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I have been helped very, very much by posters on this this site for several years now, and have learned a tremendous amount about Judaism as a result of their profound knowledge and generosity of spirit. For this, I wish to offer my sincere thanks, and I know I am not alone in wanting to do so. (And I hope the vast majority of the people reading this question will understand that the grievances I express have nothing to do with them.)

That said, I am pretty sure I am one of very few frequent users of this site who is both 1) completely unaffiliated with the site's founding, administration, and management; and 2) a woman. I wish to offer my perspective on the experience of using this site as one of the few people in this category, since I'm guessing this site's management would at some point like to attract the activity of more female members of the public--or more members of the public period.

As often as I have been surprised and pleased by the care and quality of questions and answers on the site, I have been appalled by instances of aggressive, power-hungry, and frankly rude behavior of a few high-frequency posters, all of whom have "job titles" on this site. (In the interest of avoiding both loshon hara and inaccuracy, I won't be more specific than that.) The eagerness of certain moderators to edit and/or delete any and every new question--and sometimes to edit questions hastily and incompetently--at times starts to suggest mini-power trips rather than any conscious improvement of the site. The willingness of the same people to scold and snarl at posters for perceived errors and inadequacies in their contributions is completely out of control.

Having observed this around MiYodeya for a long time now, and having occasionally been a victim, I now very much want to find a new place to post my questions about Judaism.

I doubt I am alone.

I wonder if anyone is monitoring the retention rates of new visitors to Mi.Yodeya--that is, the likelihood that a member who posts a question once will at some point post another. I would guess that such rates are very low. (EDIT: Please see IsaacMoses's comment in response to this claim; he observes that the rates are fine.) I would also guess that the moderators don't care, because these people's questions aren't "good enough" to be what they're interested in. If you think I'm inventing a straw man here, please observe this comment that was posted to one of my questions by a moderator--not, I might add, out of keeping with this moderator's usual style:

"@SAH I am a person too, and if you want me and other real people to continue spending our time and effort helping random people like you find answers, you should consider trying to organize your thoughts on this site in a way which is easy for us to follow and which stimulates our interest in the matter such that we would want to help you. It's the kind thing to do for someone asking for help, I would think, especially from a stranger."

Entitlement, arrogance, and complete disdain for public visitors do not a professional, well-organized website make. (Nor are these attitudes which will attract or retain many new contributors from outside the ranks of the staff.)

I am a member of several other .SE communities, and I must say I have been floored by the level of civility and normalcy "out there." I have never had trouble with either members or moderators of other sites on StackExchange. Not to say that problems don't exist; just to say that these sites don't turn off first-time visitors and rising contributors the way this one does. Could it be that there is something to learn?

