15

The question of posting limitations was brought up several months ago, wherein we learned that there are post limits for some SE sites and not for others. We learned that the limitations are 6 questions per day and 50 questions per month, which everyone seemed to agree was quite reasonable.

At that time, the community felt that users who posted an excessive number of questions were few and far between. Because of that, we didn't want to give the impression of targeting a particular user who had been posting many, many questions every day for a few weeks prior to proposal of enabling the limitations. The community preferred to have the moderators intercede, which we did, and then we moseyed on about our business.

Since that time, we have had a number of new users who have posted a flood of questions in their first two weeks of being members. The moderators have tried to catch these users and help them slow down, in a fashion similar to the previous situation (and thus reduce it to a problem previously solved).

Although it has not been a huge number, just a handful—I can think of at least four without looking—moderators would not have had to intercede at all if the question limits were enabled. I believe that the limits would have helped the users better than moderation interaction (because it is the system and not a person imposing the restriction). I also feel the users would have had a more positive interaction with the community because they would have been prevented from asking many low-quality questions, so the feedback they received from the community would have been more focused (six comments asking to show more research instead of forty, six closed questions instead of forty). In addition, the community would have been significantly less frustrated by users who don't seem to learn, and the users would have been less frustrated at having all their well-intentioned attempts met with criticism.

In short, it is my belief that enabling the restrictions will reduce the large amount of friction that can be generated by a very small number of users who need a certain sort of guidance on how to use this site effectively.

I would like to request that the question limitations (6/day, 50/month) be enabled on our site. We need a StackExchange employee to do this. We also need your approval. What say you?


Please vote on this answer.


Please also post an answer with your perspective on the topic (if you so desire). I feel we've had a lot of consideration for why restrictions are a good idea, and I want to make sure we haven't overlooked any compelling reasons why having the restrictions is a bad idea.

