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As I have discovered in another question on how to guide people asking substitution questions , getting the real FAQs (like why cultural taboos are not taboo on this site, or a how to ask a substitution question well) is not something that will likely be added to the main FAQ page content directly. (Read the edit histories to see the full context.)

If that is the case, then, I would suggest for every Stack Exchange site, there be a moderator-controlled list of meta questions which are linked on the main FAQ page, so that the sites can actually have a useful to their subject matter FAQ, and not just the generic template?

How would we encourage the Stack Exchange powers that be to make that happen, as it is a design issue, not just a content issue?

  • Meta Stack Exchange is the place you need to post to affect sites other than Cooking.SE. Be aware that regular users there have a long memory, and be thorough in your research before making a proposal. – Josh Caswell Dec 24 '12 at 19:14
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There is a trade-off for a FAQ page. The more information about the rules you pack into it, the less likely it is that users will read the text. Therefore, we can't put all the rules on the FAQ page. Many of the rules there are basic and apply accross the Stack Exchange network, leaving only a few lines for info on site-specific matters, specifically the On-topic and Off-topic lists.

Due to this constraint, a system which links to the most important meta questions makes sense. And this system already exists.

enter image description here

This screenshot is the last paragraph on the FAQ page. When you click on the bolded "frequently asked questions" link, you are redirected to all Meta questions which have the tag.

I agree that the result is a fairly long and unstructured list, but... that's exactly because it is the detailed version. And the answers to each of these questions are as important building blocks of our site culture as the answers of the question which explains about cultural taboos. So we can't make it any shorter if we want to cover all important cases. In my comment to the other question, I was proposing that your question (after splitting into a question-and-answer format) be put on that list.

In practice, new people don't really read this list. And that's OK. The newbs go ahead and post questions or answers which hurt The Thick Rulebook TM. Those who know the rules edit these posts to salvage them, or vote for closing, while nicely pointing out the relevant rule section. There is intentionally no punishment for the people who broke the rules - they just don't get answers to the questions they wouldn't have posted had they known the rules beforehand. Even the downvotes to posts (which only cost 2 rep apiece) get nullified in the rep calculation after the post is deleted.

  • Again, I think the way things are now is sub-optimal. Either one is left with very basic, non-domain specific information, or one is thrown into the morass that is meta in its unfettered complexity. There needs to be a middle ground. – SAJ14SAJ Dec 20 '12 at 13:50
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    The faq questions on Meta are the middle ground between "all the site culture" which is the complete Meta, and "the minimum you need to know before posting so we don't throw you out for being terrible". This middle ground contains the info about "How do I post without doing something unwanted". Well, the rules for this are complex, this is why they are take up so much volume (TBH, Cooking is fairly light with 15 faq questions only). If you want to know them, you have to study them all. – rumtscho Dec 20 '12 at 15:09
  • I agree that they are the middle ground, but since no one knows they exist, they have no value. My entire suggestion is about bringing to them to a visible place so people can find them. If we have 15 now, I think 15 links on the main FAQ is a reasonable investment for that, and doesn't slow down people who don't click those links. – SAJ14SAJ Dec 20 '12 at 15:13
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    If you don't want to deal with this complexity (at once), you can just go ahead using common sense. If you suspect that you are in a gray area, you can search for the special topic on Meta first, and if there is no rule yet, start a discussion bvefore (or parallel to) posting your main question. If you break a counterintuitive rule, I advise you to live with the consequences - which are very mild, usually the offending post is deleted (closed first if a q) - and learn the specific rule in stride. As pointed out above, nothing bad happens to your account when you break "culture" rules. – rumtscho Dec 20 '12 at 15:13
  • So basically, you say that people who are curious enough to know more about the rules are not going to click the only bolded link under the section titled "What if I need more help?", and propose to place there anything from fifteen to several dozens (for big sites) links instead of hiding them behind the single link already there. I don't see much merit, it sounds more like a clutter recipe to me. – rumtscho Dec 20 '12 at 15:20
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    @rumraxho Not quite. I was that user. I read the FAQ. Clicked the detailed link. Found it a picayne morass of detailed insider stuff, like administrator votes and stuff--and didn't come back for a long time. I never found the FAQ labeled questions until today. Something like the community bulletin, but with rotating FAQ questions on our screen would be a great facilitator over time. – SAJ14SAJ Dec 20 '12 at 15:23
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    The difference between data--stuff that is known--and information, stuff that is actionable is huge. Meta has a lot of data. But since it isn't easily found, escecially for the people who need it most, its only data, not information. – SAJ14SAJ Dec 20 '12 at 15:24
  • Another option would be to link that "GEt more detail link" to a curated version of MEta--just those questions with the FAQ tag. What we need to do is bring focus--accessibility--to the information. It exists, it is just hidden, like gems in a mountain. We don't want people to have to mine for it through all of the ore, just go to the jewelry shop and pick up what they need. – SAJ14SAJ Dec 20 '12 at 15:29
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    @SAJ14SAJ I think you misunderstood me. The link labelled "meta-discussion site" does indeed bring you to all-of-meta. The link labelled "frequently asked questions" - the bold one - leads you to a list of the 15 meta-questions tagged as FAQ. As far as I understand, this is exactly what you ask for in your last comment, calling it a curated version. Maybe the wording of the whole section can be changed so that the faq-only link comes first, if you think that this would make a difference. But only the employees know why this wording has been chosen, and they may have good reason not to change – rumtscho Dec 20 '12 at 16:13
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This is absolutely, positively, never going to happen. It's been suggested hundreds of times on dozens of sites and the answer is always the same (including answers from both of the founders and various other SE employees).

