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#help has had a makeover

devdrake0 profile image Si ・2 min read

The #help tag has real potential to become an area where developers can come to ask questions and have access to the growing amount of experienced developers that frequent this site.

Unfortunately, it has become a bit of a free-for-all for anything from helpful articles to extremely broad "I want to build x, how do I do it?" type questions.

It was time we updated the guidelines to reflect exactly what this section of Dev is for.

Introducing #help (again)

Going forward, all articles will be expected to follow the submission guidelines outlined below (it is also on the sidebar of #help and will evolve with the community):

This tag is to be used when you need to ask for help, not to share an article you think is helpful.

When asking for help, please follow these rules:

Title:

Write a clear, concise, title

Body:

What is your question/issue (provide as much detail as possible)?

What technologies are you using?

What were you expecting to happen?

What is actually happening?

What have you already tried/thought about?

What errors are you getting?

Please try to avoid very broad "How do I make x" questions, unless you have used Google and there are no tutorials on the subject.

What if my question doesn't fit within these guidelines?

There are some other great tags.

For example, if you want a general discussion about the best way forward or a piece of technology, there's #discuss.

If you generally can't find a tag for your question, and you think it should sit in #help then please reach out. We're happy to update these guidelines to suite the community.

Generally, the following action will be taken for posts that don't meet our guidelines:

  • If a post is made, that doesn't follow the recommended format for the title/body we'll leave a comment and ask you to update it, or provide a reason why that's not possible. We'll remove the tag after 24 hours if we don't see an update/response.

  • If a post is made that doesn't fit in with this section, we'll remove the tag and provide the reason why.

What about existing articles?

Nothing will be done to the existing articles.

I think your guidelines are wrong!

Excellent. Reach out to us and tell us how we can make them better!

How do I reach out?

The best way is to drop a comment on this post. We'll be linking to it from the sidebar, and it will become a living document.

Discussion

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blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

I tried putting some feedback about these guidelines in this comment but ironically haven't seen a response after 24 hours...

The #help tag was removed from the post concerned which suggests it didn't meet these new standards; but no other feedback was provided; which contradicts this:

we'll remove the tag and provide the reason why.

I've seen some pretty awful forum questions in my time; but that post was not one of them. Clearly I was not alone in thinking this since it received a helpful response.

I understand the need to encourage people to post well formed questions - obviously it's better for everyone concerned - but setting down prescriptive rules that, when 'unmet' (a subjective decision), result in the #help tag being removed looks totally unreasonable to me. What does that actually achieve? The help channel may begin to fulfil your expectations; but you will needlessly exclude people from getting help; and you will increase the burden of moderation.

Is it possible to easily reverse the removal of the #help tag - e.g. after editing it to make it fit the guidelines? If not you've set up a system that will lead to duplication of posts requesting help for the same topic; and each time a person doesn't meet your rules you'll force them to create another duplicate post. Is that really the intention? If a request has to be made to reverse the decision you'll need moderation time to review requests and I really hope you will be able to respond in 24 hours! Conversely if the user can simply reinstate the #help tag you could land up in a tit-for-tat and again eat into moderation time. If it's impossible to reverse the decision you will appear draconian and unreasonable.

The more I think about it the more I am convinced that it's a really bad decision. Given the flak Stack Overflow has been receiving lately I'm surprised to see it being held up as the benchmark to follow. Sanctioning users for not meeting prescriptive guidelines is a recipe for making people feel excluded and giving the impression that the community here is unhelpful - just as has happened on SO - and especially when you can't realistically fulfil the stated intention of providing meaningful feedback to every post from which you remove the tag (given the guidelines there will be too many of them).

In my experience the worst thing that should happen to badly formed questions is that they get the responses they deserve: i.e. none:

unless people put the time in to properly structure their questions people won't be as inclined to help.

A much less negative approach would be to add a tag to the post; something like #questionNeedsImproving (sorry - can't think of anything more succinct off the top of my head); and leave the #help tag in place. Then if you're one of those people who doesn't like dealing with badly formed questions (IMO only these people will benefit from the current tag removal) you can ignore the post in the #help channel.

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devdrake0 profile image
Si Author

The community guidelines can be found on the tag homepage, and they've also been outlined in the community guidelines post.

There are a lot of articles that don't strictly meet the criteria but they are left because they aren't so broad a question such as:

This isn't working, why?

Without any attempt at what the person has already tried to fix it.

Before these rules, the #help tag was just a free-for-all and it wasn't helpful to anybody. People wanting help weren't getting it, because it was amongst articles that had no place.

The biggest issue is people post to the tag without any idea what it is actually for, hence why they are given 24 hours or given a reason why it was removed (which, by the way, is sent to the article creator - not made public for everybody to see).

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blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

The community guidelines can be found on the tag homepage, and they've also been outlined in the community guidelines post.

