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Tangentially related to another meta post, the last discussion about this was a while back, so it may be time to revisit this topic.

The #1 answer in the chat was money, so that and fried chicken aside, how can we draw more professional system administrators to the site?

Personally, I came on board frequently last year after running into brick walls with SCCM. Even though most of my SCCM questions went unanswered, I saw that I could help others w/ their sccm problems, and got help w/ group policy and other things, so it was a valid tradeoff.

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    Promote the chat rooms more, that worked for me. – Matthew Ife Jun 10 '14 at 18:07
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    @MatthewIfe Part of the problem is the core value of the site (for the professionals we want to attract/retain) is migrating more and more to chat -- having a vibrant and healthy chat community is great, but if the main site is a pit we'll never get fresh blood in chat either :-/ – voretaq7 Jun 10 '14 at 18:09
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    Well @voretaq7 not letting everyone know we're vampires until we actually get them into the chat might help – MDMoore313 Jun 10 '14 at 18:14
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    We do attract talent but we don't keep it as we don't attract good quality questions to keep them interested. On any given day more that 50% of our questions and sometimes more than 75% are from people who would class themselves as programmers - the rest is history. – Iain Jun 10 '14 at 19:48
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    I'm with @Iain on this. I'm relatively young as far as the site is concerned but I scaled back to monitoring a few tags via RSS months ago...at least until stack2rss.stackexchange.com was killed off a few weeks back. Occasionally I'll log in and use the terrible review queues until audits annoy me away again, but that's about it. – Andrew B Jun 10 '14 at 21:24
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    @AndrewB each tag has it's own feed e.g. serverfault.com/feeds/tag?tagnames=dns&sort=newest – Iain Jun 10 '14 at 21:55
  • @Iain tagnames makes it appear that you can have multiple tags in one feed, tell me more about this sorcery – MDMoore313 Jun 10 '14 at 21:58
  • @BigHomie ask Mark in chat I had to :) – Iain Jun 10 '14 at 21:58
  • @Iain stack2rss exposed a few extra constraints that I liked to use, but I think they were only present in the old API. Thanks though, I was going to have to hunt that down anyway. – Andrew B Jun 10 '14 at 22:01
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    @BigHomie Best I've found so far: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/151519/… – Andrew B Jun 13 '14 at 2:45
  • I think SF already attracts a lot of the right people, the problem is they leave. Hostile comments, abrupt criticism, votes to close something someone doesn't like etc. Sure cash will keep some, but maybe we need to focus on who we are losing. – TSG Jul 3 '14 at 23:42

13 Answers 13

27

It's a downward spiral, at least for me.

I used to be very active. I believe I averaged 30k rep per year for the last couple years, but my participation is essentially non-existent now. I've been thinking about this since I saw this post yesterday and wanted to share my story, as it may provide insight and lead to a solution down the road.

I got busy in real life. I switched jobs a few times and I was promoted up the chain and took on more responsibility in my current workplace. This leaves less time for me to participate. Because I have less time for places like Server Fault, I get more annoyed than I used to at the influx of gimme teh codez and Halp halp, I migrated to production without testing and all of my shit broke. This causes me to value Server Fault far less than I used to, which is unfortunate since it gave me such a valuable kickstart to my career. Anecdotally, it seems like the garbage questions have increased over time, but I have no data to support this. Maybe my opinion of what is garbage has evolved as I've taken on a new perspective on IT. It's entirely possible that my perspective is the problem.

So, I dropped down to only participating in Chat, which was relatively free of the unwashed gimme teh code masses and it was good. But then the people that I interacted with most in Chat seemed to be in the room less and less. This caused me to be in the room less and less. I still pop in from time to time so that I can ask @ScottPack if he is wearing pants, but that's really about it. There are fewer familiar "faces" than there used to be.

It's unfortunate, because this site gave me so much at a point in my career where I really needed it, but now it serves no real purpose to me.

  • very intriguing story. I've only frequented chat for a few months now and I do notice your presence dwindling. I'd like to know your thoughts on this to help curb what happened to you from happening to others. – MDMoore313 Jun 11 '14 at 20:47
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    The problem with review queues is that I'm already annoyed and feel that I'm wasting my time with the garbage that I see on the main site. Community moderated queues mean that I would be actively seeking out low quality content with my time rather than answering questions. No thanks :) – MDMarra Jun 11 '14 at 21:34
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    :( sniffles. I miss you :( – ewwhite Jun 11 '14 at 21:47
  • Regardless of one's immediate interest level, SF is still a great place to add missing entries to Google Runbook when a search fails you. It's the one case where our high page rankings give something back. – Andrew B Jun 12 '14 at 3:09
  • This is a bad spiral.. I'm participating less in chat than before because I have less people to talk to about the specific stuff i work with. You leave, then I leave, then maybe someone else leaves because we leaved, and so on.. It's come to the point where I would actually consider paying some dollars a month if I could get my own, custom-made frontpage that only shows the tags I want... – pauska Jun 12 '14 at 18:02
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    @MDMarra: Could you expand on "which is unfortunate since it gave me such a valuable kickstart to my career.". In particular, I'm curious how it gave you that kickstart, and what your general self assessment of your skills were at the time of your starting at SF, and at the time of starting to becoming inactive. – Kyle Brandt Jun 13 '14 at 12:31
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    @Kyle when I joined SF 5 years ago, I was a green junior level sysadmin at a mid-sized university. Evan Anderson' early answers showed me how to put a compelling argument into writing. Folks like Chopper talked about challenges in gigantic environments that I didn't even know existed. Ed White gave valuable insight into how to accelerate career advancement. More experienced users like voretaq7 and many others hammered home that published best practices are there for a reason, and you don't understand every edge case that the vendor has taken into account. – MDMarra Jun 13 '14 at 12:37
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    And in top of that, I learned an awful lot from reading and participating in chat. But more importantly, all of these people taught me how to help myself, which is the most important skill. Now, I'm the technical lead at a Microsoft gold partner with 6 engineers working for me. My team and I are regularly brought in to consult for businesses grossing $1bn+ with presences across the world. So in a few short years, I've made gigantic strides in my career in no small part to the help from folks here. I suppose that's why I still drop by once a day, though I rarely answer. Hope that helps. – MDMarra Jun 13 '14 at 12:40
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    @MDMarra: I think it does, thanks for taking the time to respond – Kyle Brandt Jun 13 '14 at 12:46
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    This is sad. Really. I always want to listen to @MDMarra opinion when I came across an Active Directory problem. I'm not kidding. I'm really pleased with all the knowledge I've got with your replies, and because of them I've came across your blog. Take this as an incentive to stay here at Srvflt! – Vinícius Ferrão Jun 16 '14 at 6:01
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    This reads very much like you are no longer participating not only because you lack the time to do so but also because the scope of your work has changed considerably and has outgrown the scope of Server Fault. As you noted yourself, being a technical lead in an international consultancy is an entirely different job than being a university sysadmin. I believe it is not so much about Server Fault changing but more about its senior users changing and expecting the site to follow - which is not happening. – the-wabbit Jun 18 '14 at 9:04
15