  • FWIW the comment you quote was actually upvoted. – Double AA Feb 13 '15 at 14:03
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    I am guilty of some of the wrongs delineated here and am trying to improve. But if I'm guilty of, specifically, "edit[ing] questions hastily and incompetently" or even of wrongly "edit[ing] and/or delet[ing] any and every new question", then could you please give me a couple of examples? I'd like to know what edits of mine are bad or too much. Here in a comment is fine; for more privacy you can include it in a flag for mod attention or e-mail me (the server is later redacted and the mailbox is later redacted). Thanks. – msh210 Feb 13 '15 at 14:18
  • @msh210 You're not guilty. But thanks a lot for your attention to this question as a mod. I really do appreciate it. – anon Feb 13 '15 at 14:20
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    Most of the people around here are, and most of the posts come from "completely unaffiliated with the site's founding, administration, and management." I suspect that you're right about there being relatively few women, though – Isaac Moses Feb 13 '15 at 14:21
  • @IsaacMoses Most by numbers--of course! It would be completely unheard of to have a public site (.SE for example) in which that were not the case. I'm just talking statistically, among "frequent users" as judged by the percentile ranks--I think it's a disportionately low percentage. – anon Feb 13 '15 at 14:24
  • @SAH, I have demonstrated otherwise in comments on a previous post of yours, using concrete evidence. – Isaac Moses Feb 13 '15 at 14:25
  • @IsaacMoses You're right, I shouldn't have said "very few," which implies a literal count – anon Feb 13 '15 at 14:25
  • @IsaacMoses I remember not being convinced. But honestly it's neither here nor there. – anon Feb 13 '15 at 14:26
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    @SAH I am deeply sorry that you are feeling turned away by this site; I hate to see anybody leave, but especially those who have contributed a lot over a long period of time like you. Since you named me in your post, would you be willing to discuss this with me further in a less-public venue? – Monica Cellio Feb 13 '15 at 14:32
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    I whipped up a "user retention" query: Percent of people who have posted on one day that have come back to post on another day. Results: MY 33%; Christianity 26%; BH 27%; Skeptics 32%; English 28%; Physics 35%; Travel 23%; Money 29%. This is anecdotal, but not cherry-picked. I have run only these so far, picking sites that are our peers in some way off the top of my head. Of these, we're on the higher end in terms of retention. – Isaac Moses Feb 13 '15 at 14:40
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    I know that there are things you don't like here, and that there are things we genuinely need to work on, and I am know that there are others who have visited MY who feel similarly to you. However, I am unconvinced that the issues you raise represent an existential challenge or an ingrained cultural ill. – Isaac Moses Feb 13 '15 at 14:45
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    I would be sincerely very interested to hear more (perhaps in the form of a dedicated post constructively suggesting improvement) about your experience as a female user. As I said, I believe and have reason to that women are in the significant minority here, but for the most part, people here can't tell others' gender. I have seen very few, if any, instances of overt mistreatment of female users here, but maybe I'm overlooking something more subtle. – Isaac Moses Feb 13 '15 at 14:57
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    @SAH Please feel free to continue to post on Meta. There'd be nothing wrong with posting a question along the lines of "What's it like for women here?" (though hopefully somewhat more focused) and then posting your own answer. I am not an administrator, just a very long-standing user. You have as much right to post to Meta as I or anyone else around here does. The best way to discuss this stuff is here in Meta or in our chat room. I can't imagine a need, based on this conversation, for off-line discussion, but if it's needed, you can ... – Isaac Moses Feb 15 '15 at 6:05
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    ... find an email address in my profile. The retention query I posted above doesn't account for deleted posts, since they aren't in the data dump that the queries can access. It doesn't differentiate between closed or not closed posts. I was actually thinking before Shabbat of doing some more digging along those lines. I'll let you know if I come up with useful queries for that. – Isaac Moses Feb 15 '15 at 6:06
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    ... Here's my first hack at this. Users who have posted (non-deleted) Q/A: 2612. Users who have posted and then posted at least once over 24 hours later (overall retention): 842 (32%). Users who have had a closure within 24 hours of first post: 187. Number of those retained (as above): 44 (24%). This could be lower because of people getting turned off or because people who post something closeworthy are more likely to be drive-bys. – Isaac Moses Feb 15 '15 at 7:29
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All the Stack Exchange sites have these problems at least a little bit. ‹Lashon hara› On Programmers and Stack Overflow, people are sometimes way more obnoxious than on Mi Yodeya and on History.SE there are some people always clamoring to close questions. ‹/Lashon hara› I too have bumped heads with mods occasionally, but I try very hard to not hold it against them long-term.

When conversing in text, it is too easy for subtleties like tone and intent to get lost, so it becomes even more important to judge each other with generosity. That being said, I have not found another site where people have a comparable knowledge (in both breadth and depth) of Judaism. For comparison, many (not all) of the "Jewish" questions and answers on Quora are either shallow or from outsiders with an suspicious agenda.

Thank you for raising this as an issue, rather than just abandoning the community. To thrive, we need many different Jewish voices. I, for one, think that it is a great thing that we have so many different kinds of Jews on here, even if we butt heads once in a while.

