# Unspoken challenge rules

The barrier for entry for new users to write challenges is too high. I think there's a problem with how we are closing challenges. There are only two reasons we can close a challenge as "off-topic":

• This site is for programming contests and challenges. General programming questions are off-topic here. You may be able to get help on Stack Overflow.

• Questions without an objective primary winning criterion are off-topic, as they make it impossible to indisputably decide which entry should win.

However, there are many, many reasons that a challenge can be considered "off-topic" by the community's standards. Your challenge is off-topic by community consensus if:

None of this is mentioned in our help-center. We should do our best to make sure that any user that goes to the trouble of reading through some or all of our help-center (which most new users won't) has a perfectly-clear expectation of what kind of challenges we want. How is a brand new user that doesn't participate in meta supposed to know that "Do X without Y" challenges are frowned upon?

And beyond being off-topic by community consensus, there are many perfectly valid challenges (Note: not good challenges, but valid challenges) that are closed as "off-topic" because some people dislike them. I don't like that. That's what a downvote is for, but close votes are not super-downvotes!

For example, look at Convert phrases to reverse style [closed]. It was a simple challenge with a very clear spec, that was closed as "Unclear what you're asking". Personally, I see nothing unclear with the challenge whatsoever. It describes inputs and outputs in a simple manner, provides specifications, and includes test cases. That right there is better than most off-topic challenges we get.

Now sure, it's a little bit on the trivial side, but questions cannot be closed for being trivial. (See: Hello world) Dislike trivial challenges? Great I do too! Downvote. You were given downvotes as a means to say "This challenge is not useful", so make your voice heard! Lots of people were also complaining that the challenge is mocking the French Language, and were understandably annoyed. Dislike rude comparisons to a language? Great I do too! Downvote. That's exactly what downvotes were made for. Or even better, edit it out! (Which someone already did) However, as far as I can tell, we don't have a rule stating:

Rude comparisons to a language are off-topic by community consensus.

So until then, nothing in that challenge is worthy of a close vote.

Okay, enough ranting. I don't know what the solution is. I don't think we want to be a clique where the only users who are already active on meta know the rules for how to make a good challenge. We aren't that yet, but I feel like we're moving towards it.

How can we lower the barrier to entry for new users to write on-topic questions? Do we need to update the help center? Do we need more custom close reasons? Is it even feasible to have a close reason for everyone of our close reasons?

• Great post, this needs to be discussed.
– xnor
Apr 24 '16 at 20:51
• A popularity contest per se is NOT a reason to close. These you are referring to just didn't even have an objective validity criterion! Apr 24 '16 at 20:54
• @flawr IMO, that's exactly my point. Popularity contests aren't inherently off-topic, but most of them are closed as such with no clear guidance on the difference. Apr 24 '16 at 21:04
• To answer your last sentence, it's not feasible to have a separate close reason for each one of these because we only get 5 custom ones, we've already used 2, and SE is quite stringent regarding justification for more than 3 (or so I've heard). Questions can be closed using a custom reason which automatically adds a comment, which has been how things like [underhanded] have been closed thus far. Apr 24 '16 at 21:04
• Regarding the insufficient close reasons, what you're seeing is the SE model isn't built for challenge-making. There's many reasons for a challenge to not fit the site that the vote options can't capture. The point of a challenge is to be fun and work as a competition, not just be within some scope. Whereas, for Q&A, a question is usually a real problem someone has, so any on-topic well-asked question should be legitimate. So, I wouldn't read that much into the wording and number of close vote options but instead look at how we can make the system work for us.
– xnor
Apr 24 '16 at 21:10
• @xnor I'd absolutely agree, and I think the current text on the help center, and the fact that we have hundreds of old, highly-voted, previously on-topic challenges reflects that. Apr 24 '16 at 21:13
• The spec of the pseudo-French question has been improved, and the question has been reopened. That's the system working as it should. Apr 25 '16 at 9:14
• However, as far as I can tell, we don't have a rule stating: Rude comparisons to a language are off-topic by community consensus. So until then, nothing in that challenge is worthy of a close vote. Stack Exchange and all the sites in the SE network enforce something called the Be Nice Policy. In its original form, that question wasn't very nice to francophones.
– cat
Apr 25 '16 at 11:10
• I would like to add that (in my opinion) a wave of down votes on a new user's post is much more likely to keep them off the site for good than a close and polite comment, "please check out how the community operates in these posts [link, link, link]"
– Liam
Apr 25 '16 at 19:16
• I see downvotes as negative, and close votes as positive (but both important). I sometimes cast both an upvote and a close vote on the same challenge. Sep 11 '16 at 18:15

## We need an honest intro for new askers

We need a frank explanation of what makes a good challenge. Not something that lists all rules and possibilities, but advice like you'd give a friend who is new to the site and posting a challenge for the first time. It might say things like "Post in the Sandbox first" and "Challenges like X are allowed, but you'll probably get downvoted into the ground."

The help center is too legalistic to be useful. It tries to summarize meta policy to delineate on-topicness, but doesn't explain our site's philosophy. Good challenges come not from following these rules, but from understanding the community's culture and customs that motivates them.

I don't think this can come close to replacing being active on the site to get experience before posting a challenge, but it would help.

• "Good challenges come not from following these rules, but from understanding the community's culture and customs that motivates them." THIS.
– cat
Apr 24 '16 at 23:09
• I like this answer, but where do you propose this intro goes? On the help-center? Upon joining? Off-site somewhere? Someplace else? Apr 25 '16 at 19:19
• @DrGreenEggsandHamDJ I'm not sure. The help center would be ideal for visibility, but I suspect SE requires us to have our scope defined there. Maybe a Meta page prominently linked from the help center?
– xnor
Apr 25 '16 at 20:22
• Maybe a featured meta post in the yellow box on the right titled something like "READ THIS BEFORE ASKING A QUESTION"? To be honest I've never actually seen the help center and I suspect many other (new) users haven't either. Apr 27 '16 at 12:57
• Usenet groups (most groups, anyway) had* a rule, in some cases written, that people should lurk before posting, to understand the group's culture. Stack Exchange is built specifically not that way: it actively encourages complete newbies (to the site) to ask questions. So, yes, it needs to substitute something for that lurking. +1. (*I use past tense because I haven't been active on Usenet lately. I suppose it's still alive, though. Maybe.) May 3 '16 at 18:43

We should do our best to make sure that any user that goes to the trouble of reading through some or all of our help-center (which most new users won't) has a perfectly-clear expectation of what kind of challenges we want. How is a brand new user that doesn't participate in meta supposed to know that "Do X without Y" challenges are frowned upon?

I understand where you're coming from, but I think the pragmatic solution is to do what the help centre already does: point people at the sandbox. Editing the help centre every time a new opinion on meta gains critical mass would cause more problems than it solves. It should be stable, maybe updated once every year, but not much more frequently.

• This is a good point, particularly since opinions can shift over time. Case in point: built-in functions as a standard loophole. Apr 25 '16 at 14:08