'New to Stan' category in forum

Stan is a little tough to get going with and there is no good place to comfortably get help. I certainly would not post dumb questions to the ‘General’ category.

If Discourse can do sticky topics then we can handle the common learning Stan problems there.
Any thoughts?


Ben set up a lot of these on the old lists. We can try to collect FAQs, but the problem with Stan isn’t that there’s too little written on it, but that there’s too much.

The website was rewritten to consolidate much of that info and to try and help new users identify important material, but that will help only so much. The forum has an FAQ but that’s nominally about the forum itself, plus it’s not that easy to find. A modeling FAQ would probably be useful, but the best we can do is stick in a “Have you tried reading the modeling FAQ first?” in every answer template.

I thought @breckbaldwin was suggesting that it would be helpful to have a space where it would be socially acceptable to ask a FAQ and get an answer from a friendly mentor. The newbie doesn’t always have enough expertise to recognize the question inside the FAQ or to understand the answer presented there.

For a newbie, the interaction with a human being can be as important as the information itself. @Bob_Carpenter is right that there’s too much static information; archived interactions cannot take the place of live interactions.

This is my first time using discourse and don’t know anything about “sticky topics,” but it would be nice to have a sub-forum called “Newbie Incubation Chamber” or something. I’d probably read, ask, and perhaps even answer questions there.

Around 2005, kernelnewbies.org was a great place like that. You could ask a question that wouldn’t be appropriate for the Linux Kernel Mailing List and get a mix of mediocre and good answers, with an occasional jackpot when someone like Greg Kroah-Hartman swooped in with a knowledge bomb.

A “Have you read the FAQ?” template would be appropriate for an experts-only forum if there was a newbies forum. Even communities that have a near-perfect FAQ benefit from having a welcoming place where newbies can ask a “dumb question” and feel safe.

1 Like

And over time that newbies forum accumulates knowledge that new newbies can find on google without re-asking.

Sure but in general we try to answer questions as thought newbie questions are ok. Sometimes people arrive without reading much of anything or even trying to run a basic model and we suggest they read a section of the manual or run a basic model but that should be as bad as it gets. If you’re seeing worse behavior than that please point it out.

Discourse only allows one major topic per post. So you’re thinking of a topic for new users specifically that spans all the other topics? So if a new user is having problems installing Stan, do they post in the installation topic for their interface or in the new user topic?

If people would be more comfortable asking questions that way, the only harm would be a homogenous newbie topic. I’d be OK with it as long as it didn’t get out of hand; one way to do that would be to get recently non-newbies answering some of the questions. I’m intentionally trying to hold off answering things to give other people a chance to answer.

What I do not want to do is open a floodgate of “can you walk me through what I’m doing one post at a time” exchanges, which we already get too many of.

@ecashin said it better than I did and “Newbie Incubation Chamber” is a fine name/concept.

@Bob_Carpenter has legit concerns about help vampires (my phrasing) but might as well contain them in a category. As Stan gets more successful we are going to have to deal with it anyway. As for the all enveloping nature of the category it is probably not a bad thing if newbie class questions across Interfaces, Modeling, etc… get put in the Newbie category.

@sakrejda’s comment about the civility of the forum in general is indeed correct but as a socially sensitive person I would never ask “what basic books/software stack should I use” in the General category when posts are like “Need help with binary vectorization test”, “Default param in user function”–the first two posts in General. It feels like the wrong scale somehow.

I’d very much like to stay away from cute names. Just my preference.

I doubt many people do within-category searches—I don’t even know how to do that in Discourse and I never trust the metadata tags (in this case, that threads are tagged with topics in a consistent way).

My problem here is that there really aren’t “newbie” questions. New users have questions ranging in topic (modeling, interface use, etc) and difficulty (obvious compilation issues and easy parser errors to vague understanding of their problems that would require author-level participation to work out). All but the basic “how to use Stan” questions also carry over to more advanced users, and there’s no natural separation between the two. In particular, if we had a “newbie”-dedicated category then the more advanced modeling questions would probably not get answered, but then the user would feel even less comfortable jumping into the more advanced categories.

We definitely want to maintain civility so that people feel comfortable asking questions. And we want to encourage new users to feel comfortable asking questions. But we also need to set appropriate expectations: check for duplicates before asking, simple well-posed questions are more likely to be answered, and we don’t have the time to be statistics consulting on your project (unless we’re getting authorship, or a cut of a grant, or straight up paid!).

In my opinion having a separate new users category encourages any of that.

1 Like

Lots of good points all around.

I agree with the idea that there should be a place for more novice questions, possibly with the expectation that you’ll get an answer that’s less deep than what you may find on the rest of the forums.

I think the issue is in implementation. The discussion has lead to a few desired properties and a few things we want to avoid. Maybe it’s a good time to propose a few solutions and see how they hold up against what we want to accomplish? @breckbaldwin want to lead the way?