Jay Hanlon has published an extremely read-worthy post about how Stack Overflow Isn’t Very Welcoming. It’s Time for That to Change.
I would invite anyone to read that article (it took me 5 minutes roughly).

The post is primarily aimed at Stack Overflow, and while I have been active on SO as well, my primary `home' on SE is here on Travel SE. So reading the post, I could not help noticing the many parallels to patterns that apply also (or in a different manner) here on Travel SE.
(If you did not read that post, the aim is to make SO a more welcoming place beyond "be kind", and to be inclusive.)

This Meta Q aims to stimulate a similar, site-specific discussion for Travel SE.

While I hope that Jay's post will lead eventually lead to change not only on SO, but including the whole SE network, I do feel that we can (and should) be proactive on Travel SE, and that we do have some site-specific issues to tackle on our own. The first examples that come to my mind:

  • too often we close questions by new users as off-topic or duplicates without much comment.
  • this way we recruit few new users to stick around (least they be more travel-savvy than the average Joe already active on here)

but I am sure the list is much longer and I have too much bias on my own to note some issues.

With this Meta question I intend to start a new discussion on how we can do better. Foremost, what are our issues around inclusion and being welcoming. And in following steps, what can be done to change this.

I do not intend to re-open any Travel Meta discussion that has ever been, but I do feel that there should not be any red tape. As an example, my personal feel is that our duplicate policy might be too strict to be as welcoming/inclusive as I would like us to be.

I have not been around much lately (and if so mostly passively) for being more busy offline, but this topic is too important to me to let it go undiscussed.

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    Thanks for posting this! I started writing more or less the same thing, and I hope this can be a useful discussion, ideally focused on moving forward rather than rehashing old disputes. I may add some community wiki answers on some areas to consider once I've given this more thought. Commented May 1, 2018 at 9:52
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    It will take a significant effort of time to amend this practice. Is it possible to get our Stack overlords to reconfigure the site to automatically post helpful comments when we close threads, e.g.? Constant manual intervention is going to be a significant task. Commented May 1, 2018 at 14:52
  • I can confirm that this is a real issue on Travel.SE: despite the amazing growth in traffic (40% more visitors in 2017) we still have roughly the same amount of questions and answers.
    – JonathanReez Mod
    Commented May 1, 2018 at 22:46
  • @JonathanReez stackexchange.com/sites would imply an extra 22 questions a day = about 8000 extra questions a year? (yes, I'd estimate 1/4 get closed as duplicate/off topic, but still)
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 2:20
  • For those who don't want to add comments/answers here, this is also being discussed in the Travel Chat Room
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 2:28
  • @MarkMayo check the mod analytics tool, it's more accurate
    – JonathanReez Mod
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 3:34
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    @JonathanReez ah I misunderstood, I thought you meant total, not creation rate.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 4:39
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    I was also concerned after looking at the close as duplicate percentage (definitely increasing) but ... isn't that what is meant to happen? In theory we'd have more and more already asked and answered questions.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 4:39
  • @JonathanReez You'd need to compare that rate to the rate of other established Stacks. For example, almost all the good Schengen questions have already been asked. It's getting harder and harder to come up with a good new question that isn't a duplicate, and this will become increasingly true with time. Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:11
  • @JimMackenzie it could be explained like that too
    – JonathanReez Mod
    Commented May 2, 2018 at 15:49
  • FWIW, I think the title of this question is contentious and distracts from the valid and well-meaning content. The EL&U counterpart was labeled Can English Language & Usage help with making StackExchange more welcoming? and I think this wording maintains the spirit without implicating that current participants on the stack are unwelcoming.
    – choster
    Commented May 3, 2018 at 8:32
  • In fairness the title of that blog should be "SO isn't welcoming to begineers". I've had my share of horrible SO experiences when I was a beginner. Including my correct answer being downvoted for no reason at all. Low reputation means you can't upvote, or leave comments. Which means ALL power is concentrated with high reputation people (sounds like Plutocracy), and beginners have no votes on answers that may have helped them! Also begs the questions: Who's policing the police.
    – AVJ
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 16:33
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    @CHJ To be fair, most people who think their answer was downvoted for no reason simply don't know the reason. It might be blindingly obvious to experienced SO users but not something a new user has even considered (eg. posting a link-only answer). Re. "who's policing the police", well, everyone is to an extent. Anyone can report anyone else to the mods. The mods are policed by each other and, if necessary, by SE's community managers. SE is the top of the food chain and we mostly have to trust them. Incidentally it doesn't take much rep to get the basic powers so I wouldn't say "ALL power".
    – Clonkex
    Commented May 27, 2018 at 13:26

