This is a Canonical Question about the scope of Server Fault and the attitude of the community.

This is in response to Questions to ask the SE staff regarding the future of ServerFault

Why am I responding by posting a new question? Because the SF system is broken. I can't respond directly to the meta question because I don't have enough reputation. I don't have enough reputation because my community participation is so low. My participation is so low because - well that's what the meta question is trying to find out!

A comment by Chris S is a good introduction to my response: "Might be also worth noting that, year to date: traffic to the site is down, new users per day is down, new questions and answer are down, edits are down, voting is down - every meaningful measurement of the site is down, except closed questions, that stat is up."

Why are users leaving or not participating? Why aren't new users joining or staying?

JamesRyan nailed it with his answer to the meta SF question:"As a user (and professional sysadmin) my impression is the complete opposite, that moderators are overly critical and too quick to close questions as off topic that could be helpful to get answers to..." But the snobbish, elitist behavior is not limited to moderators but to many of the regular users as well. I have occasionally seen new users directly insulted by other users while their questions are closed with little more than a link to a previous question that is only slightly related. You want to know what the real problem is with ServerFault? The community. You want to know why site stats have dropped? Because legitimate users with legitimate questions can get better answers from a more welcoming community elsewhere. I'd tell you where they're going, but then this post would get flagged as spam :) The reason why users are not joining or are leaving is because it's quite clear that they are not wanted.

JamesRyan asked a number of questions pertinent to fixing this problem, but the first question that needs to be answered is point number 1 in the meta SF question: What is the purpose of ServerFault? Is it to be a country club golf course for elite cream of the crop IT? Or does the definition of "Professional IT" include those who work for MSPs or for small businesses, who frequently have a limited scope of experience? I fall into that latter bracket and so far my experience on ServerFault leaves me feeling unwanted and unwelcome.

But how do we solve this problem? Besides a shift in attitude on the part of those who are at fault (haha, pun) for this snobbish behavior? If "Professional IT" embraces a more broad definition, then perhaps new users can be welcomed to the community. "Newbie" questions can be responded to with politeness, even if the asker is being directed towards a previous answer thread or easily findable external resource. Condescending attitudes and "low quality" arrogant responses can be down-voted as much as low quality questions - in fact, users and moderators should be able to lose reputation points for being patronizing.

Voting on questions and answers should NOT be limited by reputation! Neither should commenting on a question or answer. As a measure of community participation, I can understand reputation being used as a limiting factor for meta SF, but that alienates users like me, who are the ones most directly affected by this particular issue.

In fact, if reputation governs anything, it should be required for new users to have a minimum reputation before asking a question - but only if you want to ensure that all new questions come from people who are participating in the community. Of course, then you alienate everyone who comes here to learn but is unable to contribute for whatever reason. Reputation governing community involvement (as opposed to only measuring it) is a lose-lose.

As for me, I may continue to use ServerFault as long as it proves useful. To their credit, there are a good number of friendly and helpful users here. Other StackExchange sites have much more congenial communities and I will continue to participate in them. But honestly, I can usually get better answers, faster, and with a smile from a different free IT forum.

Hopefully this proves useful. Hopefully someone sees this and can read enough of my good intentions to share on the meta SF thread on my behalf, since I'm unable to post this there myself.

First off, thanks to whoever moderator it was who moved this into meta where it belonged.

Secondly, another suggestion. When new users sign up, they should be presented with a home page giving clear and organized instructions on how the community works and how to participate. I "signed up with facebook" and if there was any such information it was presented in a EULA style that I likely skipped over (who doesn't?). In this case, it's all about presentation. Perhaps a couple of guided "getting started" tutorial pages - heck I'd be willing to help write it.

Another thought I had for a suggestion is to require comments from down-votes. Considering how important reputation is, I think a person deserves some kind of explanation when that reputation is being demoted by someone. Especially when askers may not realize that their questions don't meet the standards in some way; and most especially when such a question can easily be amended to fix whatever supposed violation may have occurred.

