I'm a big fan of SE sites and spend an awful lot of time on StackOverflow. When I saw an English Language site, I pointed a few of my friends and family this way (one of whom is an English professor and another is a TEFL teacher).

I thought they'd enjoy the site, expand their own knowledge and maybe contribute a bit.

I've since found out that they've all - without exception - stopped using the site, most of them without even posting. One of them said the comments tended to be rude and arrogant, another said she was made to feel unwelcome.

That's not to say that the community was wrong in any particular action/decision, simply that they saw users who weren't familiar with the rules being made to feel unwelcome. Unfortunately, it looks like they didn't get to experience the good bits and now they're very unlikely to ever do so.

I rarely end up on the EL&U site, so it doesn't affect me much personally. It did, however, make me think of the Summer of Love blog post by Joel which seems to describe the situation they've experienced.

In any case, I thought the opinion of a relative outsider might provoke a discussion on a way to improve the situation (or get me downvoted into oblivion which I'll be forced to claim proves my point).

I'd suggest a miniature, EL&U-specific "Summer of Love" effort with a focus on improving the outward image of the community and making [potential] new users feel more welcome.


I believe that the majority of respondents agree with the following:

  • Low quality posts should be closed/removed from the site rapidly, irrespective of who posted [or Fixed!].
  • An attempt should be made to educate new users so they don't repeat their mistakes [Not obligatory]
  • Comments (and answers) should always be civil and informative, especially with new users. Being helpful too is a bonus.
  • Neutral and concise comments are preferred, friendly comments are welcome, snarky ones are not. [See this MSO question for a larger discussion]

As more answers are added/voted around I'll keep this summary updated. Hopefully this question will become the community standard after it's been around long enough.

  • 9
    Would upvote this 10X if I could. Thanks for taking the time to post. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 20:10
  • 5
    What benefit is derived from encouraging participants with questions? Is there any way to encourage participants with answers? We can't even answer the questions we get now, and they're most of them the same questions anyway, with the same false presuppositions. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:09
  • 18
    @JohnLawler I'm not sure if you're being serious? People who learn will be able to help others in future, it helps a community grow and keeps it lively, etc, etc. If you are serious, then IMHO I'd have to say that your position is part of the problem. If you're going down that route, why not just stop accepting new questions and give up the pretence? Perhaps you should just add a message to the registration page saying "You're only welcome if you're here to answer questions, not ask them"?
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:37
  • 12
    [continued] I'd also point out that just because a new user's first question is a duplicate/low quality, it doesn't mean that all their future questions/answers will be too. Not everyone can get it right first time.
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:49
  • 4
    I would doubt that this is a community, under any but the most bureaucratic definitions. If people who don't understand something share their knowledge with others who understand less, how is this helping? I'm not talking, btw, about first questions (though those are the majority). Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 22:02
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    @JohnLawler - why do I suddenly have a vision in my head of John Lawler as a modern day Moses irritably/reluctantly leading the imbecile hoard out of the dark ages of language? Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 22:25
  • 8
    @JohnLawler And who is responsible (I won't say "to blame") for it not being a community? Why isn't it? Other SE sites seem to be able to achieve a community...
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 23:22
  • 1
    This particular topic seems to be a bad match for the presuppositions of the SE model, for a number of reasons. As to "who" is responsible, I certainly couldn't say; I'm a latecomer myself. And "who" is a rather odd question to be asking, anyway, in a forum where almost everyone uses an alias. Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 23:38
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    Now you're playing semantics. I didn't ask for name, address and phone numbers. It was a broad question intended to inspire thought. Howver, let's not get bogged down in this. I think we've both made our positions clear. FWIW I'm curious to know why you believe this site doesn't fit the presuppositions of the SE model. You may well be right but if so, you haven't convinced me of that yet. Perhaps you'd consider posting an answer which explains your opinion?
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 23:46
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    Completely agree. Unfortunately the individuals contributing most to the unfriendly atmosphere are often the most active on the site with huge reputations. They can always demonstrate they are "right" on their treatment of any specific post.
    – user24964
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 10:39
  • 11
    Couldn't agree more. People are dinks on this stack. Wayyy too many "duplicates here, here, here, here, here, and here" replies. What that says is "I spent 25 minutes looking for evidence about what a fat waste of time your post is." I mean, smarten up. This site is about regurgitating facts. Every answer is a duplicate of something written somewhere. Moreover, it's just a dickhead thing to do.
    – Hal
    Commented Apr 7, 2014 at 1:02

7 Answers 7


I have been wanting to ask this same question for 110 days now, give or take a few. When I first found EL&U, I was delighted. Since then, I've been dismayed many times by the lack of courtesy, kindness, and tolerance here. I have never even entertained inviting someone to the site (I know several PhD English professors, as well as ESL and regular English teachers). They're my friends, and friends don't invite other friends to be abused.

