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Some of the best stack exchange sites can be brutal in how they deal with low quality questions and answers.

  • Low quality questions are shut down.

  • Low quality answers are voted down

  • People will either politely or curtly leave comments about low quality questions

And other other Buddhist places on the internet I've been on, sometimes being nice isn't as important as looking for implicit arrogance and setting people straight. On the better sites, questions and answers are voted down because, say a programmer, doesn't really gain anything by telling someone they're stupid (or immoral!)-- vote down and move on. But (at least on other places on the internet I've been on) people act like they are racking up karma points for putting people that annoy them (put 'em their proper place, cut down those arrogant posters down to size, electronically wipe the smug smile off that better-than-you-know-it-all and really rack up the karma points for it!)

Will our Buddhist beliefs make it easier or harder to pull of a high quality stack exchange site?

  • "And other Buddhist forums I've been on..." Unfortunately StackExchange isn't a discussion forum. We are supposed to be doing well structured and strict Q&A here. If you want a forum for extended discussions then there's always Dhamma Wheel and Dharma Wheel for Theravada and Mahayana Buddhism respectively. – InvalidBrainException Jul 8 '14 at 20:10
  • Did I imply I want a discussion forum? – MatthewMartin Jul 8 '14 at 20:22
  • When you say "other Buddhist forums" it implies that that is how you view this site. – InvalidBrainException Jul 8 '14 at 20:30
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    Fixed. Hope that clears up the confusion. – MatthewMartin Jul 8 '14 at 20:34
  • Now that you've had time to think about it, can you add an answer of your own to this question? – ChrisW May 31 '15 at 16:41
9

What jumps at me is how most questions are pretty low-quality compared to other SE sites. On one hand, we can't expect the same level of rigour from an average person interested in Buddhism as from (say) a mathematician or Sci-Fi geek. On the other hand, it would be nice to see questions that:

  • Do not take up to 5 paragraphs of text,
  • Do not ask 3-4 questions at once,
  • Have done basic research by googling and reading Wikipedia,
  • Do not use question as a platform for asserting their political opinion,
  • Do not ask questions out of logical reflex but to get a useful answer,
  • Take care to phrase their question clearly and objectively.

I somewhat agree with the premise of the question, in that being Buddhist often correlates with having a low stress threshold which manifests as tendency to avoid direct confrontation. In the interest of community though, we must overcome this weakness and step up our game to ensure high-quality content.

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    We don't have enough experts yet. I'm going to guess that Americans (I'm one of them) represent most of the users so far-- and Buddhism is a relatively new tradition and people tend to have a very shallow knowledge of the topic, usually highly influenced by DT Suzuki Zen. – MatthewMartin Jun 29 '14 at 19:56
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    re: wikipedia-- all sites have the problem. I rack up easy rep every day on Stackflow by doing other people's googling for them. Any new site is going to feel like copying wikipedia into SE until all the obvious questions are finally asked and out of the way. – MatthewMartin Jun 29 '14 at 19:58
  • perhaps you are right – Andrei Volkov Jun 29 '14 at 20:07
  • @AndreiVolkov, I agree (some of my own questions included). I wonder if we're all open to the possibility that although we passed Beta, Buddhism may simply not be suited to SE? That said, there's no reason it shouldn't be if other "religions" manage to get by, but increasingly I wonder if the straight Q&A on which SE is predicated really works for these kinds of things. Shrug. – tkp Jul 2 '14 at 1:39
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    I just had some enlightening suggestions given to me in a chatroom for moderators of all SE.Religions sites, perhaps we can learn something from them. A thing or two :) – Andrei Volkov Jul 2 '14 at 2:32
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I think a balance needs to be struck. We do not want to be too "brutal", otherwise it can be hard for new people to join and participate, since you need a certain amount of reputation points to do so.

For example, on sites like Stack Overflow, their base of experts who are more heavy-handed with their critiques has grown to a point where it creates an issue for a lot of newcomers: you need reputation points to ask questions, and if you don't ask the "best" questions (most beginners probably won't, which is why they are learning), then you get downvoted, which negatively affects your reputation, which inhibits your ability to participate further. Full disclosure--this is the predicament that my colleagues and I find ourselves in with that site and others like it.

Buddhism is not like programming, it is a religion. It is not a meritocracy (whether any field is can be a discussion somewhere else). It is not just for people who can argue the best, there are no exams, and no grades. It is no secret that English-speaking Buddhism can seem too proof-based, since we still take western scholasticism for granted. This can be quite a turn-off to lay Buddhists who do not take that approach for granted, so we should tread carefully, especially questions that have to do with the cultural aspects of Buddhism that may or may not be taken from any one sutra, but is nonetheless a part of how many people practice Buddhism.

Also, "Right Speech" shouldn't be invoked just because someone doesn't like a critique. I think if that should be a "flag", the explanation of why a comment is flagged as such should be very specific.

Here are my personal observations: People are less "nice" when discussing topics on the internet in general, and topics like Buddhism are no exception. So I do not think that our standards for a community have to be much different from others: we don't always have to avoid critiquing someone, but we should respect the fact that were are talking to other humans, not boxes on a screen.