  • 33
    Server Fault is failing quite simply because of the river of crappy questions from amateurs (including developers) who seem unable to read documentation or use google.
    – user9517
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:00
  • 15
    Also this is really more of a rant than anything constructive - It would be appreciated if you tone down the grandstanding and present your ideas in a clear, concise, constructive way. It's likely that some of your suggestions are simply not going to happen (e.g. "allow anyone to comment on any question" is a recipe for disaster. This is why the entire SE network has a system of tiered privileges based on reputation - that predates Server Fault)
    – voretaq7
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:14
  • 23
    @lain. Thank you for your useful and productive illustration of my point!
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:30
  • 19
    @Thomas just curious what makes you think you have a handle on how the site works and why you think you're qualified to make statements like this. First of all, you initially posted this on the main site, not meta. You didn't even get that basic piece right. Then, you talk about the dynamics of the site and this and that, but you don't even have enough rep to see /review and participate there. In fact you only have three total rep. Your account is less than a year old, you have almost no participation, and you couldn't even find meta to make this post. Why should this be taken seriously?
    – MDMarra
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:33
  • 17
    @Thomas: From SO First off, I'm not a web designer, I'm just a geek trying to help out a friend. you're not even our target market.
    – user9517
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:34
  • 9
    @voretaq7 Thank you for the suggested link, it was worth reading. However my point is that many legitimate professionals who do read the documentation and who do post detailed questions are treated unfairly because the definition of "good question" is so seemingly arbitrary. Yes, this is a rant, but I (as sirex put it) wasted a great deal of time trying to present clear and concise constructive feedback while being blunt about the issue at stake. I'm sorry if my success did not meet my intentions.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:35
  • 8
    @MDMarra - did you read the first sentence? Why am I responding by posting a new question? ... I can't respond directly to the meta question because I don't have enough reputation. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:35
  • 12
    @lain Thank you for again illustrating my point. If SE wants to be a club for the pretentious elite of all computerdom, that's fine - I already stated I have other places to go for answers. Just don't complain when new user retention collapses and your site traffic falls to near 0. If you want more site traffic and if you want more users, you're going to have to be more accepting of new users who are a little less 1337 than you are. And chances are they admire your knowledge and experience; that's why they come here in the first place.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:44
  • 16
    @MDMarra except as I've said in the past, reputation is very poor indication of how much a user knows about the site or the community. The only thing that reputation measures is how much other people liked their answers. That's it. Someone could have lurked for 4 months, doing maintenance, voting, etc, and their reputation would show virtually nothing, but they would know the community better than someone who dropped by once and scored a +50 on a popular easy question. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:48
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    And also, people who are green, new users are perhaps the only people qualified to judge the community as they come in with fresh eyes. Us old timers cannot judge what the site is like for new users, because we are not new users Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:49
  • 29
    I think targeting this guy based on Rep is a cheap trick, to be honest. His points are valid observations even if you disagree with their cause and / or validity. @MarkHenderson Great answer, I'm starting to worry that we're throwing the baby out with the bathwater on SF right now. I maintain professional sysadmins and similar should be our enforced target audience but nobody here was born with their experience in the sector. On my first ever pro job I was a Tier 1 tech who didn't even know what group policy was, but I was still working hard to make IT work for my users, just like now.
    – Dan
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:53
  • 7
    @Thomas You're right. Although, I find that Spiceworks deals in a different segment of the industry. I've found a few good answers there, but know that there are certain things I can't ask. Here, we do need to realize that there are a variety of ways to define "professional". I work in some of the shittiest small environments, as well as some of the highest-end... I see a need to be welcoming no matter where people come from... as long as they follow the rules or spend a moment to understand the flow of this site!
    – ewwhite
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 21:53
  • 15
    A river of crappy questions provides little value, but likewise it is not detrimental - I'd disagree. Crappy questions begat more crappy questions (e.g. the broken windows theory). While we may not agree as to what makes a good question or a bad question, the attitude of ruthlessness to questions deemed bad is a central pillar of Stack Exchange: Bad questions should either shape up or ship out. Crappy questions make the site look less attractive for people looking to ask good questions, and they make it harder for knowledgeable people to find and answer those good questions.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 12:48
  • 9
    @JamesRyan Server Fault has a very specific target audience. Our goal is not, nor has it ever been, to answer EVERY question ANYONE can ask about servers, networking, or infrastructure. If you are approaching the site with the attitude that it should be a completely open "anyone can play" site like most of the others on the network you are simply wrong - the closest analog to Server Fault would the high-tier academic sites like Theoretical Computer Science.
    – voretaq7
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 15:22
  • 9
    @JamesRyan The site is here for the benefit of the people answering the questions every bit as much as it is for the benefit of those asking. Firstly, you can learn a lot from answering questions, and secondly, a site that didn't bother catering to people who answered questions would be a website full of questions with no answers. That's not much of a knowledgebase. There already are sites with no quality bar to the questions and answers, e.g. yahoo questions. Part of the mission of stack exchange, never mind server fault, is to be better than those kinds of sites.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 16:22

6 Answers 6


I almost made this a TL;DR intro to my other answer, but I think this is a standalone way of looking at most of the "problems" with ServerFault that we've been discussing lately:

  • Most* of the regulars want ServerFault's focus to be on professional system administration.