5 Answers 5


Some guidelines I'd love to see follow below. I know I'm guilty for some of them too, when I'm in a hurry, but maybe we can call people out for it when we see it. I don't think we can get them implemented in code, but we could call people out for not following:

  1. If you close vote a question from a newbie without a comment, shame on you. Welcome them, thank them, and explain what's wrong.
  2. Don't downvote a new user. Upvote them even if voting to close (unless spam etc) for trying to ask a valid question.
  3. Don't dare downvote a post without a comment. Please!
  4. Do NOT engage in chats in comments. Invite users - new and old, to join you in the Travel Chat Room for discussion.
  5. If you can fix a question easily from a new user - do that instead of close-voting. Eg if they've asked 5 questions in one, remove the last 4 to keep it at 1 q per post, and add a comment explaining. Also fix spelling/grammar/CAPS - not everyone is a native speaker / grammar guru.

I'm sure there's more, but I'd like to build a new list of guidelines that we can simply add as a link in a comment and tag people when we feel they're not following them.


  • 1
    Would love the downvoter (and upvoters, really) to add their thoughts and comments...
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 10, 2018 at 5:26
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    I think the "not downvoting" aspect is very important. Unless the question is outrageously bad (eg, outright racism, spam), there's no need to do it. For the asking user, seeing they've been downvoted is a very negative experience, and serves no purpose other than to discourage them. Even downvoting answers beyond -1 is in most cases quite unnecessary.
    – MJeffryes
    Commented May 13, 2018 at 14:41
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    From what I've seen sticking around just a bit, and from this answer, I can tell you that Travel SE is welcoming. Much more than other websites, such as IPS where many diamond users are basically against any kind of comment and even prune those asking for clarification. Seeing a diamond mod here with such a good set of suggestions proves that the attitude is right and the members are welcoming. :) Commented May 14, 2018 at 21:30
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    @MJeffryes When you hover above the downvote arrow, the reasons given are no research, unclear, or not useful. Like it or not, many questions from new users fit that bill. Outright racism or spam should be downvoted and VTC/flagged for moderator attentiom.
    – fkraiem
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 1:58
  • "If you close vote a question from a newbie without a comment, shame on you. Welcome them, thank them, and explain what's wrong." You'd better hope that the logic for spotting and reversing downvotes in revenge for closing questions works better than the of the search code then!
    – bye
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 12:14

There is another aspect to my post that has not been addressed yet:
How inclusive are we of users from under-represented groups and how well do we deal with special needs?

I would love to see some discussion of this, and by someone else than me, as I feel guilty myself of assuming in most posts here that they concern a sufficiently wealthy, western-educated cis-male without any health problems. But how about women, LGBT folks, the disabled, poor, ...?

We have only 41 questions tagged female-travellers and only five tagged lgbt (as of now - I did not research how consistent tagging is). To me this indicates that such topics are under-represented on Travel SE. I can also recall at least one example, where special issues of solo female travellers where explicitly part of a question, but consequently ignored by all answers (as far as I can tell).

How inclusive are we? What are our issues in this regard? I feel we should not skip this step before we start discussing solutions.

