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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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    +1 A lot of times I think rude behavior is a symptom of groupthink. Maybe a more general question is: How can we prevent groupthink? – Kirk Kuykendall Feb 21 '11 at 16:57
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    Can you give some examples? While some comments may be terse I don't think I remember seeing anything overtly rude. – Andy W Feb 21 '11 at 21:02
  • I don't know what the comments were. I just want to urge folks to be thoughtful above all. – nw1 Feb 21 '11 at 21:47
  • Allow me to provide an example on one of my questions. – Jaime Soto Feb 21 '11 at 23:06
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    you really need to provide examples, otherwise this is totally not actionable in any way. What's "offensive"? and to whom? I'm not saying it didn't happen but this is impossible to discuss without specific, concrete examples to hang the discussion on. – Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 4:27
  • @Jaime - I'd describe this as curmudgeonly. Maybe we need a curmudgeon badge? If this condition is genetic, I'll probably end up earning it. :) – Kirk Kuykendall Feb 22 '11 at 4:36
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    @JaimeSoto - I wouldn't consider that overtly rude. Although I agree with your viewpoint in the comments to that specific question, iant was trying to make a point, not insult you IMO. – Andy W Feb 22 '11 at 13:33
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    @Kirk, @Andy: I wasn't offended by first answer but by his reply to my explanatory comment. He didn't label me a thief but did ask if I was helping [...] users steal free data. I asked the question to avoid being in that situation. I understand iant was emphasizing the nature of the OSM data license and acknowledge that he is a great contributor to the site. I hope your defense of his actions is not a case of groupthink symptom #2: Rationalizing warnings that might challenge the group's assumptions. – Jaime Soto Feb 22 '11 at 14:03
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    @Jeff Atwood: It appears the offending comment(s) have been removed. The point of this post was simply to remind folks that a hasty, thoughtless post can turn people off to the site. My own experience here on GIS.se has been very positive, and I really appreciate the site and the community. – nw1 Feb 22 '11 at 16:01
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    My answer to Jamie's question was based on an earlier (and much less clear) version of the question but I still don't think it was rude :-) – Ian Turton Feb 23 '11 at 16:02
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    I invite anyone who doesn't feel like their specific examples of rude comments are serious enough to warrant the full glaring lights of the whole community to contact me (or any active moderator) directly. However as said above, without specific examples there's not much we can do more than what you've already done in this question itself (a great discussion to start in my opinion). – matt wilkie Feb 24 '11 at 22:37
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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.

  • Re the second last paragraph, perhaps a downvote should require a reason. Or perhaps the large number of view don't think the question is bad but just don't have an answer. Also, sometimes I revisit a thread several times since responses in the 'comments' section don't escalate the thread upward like a 'response' does. Hard to figure and I am sure there will be no definitive solution. – user681 Feb 22 '11 at 22:53
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    @Dan Courtesy asks that reasons be supplied with downvotes (and plenty of people are indeed kind enough to do that). Having an answer should not be a requirement for appreciating a question! I do appreciate that one needs to understand a question in order to vote intelligently; that's the main reason my voting rate is so low here! I believe this site does not count your repeat visits as genuinely new visits: it seems to count unique individuals. I'm not looking for definitive answers, but I do think this site will benefit from more voting all around and hope others come to share that belief. – whuber Feb 22 '11 at 23:02
  • @Bill Agreed...I have no problem with the upvoting, whether the people understand the question or not...they just recognize it as being a useful question. – user681 Feb 22 '11 at 23:46
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    +1 I generally agree with this assessment. The exception is for questions in the form of "why is feature X of my software program Y not working?" Until the question is answered, it is difficult to determine if it is a good question. If it appears to be a legitimate bug, I think it is valuable. If it turns out that the user has somehow corrupted their installation in a way that is unlikely to be repeated by other users, it has less value. In some ways I think votes on questions should reflect the probability that someone else may encounter the same problem. – Kirk Kuykendall Feb 23 '11 at 4:09
  • @Kirk That's a good point. Holding off on voting until you better appreciate the nature of the problem and the solution can also provide an incentive for the questioner and the respondents to keep improving their work. Ultimately, though, for the good questions, the votes need to be cast! – whuber Feb 23 '11 at 14:46
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    Questions from students asking for the community to do their homework for them is another thing that sometimes tempts me into rude, or at least snarky, answers. Take this "ArcMap excercise" for example. – Kirk Kuykendall Feb 23 '11 at 23:12
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    @Kirk That seems like an excellent question to me: these students are clear about what they're up to; they have thought about the question; they have articulated it very well; and they are attempting something that is not entirely straightforward. That doesn't look like somebody just trying to get others to do their homework! For really bad questions, hang out on the math or stats sites awhile: people periodically post entire quizzes there. You have to be quick to catch them, though: those questions are closed almost immediately by the community. That's the proper reaction, not rudeness. – whuber Feb 24 '11 at 0:14
  • PS I find it striking that respondents are struggling to answer this question and that the ones given are not simple or easy to carry out. – whuber Feb 24 '11 at 0:29
  • @whuber Yes it is a good question. I'd really like to see students take a fresh approach to this instead of falling back on limitations of the current tools. When ArcHydro was developed it was cutting edge, but it has been unable to keep pace with newer tools. It is hard to find a polite way to say "think for yourself" to a gis hydro student. Maybe revise Heraclitus to read: "you should never step in the same river twice". – Kirk Kuykendall Feb 24 '11 at 4:24
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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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    Your point is well taken, however... we all want to see this community grow, and taking the time to extend a little courtesy is one very pragmatic way to go about it. – nw1 Feb 22 '11 at 15:52
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    @iant - I didn't disagree with your sentiment, although using the adjective "clueless" may not have been appropriate. At that point using that adjective is calling people names, and didn't add any particular substantive information to the issue at hand. There's a difference between calling a question stupid and saying why a question is stupid (which is self contained in the question, just not the in the title of your question). – Andy W Feb 23 '11 at 18:26
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    @iant As I mentioned earlier, I think we need to avoid groupthink. One good way to avoid that is by having a devil's advocate, or at least someone willing to point out when the emperor has no clothes. I'd be interested in seeing upvote/downvote ratios for the different se sites. It seems like we at gis.se are too reluctant to downvote or use emoticons. I was going do a feature-request for emoticon images, but see that was shot down. – Kirk Kuykendall Feb 23 '11 at 18:26

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