This is, I hope, a "constructive subjective question", within the spirit of stackexchange.

I am sometimes shocked in Chess Beta how apparently unwelcoming can be the responses to newcomers' questions. The question usually comes from someone who has reputation in single digits, and an overcritical response typically comes from someone who has 4 digits of reputation. As far as I can see, the recipients of such treatment do not come back for more.

Initial questions might be ill-expressed or somewhat off-topic: but they usually come from someone who is genuinely interested in chess, and has reached out to us across the internet. I think we need to always read their question charitably and help them towards the question that perhaps they were trying to ask. At the very least, the experience should be a positive one, that encourages them to remain in Chess Beta for the future and contribute better as they learn more of our recondite ways.

It seems to me that treating newcomers well is the single most important step we can take towards removing the "Beta" from our name. I base this subjective assertion (channeling the "Back It Up" principle developed in the Moms4Mom stackexchange) on what I have seen in other forums and groups over the years, and seeing niceness work. If we value this community, it's in our own interest to treat newcomers with a little bit more latitude. A guy with 1 reputation today might have 10,000 a couple of years from now and be a pillar of the community.

My suggestion: at the very least, can we agree that a newcomer should be told "Welcome!" That sounds trivial, but I really believe it would set the tone for the future experience of that newcomer.

Thanks for your time!

EDIT: Good to see the following Stack Overflow blog post. Note footnote 1:

"This post focuses on Stack Overflow, but most of it applies to the broader Stack Exchange network as well."

I don't think that our issue is nearly as bad as some other communities, but I wonder if that's because of our small size and Beta status.

A concrete point: not just in the spirit of kindness but also that of justice. Often when I look at the help centre about a closed "off-topic" post, it's extremely difficult to see how a post is actually off-topic given the criteria listed there. Frankly, there is judgement required, and whoever makes this judgement may need to have the courage to explain why they came down the way they did. It also requires more effort, and shows greater respect to the poster.

There are low quality posts which would not merit this treatment, but I think that these are the exception.

  • 5
    Interestingly, your username in Russian would mean "caress" ^^
    – gdrt
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 13:17
  • Ha thanks for info. The name was generated randomly over 30 years ago using one coin, and I guess it's appropriate for a chess forum
    – Laska
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:03
  • 1
    The more pertinent question is how a site that is mostly attractive to beginners can bring the site past beta. This would not be the first stop for any experienced player.
    – prusswan
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 8:43
  • @prusswan: good point. What attracts me to this site? I like the civility of the discussions, the focus of many questions on the rules, and the competence of the answers. How might we move move up-market and attract more experienced players?
    – Laska
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 9:00

5 Answers 5


See Dunbar's number.

Regrettably, all populous online forums appear to suffer this problem. Some forums manage it better than others.


For the same reason, all parliamentary bodies grow uncivil as they approach a size of about 500, which is why such bodies seem never further to be able to grow to a size of 1000. Iceland's parliament is largely civil, for example; Britain's is not.

For the same reason, manufacturing executives have learned not to expand industrial plants much beyond a maximum practical size of about 2000 workers each. Beyond that size, further economies of scale are swamped by a general loss of morale.


You and I will probably never interact again, because Dunbar's number. And even if you and I did interact again, our social networks do not overlap—a fact which, most unfortunately, denies you and me sufficient investment in a favorable social outcome here. Ultimately, inflation too far beyond Dunbar's number makes trolling and other antisocial behavior uncontrollable by normal social means.

See, you and I are perfectly polite to one another, but your behavior and mine cannot save our conversation from being hijacked by random rude and flagrant persons if enough participants were present. Even if only one percent of participants are rude and flagrant, excesses beyond Dunbar empower that one percent to set the tone.

Dunbar's is not a firm or exact limit, of course. There is a gradual slide into incivility as numbers grow, but the overall social principle Dunbar implicates does nevertheless seem to be an iron law.


Before Dunbar, Edmund Burke knew it. Burke's little platoons are the blocks from which a healthy society is built.

To the extent to which Chess Beta is, through its success, gradually ceasing to be a little platoon, a major decline in civility is probably inevitable. Tragic, but true.


Your proposed "Welcome!" might only be perceived by newcomers as hypocritical. I do not despise it. It might even help at intermediate numbers but no one is welcome where numbers are too large. Only an authentic little platoon can really welcome anyone.

I wish that I had a more congenial answer to offer you.