I realize this site does have standards found in the help sections. But comments don't politely refer people to the help sections. They are often just rude. Maybe not intentionally, but still, they are. (And I'm not above bad days, or annoyance at the thousandth newbie who wants his homework handed to him on a platter. I'm no saint.)

In the words of Jeff Atwood (same thread referred to above):

Still, I think this post would be stronger with actual real world examples of snarky comments (and some data on how often it was seen, next to the examples) to show people what not to do.

(Today) When this poster asked very politely asked Does “the motor speed” mean the speed of the motor?, the first comment (upvoted) was "Can you explain why it wouldn't be okay? Do you have the same problem with "internet speed"?"

(Today) This OP was asked (in comments) for context. On providing a link, the next comment was "Don't use comments to enhance the question. Edit the question to include all relevant information, including where you heard the expression" (3 upvotes) Then, on reading the link, another commenter wrote mockingly "I first saw it at this link that completely and entirely explains it using clear language. What is the point of this question?" (4 upvotes)

(Today) This user does a typical mash up of misunderstanding common to learners, in this case, thinking just changes a verb's tense. First comment (1 upvote): What makes you think the word ‘just’ makes any difference? In “did you win”, win is not a present form; it’s an infinitive. You cannot have two finite forms in the same verbal unit. Also, e.g. means ‘for example’ (Latin exemplī grātiā ‘for the sake of an example’), so for e.g. means ‘for for example’ and does not make sense. (No decipherable - to OP - helpful answer here; mostly a rant.) OP replies: "I wasn't sure, that's why I'm posting a question.. and wow... this community is pretty harsh in the way downvotes are given."

A not unusual comment here: "1) please try searching before asking questions here. A 3 second google search will give you answers 2) don't combine multiple questions into one." Not the worst rebuke in the world, but not nice, either.

One unfortunate used y'all or something like it, enough to warrant this comment: "Mayhap thou shouldst attempt to recast thy queries in the second person singular, for surely the second person plural hath soundly defeated thee, yea unto uttermost incomprehensibility, here most readily taken as mortal insult to the very tongue thou wouldst so dishonor with thine unlettered scrivenings." (upvoted)

And my two personal favorites. #1. An OP misunderstood a passage in the King James Bible (pardon my anglais, but the KJV is a bitch to read). My comment: "Sometimes, when in doubt, it helps to have a more modern translation at hand to compare." The following was a reply to my comment: "The typography, morphology, syntax, and lexical items used in English Bibles (which are, of course, always merely translations of Greek, Aramaic, and Hebrew originals) represent nothing more than the translators' takes on the best way to represent something by current standards. Since "current" covers the last 5 centuries of English, this is, to say the least, a mess. Nothing in an English translation can be depended on; always consult the originals." (emphasis mine) Here is someone stating with authority that we are slackers if we read the Bible in our own tongue, and disregards the fact that we have no originals (that's correct; all we have are copies of copies of copies of copies of copies with who knows how many transcription errors.)

#2. This is a comment I got constantly for any answer which had no linked source: "-1 Always substantiate your "answer" with a canonical reference. Opinions are more appropriate in the form of comments, not answers." Meanwhile, the commenter was generous to others who almost never link sources. It was personal; but the point is, it was unfriendly. It was unkind. It was unpleasant.

This looks like a rant, but it's actually merely a substantiation of the OP's mild and wise admonition to be welcoming. This is a minute fraction of the insider (or insider wannabe) rudeness that occurs on this site.

In the time it took to write this answer, please note the quality of comment the OP got in reply to his post above, the number of views, and the number of upvotes. There must be something to his post.