Warning: This is something of a though-stream, so...

The visible symptom:
Attracting and retaining people who can positively participate in the community, either both asking and answering questions, or at the least providing substantive answers on some kind of "regular" basis.

This has been an ongoing issue for the site for a long time now. I'm really not sure there is an answer, or where the root of the problem lies. But there are contributing, conflated, and correlated issues.

  1. People don't vote. Some people have great voting records, but on the whole SF has less votes per user-views than some other sites in the SE network.

    Contributing factors:

    • Our subject matter is already quite wide, and we may have relatively few experts per subject field. People may not feel comfortable voting on topics they don't fully understand.

    • Many Questions show questionable effort, and many Answers are of questionable value to the OP. It's hard to test potential answers unless you are actually experiencing the same issue as the OP, or have at some point in the past.

    Possibly Related:

    • Questions that have an answer tend not to be reviews by people who may have subject matter knowledge. They tend to be viewed only by new people having the same problem. Many of those new people aren't users, can't vote, etc. At some point in the past some SE sites had a feedback mechanism to allow non-users to indicate a post was helpful - SF doesn't have this, and it didn't affect the post scores anyhow.

    Consequences:

    • We can't rely on voting to blow away bad content. We've established a number of higher-reputation users who can Vote To Close and they patrol the review queue. This leads to a "heavy handed" approach which generally works, but leaves many new users with a negative view of the site. Also, it's extremely uncommon for anyone to leave personalized feedback about what's wrong with the post. New users seem to overwhelmingly ignore the Help Center, sidebar Help, and any other automated help of any kind (perhaps we should just lie to the users and have those messages come from "Joe Blow" or whatever - not crazy about this idea, but I don't have anything better).

    • When people do vote, the reputation of the poster seems to be weighed into their decision (people with high rep tend to accumulate more rep for an otherwise equal post as compared to someone with low rep). This means new users are less likely to receive magical Internet points, and less incentivised to be gamed into SF.

  2. The majority of our Question come from users who never contribute Answers. These include professional administrator who simply choose not to Answer others' question and users who have no ability to Answer others' questions (ie, Help Vampires). We certainly need Questions to keep the site vibrant, but we're tipped to one side.

    For the former group, I really don't know how to inspire people to begin contributing more than the incentives we have already. If anyone has any good ideas I'm sure we're all ears.

    For the latter group, the help vampires... There's a wonderful write on slash7 with Amy Hoy about Help Vampires. What that articles does not include though, is how to deal with those people in mass. The majority of Help Vampires don't realize what they are doing. You can point it out to them, but more commonly than not it takes some significant effort to do so. Worse, it takes more effort on their part to not be a help vampire - and the unwillingness to put effort into their problems is what made them a help vampire in the first place. Regardless, this is all individual effort, see above comment in #1 about people ignoring automated warnings.

    Actually, while I'm thinking about automated warnings - this must be some facet of human psychology. So many disasters have occurred while automated warnings were blaring of impending doom. Chernobyl, Air France 447, Target's CC Hack, and there's zillions more examples where those came from. If anyone has some sort of scientific insight it might be helpful, or at least interesting.

  3. Relatively low signal to noise ratio: SF gets about 100 questions per day on average - about 30% get closed. 51% of questions asked in April 2014 have a score of 0 or less as of writing.

    Contributing factors:

    • See above about drive-by Questioners.

    Possibly Related:

    • Others have pointed out that quite a few questions come from people with some reputation on SO. I'm not aware if anyone has run the data though to see what percentage of closed and downvoted Question from from SO Users.

    Consequences:

    • Sorting through all the "noise" takes effort from people willing to provide Answers. This is effort that could be put into writing actual Answers, but is instead diverted to sorting and filtering.

      To somewhat mitigate this issue, users can setup tag filters. SO has an "Interesting" tab on the front page, which attempts to cull some of the questions you might not be interested in. I think this might help SF, though we don't have the deluge of questions that SO gets (~70x as many as SF). By selecting tags question are highlighted on SF. Though this again necessitates the User setting up these favorite tags, and the Question being accurately tagged to begin with (given that we had to ban a handful of nonsense tags because users try to use them daily, accurate tagging is still a problem).

Devs: How about some consistent formatting? WTF with the spacing after a bullet list?

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    A though-steam, you say? Is that anything like the steam room at my gym, or is it more of a thought-stream situation? :p – HopelessN00b Jun 10 '14 at 20:13
  • I don't know what you're talking about =] – Chris S Jun 10 '14 at 20:15
  • "At some point in the past some SE sites had a feedback mechanism to allow non-users to indicate a post was helpful." Serverfault and the other Exchange websites often have a very good ranking in Google's databases. Before I had an account, I often found answers here, but I never was able to upvote. Sad. – Daniel Jun 15 '14 at 12:54
14

I will chime in & basically say I do not think this is an issue with the quality of posts & interactions here as much as the state of I.T. & developers in general nowadays.