  • 3
    I haven't really seen a reason why the number of questions per se would be bad if it were, say, two questions a day for a month. If there questions are good, they're good; if they're bad, they're bad. Shouldn't such a limit only be in order to block actual spammers? Do we have so many users now who post far too many question that we need an automated response? – Cerberus_Reinstate_Monica Jul 24 '14 at 0:43
  • 2
    @Cerberus It would have the added benefit of blocking spammers if we weren't actually really good at getting those. And the answer to your second question is yes. I think I made my case for that. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 24 '14 at 0:49
  • 3
    Are you saying that the community is failing to close vote / down vote questions that you would rather not have on the site and you want to remove the community voice and replace it with an automated system that will prevent further questions (with no regard to quality) being asked after the first 6/50 (again with no regard to the quality of the existing questions)? That doesn't seem very community spirited. If it's just one or two users there is a suspension reason of low-quality contribution that you can use, if they post a lot of high-quality questions why would you want to block them? – Frank Jul 24 '14 at 5:33
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    @Frank I think it would be beneficial to have an opposing view posted as an answer, so we can get a feel for how much of the community agrees with your position. I encourage you to represent the voice of "no, we don't want the restrictions". In response to your questions, the restrictions don't prevent the questions from being asked, they just prevent the questions from being asked all at once. I know one or two users every month doesn't seem like much, but we do spend a considerable amount of effort trying to help them, when it amounts to "slow down and listen first". – Kit Z. Fox Jul 24 '14 at 12:42
  • 3
    @KitFox: I think with a "vote" type question like this it's important to separate upvotes for the question (meaning "This is an important issue which should be raised on Meta") from up/downvotes for favoured response. When I asked about it before, I just wanted to know how the system currently works, so there was no reason to downvote the question on the basis of any position I might hold (I assume the single downvote was from someone who thought the issue wasn't worth discussing). Here, we need positions to vote for (either to change the status quo, or stand pat). – FumbleFingers Jul 24 '14 at 14:19
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    @FumbleFingers Currently there are three posts supporting the introduction of limits (the question and two answers, none of which have any downvotes at present) and no contrary opinion, presumably because no-one so far supports it. If you would like to post a contrary opinion, I'll happily downvote it :-) – Andrew Leach Jul 24 '14 at 21:17
  • 1
    I don't think it needs an opposing view put forward, that's not what you are asking. As @FumbleFingers has sort of said, if you want a vote then put forward the proposal (a single line is enough - should we switch on the 6/50 limit?) and provide two answers Yes and No and then people can vote properly. As it's written at the moment this 'question' is the same as most of the other 'proposals' made here: indeterminable. – Frank Jul 25 '14 at 7:25
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    It's not indeterminable. If you want to vote No, then write an answer advocating that view for others to agree with. If no-one advocates a contrary opinion, then no-one is against the proposal. Technically, everyone has either voted for, or abstained. (That said, there has now been one downvote on each of the three current posts, so presumably someone disagrees with the proposal.) – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '14 at 10:48
  • I'd support your proposal if it increased the ratio of good questions to bad and so made it harder for the forum to get overwhelmed by a tide of dross (which would also mean that it would be easier for those answering to focus on the good questions). The question is, would this actually lead to the desired result? Before any such measure is implemented, I think you need to run the numbers for the past half year or so to determine with precision what numerical limits would have made how much difference for each of the months. You need hard data as a decision-making basis, not just a gut feeling – Erik Kowal Jul 25 '14 at 10:50
  • @Erik: Whether or not imposing the limit leads to an improvement in the good:bad question ratio (by your classification criteria) is just one possible factor to take into account (my guess is it would make no significant difference). But I'm happy to endorse this proposal simply because the mods want it, and it would make life easier for them. Any potential downsides seem negligible to me, and even though I'd prefer a tweak, my support here is not dependent on that being implemented. – FumbleFingers Jul 25 '14 at 11:33
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    @AndrewLeach I've added two simple Yes/No answers. There is no need to agree or disagree with any points made by me because I haven't added any, nor by voting on either answer is anyone agreeing to 'my' position. – Frank Jul 25 '14 at 11:34
  • Seems that Yes and No answers with up/down vote abilities are also not as simple as they ought to be. ;) – Frank Jul 25 '14 at 11:59
  • @Frank Yes, Meta doesn't work that way. You have a proposal, or two contrary proposals, and get upvotes and downvotes on each. If you only want people to vote once, only have one thing they can vote on (either up/agree or down/disagree). Then you get an aggregate position. – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '14 at 12:01
  • @AndrewLeach I've chopped it down into one (the -1 vote for No was presumably accompanied by a +1 for Yes). The reason the KitFox question and the medica and phenry answers aren't votable on (for me) are that neither of them say 'Yes' and if I vote for them I am agreeing to the whole content (which I don't). Simple Yes +/- is much easier. – Frank Jul 25 '14 at 12:08
  • Commenting here so as not to clutter up the yes/no voting answer. I'm not in the 'no' side so I wouldn't make an argument for it not to happen. I also didn't think you were looking for a discussion (it has been discussed before). And ... that's not my down vote there. – Frank Jul 25 '14 at 13:41
18

Up vote: Implement the 6/50 restriction.


Down vote: Do not implement the 6/50 restriction.

  • Thank you, Frank. I was rather hoping for more discussion from the "no, we don't want restrictions" side. Are you sure you don't want to post an answer about that as well? – Kit Z. Fox Jul 25 '14 at 13:09
  • @KitFox - I've had a go at presenting the opposing point of view in a separate answer to your question. – Erik Kowal Jul 26 '14 at 8:33
9

I can see definite advantages to all users if these restrictions were implemented. KitFox has mentioned the obvious ones.

No one objects to a slew of good questions. If a user decided to post, say, 12 good questions in the span of 24 hours, I think everyone would be happy, and everyone would win. However, in reality this is not a scenario I have ever witnessed (granted I've only been here for going on 8 months.) The proposed limitation will not affect the vast majority of users here in any negative manner.

