Being flooded by non-professionals, a ServerFault problem

This conversation seems to come in waves, but there is a growing sentiment in the community that ServerFault is beginning to drown in the clueless. This is of concern for several reasons:

  • When sysadmins feel besieged they get mean.
  • When long-time answerers feel that they're being taken advantage of, they leave.
  • When the site looks like a bunch of first-timers asking questions, it is not inviting to the long-time pros we're looking to attract.

All of this is bad for the community. When sysadmins revert to dragon-in-the-datacenter behavior it certainly does drive people off the site; this is intended, but the the effects are more damaging than the egos of the driven-off. We have had long time answerers leave the site specifically because they got tired of answering the same few basic-basic questions over and over again, and then got tired of closing-as-duplicate those answers once a canonical answer was created.

ServerFault is unique among StackExchanges (for released sites; one or two in beta are thinking of going the same route) in being focused on professionals, and not anyone with an interest who can talk intelligently. This is a purposeful restriction in target-market, and as it turns out it's really hard to do it right when also going for open-admission.

The problem is this:


There are a lot more unprofessional sysadmins out there than professional ones. A LOT more. This is a classic long-tail problem. Previous attempts at building gathering-houses for sysadmins to share knowledge have gone the closed-admission route as a way of filtering the population, but none of them ever gained the ubiquity of StackOverflow. Or came even close.

Part of it is simple discoverability; if people don't know about it, they won't know that joining is a good idea.

Part of it is barriers; by giving a hurdle to get over, the lazyAdmin won't bother going over that hurdle unless they know darned good and well that it's worth the effort.

The StackOverflow model improves both of those by leaps and bounds. But what's to prevent it from turning into an IRC-style cesspit of snarkasm, mockery and belittling? That's the hard part. So far ServerFault has done pretty good in keeping it from falling into the IRC pitfalls, but it's continual work. 

Another problem we're facing is that our discoverability has improved over the last year:

But our question and answer rates are flat or weakly growing. Being more discoverable means that a larger portion of people interested in "server stuff" can find the site. However, due to the proportions of those people being unprofessional (by the SF community consensus definition of it) being rather small, it means that we should be seeing an overall increase in question-rates.

Since question growth is flatish, where does the perception of being flooded with the unclued come from? Worryingly, it could come from more clued users leaving us and being replaced by the untrained hoards. This is causing frustration, whatever the cause.

We've made it this far by being good about not using snark and mockery to correct those who stray from the best-practices path. If we want ServerFault to continue growing in the good way, we need to keep that up.


Geeze louise, how old do you think I am???

I can name 10 people that have been sysadmins 10 years longer than me.


How many of those 10 people invented standard UNIX commands with names of three or fewer characters?


Of those 10, how many hold fond memories of a VAX or Symbolics machine?