Seriously, I am far from the best says admin out there, but I have met developers & other admins out in the market nowadays who somehow have gigs yet their work is jaw droppingly bad.

My feeling us the ease at which anyone can get a VM up & running coupled with the use of canned systems make the entry point to a minimal viable product so easy suddenly the guy who was able to just download an Ubuntu image & install it--and I mean just install it; nothing more--is now seen as a "guru" in some places.

So I think the only way to "attract" better talent might need to center around the fact the benchmark of quality work is so low nowadays that... I don't know.

If it's a rushing tide that lifts all boats, the fleet that comprises the Stack Exchange network is going down as the lack of valued skills in the real world just gets lower.

My two cents. Nothing more. Nothing less.

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    That anyone can get a VPS is very much to our detriment we don't though need to pander to them. – Iain Jun 13 '14 at 6:59
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    @Iain Agreed. But I am just stating the reality of the tech world out there. I know that with my 20+ years experience I know how to do things others can’t, but the idea that my simply understanding how to just login to a terminal is viewed as “magic” to professional “admins” is something I can barely comprehend. – JakeGould Jun 13 '14 at 14:39
  • I've read your comment several times now and get as far as but the idea then ENOPARSE. – Iain Jun 13 '14 at 16:18
  • @Iain Okay. Then I am not too sure what else to say. Have a great day! – JakeGould Jun 13 '14 at 16:19
  • I really would like to understand your comment – Iain Jun 13 '14 at 16:23
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    @Iain What I mean is with 20+ years of experience, I know how to do things others don’t. But nowadays I can simply open up a Linux terminal, type in top and show someone who claims to be a an “admin” the output of top and their jaw drops like I am Neo in the Matrix. What I mean is the bar is much lower for “skilled techs” to the point of face palming in ways I never expected. – JakeGould Jun 13 '14 at 16:25
  • The IT industry is rapidly going the way of the 'google-tech'. A marginal level of technical ability coupled with being able to type error messages into Google. I have worked places where you cannot do that, and it requires a much higher level of technical understanding, because you need to be able to troubleshoot from first principles. I'm not sure I'd want to go back to that either though, because for every 'google it; then post on serverfault' tech support, there's plenty who use it to boostrap their learning. – Sobrique Jun 16 '14 at 9:02
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    @Sobrique Yeah, it cuts both ways for sure. I go out of my way to post self-answered questions here on SF in response to problems that are obtuse to troubleshoot. The Google Runbook is great and all, but it's never a substitute for a solid core skillset. The problem is people being hired or moved into positions by people who either don't understand this, or have the ability to adequately evaluate their skill level. (which is totally a management problem) – Andrew B Jun 18 '14 at 16:17
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    ("haw droppingly" -> "jaw droppingly". "if canned" -> "of canned". "if valued skills" -> "of valued skills".) – Peter Mortensen Jun 22 '14 at 19:15
  • @PeterMortensen Thanks for the copy editing tips! – JakeGould Jun 22 '14 at 20:46
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We could re-examine the list of things that we shut down as "not professional", and see whether there is a community of professionals who work with those subjects we could embrace. The datacenter is changing, and if we don't update our definitions, we'll find ourselves shrunk to obscurity.

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    I'm sorry to be curt or rude, but before we discuss the "allow non-processional" idea, you need to look at what get's closed, find some examples, and base your recommendation off something substantial. I've heard the "just let people ask anything" argument many times without a lick of evidence to support the opinion - and every time I've asked for examples I've got nothing or crap. People who have provided many answers in the past and then stopped have been expressed concerns over the never ending stream of non-professional help vampires. – Chris S Jun 10 '14 at 18:58
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    Serverfault should really be a relatively small high quality site like DBA or NE. That we attract hoards of programmers and amateurs is much to our detriment as it floods us with crappy low quality questions. More like that we do not need. – Iain Jun 10 '14 at 19:45
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    I'd much rather be shrunk to obscurity than dealing with more users who needing halp to server and why tha windows isn't connecting to Virtualbox on NOSQL, (o, and i am using amazon), K thx. – HopelessN00b Jun 10 '14 at 20:12
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    @ChrisS The voting trend on meta has always amused me on topics like this. Whenever the "SF isn't inclusive" topic comes up, answers in support of inclusivity tend to be neutrally scored (high # of upvotes negating downvotes), whereas opposed views get a few token downvotes but that's about it. To me this has always suggested that we have a vocal counter-culture of low rep users who would love SF to be steered in that direction, but they themselves can't be bothered to contribute enough for downvote rep. I wouldn't call this answer a statistic of that yet but it is certainly trending that way. – Andrew B Jun 10 '14 at 21:35
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    @AndrewB you're right...ish. You see the same trend in Q&A's that hit the hot network list and/or appeal to the StackOverflow crowd, and we have, in fact even deleted highly up voted questions that didn't fit here for that reason (including one from SO about favorite server names). The issue is that the core of this community is heavily outnumbered by the SO (or other site) users who flock here for a particular question of interest, or to complain that we're mean because we have no interest in their off-topic question they a asked a while ago. – HopelessN00b Jun 10 '14 at 21:46
  • @HopelessN00b That's what I suspected, but I wanted to statistically emphasize that the majority of people who want to back that opinion can't be bothered to contribute. (i.e. are help vampires) – Andrew B Jun 10 '14 at 22:14
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    If we want to increase the number of users, allowing more questions on more topics is likely work. If, on the other hand, we want to increase the quality of the site, I'd say it's counterproductive. – Jenny D Jun 11 '14 at 12:08
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After reading all the answers thus far, and initially convincing myself that I had nothing to add, I noticed something that's missing from everyone's analysis thus far.

Us. We are missing from our own analysis, particularly when it comes to the signal-to-noise ratio.

