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There's been some global network discussion about how to improve the SE community's response to newcomers. I just wanted to pose a question in the context of Philosophy.SE about how we should read the meaning of the "friendliness drive" with respect to our site.

Let me say straight away that, despite some perception that it is difficult to ask questions here, that my sense is that Philosophy.SE users tend to go far above and beyond the call of duty with respect to charity, friendliness and generosity in reading questions, especially with respect to questions from newcomers. In my experience folks also tend to go a good bit out of their way to offer guidance and support to new users.

That said, despite a generally exceptionally open and welcoming atmosphere, there are occasional problems. Let's try to come up with a friendliness policy! I have suggested a few major points below I think such a policy should attempt to meaningfully address; please free to suggest others! Note that I am not necessarily expecting a detailed response to these -- I would really just like to start this conversation about what the SE Summer of Love means for Philosophy.SE.

  1. How might we combat insularity? "Be nice" is a global SE guideline, but how should we interpet this for our community? What might be some concrete policies implementing this directive?

  2. How can we encourage impartial and generous reading of questions? (This issue is really about establishing/preserving a friendly tone in comments and answers, regardless of concerns we may have about the way a question is formulated.)

  3. How should we organize our effort to bring new users, especially experts, into the community -- in particular to replace old users that may drift away? (A great friendliness policy should take into account outreach as well as atmosphere.)

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    Not sure if this is full answer material, but I'd suggest that for #1, new users with poor questions be given explicit warning of closure before it happens. A lot of them may not have noticed the FAQ or are otherwise unaware of how closing works; although our community expresses concern in comments, often the questioner's unresponsiveness leads to an sudden close. This can be really jarring to a new user, so it would both help motivate them and make us look nicer if there was always some sort of "please note our above concerns or your question may be closed" (with FAQ link) proactively. – commando Jul 21 '12 at 6:43
  • In my view, combating insularity (#1 on your list) encompasses #2+3. However, I don't see that as a big problem here. Rarely do I have to moderate such issues. Regarding @commando's suggestion, I agree with the idea but not the implementation. As of now, we never get 5 community votes to close a question, which leaves Joseph and I as the (mostly active) mods who have to deal with 95% of the question/answer/comment cleanup. One might think this isn't much work, but honestly I read every question and almost every comment to ensure quality and maintain a friendly atmosphere. (continued) – stoicfury Jul 21 '12 at 17:35
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    Having to wait and keep track of questions that "should be closed in the near future if they are not revised" adds a lot more work for us. I think the solution is to just note to these users that closing isn't permanent, and that if they revise the question suitably (with a list of suggested changes and link to the edit section as Joseph and I have sometimes done) it can be reopened. I do also think more high rep folks should try to make suggested edits to help improve questions; I do this as much as I can. I typically only close when the question is so unfocused I am unsure how to fix it. – stoicfury Jul 21 '12 at 17:37
  • @stoicfury is it possible to provide some automatic e-mail notification? because maybe it can be a while before the person comes back to the site – Tames Jul 21 '12 at 20:39
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    I'd like to congratulate all of you who have been working to make Philosophy SE a better place. I must say this SE is very friendly compared to others I've been to and that the task of maintaining the activities organized and with a good quality of discussion is not easy, specially in philosophy, where there are a lot of subjective issues going on. Thank to you all and I hope I can help in some way. – Tames Jul 21 '12 at 21:30
  • if we want to build community, we must have community-oriented actions; I get the impression that some people are here just for "the right answer" (to get it or to be the one giving it). Sometimes a question or answer are not constructive, but are the comments really constructive? Can "being right" and "being loved" conciliated? As I see it, this is a major problem here. – Tames Jul 23 '12 at 16:50
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I have some thoughts on these issues, I'm not sure how they'd address the specific questions mentioned. In many ways they are related to this question

I don't know how flexible is the SE system and how it works in detail. Some ideas I have in mind would include features as:

