BackgroundOne big problem with SE is bad questions and the inability to deal with them without noising up the site, dissipating volunteer energy, burning out the experts, and/or making the user feel unwelcome. The steady shift of SE to favor the new users who writes bad questions at the expense of the resident users providing content finally caused me to leave.
I have thought about how to tweak the system quite a bit, but finally came to the realization that a totally different approach would be better.
A radical solution
Forget what you know about closing and downvoting questions, suspending problem users until they get their score up, answer review queues, and even how comments on questions work.
There are three orthogonal metrics by which a question can be judged good or bad. These are writing quality, content, and topicness. Questions will be rated on these criteria. The ratings are from -2 to +2 in the database, but that is not presented externally. A horizontal bar is shown for each criteria, with -2 maping to no bar, and +2 to a full bar. There are 5 radio buttons under the bar that voters can pick one of. These correspond internally to the integers -2 to +2, but are simply positioned along the bar. These votes are then essentially “really bad”, “mildly bad”, “neutral”, “mildly good”, “really good”.
A score of greater than 0 must be achieved on all three criteria for the question to be answerable. In other words, a question must be at least some smidgen above neutral to allow anyone to answer it.
The ratings of any new question you post start at whatever the average is for all your previous questions. New users start at 0. Yes, this means the very first question someone asks starts out just below answerable. In other words, when you’re new, you have to show us you can write a good question, but it’s not hard to get there as long as what you write is reasonable. If you’re successful, the system will trust you more the next time, and so on.
The first time you try to post a question, you are shown a page explaining all this in detail. Here is how it works for all users. You are not being singled out. Here are the things we look for in evaluating each of the three criteria.
The OP sees the question with the quality bars at the top. Those with greater than 0 have a green check mark next to them. Those with 0 or less have a link to a one-page or so document explaining how to do better in that particular criterion.
For everyone else, the quality bars are at the bottom (you can’t rate a question until you’ve read it), with the radio buttons for voting. If you haven’t voted, then no button is selected. Otherwise, your last vote is shown selected.
When you cast a negative vote (-1 or -2 internally) a popup will appear asking you to explain briefly what is wrong. That will turn into a comment below the question. You can leave it blank, but the fact that you voted negatively on that criteria will still be shown as a comment.
Votes 0 to +2 allow you to leave a comment, but do not force one.
You can change your vote at any time by clicking on a different radio button. That completely deletes your previous vote, including any comment associated with it. This vote is then handled like a new vote, as above.
These comments have “Agree” buttons. Clicking that is just as if you cast the same vote and wrote the same comment. The only difference is that the two comments are combined, since they are in fact the same. Multiple users can be shown to have made the same comment.
The votes and comments are actually separate in the database. When one voter of the combined comment changes their vote, the remaining users are still shown as having made the comment and cast the associated vote.
When the OP clicks on the “details” or “more info” or whatever link next to one of the bars they see above their question, they are shown a separate page with the votes and comments pertaining only to that criterion. These are also visible below the question, but there aren’t so neatly arranged to make editing the question easier according to that one criterion.
This is the only way to leave comments on a question. The purpose of comments on questions is to ask for clarification and modification of the question.
When the OP edits a question, he (or she, not going to say this every time) can click on “addressed” associated with any comment. That will remove the comment from below the question, although the votes remain. This also notifies all the comment authors of the change to the question. They can then, if they choose, review the question and possibly revise their vote.
Questions that are blocked (0 or less average in one or more criteria) where there has been no activity by the OP for some time (one week?) are permanently deleted from the system. However, the votes on that question remain in the user’s lifetime average.
This mechanism solves a number of problems.
It clearly enforces Thou shalt not pass until you write a good question.
It will feel less unwelcoming since nobody is being singled out. Everyone gets treated the same. The expectations are clearly spelled out before you write your first question. This isn’t personal. It’s how the system works. For everyone.
If you do get rated low, you know why, and should have a clear idea how to fix the problem.
The downvote comments can be terse without coming off as insulting. A -1 with “Needs schematic” is clear and to the point. The resident users don’t have to waste as much time explaining why questions are bad.
There is no need for a separate question ban mechanism.
No matter how bad your other questions, any one question can still be salvaged if you put in the effort to fix it.
You are automatically trusted more as you build a history of writing good questions. The reverse is also true.
Bad questions don’t pollute search results since there will be few of them in the system at any one time. A bad question is either being actively worked on, or is declared dead and removed.
Using comments to answer the question, and thereby side-stepping the mechanisms and intent of the site, is avoided. Someone could vote 0, then use the comment to answer the question. However, it would be clearly spelled out in the rules that this is not allowed, and moderation would eventually enforce this. Nobody will get away with answering in a comment more than a few times. Those comments will be swiftly flagged and deleted, and there will be negative consequences for repeat offenders.