The crap outnumbers the good stuff. And for sure, there is a problem of too much crap/noise (though not one I'm sure we can do much about, beyond the rapid VTC and VTD we do now). But the other side of the signal-to-noise ratio, as it is a ratio, is the signal part - more good questions would improve the signal-to-noise ratio even if we have developers herp-derping about their WAMP stacks and assorted idiots asking for halp to server. I know that for my part, I can do a better job of including more of my technical problems on ServerFault, to add some good problems, and I suspect that most everyone else can as well. Hell, even good, interesting self-answered questions would be a good thing, given our current signal-to-noise ratio.

Anyway, not sure how much of an effect that will have (if any), but I'm off to add a question or two to the main from my last couple weeks' workload.

...

And don't forget to vote. I expect lots of downvotes on those questions, people, so hop to it, once I get them posted! :)

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    I ask a lot of questions. Not quite sure why others don't. – ewwhite Jun 18 '14 at 13:36
  • Great Idea. I also ask questions but I don't take the time to ask questions I can answer, i.e. those things you figure out after working on for hours on end. I think if the core community does that more we would attract more talent via search engine, b/c those are the people who would actually take time to google the problem first, should they run into the same problem. – MDMoore313 Jun 18 '14 at 13:46
  • Oh yeah, and @ewwhite didn't upvote this answer. Vote or Die! – MDMoore313 Jun 18 '14 at 13:46
  • I'm certainly not biased or anything, but I agree with you on the self-answering bit. If you come across an extremely obtuse problem (or simply one that you've had to explain to others), by all means share the solution. Adding high quality answers to the Google Runbook can and should draw the right people to the site. Yes, our Google rankings also bring in many of the people we don't want, but it's the easiest way to market ourselves to our target audience -- smart people who are struggling with issues of that level of complexity. – Andrew B Jun 18 '14 at 16:32
  • I think you do have a fair point with the self-answering bit. As to why I don't post questions here: I usually spend a good amount of time researching the problem at hand on my own before I ask a community for help. And it happens that I usually find the answer myself :) – MichelZ Jun 22 '14 at 13:44
9

I think we are a little quick on the draw to close questions. I spend a lot of time looking at the close queue (I believe I am the 4th most prevalent close vote reviewer at the moment), and when I aggregate our collective requirements (as I observe, not as we intend), I get something like this:

  • No abuse of terminology or use of incorrect or dated terminology. If you mention something obsolete, or use the wrong word for a basic concept, your question will be closed.
  • No outdated software. Regardless of the problem you're experiencing and whether or not your use of old and out of support software is pivotal in it or even relevant, if we see you are using old software, your question will be closed.
  • No theoretical questions. If your question is about how things work in a protocol, or in linux, rather than about a practical how-to application, your question will be closed.
  • No how-to. If your question just asks about how to do something relatively easy or extremely complex, it will be closed (and you'll be told to read the docs or hire someone, respectively).
  • Demonstrate extreme competency. If you don't point out your experience and if you even hint that you might be new to working with the thing you're asking about, you're a n00b and your question will be closed.
  • Already know the right solution. If you ask about what you can apply to solve your problem, or ask how to apply the wrong solution, your question will be closed (and nobody will tell you what the correct solution might be).
  • Never ask about cron, or anything else that's mentioned in a canonical question. If it is, no matter how much of a stretch it may be, your question will be closed as a duplicate.
  • No crappy tools. If a crappy tool (like cPanel or phpMyAdmin) exists in your environment, whether it has anything to do with your problem or not, your question will be closed.
  • No workarounds. If your question asks for a workaround because of artificial constraints, your question will be closed, and if anyone troubles to tell you why the workaround is lousy, it will come with a heavy dose of vitriol.
  • No excessive information. If you include unnecessary information beyond a couple lines, your question will be closed.
  • No formatting mistakes. If your formatting is messy, your question will be closed, even if you don't really know markdown yet; markdown is our shibboleth.
  • No spelling or grammatical errors. Whether or not English is your first language, and especially if you speak a dialect of English associated with certain types of people, if you don't use the Queen's English (or no eagles take flight behind you when you speak), your question will be closed... and is that curry or borscht on your breath?

I don't think this list is complete. You can see, perhaps, how these de facto criteria (caricatures though they may be) are very stringent - even more stringent than the actual rules.

There is a lot of stuff we should close. But, I think we have a collective hair-trigger on some things we could easily afford to be more lenient on. Closing a question doesn't mean you won't be answering it (like a ticket) - it means nobody may answer it, ever (at least in its current form).

A lot of the questions I answer, I find in the close queue. This speaks to another, similar problem (SF should use the "interesting" home page since it is crap at showing me things I care about at the moment), but also speaks to our closure problem.

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    Your statement about cron is demonstrably not true. Your statement about crappy tools is demonstrably not true. Your statement about formatting errors is demonstrably not true... . Ok so I guess you're being a bit melodramatic bit all this really does is cast doubt upon the veracity of the rest of your thoughts. – Iain Jun 15 '14 at 21:16
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    I'm exaggerating lots, but there are questions I see in the close queue that appear to be there for no reason other than one (maybe two) of those abovementioned. Happily, it requires five people to agree to make a bad choice, but if we don't talk about it, 5 people might well so concur. – Falcon Momot Jun 15 '14 at 21:57
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    I think you are exaggerating, and it hurts your argument. There is certainly some truth in what you say, but given the flood of crap we get, I think it's pretty understandable that people around here are a bit quick to jump to the conclusion that something is crap based on it doing one of the things you mention above that make it look like crap, if you're not looking too closely. – HopelessN00b Jun 16 '14 at 0:35
9

Law of Diminishing Returns

I'm still a baby with SE and have been on the sites for around a year or so. I believe what is occurring is the law of diminishing returns. I believe as experience and wisdom is gained the older generation on SE begin to see the questions as "noob" or "amateur" rather than professional. The perspective is ever changing and the individuals' perspective that dictate what can and can not go on the SE sites is completely different now than it was 5 years or even 5 months ago. The scope of work that many do are becoming so focused and pinpointed that it is difficult to find specialized individuals and enough specialized questions for those individuals to remain interested. I believe this change in perspective leads to closing of topics more frequently than in the past.