  • Allowing the use of chat and meta right away - As far as I remember, this is only allowed after the user reaches some reputation; maybe the person needs to talk to somebody and doesn't know how to do things, even after looking at FAQs, perhaps s/he needs a human advisor. Maybe the person would give up before s/he reaches the reputation to do this.
  • Some sort of "e-mail alert" to the replies - a newcomer is unlikely to became a SE enthusiast right away. For us who hang around here everyday, waiting some days to get a response might seem too much, but what if the person is coming back only once a week?
  • Encourage commenting whenever there's a downvote - some sort of "anonymous" comment option would be very helpful for two reasons: 1) you cannot oblige a person to justificate the downvote, but I find it unfair to get downvoted without any comment on how one could improve (be it question or answer), sometimes the downvoter may avoid commenting because s/he doesn't want it to get "personal"; 2) sometimes people may treat new and old users differently - maybe they don't want to upset someone they've known for a while and so they may be more flexible towards old users because they are personally related, this kind of "privilege" may upset a newcomer if s/he finds they are being treated differently. To avoid bad use of anonymity, perhaps the anonymous comment should get mod approved before it shows up in the site.

Is any of this possible?

  • The e-mail alerts are definitely possible, I think; the other two, probably not, but I like where you're going here. – Joseph Weissman Jul 21 '12 at 21:55
  • Note that feature requests are probably out of scope of this to some degree too; to me anyway this is really about community development -- organizing outreach and 'atmosphere enhancement' :) – Joseph Weissman Jul 21 '12 at 23:24
  • @JosephWeissman I see. Well, I was exploring some possibilities, as I'm not sure of what can or cannot be done. Some features could really help as not all users are pro-active and one-to-one approach is very much time consuming. I'll keep thinking about this. I'll be more observing from now on. – Tames Jul 21 '12 at 23:33
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    Regardless of scope, the SE folks aren't going to implement new features for a beta website. We have to figure out ways to work with what we've got. :) – stoicfury Jul 22 '12 at 5:20
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If it were possible to use e-mails for communicating with users, we could do some sort of "newsletter", educating people on how to do some things (e.g. how to make good use of tags, how to stimulate improving questions, how to help making Philosophy SE a better place in general)

  • No email system is in place. Moderators can see email addresses, but it wouldn't be our place to specifically go out and email people newsletters (talk about an increased workload!). We also have the ability to privately message individual users through the site, but the system is only for serious moderation purposes only. Best we can do to educate is to point to the FAQ or have users ask questions in chat. – stoicfury Jul 22 '12 at 5:17
  • @stoicfury what about the e-mail notification on comments to the user's question? is it possible? – Tames Jul 22 '12 at 17:21
  • Not that I know of. The only notifications in are inbox notifications, which you will see as a number with a red circle background at the top of the page by the logo if you ever log into any SE site. Honestly, I didn't even pay attention to that at all for the first few months I was here, then I was like, "Wait a minute, this is actually handy..." XD – stoicfury Jul 22 '12 at 19:20
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    @stoicfury lol. this is one of my worries! A newcomer possibly is not only new to philosophy SE, but to the whole SE system, it may take a while to gain some fluency on it :/ things really are not obvious until you know them. Navigation issues included (all SE sites look the same, it took me a while to understand why my reputation was different in each one, for example, and I thought linguistics and english use were the same thing) – Tames Jul 22 '12 at 19:26
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I believe one of the problems this site faces is that the term 'Philosophy' is VERY open ended. "Common sense" or simple questions about day to day life might be considered 'philosophy' by a layman. But to an academic, 'Philosophy' has a very specific meaning.

Given that this is a public site, people coming here for the first time, attracted by the title 'Philosophy' might be somewhat alienated when finding discussions about things which are far beyond the scope of their knowledge and experience. Perhaps modifying somewhat the TITLE of the site might help to bring in the appropriate audience and send away those who 'don't belong'?

Or perhaps you prefer the egalitarian approach: If someone asks a simple or mundane question, give a simple, friendly answer, rather than down-voting or voting to close?

What is your ultimate goal here with this site? Much revolves around that point.

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