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My reading of the various pieces of stackexchange-network information about comments and chattiness would suggest that "Welcome to our site" comments on their own (absent any other text such as being part of a comment seeking clarification) would be seen as too chatty, but I've largely chosen to essentially ignore them in the hope that the members would sort out the CV policy on their own.

Now, however, such comments are being flagged, which puts a greater onus on moderators to do something (available options are either to delete the comment or decline the flag*). Which means it's probably past time to work out what to do.

*... or to leave the flags to sit there and stare at you witheringly, but there's reasons why that's a bad idea long-term

[My personal feeling is that the broader SE policy is there for a good reason, and that we should err on the side of staying with the network's general policies unless there's a good reason to choose otherwise -- so I'd lean toward removing them. I also see this as consistent with removing taglines and "hello everybody" and so on from questions. However - perhaps fortunately - where to draw the line locally is not really my decision.]

So are they too chatty? (and ... Should I reframe this as a vote?)

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  • $\begingroup$ Vaguely related $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Jan 25 '16 at 8:11
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    $\begingroup$ Personally I never post such messages, not out of a wish to be or seem impolite, but because I do other things. But I don't object at all to other people doing it and I would never flag such a message. As we are so often accused of poor treatment of new posters (e.g. meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/2903/… ) I say leave them be as signs of goodwill. One-sentence comments are only worth flagging if people turn offensive. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 25 '16 at 9:29
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    $\begingroup$ Also meta.stats.stackexchange.com/questions/2177/… $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 25 '16 at 9:33
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    $\begingroup$ Once the OP noticed such welcome messages (or after a few days), I usually remove them because comments were long considered as second class citizens on SE. However, other sites may have different policies (e.g., on tex.SE). $\endgroup$ – chl Jan 25 '16 at 10:20
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    $\begingroup$ @chl thanks -- the "remove after a few days" is an option worth considering. It's a pity there's no way to leave a reminder to pop up in say 48 hours $\endgroup$ – Glen_b Jan 25 '16 at 10:32
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    $\begingroup$ Whenever I get a chance, I review all my actions from a day or two ago. I have been surprised by how many follow-up actions this suggests! $\endgroup$ – whuber Jan 25 '16 at 14:44
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Welcome messages are not noise.

Early on in the life of this site, the SE Team actively encouraged posting comments to help people feel welcome. I therefore always decline flags that suggest those comments are "too chatty" and I usually keep the welcoming comment intact. I personally make an effort to identify newcomers who are likely to contribute beyond some immediate question and I post such comments myself. There is nothing like a tiny personal touch (inside this vast impersonal, troll-infested Internet) to make a big impact on a new user.

There are many things about the SE system that do not work very well, in part because it maintains inherently conflicting objectives. Each community therefore has to find, through trial and experience, an approach best suited to it. Even after five years we have attracted only a very tiny sliver of the community of people who study, know, or care about statistics and machine learning. We should continue to do everything we can to invite and keep more people. Let's make them feel welcome and appreciated. Let's not worry that doing so might violate some vague guideline about "chattiness."

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    $\begingroup$ I certainly appreciated the "welcome to the site" comment that I received when I first asked a question. It probably came from you. It was accompanied with further detail about what made my question good (well posed), which was affirming and useful at the time. There's not much chattiness on this site, so I don't see the harm in a welcome note, especially when it has some additional feedback. $\endgroup$ – Placidia Jan 25 '16 at 17:46
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I'd say flag them for deletion on those threads that have a lot of comments & answers—where clutter might be doing some harm—else leave them be.

So the policy would be this:

  • Welcoming new users to the site is a good thing; so please feel free to do so in comments, even if there's nothing else to say.

  • There's no need for purely phatic comments to be preserved for posterity:

    • Do delete your own once they've served their purpose, if & when you happen to come across them again. Don't feel obliged to hunt them all down—you've got better things to be doing.

    • When a post is looking cluttered, flag them for moderators to delete. If it isn't really, don't do anything—moderators have also got better things to be doing.

