I’m a Stack Overflow user, and for all its quirks, I quite like it. I’m a fairly experienced user over there, and I sometimes start, or participate in, conversations on the Meta site about how the site is run. I edit people’s posts every day for readability, grammar, spelling, etc. I am a frequent commenter, and will often explain to new users what a question needs to be (more) answerable.
There’s presently some conversations going on over on the Stack Overflow blog, and on the Meta site, about tone and inclusivity. As a white-cis-male-middle-class human, I tend to wave a bit of a “be nice” flag from time to time on the site, and I’m a big fan of hearing what people have to say about how amenable our community is to beginners and people who do not benefit from a full set of social privileges. Unfortunately, the current conversations on Meta are not particularly productive, and most of it is more of a left/right shouting match than anything insightful.
I do understand that Stack Overflow can be intimidating to new users, and I understand that better having read a heartfelt post from April Wensel just now (on Medium). Unfortunately Stack Overflow gets an enormous amount of free work requests, impossibly vague questions, and students wanting to cheat on their homework, and the quality systems have been designed to filter all that stuff out, quite justifiably. There are also quite a lot of unspoken guidelines based on netiquette and hacker culture, and for new folks, it must feel like tiptoeing around landmines and secret Masonic handshakes.
So, with that context set out, I was wondering if anyone here knows of any projects in which friendly Stack Overflow members, who know all the rules and guidelines, could mentor new users. I am all in favour of
alternative communities like Ask Questions (see also CodeNewbie) but I think trying to improve Stack Overflow is a worthwhile parallel task.
Here’s what I have in mind. It’s be a system in which users can post a question (publicly? privately?) that they’d like to post to Stack Overflow, and it would get helpful comments prior to the question author actually posting it. It’d have to be a community project for now, but it’s worth noting that something similar has been suggested to integrate into Stack Overflow itself.
Of course, such a system will not prevent a negative reaction when the question is posted, but I suspect it would help in a statistically significant number of cases. The mentor could conceivably add an encouraging comment under the question on the main site, which may also help ward off unduly negative reactions (I probably would discourage their upvoting the question though, as that might have the appearances of a organised voting ring).
Once a Stack Overflow beginner under mentorship has a bit of rep, and learned enough of the rules to get by, they could start posting on their own, leaving mentors with more capacity to focus on newer beginners.
While Stack Overflow may not have a great reputation amongst beginners, there are a lot of us who want to help folks who may not have had the easy ride we did when the site was younger. And, it should be said, of this self-identified subgroup, we’ll still sometimes be less welcoming of beginners than we should - communication is a thing that us humans are constantly learning, I think!
Feedback on this would be great. Also, how could we get started now? For example, could a new category be created on this very board?
If anyone wants to shoot general questions about Stack Overflow culture on this thread, and if it is regarded as on-topic by the site owners, be my guest. I’ll try to advise if I can.