5

Issue: More than half of the "question" titles listed on the homepage are non-specific descriptions rather than actual questions - can be verified with the following jQuery snippet:

Long form for use in browser Javascript console:

var questions=$('a.question-hyperlink');
var countPunctuated=0;
questions.each(function(){
    var str = $(this).html();
    if ( str.indexOf('?') > 0 )
        countPunctuated++;
});
alert(countPunctuated + ' / ' + questions.length);

Short form for user in browser address bar:

javascript:var questions=$('a.question-hyperlink');var countPunctuated=0;questions.each(function(){var str = $(this).html();if ( str.indexOf('?') > 0 ) countPunctuated++;});alert(countPunctuated + ' / ' + questions.length);

The fact that the question format is not being observed speaks to overall question quality, however, in some cases, there are actual questions lurking within the question description.

Proposed Solution:

To make it easier to spot pseudo-questions, you can use the following snippet to highlight suspect question titles:

Long form(doubles as a Greasemonkey userscript):

// ==UserScript==
// @name           Highlight StackExchange non-question titles
// @description    Highlight non-question subjects in listings
// @namespace      http://stackexchange.com/hnq
// @include        http://*.stackexchange.com/*
// @require        http://http://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.5.2/jquery.min.js
// ==/UserScript==

var patternSubjective = /(good|bad|recommend)/ig;
$('a.question-hyperlink').each(function(){
    var str = $(this).html();
    if ( str.indexOf('?') <= 0 )
        $(this).css('background-color','#FFCC00');
    if ( patternSubjective.exec(str) )
        $(this).css('color','#880000');
});

Short form:

javascript:var patternSubjective = /(good|bad|recommend)/ig; $('a.question-hyperlink').each(function(){ var str = $(this).html(); if ( str.indexOf('?') <= 0 ) $(this).css('background-color','#FFCC00'); if ( patternSubjective.exec(str) ) $(this).css('color','#880000'); }); void(0);

I will be making an effort to triage highlighted questions I encounter: if an actual question exists in the description, I will edit the question title - otherwise I will vote the question down and comment to give the asker a chance to correct.

Alternative strategies to approach the issue of non-specific/low-quality questions welcome.

  • Useful tool. Good work. – paulmorriss Jan 3 '12 at 14:32
  • Nice idea. Added metadata for use as Greasemonkey script. This is transparent for use as plain JS, eg. in the console. Note that it applies across the SE network(why not), but you can just edit the @include line if you want to limit it to this site, or apply a regex for multiples, etc. What's the purpose of that empty alert() in the second long-form one? Just left in by mistake? It's annoying. – Su' Jan 3 '12 at 17:11
  • @Su' The alert(); call prevents the script from redrawing the window.document contents when using the short form in FireFox (in my experience) - not needed for long form though (+edit) – danlefree Jan 3 '12 at 17:52
  • You could post the Greasemonkey/UserScript to StackApps for all to see and use ;) stackapps.com/?tab=scripts – Zhaph - Ben Duguid Jan 13 '12 at 11:28
  • @Zhaph-BenDuguid The script really should do more ... what if it searches for keywords typical of polling/subjective questions, too? – danlefree Jan 13 '12 at 12:25
  • Indeed - although those could mostly be covered by adding "best" to the subjective pattern ;) But by posting it to StackApps you'd get some more exposure outside of just us here on WebMasters and possible also some more feedback/suggestions – Zhaph - Ben Duguid Jan 13 '12 at 12:45
4

Don't forget your /review path:

https://webmasters.stackexchange.com/review/

I know this isn't exclusively a "new user problem," but it is incredibly important to vet and review contributions by new users. It provides an opportunity to educate them early on so they become productive members of the site. Please make it part of your routine to visit those review pages and provide thoughtful comments to help them post useful questions. These comments will also leave frequent "sign posts" for other users to learn from and follow. Before you know it, everyone is following in those guidelines.

Oh, and make a special effort to up-vote good content from new users. That will give them the initial boost they need and help them realize “Wow! This is the place for me!”

  • It isn't very active here but still useful for sure. – John Conde Jan 4 '12 at 15:32
  • Script works well under the /review path, too :D – danlefree Jan 13 '12 at 13:05
0

I just want to add to this discussion, counting the number of questions with a question mark is not a reliable metric of quality.

Not everything has to be in question format, as long as the problem is clear from the title. Furthermore there are plenty of great questions without question marks and plenty of bad questions with marks.

I tend to skim over all the questions, and bad titles tend to stand out, through their length or lack of capitalisation or certain words/punctuation.

  • "Not everything has to be in question format, as long as the problem is clear from the title." - How do you reconcile that with "you should only ask practical, answerable questions"? How likely is it that a question titled "problem with website" will help anyone other than the asker? (Also: Never intended to create a "reliable metric of quality" - simply trying to get the most use out of limited time) – danlefree Jan 15 '12 at 3:00
  • Clearly "problem with website" is a terrible title. That doesn't mean that "how can I fix problem with my website?" is a better title. There are plenty of decent non-question titles. Taking a recent example, "Google indexes 301 source, with the destination content" clearly describes the problem. Targeting questions without marks may well work for a significant proportion of posts, but it seems like there would be many false positives and true negatives. – DisgruntledGoat Jan 15 '12 at 19:40
  • "how can I fix problem with my website?" is not a practical, answerable question - I would find the specific issue presented in the description and make that the title (though this type of question usually has multiple issues listed, making it too localized to be useful to others on its own). My main concern here is making titles relevant so duplicate content is easy to identify - SE sites aren't being used to their potential if duplicates proliferate - with the secondary concern of identifying and closing "noise" posts; this tool helps me (though I'm happy so long as others edit and vote). – danlefree Jan 16 '12 at 5:04

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