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I've noticed a recurring phenomenon:

  • New user apparently created an account to ask a specific question (often, ).
  • New user disappears after a day or two, not having received an answer.
  • Someone answers the question with a good answer say, two or three days after the question is asked.
  • The new user who asked the question never sees the answer due to giving up too quickly.

Here are two examples I noticed recently:

Is there something we can do to help new users understand that it is worthwhile to come back some time later? The people answering are not necessarily available right away!

The current situation is frustrating for two reasons:

  1. The user leaves without getting an answer and remains with their mystery, possibly unnecessarily
  2. The person who answers puts effort in wanting to help; it is frustrating to not succeed in helping. (Yes, I know, it might help someone else later. But still...)

Is there anything we can do to encourage these new users to not give up so quickly? Something explained to them when they first sign up, perhaps?

I have seen this discussion about whether to allow community acceptance of the answer in some of these cases. This is also a valid point, focusing on improving the effectiveness of the site in general. I am approaching a similar issue from a different angle -- how to better help these new users.

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  • I'd also be interested in what we can do to prevent the other phenomenon, which is when the user finds what they were looking for, posts it as a comment/question edit, and never comes back to post it as a proper answer. I expect there's not a lot we can do about either, to be honest. – F1Krazy Oct 7 '19 at 12:45
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    It’s also possible that the user sees the answer, just not while logged in. Not everyone cares about keeping a single account or any account at all, particularly new users – Laurel Oct 7 '19 at 13:09
  • This phenomenon exists on just about every forum. The question isn't whether or not it exists at all, but rather the extent to which it is present. From my personal experience, the extent of this phenomenon here is fairly small compared to many other forums. I, for one, would need some kind of statistical data before I believe that this is a real issue. – Misha R Oct 25 '19 at 19:26
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In short there isn't much we can do on the Stack Exchange platform as it is a question and answer site, not like your regular discussion forums. As such interactions, with new users, are limited to comments and answers. There's very little you can do in comments to encourage them to stay and not much at all in answers. Here are a few possible things we can do:

  • Leave a comment: A big part of someone wanting to stay is interacting with those already here. I wouldn't just leave a comment for the sake of leaving one, find something useful to add and add it. You could suggest an improvement, or if you directly edit, say what you did and why. If it's a post and they could do with adding some details suggest what and also link them to our handy guide. You could always remind them to check back later for a later answer but that probably won't help.

  • Edit the post: Like above if you find something you can improve do so! It helps the user, post and site out. I'd also suggest leaving a comment when doing so, if appropriate, to say why you did it i.e. "Your paragraphs weren't formatting correctly because you only used one line break and you need two. I've fixed this for you!".

Beyond that there isn't much you can do. A quick, correct and detailed answer will always help but that's not something that is always possible so it's not really advisable to try and get an answer i.e. don't force an answer just because.

I'd like to point out though that there are other things going on here that contribute to these so-called "drive by users". Most of these accounts are unregistered and so are cookie based. That means that the accounts are only temporary and it won't be long before they lose access to the account. See here for more detail. That means that whilst it looks like they haven't been back to check on the post they might have done but we just can't tell. We have had a few cases where a second account has "accepted" the answer or suggested an edit to add new information in. The users don't always give up they just can't log back in again. If you encounter this you can always link them to the other linked page and the help page on merging accounts.

The general way of retaining users though is providing content that they are interested in. No one is going to stick around if what they are most interested in gets zero attention. To do this we just want to keep providing lots of quality questions and answers and keep the site fresh. That has nothing to do with keeping a specific user but to do with attracting more and retaining them when they are here.

I actually spoke about a few ways of retaining users and getting content on Arqade a while back. Not all are too relevant here at the moment though so I'll leave you to read that post if you want to.

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    +1 to the idea that they may have looked at it, just not signed in. I'm assuming that that happens a lot based on the sheer volume of "thank you" comments from similarly named accounts. – Valorum Oct 7 '19 at 10:07
  • @Valorum It happens a lot even when the user signs back into their account. People are just more used to commenting than the SE acceptance system. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 7 '19 at 10:09
  • Thank you. I find it encouraging that they might have looked at it without signing in. I'd hate for the other guy to walk around wondering about that book (I know the feeling!) when the answer is right here! – Basya Oct 7 '19 at 13:34
  • @TheLethalCarrot I'm talking about cases where they clearly did not sign in (and I was assuming that meant they never came back). So no comments either.... – Basya Oct 7 '19 at 13:35
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    @Basya It's very unlikely someone would ask a question and then never look at it again. 99% of the time there is another reason why it would appear why they haven't checked back. – TheLethalCarrot Oct 7 '19 at 13:35
  • That does make me feel much better! – Basya Oct 7 '19 at 13:36
  • +1 for unregistered accounts, because it's too often the case that the OP lost the access to their account after (un)deliberately clearing the cookie. Though there's also a possibility that the OP also asks the same question on other sites and gets the answer quicker and thus, ignores the question on SE... – Andrew T. Oct 10 '19 at 15:09
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    @AndrewT. I agree with almost everything you say except getting an answer faster elsewhere. :) – DavidW Oct 10 '19 at 21:36
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The attrition of one-shot users is possibly a consequence of the fact that those users are attracted here for one purpose alone; to solve that one problem. They are simply not interested in the social media aspect.

Remember that "we're working together to build a library of detailed answers to every question about science fiction or fantasy." This is a library, SE owns the question once it is posted. SE does not advertise itself as a personal rapid book identification service. We are content to let the question stew a while, and allow the right person to provide and expert answer for the benefit of the library, not for the benefit of one user. The OP has "accept" and edit privileges to their own post as a membership incentive, so we can attract a larger talent pool.

SE is already addressing the problem via the reputation-based privilege system. Those one-shot users don't have enough influence to really impact the system. The problem is fairly well contained. I think we won't run out of shelfspace :)

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    I think the question at hand is "how do we get them to borrow a second (and third, fourth, fifth) book". This answer doesn't really address that other than to say "it's all fine", which I suspect OP would disagree with – Valorum Oct 15 '19 at 17:04
  • The answer to that question is to change the business model from a library of expert answers into a personal book-shopping service. That would certainly motivate repeat customers. It seems the question at hand may simply misunderstand what is happening here. The OP answered this in the question: "The people answering are not necessarily available right away!" And they never will be. – Vogon Poet Oct 15 '19 at 19:28

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