I was prompted to ask this by a couple of recent posts by new users and the response they received. I also took a look at some of the available data on the site, and I suspect we might have a problem. This might be an uncomfortable question, but I think we need to have the debate.
But first the posts ...
The first of these was this post about Nixon's visit to China.
Now, I happened to see the question as it was posted. To be honest, my first reaction was:
"Another request for trivia. Don't these people know how to use Google?"
Then two things gave me pause.
- Firstly, it asks about "past policies" (plural). As far as I know, the visit went against his own previous policy (as expressed during his 1964 visit to Asia). I wasn't aware of any other policy, and a brief Google search didn't find any either.
- The second point was that this was the first post by a new user.
So I added a comment asking the OP to add a link to the article. I figured that would clarify the question. I also hoped that asking the OP to include a link to their source would encourage them to do so in future as well.
Five minutes later (just 6 minutes after the question had been posted!) it got the first vote-to-close (surprisingly, perhaps, not because it's a request for trivia, but because of "Uncited source no evidence of research").
Well, this was 2am, so I just posted the best answer I could and called it a night.
The follwowing morning, the question had been closed (hardly a surprise, if I'm being honest), but the OP had added a link to the article. The article states:
The shorthand is “Nixon goes to China,” meaning a moment in which a leader reverses his past positions to do something that is shocking but beneficial.
which, presumably, explains the plural "past policies" in the question.
Hopefully, in this case the OP hasn't been put-off using History:SE by their experience, but a glance at the list of users suggests that others may have been. More on that later.
The second post was yesterday. It asked what made a region an "upper" or a "lower" region. At the time of writing, the question has 3 down-votes as a "request for trivia". As originally posted, the question certainly showed that the OP had carried out some research:
"There doesn't seem to be a correlation with altitude, relative orientation, or size. Maybe up or down river?
I imagine it's reminiscent of the Roman empire, but I'm uncertain."
Now, personally, I would say that the question was trivial to answer, but then my father was a land surveyor, so I'm probably at an unfair advantage. On balance, I think I'd agree with T.E.D. and Tom's comments and say that it is a perfectly reasonable question.
In particular, Tom's comment about how to improve the question is an example of just the sort of thing that I think we should be doing more.
Again, this was a user who was new to History:SE. At the time of writing, they have made their opinions about the people who down-voted the question clear in the comments to the question. On the basis of that comment, I'd guess History:SE wouldn't be getting any 5-star reviews!
So should we be handling questions from new users better?
According to the site stats, at the time of posting, we have 17,317 users. That sounds like an impressive number, but I'm a bit of a data nerd - I like to try and understand data trends. I took a look at the user lists.
On 20 September 2017 there were 443 pages of users (each page displaying 36 users).
- 162 pages of users have a reputation of 1.
- 171 pages have a reputation of 101 (a majority of these are probably new users who have the site association bonus).
Which leaves just 110 pages, or 3960 users. That's not quite as impressive.
[Several pages of users have scores just below 100. I'd guess that a number of them joined the site with the association bonus and posted questions/answers that attracted down-votes. Without better data-analysis tools it would be too laborious to try to identify them, but it is worth remembering that the figure of 3960 is probably a slight over-estimate].
Now, I'm sure that many of the users with a reputation of 1 or 101 have joined the site out of interest, and just haven't had a particular question to ask, or answer to give. Others have probably just joined to answer a specific post that they came across as a HNQ or that came up in the results of a Google search. Nevertheless, these figures do make me wonder if we are intimidating new users away from the site.
Now, don't misunderstand me. I think that poor-quality questions should either be improved or deleted.
Had the first question above been posted by a user with a rep of 501, or even 201, I'd have said that the comments, down-votes, and votes-to-close were entirely justified. But shouldn't new users be given a chance to learn what's expected of them before their question is deleted?
- If it looks like a request for trivia, post a comment and ask them if they've looked on Wikipedia or Google. Ask them what their research has found so far.
- If they haven't quoted their source, maybe we should just ask for it in a comment?
- Perhaps we should direct them to the Site Tour and the Help Centre? Especially if they look to be very new to SE.
At the very least, shouldn't we give them something more than 6 minutes before we vote to close their questions?