Forum:First experiences matter
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6 months ago
Mensur Dlakic ★ 27k

You created multiple posts on multiple sites for the same question. That is bad etiquette and only serves to annoy people in both communities. Remember you're asking volunteers in two places to spend their time on you while not telling them that you've asked another set of volunteers as well. You're not getting quotes from competing businesses, you're wasting volunteers' time. Please do not repeat this in the future.

Of all the blunders people do on this website, posting to multiple forums bugs me the least. Maybe that's because I do not participate on multiple forums, or maybe because I don't expect an average user to know that this is considered a "bad etiquette." I still remember one of my first posts on this website where I was chastised as unprofessional, while I considered the post to be very helpful.

My poor early experiences aside, it may be a good idea not to slam the first-time users of this website with "bad etiquette" or "bad anything" declarations if the goal is to retain them. There should be a way to tell them to modify their behavior without using bad, unprofessional or other strongly negative adjectives, and without telling them they annoy people and waste their time. I know this is not easy, especially for moderators who read almost all messages and see all kinds of negative behavior. All of us are triggered by different things - mine is when people act entitled - but it may help to have a standard language for standard offenses. Also, it may help to force everyone upon signing up to read a simple set of rules and acknowledge them (do a search before asking a question; don't post on multiple forums; don't ask homework questions; upvote/accept useful questions and engage in discussions; etc). I apologize if something like this is already there, but it's been a while since I signed up and I don't remember reading any rules of this kind.

first-time tolerance • 2.3k views
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4
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Thanks for making this post. I have certainly been guilty of this and we're all often too quick to judge.

If it's someone's first time and they are unaware of the rules, we should be a bit more gentle. Only after they're informed of proper etiquette and still engage in the same behavior should we express our disapproval.

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Also, it may help to force everyone upon signing up to read a simple set of rules and acknowledge them (do a search before asking a question; don't post on multiple forums; don't ask homework questions; upvote/accept useful questions and engage in discussions; etc).

Owner of biostars wants to keep the barrier for participation low and as a result there is no captcha/verification required to post on biostars. One can create a simple local account or use one of the external site logins (google etc) before posting.

We had discussed adding a click-through/verification like you mention when we were having a problem with bots a couple of years back. At that time Istvan chose to implement a software solution to manage bots rather than adding an extra verification step for sign-ups.

Someone trying to post on Biostars has a pressing question that they are looking to get help for. So to be realistic not many are going to read through "best practices" before mashing the Accept button.

I am not bothered by multiple posts but providing closure to a question is important. If a question gets answered on a different forum then indicating so on biostars is least posters can do.

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Someone trying to post on Biostars has a pressing question that they are looking to get help for. So to be realistic not many are going to read through "best practices" before mashing the Accept button.

I think there is a contradiction in keeping the barrier for participation low and the unwritten - but often cited - expectation that everyone should be writing in a professional tone. Chances are solid that first-time users will do something that collides with community guidelines in their very first post. Yet it seems like it is more acceptable to put the burden of correcting behavior on moderators and users than to demand 2 minutes of user's time to educate themselves. I think that at least 5-10% of posts on this forum are behavior-correcting in nature - telling people to upvote, how to format posts, to show some effort, etc. It seems like an awfully high price to pay to lower the registration effort for a bunch of users who will visit the site once or twice. But I defer to Istvan Albert when it comes to business models, because this may be a good model even if it defies my logic.

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I think the people who need training are the ones least able to recognize that.

I foresee a lot of potential in AI-based methods to help assist users in asking better questions.

I am keen on exploring ways in which an AI-based agent would proofread a question before the user posts it and then suggest improvements for tone, content, specificity, etc.

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The quoted content is mine and I'm probably also the person that you had the bad interaction with when you first became part of biostars. I do have the reputation of being the jerk cop around here.

I think cross-posting is bad practice because it shows a sense of entitlement on the part of the asker. If I were asking on multiple forums, I would at least mention the other posts so it serves as a record. Anyone that puts in enough effort to ask a good question in one forum is a lot closer to the answer than someone copy pasting the same low effort content in multiple places.