Then and now

Think back many years, decades, ago and look at what the IT field encompassed. You had tech support, server admins, developers and network admins. Now you have a server admin that must have an intimate knowledge of networking and storage engineering just to properly operate a VM infrastructure but no one can know everything. A network engineer that has worked on Cisco equipment since the early 1900's (exaggeration) might have the answer the server admin needs soley based on experience the network engineer has, but the question was closed because it was too specific to a situation. Yes, I understand they can go ask that question on a Cisco forum some where and probably get the answer, but what is keeping that network engineer around when all the questions they can answer are closed? I hope the jest of my example is being understood.

I came, I joined, I tucked tail

I originally came on to SF through a Google search. I didn't sign up originally and as I continued various searches I kept being led back to SF. I took the plunge and signed up and ventured around the site, asked a couple of questions and got some answers. I also answered several as it was self rewarding for me to be able to answer at least a couple of questions. I ventured through the chats and was enamored by the plethora of intellect and knowledge exhibited in the conversation. I participated in several discussions but they were beyond my knowledge so I mostly sat in the corner, hoping to glean the knowledge spilling forth. The longer I participated in the various chat rooms I noticed the willingness to help by veteran members was diminishing. Younger, eager new comers were quick to help and less likely to chide or ignore. I was turned off by this and stopped visiting for quite some time. I only came back recently and lurk with the occasional comment. While I'm sure many IT veterans with much more experience see me as a nuisance, I am the future of SE/SF. Like @MDMarra stated, he learned so much and helped to spring board his career. Scoffing at seemingly "noob" question is what turns people off of SE and it all boils down to perspective.

Down voting

Down votes without reason is another issue I have seen, and maybe this could be part of the solution. Require a reason for a down vote, make a user accountable for the down vote and display the reason it was down voted. Some do comment the reason but many do not. This leads a person asking the question, why?

Edit for clarification My recommendation for the down vote reason is not to add a comment below that targets the down voter. It could be an anonymous remark left for the poster in some sort of "Private Message" or notification area or it could be left under the question much like the notices about the question being locked or closed, but not be something the poster can refuse or flag. Allow them to mark it abusive or spam, but that's it. This would allow for constructive criticism and limit the "your question is crap" comments. It may very well be but a simple one-liner explaining may be sufficient to allow the person asking the question to understand why it's bad. It once again all comes down to one's perspective.

Do it like we want it, or don't ask the question

Some other things I noticed and many in this post have reinforced is the idea regarding updating and running updated equipment. We all know April 8, 2014 was the end of support for Windows XP. We all know we should upgrade it. In reality though you have IT professionals that work for companies that do not value their IT like the IT professional. The common comment I see is quit and find a different place to work for. In a perfect world this may be a viable option but alas we are far from a perfect world. As an IT professional it is our job to create the best environment possible with the tools and resources we have available. Not every company is going to be able to have a $100,000 SAN and have their data replicated to a like SAN in some off-site location. Not all companies will have a warm site set up for disaster recovery. The person asking is trying to make the best of a situation with the worst of circumstances.

  • 4
    You speak the Truth. – ewwhite Jun 23 '14 at 16:00
  • The reason for a downvote is never going to fly, and has been shot down repeatedly in mSO/mSE. I think that's a good thing. If I had to drop a comment on every downvote they'd all look pretty close to I downvoted your question/answer because it was shit. And frankly, telling someone why you downvoted their grabber never helps, and usually just leads to them getting butthurt and arguing in comments and flags flying all over the place. – HopelessN00b Jun 23 '14 at 16:46
  • 1
    @HopelessN00b I guess I should have clarified the down vote because I did think along the same lines as your comment when I devil's advocated my own comment. The reason would have to be something constructive and not a comment that can be flagged or create arguing. It can even be anonymous. I have had an answer down voted before and have no idea why. The general consensus and foundation of SE is for the betterment of the group by revolving around teaching as opposed to the "gimmie da codez" mentality, yet we repress the teaching by down voting without reason. It is counter productive. – Travis Jun 23 '14 at 17:28
  • I do get it though, there are just flat out crap questions and answers but some times a quick one liner explaining the reason is enough and other times it isn't. "How do I write a batch file" can simply be down voted (really flagged) and answered with "Google search it." – Travis Jun 23 '14 at 17:30
  • +1, i think i agree with everything in this answer, which is almost unheard of ;-) The 'i came, i joined' section in particular is exactly my experience also. – Sirex Jun 24 '14 at 3:04
  • Just to add to this as a comment. There is some inconsistency on what we close or don't close. I still have general confusion on what is or isn't a good question to ask. Some examples: serverfault.com/questions/608149/… <-- not closed. closed --> serverfault.com/questions/607680/… – Travis Jun 26 '14 at 16:18
7

Speaking only for myself:

I got really busy at work. I think that's just something that's going to happen to everyone from time to time.

I also find that unless I spend a certain amount of time on the site, someone else answers the questions I would have answered first. (HopelessN00b, I'm lookin' at you, ha ha.)

Anyway. As things calm down I'll try to do better. In the meantime, I went and reviewed a bunch of stuff today, just to do my part and all.