  • One thing that all professional sysadmins do is figure things out: we learn how things work and how to fix them when they stop working.

  • Professional sysadmins also have to figure out how to access information: what resources are there that can help me? what forums are good for which issues? etc...

  • ServerFault is just another information resource.

  • So a professional's approach to using ServerFault would be to figure out what it's good for and to use it appropriately.

That means understanding what's on- and off-topic, what type of questions are good and bad fits, how the site works and how it's part of the larger StackExchange, Inc. structure.

It means understanding that not every server or networking question is appropriate here.

The issue with crappy questions isn't "is the person asking a professional sysadmin?" it's, "does the question indicate a professional approach to the problem?" Very basic questions can be asked here as can quite subjective questions (it's hard, but it happens). But if the question isn't taking a professional approach, this isn't the right place for it.

  • 1
    I think I agree with this entirely. Though I feel that there are many users who don't interpret "professional" the same way, or who are extra picky about it. I know, as an asker, I regularly feel inclined to be short in my questions, because I have a tendency to be wordy. So I won't explain in detail every troubleshooting or research step I've made because I don't want to overwhelm the community with trivia that is not pertinent to getting an answer. Is that a bad policy on my part? Or should such questions be given a chance to explain more in depth before being closed as "not useful"?
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 18:41
  • 2
    @Thomas There is a perfectly acceptable middle ground between "This is broken. HALP?" and a half megabyte of irrelevant detail. I'm fairly confident you can find that middle ground (You in particular because you managed to do it once, and the collective "you" because we have tens of thousands of great questions on the site that do it). Questions with too little detail will be placed "on hold" until such time as they are made answerable. Questions with too much (irrelevant) detail are usually subject to aggressive editing. That's status-bydesign network-wide.
    – voretaq7
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 22:04
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    I agree with this answer entirely, but there is definitely an attitude problem on this site. I don't know what to do about it, but the seeing this continue to be an issue makes me sad.
    – gWaldo
    Commented Oct 16, 2013 at 12:40

What is the purpose of ServerFault? Is it to be a country club golf course for elite cream of the crop IT? Or does the definition of "Professional IT" include those who work for MSPs or for small businesses, who frequently have a limited scope of experience?

I think you're right in comparing the site to a country club, and this is something I have a problem with. In fact, there are a small handful of users who are pushing this agenda very hard lately and closing everything in sight that they don't like. I disagree with this behaviour, but that's a discussion for another day.

To clarify: Sever Fault is for professionals working with IT in a professional manner. It doesn't matter if you're a Fortune 500 company or a small startup, or a contractor that's been embedded into a bunch of different companies. We care about your intentions first and foremost.

Besides a shift in attitude on the part of those who are at fault (haha, pun) for this snobbish behavior?

You're right. There are a lot of snobs here. For some reason, and I'm not entirely sure why, a lot of systems administrators act like snobs, treating users like unwashed masses who are diseased. We treat new users like that here too sometimes. Instead of taking the time to step users through, old grey users just slam the door in their face, ignoring the fact that there are other more green people who might like to help them.

This is because a lot of us have answered the same questions, over, and over, and over again. There are about a dozen questions that come up multiple times every day, written by new users who just slap-dash copy-pasta whatever crap is inside their head into the nearest textinput field on random websites.

This is uncool behaviour, but it's also what causes people to have very little patience for new users. I see the correlation between the two acts, but I don't like it. I actually have raised this issue in the past; nearly 3 years ago but my attitude has changed somewhat since then. It has a very good answer from the founder of the site about why this is fine:

If you're bored by Server Fault, that's OK. Take a month off. Take a year off. Find something you can do where you're actually learning, not repeating yourself endlessly.

This is something a lot of people could take a leaf from.

perhaps new users can be welcomed to the community.

I agree. This goes back five years and looks like it's not going to go away any time soon.

Condescending attitudes and "low quality" arrogant responses can be down-voted as much as low quality questions - in fact, users and moderators should be able to lose reputation points for being patronizing.

I also agree. If you see something like this, flag it for moderator attention. We have a cardinal rule here, which is "Be Nice". A lot of people forget it, but if you don't flag this activity, we won't know it's there and we can't do anything about it.

When new users sign up, they should be presented with a home page giving clear and organized instructions on how the community works and how to participate.

They are. Most users just skip it without reading it.