  • 9
    Thanks for the support, I'm glad I'm not the only one to feel this way. Re: "friends don't invite other friends to be abused" I assumed that EL&U would be similar to the other SE sites I know and love, so didn't even consider the possibility that they'd get the reception they did. I know the comment wasn't aimed at me but it's extrmely valid. I certainly wouldn't recommend the site to others now. Incidentally, since you have enough rep, can you see the up/down count on the question?
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 23:26
  • 7
    Sorry, I'm giving this a -1 simply because most of the comment examples you quoted in the top half of your post are examples of proper behavior. ELU as a whole could use less snark, sure, but asking people to explain why they think something is true should be encouraged. A lot of people ask questions that are inherently invalid or far too basic to maintain an interesting site. (Your final example, however, is abominable and also a pet peeve of mine.)
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 15:19
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    @MrHen I'd argue that voting to close/downvoting invalid questions is perfectly acceptable. Not commenting with an explanation is not particularly helpful to newbies but also acceptable. Where I think we have a problem is those who do take the time to comment doing so in a derogatory way. Instead of "You're an idiot read the FAQ", we should be aiming for "Unfortunately, this isn't a good fit for this site. The FAQ will explain why in more detail. You could make your question acceptable by doing X". Polite, helpful and still gets the question closed/tidied up.
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 15:30
  • 3
    @medica: Sorry, let me make myself more clear. The attitudes in the examples are bad, I agree. But the examples are attempting to accomplish the correct things. I did not understand from your post that you were focusing on the attitudes.
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 15:40
  • 9
    So I may be (really really) new here (I only actually registered yesterday), but even I have noticed this. My suggestion would be to actively down-vote answers which are both completely unhelpful and snarky, eg. like one of the answers here. Sure, I just lost a tiny bit of rep, but I'm willing to pay for that every once in a while. This is not the only thing that should be done, but maybe discouraging snark should be seen as the responsibility of established users, not newbies searching for answers?
    – Alicja Z
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 19:09
  • 3
    Being one of the quoted snarkers, I will readily agree that giving the Latin origin of e.g. is not necessarily helpful for the asker. It would be for me, though, and that’s why I included it. Like everyone else, I tend to describe and explain things in a way that I myself would find useful. This sometimes works, and sometimes doesn’t. I don’t agree that there was any snark (or ranting) in my comment, though. Many questions by new users here contain some point like, “I think X is the case, so why is Y not the case?”, and I think it is not only not snarky, but also necessary [con’t ->] Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 22:53
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    [-> cont’d] to ask the asker why it is they think that X automatically means Y when the two are quite unrelated concepts. Sadly, there are few ways of wording, “Why do you think X?” or “What makes you think X = Y?” that cannot be read as condescending. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 22:55
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    @JanusBahsJacquet - I'm sorry, I didn't mean to call you out personally on this. Perhaps I should not have included links; it was just that those were examples I had seen that very day. I don't generally see this as your style. Having said that, though, it's very difficult 'reading' tone from the average written comment. This line - You cannot have two finite forms in the same verbal unit. - was surprising to me; how would you expect someone who doesn't know that did is the past tense of do to understand that? It just doesn't read as behaving kindly to me. To others, I can't say. Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 23:07
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    I must be missing a crucial link in your argumentation chain. You say you wouldn't recommend the site to PhD English professors for fear of them getting abused, but "Does the motor speed mean the speed of the motor?" doesn't particularly strike me as a question a PhD English professor would actually ask.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 2:00
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    @RegDwigнt - Are we playing Name That Fallacy? I don't ask friends who might be interested in this site, who might make valuable contributions, because this is an often unpleasant environment. In what way does a low-quality question address that concern? Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 5:19
  • 4
    You might want to choose different examples. In the one about the fridge, the OP is actually giving a link to a page that answers the question perfectly. Pointing that out seems quite reasonable. Note that I agree with what you're describing, there is certainly too much snark here, I just don't think the examples you posted highlight this and that weakens your argument.
    – terdon
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 19:37
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    As the writer of the called-out "motor speed" comment, I just want to say that I wasn't trying to be snarky or dismissive. I was asking for clarification about the question, and exactly what he wanted answered. I assumed the same thing WS2 did, but I wasn't going to answer based on an assumption. Secondly, the question title and body ask two completely separate things, and in neither does it explicitly ask about possessives or apostrophes. As for the title, it's quite clear that he knows what it means.
    – Gob Ties
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 13:44
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    @Geobits - every person who writes such a comment can present their case as having been pure. When one commenter wrote What is it with you people? Why can't you remember to capitalize "I" and leave spaces after periods? (avoiding the OP's question completely), I commented That was totally unnecessary. He then replied with, What? I was just really curious why (nationality) often seem to have this problem. I was being sincere. See, everyone can claim innocence. The point is, motives do not express themselves in a few written words. That's why one should be careful with their words. Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 15:36
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    It's like Janus said above, there are few ways to ask "Why do you think X" that can't be seen as condescending to someone. The OP didn't seem to have any problem with my comment, or just ignored it if he did. While it's important to consider your words, readers shouldn't automatically assume rudeness when it's not there. I'm not going to be outright rude, but I'm also not going to spend fifteen minutes considering every hostile angle my words could present. If you think my comment was anywhere equivalent to "What is it with you people...", I just don't know what to say.
    – Gob Ties
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 15:44
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    This is a useful answer because it points out what comes across as snarky. Nerds like me, who never mastered the finer points of human interaction, don't always know when our meant-to-be-helpful comments come across as, well, mean.
    – Marthaª
    Commented Apr 1, 2014 at 1:41