P.S. I have to say that I like the statement of my yearly rank showing up on my profile page. :)

  • 1
    I also find that unless I spend a certain amount of time on the site, someone else answers the questions I would have answered first. (HopelessN00b, I'm lookin' at you, ha ha.) Ha! Right back at ya. Great minds answer alike and all that, right? :) – HopelessN00b Jun 15 '14 at 23:40
  • 7
    We miss you, too! – ewwhite Jun 17 '14 at 12:21
  • 1
    Similar situation for me, except add to it that we had a kid, too. I keep telling myself I'll get into a regular groove with the site again but life circumstances keep getting in the way. (I keep lamenting to my wife that I'm "losing on Server Fault". >sigh<) – Evan Anderson Jun 23 '14 at 7:13
5

I'm an enthusiast for answering questions - I like to be able to contribute to the 'wisdom of the internet' in a positive way. I've answered a few questions on ServerFault, but not as many as I'd have liked.

Aside from poor initial questions, the other reason I trip up is because some questions are extremely specific. That's an artifact of the target audience - we want people to have done their own initial research. However it also means that if I haven't encountered the specific problem listed, I often can't offer much, as I may not be able to reproduce the problem.

Regarding the first point though - there's a bit of a firehose of questions coming in, and most are outside my specialist subject area. It would be useful to be able to customise and filter my 'new questions' view. I'm a storage engineer by trade - I know my way around RAID, disks, volume managers, arrays etc. I'm never likely to have anything useful to say about apache. (Well, basic questions that probably shouldn't be here in the first place; maybe).

I would also perhaps suggest an 'approval' mechanism for submitting questions (maybe reputation geared?). So we can have an 'anonymous' question queue, and a 'established user' question queue? (With the caveat that we'd expect established users to 'approve' suitable 'anonymous' questions).

This is an approach that works fairly well on PerlMonks - the 'approved' marker is one you can filter on, or not, as you wish. Established community participants can 'approve' a new post, and do so based on ... well, it's up to them.

Edit: Also, I don't know if it's been suggested before - but would setting financial bounties as well as rep also be an incentive? On one hand, it's compensating for effort, but it might server to discourage the enthusiasts/volunteers who contribute in the first place.

  • 3
    You shoukd drop into chat and talk to Basil, he's a storage engineer too. Unfortunately storage is something we struggle to attract any questions on at all. – Iain Jun 11 '14 at 19:18
  • 1
    +1, I think you are on to something. High rep users can see deleted questions, when others can't. What about a queue of pending questions that hold questions by users who either have not asked enough 'approved' questions on the site, or some other metric. – MDMoore313 Jun 11 '14 at 20:24
4

I think SF is too heavy handed on the closes and non-professional complaints. Closing a question because the OS happened to be XP? Yeah, it's not a server OS, and if given a choice I wouldn't run it. But the business side of things rarely gives you such a choice. Hell, we just managed to kill our XP server yesterday. Making an active user justify a question is inane. If there's some additions that can make it better, great, make suggestions. But the scope of what questions get pounded with Vote To Close need to go way down.

We've gotten several signals that we've gone too far on this. Hence all the Meta questions about the professionalism standard. Hence why ssl on this very topic suggested that we declare this place a non-smackdown zone. Only to get smacked down, with a comment berating him for not making a suggestion. Hell, I've found the BOFH-ness of this place stifling, and I've never had a question closed. If I had recently arrived here, I would never have come back.

The simple fact is that SF is protecting the quality of its questions at the cost of the quality of its contributors. It prevents mediocre users from ever growing into worthwhile members. It makes amateurs completely forget about this site by the time they become professionals. And it will even turn off the very professionals we want here, because being non-inclusive just isn't very professional.



Aside from the above, I also agree with what other people have said on this topic.

  • 3
    +1; the very reason I'm practically inactive here these days. It's like the BOFH part of sys admins is released when even so much of a hint of 'home', 'linksys', 'WAMP' is added to what would otherwise be a perfectly good question. 'Professional' is subjective, 'WAMP' might not be considered professional to most here (myself included FWIW), but it is to some professionals, and we've all used it, so why not allow it? ...and don't get me started on the taboo subject of licensing, 'cause sys admins don't need to know about that do they? =sarcasm alert= – Bryan Jun 13 '14 at 15:59
  • 3
    @Bryan - That's been debated ad nausum in meta and the community has come to the consensus that 'home' and 'linksys' already have a better place on SU and that WAMP is probably better served on SO as a development tool. I haven't worked with a WAMP one-click installer or a Linksys product "professionally" in five years and consequently don't know much about them. I don't think I'm alone in that respect. – 87cd25770a Jun 17 '14 at 16:45
  • @Christopher Karel: I seem to recall that using XP as a server was even against Microsoft's EULA... – MichelZ Jun 22 '14 at 13:55
  • @Bryan: Licensing questions are explicitly off-topic (Look at the help center). I'm happy to answer licensing questions, but the community decided that they are not welcome here, so I usually VTC them. – MichelZ Jun 22 '14 at 13:56
  • 1
    @kce they're just examples, it's the principle. Perfectly good questions are too often kaiboshed just because there is one irrelevant circumstance mentioned that makes it 'offtopic'. – Bryan Jun 22 '14 at 22:04
  • @MichelZ Yes, I realise that, and did respect the community decision and have also VTC such questions as a result. I utterly disagree with the reasons given for them not being welcome here however. I did threaten to raise a meta topic on the subject, but that fell by the wayside when I became less active on SF. – Bryan Jun 22 '14 at 22:04
4

I have some ideas but you are not going to like them...

Please see my bit of amateur anthropology to get an idea of the framework I'm going to construct this around. I really believe that many of this site's issues discussed on Meta are really the byproduct of the lack of consensus between the ServerFault community and the StackOverflow community about the scope and purpose of this site.


Ban the Noobs!

The Why

Yeah, yeah, yeah. ServerFault is full of a bunch of elitist pricks (and prick-ettes?). But you know what? That's OK. Everyone's forgotten that the ServerFault community has an explicit requirement for some level of ability that we are calling professional capacity. Everyone seems to have forgotten that StackExchange is supposed to let communities have some kind of ownership of the scope and content of their respective sites ...we empower our communities to curate [content]. And everyone seems to have forgotten that all the closed questions belonging to those poor, angry and alienated folks that just got here yesterday not only are likely to get better answers on other sites but that those sites are explictly open to questions from everyone. It's like a bunch of weekend warrior Home-Depot-DIYers showed up an IBEW convention and then got upset that they were told in tones of increasing frustration that neither was this the appropriate convention for them nor that their contributions were welcome or relevant.