  • 3
    Vote up requires 15 reputation :) Go figure. I actually read the page on reputation earlier before posting my OP and it didn't actually explain how to gain reputation other than getting your Qs or As voted up.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 22:03
  • 3
    That is really the only significant way to gain reputation. 15 reputation would require 3 upvotes on a question, or two upvotes on an answer (that's actually 20), or an upvote on a question and an answer. That's not much. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 22:05
  • 2
    @FalconMomot Except that it's completely arbitrary. I had 1 reputation this morning, before I went back to months old questions I had asked that had remained unanswered (and unvoted) and answered them myself with the solutions I eventually came up with. I suppose I could do that all day if I wanted to pad my resume. Also, I'm finding myself only able to flag questions, not comments and not answers. I can edit other people's posts (i.e. add key words) but that's an unusual part of this particular community that I'm having difficulty getting used to. I'm not a moderator.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 22:14
  • 1
    "ignoring the fact that there are other more green people who might like to help them." This, exactly. As long as it's not a duplicate (and not way off topic like "how to fly an aircraft"), it's ok in my eyes. It's nice to pick off the low hanging fruit questions sometimes. My issue is more that finding those among the volume of questions that aren't my area of expertise is too tricky (and yes i'm pretty lazy... but i'm willing to bet so are most people who aren't emotionally invested in the site). I want to see only my favorite tags, really.
    – Sirex
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 22:19
  • 1
    @MarkHenderson Thank you for explaining better than I can what I was trying to say.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 22:25
  • Interesting that Joel's answer to your 3-yr-old question has only recently made it into a close reason. His first line: "One way to look at the questions that are asked here is: how far away is the asker from even comprehending the answer?" Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 6:33
  • 1
    I think it's also worth drawing attention to another point made in Joel's post: When in doubt, an answer deserves about the same amount of effort as the question got. If someone writes a one sentence question about "how to get a server onto the Internet," they deserve about a sentence answer, either linking to a checklist somewhere, or just tell them to hire a damn sysadmin. On the other hand, if they put a lot of effort into asking a very specific question, they deserve more effort for the answer.
    – Andrew B
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 14:55
  • 6
    @Thomas If you have a problem with the reputation system please note that it is a network wide system. Discuss it on meta.stackoverflow.com, or email your concerns to the Stack Exchange team. Further griping about it here will result in a comment purge, because it's useless noise.
    – voretaq7
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 15:16

Frankly, I'm seeing a great deal of wheel spinning lately over what people want this site to be that it currently isn't. Some of this is within the context of what SF says it wants to be, but the rest basically amounts to SF would be useful to me if it were X.

SF is not useful to everyone, nor can it be.

I feel that a great deal of our problem stems from the debate over who it should be useful to, and if you can see +/- vote breakdown, you can tell from the scoring on meta lately that lots of people within the SE network seem to have a dog in this fight. This meta question further serves to drive that point home in my eyes; no insult intended to Thomas, but objectively speaking we have a SO user criticizing us on the basis of some of the same features that SO has, such as minimum rep for comments.

This is getting crazy.

All of this cross-site linking to the discussion of SF's future is not helping. Our identity was fragmented enough simply on the basis of what the site says it wants to be and what the reality was based on the current website design. Now our comment threads are filled with discussion over whether SF's mission statement is even realistic or attainable. People know that change is coming, and everyone wants that change to serve them personally.

I'm going to take it a step further and say that this tug of war has been going on for awhile now -- long before this most recent round of debate on meta -- and that is why SF is failing. SF can't be what it says it wants to be if everyone is going to ignore that, and instead demand that it serve their own needs regardless of context.

We're basically left with the SE admins choosing an identity for us, and changes being made to more firmly lock in what that identity is. I don't think that repeating this endless circle of opinions is getting us anywhere, so...leave more questions for the conference call if you've got 'em, otherwise speak your piece once and be done with it.

  • This was a useful post. Still can't vote for it! ;) You describe this issue as some sort of identity crisis and I think that's probably accurate. So the question for the SE admins is - how can we identify and then clearly define what the SE/SF target audience is? That's points 1&2 of the SE admin conference call question. And so far nobody seems to be able to offer a way to identify or define that target audience. Not even me, sadly.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 23:24

I am on here because of these policies. I only turn to serverfault when I cant find an answer to a problem I'm facing or there is something I dont understand. I assume a certain level of knowledge from the people I'm talking to, and its nice to know the people replying are profesionals and tend to know what they are talking about.

On the other hand it can be difficult for someone who's green, has a fire to put out, and doesnt have the time to build the base knowledge they should have in order to solve the current issue. They are professionals, but they are lacking the tools they need and trying to learn, and many times they should hire a consultant but cant.