4

I think that Buddhism and right speech should make it easier for us to deal with ignorant or misguided comments/posts on this site. On any SE site, the point of downvoting, closing, and flagging is to help others, not to punish. On any SE site, you get the best out of people's ideas and contributions by encouraging and teaching them. We downvote questions when they are unclear or low-value, to encourage people to think before asking and to revise their questions. We close questions that are harmful to the community to protect others, and to set a standard for the site that everyone can see on the front page. We downvote answers that are unarguably wrong, to avoid newcomers thinking such answers represent mainstream belief or practice. And throughout all this, we explain sensitively why we do it, so that the user who has misstepped understands his mistake, and wishes to learn and participate further, which in turn helps him to observe right-speech (by not posting misleading answers or unhelpful questions).

Anyone familiar with the idea of "pushing down with one hand to lift up with the other" should have no trouble with dealing with other users sensitively even when doing apparently-negative actions like downvoting and flagging. As Sophie says, the tricky part is to remember that every username has behind it a person, with the same Buddha-nature as yourself, and the goal of all of us here is to help all people to realise that potential.

Speaking for myself, I find sites like this the easiest way to practise right speech. It may be easier in face-to-face conversations to remember that you're dealing with a human, but the immediacy also makes it much easier to lose your head, and speak hurtfully in anger or falsely in haste. Online, if you start to observe this tendency in your behaviour, it's much easier to step away and give yourself time to come up with a more helpful response.

4

Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum.

I think it needs to be made clear to all visitors that Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. And I don't think this should become a Buddhism discussion forum either. After all, there are plenty of those on the Internet. Dhamma Wheel and Dharma Wheel are ideal places to have long, extended discussions involving personal opinions and experiences on Buddhism.

Buddhism Stack Exchange should be the definitive site for authoritative, well-sourced answers to questions on Buddhism.

A good Stack Exchange answer is typically accompanied by references to established sources. For Buddhism, these would include the Pali Tipitaka, the Sanskrit Tripitaka, Mahayana sutras, Prajna Paramita, and authoritative commentaries.

Unsourced personal opinions and discussions belong in comments, not in answers! Again, the point of having a Stack Exchange site in the first place is rigorous Q&A. This place should not become yet another discussion forum.

I do think we need more moderators to raise awareness on this site regarding how Stack Exchange works. Sorry if this comes across as terse, but I don't see why typical forum-style posts should belong on Stack Exchange. I assure everyone it's nothing personal at all.

2

One SE custom that gives me a tiny pause for thought is the reputation score. I confess I think I'm getting a wee bit attached to seeing it get higher :-)

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    it's like all the video games I've played in life.. "leveling up" always gets addicting. :) – Sāmaṇera Jayantha Jul 9 '14 at 0:54
-1

Based on my recent experience on Isn't Buddhist insight practice more scientific than the so-called scientific method? I wouldn't say that we're too nice. Ad hominem arguments are never nice.

  • That's too bad. I was hoping we'd have the problem of being too nice. – MatthewMartin Jul 1 '14 at 22:07
  • And my answer has now been deleted by our new pro tempore moderator yuttadhammo. I think I'll be going now... – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 0:15
  • Stack Exchange customs take some getting used to. When things get heated, threads get deleted. (It's happened to me too) Sorry it didn't work out for you. – MatthewMartin Jul 2 '14 at 0:18
  • Oh no, the thread wasn't deleted. My answer was deleted, apparently because it contradicted yuttadhamo's answer and because I voted to close the question according to SE guidelines. Enjoy the new regime! :-P – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 0:21
  • @empty, I was wondering how come your name became "empty" :-) But come back, don't leave yet! Give it a chance -- it's a new group and we're finding our way. See my response to your "ad hominem" thing. I really wasn't attacking you, but if it came across that way (or maybe I was and just wasn't careful enough), I apologize. – tkp Jul 2 '14 at 1:35
  • My name is "empty" until the moderators are able to delete my account. At my request. – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 2:59
  • @empty no, my converting your answer to a comment didn't have anything to do with conflict; your answer wasn't an answer, it was an argument as to why the question should be closed. – yuttadhammo Jul 2 '14 at 11:19
  • I know it's easy to take things personally on the Internet, but I assure you, I was attacking your arguments, which I felt were biased towards materialism, not your person. I'm sorry to hear you plan to leave. – yuttadhammo Jul 2 '14 at 11:21
  • @yuttadhammo, my comments were for closing the question. My answer contradicted the answers which had a strong bias towards spiritualism, to use your terminology. I am a materialist and a rationalist and there is clearly no place for me in this forum. Not your fault, I just picked the wrong neighborhood to live in. I should be living next to Stephen Batchelor's house. – user50 Jul 2 '14 at 13:31
  • @empty my perception was that your answer was not an answer; I'll go back and take another look. – yuttadhammo Jul 2 '14 at 13:36
  • @empty, would you be surprised to hear that my concern is that materialism is in danger of getting too much of a hold here? That whole area is contentious, so it can get raucous. But it's better to stay in the debate. I'm not a materialist(1) but I value mannerly debate with materialists, so I can either further refine my views or change them (my views). (1) But neither am I a "spiritualist"! There are many different positions to be taken on that front, and "spiritualist" is not remotely the alternative to "materialist" :-) – tkp Jul 2 '14 at 15:19
  • @Tommy, that's exactly the problem. The terms "spiritualist" and "materialist" have been debased into slurs. They are both valid philosophical positions. We need a new pair of terms without the ugly connotations. – user50 Jul 3 '14 at 17:08

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