As a relatively recent addition to the site, I would like to add my two cents.

As many above have pointed out, this site attracts three types of people.

  1. There are the people who stumble upon us by accident of trying to learn English. [Some of whom post the most basic of questions that any native speaker should be able to answer (on the surface)].

  2. People who are rather proficient in (or native to) the English language, and are seeking to understand the language, its nuances, and its usage.

  3. The ivory tower intellectual: people whose knowledge of the language dwarves that of us mere mortals.

I believe there is a place for each of us here.

The English Language Learners: should be sorted. If it is someone who demonstrates an advanced learner's knowledge of the language and is using the site as a means of honing their understanding, I throw my arms open and welcome them. (I can think of a few off the top of my head who fit this category.) This does not mean we will tolerate poorly researched questions or the like. It just means that we will view these posters as being valuable additions to the site. Personally, I find their questions to be among the most interesting. I enjoy the challenge of trying to explain the idiosyncrasies of my own language to outsiders.

The people who are not sufficiently proficient in English need to be shown to English Language Learners. But, I think we can be more friendly about it. I think we should each adopt a friendly version of a stock comment. Something like:

Welcome to ELU. This really does not meet the site's standards for an appropriate question. We do have a sister site that might be better suited to your needs, however. Please check out English Language Learners. If you put a bit more research into your question and post it there, I think you'll get a better answer.

I think a common theme on the site is annoyance with these people. But, in general, if their question is basic but well stated, I try to give them an answer in addition to the above comment.

The Proficient: I would say these are our bread and butter. Today's 1 rep point, may well become tomorrow's 41K. We have to make an effort to treat these people with respect. I'm not suggesting to tolerate their bad posts. I'm saying that we should make an effort to explain to them why a question or answer is not up to standards. And, to do it politely.

Welcome to ELU. This really does not answer the above question. Perhaps you can give a link to the definition of the key terms. And, explain how the term is used in relationship to the OP's question.

Welcome to ELU. Generally speaking we don't answer proofreading questions unless there is a point of concern that has been explained. Perhaps you'd like to ask whether or not the sentence is grammatical with [XYZ vs. ABC]. I think that is your underlying question here.

I've been making an effort to do this more of late.

The Ivory Tower Denizen: Well, even they start out with one rep point. And, typically they will climb the ranks on their own. Just give them guidance on how to properly interact on the site.

Welcome to ELU. That is a really great answer. Can you please post a link to a source for that information? In general, we prefer sources when possible.

Everyone: In general, the most important thing you can do to be welcoming to someone is to leave a comment on their posts. FumbleFingers and Bradd Szonye are both excellent at this. If they find your answer interesting, they tell you so. If they find it flawed, they tell you so (generally politely until you're a regular ;-p ). But, they speak to people. In the month and change I've been active here, they were among the first to make me feel welcomed. It went a long way to making me stay.

So, in summary: Be kind. Don't tolerate crap, but, be nice while you're not tolerating it.

