6

Every now and then you'll see a question or an answer from someone you don't recognize. They might have a reputation of 1 or 101, a generic avatar or an image you've never seen before, and they've never contributed anything to the site before. Perhaps you perused the first questions or first answers review feed specifically to find them.

How can we make this new user feel welcome?


Extra Credit: Should we make new users feel welcome in every case?

7

Individually

Here are my steps:

  1. If, for some reason, you feel a new user isn't welcome on our site, don't do anything.1 We've all heard that if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. That might seem like a benign form of censure, but I can tell you it's very effective.

  2. If possible in your voting model, vote up answers from new users to encourage them to come back. Ideally, all votes ought to reflect the content of the post and not its author, but the power of giving someone a little bit of encouragement is so strong that I often stretch to give someone their first upvote.2

  3. Leave a comment that grapples with the post somehow. I like to start comments to new users like this:

    Welcome to our Biblical Hermeneutics Q&A site!

    I've got several variations on this welcome that depend on my gauge of the user's familiarity with the Stack Exchange network. Again, you might not think it would help to welcome someone with a boilerplate welcome, but somehow it does.

    The rest of the comment (if any) should contain the same sort of constructive criticism that you would like to receive. If there's something especially helpful or interesting, point that out too. Don't forget that there are some extremely useful additions for comments to save time.

  4. Go ahead and edit the post if you find a few things that you can clean up. I know that some people are deeply offended when anyone changes even one character of their finely-crafted, golden prose3, but the time to introduce people to this feature is as early as possible.

I'll leave the extra credit for others, but to tip my hand: it's almost impossible to tell the difference between a great future contributor and a person who harms the community purely from their first post on the site. Let's give people the benefit of the doubt.


Footnotes:

  1. Unless there's some serious problem with the post, like it's spam or doesn't answer the question or is off-topic for the site. In those cases, raise a flag, comment, or vote to close as appropriate.

  2. I also tend to give bounties to answers from newer users. Some people think this is a terrible idea that's unfair and skews the reputation system. I'm too cynical for that.

  3. [Raises hand.] However, editing turns out to be one of the features that makes the site work. Other people really appreciate edits from simple grammatical corrections to complete overhauls of a question to bring it up to our standards. I've even come to appreciate the help I get cleaning up things that made sense to me, but confuse every other reader. Learn to embrace editing.

  • I somehow forgot to credit Isaac Moses's excellent post on Mi Yodeya's meta. – Jon Ericson Jul 16 '12 at 19:09
  • 2
    +1. 4) get them into chat and meta. use any excuse. link to meta posts in you comments, invite them to chat in the library, use your superping (with discretion - you need a reasonable sounding excuse). – Jack Douglas Jul 28 '12 at 10:02
7

Working together

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. Nowhere is this more clear than when you look at a community of people. Collectively we have tremendous power to influence other people and we ought not underestimate that power. Given that, I'd like to make a general plea:

Please don't pile onto posts from new users!

What I mean is: if one person has commented on a post, don't add another comment if you can help it. Imagine today is your first day here and you get the following comments on your answer:

  • Hi there and welcome to the site! You should [edit] this answer and capitalize "Bible".
  • This is more of a comment than an answer.
  • I just wanted to welcome you to Biblical Hermeneutics. You have some good ideas, but I'd like know more about the number 42 symbolizing God's creation of earthworms. Can you flesh that out?

These aren't rude comments (well, except maybe the middle one), but impression of all three is that you aren't welcome here (despite being welcomed twice). Individually, the comments might be taken as helpful advice; together they can seem like nit-picking. Some posts have lots of problems and our instinct is to try and fix each one. Resist that impulse. Ideally new users will be welcomed with:

One comment that addresses the biggest issue.

Let's be honest: it's pretty unlikely that the biggest problem with a post is going to be a spelling error. The last (fake) comment above probably addressed the biggest problem with the (hypothetical) answer: nobody can figure out where the (purposely ridiculous) meaning assigned to 42 came from. So that should be the one comment on that post.

While we are at it, I should mention that in my experience, people love to know that other people have listened to their ideas and tried to understand them. So comments that engage with the content of the post rather it's the circumstances tend to leave a better impression. A new user can't really be expected to know the difference between answers and comments, but they can be expected to be interested in what they wrote. Asking interested questions is a simple communication trick that can go a long way toward making a new user (or anyone else) feel heard.

So how do you take care of nitpicky details? What can you do when there's already a comment on a new user's post? My rules of thumb are:

Ask questions about content, but edit for style.

and:

When you edit, go big.