What it will do is prevent a situation that's problematic. Generally I don't like close voting, preferring the site to be welcoming and that users (including myself) provide helpful advice about questions. But when such advice goes unheeded, or worse yet, results in nasty exchanges in comments and meta posts challenging down votes and closings, no one really wins. Add to that a measure of burn out, and what we witness then is a spate of unwelcoming, sometimes downright nasty comments in response to users' poor questions. Who needs that? Multiply it by many bad questions in a short period, then fatigue and disregard spills over to relatively innocent users' questions in the form of swift, unexplained closures.

If you have been here long enough, you will recognize a few users who exemplified this behavior before (and now). Some were suspended, some banned, only to return as trolls. One has become a high rep user who obviously provides helpful answers.

Why not just suspend the offenders? Because suspension is hard. Suspension is to some extent difficult on the moderators (if you followed the election chat, you'll have read that.) It's to some degree subjective (see above), and it's punitive by nature. Why do that when a questions per day limit might possibly prevent that? By nature, it's impersonal. If someone has burning questions, they can always post them the next day. But it will prevent the spate of questions from the student who wants help with every sentence of an essay they need to write. It will allow new users to get to know the site better as they post their questions. It will prevent people who stumble upon this site from excitedly posting a slew of inappropriate questions because they got an answer to their first post. It will make the site tidier and possibly will lead visitors to see it as a higher quality site with expectations from users.

It will inconvenience a very small number of users while helping to improve the site overall.

  • 1
    nasty exchanges ... challenging down votes and closings I think any user should be able to ask why their question has been down voted; getting an answer to that can help them improve their question before it gets put on hold. As for requests for reopening, that is guidance from the site itself, each 'on hold' reason comes with the information If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question or leave a comment. How nasty it becomes is up to the community; downright nasty comments should be flagged away by the community. – Frank Jul 24 '14 at 7:11
  • I have no problem with people asking why they were downvoted in comments. Also, I do flag hostile comments. And, yes, I believe this entire issue should be handled by the community. – anongoodnurse Jul 24 '14 at 8:26
  • 2
    You've said everything I would have done, with the possible exception of helping an asker avoid a permanent question ban by having too many questions downvoted/deleted. I don't think there will be many (if any) unintended consequences. As I wrote elsewhere, "I would certainly expect someone producing questions for ELU not to manage more than two per day before becoming worn out with the effort." – Andrew Leach Jul 24 '14 at 8:45
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    Maybe to avoid the 'on-hold - reopen request' issues it would be a good idea to encourage close voting users to mention in comments that they have close voted and give their reason, this might give enough time for the author to improve their question and avoid the need for 'on-hold - edit - meta request - discussion - reopen'. (This should perhaps be a different meta question) – Frank Jul 24 '14 at 8:49
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    @Frank I'm not sure how it will give the author time to improve their question, because they are already in the middle of writing the tenth question past the one that just got closed. They are too busy asking more questions to improve the old ones. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 24 '14 at 12:41
  • @KitFox I meant, generally, not just for users who ask a few questions in a short space of time. – Frank Jul 25 '14 at 7:08
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    The only thing I don't agree entirely with is the first bit of your second paragraph. Even if we limit ourselves to good, high-quality questions, I for one would not like to see someone do as I've seen a few new users do (with bad questions), and post barrages of questions non-stop. 12 questions in one day might be fine, but if it's 12 questions every day, then even high-quality questions can become wearisome. I would rather such a hypothetical person then use 50% of their energy on making six questions a day absolutely spectacular. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 27 '14 at 11:46
9

Look at what we have now. I see questions being asked that, in isolation, bear all the hallmarks of a "good" question--they raise reasonable points, they're well-phrased and courteous, they clearly explain the research the asker has done and why it didn't answer the question—yet they begin to gather downvotes almost immediately, apparently due solely to the identity of the person asking the question. It's hard for me to see how that's good for anybody. Downvoting a good question because of personal animosity toward the asker is ugly and unfair, and people who do it really ought to be ashamed of themselves. Moreover, it's bad for the site as a whole when new and infrequent visitors see perfectly reasonable questions getting downvoted and closed for mystifying and seemingly arbitrary reasons. If we have a reputation for being unwelcoming and mean-spirited—and we do—maybe this is part of the reason why.