I'm exaggerating a bit for comedic effect so please don't take the above paragraph too seriously. You also really need to have read my previous answer about the "culture war" between the ServerFault community and greater StackExchage community.

The How

I just waded through the Review Queue. Here's what I found:

  • 4 questions from SO users with at least 1000 rep that were either off-topic or lacked sufficient information, background and details to meet the professional capacity requirement. I'm an idiot and if I can figure it out so can these guys.
  • 8 questions from low-rep users with less an 100 rep on ServerFault that were "I CAN HAZ CODE?" questions, off topic, unintelligible or otherwise lacked sufficient information, background and details to meet the professional capacity requirement.
  • 1 question from a brand new user to StackExchange that was completely off-topic. If you can't or won't read the About/FAQ then you certainly are not meeting the professional capacity requirement.
  • 7 questions that I voted to leave open as they more less looked on-topic and met the professional capacity requirement. Many of these were in the queue as duplicates but I'm generally willing to give people the benefit of the doubt unless I have a deep enough understanding of technology to know if their question really is a duplicate.

60% of those questions don't meet the "curate the content" model being advocated by a portion of the ServerFault community. 60% of these questions should of been stopped at the Help Center. A quick glance through the front page reveals a similar ratio. How do we stop them and completely invert our signal to noise ratio?

It's heavy-handed but I think this would do the trick:

  1. Anonymous users can't ask questions
  2. StackOverflow users don't automatically get 100 rep points when cross-joining sites. 30% of our review queue is composed of SO users that don't bother to read our About/Help.
  3. Users need at least 100 rep to ask questions.

The bottom line is for years ServerFault has asked that people comply with our discretionary policies for topicality. We have tired all the manner of cajoling, FAQ-rewriting, transfer-pages without success. As the site becomes more popular the signal to noise ratio decreases accordingly.

If this site is to survive it is time to implement mandatory polices. We asked nice. Thrice. If you can't provide a few decent answers that deserve those rare and tasty upvotes then you certainly don't get to spam your help vampire questions all over the front page. Mean? Elitist? Yes. I suppose but what else are we supposed to do when 60% of our questions don't meet the topicality standards?

Vote

I've talked about this before and so have other folks notably Ward. The last few weekends I have been looking at the top voters. My estimate is that we only have about 50 users that vote at all during a week period furthermore there are only have about 20 users that cast more than a dozen votes. This is absolutely terrible considering how many views and how many questions we get a day.

I used to think that if we all buckled down and just voted a bit more we could reverse the signal to noise ratio. I now think differently. The engaged audience here is really small - I'm guessing a dozen at best. There's just not enough people interested anymore to make voting work.

However - that's the gamble. If we implement the "mandatory policies" and they actually work, we have a decent signal-to-noise ratio again, and much like animals returning to a restored ecosystem, we can re-engage or retain those people currently engaged and get some voting going.

Why is voting important? I have said this so many times but voting tells users that the community values their contribution. This has immense psychological value. I tried to put on my optimist hat at the beginning of the year and try for the rubber ducky challenge. I'm giving that up. Now my answers aren't stellar but I gave it my best shot and managed to come away with about a 1000 more rep points in six months. No way I'm going to add 10K in a year. In fact, I don't think we're going to see any more users breaking the 10k rep barrier in a long time. What I'm getting at here is without voting there is no signal to any new people in our narrow target audience that anyone is even listening. It's not surprising in the least we don't retain any new talent. If you spent an hour on a decent answer and only get one upvote would you come back?

Embrace the Subjective-Good

This is where ServerFault can really shine. I have also talked about this before. We have an incredibly wide scope in terms of content but because of our ability requirement the scope of questions that get posted is actually pretty narrow. This seems contradictory but let me explain.

Questions that lack depth are almost always closed (with increasing vitriol). Whereas people used to consider leaving these basic questions open so that new users would have something answer now we pretty much vote to close anything that looks like it could be answered by doing a bit of research or a thorough reading or re-reading of the manual. This change makes sense because there are no new users to chew through these basic questions anymore.

Questions with sufficient depth to be interesting and on-topic are rarely answered or occasionally closed as To Localized due to the deep-knowledge issue addressed by sysadmin1138 in the Why "professional capacity"? question. This again makes sense, we just can't seem to attract and retain our target audience, either because of reputation of being a bunch of jerks, our low signal-to-noise ratio, the difficulty in searching through the "noise" questions looking for "signal" questions and lack of participation (lack of voting). What deep-knowledge professional wants to come here, struggle through the low rep stage collecting those rare votes here and there and finally spend all their time complaining in Chat and closing questions. Deep knowledge professionals have no use of this site any more.

This leaves us with a pretty narrow group of good questions that we can expect to see. To increase the size of that group we should really advocate for Subjective-Good questions. Despite the small interested audience there is an absolutely mind-boggling amount of expertise on this site. For someone like myself, a lowly junior in the midst of figuring out what to do, I can only hope that ServerFault can help me and others propel our career in a similar manner to @MDMarra's.

I'm talking about things like (these are just off the top of my head, naturally to make good questions they need some refinement):

  • How can I backup, secure, and support non-standard, non-network PCs used for SCADA systems?
  • How can I collect metrics that will let me make good decisions about PC refresh cycles?
  • How has the prevalence of cloud applications changed the in-house vs. MSP-managed equation for small/medium business?
  • What criteria should I use to evaluate the suitability of cloud-based applications?
  • Is it safe to put corporate secrets into cloud applications? How can I evaluate and ensure that the vendor is meeting their promises with regards to security?

    There's a lot of gold to be mined here but it is getting harder and harder to get at.

Where do we go from here?

