There have been comments in chat and a question on meta reacting primarily to the perceived hostility of the site at this point. Of course it's beta and we have to be ruthless in pursuing a robust site definition. But we also must be nice:

Treat others with the same respect you’d want them to treat you. We’re all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.

Perhaps part of the reason there is a hostile tone is basically that we aren't really unified yet, and there are lots of contradictory actions being taken. Closing a question isn't mean if it's off-topic, but let's try to really get our arms around some consistent rulings with respect to off-topic close reasons.

My question is what steps we can take towards enhancing the tone of site, making it less adverse or argumentative? How can we make this all work in a more friendly way, such that getting great answers to real questions about philosophy is possible for all of us?

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  • For me it would help to have a more sophisticated chat-room. At present it's not much better than swapping comments, This means that sophisticated disagreements are very difficult to sort out and just tend to linger on. . . . – user20253 Apr 30 at 12:51

Hmm, I don't think the site is unfriendly. There's a lot of great discussion going on, and even people who disagree with one another have done so very respectfully and maturely. That says a lot about our core group of members, and is very encouraging for the tone they'll continue to set post-beta.

As far as technical matters, like voting on questions, it's a fundamental mistake or misunderstanding to interpret such actions as being "mean" or even "hostile". That's not their intended tone.

We've had this problem on other Stack Exchange sites. In particular, there are a lot of users (especially those who are new to the site) that are quite offended by downvotes to their questions. From my perspective, the problem seems to stem from a misunderstanding of downvotes as applying to them, their user account. The rhetoric they use to express such concerns even betrays this feeling, saying things like "why do people keep downvoting me?" The answer, of course, is that downvotes are not cast against users, they're cast against posts. They don't say anything about you as a person, or even you as a contributor. They simply express disagreement or disapproval of a particular post.

And the same deal with close votes. They don't mean "oh my god, this is so horrible you shouldn't have even posted it in the first place; what in the heck were you thinking?" because that wouldn't fit in the tooltip because that serves no productive purpose. Instead, they are merely an expression of one individual's opinion: "I do not think that this question is on topic for this site", or "I think that this question, as currently formulated or written, is too broad/unclear/rhetorical to fit on a Q&A site like this one".

At least, when I cast a close vote, that's what it means. And especially so at this phase in the site (private and public beta), when we're still defining the scope of the site. Closing questions early is important (and the importance obviously scales linearly with the site's size) because it prevents an influx of bad answers. Consider the case where the question is later modified to better fit within the site's guidelines: now all of the answers that have been posted are rendered irrelevant and obsolete. There have been several cases where I've been hesitant to rephrase questions that I think could be fixed because doing so would ruin the answers that have already been given.

It's also worth emphasizing that when your question is closed, it's not the end of the road. There are at least three features in place to help deal with this:

  1. The original asker (or anyone with edit privileges) can still edit the question to try and improve it or modify it to conform with the guidelines for our site. Almost any time that I vote to close a question as anything other than a duplicate, I try and leave a comment suggesting possible improvements to the question. This almost invariably means that if you make those improvements and @reply to me, I will cast a vote to re-open the question. (Sometimes I state this explicitly, but other times I run out of room. Regardless, it still applies.) And I know from experience that I'm not alone in this: often, other users will vote to re-open a post when the asker has even put forth a "good faith" effort to improve her question.

    Thus, if you come across a question that has been closed, and you can come up with a way to improve that question, to "save" it, to solve the problems that most likely contributed to its being closed, we strongly encourage you to edit it and improve it in whatever ways you see possible. Some people are naturally better writers than others, and some people don't even speak English as a first language. Take advantage of your skills to improve the site for everyone.

  2. Those who come across a question that has been closed and disagree with the decision to close it can vote to re-open it. It takes 5 users' votes to re-open a closed question, the same number as it takes to close one in the first place. And, as suggested above, the same users who voted to close can also vote to re-open. In this way, the system is quite democratic and does a pretty good job of policing itself. This has already happened for several questions on the site.

  3. If you disagree with your question having been closed, or simply don't understand why it was closed in the first place, you are very much encouraged to bring up the issue in a new question here on the Meta site. Include a link to your (now-closed) question, and explain why you disagree with the reason given by the close-voters. People will respond with their opinions on your question, and the result will either be a consensus that the question was indeed off-topic, some clear suggestions on how to "fix" the question, and/or 5 users agreeing with you and casting re-open votes. Even on sites as large as Stack Overflow, this process works.

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