At the same time, it's absolutely possible for someone to exhaust the community's patience purely by asking an overwhelming number of questions over a short period of time, regardless of the quality of the questions themselves. Someone who persists in this behavior despite clear evidence that it exasperates people is either incapable of reading the room, or just doesn't care on some level. Either way, it's not really fair to other people who have the right to ask questions and have them receive the attention they are due.

A reasonable and impersonal question limit may be the best way to solve these problems. It may not affect many people, in practice, but it would apply to everyone equally, and that's the important part. Surely having the software handle it impersonally is a better solution than having quasi-vigilantes single out perceived bad actors for individual punishment by the moderator corps. If it doesn't affect many people in practice, that's a point in its favor, not against it. Six questions per day and 50 questions per month ought to be enough for anybody, and most people, even ones who tend to ask a lot of questions, are unlikely to ever bump up against the limit. For those that do, well, the limited allocation of questions just creates an incentive to make 'em good ones—which itself will reduce unfair downvoting and animosity toward the asker. Everyone wins.

  • 3
    Well said. It's applied equally, not just to users that are brought to our attention; it doesn't require personal interaction, which makes it seem far less hostile and is also less time-consuming; it encourages more focused questions; and it doesn't prevent users from asking. It balances the resources and it is a good solution for both these users and the rest of the community. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 24 '14 at 16:57
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    I upvoted this answer because it makes some good points. I disagree, however, with the vilification of closers. If a user is repeatedly asked not to post questions from an archaic source, yet continues with the excuse that the source is "required reading" (for him, perhaps, but not us), then his continued actions meet with it's consequences. To call the closers quasi-vigilantes is uncharitable, esp. when you recognize that the user isn't reading the room and the possibility exists to exhaust the community's patience. – anongoodnurse Jul 24 '14 at 19:13
  • 1
    Well ok.... so you totally changed my perspective. So what? That doesn't make you like God or something. ;) – Lumberjack Jul 26 '14 at 0:00
5

Erik asked in a comment for some quantitative data. By way of example, these are real figures for one fairly prolific poster, whom I do not intend to identify. These figures come from SEDE (with the final columns being totalled in a spreadsheet), so they only go as far as the SEDE data.

I'm not sure how the fifty per month is calculated, so for this purpose I used a rolling period of 30 days.

For each date in the first column, there are the number of questions posted on that date and then the number posted during the thirty days ending on that date. The final two columns show the effect of the limits (that is, how questions could have been posted if the limits were already in place).

dd/MM/yyyy  N/Day  N/30   Ltd  Ltd-30
28/08/2013     1     1     1     1
14/10/2013     1     1     1     1
15/10/2013     2     3     2     3
19/10/2013     1     4     1     4
21/10/2013     1     5     1     5
23/10/2013     2     7     2     7
30/10/2013     1     8     1     8
08/11/2013     2    10     2    10
17/11/2013     1     8     1     8
22/12/2013     1     1     1     1
08/01/2014     1     2     1     2
10/01/2014     1     3     1     3
31/01/2014     1     3     1     3
08/02/2014     2     4     2     4
09/02/2014     1     5     1     5
11/02/2014     1     5     1     5
19/02/2014     1     6     1     6
23/02/2014     1     7     1     7
28/02/2014     1     8     1     8
11/03/2014     2     7     2     7
13/03/2014     1     7     1     7
20/03/2014     1     7     1     7
13/06/2014     2     2     2     2
14/06/2014     3     5     3     5
15/06/2014     1     6     1     6
16/06/2014     2     8     2     8
17/06/2014     1     9     1     9
18/06/2014     4    13     4    13
19/06/2014     1    14     1    14
21/06/2014     3    17     3    17
23/06/2014     1    18     1    18
27/06/2014     2    20     2    20
28/06/2014     1    21     1    21
29/06/2014     5    26     5    26
30/06/2014     3    29     3    29
01/07/2014     1    30     1    30
03/07/2014     9    39     6    36  (Only 6 possible, hold 3 till next day)
04/07/2014     1    40     4    40
05/07/2014     5    45     5    45
06/07/2014     6    51     5    50
07/07/2014     5    56     0    50
09/07/2014     3    59     0    50
10/07/2014     2    61     0    50
11/07/2014     5    66     0    50
12/07/2014     4    70     0    50
13/07/2014     1    71     0    50
14/07/2014     7    76     2    50
15/07/2014     5    78     3    50

