which is why I recommended the edit. – RaceYouAnytime Sep 25 '17 at 20:52
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    In short, we are asking NVZ to justify why the question is on topic, but I have yet to see a convincing argument that it's off-topic. – RaceYouAnytime Sep 25 '17 at 20:54
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    @RaceYouAnytime It is objectively off-topic, as I have demonstrated. – Andrew Leach Sep 25 '17 at 20:58
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    @AndrewLeach demonstrated where, though? It seems you're using the help page as justification, but when I look at the page it's not clear to me that asking users about their experiences on the main site is objectively off-topic. Is it off-topic simply because it isn't covered in the help page? I see an overlap here with "poll" questions like this one. In both cases the OP is soliciting opinions about the main site from users. – RaceYouAnytime Sep 25 '17 at 21:14
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The question here is not whether your 'what's your story' meta question is off-topic [it has received 6 close-votes but rather more importantly 5 users think it's on-topic, because it was reopened], but literally

why is a one-off meta looked at with such negativity?

At risk of getting a lot of downvotes may I dare to completely agree with your statement @NVZ that

It is quite clear to me now that there's an air of negativity on ELU compared to other SE sites, and I understood that only when I participated on some other sites for a change.

Like you my Stack Exchange 'home site' was also ELU, but I was uneasy from the first with the overall contentiousness and argumentative atmosphere.

I originally thought ELU users are too passionate about English language and grammar, and that ELU has become a battle ground for the 'grammar wars' but later realised (after following your lead and spending parallel time on some other SE sites while maintaining some regular activity here at ELU) that it is almost in the personality of [not all but] many dedicated users of ELU to be pedantic, opinionated and argumentative, and they are not very particular to 'be nice' with it either, although their comments might not be crude, but might actually be distinguished by the most polished examples of sarcasm and irony.

We also take ourselves and the English language far too seriously here.

I think ELU attracts pedantic persons to become regular users. So naturally they care more about the letter of the rules than the spirit [Notable exception: posting answers as comments.]

https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/pedantic

Forgive me for pointing out that you are often pedantic, @NVZ.

Also, I can be very pedantic myself over so many matters.

That is how it is. We are like this only.

And that is why your one-off meta Q asking about users and 'their story' is 'looked at with such negativity', as you say. Moreover, close-voting a lot has become so ingrained in our culture, as you should know better than anyone else yourself, and at least 5 members will not tolerate any questions that fall outside the strict definition of a clear, narrow, on-topic, non-opinion-based, well-referenced question that (on meta) is concerned only with the ELU website and its workings, or the Stack Exchange network...

Completely missing the point that the users are the network.

However, 5 members did vote to reopen it; its downvotes are balanced by upvotes leaving a net score of 0 or +1; and at least 3 members have written answers; so the response is not entirely negative.

So why you haven't got more answers, @NVZ?

It's just that ELU members hate talking about themselves, I think. The folks are certainly not similarly shy over on IPS.SE!

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    IPS.SE users are a different breed of cat entirely. Or, rather, ELU users are feline and IPS users are not. (I love cats.) I'm seriously considering closing my IPS account after my brief fling, because IPS is almost entirely opinion-based. I'm not saying that IPS is "wrong", just that there is a poor impedance match between me and IPS. I don't think there are any insights to be gained by comparing ELU attitudes with IPS attitudes. I'm not familiar with the other sites @NVZ mentioned, but perhaps some of them have some overlap in attitudes with ELU. – ab2 Sep 25 '17 at 21:05
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    True.Yet many users seem to be benefiting from the advice at IPS just like many users seem to be benefiting from the answers at ELU, @ab2. I instinctly compare ELU and IPS to the '2 contrasting types of post-future humans' (Eloi and Morlocks) invented by H.G.Wells for the early science-fiction classic novel 'The Time Machine' though it may not be an entirely accurate comparison -- there is a big difference how the 2 communities approach problems (read IQ and EQ) but opinion-based answers work on IPS because interpersonal issues are inherently subjective. – English Student Sep 25 '17 at 21:14
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    @ab2 That's interesting. I used to think that ELU itself was rather opinion-based, compared to the mathematical and computing disciplines. :) – Lawrence Sep 26 '17 at 0:22
  • I've rewritten the question. Please see. :) – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 18:15
  • Really nice new version @NVZ! – English Student Sep 27 '17 at 18:22
  • After my initial defensiveness died down, I saw that this question is very ranty. I'd have closed it myself. LOL If there are any suggestions to improve this question, do give. :) – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 18:23
  • @NVZ: This is the only suggestion that I can think, what a wise old person once advised all users on a SE site: "when you are feeling defensive, don't post a question/ answer/ comment!" – English Student Sep 27 '17 at 19:46
  • @EnglishStudent Maybe it's my own advice? Either way, I'll keep that in mind. :) – NVZ Sep 27 '17 at 19:47
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    @NVZ Much improved. But a little passion is OK, IMO. It shows you aren't yet jaded. – ab2 Sep 30 '17 at 20:14

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