In my experience with pointing people to these cross-posts, I've seen people claim that they were unaware and would not repeat that behavior, but only when the language says that it is unequivocally bad. Cajoling into good behavior is largely ignored by most people. But perhaps I need to moderate myself.

Going forward, I'll add a pointer to other posts with a simple "Warning: Please do not ask the same question on multiple sites without cross-linking them" the first time, and reserve this kind of messaging for repeat offenders.

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In my experience with pointing people to these cross-posts, I've seen people claim that they were unaware and would not repeat that behavior, but only when the language says that it is unequivocally bad.

Stealing from the poor is unequivocally bad. Maybe even from the rich :-) Double-posting is not unequivocally bad. How do I know this? If a person double-posts with a disclaimer about double-posting, it becomes acceptable. When there are such swings in what is considered acceptable, that behavior can't be unequivocally bad. This is especially the case because we are not taught in school, or in any other aspect of our education, that double-posting is a bad behavior.

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That's a valid point. I will soften my language.

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I think cross-posting is bad practice because it shows a sense of entitlement on the part of the asker.

Or is it desperation? I would contend that most users who resort to this are newcomers to the field working in a state of urgency. Often, as a beginner, you don't even know how to describe your problem. It takes experience just to become familiar with the right keywords (e.g., "regex"). Not everyone has the capacity, need, nor luxury to develop these capabilities. I don't think there is any harm in being tolerant of what can be considered poor etiquette should it be unlikely to be the result of bad faith behavior.

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I agree with your general meaning, but there are different ways to manifest the newcomer desperation. To me double-posting is acceptable when people want their problem solved quickly. How is everyone supposed to know that posting at two places simultaneously will get the members upset? This is simple ignorance. I have less patience for those who think their problem is the only thing that matters in the world and expect someone to write full code for them. Or those who write a single-sentence posts that require follow-up questions before they can be answered properly. That's entitlement, and it should be something that most people know is unacceptable in any human interaction.

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Entering edit mode
6 months ago

I agree, the quote above could be worded more friendly. One could for example write "Please mind that posting the same question to multiple sites can be perceived as bad etiquette, because efforts may be made to address a problem that has already been solved elsewhere in the meantime."

But I have my doubts whether it makes a big difference. Users displaying this behaviour evidently did not turn to their favourite community for help; instead, they chose a shotgun approach. In moments of great despair, "Whatever sticks" may seem like a legitimate strategy, but it also makes it unlikely that the user is genuinely interested in contributing to the communities later on.

Tolerating cross-posting might discourage established users from putting much effort into answering a newcomer's question in the future. Since most new users - including those that will contribute much more to Biostars in the future - will be initially brought to this site by a pressing question, receiving no/few answers will also not make them feel welcome.

I think, in terms of communicating community rules, the Discourse approach is exemplary: Instead of overwhelming new users with long prose of community guidelines, an interactive bot in conjunction with trust levels step by step introduces new features and sends occasional friendly reminders about desired behaviour.

I have not looked into the source code of Biostars, but it should be possible to define some basic rules that suggest an important feature is unknown or unused. If a user for example never upvotes replies to their questions or marks them as solved, a friendly explanation how to use that feature could be displayed as a notification? (Similar to those badge notifications)

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But I have my doubts whether it makes a big difference.

I have my doubts, too. Yet it appears that many first-time posters create questionable content within minutes of signing up for BioStars. One would think that making them read 5 simple rules before getting an account would at least minimize those instant offenses.

I have not looked into the source code of Biostars, but it should be possible to define some basic rules that suggest an important feature is unknown or unused.

I like your idea of developing some kind of an automatic algorithm that would remind users to be good citizens. When someone has asked 20 questions and received 30 responses, and all of that without upvoting almost any post, chances are high that they are taking the community effort for granted.

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6 months ago

This is an excellent point; people with problems usually experience some urgency. In addition, they can't quite tell where the help might come from. For what is worth, I myself would not be "annoyed" if a question is posted somewhere else. Nor would I feel that my effort is wasted if a question I contribute to has answers elsewhere. Hence a statement that speaks for me to that end is not accurately representing my state of mind.

There is no real life etiquette that I know where people would only be allowed to describe a problem at one time only and to a single audience.

