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I've seen this behavior around for several months now, but observing it again this morning while reviewing the low-quality posts queue made me think it may be worth a meta post.

I've observed that some users, who have been around for a while for most of them, post answers that do not meet the site's requirements in one way or another:

  • no backup for justifying the suggested approach's potential benefits (aka "try this!" answers),
  • bad frame challenges (i.e. "don't do that" but without explaining why it's a bad idea to pursue the original goal),
  • sometimes also, answers on uncomplete questions that already got a few VTC casts and that will eventually get closed (but this is less common).

When indicating those users that their answer is incomplete and asking them to edit it to meet the site requirements, two behaviors may be observed:

  1. The answerer simply doesn't respond to those comments,
  2. The answerer disputes the incompleteness of their contribution (e.g. "it's obvious how my suggestions would benefit OP's author").

In both cases the answer gets eventually deleted.
Now what bothers me is that those users continue posting such incomplete answers whereas, to me, it really hurts the site. Why's that? Because these users may gain rep from other people who are not aware of the site's requirements and they show new users a way of participating that isn't suited for IPS.

Now I'm wondering. Maybe they think that the rules are unclear? That there's too many of them? That they are too restrictive? I don't want to question the site's rules here; to me we need them should we ever want IPS to graduate from beta. But until then, I'm sure there's a gentle way to remind everyone what are the rules and why we need them.

How can we politely communicate to these users that keeping posting "bad" answers is hurting IPS? What should we do regarding such answers, apart from flagging and deleting them?

  • Shouldn't there be already a mechanism, preventing them from posting new answers if they received a lot of down votes on their recent posted answers? Or does this not trigger, if the answers get deleted? – dhein Dec 5 '18 at 9:24
  • @dhein I think there is such a mechanism, but there are lots of reasons why it wouldn't get triggered. 1- downvotes are less common since the exit of HNQ. 2- this behavior has been going on for a while for some users, some of them for several months. 3- IIRC, it doesn't prevent users to create a new account and do it again. Those are just examples, and I think that even if the mechanism trigger pattern is tighter than this, reality shows that it still isn't enough. I personally think we need to take other actions, firstly because I'd like not to reach a point where we need to ban people. – avazula Dec 5 '18 at 9:30
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    I am on your side here. But I think there isn't really anything we can do about people creating new accounts. Also regarding your observations, I assume you had not been making out people creating new accounts for that reason, did you? I think working with the posting new answers prevention, might do the trick, but I don't know enough about how exactly it works to post an answer. Also I disagree with downvoting being not as frequent here. I rarely see a SE site where bad answers get more quickly voted into the ground as on IPS ^^ – dhein Dec 5 '18 at 9:41
  • There were some posts where I had seen this sort of thing. It got me wondering if at some point we had dropped the "can you cite experience?" approach. – user8671 Dec 5 '18 at 9:50
  • @dhein - that is heavily affected by rep, and is very hard to hit even for low rep users – Mithical Dec 5 '18 at 9:55
  • @ArwenUndómiel: Ah, I understand. Would it be possible to adjust that thing for specific SE sites? Not that I am proposing it, but just to be aware of options for OP's problem. – dhein Dec 5 '18 at 10:04
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    @dhein : I rarely see a SE site where bad answers get more quickly voted into the ground as on IPS ^^ -> worth trying SO then :D – OldPadawan Dec 5 '18 at 11:41
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    @OldPadawan: Hmmm from my experience not even there. But thats subjective. – dhein Dec 5 '18 at 11:44
  • @dhein SO's activity is so much bigger than IPS' ... I'm not sure we could even compare them. – avazula Dec 5 '18 at 11:46
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    I agree with @avazula that leading by example is very important. Yesterday, I answered this question, almost at the same time that the (now) top-voted answer was written. A matter of seconds... A few seconds later, it was in the review queue, flagged as VLQ. I really think it's not a good answer. But I decently couldn't DV and VTC. I then skipped it. Now, it's much harder to get rid of this kind of behavior (VLQ + UV), if we don't lead by example. – OldPadawan Dec 5 '18 at 11:49
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    @avazula: Well, Of course I didn't compare vote behavior in its sum. I meant more like downvotes/views for bad answers. – dhein Dec 5 '18 at 11:58
  • How many people actually read policy rules? Probably few. The main problem is that the first answer usually get some votes no matter what it says. – Santiago Dec 7 '18 at 14:41
  • I expect most people are voting and posting according to how they think the rules should be, with no consideration to how the rules are. Negatively, this can cause confusion and dissension. Positively, this may lead to improving the rules. – Ask About Monica Dec 26 '18 at 20:09
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TL;DR

  • Use your downvotes
  • Be consistent
  • Leave clear comments with meta links to policy, and try to give concrete suggestions for improvement

In more detail...
(sorry, this ended up way longer than I expected!)