There's an old saying "There is no such thing as a stupid question." Thats true, but there is such a thing as stupid or lazy people. That is why I like SF, because those people get booted rather quickly. On the flip side, questions can get shot down rather quickly that are deserving of an answer or at least being given the tools to find an answer.

(Some)Green IT Professionals become seasoned experts, eventually. You cant fix stupid/lazy, but you can fix lack of knowledge in those willing to learn, and I've seen it go both ways.

I think some of the moderators here are a little too quick on the trigger to remove questions that they don't take the time to evaluate the question completely.

For example My First Question, did it deserve to be closed out? or was it closed out because I had 1 rep?

  • Well I think it depends on whether SF wants willing-to-learn IT "greenies" in the target audience or not. I assumed yes, since as long as they work in the field such a person qualifies as a professional in my book. But hey, at least you got some answers before your first question was closed ;) 4 months after it was asked! not everyone is so fortunate. I'm curious how your migration went - I was doing the exact same thing about that same time (Nov-Dec 2012). It was a headache, to say the least.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 1:35
  • @Thomas a few hiccups, now its expanded across 6 seperate offices and up into Azure. AD and Sharepoint have been my two biggest projects/successes since starting.
    – Matt Bear
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 1:37
  • Glad to hear it worked well for you. In my case it was another example of the boss giving me a task outside my experience with an impossible deadline - so the real headache was from him jumping down my throat for being behind schedule. ADFS is a lot easier to deploy in 2012 as compared to 2008r2, and MS's hybrid deployment guides for local AD/Exchange Online which I followed were decodable. Selecting the appropriate type of deployment is a little more tricky and if I ever do it again I'd probably come to SF for advice on that - if SF is open to that kind of question in the future.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 1:58
  • Our biggest issue, was the O365 federation process failed. serverfault.com/questions/443859/…, once we got that resolved it actually wasnt too bad. Had a couple "oops" moments with FIM, where I accidently deleted the entire IT staff OU from O365.
    – Matt Bear
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 2:03
  • +1 for MS actually fixing the problem on their end. I haven't deployed Forefront before, but I read a lot about it when researching the o365 project. For my part, I think I'll avoid SSO like the plague in the future. It makes offsite logins to o365 painful with minimal (and buggy) benefit to onsite personel.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 2:24
  • actually with ADFS it makes it fairly easy. Username + password at a custom url, just like the AD login.
    – Matt Bear
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 2:49
  • 1
    By the time that questions was closed, you had quite a bit more than 1 rep. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 6:30
  • I voted to close that question Matt, because I didn't believe there was a definitive correct answer to it. Answers are likely to be opinionated to questions like that, which the FAQ frowns upon. Having said that, I actually think it's a good interesting question, and one of my personal "Save Our ServerFault" ideas is to allow more of these types of questions, as I think opinions on issues like this can be just as valuable as definitive answers to questions to the target market of this site.
    – user11604
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 7:25
  • 1
    I come here too because I can assume a certan level of expertise among the users here. But this community is useless if its members aren't willing to share that expertise. I only post questions here when I have problems I can't solve on my own - clearly (by my low participation) that doesn't happen very often. But when it does, I'd like to find solutions and that would be a lot easier if I wasn't tripping over users who think they're better than everyone else. In the time it takes to vote down a question they could just as easily have answered it.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 21:40
  • 6
    I don't think its a "better then you" mentality... It's more of a "sick and tired of ignorance and laziness" mentality. And when a question comes up that should be common sense, or shows laziness on the askers part it gets shot down quickly.
    – Matt Bear
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 22:09

I've always felt - from as far back as Usenet before the word spam was coined - that if you want to get something out of a community, you HAVE to participate in it.

One one level, that's obvious hyperbole - someone can come here, create an account, and ask a perfectly good question or post a good answer without any prior activity on the site. But in most cases, people will do much better by lurking a bit, seeing how the site works, seeing what's on- and off-topic, etc. In the case of SF (or any other SE site) even if you're not an expert in the site's topic, you can learn about the mechanics on another SE site.

So although I don't care about the OP's low reputation, I just can't give too much weight to opinions offered by someone who clearly doesn't understand how SE sites work - both SF and in general. And I think the idea that "only someone who's a total outsider can explain why SF isn't popular to new users" is laughable: it doesn't take that long to learn about SF and SE:

  • read the FAQ
  • understand voting
  • read some highly voted Qs and As
  • including the "Take the tour" overview
  • which leads to discovering that SE includes 100+ sites
  • find the SE blog and read some of the classic posts
  • ...