Even a "fairly prolific" poster would only run up against the limits after a concerted spree of question-posting.

The limits are intended to allow an asker, and the community at large, some respite from posting questions. For a poster who would like to be prolific, the limits will allow a build-up to 50/month, and then a fallow period until the questions "die off", when another burst will be possible.

If the 50/month is based on a calendar month, then this user would have been able to ask all their questions up till 16 July, and then prevented from asking questions at all until the end of the month.

The limits are intended to stop only the most prolific posters. The figures at the top of this list are far more typical, and would never trigger the block. Almost all members of the community would never reach the limits at all.

  • Among the implications to be drawn from that data: 1) Unless the start and end of a month is defined differently for different users (i.e. by staggering the question periods evenly across the user base), the forum could expect to see significantly more questions at the beginning of a month than at the end, because otherwise each new question period would start at the same time for all. 2) For this user, a daily limit of four questions would have lowered the daily totals on 8 of the 30 days (preventing 12 questions from being asked, or an average of 1.5 surplus questions on each of the 8 days). – Erik Kowal Jul 25 '14 at 21:16
  • (1) is why I started with a rolling 30-day period. A glut of questions at the beginning of each month on every site would not be good! (Although it could be coped with, because the second half of the month is recovery time) – Andrew Leach Jul 25 '14 at 22:43
2

Since KitFox has asked for some discussion that opposes the proposal to limit the number of questions that can be asked in a given period, I'll play devil's advocate. (Please note that I have not yet asked any questions, so I'm not grinding a personal axe here.)

Reasons not to have limits:

1) If I'm reading a particularly opaque or jargon-laden text, over a short space of time I might encounter numerous passages that I'm having trouble with and want some help to understand or interpret. If I can only ask a handful of questions per day, I could end up floundering for want of assistance.

2) I may be one of those insatiably curious people that love to grapple in depth with the topics that interest them, and have a tremendous capacity to absorb information and eagerly engage both with the material and with other people's perspectives. Low question limits will hamper my ability to investigate these topics, and will tend to chill my motivation and natural enthusiasm.

3) Though numerous, my questions may be so thoughtful and stimulatingly provocative that they have considerable value in deepening the understanding of those who attempt to answer them.

4) Nobody is forced to answer a question that doesn't interest them, or to which they feel they have nothing useful to respond.

5) One of the reasons that some people post many low-quality or low-interest questions may be that they either don't realize that the ELL forum exists and would be a better fit, or they don't feel happy about relegating their questions to what they perceive as being a low-status dumping-ground for questions from newbie learners of English. If that's the case, there's a more fundamental problem than the ELU forum simply receiving too many questions from a small number of prolific askers.

  • Thanks, Erik. I appreciate it. I think the majority of your points are sound, but the limits wouldn't prevent you from asking your questions (though you'd have to space them out) so I'm not sure if #3 and part of #2 really applies. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 26 '14 at 12:53
  • I agree entirely with @KitFox here: all the points here are well-made and sound; but the number of users that would be affected by them will almost certainly be a small fraction of the already small fraction of users who would ever be affected by the limits at all. – Janus Bahs Jacquet Jul 27 '14 at 11:43
  • 3
    +1 For #4. If more people would follow that there would be a lot less grief on this site, irrespective of the numbers of questions. – Frank Jul 27 '14 at 12:12
1

I'm of the opinion that a limit makes no sense, for the following simple reason:

If 50 new questions are added to the site in a month, it makes no difference whether they were all posted by the same user, or all posted by different users.