The FAQ is the FAQ; questions that are frequently asked. You are, quite unambiguously, referring to the questions that are infrequently asked. Important, of course - but nevertheless very infrequent.

Krug, my favourite usability expert, refers to these as "marketing pitches masquerading as FAQs (also known as QWWPWAs: Questions We Wish People Would Ask)". Not that I'm deliberately trying to be patronizing, but those of us who've been playing this gig for a while have long since come to terms with the fact that nobody is asking any of these questions... that is, of course, until they've been personally affected by one, and that's exactly the time to direct them to meta, where they can get a detailed and definitive answer rather than a one-liner. Even then, they're only looking for answer to that specific question, not a detailed explanation of everything on the site.

It would be nice if everybody who came wanted to know everything about the site right away and would follow all of those site philosophy/culture/guideline links right off the bat, but it's just wishful thinking and usually counterproductive inasmuch as it erodes trust in the reliability of other in-site resources. People want to find out just barely enough to get their question answered and move on with their lives; this isn't cynicism, it's reality. Normal people don't optimize, they satisfice, and if we fail to recognize that then we just lose more potential questions and views. If some of those people happen to stick around to contribute and/or ask better/deeper questions over time, that's just gravy, but anyway those are the types of people who will avail themselves of meta without being asked or told.

The FAQ is sacred space, dedicated to helping people use the site. Much as we would love for everybody to know certain things, you must understand that the FAQ is exclusively for their benefit, not ours. I might argue that there's already far too much in the FAQ that's not really "FA", but one thing is for sure, any attempt to use it to lecture members (new or otherwise) is only going to make it less useful/usable and lower the reading rate even further.

So, no, to be totally blunt - the FAQ isn't a detailed rule book, nor is it a table of contents for the rule book, nor is it ever going to be. That's what meta and and how to ask and how to answer and all of the various tag wikis are for.

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    I disagree--over the twenty years or more that I personally have been reading and writing FAQS--the evolution of the true meaning of the term has evolved to Stuff You Should Want to Know, not Stuff That is Frequently asked. Making helpful information available easily is good design. Accepting the way things are because that is the way things are is the way to keep things the way they are. Obviously some of the points you write are true and require good thinking and design and work to overcome, but that should not prevent trying. And the tone could have been more diplomatic. – SAJ14SAJ Dec 20 '12 at 13:47
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    @SAJ14SAJ: We are making the information easily available. Click meta, type search term, done. If there's something new and important then we feature it and it appears in the sidebar for a while. We're just not putting it in the FAQ, and we shouldn't, because that's not what FAQs are for. The fact that it's often done by others is not "evolution", it's just generations of poor usability due to a combination of lack of skill and lack of interest. Cramming a bunch of unwanted info into a FAQ is a great way to quickly anger and alienate the very people who you're trying to help. – Aaronut Dec 21 '12 at 0:41
  • I know this is kind of a necro here, but being a new guy myself, this conversation begs the question: Where do people go to learn about the deeper meta/culture of SE/SA? Is there any "recommended reading," or does one just have to dig through meta? – Preston Mar 14 '13 at 23:07
  • @PrestonFitzgerald: The top-voted questions are usually a pretty good place to start. The seasoned advice meta "best of" highlights the majority of our more controversial topics, and the same on Meta Stack Overflow will tell you most of the history of SE itself and what the majority consider to be the site's mission/culture to be in general. – Aaronut Mar 14 '13 at 23:58

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