The list isn't meant to be exhaustive or definitive, but you don't seem to have done anything. You say things like "Other StackExchange sites have much more congenial communities..." but you've only participated in 2 others - and asked a grand total of 8 questions. Other than voting, I consider my participation to be pretty minimal, but I'm active on half a dozen sites and I've lurked on another dozen. (And anyone who thinks SF is bad, hasn't seen some of the bitching on sites like Physics or EE.)

OTOH, some of what I've written so far is ad homenim, so let's look at your suggestions:

my impression is the complete opposite, that moderators are overly critical and too quick to close questions as off topic that could be helpful to get answers to..."

By repeating JamesRyan's comment, you're making the same mistake he (and so many others) did: it's not moderators closing most questions, it's normal users.

Condescending attitudes and "low quality" arrogant responses can be down-voted as much as low quality questions - in fact, users and moderators should be able to lose reputation points for being patronizing.

All SE sites already have these mechanisms - downvoting and flagging.

Voting on questions and answers should NOT be limited by reputation!

It's not limited, unless you have absolutely nothing to contribute. It takes a measly 15 rep to vote up, 125 to vote down. If you contribute 7 useful edits, you can vote up. Give a reasonable answer to a couple of questions and you can downvote as much as me (well, after several years...)

Reputation governing community involvement (as opposed to only measuring it) is a lose-lose.

Everything you comment on in the 2 paragraphs preceding this comment is the fundamental basis of how all SE sites operate. If you don't like the way reputation governs community involvement, that's got nothing to do with Serverfault, you need to bring it up with the people who run all the SE sites. (Have fun on meta.SO!)

Secondly, another suggestion. When new users sign up, they should be presented with a home page giving clear and organized instructions on how the community works and how to participate.

Again, this is not something under the control of any user or moderator of SF, this is an issue for the people who run SE. But how much more do you want? You get all sorts of in your face guidance as you use the site, and there are help and about links on the top of every page...

I'll say it again: if a new user wants to benefit from a site, they should put some effort in to understanding it. There are way too many new users for the experienced regulars to guide them through. If you - or anyone else - won't spend a bit of time or effort reading before posting, why do you expect someone else to spend a lot of time giving you personal guidance?

Another thought I had for a suggestion is to require comments from down-votes. Considering how important reputation is, I think a person deserves some kind of explanation when that reputation is being demoted by someone.

The pros and cons of this have been extensively debated on meta.SO and it's never going to happen. A downvote only costs 2 rep, and if no comment is given, it can be assumed that the downvoter agreed with the pop-up you see when you hover over any downvote button: "This questions does not show any research effort, it is unclear or not useful."

So although there's some value in an outsider's opinion, most of your points aren't useful because you simply don't know what you're talking about: most of the things you've identified as problems have nothing to do with SF, and all of your suggested solutions already exist.

  • 4
    I disagree entirely with your opening statement. The whole point of communities open to public viewing like this is for people to find useful answers without having to ask the question. That is also why repeat questions are deemed so bad. Also, 99% of lurkers aren't lurking to find out how the community works, they're lurking to find answers. You assume that they're going to figure out the community along the way, but obviously they don't or this wouldn't be an issue! I'll take the ad hominem with a grain of salt, but why not spend some effort trying to solve the real problem?
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 18:28
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    The real problem is new users who are not familiar with the system or who are not following it. Those users quickly get rejected and then the admins complain about woefully dropping traffic statistics. If the suggestions I have made already exist, then they are inadequate or faulty - certainly they are ineffective. How can they be made more effective? How can the system be made more effective without alienating new users? And yes, a lot of my points are made towards SF but are SE policies. I'm not active on every SE site and I'm going to address the problem where I see it, on the site I use.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 18:35
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    Those users quickly get rejected and then the admins complain about woefully dropping traffic statistics I think Stack Exchange as a whole has always worked along the lines that some visitors are not worth retaining @Thomas - you can see this expressed in meta.stackoverflow when issues of what is and what is not on-topic over there have come up in the past. I'm not saying that every user we've ever "scared" away from this site is one that we didn't want to keep, that would be crazy. But it's equally crazy to assume that every single person who leaves the site is a loss to it.
    – Rob Moir
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 21:53

I'm not entirely convinced that SF is failing at all. Traffic to sites ebbs and flows. There is a lot of content here which will come up in searches, and novel, sane questions about things actually relevant to administering a production network do get asked, answered, and upvoted.