  • 6
    Interestingly, I used to welcome first posters I came across because I was welcomed, and I thought it was polite. Sometimes I redirected (Hi, and Welcome to EL&U. You might be interested in our sister site, English Language Learners; you can find it [here]. It's helpful in answering basic questions.) or asked for more (Welcome to EL&U. We appreciate added information about your question, such as the context...) and sometimes just Hi, and welcome to EL&U. I got a long message from a mod to cut it out. ("You've recently left a number of comments that have raised certain concerns...") Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 5:42
  • @medica Interesting. I can't imagine why? Perhaps you could post a meta asking.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 5:43
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    @medica Really? Wow. -- I wouldn't have expected that. I've seen some of those welcoming posts of yours and thought they were fine. Actually, I had been wondering why you had stopped doing that. . . .
    – F.E.
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 5:46
  • 1
    @medica That's unfortunate. (: - Another topic: I'm getting irritated on this site over some other issues. Ran into one of those issues again tonight. I'd say that this site actually has problems on both ends: 1 - Allowing beginner English questions by EFL speakers that should have been automatically switched to ELL, 2 - ELU helpers closing threads for erroneous reasons. I think those two problems are the major ones. And those two problems should be the first problems actively addressed by the management, imo.
    – F.E.
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 5:53
  • 1
    @medica Whoops, I had put the wrong smilie on that previous post of mine. I had meant a "sad face". Ouch.
    – F.E.
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 6:02
  • @medica Yeah, I've been typing too much tonight. Way too much. I was thinking about opening a new thread in meta, but I really don't have the time. I suppose if I finally get to 3K in rep points, I might then be able to assist in reducing a few of the problems in ELU -- but ah got a suspicion that once I get those points, that I probably won't have much of an effect.
    – F.E.
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 6:09
  • 1
    I used to post a lot of welcome comments, seen other people do it too, but not so much recently. Perhaps somebody other than medica should ask on meta as to its appropriateness? Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 9:37
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    @medica I too noticed that you had stopped welcoming newbies, which I quite liked, and wondered why you had stopped so soon. I mean after 6 months or a year, I can imagine someone just not bothering any more but membership wise, you're still a baby in EL&U world (I like to think of myself as being a toddler)!
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 19:08
  • I know that I can be too matter-of-fact with criticism, especially with veteran users. With newbies I always try to remember my pleases and thank yous, at least. Not sure it helps when I'm asking somebody to jump through hoops to accommodate SE/ELU culture though. Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 21:24
  • @BraddSzonye I'm not sure I was suggesting jumping through hoops as much as trying demystify the culture.
    – David M
    Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 22:32
  • 1
    To a newbie, I'm not sure there's a perceptible difference between the two. ;) Commented Mar 29, 2014 at 22:43
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    @medica Erm, double wow!! I do not believe it. It was your welcoming comments to new users that made me think that you were a mod! I've also (like F.E. above) been wondering why they'd stopped. That in itself must be worth a question on meat here ... Grrrrr I think you should keep up the good work. Your friendly comments to new users were such an antidote to the (often self-deleted after they've offended) comments from other users to newbies. It almost made me want to stay active on this site ... :) Commented May 17, 2015 at 17:01

The problem as I see it is that some of the more active high-rep users perceive this as a site for lovers of English, whereas the Internet-using public at large perceives it as a site for users of English. Consequently, new users are made to feel like unwelcome interlopers when they come here and behave as the Stack Exchange experience has trained them to behave.

For most people, English is not a hobby, like cooking or cycling or photography, to be studied in all its manifestations and savored for its quirks and tortured history and discussed as one might talk about a dream or a lover. It is a medium of communication and a tool, and in many parts of the world, its use is not optional: you have to use it to get things done, whether you're fond of it or not. So people have reasonable questions about it, as they will, and they know that Stack Exchange is a place you can go to ask reasonable questions in a respectful way and get useful answers from experts. So they go here, and whoa, there's a SE site called "English Language and Usage" and it's huge, it's one of the biggest boxes on the page and it's right up at the top. And from there they go here, and there are lots of questions about English at different levels of expertise, so clearly this is the right place. And so they ask their question...

...and it gets closed as "off-topic." Your question is too basic for us, you silly child. Why didn't you consult Fowler's Modern English Usage before wasting everyone's time? Or the OED Online (you do have an active subscription, don't you)? Both are clearly listed as resources in this years-old question on our meta site; why didn't you check there first? We can't help you here, I'm afraid, and if this question is an example of what you're capable of, it would probably be best if you didn't try to ask any others in the future. Perhaps you'll have better luck asking your "question" at our sister site for children and ESL students.

This community needs to face the truth about itself. Despite what it says on our tour page, this is not a site for "serious English language enthusiasts," and it never will be. It can't be. It's too big for that, and it has the wrong name for it. Whatever hopes and dreams we might have about this being a utopian society for language lovers, it's simply not reasonable to expect the rest of the world to ever see it the same way. Ever.

For a group as aggressively anti-prescriptivist as we tend to be, we certainly do take a prescriptivist attitude toward the functions and goals of this site. My advice: let ELU be what it will be, a site for people who use English and want to learn to use it a little bit better, and treat those people accordingly.