We could do things like discobot though I happen to be a little skeptical. Perhaps because I myself I would rarely (if ever) pay attention to such instructions, usually I am too pressed for time and I expect others to be as well.

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The simplest solution is to make people read a short set of rules before they can post. I would present 5 or so short rules to new users, one by one, and make them read and acknowledge each. That can't take longer than 60-90 seconds. I fully realize that many of new users will ignore them, but we don't know how well that would work without trying. If even 20-30% of new users follow those rules, there would be less need for correcting behavior. I think it is absolutely justified to put a 2-minute burden on new users to read the rules if that means less work for moderators.

Speaking of rules, how about:

  • a title of the post can't be longer than 50-60 characters
  • when starting a thread, one must use at least 100 characters to describe their problem; or at least put a disclaimer at the top that poorly described problems lead to no response or a poor response
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  • Be respectful of the time of volunteers
  • First search to see if your question already exists
  • No demands on speed of volunteers nor statements of urgency
  • Provide code if your question pertains to code, use markdown to fence/mark code
  • Copy the entire error message if your question pertains to an error
  • If you have cross posted you must link out to the other posts

The last one is for everyone, both answer-ers and other users. It's the decent thing to do on the internet.

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The last one is for everyone, both answer-ers and other users. It's the decent thing to do on the internet.

Nope, for at least two reasons. Just because someone cross-posted does not mean that my burden should be doubled when answering. It is still on the person asking questions to make sure that the answers are double-posted as well. The second reason is practical: not everyone is a member of every community out there. I don't intend to become a member just to do what you think is the decent thing.

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To the limit, why not just conduct this Q&A entirely by email? The reason is that this hides the answers, and obscures the benefit to the community. This is the motivation for most answer-ers, is that they want to benefit not just one individual but many.

The benefit of linking is that one can see the responses from all the volunteers, on biostars and Bioconductor and CrossValidated, etc.

If you are going to the trouble of copy-pasting your Q, go ahead and copy paste the link to the other forum(s) where you have already asked the question.

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I would agree that linking to the other post is the right to do, and it is more helpful for everyone and that it raises the overall utility of the site. We all want that.

But I think we should be careful on how we qualify these acts, because it can backfire.

Words like the "decent", "right". "honorable", etc lead to a mindset that makes people pass judgment.

If the linking to a crosspost is the "decent" thing to do, then someone not aware of this requirement will sooner or later be accused of being "indecent" and "wrong". It has happened already with different connotations.

Yet in vast, probably overwhelming cases the person not linking is unaware that we would like them to link. They gladly do so, and would feel quite hurt if we accused them of "indecency" or being "dishonorable" etc.

It is more effective to educate by example, if someone does not link we can post the link and say, "hey if you crosspost is best to link it helps everyone". To lead by example and train people like that.

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I thought we were coming up with suggestions for what someone should see before they post.

Feel free to toss these suggestions, just my 2 cents.

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This is a non-issue given that participation on Biostars (and other such platforms) is voluntary.

Perhaps the solution would be to provide an option to seasoned users to simply hide submissions from accounts below a certain age (and/or points) threshold. That way, those that find the double dipping to be unacceptable are more likely to simply not become aware of it given that it is mostly these new accounts that seek help in this manner.

Another solution (that I am not fond of) would be to add a banner instructing newcomers to simply try and ask ChatGPT (or some alternative LLM-based tool) for a solution or at least for help on how to post their question properly.

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I think its an issue specifically because participation on Biostars. It is therefore important to maintain a sufficient number of people answering questions, and things that demotivate them from doing that are at least as damaging as things that dissaude novice users from asking for help. You might notice that many of the people who are annoyed by things like cross posting are also those that answer the largest number of questions here.

Personally, I do think cross posting is probably poor practice. It is a statement that my panic and urgency is more important than your time. But its far, far from the worst thing that someone can do. Its a minor infraction, generally done unknowingly, and not a major problem.

I do not think recommending people ask chatGPT there problem first is a good idea, not least because chatGPT will give the most common answer to a problem, and the most common answer is often wrong.

Getting help form chatGPT to rephrase the question is probably less harmful.

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