Things like conceptual questions about a technology, or questions about a specific error in a particular scenario, or the consequences of a particular event or series of events, tend to get answered. Questions about how to approach nontrivial scenarios also tend to get answered. These things are interesting, and are interesting to a number of people rather than only the asker.

These questions generate quality answers that help the asker out, and can then be used as reference material by others. they show up in searches and increase the site's visibility, and are generally useful content. They build community too.

That said, there are a lot of things that have a propensity to find their way here which really don't belong, and aren't especially likely to hold much interest for anyone besides the asker. Questions asking people to check over their configuration files or walk them through things specific to their environment are less interesting. Questions outright asking someone to do the asker's job for them are incredibly uninteresting (the exact configuration for your site is something for you to work out, after gaining an understanding of how you need it to go). We get a lot of questions like that and they tend to be (rightly) closed.

Additionally, questions which ask how to do something repugnant like send spam, or bypass policy or licensing constraints, tend to be rightly closed. The same goes for questions asking for privileged information like trade secrets. The reasoning behind this should be obvious.

Questions from end users, such as people using shared hosting, working with a residential connection, setting up a personal dev environment, or dealing with their IT department, tend to be rightly closed. The problems encountered while doing this, if they have solutions at all, will have solutions that wouldn't make any sense in a professionally-managed production network.

There are also the questions that get asked where it is truly unclear what the problem is. The asker has such a poor grasp of English that nobody can tell what they are trying to say, or they have such a poor grasp of the concepts that nobody can decipher what the problem might be. Sometimes, people simply post a requirement and a pile of configs (which often appear to correctly implement the requirement). It's hard to tell what it is that would help the asker out, so these questions rightly get closed.

Then, there are the questions asking for purchase recommendations (or recommendations for a tutorial or a book), questions so broad in scope that the answer could be either a book or a detailed consulting report, or questions that are really just discussion points without a right or wrong answer. These get closed because, while they are perfectly valid questions, Q&A really just isn't the right format for them.

Even if these types of questions were answered, they would contribute absolutely nothing to the site. Closing them isn't snobbery, it's moderation and topicality.

Somewhere in the middle, however, are questions from people:

  • Asking how to do something which is a tremendously bad idea (or impossible),
  • Working for a small business with plenty of constraints,
  • Using ancient, outdated components,
  • Being overly nitpicky, and
  • Out of their depth.

As a rule, these questions should be left open as long as they are reasonably coherent. Sometimes, they get closed, but they shouldn't. Closing them might even be snobbery.

Even so, however, these middling questions (neither great nor unanswerable) will probably provoke a little snark, or at the very least get answers the asker didn't expect. For instance, when answering some of these questions, I've been downvoted because the asker didn't want to be told one of these correct answers, respectively:

  • You need to not do it this way. Rethink your architecture a little bit before your environment becomes a horrendous mess.
  • You need to increase your budget if you want to do this smoothly; the SOHO and low-capacity hardware you have can't do what you need to do reliably.
  • Your gear or software is too far out of date. To compatibly do what you need to do cleanly you're going to have to do some updating as well.
  • This isn't something you need to worry about in your scenario. Even though it looks dangerous, it isn't a concern, and it is either impossible or prohibitively difficult to prevent.
  • Before you approach this, you really need to understand how the technology fundamentally works.

Any professional system admin who has worked for any length of time in the field understands the importance of doing things right. None of us want to help promulgate ugly, necessary hacks, because we've been in environments that embody the consequence of years of that kind of activity, and they're unmanageable. For the same reason none of us want to help construct monstrous kludges or make bad architecture work. This is neither snobbery nor naivete, but rather education. Answers like this, along with conceptual answers, are what help people grow their expertise, and stop being green.

So, though I think the site is actually not working that badly at all (there is something of a balance between people who would see every question closed and people who would see every question answered), if there is an area for growth, it is in better discriminating and answering the questions in the middle of the quality spectrum.

I'll also point out that even if you wrote only one answer, and two people happened upon it and liked it, you get to vote, post in meta, flag things, and some other stuff. I say again: it takes approximately just two clicks of the mouse for any two people (or even one person, if you wrote more than just one answer) to enfranchise you. The threshold is low if you post quality things.