Editing is the #1 thing that sets Stack Exchange apart from every other Bible site around. I love editing. It's amazing to go through a post and fix all the things! You might think I'm fielding constant complaints about trampling on authorial intent or whatnot, but more often than not, people thank me for the edits. That's because I do more than just capitalize "Bible". I also:

  • insert the text of the verse they quoted,
  • italicize or bold important words and phrases,
  • organize things under headings,
  • fix their broken Markdown formatting,
  • turn raw URLs into real links, and
  • even find the blog post that supports the obscure connection between 42 and earthworms.

In the end, the post looks better. And if the author really meant to keep bible lower case, they can always re-edit the post. Be sure to note that further edits are possible in the change log, by the way. I went all-out editing the post and if I screwed up one little thing, it's not really a big deal: accidents happen. But if my edit had been just the nitpick, it would be all-too-clear what my agenda is. (Even if I don't have an agenda, it can look that way.)

In conclusion:

We want to personally welcome new users, not collectively intimidate them.

  • 1
    This is a fabulous answer! – Jack Douglas Feb 13 '13 at 8:16
3

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Hebrews 13:2 (ESV)

Most visitors to the site already come from Google and many know nothing about the SE network or this little part of it. A small fraction of these visitors become visible to us by contributing in some way, and a small fraction of those that do will end up providing the fantastic[1] answers that are the lifeblood of the site.

We want those users. We want them badly. They are worth all our efforts because they will pay back many times over! But how do we know them when we meet them? Well, we don't. At least we probably won't know straight away, so an important way to answer this question:

How should we welcome new users?

Is: "In a way that helps reveal their potential!"

I see this as a constant, circular/iterative process of dividing new users into 3 groups, those who:

  1. I'm not sure about
  2. Are unlikely to be useful
  3. Are likely to be useful to the site

It is sometimes tempting to put a user in group (2) or (3) after reading their very first question, answer or comment. This is usually too soon. We probably don't know much about a user at this stage, whether they are a native English speaker for example, or whether they wrote something impulsively. We haven't yet 'heard' them properly because we carry around a load of presuppositions and there needs to be a bit of communication before we know enough to judge:

If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame. Proverbs 18:13 (ESV)

We need to engage these users to find out more about them, and as Jon has mentioned, there are ways of doing that, for example:

  • Leave a welcoming or supportive comment
  • Improve their answer by editing it into a better format, adding citations from the text[2] or links to resources
  • Do both! (example)

At this stage it is better not to criticise an answer: we can ask for clarification or elaboration, but saying 'this is not welcome here because XYZ' is not welcoming even if prefixed with 'Welcome to bh.se'! 'Fixing' answers should not be confused with the business of welcoming new users. I like to hold off on all that until I'm sure what kind of new user I'm dealing with: by then you either know them well enough not to cause offence or no longer mind so much if they take it[3]. Questions are different and need to be fixed or closed quickly: this trumps welcoming users (though should still be done as nicely as possible of course!)

The wise of heart is called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Proverbs 16:21 (ESV)

If the users responds to our 'reaching out', that is a good sign. We can bear that in mind for the next time we see them contribute, or if appropriate, we can follow up either in comments or by inviting them to The Library. Linking to helpful and relevant meta posts is a useful step once we have started down this road (not in your first communication but as you get to know their interests and what there needs are concerning getting to know the site).


[1] Not all will be fantastic in the same way: eg sublime allegory does not sit well with my hermeneutic. It is still sublime.
[2] This in particular can make a post look much more 'professional' and impressive: and is likely to be gratefully received.
[3] I favour down-voting (with or without comment) poor answers (not answers I disagree with or from an unfamiliar hermeneutic)

-3

(In response to Jack D's thoughts)

Very well put - validation of an idea and our interpretations are important on many fronts. 1 being: to sense the love of Christ, whether corrective of complementary from our brothers and sisters in our King and savior Christ

...By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” — John 13:35 (ESV)

Secondly: It shows our aptitude and allegiance to the call of Christ, given through Paul to Timothy, when he prescriptively said…

...Study to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. — 2 Timothy 2:15 (ESV)

  • Thanks Derek I appreciate the feedback and I fully agree with the sense of what you have written here (I'm not sure others do as perhaps they either don't understand you or don't appreciate your overtly Christian thinking!). Please vote on posts you like or dislike: here on meta a vote means 'I agree' or 'I disagree' whereas on main a vote means 'this is useful' or 'this is not useful' :) – Jack Douglas Feb 12 '13 at 18:01
  • 5
    I think that the downvotes are the byproduct of the sense that you portray that this site is a reserved Christian space. As a Christian I agree with your sentiment of how we interact with each other, Derek, and I also see its value on a human level. The the textual foundation may be foreign to a subset of our population, though. For the record, I have not voted in either direction. – swasheck Feb 13 '13 at 2:31

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .