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The Problem

The sandbox will be a problem when we graduate (hopefully soon!) As it is already, the people who look through the sandbox regularly are very little in number. What happens when we graduate, bringing in more traffic? Three problems:

  1. It won't be worth it to post in the sandbox, since the percentage of people who look through it will be very low.
  2. It won't be worth it to review sandbox posts (for the new users), since there's no feedback or reward.
  3. There will be more posts in the sandbox anyway (because of the increase in users), which a.) Aren't reviewed properly (due to points 1 and 2) and b.) Will require a new sandbox every day, perhaps.

The Solution

Stop.

Stop

Let's kill the sandbox.

I can already hear the protests: "But why? That's such a radical action! The sandbox was there forever! It can't go away!"

But, aren't we a Stack Exchange site? The entire network was designed so that there is no need for a sandbox. Is there not editing and closing? Questions don't have to be perfect immediately on posting; if you see a minor problem, just edit the post! Comment for major problems, and close unrecoverable challenges.

Are you starting to notice something? This is exactly what other Stack Exchange sites do!

Let's solve this problem, and get one step closer to graduation.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I can get behind this, but we (PPCG) need more moderators/people with enough rep to self moderate \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Mar 20 '14 at 17:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidWilkins or maybe rather encourage existing moderators / high-reps. I, for one, don't like editing but I can be encouraged to do more (consider it done) \$\endgroup\$ – John Dvorak Mar 20 '14 at 17:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JanDvorak and I will do more as well...Right now I am limited to little more than reviewing, but I'm working my way up \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Mar 20 '14 at 17:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DavidWilkins you can suggest anytime \$\endgroup\$ – John Dvorak Mar 20 '14 at 17:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ If we become half as busy as StackOverflow, we'll have a beach instead of a sandbox. \$\endgroup\$ – Rainbolt Mar 20 '14 at 18:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ We have a problem right now with inculcating our ideas about what makes a good challenge into new users. Observe the recent rash of really poor, but highly upvoted [code-trolling] and [popularity-contest] posts. We don't have a large enough and coherent enough user base to handle large groups of new users efficiently. Not that the sandbox helps with this or that it constitutes a reason to not nuke the thing, but it goes to our ability to control quality directly. The more so as we have a cohort of users who believe that downvotes and closing are somehow a bad thing. \$\endgroup\$ – dmckee Mar 20 '14 at 18:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ @dmckee Yeah, now that I think about it, it might be a good idea to keep the sandbox through beta. Also, that last sentence is highly troubling... \$\endgroup\$ – Doorknob Mar 20 '14 at 19:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ since the percentage of people who look through it will be very low. I'm not sure this assumption is true: Mk XI was posted yesterday and as of now it already has 71 views and Mk X retired with 905 views. \$\endgroup\$ – plannapus Mar 21 '14 at 9:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Note that other beta sites are following our example and introducing sandboxes \$\endgroup\$ – trichoplax Mar 16 '15 at 0:03
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In this post, I'm speaking as a user, not a moderator.

Your proposal could be workable, if we are willing to weed out questions (and answers) as aggressively as is being done on the Software Recommendations site (and if we have enough high-rep users who can nuke inappropriate questions and answers quickly). That doesn't seem to be the current trend, though.

Currently, the sandbox is a buffer against duplicate, poorly-specified, uninteresting, or just generally inviable challenges. It makes the task of framing challenges a collaborative, community-orientated effort. I am in favour of this latter aspect, and would like to retain it even if we switch to a sandbox-less model.

I'd like to expand on the "collaborative, community-orientated" aspect, because it's the cornerstone of my counter-proposal below. Most SE sites involve some sort of personal question the OP has (that other people potentially share). So questions on those sites are more personal. On this site, coding challenges have nothing to do with personal questions; they don't help the OP personally. To that end, the more community refinement a challenge gets, the higher the quality, in general.


Personally, I don't consider the sandbox concept problematic per se, but that the frustrations we encounter are simply the result of the limitations in its current place on Meta.

What we need, in my view, is a way to make all the sandbox questions readily accessible and sensibly indexed (without requiring manual work), along with a way to expire submissions that are either clearly unsuitable or else generally have only lacklustre support. This can be achieved with a dedicated sandbox Stack Exchange instance (e.g., sandbox.codegolf.stackexchange.com), where each proposed post is simply a question, with appropriate tagging for ease of indexing. Posts can then be comment-on, edited, closed, and/or deleted independently of others.

Additionally, moderators (and hopefully high-rep users too) would be empowered to quickly migrate posts off the main site to the sandbox should they fail to meet the site standards.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Actually, when enough people are on the site, I have seen really bad questions deleted within 30 seconds before. We just need to be more active in editing and deleting the mediocre questions. \$\endgroup\$ – Hosch250 Mar 20 '14 at 17:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also consider this: How many new questions are posted by users who don't know of the sandbox, and thus never get a chance to benefit from it during their first foray here? \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Mar 20 '14 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidWilkins With a dedicated sandbox site, it won't matter: such posts would just get quickly migrated there, where they can then be worked on by the community at large. Thus, the new sandbox site would effectively be an incubator for new challenges, much in the way that Apache has an incubator for fledgling projects. \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Jester-Young Mar 20 '14 at 17:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisJester-Young Yes, but we are limited to what StackExchange offers...Ideally, from the SE philosophy, if it doesn't work in the default thematic, it shouldn't be a stackeschange site \$\endgroup\$ – David Wilkins Mar 20 '14 at 18:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DavidWilkins Of course. This post is my attempt to make a case to SE to actually consider creating such a site, as an alternative to what the OP is proposing. As I often say, "don't ask, don't get". \$\endgroup\$ – Chris Jester-Young Mar 20 '14 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the sandbox site idea. Migrating a question to a sandbox to give it a chance to be refined seems like it'd be less ego-deflating for new users than having your question downvoted, closed and/or deleted. \$\endgroup\$ – Gareth Mar 20 '14 at 20:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ Isn't CW meant to be the tool for creating "collaborative, community-orientated" posts? \$\endgroup\$ – FGreg Apr 29 '14 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I really agree with the idea of creating a specific child site for the sandbox. Here just isn't cutting it. \$\endgroup\$ – Isiah Meadows Jun 20 '14 at 0:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @FGreg The sandbox idea just doesn't quite fit the same philosophy as the standard Q&A format. The questions and challenges, once posted, do. \$\endgroup\$ – Isiah Meadows Jun 20 '14 at 0:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ChrisJester-Young My feature-request here would provide some of the "ease of indexing". \$\endgroup\$ – luser droog Jun 30 '14 at 7:26
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I know that this is strikingly similar to Chris's answer, but I feel it's different enough that it merits its own answer.

TL;DR

Make a new domain (sandbox.codegolf.stackexchange.com) for hosting the sandbox. Use the standard SE Meta template for the site, with answers disabled, comments always expanded, and rep only affected by comments.

Read on for more details about this proposal.


I would suggest a new domain, sandbox.codegolf.stackexchange.com, for hosting the sandbox. I feel that the same general Meta template for SE sites could be used for it, but with the following differences:

  1. Answers are disabled. They would be rather irrelevant in the sandbox.
  2. Comments are always expanded, given the fact that increased prevalence wouldn't risk obfuscating answers because they don't exist.
  3. A relatively small amount of code could be introduced to make an "easy-post" button on sandbox questions for the OP to use the current question as a template to create a new one on the main site, as a convenience. To attempt to keep sandbox artifacts out of new questions, show a warning dialog if no changes were made to the question.
    • First impressions of the dialog should make it serious enough that people don't blindly ignore it.
  4. Rep should be wholly unaffected by upvotes and downvotes, and more generally, comments and approved edits should be the primary ways to generate rep from it.

Many features of the current Meta format used throughout SE would still be enormously useful in this sandbox proposal.

