Proposal: Stack Overflow Academy

I'm sure that if this proposal gets along far enough, SE will handle everything in the way that is necessary to shuttle new users here, but I'm not quite sure how we're going to

  1. Communicate to new users what the Academy is and
  2. Convince them to actually seek guidance there

Now, I know that this is beside the point: you can't force anyone to do anything and the ones who want help will come here, but I have a feeling that, in the majority of cases, people are just going to either ignore any signs pointing to the Academy or post their questions there instead of on Stack Overflow (or, worse: on both).

So, what I'm asking is similar to https://area51.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/17097/will-anyone-actually-be-able-to-use-academy-effectively, but with this added twist: by what means are users going to find the Academy (Tour? Help Center? Meta?) and how are we going to control (though this depends on the answer to the previous question) the inherent influx of poor questions/confusion that comes along with new users who haven't been on the site for long?

  • Regarding the question about how new users will even find the Academy: don't you think that's getting a little too far ahead of ourselves right now? If this proposal never even makes it through commitment or the private beta, then we won't have to worry about marketing and promotion. Jul 28, 2014 at 5:23
  • @Cupcake That's true; it's just something to think about. I think that understanding where traffic will come from will help with our definition of what the site actually is.
    – AstroCB
    Jul 28, 2014 at 17:32
  • 2
    I think this is a pretty good idea, BUT there are LEGIONS of users who don't bother to read any of the stuff provided to them before they can ask their first question. Users who have a Q-ban might be directed to the Academy and earn some credit out of that ban, maybe. Aug 5, 2014 at 16:49
  • Maybe if an account is suspended for low-quality content, they should be forced to visit academy when they attempt to use the suspended account?
    – Andrew
    Aug 8, 2014 at 0:12
  • @SantaClaus Maybe, but that might give them the wrong idea that they can just use the Academy as a "beginner SO."
    – AstroCB
    Aug 8, 2014 at 2:27
  • @AstroCB True, true.
    – Andrew
    Aug 8, 2014 at 2:28

2 Answers 2


[...] I have a feeling that, in the majority of cases, people are just going to either ignore any signs pointing to the Academy [...]

And they should. The notion that folks should need to use a site like the one proposed here in order to ask a question on Stack Overflow is a bit silly; many, many people have figured out how to use Stack Overflow just fine without it, and there's no reason to think that many more won't be able to do the same in the future.

By the same token, there are plenty of folks who ask poor questions on Stack Overflow and make no effort to do otherwise even though there are already plenty of resources available to them to learn to do so - there's no reason to expect that they'll do anything but ignore yet another form of assistance.

The intended audience here sits in between those two groups... Folks who want to learn to ask good questions, but are struggling for some reason. There are a number of ways we could promote this site to such people, but the most obvious way is just word of mouth:

  • Someone who has been helped by this site might advise friends or co-workers to check it out before posting on SO.
  • Someone recommending SO to a hesitant friend might suggest SOA as a way of reducing their hesitation to post publicly.
  • In cases where today I might engage someone in comments and attempt to guide them toward better defining the problem they're hoping to solve, I might instead direct them here.

Word of mouth has several advantages over other forms of promotion, but the most critical is that it tends to ramp up naturally over time. Rather than imposing a crushing volume of questions early in the site's life, the goal should be to generate just enough to keep experts engaged, and past experience on other sites has shown us that word-of-mouth network effects perform admirably in this regard.

Of course, the downside is that it's hard to control this sort of promotion. It's entirely possible that it won't supply enough users to get the site off the ground early on, and if we somehow make it past that point will eventually explode and provide too many - but if we're careful about how we define the scope and how we present the goals of the site to others, we can expect a healthy core community to establish (and preserve) itself throughout.

  • +1 for this formulation (which could be used in the one-liner that advertises what this is): Folks who want to learn to ask good questions, but are struggling for some reason. (FWIW, I'm not crazy about the term academy in this context. It seems counter to pulling such users in.)
    – Drew
    Aug 15, 2014 at 15:28

Users on English Language Usage are often referred to English Language Learners if their question looks like it's regarding basic English. Something similar could be done here for low quality questions on SO etc.

  • 2
    See this question: ELL is not for "basic" English, it's for English learners. Programmers are always learning, so splitting SO into "beginner" and "advanced" sites is decidedly a bad idea. The object of this proposal is to teach people how to write good programming questions and not to actually answer them.
    – AstroCB
    Aug 5, 2014 at 2:43

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