1. Make it less rewarding to post bad answers

I'll start out by saying I don't think there's a good way to tell another user "I think your answers are of such poor quality that they're hurting the site." The bigger problem is that they still get rewarded for posting these types of answers - if they were always downvoted and deleted, you wouldn't need to comment for them to realize the answers are poor for IPS.

Instead, these answers often get upvotes. I've even seen flagged answers without any downvotes. No consequences = not much of an incentive to edit and improve. We need to downvote bad answers.

2. Consistency is key

If it's consistently less rewarding to post "try this" and un-backed-up answers, there will be less of them to begin with, and perhaps these users will be more incentivized to improve their posts.

It's also important to be consistent in enforcing standards. A common complaint about IPS is that it seems arbitrary what's ok and what's not. When Alice's answer gets commented on and flagged/deleted but Bob's doesn't, and they don't see a clear reason or categorical difference between the two, it looks like we're being inconsistent. I suspect some users think "50/50 it sticks around and I keep the rep, might as well post it and see what happens, right?"

On a practical note, critically reviewing a post takes non-negligible amounts of time, so sometimes answers do fall through the cracks - flagging is the only way to guarantee a post gets looked at. So more users flagging and reviewing should help with consistent enforcement as well. (I think chat has been pretty helpful for getting more users aware of policies, people seem to discuss that sort of thing fairly regularly.)

3. Leave clear comments

When asking for improvements because you think it falls short of some policy, link to that policy. Don't wait for the OP to ask/argue about it. Fortunately we have a some handy posts (soon to be) under and (I frequently link to the relevant section of How Do I Write a Good Answer? when commenting).

Include context and be specific. For instance, with backup - they probably think everything is common sense, or that it has adequate explanation already. So say what specifically tripped your "insufficient backup" alarm, and if you can, suggest what sort of information would be sufficient to fix it, e.g.:

Could you [edit] to explain why [unsupported statement]? How does this account for [complication in OP's situation]? Has this worked for you before in a similar situation, if so could you explain how that went?

The answerer can still choose to ignore it, but now it's very clear what the problem is - to them, newer users, and reviewers. It's also harder to argue with - "sufficient backup" can be a bit nebulous, but "has reference for statement X" much less so.

Parting thoughts

A bit of a side note but I feel it should be said... I'm a software engineer, I work with a lot of other engineers, we can be quite good at nit-picking based on what's more-or-less personal preferences and framing it as an objective concern (cough code style)... Here, it might be tempting to "rules-lawyer" answers you don't like and keep asking for backup and such on posts you disagree with. But doing that is liable to make people feel singled out, or that only certain points of view are acceptable (or unacceptable) - especially when other answers do not appear subject to the same level of scrutiny.

That's no good for building community, and for that matter, looks intimidating to newbies who may be deciding whether or not to stick around. So personally, I do some introspection while moderating, making sure I'm not simply using "You need to provide backup for X" as a proxy for "I don't like this answer and I need a plausible reason to delete it". (If I've left similar comments under other answers I do agree with, that's an easy call. Other times, I leave it with a downvote and flag and wait to see what review thinks, or ask in chat for a second opinion. I also try to review any other answers while I'm there as well.)

I'm starting to see "mediocre" and downvoted answers as a good sign for the site, personally. It means the bar isn't impossibly high. Not every answer has to be a soul-baring thesis, and it's useful to know that even though that worked for user1234 that one time, most people still think it's a bad idea.

On "Meta is Murder"

That phrase is from a blog post by Jeff Atwood. It's pretty well summed up by the last bit:

So sure, get meta when it makes sense to. But do be aware of what percentage of the time you're spending on meta. And consider: how is progress made in the world? By sitting around and debating the process of how things are done ad nauseam? Or by, y'know ... doing stuff?

Allocate your time accordingly.

It'll be a lot easier to convince folks that IPS policies are good and useful if we are generating high-quality answers while following them. We lost a lot of traffic to HNQ; if we're spending a lot of time picking apart the (relatively) few posts we still get because policy and not posting our own, better ones, it's going to seem like IPS "power users" are more focused on enforcing rules than producing helpful content.