  • Upvotes would retain their significance in helping judge if questions are ready.
  • Downvotes would retain their purpose of helping get rid of bad, impossible-to-fix questions. Comments should explain why, as already is the case.
  • Suggested edits would enable better and more precise help with fixing their questions before they are posted in the regular site.
  • Comments would retain their purpose of allowing people to help.
  • Having them as actual questions would permit moderators to migrate poor questions to the sandbox.
    • Migration should automatically delete/ignore all posted answers to focus on fixing the question. It could then be reposted on the main site as a quality question.
  • Making proposed questions as community wikis could encourage collaboration to make a much better question without the hassle of a proposed edit queue. Some people may want their questions intentionally more open to collaboration, a la wiki, while others may want extra help with larger rule sets.
  • The question format would permit users to immediately tag their questions appropriately.
    • Answer headers giving the proposed challenge's types are already common in the sandbox.
  • It would be possible to filter and search questions, as in other SE sites. This would make moderator's and users' life easier to keep good question quality by:
    1. allowing people to pick particular types they prefer to work with,
    2. allowing people who enjoy less popular types like and to improve their question quality with less community interference over its current state,
    3. allowing fans of challenge types without as clear winning conditions, such as , to shape them to be more polished over time, making the winning conditions clearer and easier to judge,
    4. etc...

Using a slightly modified version of the original SE format for the sandbox could make it far more accessible and easier to use for both users and moderators. It would also make it more feasible to manage at large scale (maybe even SO level...).


On a related side note, if the easy-post button is implemented, users should probably have a minimum rep to post a question on the main site without going through the sandbox first.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @downvoters: why? This seems like a legitimate answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Jwosty Jun 21 '14 at 23:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jwosty One of my issues across the entire network: few people actually explain their downvotes on Meta. \$\endgroup\$ – Isiah Meadows Jun 22 '14 at 3:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ @downvoters: I can't fix issues or resolve misconceptions that I don't know about. I also can't be open to opinions I'm never told. \$\endgroup\$ – Isiah Meadows Jun 22 '14 at 3:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't vote on this answer, but I want to point out that votes on meta usually indicate "I [do/do not] like this idea." Since rep isn't an issue on meta, people are generally more free with their votes but not necessarily more vocal about it. \$\endgroup\$ – Rainbolt Jun 24 '14 at 13:26
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I want to throw in an option which doesn't take the nuke-approach but also doesn't require a new site:

Use the sandbox even if the OP posts it on the main site.

  • When we encounter a question which we think should and can be enhanced (with some effort) we may migrate the question to sandbox manually and leave only a link on the main site.
  • An additional (standard) text is added: "This question is currently under review. If you are the poster of this question or interested in developing new challenges please join the discussion here. As soon as the puzzle is ready it will be migrated here and you may post your answers.".
  • We remove all tags and instead add a tag .

This will make the sandbox more popular since many people who don't visit meta will now come accross links to meta if they visit such a question.

Of course if we want this approach to work we all have to give constructive criticism as soon as we migrate questions to sandbox.

Drawbacks:

  • Requires discipline and manual work.
  • The sandbox answer's owner is not the original poster.
  • The size of the sandboxes has to increase such that we don't have to open a new one every day. I think this is not such a big issue if on the main site we link directly to the answers.
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    \$\begingroup\$ One more drawback: if the new poster does not have enough rep he won't be able to use meta. Even if he had enough rep (let's say he has 11 rep points), people may downvote his new question and if he had 4 downvotes for his new question he won't be able to discuss on meta. \$\endgroup\$ – ace Mar 21 '14 at 18:50
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ace: Meta doesn't affect the score, but even considering this, 11 reputation points is a requirement. \$\endgroup\$ – Konrad Borowski Mar 23 '14 at 19:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Just chown the question to that user and grant unconditional access to this particular meta question? \$\endgroup\$ – Vi. Sep 1 '14 at 10:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ace Just upvote the poor guy \$\endgroup\$ – Timtech Dec 2 '14 at 23:58
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I'm not really sure I have a position, but I do have some experience with an alternate method which is pertinent to the discussion. With my last challenge the Steampunk Clacker Animation, I posted directly to the main site. But when fully written up (which I intended to be complete and reasonable, and not need sandboxing), a nagging doubt crept up.