  • 1
    Perhaps one simple step would be to have [women-travellers] as a synonym of female? If there were more [lbgt] I would suggest [lesbian] and [gay] similarly.
    – mdewey
    Commented May 7, 2018 at 12:24
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    To play devil's advocate: is there any reason to think that having a low number of questions in these tags to believe that we are not being inclusive? Could it be that instead we have so many questions that are applicable to everyone, rather than only targeted at men or other majorities? As of this writing, every question on our homepage appears to be applicable to men, women, LGBT, and other groups. Commented May 14, 2018 at 2:10
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    Why do we even discriminate or care about the gender or sexual orientations of users? Commented May 14, 2018 at 21:31
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    Maybe people don't use these tags because they are simply not relevant to most situations.
    – DTRT
    Commented May 14, 2018 at 21:31
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    When I answer to questions (here and elsewhere) asking about traveling as female in Europe I mostly remark there is little difference between how male and female travelers should behave and the dangers they face. I am for not singling out 'female' questions but be inclusive in all Q and A.
    – Willeke Mod
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 10:24
  • @AndreaLazzarotto Because while the SO team are waiting for the money to roll in from Teams they have time to look at the breakdown of users by gender etc and have decided that one way of improving revenue is by appealing to under-represented groups, so that's going to be a priority for a while.
    – bye
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 12:19

Facbook's model of not having a Dislike button makes a lot of sense now. The downvoting is the biggest unwelcoming gesture a user can give to a new user.

Facebook always said that having a dislike button can "hurt" some people. Imagine if someone post a photo of him/herself and then someone give it a dislike, that could really cause some harm to some people.

The same thing can go for a person who post a question, from his/her point of view, this question could be very important to them, then booom, a few downvotes just because the new user didn't know that including "best" or "worst" in his/her question was a taboo.

I suggest a change to the SE model, new users can't be downvoted until they either reach a certain milestone (50 rep or so), or post a number of posts (10 posts or so). This way the system will protect them and give them time until they are used to the culture of SE or the culture of the specific site within SE.

Someone can argue that it's all written in the help page, let's be honest since when do we actually read instructions carefully? not everyone does that and real human factors should always be considered, not the idealistic situations which only exist on paper.