  • 7
    I think you are right in that this site doesn't do a good job dealing with "basic" questions but the current attitude to "basic" questions is a reaction to when the site ran wild with really uninteresting rep farming off of dictionary and thesaurus lookups. There is, presumably, some middle ground between there and here but I've yet to see a convincing proposal.
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 19:55
  • PS) You may find this post from 2011 relevant. This isn't a new problem.
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 19:56
  • PSS) Here is another one from the same era.
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 20:00
  • Knock, knock. Are you still active?
    – user98990
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 22:04
  • I'm a bit busy with work these days, but I expect to return soon.
    – phenry
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 22:45
  • +1. I encountered (a month or so ago) a Meta editorial you authored concerned with who EL&U actually served and was frequented by. Was very provocative. And very good. Love to talk w/you about that OP, someday.
    – user98990
    Commented Apr 30, 2015 at 23:51
  • Thanks! That's nice to hear.
    – phenry
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 0:17

I've since found out that they've all - without exception - stopped using the site, most of them without even posting. One of them said the comments tended to be rude and arrogant, another said she was made to feel unwelcome.

While I enjoy the idea of having people swing by the site to hang out and have fun, EL&U is intended to be a site to help people solve problems. We need to make sure we focus on that particular goal.

That being said, I do agree that many of the comments are arrogant and rude. EL&U suffers from a jackass expertise problem in that a lot of high rep users act as if they are an authority on the subject matter when, in reality, they just have more useless internet points.

Furthermore, our particular subject material makes this even worse because there are longstanding opinion wars around what is or is not proper English. This makes interacting with new users even more difficult because they can accidentally wander into old fights between these opinion and the posters on this site are more than willing to restart the opinion flinging.

There is also an inherent temptation to wax eloquent simply because most of the high rep users have an honest love and appreciation for the language. It can be hard to use one sentence when four sentences work just as well.

In my opinion, these three things combine into one horrible first encounter for new users. You basically get some mixture of:


But past all of those things, we also have an longstanding battle between "care about everything" and "care about only the most useful things". Many of the recent meta discussions have revolved around this debate and I think this has seeped out into the main site in the form of far too much snark.

It is okay to guide users into making better questions. It is okay to edit posts and improve them. It is okay to challenge invalid assumptions behind questions. It is not okay to this in a snarky manner or in a way that would put the poster down or belittle them.

It can be challenging to endure the wave after wave of boring, newb questions but that is one of the reasons we are here. We are here to solve problems and answer questions.

So, in the end, I agree that a Summer of Love would be great. But to me that means doing what we do without the jackass attitude. Or, in Joel's own words:

So we decided to declare the summer of 2012 as The Summer of Love, a.k.a. “The Hunting of the Snark.” The goal is simple: to keep Stack Exchange a welcoming, friendly place without lowering our standards. No, you may not ask “plz send me the code” questions, but if you do, we will explain to you, in a friendly and professional way, what you did wrong.

And the Meta.SE thread Joel linked is a great place to start looking for ways to improve yourself.

  • 3
    Do you feel I was implying I invited people here to hang out? If so, that wasn't my intention. The people I referred are those who have a passion for the language and enjoy spending an evening arguing over linguistic minutiae. I thought they'd not only benefit from the site but also contribute. In any case, I agree with your "In the end...". I've never said that I think any of the decision or actions taken by the community are wrong. Being an infrequent user, I don't know enough to judge by community standards. I just feel that the way it's being done is needlessly abrasive.
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 16:00
  • 1
    No, I don't think you were implying that. I was just setting up the context for the rest of my post. Sorry if that was confusing. I think you overall point is dead on. I was just adding what I thought were specific causes of the problem.
    – MrHen
    Commented Mar 28, 2014 at 16:01
  • Really enjoyed your compositional skill & the substance of this OP.
    – user98990
    Commented May 1, 2015 at 0:00

I like to think that every critique (disregarding for the moment its supplier's intention or tone) demonstrates the supplier's vision for the SE. Editing out chaff from questions leaves questions that are easy to understand and quick to scan. Discouraging link rot by including relevant quotes saves the reader time and promotes the site's autonomy. Diligent moderation of the logic and sources behind posts builds an academic presence online, filling a niche that similarly structured sites do not provide on all posts (NSFW). This thread, too, asks for discourse to be friendly as well as academic.