Somehow 50 questions posted by the same user is "worse" than 50 different users each posting a single question of similar quality. This is silly.

If you took a random sampling of 50 questions posted in the same month, why does the distribution of user names listed as the author have any impact on the quality of the questions?

If they're off-topic questions, they'll be closed as such, like any other. If they're poor questions they'll remain unanswered, like any other. If they're good questions they'll attract good answers, like any other.

If we went and edited the question database and displayed the same user name for every one of the thousands of questions currently on this site, would the quality of the questions on this site suddenly decrease based solely on the author's display name? Who cares if a given user asks a ton of questions; if they're good questions we want them here.

Throughout my involvement, as comparatively limited as it may be, in SE sites in general, the attitude I have been "raised" with here is always one of treating the question independently of the user who posts it. Obviously if a given user has a pattern of inappropriate questions it makes sense to, e.g., question-ban that user, but to impose an artificial limit on the number of questions that a user can ask - especially if those questions are good questions - accomplishes nothing at all aside from allowing less good questions to be posted on the site. It potentially hurts something, and most certainly helps nothing.

Unless you can definitively show that the general pattern of question quality on this site took a turn for the worse (which is actually the important thing here) when these users began posting, it makes no difference whether a group of questions has the same author or not.

If said "prolific" users were asking bad questions they would have been question-banned by now anyways; but they have not been, so I'm not sure what problem this limit is actually attempting to solve other than perhaps inexplicable personal peeves against people who ask a lot of questions.

  • This measure is to deter those very users who bombard the site with ill-thought out questions, or questions that can be easily answered with a minimum of research. Trust me, if you read even only five different questions by the same user on the same day, and then the next day, and the next... asking whether it's appropriate to place a comma, semi-colon or a period in a phrase you'd soon be irritated too. – Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '14 at 7:34
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    @Mari-LouA I have read that and it doesn't irritate me any more than 5 poor questions from separate users would. It is entirely possible to not read them, or to just not be irritated by them. Your irritation is the result of a peeve that I do not have. Did the general quality of the questions in the new questions list decrease when these users started posting? Did it really, or were you biased by irritation towards a specific user? If those 5 (or whatever) questions were posted by 5 different users, would you head to meta with some other suggestion to stop general low quality questions? – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 7:45
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    @Mari-LouA In other words, if the site had been modified to not show who the author of a question was, what would your reaction have been? – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 7:46
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    My reaction @Jason C would still be one of irritation and ultimately of boredom. I think it is in the interests of ELU that, where possible, the number of ill thought out, poorly conceived and researched questions are limited. As it is there are already far too many of these around, why do you believe that poor questions should be left alone. You want to encourage newcomers to stay not drive them away from boredom. This measure will affect a minuscule number of users. Other SE sites have adopted this measure for a reason, I don't see why ELU should be exempt. I'm not advocating censorship! :) – Mari-Lou A Jul 30 '14 at 8:33
  • 1
    I'm not sure how you think a question ban occurs. EL&U, and most of the other sites, function differently than SOFU. What you are used to seeing on SO doesn't apply here. Additionally, your argument doesn't add up. Five poor questions by one user is different than five poor questions by five users, because five poor questions by one user is equivalent to twenty-five poor questions by five users. And without restrictions, we'll end up with potentially 20 poor questions x 5 users per day or more. Yes, it does make a difference. – Kit Z. Fox Jul 30 '14 at 12:57
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    @KitFox No, 5 poor questions is 5 poor questions, not 25. You can count on your fingers to verify. If the site were modified to not show author names with questions, how would you be reacting differently? Just a thought exercise, rhetorical. – Jason C Jul 30 '14 at 19:12

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