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    I agree that downvoting is very much discouraging to new users, and I certainly never do it to new users who ask a question asking for "the best" or anything like that. I do think it has some important role in emphasizing problematic answers, since site policy is generally to avoid deleting answers simply because they are wrong. Downvoting new users should be discouraged in most all circumstances, and your proposal is great in that regard, but there still needs to be some way beyond comments to say "hey, this answer is wrong or even outright dangerous and you shouldn't follow it." Commented May 3, 2018 at 3:35
  • I'd LOVE it if 'good' new users couldn't be downvoted, but I guess that would lead to problems with spammers and the like. Although I suppose they could be flagged. I'd prefer it if you downvote a post you're only allowed to do so if you add a comment.
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 4, 2018 at 1:21
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    Some of the downvotes that bother me most are the ones applied to questions or answers from new users people just don't seem to like. To pick a random recent example, this one, currently +4/-3 (and one of the upvotes is mine because it had a negative score and I thought it was undeserved). Sure, it's not an utterly wonderful question and it needed some editing and cleanup, but there's nothing about it that, IMHO, deserved three downvotes without comments. Commented May 4, 2018 at 5:48
  • @MarkMayo if I understand SE correctly, the system adds a downvote automatically once you flag a post as spam. So, that should be kept but a normal downvote shouldn't. It's just an idea but knowing how SE owners worship their model I think it will be close to impossible to change. Commented May 5, 2018 at 3:15
  • @ZachLipton thanks for posting the link to that question, I was looking for sample to include and I didn't, now we have a clear example of what I am talking about. Commented May 5, 2018 at 3:16
  • The problem with Downvotes is the direct and inescapable implication that the target is wrong. This is why I vigorously challenge every uncommented Downvote because, sorry, the Downvotes are just wrong and misleading. There is no amount of explanation or wishful thinking that will change this perception.
    – DTRT
    Commented May 15, 2018 at 13:03
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    Positive feedback means literally nothing if negative feedback is not permitted. Downvotes are part of the bread and butter of Q&A. If you prefer an open forum or chatroom then you are of course free to use one of those! Commented May 15, 2018 at 16:09
  • Irony (I saw it last night on the mobile app) - FB is now testing downvote/upvotes: mashable.com/2018/04/30/facebook-downvote
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 4:40
  • @MarkMayo True, but to the comments only, not the posts. Commented May 16, 2018 at 5:21
  • @LightnessRacesinOrbit I never said there should be downvotes, I said there shouldn't be downvotes to the very new users. There's always another less aggressive ways to give feedback to the new users, comments for example :) Commented May 16, 2018 at 5:22
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    @NeanDerThal: That misteaches newcomers that downvotes are personal or "aggressive", which is absolutely not the case. Let's instead teach newcomers how the site actually works from the outset. Some new users post first questions that are well researched and thus well received, and these get upvotes. The meaning of upvotes vanishes if you can't get downvotes. Commented May 16, 2018 at 9:49
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    I must admit I like the idea. For most human activities inexperienced members (outsiders, children) are granted more leeway in their social actions until they have integrated. @LightnessRacesinOrbit: It does not matter if they are explained as non-personal/non-aggressive, the small pin prick is always there. Our brain is hardwired to look for even feeble feedback. Commented May 18, 2018 at 6:22
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    @ThorstenS.: Imagined offence is the sole responsibility of the imaginer. Commented May 18, 2018 at 9:32
  • Perhaps get rid of downvotes! There's no such thing as a wrong answer - just a misunderstood answer! The best answers will hopefully have a higher score than the worst answers so you can still look at the top answers. Having said that, in this bid to increase site views to keep the investors happy, it's possible that the balance between "people who've been here for years, know the culture and can spot instantly spam/nonsense" and "people who've surfed and and by golly are going to make full use of their unlimited free time and internet access" are going to challenge that.
    – bye
    Commented May 30, 2018 at 12:17

As a new user with low reputation I would like to add the perspective of lesser beings like myself.

I can totally imagine what the high-rep users go through. I've taught pretty advanced classes and the questions I used to get would drive me nuts, yet I was always polite and did the best I could. That being said, I think TSE (or any Stack site for that matter) gives too much power to the high-rep users and too less to new users/beginners. No one is saying beginners are without fault. Beginners are usually looking for quick answers to their questions and tend to forget to do basic research beforehand, and their questions get down voted by the high reputation users. This "tough love" approach feels like a "slap in the face" - according one user. There could be a better policy to deal with this (maybe force them to read the posting guidelines first before they are allowed to post questions, or maybe something better, idk. The following points have come to my attention during my years of use of other stack sites that may apply to TSE:

  • If your question is even slightly off/wrong/already answered but you couldn't find it/reeks of non-nerdiness (Boom! Downvote atleast -5 and delete without explanation). Probably not the best approach.

  • New users have no power to upvote questions/answers or comments, which means if 5 high-rep users think it's crap/too simple/obvious, it's gone, without considering that 50 other newbies may have found it useful

  • There are definitely troll users roaming around on Stacks, who will downvote any answer that they personally don't like, without explanation.

  • Even high-rep users are human and make mistakes. If this happens there's no real recourse for the average user to do anything. For e.g., recently I answered a question on TSE which was actually not incorrect, but one high-rep users thought it was spam (because I did posted some links that I had found useful with explanation of the solution). That high-rep users added a comment as "possible spam", and there 3 other high-rep users ganged up on the question and downvoted it within a minute. Didn't feel like they actually thought about it before downvoting. Thereafter I added another answer which was actually completely correct, and within minutes the same user downvoted it. I actually got frustrated and I deleted it myself rather than be insulted.