I don't think precise criteria for when a thread is cluttered need to be established. When the flag queue's getting long, moderators can start to decline the "too chatty" flags they judge unnecessary.

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It seems relatively clear to me that such comments are too chatty / mildly incongruent with SE policy. That said, it seems nice to welcome people to SE, especially in light of the fact that I have often seen CV being accused of being unfriendly to newcomers in meta.CV discussions.

I agree with @chl. If I ran the zoo, I'd check the OP's userpage to see if they've been around since the comment was left. If they had, I would delete the comment at that point—it has served its purpose. If they hadn't been around, but it's been a couple of days, they may be a drive-by asker and won't come back to attend to their question anyway; I'd probably delete. On the other hand, if the comment hasn't been there long, and the OP hasn't been back in the interim, I'd let it stay and check back in a couple days.

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    $\begingroup$ Sensible as always, but who does the clean-up removing old messages? If the implication is whoever posted the Welcome comments, I think that is a good policy, but I've not seen it before and it will be hard work getting that news spread among people who need to know. If the implication is that moderators should do it, I think they've all got more crucial things to do. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 25 '16 at 14:35
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    $\begingroup$ @NickCox, reasonable points. I suppose in the last case, I would just decline the flag. If it's reflagged later & meets either of the former conditions, then it would be deleted. I recognize this is a somewhat haphazard approach, though. $\endgroup$ – gung Jan 25 '16 at 14:42
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    $\begingroup$ Sorry to be unclear: I mean who is to check on users' accesses by looking at their pages. So far as I can see every Welcome message requires at least one check: that could be several every day. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 25 '16 at 14:46
  • $\begingroup$ The mods would have to check, @NickCox. $\endgroup$ – gung Jan 25 '16 at 14:58
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    $\begingroup$ Thanks for the clarification. It's therefore me proposing that "Welcome" messages are fine but if the consensus is that they are regarded as transient, then it's the job of the person putting them up to remove them. That's a conditional. As already commented, I don't object to them myself. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Jan 25 '16 at 15:07
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Deciding on whether to explicitly indulge on a "Welcome to the site" message for new posters is irrelevant if there is no agreement on what defines being welcoming.

The participants on our site are outstanding people, ready to help, educate, and lead by example in the pursuit of knowledge.

However, confusion becomes all too apparent when receiving a new post at odds with the guidelines of the site. For instance, on this post Wang Nick asked a question that is probably the only real challenge in getting the main idea behind PCA - the idea that the components are contributed to by all variables. His first question. He or she starts off apologetically, "I am new in PCA..." and explains the problem. Nothing unusual; yes, asked a million times before, and answered beautifully on the site. Possibly someone in the applied sciences being thrown to the lions by a mentor, and being asked to just figure it out. Who knows?

The first comment: "How about reading some book on statistics?" with one upvote.

The point that I want to make is that CV is not a professional organization, where members are vetted through a qualifying process. Nowhere does it say that anybody without thorough comprehension of linear algebra should stay out - and how boring would it be if it did...

The truth is that we all use data all the time if we participate in the political discourse, organize our finances, work in a corporation, or even simply watch TV. People with some spark of interest look things up, and try to understand. In the process they (we) discover CV, and muster the courage to risk making a fool of ourselves posting a question. Some of the best questions are provided by wide-eyed first impressions of probability or statistical concepts on complete neophytes. I would never ask now "Who are the bayesians?". Even though I don't know much more than I knew when I did, I have read too much about it and by Andrew Gelman since I wrote the question not to feel like a complete schmuck if I were to ask it now. But I can't think of any good questions that elicit a fraction of the interest that question raised.

We don't know initially where the person comes from, what his level of mathematics is (although this is quite apparent to the more advanced users), whether they had any training in statistics before (same caveat here), or even their age. But they are showing interest. Perhaps the person asking that question will not just read, but write the next canonical book on statistics. Perhaps... a positive response to that first question...