I think there is goodness in all of these visions and thus that there ought to be a place here for each. But there are complications. It can be hard to convey the intended tone in writing, especially when formal. It's not difficult for a comment meaning to be precise-but-concise to come across as curt. Or for emphases via italics or quotes to seem like mockery. Or for speaking plainly to seem brunt or condescending, and speaking with big but perfectly suited words to seem pompous. I cannot add emoticons, or I and me, or friendly forum acronyms (e.g., TIA and HTH) and sometimes the pleasantries they expand to without feeling I'm detracting from my own vision of a scholarly ELU or upsetting forum etiquette. And yet, by not adding them, I sometimes find a gruff or austere reading of posts I wrote with a nicer tone in mind.

And actions too can be mistaken: A new user, by misunderstanding the site or its culture, may do or say something that mistakenly seems aggressive.

So some things may seem harsh by accident or misinterpretation. But there are others that come across too brusque, more at-home on a more recreational website. For these, I've been wondering what others think of a loosely-defined "Milestones protocol," where the correction of unwanted behavior is dealt with according to the status of the user. For questions and answers, the user's rep is easily visible; in comments, it can be seen by hovering over the username.

A user with 1 rep who posts a question easily answered by Google-search or related ELU question ought to be held less accountable than one with 100 rep, who may be an active user on another SE. Because the 1 rep user is new, if their question gets closed it is good to tell them what that means and how to avoid it in the future. The gist is to deal gently with users with lower rep and post counts, who may be unfamiliar with the site. (Admittedly spammers and sock puppets may match these criteria, so if not blatant a severer strategy may be needed for repeat offenders.)

The idea is to encourage good habits in new users and discourage bad habits in more experienced users. This happens naturally a lot of the time, but it's easy to get caught up in the question and forget the credentials/background of the source. I think this could be a nice addition to the excellent suggestion of Summer of Love.

  • I think you've got some valid points there. Referring to SO, if I see a "dumb" post by a user with 1 rep, I'll usually say "That's not the right fit here because of X. In any case, welcome to SO and hope to see you around in future". On the other hand, if it's someone with 1k+, I'll close/delete and possibly bring it up on meta to allow the OP to see from multiple users that they're wrong. As to emoticons... I'm torn. I use them with friends/casual situations but not on forum posts and much as they'd help convey tone, I just don't think they're appropriate.
    – Basic
    Commented Mar 30, 2014 at 20:53
  • 1
    @Basic: That's a good philosophy, and I think part of what makes it so is its fairness. Ideally a new user would have taken time to get to know ELU, to learn what makes a post good or bad in the community's eyes, before posting. (That effort and respect shows in the final product and is reciprocated.) But it is understandable if they are so new to the process, that that didn't even occur to them. A 1+k user ought to know, but if they don't then they learn from the meta post and improve their next posts. The snarky posts we wish to do away with, I posit, are posts that are somehow being unfair.
    – user39720
    Commented Mar 31, 2014 at 22:44

I have had a few colleagues and friends use the site. Their main comments to me included:

  1. They felt that people just upvoted at will just because someone with high-rep answered a question.

  2. Two told me they answered a question and then a higher-rep person took their answer and "expanded" on it as their own answer. Both basically said they would probably never use the site again.

  3. Almost all commented on some of the encyclopedia type answers. Their comments on these were that they weren't going to read an answer that is 50 lines unless it really takes 50 lines to make the whole point. And then they also couldn't understand how these answers were so upvoted.

  4. They found it hard to want to cite a bunch of references when they see other answers don't.

My opinions on these:

  1. There is a bit of chicken/egg stuff going on here but there is definitely some in-voting. I am sure we can all produce ridiculous answers that had the most votes or accepted. Not sure I see this on many other stack sites.

  2. Definitely true. I go out of my way to vote anything above average for new user. I will also downvote any user taking advantage of another user's answer. I think it is nicer to help them expand. This is a common issue on the non-tech stack sites.

  3. I don't read these answers, so no opinion if they are good or not.

  4. I could see comments about citations putting new users off here. If it is something that you can google and it's a top hit or if it is common reference then why comment on it?

I received mixed feedback on ELU. I think part of it has to do with the diverse reasons why people use the site, part of it because of some possible inclusionist behavior, and part of it because the English language has a few major branches and for some questions we would just have to agree to disagree.