  • I think most high-rep users are nice and have been always helpful to me. However there are some that just aren't, are too condescending, and don't respect the fact that they themselves started at the bottom at some point in the past. This begs the question: Who is policing the police? This means that every time I post a question/answer on Stack, I do it timidly, fearing it will ruin my day. This not only affects Stacks' reputation but also the contributions you receive, as well as future high-rep users that you may have to groom, which is a shame considering Stacks have helped me more times that I can count.

I hope my post will be taken as a constructive feedback by the controllers to make Stack a better place than it already is.

P.S.: I won't be surprised at all if my answer gets downvoted (I am fairly new to TSE and don't have that much reputation), and I'll be pleasantly surprised if it doesn't get deleted.

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    Just checking - do you mean the answers on this question? travel.stackexchange.com/questions/111555/… - none of the delete votes were by moderators, and furthermore, I'm curious about your downvote claims by 'moderators' as even we can't see who downvoted - but remember, almost every user is able to downvote. But looking at the people who voted to delete, and who said it seemed like spam - they're not moderators....was it a different question you're talking about?
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 0:36
  • Also I see no reason why anyone would want to delete this answer. Would like to engage in a convo about that question you're citing about moderators though!
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 0:37
  • Yes. The one on the bottom deleted by 3 users is my original answer (starts with "There are websites/companies that do full flight itineraries for $50+") and the one of the top is one I deleted. The users' handles are Giorgio (30343/giorgio), Willeke (27650/willeke), Michael Hampton (3221/michael-hampton), if that helps. I had 3 downvotes, and marked for deletion by 3 users so I thought these would be the 3 downvoting moderators (which apparently they are not). I thought only moderators had power to delete questions? Aren't high reputation users selected to be moderators?
    – AVJ
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 2:20
  • Now I confess maybe the first answer could've been worded differently so that noone felt I was the guy selling a website, but then the second answer was downvoted as well which look much more genuine. Was it just because I got my previous answer deleted, I was automatically presumed a bad poster?
    – AVJ
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 2:24
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    nope, anyone with a particular level of rep (125) can downvote and with 10000 rep can delete. More information on privileges. Moderators are voted in with elections, and the current list is here (we only have 5).
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 3:34
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    I can't speak for why people downvoted it - I wouldn't think they'd notice that itw as your second post, as they can't even see your original post unless they have high enough privilege. However looking at it myself, there's a lot of off-topic almost-rant in the answer, with comments about moderators mentioning (although no moderators did) and a couple of rhetorical questions mid-answer, as well as the whole final paragraph not being relevant to the question at hand. But as per my answers above, I would have preferred comments or cleaning it up to donwvoting!
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 3:36
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    Oh, shortcut btw - all moderators on the site have a little diamond next to their name (like mine here ->)
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 3:36
  • Geez sorry I didn't know that. I can change "moderators" in my post to "users" if that's OK?
    – AVJ
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 4:36
  • totally ok, would probably make more sense :)
    – Mark Mayo
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 4:38
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    Done! Thanks for elaborating. And yes sorry about the rant, but it was a bit frustrating seeing answers downvoted and should've used better judgement :(
    – AVJ
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 4:40
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    That is a very interesting perspective, +1 from me on this answer. Your case does sound somewhat extreme but in hindsight not so unsimilar to some things I experienced when I was rather new on here. Thank you and by the way welcome to TSE and Meta.
    – mts
    Commented May 16, 2018 at 6:20

The arbitrary closing of questions as "to broad" or "off topic" makes SE in general appear like that indignant judgmental spouse.

If you have ask, I'm not going to tell you!

In such cases, instead of blocking Answers either -

  • The first Answer must be by a high rep user or
  • Flag them to time out, meaning, if a question is really answerable after say 5 days, it just evaporates.

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