Ultimately, I think the most powerful argument to convince people they ought to change their answer style will be to lead by example - get out there and show 'em how it's done ;)

2

I think most of the problem here is that we've yet to come to consensus, or in cases where we have come to a consensus, as soon as policy is enforced the consensus shifts.

Basically there aren't enough users pulling in the same direction, or consistently enough, to make most anything stick. When something does stick, it's often selectively enforced, or adhered to with the most meaningless acknowledgements possible.

Realistically, we need to focus a lot more on content, and a bit less on control. Meta is murder. And it seems like a majority of our core users are more focused and interested in moderation than they are in the subject, or sharing information. It seems the priority has become gaining a diamond, or getting hired by SE someday... If that's what the site becomes, it loses any meaning it once had, or hope of sustainability.

</end rant>

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    I understand what you mean, and agree to most of it, but "it seems like a majority of our core users are more focused and interested in moderation than they are in the subject"... or have no choice left :D I often start with reading topics, select few, and see if I can help. Ouch! already a couple of answers. Anything better I can add maybe? comment to help clarify/improve? after minutes, I have only "duties" to do: review queues. Do I want a diamond? no sir :) but I help where needed, no big deal... I guess some of us feel/do the same, and some just quit... – OldPadawan Dec 6 '18 at 8:48
  • Well you won't ever get a consensus among every one. Furthermore, you could try something like repeteadly leave comments on posts but as far as I have known this have been done on Stackoverflow and ended badly and whatever way you formulate, you'll still be consider as unwelcoming. If you want full exemple, you should ask to SO's veteran, they have been through and around this already in quite a lot of ways. – Walfrat Dec 12 '18 at 12:07
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I'm not that good at politeness, so I will leave this for others but here are my suggestions.

First, start leaving a comment under every old user with bad answer explaining how bad answers are hurting the site. Something like this (if you have an idea about how it should look, please comment):

Hey, did you know that answers that don't meet your quality guidelines are hurting the site and could cause it to be shut down? [argument], [another argument]. If you want to learn more, you can read [this meta post].

This is meant to be a canned comment. Something we can post without thinking much about it because old users should know better.

Since we don't want to antagonize, every user, I recommend posting this only for old, more experienced users. As I already said, old users should know better and, if they can't post good answers, then we don't need them.

Hopefully, if the people understand why posting bad answer is... bad, they will stop doing it.

If, after reading this, they still don't change their behavior, then let's hope suggestion number two will work!


Suggestion number two:

Downvoting, downvoting and downvoting!

I know I don't downvote enough even when I know should and I pretty sure other people do the same. So I suggest encouraging people to massively downvote with bad answers.

If people see there post being massively downvote, leading them to lose rep, they might think twice before posting a (bad) answer. And this is exactly what we want.

Now, the question is: How can we encourage users to downvote those answers?

Sorry, I don't have an answer to that but, maybe, just start to downvote yourself and hope people will follow. I know people tend to upvote things that are already upvoted, so it might be the same for downvoting.

An other point is, we hope that people read meta, will see this post, agree with it, and will take the time to downvote the answer under which is present a comment like the one discussed before.

  • ehh... I'm really uncomfortable with the idea of asking people to pile on downvotes in chat. I agree with encouraging users to use their downvotes in general, but I don't think we should be telling others how to vote on specific posts. We definitely should not target based on user for "massive downvoting". Downvote because it's a bad answer, not because it was written by a user that registered x months ago. – Em C Dec 6 '18 at 18:36
  • @EmC I see how that could be problematic indeed and I edited accordingly. – Ælis Dec 6 '18 at 18:44
  • As far as canned comments.. usually people who have been around and keep posting bad answers are doing it because they don't like the rules, not because they weren't aware.. I'm also concerned that posting something that says "hey did you know bad answers hurt the site?" will come across like "hey did you know you, personally, are ruining this site?" – Em C Dec 6 '18 at 18:44
  • @EmC I honestly believe that those users are aware of the rules but don't care about them because they don't understand why they are important. If I think a rule is stupid (because I don't understand it) I will probably not follow it. But if I know why it's here, I might still think it's a pain in the *** but I much more likely to follow. Also, if you have a better phrasing, I would be happy to hear about it – Ælis Dec 6 '18 at 18:50

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