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I'm glad that you addressed this very topic. When I began about 8 months ago, for about two months, I felt the same attitude. But I realized a few things that have kept me on the site:

  • Anonymity combined with the web, I think, overall are good things. In other words, while I know that there's a human behind the comments and answers, I don't have to develop any relationship with that person, and it's easier because I DON'T know the real person, either. Even when a person leave me a snarky remark, OK, I'm sometimes appalled, but if I need to, I either fire a polite quick shot back, or I ignore it completely. Most people do apologize; some are too pompous and / or stupid to even acknowledge they did anything wrong. In either case, but esp. the 2nd case (the stupid ones), I let it go and move on.

    Remember one important thing, here. Everything is on a computer. The computer has no feelings. Add to that the fact that the person typing (including me, now) is anonymous and so are you to them. If you're peeved for a long time, no one really knows that. My point is, ignore the nonsense that inevitably will appear.

  • The vast majority of posters and commenters, here, are extremely polite - some are even "mentches". You can tell who's a mentch by the tone of their comments and answers.

  • Overall, I think the content is more important than the tone. Personally, I have gained a lot of useful information, and the links in some of the questions and answers have made this site a mini "library" for me. People post ideas and links that I probably would not find as easily if I tried searching, elsewhere.

Having said that, I will agree that there are a few moderators who occasionally have made me lose a few hairs, in the past. But after I've thought it over and calmed down, I realize that perhaps losing a few hairs makes my barber's job easier :-)

  • @Nafkamina Funny -I am usually leery of surveys because stats can be skewed to whatever purpose people want. Problem is, that we are voicing this in "Meta", which, at least for me, seems to be a "hidden" area of this site. I rarely read it, and I assume that goes for the maj. of other site users. Your complaint is useful, but I am also realistically skeptical that little WILL be done, though much SHOULD be done. I also don't get some of the really nasty comments from a few of the same people, and it's done repetitively, too! I guess, some people really are clueless! FWIW, you have my vote. – DanF Feb 17 '15 at 18:39
  • @Nafkamina - Tough one. Perhaps if there was a "review" section about the site itself? Don't know if that's possible. By comparison, I find hotel reviews somewhat useful, though even they don't give the real story. – DanF Feb 17 '15 at 18:51
  • i wonder how helpful that might be, it might just turn into a forum to complain about every little downvote – Shoel U'Meishiv Feb 17 '15 at 18:59
  • DanF and @Nafkamina, as mentioned in Scimonster's answer, you can always flag individual comments that you consider problematic, and your flag will be visible to Mi Yodeya moderators as well as Stack Exchange staff. You can also post a reply comment directly, explaining politely and clearly what your objection is, and that will be visible publicly ad locum. Linking, in such a comment, to a relevant post on Meta could be helpful for raising awareness of the latter. Bear in mind that any mechanism you try to invent for meta-discussion ... – Isaac Moses Feb 18 '15 at 14:52
  • ... is unlikely to ultimately have better visibility than Meta or Chat, and is unlikely to attract any more attention from users who are interested in main site content and not in the mechanics of the community. Finally, here's an old Meta question that you might be interested in. – Isaac Moses Feb 18 '15 at 14:53
  • Dan and Nafkamina: check out meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/q/3433/5323; this problem has been noted, and a bunch of people have been working on it. – Shokhet Feb 20 '15 at 5:47
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Sorry to hear you've had some trouble with Mi Yodeya. The issue you brought up (of directness coming out rudely) was actually recently brought up, and much of the community resolved to do better.

How should we ask for improvements to questions and answers?

While i only speak for myself here, i know that in the past i have posted "what makes you think x" comments, while more recent ones are of the form "What makes you think x? Editing that in would make it a stronger question, which will let us answer better."

