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I've been trying to encourage our devs to use GIS SE to find answers to problems. I was discouraged to learn that one of our key GIS programmers refuses to visit the site because of rude and critical comments made to her first few questions submitted to the site.

Please be reminded how important courtesy and respect are to a Q&A site like this. In these early days the last thing we need is to run off prospective community members.

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I agree with @Jeff Atwood that we can't do much about this particular complaint (in the OP) without specific examples, but even in their absence this is a useful conversation to have and there are effective things we can do to make this site more inviting.

More generous voting on the part of users, especially voting for questions, could help.

At a minimum, I would hope that if anyone makes an effort to answer a question that they upvote that question (if not, why are you even bothering to respond to a bad question?) and, similarly, that anyone posing a question make an effort to upvote every response unless it is particularly bad or just dead wrong. (I am constantly surprised at the number of questions that get fewer votes than replies and the number of replies that are at least partially valid but get no votes at all...)

Think about it: if you read a reply and upvote it, that's +10 points for the respondent. If you move on without upvoting, that's +0 points. If you downvote, it's -2 points. Thus, not voting is 10/12 = 83% as bad as downvoting! A similar calculation applies to votes on questions. As a rule of thumb, if you're an active respondent, you should find it easy to put as many points into play as you receive: your votes:points ratio should be at least 0.1, more or less. If you're an active reader but don't respond much, you should have no trouble multiplying this minimum ratio several fold. Go inspect the users page to see who's meeting these criteria. Not many. Most of us are guilty of undervoting.

Now consider this situation from the point of view of a newbie. She posts a question and gets few or no upvotes (or worse, downvotes). The page shows dozens of views. Ergo, the (vast) majority of viewers think the question is either bad or very bad. Her natural conclusion? This community doesn't think much of her or doesn't care for what she's interested in. It goes downhill from there.

I think that until this situation turns around, this particular SE community is going to have a hard time getting into a sustainable mode.

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I certainly think it's important because:

1) By definition, when you ask a question you don't know something. So we should never label something a 'bad question' however obvious it appears to us. I know a lot about data, but any question I ask about ArcObjects would appear quite dumb to many.

2) A GIS beginner (or casual user) will know almost nothing. So questions like "How do I get data out of a Shape file" (which I have seen recently) shouldn't be derided - or ignored - unless we want to lose a potential user.

3) Not everyone uses English as a first language, and that sometimes makes a question appear dumber than it is.

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There's already a lot of good commentary on this page, but I did want to add a couple points:

One community that was founded with the direct intention of maintaining civility and a constructive community is Hacker News. As part of this process, they have a set of guidelines that we might do well as a community to look over and incorporate relevant guidelines into our FAQ (also see this article). Simiarly, Metafilter has an excellent track record, which the founder chalks up to "... intense moderation and customer service. I try to create an interesting space for people."

So perhaps as we formalize some of our own rules, we can do a better job self-policing to provide a place where newcomers are welcome, but we retain the 'high-value' specialist questions. Community moderation is a challenge, but stackexchange provides a good technical foundation if we can get the human organization part of the exercise down.

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I agree we have to consider that the medium through which we communicate on this site can be devoid of empathy. Hence many comments, answers, or critiques can be taken as rude even when no such malice was intended.

That being said, the role of the site isn't to baby people. Being curt or disagreeing with someone is not the same as name calling.

All of the people on this site volunteer their time, and I don't want to ask individuals to spend extra time making sure their answers are well welcomed as oppossed to simply answering the question.

Perhaps I'm a bit thicker skin working in environments where terse critiques are not uncommon, but I do not remember seeing any particular comment I felt was out of line or overtly rude on this site (with perhaps one exception). If someone says something stupid or wrong in an answer I hope the community points it out. If I say something wrong or stupid I hope the community points it out.

If someone feels a comment was out of line, they should feel free to bring it up here and the community can discuss it. If particular individuals are the culprits it may shame them into being nicer in general.

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If substantiated by links to those posts, then those "rude and critical comments" would appear to be contrary to the Code of Conduct that applies to all Stack Exchange sites.

All rude and critical comments received or noticed at GIS SE, even if they have been subsequently deleted, should be flagged for the attention of its moderators to investigate.

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