I would propose avoiding the following for first time questions:

  1. Down-voting first time posts.
  2. Voting to close the question without a kind explanation.
  3. Comments ad hominem - nothing along the lines of "as you should know", "if you had done a minimum of research you wouldn't be asking this", "your question is impossible to understand, makes no sense, without providing all this information that you obviously don't know, but should", etc. Simply state the facts in a plain, simple manner.
  4. Assuming familiarity with tags. If it seems as though it's a homework question, ask directly and instruct how to tag it appropriately; or if interested enough to comment in the first place, why not ask a more open-ended question about the background of the post?

How much nicer and productive, and encouraging is the comment by Richard Hardy: "I cannot follow you question well [my emphasis], but it seems that you might be confused about how PCA works. The principal components are linear combinations of original variables. Asking "which variable should I retain" does not make that much sense in the context of PCA [notice he doesn't say - it makes no sense. Period... It is in the context of PCA that is lacking in meaning]." He gives the answer to the person, so that he can go back to scrutinizing whatever sources of information are at his level, but without judging. A class act.

I often think of the quote in whuber's profile: "Why waste time learning, when ignorance is instantaneous?".

So let's truly embrace in the first comments and responses the people who choose to learn, with or without "welcome to the site".

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    $\begingroup$ I agree with #3 and #4. Unfortunately really bad questions from new users are most likely to be those that deserve downvotes and a downvote can be part of a strong signal that the question (not the user) is in very poor shape. Also, although ideally someone should explain why something is being downvoted, downvotes in agreement usually don't merit an extra comment. Being nice is wider than being positive and welcoming to new users; it includes the public service of reacting to the poor questions that would just mess up the forum. Ideally, they should be improved; otherwise deleted. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Feb 15 '16 at 8:09
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    $\begingroup$ "does not show any research effort" remains a criterion for downvoting; if anything it is underused. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Feb 15 '16 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ Sometimes the signal "you should really do some reading first" really is a fair signal, but some wordings are much more tactful and gentle than others. We are not obliged to meet the expectations of some that we can do their work or understanding for them. (Lest this be misread as typical condescension to non-statisticians, let me stress that I am not a statistician myself.) $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Feb 15 '16 at 9:39
  • $\begingroup$ @NickCox Can we close questions to keep the site free of weeds without down voting, simply voting to close, and giving an explanation? Otherwise, I always appreciate the thought in your comments, and don't disagree with anything in particular. $\endgroup$ – Antoni Parellada Feb 15 '16 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ Yes, we can do that; and by and large we do. But downvoting remains a way of expressing strong disapproval. For example, and uncontroversially, downvoting is a way to flag spam to each other, although moderator flags are even better. Occasionally downvoting is a way to send a signal, e.g. to some long-term users who persist in asking totally cryptic questions, or to people asking the same questions repeatedly. There are other reasons but detail or examples would be invidious. But it's simple: you are evidently a nice guy most unwilling to downvote and no-one will discourage you from that! $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Feb 15 '16 at 21:52
  • $\begingroup$ Here is an example. I know for a fact that this is one of the test questions in the Coursera course on Inferential statistics, because that's where I started learning approximately one year ago. It's about breathing disturbances during sleep in people with COPD. The poster probably won't reply, because he/she knows it's true, and at that point the question will probably be closed... or it should. $\endgroup$ – Antoni Parellada Feb 15 '16 at 22:40
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    $\begingroup$ The example is evidence for all stances. You were as nice as could be. OP didn't get they wanted, didn't expand, didn't apologise, as you say probably won't come back. The thread is of zero future value to anyone so far. $\endgroup$ – Nick Cox Feb 16 '16 at 17:05
  • $\begingroup$ I generally agree, but two comments: (1) Users with less than 3k rep. don't have the privilege to vote for closing a question; down-voting is what they're given by the SE system to "indicate when questions and answers are not useful". (2) It can be tricky to tell someone their question's not up to scratch in a way they appreciate when you don't know them personally; when English isn't your first language, or theirs; when your culture favours getting straight to the point & theirs tactfully beating around the bush; &c. $\endgroup$ – Scortchi Feb 26 '16 at 16:51

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