Did anyone do any user testing to ensure they were adequately visible when creating a post in different contexts? If they're something you're going to use to justify removing tags from people's posts - and with so little notice - they need to be way more visible. And suggesting people look for them in the side-panel - where they don't always appear - is really not helpful.

The naming of these 'guidelines' is also inconsistent: are they rules or guidelines? Rules are imposed and enforced; whereas guidelines are provided in order to help people towards their goal.

I haven't been looking at the #help channel so I'm not aware of the problems you may have had; but I saw your comment and it just felt wrong to me. If someone posts a question; including code and a description of what they're failing to achieve you have everything you need to provide an answer if you are so inclined. To me the decision to remove the tag seemed pretty arbitrary.

The biggest issue is people post to the tag without any idea what it is actually for

Then make the purpose of the tag clearer to them when the tag is added. Not afterwards. That's pretty fundamental UX.

And in my experience the more typical response to people posting to the wrong channel is to simply tag it to the right channel; not remove the tag and leave it to the OP to figure out what they should do with it; especially when they were clearly seeking help.

is sent to the article creator - not made public for everybody to see

That's an odd decision. Except in rare cases it's pretty standard to post feedback publicly: it's much more open; and it helps guide others to understand and follow the best approach to asking questions.

or given a reason why it was removed

So you only tell people afterwards why the tag was removed?! Rather than giving them upfront feedback so they can fix their post? Again the perception is that this is far from helpful.

I can understand that my somewhat critical stance may be unwelcome; but you asked for feedback and what I see is an approach that will foster exclusion and mistrust. For those whose first language isn't English understanding the guidelines and expressing their request to your satisfaction may be difficult. Do you intend to exclude them from the help channel? Because effectively that is what you will achieve. What about someone who asks for help in a language other than English? I've also often seen more inexperienced people - sometimes kids - posting badly formed questions to channels like this. Will you exclude them because of their lack of experience? Usually they welcome guidance on how to better express their problem. By simply removing the tag you are depriving them from more meaningful dialogue and will certainly alienate some.

Obviously I'm just stating my opinion here - others may not agree with me - but you appear to be setting yourself up for exactly the same criticism that Stack Overflow are currently struggling with.

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devdrake0 profile image
Si Author

For what it's worth - I'm not a member of Dev, I'm just a community member moderating the tag.

If you think there is a better way of showing the rules/guidelines Dev is open-source so you could always raise a PR :)

Thread Thread
blindfish3 profile image
Ben Calder

Fair enough - and I understand that you're then using your own time to moderate the channel; so kudos for that! For some context; my comments are based on a few years experience contributing to a forum that ran pretty smoothly without the need for potentially exclusionary practices or heavy-handed moderation. It may seem such a trivial thing to get hung up on; but I really do think by removing the tag you're setting yourself up for strife and extra work.

Anyway - I wish you the best of luck.

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pcmichaels profile image
Paul Michaels

I suppose my only comment would be that there's already a site that allows for rigidly scripted questions and answers - SO does this already, and the whole site is geared up for it. This feels like it could be more of a discussion or opinion based discussion to fill that gap.

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devdrake0 profile image
Si Author

You're right, and these guidelines are not supposed to be as rigid/scripted as SO, but unless people put the time in to properly structure their questions people won't be as inclined to help.

As for the discussion/opinion based posts - there are already tags (#discuss, #watercooler etc) that serve that purpose.

Happy to review/amend the guidelines to what most people want to see here, and I think the general consensus is this change was needed.

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thefern profile image
Fernando B 🚀

I think a link to SO mcve or something similar would be helpful, I see many people on lots of websites asking for help without posting code expecting everyone to be psychic.

In regards to removing the help tag I also think 24 hrs is a bit harsh for a turnaround, people have jobs so might not be able to fix it that quick. 3 to 7 days might be more suited imo.

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nataliedeweerd profile image
𝐍𝐚𝐭𝐚𝐥𝐢𝐞 𝐝𝐞 𝐖𝐞𝐞𝐫𝐝

This sounds like a great step forward Si!

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devdrake0 profile image
Si Author

Thank you for your feedback 😄

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lautarolobo profile image
Lautaro Lobo

Looks fine. Really fine. I love that you delete the tag and not the post, that makes sense, and like, it's not "violent mods" like I'm sadly used to...

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ben profile image
Ben Halpern

Thanks a lot for this Si! Showing great initiative.

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ryansmith profile image
Ryan Smith

Looks good! Everything seems reasonable to me. I agree that #discuss is a better spot for more general questions.

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jess profile image
Jess Lee (she/her)

This is awesome, thanks Si!!

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devdrake0 profile image
Si Author

Most welcome :) it would be awesome if we can make it a popular section of Dev.

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eli profile image
Eli Bierman

Ironically, this post does not fit the guidelines for the #help tag.

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devdrake0 profile image