  • Interesting points. I think some of them deserve their own questions on meta (esp. Encyclopedia answers & References). Re: the upvote for rep, I haven't been around long enough to see it here but I've seen the same on other SE sites. I don't know what the right answer is. Do you notice a correlation between high rep users and wordy posts? If so, it may be that some of the upvoters don't fully understand so infer it's right by the poster's rep.
    – Basic
    Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 20:42
  • @Basic - I think there is a small correlation in long answers and high-rep in that a person with higher rep probably cares enough to work on those answers. However I don't think all high rep members (or even most) give long, encyclopedia answers. A nice gesture to a new user that has a question or answer would be to edit their q or a so that it is better - not totally different. Instead of making a commenting on citing something - take the exact same amount of time and throw in a definition to the answer. Things like that would help. Commented Apr 2, 2014 at 20:50
  • 1
    You've raised good points that many wouldn't raise. Upvoting high rep users happens; this comment was left on a high rep user's answer: "+1. Thank you. Please don`t be affrighted by my selection, in the interest of the differences in reputation points." As far as stealing, I've seen that very rarely, and I assume anything I say in comments is fair game for someone who wants to expand on it. I will downvote a higher user's answer if I see it's taken advantage of someone else, but not lower rep/new users who may not know yet. I don't know if these issues have solutions. Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 8:02
  • 1
    I keep reading about your aversion to long answers. Sometimes an answer deserves more than one sentence. I believe some posters are better at explaining complex matters more succinctly than others, it's right that their answers are preferred. On single-word-requests, however, one word and a brief description is all that is needed. If I do some research and I believe the results are interesting AND connected to the question, why not share? The OP can choose whether to spend five minutes reading an answer or if s/he expects a three-line answer ignore the post. :)
    – Mari-Lou A
    Commented Apr 3, 2014 at 11:16
  • All points are interesting, but all points strike me as non-ELU-specific, anecdotal evidence. Point one in particular is nonsense that flies in the face of actual data. Just check the top-rep users and see how many votes they got for their latest ten answers on average. (Even Barrie only has 5. I am a 50k user myself and my average is 3.) I get the feeling someone just ran into a Multicollider question, didn't quite understand what was going on, and wrongly decided it had to do with rep. There is exceptionally little in-voting here. Most votes come from the MC, read: random passersby.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 15:15
  • [cont'd] Point 2 is just something that regularly happens on every Q&A site ever, and SE actually expressly welcomes improving on other people's answers. If I can't live with that, that's fine. I don't have to post answers. But I am still welcome to participate by other means, e.g. voting. Or just reading! Point 3 is not something I have noticed here at all, so it sounds like an exaggeration to me. Point 4 is fair, yes, but again just something that happens on all Q&A sites. Citations are encouraged, but ultimately I'd have to see the particular questions to tell if something went wrong.
    – RegDwigнt
    Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 15:24
  • 3
    @RegDwigнt - I wasn't trying to represent these points as facts. This was things mentioned to me from friends. And the women were more put off by the site than the men. I get that some/all of these topics might not be just ELU related but more of a stack thing. I think the fact that almost every answer is opinion/creative based amplifies the new user experience - whether good or bad. I think that points 2&4 are valid and attributed to attitude of the site's users. Points 1&3 were just opinions - valid or not. Really hard to change these things. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 17:20
  • @Mari-LouA - It is not an aversion to long answers. For etymology questions they might be needed. However I have noticed there is a direct correlation in a long answer and it being a non-answer. If there is a payoff and there are interesting facts then it is all good to me. But please no more 1 pagers on, there is no word for what you want or we have no idea where the word came from. Commented Apr 4, 2014 at 17:22

I'm a newbie educating myself on the culture here. I have had experience on a Usenet site where the nastiness was orders of magnitude greater than anything I have seen here; I have seen some snark, but not yet ad hominem personal attacks. I would agree that starting anything with "What is wrong with you/those (ethnicity)?" is an atrocity – but you only seem to have one example of that, before my time.

On the other hand, it takes two to tango, and a noticeable feature of internet culture – it goes back before the Millennials, confer my Usenet experience , which was the late 80s and early 90s – is that some (not all) students not only want you to do their most basic homework for them, entirely for them, but also have a sense of entitlement about it, so they do not need to ask politely. It's do this for me, do that for me, peel me a grape. I have met this in realspace too: the niece of a friend wanted help with an assignment, received pointers, and then complained that I should have written it all for her, and in a different language to boot. I haven't spoken to her since. If I ever meet spoiled brats like that here, with an heroic effort of self-control I may remain silent, but making nice to them is not on the agenda.

If the community wants to try to be more polite, well and good, but do the questioners have no obligation of couthness as well?


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