Honestly. I don't know. If this site isn't useful for me and isn't useful for someone like MDMarra anymore I can't be optimistic about its future. I know I have proposed some drastic, maybe even draconian measures, but desperate times and all that...

Personally. I think it is the end. I think we all know it. (DRAMATIC MUSIC!)

  • +1, for ...those rare and tasty upvotes... – MDMoore313 Jun 17 '14 at 22:19
  • 2
    You're spot on when it comes to subjective-good. There are so many times I'm thinking about posting an interesting architectural design question, and then I scrap it in fear of people closing it as too broad etc. It's almost like I wish we had a meta of some sort that allowed long, open-ended questions with lots of discussion. – pauska Jun 17 '14 at 22:38
  • @pauska We used to have community wikis which were supposed to fulfill that role to some extent. – 87cd25770a Jun 17 '14 at 22:41
  • Your example good-subjective questions all seem pretty answerable, I wouldn't think they should be closed.. – Shane Madden Jun 17 '14 at 22:43
1

Simple answer; revenue sharing.

Right now people volunteer their time while those who own the site are rolling in cash. Revenue share on a per ad impression/click-through so that the person who asked the question, and the person who's answer was accepted will receive a fraction of the revenue generated in perpetuity.

  • This is unlikely to work. While a number of people might be incentivized by the prospect of earning $1,48 for an answer which took them half an hour to research and write, they probably are the wrong kind of people to keep this site a valuable resource. – the-wabbit Jun 20 '14 at 10:58
  • @syneticon-dj I think that you severely underestimate the amount of money that is being made. The Internet says that the average revenue per 1k impressions in IT is $4.50, that's not counting much higher revenue via click-throughs and finally conversions (conversions can net hundreds per). I also believe that you are incorrect about those who answer, those who answer know the answer, they don't need to research it and they don't answer the questions they don't know the answer to. This site is not an open source project, there's no altruism here, it's for big profit off of your work. – Reality Extractor Jun 20 '14 at 14:18
  • Well, here is a query with an average view count for Server Fault questions. At the moment, we average at 1,211 views (or $5.45). I can tell from personal experience that most answers indeed do need research to cite sources, documentation, include pictures or even look up markdown syntax. While I am aware that profit is being made off the content generated here, any sysadmin knows that infrastructure is not paying for itself. For me personally, it looks sufficiently balanced not to start feeling ripped off. – the-wabbit Jun 20 '14 at 14:58
-5

Perhaps instead of discussing amongst people who have been here a long time, you should ask your target audience: ie. people who are new to the site, such as myself. Perhaps this question should get some prominent screen real-estate on the site, especially on pages which are hit from google searches.

Perhaps this question/discussion area could be a non-smackdown zone. This would be an area to get information, not smack-down newbies.

Speaking as someone with a bit of experience in marketing, as well as way too much sysadmin experience..

  • 11
    This part of the site is exlusively for discussion of the site, actual questions about system administration are completely wrong here. As for the "smack down", it's so simple. Write good, topical, well researched questions and answers and you won't experience a smack-down. If you just post crap and don't read the informations presented to you, it's your own problem. – Sven Jun 11 '14 at 10:52
  • 6
    This is satire, right? This is EXACTLY the sort of off-topic forum-like response that drives so many people away. No only are you winging about the situation unnecessarily, but you took the time to write it all up in a post without lending a single thought toward the actual topic of discussion. – Chris S Jun 12 '14 at 2:24
  • 2
    quod erat demonstratum – ssl Jun 12 '14 at 17:05
  • 2
    Putting it more politely, you're a little overeager to assume that you're the audience we need to be trying hard to please. People who walk in with that assumption are a dime a dozen and rarely contribute to the site long enough to have constructive advice to offer on how we can solve this particular problem. If you're not concerned at all about the (demonstrated) quality of the people we lose regularly, and have no feel for the reasons why, you really have no context for the problem at all. – Andrew B Jun 12 '14 at 21:52
  • 1
    Sigh. Not my point at all. My point was that if you want to recruit NEW PEOPLE, then you should in general set up a method to do a survey or focus group of those types of people. IE people who have recently started to contribute useful answers. Customer research. I actually have not been smacked down until this instance. Mostly because I have not yet asked questions, but have entertained myself by helping people. Lots of fun. Until now. – ssl Jun 12 '14 at 23:14
  • 1
    I'm not sure I get this. When you're reffering to "smackdown zone" - is it this meta site? Or serverfault in general? Or the entire stackexchange network? – pauska Jun 13 '14 at 0:46
  • I was not saying that there was a "smackdown zone" anywhere. I was just saying, that IF you were to set up a "zone" IE chat room, specialized discussion, on this topic (IE a chat for people new to the site who wished to make a meaningful contribution, and possibly had encountered obstacles), then this chat area would be explicitly "non-smackdown". Because people are more likely to give honest information in a setting they perceive as safe. – ssl Jun 13 '14 at 22:14
  • 3
    see en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qualitative_research for an overview of qualitative research. and en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Online_qualitative_research for the types of methods. It also might be useful to look at what Wikipedia has been doing, since they encountered similar issues - declining numbers of editors en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:WikiProject_Editor_Retention – ssl Jun 13 '14 at 22:30
  • 1
    I've come onto the site recently, and found it not to be a 'smackdown zone'. But then, I took the time to read some of the expectations for the site, regarding how to ask good questions and what would be 'on topic'. So have really found it quite helpful, because in taking the time to ask well, I got constructive and helpful answers. – Sobrique Jun 24 '14 at 10:50
  • Yes, Sobrique, this has been true for me as well. Obviously I did not word my response in the optimum way. I was trying to share my experience in marketing a new venture. In that role I was responsible for customer marketing research, IE surveying customers on planned features for the new venture. I found that if I was as accepting as possible when conducting surveys I got more useful insight. My comment was in the context of collecting usability input from new site users. – ssl Jun 25 '14 at 20:03

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