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How do you objectively quantify a discoverability problem if the designer insists it is your fault that you can't find something?

I am an user of this network of sites, which has a subsite for every occasion. They are quite touchy if you ask your question in the wrong site.

The problem is you can't easily tell what site is for what. For example, there is a site for when you are stuck while programming and there is a another site for when you are a programmer. I vaguely remember that in both sites they don't like questions about a programmer's career, but I was not sure so I wanted to double check, but I could not find the subpage that explains what topics are welcome and what are taboo even though I knew it was somewhere there.

For your consideration this is their landing page and this is where you ask new question. As you can see there are links to

  • how to ask
  • ask on meta
  • help centre
  • asking help
  • formatting help
  • and once again asking help

plus header help dropdown and huge footer.

I have scanned some of the links but could not find any eye popping "on topic/off topic" list. So as a good netizen I went to ask on their meta only to discover this is very very common problem. To my surprise, when I pointed our that there may be a discoverability problem I was told that the on topic/off topic info is clearly there under "that link" if only you click on "that menu" (kind of).

How do I quantify a discoverability issue to someone who thinks there is no such problem (despite at least 277 out of 5,658 meta questions being of this sort)?

Is this even a discoverability issue? If not, how would you categorise it? Information architecture?

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    Is this actually a question, or just a rant about why you don't like the IA of the StackExchange sites? Because it certainly reads like the latter. – JonW Mar 23 '15 at 13:06
  • I don't see where you see rant - it's clearly a question. Situation like this happens very often in client/designer scenario, how do you quantify that something is hard to find and should be changed, besides your personal, thus anecdotal evidence? – daniel.sedlacek Mar 23 '15 at 13:08
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    In the How to Ask section of the "ask question" page there's a link to the help. There you will find the links to the information you require. If you think that these links should be more prominent then come up with a positive solution and ask on Meta Stack Exchange. – ChrisF Mar 23 '15 at 13:15
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    Ask a Question > Asking Help > What topics can I ask about here? – Bill the Lizard Mar 23 '15 at 13:16
  • Not all of that was mine, by any means. I just adjusted an anonymous suggestion. – Andrew Leach Mar 23 '15 at 14:12
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SE is somewhat unique in that content must be qaulified to a particular sub-domain by some custom relevance. However, we can look at other content authoring sites such as youtube that use tagging in order to decide what searches and browsing your video should show up in, but its optional and doesn't even need to be accurate.

Here the goal should be to either guide the question to be within a particular format, redirect the question to a more appropriate subdomain, or dissuade the question from being asked at all, before the question is asked.

We know the help center isn't very effective, many questions are asked in complete ignorance of the help center. The ask a question page has a mechanism that informs of the accepted topics, but only while the cursor is focused in the topic textbox. We know that isn't very effective either.

What might be worth trying is to preempt the ability to ask a question with qualifying the question within the scope of the subdomain.

1) Tag your question with at least one of the acceptable scopes for that subdomain.

2) (Optional) Justification for a tag if the qualification is iffy.

3) (Optional) Flag your question as requesting a sanity check before publishing. This would put it in a bucket that only users with elevated trust could review/edit before giving you a thumbs up to go ahead and publish.

4) Publish question.

So that every time a user asks a question, they are reminded what the scope of the site is, and ask themselves how their question may fit or not fit that scope.

For programmers.se' particular case, they get a lot of career advice questions. One of the flags available for when qualifying a question could be career-advice. If the user selects this flag when qualifying their question for programmers.se, thats when you can stop the question from being asked, and display a message informing the user that the site is not intended for career advice, and giving directions for where to ask for career advice.

Whatever the solution, you'd want to maintain a streamlined question asking workflow, while lessening the exhausting amount of moderation required.

So in a way, flip the education on its head. Every time a question is asked, a short quiz is taken, with an optional peer review, and the scope of the site is reinforced for that user.

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The standard way to quantify these sorts of things is via user testing, using a task that goes along these lines:

You are a new user to this site and would like to ask a question about [some realistic question]. However, you are unsure whether this is the right site to ask such question. Please find the relevant part of the site that explains which question should or should not be asked on this site.

Then, you collect:

  • Task completion ratio
  • Error rate (mis navigation / branching of the ideal path)
  • Task completion times

All these can support a usability issue if such exist.

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Its a taboo to critique SE on SE. They've got some questionable security practices that are overlooked/forgiven because we are SE, but we're reluctant to admit they're real, even though we are very critical of other websites that do something similarly backwards. (Because you should know that stackoverflow, serverfault, superuser, etc, are legit SE sites, so give us you SE credentials, you fool~)

And of course you point out one of the biggest reasons for locked questions, the UI. No reasonable, non-biased user will defend the argument "you should have read the help center", we are UX, we know better than to assert that. People don't read the rules, EULA, ToS, or help center. So I think you asked this in the right place, we UX people are supposed to embrace the tendencies of the user, not condemn them.

However its still a taboo to critique SE on SE. I watched a YT video yesterday, the "Taboos of Science", and the Semmelweis reflex topic actually made me think of SE. Our expertise can sometimes get the better of us. How dare you~

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    This doesn't attempt to answer the question. – Bill the Lizard Mar 23 '15 at 13:32
  • Its the underlying issue. The answer "read the help center" will ultimately be the 'correct' answer, but it is not the answer. Accepting that there is a problem, which the OP strongly suggest, is the first step. Let the Semmelweis reflex commence~ – Andrew Hoffman Mar 23 '15 at 13:39
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    This isn't new information. There are whole sites dedicated to critiquing SE sites with the aim of improving them. This is just a rant where an answer is supposed to be. – Bill the Lizard Mar 23 '15 at 13:42
  • It is an answer that will explain the responses that daniel receives. You can call it a rant if you want. "Help Center" in response to a UX discoverability question isn't an answer either. – Andrew Hoffman Mar 23 '15 at 13:50

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