So, i'm hoping you'll give us another chance, while people get used to this. And, if you still find people coming across as too rude, feel free to post here in Meta, bring it up in chat, or raise a custom flag for the mods.

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    Raising a flag has only limited value if the OP has specifically stated the Mods as people with "job titles" are part of her problem. "What makes you think" they would effectively help? – BSteinhurst Feb 13 '15 at 13:29
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    It brings it to their attention. The mods certainly don't try to turn people off. It just sometimes happens. – Scimonster Feb 13 '15 at 13:30
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    I agree with Scimonster. I think that it's often a problem of being too terse; when people forget to add padding to their comments, as described in this answer, people have room to misinterpret that comment as aggressive, even though nothing was implied other than "Do you have a source for that assumption?" I've also had trouble with this, and I'm also trying to improve. @BSteinhurst – Shokhet Feb 13 '15 at 13:55
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    @BSteinhurst all SE community managers can also see flags and how the mod team handled them. (They can pretty much see anything.) So if the problem is the mod team (or a portion of it), the CMs can audit that. – Monica Cellio Feb 13 '15 at 14:35
  • @MonicaCellio - A lot of it really is in the tone and phrasing. E.g. - "What makes you think it is?" can seem dismissive vs. "Please explain or expand on why you think it is" sounds like you are interested in more information. – DanF Feb 17 '15 at 22:50
  • @DanF I agree. See my answer to the linked post. – Monica Cellio Feb 17 '15 at 22:56
  • @MonicaCellio - Yes. I saw that after I commented, here, and commented to your super-duper answer, there :-) – DanF Feb 17 '15 at 23:10
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This is somewhat of what I was trying to get at here as well (obviously from a different point of view, but with that observation that the QA and rules involved can turn people off).

The rules are a double edged sword. On the one hand, they define and focus the community in important ways that keep personal animosity down. Who would want a food fight? Join a discussion form if you want to argue about why X is so obviously superior to Y, etc.

On the other hand, they do provide a tool where people feel poked and cut when they try to post something.

I also want to add a point about seeing it from the moderator's perspective. They see a lot of rude, offensive and just plain garbage questions and answers from new users. Most users don't see those because they get deleted. It creates a quick presumption about answers which are not that way. A moderator has a lot of power in that their decisions are implemented immediately and not necessarily with consensus (certainly not that is visible to users).

So it is complicated. I think any other site will face the same challenges, and I'm skeptical that they do the balance better, although they may do it differently that may be more to an individual's liking (e.g. more freewheeling discussion with the attendant downsides).

BTW, contrary to the question's observation, I have seen several stack exchange sites that exhibit the same behavior, including top ones (I can name them if anyone thinks that would be productive). I see the same root cause: A strong adherence to the rules, combined with a topic that new users intuitively associate with a broader scope than the rules allow, frequented by experts who don't really relate to the effort it takes a novice in a topic to formulate a question to the standards they take as obvious.

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    The novice vs. expert distinction is particularly important here since the work involved in becoming an expert includes a way of defining what "good" questions are and what counts as "good" answers. Those tools are part of the training and it appears that many members of this community had that training at a much younger age than others did. I for one never really did and other members are in the midst of it now. – BSteinhurst Feb 13 '15 at 18:59
  • WRT other SE sites, SO is a prime example of strict adherence to the rules, and a lot of people wandering in and misunderstanding the scope. – Scimonster Feb 14 '15 at 22:13
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    @Yishai, thanks for your answer. I think the last sentence rings really true. I might add that, as a baalat teshuvah--to say nothing about the Jews and non-Jews even more distant from our tradition who may try to post here--it was initially very hard to get a good understanding of the axiomatic assumptions that underlie Jewish law and thought. I remember having rubbed some machers here the wrong way with my apparent ignorance and lack of understanding of the theoretical frame. Sadly, I continue to see this happen to lots of people here. I always feel for them but feel powerless to do anything. – SAH Feb 15 '15 at 0:37

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