  • 1
    Maybe a Dunbar tendency, I agree - other factors influence when it cuts in.
    – Laska
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:18
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    Note that Math.SE is extraordinarily helpful and patient towards people of all levels of ability. You can ask very basic questions there and they will kindly provide a detailed, beginner-friendly explanation. Therefore, I am skeptical that Dunbar is the entire story as far as the SE model in particular is concerned.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 21:08
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    @Kevin Perhaps a substantial amount of people there enjoy answering questions for answering-questions-sake - a trait that is at least stereotypical of math enthusiasts, if not actually true - which helps ease some of the social weight. In other words, they have more of a tolerance of answering "bad questions" purely for the joy of answering any questions at all. Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 22:02
  • 1
    @SouthpawHare: Perhaps. Or perhaps the set of "beginner" questions in math is broader than in chess, so you don't run into a nest of duplicate questions so easily.
    – Kevin
    Commented Mar 29, 2018 at 22:22

I don't think the problem is the lack of "Welcome!" messages, but that "bad" questions by new users often get downvoted or nominated for closing immediately, instead of trying to engage constructively first.

  • I think welcome is a nice beginning to at least set up a cognitive dissonance between one friendly message and any down-voting :) One of my favourite and most successful chess sites always gives a welcome to every newcomer.
    – Laska
    Commented Mar 21, 2018 at 16:14

I use the Auto Review Comments userscript, primarily because it contains some pre-made comments which can be used in situations which happen quite often (such as new questions being posted as an answer), with the additional benefit that for new users, every comment will be preceded by

Welcome to Chess Stack Exchange!

It seems to me that treating newcomers well is the single most important step we can take towards removing the "Beta" from our name.

Well, it might help because more people stick here and ask questions. But according to Graduation, site closure, and a clearer outlook on the health of SE sites, the single most important figure is the # of questions per day and it needs to be at least 10. You can check Area 51 to see that we're far, far away of that: 2.2 questions per day is not even close to graduation.

  • Thanks for the link to Auto Review comments. I agree that 2.2 is far from 10, but maybe let's set our sights on 3. Do meta questions count? :)
    – Laska
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 4:13
  • 1
    No, meta questions don't count.
    – Glorfindel Mod
    Commented Mar 23, 2018 at 8:24

Adding to itub's answer, "Welcome" is mostly discouraged in the SE model. This (the main sites, not Meta, where there is more leeway) is a Q&A site, not a discussion forum.

I see some of the same issues on Poker.SE, where many new questions are asking which hand wins, which is a basic rules question, that's already been covered, and those tend to get dupe flagged fairly quickly. I think we have the expectation that the poster does basic research, or attempts to analyze their game before posting here. I've been making an effort to get clarification before I flag a question, but sometimes the poster comes expecting an immediate answer, and when they don't get it, they don't come back to give clarification.

  • 2
    Thank you. I suggested "Welcome" as an antidote to the reflex down-voting that happens too often here to newcomers. Dupes are just one way that the Great can be offended here. People just wander in: it's not reasonable to expect them to have done "research" about the whys and wherefores of SE prior to their first post. They will come in quickly and post something. If they have a positive experience they may come back to participate further and at that point they may read more. I do get the sneaking suspicion that some people here get a kick out of down-voting, and are looking for any excuse.
    – Laska
    Commented Mar 22, 2018 at 1:57
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    "it's not reasonable to expect them to have done "research" about the whys and wherefores of SE prior to their first post." and that's really unfortunate. The "ask question" page has 2 relevant links on the right sidebar: visit the help center and asking help. Asking a question before knowing what's on-topic is like going into a restaurant and asking for a nonexistence menu without reading it.
    – Andrew T.
    Commented Apr 2, 2018 at 4:15

This site is already more than welcoming when it is replete with questions like Can a king be checked with another king in these circumstances

Another top question on the front page now centers around trivia. So the votes no longer mean much to me for the purpose of content value, as the site is dominated by novices and there are not even enough non-novices to downvote/close trivial content. As such content is allowed to persist, they will draw in more users who have the appetite for it.

  • Actually, from a compositional perspective, I have a kind of soft spot for kings attacking one another. Key: such a position is only illegal, one can still play chess from it. But I do hope that we get a few more chunky questions. Even relatively trivial questions about legal positions can provoke some stellar answers such as Rosie's posts of some Baibakov problems. I am not sure if tolerating simplistic questions discourages experts. The art of community-building is a subtle one, and surely stackexchange.com have much more experience than me.
    – Laska
    Commented Apr 4, 2018 at 15:36
  • 1
    @Laska so who is really an expert around here? The votes cannot tell in a community of novices who vote and behave like novices. A stackexchange where the reputation system is meaningless for the purpose of expert participation, is useless to me.
    – prusswan
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:20
  • 1
    well it would be nice if more grandmasters stalked the halls of chess.stackexchange. But in the mean time might as well be polite to those folks who do turn up :-)
    – Laska
    Commented Apr 6, 2018 at 17:41

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