So I slapped "Challenge will open in 24 hours pending comments and corrections" or something to that effect. And I got some good feedback right away and made some needed clarifications in the spec.

If it had been in the sandbox, I probably would've gotten the same feedback because Peter's really good about that. But I might've not posted until I had a working implementation. And as it turned out, writing the implementation did indeed turn up some stupid in the spec.

So, in conclusion, I dunno. I got away with it. I skipped the sandbox.

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I agree with the OP that the sandbox should be nuked, but I don't think he paid proper respects to the tools we already have.

The main problem will fix itself in time.

Others have pointed out that the problem with having no sandbox is that our current user base is not bold enough to close or recommend fixes to poor problems. The result is poor questions not getting fixed and being closed slowly.

Imagine we are twice as popular. We have twice as many questions coming in, three times as many people suggesting improvements, and poor questions are closed three times as fast. How did I get three times the work out of twice as many users? There is a phenomena that, in layman's terms, encourages users to speak up and share their thoughts when others do. This phenomena is amplified on the Internet.

I'm not a psychologist, but I do frequent StackOverflow and watch questions get bombarded with so much feedback and so many votes that it makes the OP's head spin. They want more code, less code, more tags, less tags, etc. They edit grammar mistakes and indentation problems within 60 seconds of being posted.

The remaining problems are not unique to us.

What happens to all the answers who are invalidated by multiple edits? The owners simply get mad, delete their answer, and downvote the question. That's life everywhere else. Just because we answer with code doesn't make our time more special. Barry Boehm said that fixes to code become exponentially more difficult after implementation. Sorry, but that just doesn't affect your 200 line creations.

Crowd-moderation has a power that simply cannot be achieved using sandboxes, where the crowd is smaller. The sandbox was a great crutch, and it may continue to be for a while, but it should die eventually and won't need to be replaced.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I wish it were only that "...our current user base is not bold enough to close". I observe questions getting closed and then being reopened without being fixed. \$\endgroup\$ – Peter Taylor Mar 21 '14 at 14:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @PeterTaylor Well, I noticed that the rep requirements for voting to reopen are lower here than StackOverflow. Could that have something to do with it? I'm at 1500 rep on SO and I can flag as a duplicate but can't yet vote to reopen. \$\endgroup\$ – Rainbolt Mar 21 '14 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Peter Taylor Or maybe we should make the number of votes needed for reopening higher? e.g. 5 votes to close, 7 votes to reopen? Is this possible? \$\endgroup\$ – ace Mar 21 '14 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ @ace Even better, the required vote count could depend on site usage. More active users => more votes required. That would be a scalable solution. \$\endgroup\$ – Rainbolt Mar 21 '14 at 19:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ My suggestion given as one of the answers is intended to still be feasible with larger volumes of people. It should be more scalable of a concept. The sandbox is a great idea, just currently, it is implemented poorly. \$\endgroup\$ – Isiah Meadows Jun 22 '14 at 3:31
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Agree that posting a question and doing the normal feedback loop is probably the best answer usually. But some questions may be in the form that people want to get some review before that.

It seems it would be ideal to address that need for feedback in the Code Golf Chat. Some meta issues are sprawling and chatty by nature vs. being a fit for the Q&A format, and this seems like one of them.

This way, people could develop their question using something like StackEdit and shared in the cloud. (Or use a gist, or whatever worked well enough for a draft...MarkDown is probably not critical in the drafts. Just suggesting StackEdit because I saw it in the open source recruiting ad campaign.)

Perhaps questions actively soliciting feedback could be "pinned" in the starred posts on the right hand column by room moderators, so people would notice them.

Also: it would send more traffic to the chat, thus improving the social/fun part of the puzzling.

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