  • In most of my perusing of questions, rarely have I come across a "bad" question as you describe it. Maybe I just show up on the good days? But I have seen numerous "middle" questions treated as bad questions, and even some good questions treated as bad questions. I personally would also much prefer the example "correct answers" you gave than a down vote with no explanation. Sometimes a little more explanation is all that is needed to make a middle quesiton a good question and the asker is just trying not to be too wordy or overwhelm other users with trivia.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 23:13
  • I, personally, tend to err on the side of answering these. Also, during the wee hours and on weekends we tend to get a great deal of atrocious questions which are responsible for much of the close rate. Commented Aug 13, 2013 at 23:18
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    The 1st paragraph deserves a +1 by itself - it's not really that bad, there are tons of good answers (many by you), it'd just be nice if we could get rid of some of the crap. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 5:48
  • Totally - and we need to concentrate on the crap that is complete and utter crap, and that begets more crap. This would be almost all of the questions about DD-WRT, cPanel, webmin, virtualbox, OS X, and vmware workstation, among other things... Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 5:58
  • Uh-oh, we've got dd-wrt and virtualbox at work... And Samba4! Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 6:26
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    Hopefully not in prod. Hopefully your WAPs aren't consumer gear running DD-WRT and hopefully you aren't running production servers in virtualbox. And if you are, my only answer to your question about trouble with them is "get some real gear". Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 6:36
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    @FalconMomot There is a blurry line between professional kit and consumer/SOHO kit, and consumer kit does get used in professional environments (and vice versa!). "get some real gear" is probably the right answer, but it isn't helpful when budgets don't allow this. Small businesses don't want to spend 50k on hardware when they can get away with a 1k spend, so providing the question is in a professional context, these question are on topic IMHO. We've got 4 ADSL consumer grade routers in service here, there's no need to spend a fortune on pro kit when there is no benefit in doing so.
    – user11604
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 11:13
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    If you end up experiencing problems or weird and messy constraints as a result of using consumer gear, there is a need and a benefit. If you aren't, it's probably only incidental to what is then an on-topic question. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 11:15
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    @FalconMomot That is where I have to disagree entirely. You prioritize "weird and messy" as long as it is with equipment you deam appropriate. That's snobbish. I'm sure everyone would love to operate on a pair of $10k XenServers with a 10gig backbone to a redundant NAS, but not everyone can. Just because a business is small and the IT budget (or boss) only allows them to run VMWare free on a beefed up old desktop doesn't make them any less professional, nor does it make their concerns any less real or valuable. You have perfectly demonstrated the "Country Club" mentality I have a problem with.
    – Thomas
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 18:15
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    Nono, I think you misunderstand. The reason the solutions that come out of these questions are generally disinteresting is that they are generally the wrong way to do things, and generally overly specific, and no professional would reasonably recommend that you use them. It may be work when you do something unprofessional, and your boss might force you to do something unprofessional, but there comes a point where you can't make gear do stuff it wasn't designed to do and expect a professional result. Go ask those questions on superuser; they're at home there. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 18:19
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    @FalconMomot If your boss is asking you to do something, then it's in a professional capacity regardless of the grade of equipment being used and according to the help/about pages, that's on topic here, and off topic on superuser. There is always the avenue of bending the truth in the question to make the question on topic for SU or SF (which is utterly ridiculous IMHO). Now if SF was for professional grade equipment and SU was for consumer grade equipment, I'd agree, but that isn't currently the case, it's about the setting or environment of the person asking the question.
    – user11604
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 21:38
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    @Bryan If your boss is asking you to do something that is a bad idea and jeopardizes the stability of the environment you have a professional responsibility to say "No". If you come from any kind of engineering background (mechanical, civil, electrical) this is something that is drilled in to you: You do not design and implement a wrong solution, because when it fails the engineer who stamped the plans is responsible for the failure, and its consequences. THAT, is professional in the context of Server Fault.
    – voretaq7
    Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 23:13
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    Those situations are, as often as not, a sign you're working at the wrong place in my experience. Even when I was a deskside guy I had more than enough latitude to do things without making a mess. Commented Aug 14, 2013 at 23:38
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    @voretaq7, like I say, that's fine, I have no problem with that, but newcomers to SF don't read the word professional and instantly interpret that as meaning something different from the English language definition, which happens to be buried deep in the meta site that even some of the more regulars here probably won't even read. We can't just go redefining the English language and expect everyone to follow suit without any explanation, then complain about the poor quality of questions being asked when they aren't given clear guidelines to start with.
    – user11604
    Commented Aug 15, 2013 at 22:28
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    @Bryan OK, that is a valid point: The Meta topic is not easy to find. I have updated serverfault.com/help/on-topic and serverfault.com/about accordingly (references to "professional" now link to the relevant Meta post -- That puts it pretty much front and center for new users and really should have been done a while ago.) If you think more can/should be done about this please open a new Meta discussion topic and we can explore other ideas
    – voretaq7
    Commented Aug 16, 2013 at 1:21

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