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Background

George White pointed out on my related meta post Where is Ask Patents marketed? that Google Patents has a button on every patent page that links to us, and I suspect that this is the cause for many out-of-context questions here.

Just as a few examples, this question (deleted), this question, this question, this question, and this question have all been asked within the last few weeks. The important thing to note here? None have any context. What patent or application are we even talking about?

The issue

One of those questions went something like this:

When will this be incorporated in the design of modern cars?

Considering this concept has been around so long, when will it be incorporated in the design of modern cars?

Similar to that prior meta post, this is not a question of whether or not these questions are on topic. They are not, regardless of this detail.

What's important, to reiterate, is that there's no reference whatsoever to what patent the question is actually asking about. "Considering what concept?"

My hypothesis

Thanks to George's answer, I've come to an interesting conclusion of why I feel these questions get asked without any context.

  • When a user is on any Google Patents page, here's an example, he or she will notice a "Discuss this [Patent/Application]" button at the top.
  • When clicked, that redirects to a (generally empty) "tag" page:

There are currently no questions about Patent us8645697

Ask Question about Patent us8645697 or browse other active questions.

Ask Patents is a collaborative question and answer site about the US patent system. Learn more about how it works.

  • If the user clicks the embedded "ask question" button there, that link redirects them to the ask question page we all know and love, but it includes a tag referencing the patent or application they came in on. This is a good case.

  • However, if the user clicks on the "ask question" button at the top of the page, in the header that all Stack Exchange sites have, that tag is not entered automatically.

This is a discrepancy that I worry causes unnecessary confusion for new users to the site, and leads to a lot of out-of-context questions. Note that the same user doing this process two times might come out with two different outcomes, one where the tag is included and the other where it is not. I know for me personally, I'd be pretty arbitrary about which button I chose.

My proposal

I propose one of two options:

  • We make a minor change (just here or on SE in general), such that when the main header "Ask Question" button is clicked on a tag page, tags are included.
  • We somehow promote the embedded button so that it receives more clicks than the header one.

Conclusion

Although these questions are all close-worthy for other reasons, I do not feel that making this mistake is entirely the users' fault. Our UX should be consistent, and if a question like this is closed, it should be because the user misunderstood the scope, and not because they misunderstood the fundamental workings of the site.

I'd particularly hate to see a good question get closed for "Unclear what you're asking" or similar, just because the user thought it would be automatically associated with the page that brought them to us (a fair assumption, I think).

  • Just so you know, there's no deleted question with the [CA2741523A1] tag. The patent itself is related to Ebola, which is why it gets so much traffic. – Jon Ericson Nov 6 '14 at 1:59
  • @JonEricson Interesting, I figured the second part, but why doesn't it have the same "There are currently no questions about Patent" disclaimer, then? – Matthew Haugen Nov 6 '14 at 2:01
  • Oh, just kidding. Is it because it doesn't start with "us" and there's some regex (or equivalent) to only display that on patent numbers? I see it doesn't show it for test either. – Matthew Haugen Nov 6 '14 at 2:03
  • That's my guess. (I'll have to go hunt down the code to be sure.) [notapatent] similarly does not show the disclaimer. – Jon Ericson Nov 6 '14 at 2:05
  • @JonEricson Fair enough. I don't think that's really such a big deal, of course (unless the second option turns up being the choice, perhaps), I just thought it was an interesting discrepancy. But I guess it should be an easy enough fix, if that is it. Even just accommodating "US" or "CA" would probably cover a majority of cases that come through us. – Matthew Haugen Nov 6 '14 at 2:08
  • I added 'ca' to the list that includes 'us', 'usd', 'ep', and 'wo'. I don't know enough about patents to tell if that's all the possibilities, however... – Jon Ericson Nov 7 '14 at 0:13
  • @JonEricson Cool, thanks. That's probably sufficient for now. The full list can be found here (PDF), but it's lengthy and I imagine most will never be seen. – Matthew Haugen Nov 7 '14 at 0:16
  • @JonEricson It might be worth adding CN at some point, for China. I see we got a question about one from there today. I think that's the first I've ever noticed, so it's probably not a big deal, but if you get a chance. – Matthew Haugen Nov 10 '14 at 22:30

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