FAQ Readers

How often do people actually read FAQs? I was curious about this while working on the splash page for the HackMIT 2015 website, so I decided to perform a simple experiment to try to figure out how many people read our FAQ. I added this item somewhere in the middle of the FAQ:

FAQ Item

This social experiment wasn’t really meant to be super scientific — we kinda just wanted to do something fun and see what would happen. So I set up the faq-readers@mit.edu email alias, pushed the change to our website, and waited to get all sorts of random email from FAQ readers.

Here’s what ended up happening:

The Numbers

We ended up receiving emails from 493 unique individuals over 45 days. This was a lot more than we expected! We didn’t think that so many people would read the FAQ and have the motivation to email us. In comparison to the number of entrants to the lottery for admission to HackMIT, which had around 4000 people, this is a pretty significant number — about 12%.

We tried our best to reply to all the emails, and we did end up replying to about 80% of them.

Favorite Foods

We ended up receiving 118 emails where people talked about their favorite food. Some responses were super specific, like “salmon roe”, while other responses were super general, like “Chinese food”.

Pizza was the most popular with 19 votes, sushi came in second with 9 votes, and ice cream and chocolate were tied for third, each with 7 votes.

Interesting Messages

Most people ended up talking about stuff other than their favorite food.

Some sent a simple “<3”. One person sent us lorem ipsum text.

Some refused to follow the instructions:

You know, I can never think of anything to say when I’m told to just write anything. I know you guys said to maybe write about my favorite food, but I don’t feel like it. So here’s my email, I guess.

A lot of people emailed us asking if there were lots of other FAQ readers who emailed us.

A couple people asked us if we were actually reading their emails. Some asked about the prize. Some people asked for automatic admission to HackMIT or for hints to the puzzle. Others complimented us on our site’s color scheme. A bunch asked us to publish our findings about the FAQ readers experiment.

One guy sent us a link to this awesome video.

Then there were some strange ones. A bunch of people ranted about random topics including politics, the Hobbit, and FAQs. One guy sent us the entire contents of Moby Dick. Another guy sent us 50,000 words of incoherent text. One person sent us the word “doge” repeated 4,624 times, which was probably a reference to a video we used in our puzzle this year. Another guy sent us this:

Blessed be the Mongoose, our one and only savior. Bow to Him lest He devour the darkest corners of the world.


We got a couple pictures from people:


We also got some ASCII art:

 _._ _..._ .-',     _.._(`))
'-. `     '  /-._.-'    ',/
   )         \            '.
  / _    _    |             \
 |  a    a    /              |
 \   .-.                     ;
  '-('' ).-'       ,'       ;
     '-;           |      .'
        \           \    /
        | 7  .__  _.-\   \
        | |  |  ``/  /`  /
       /,_|  |   /,_/   /
          /,_/      '`-'

And one of these things:



A bunch of people sent us poems. Some people even wrote their own; apparently, haiku are pretty popular. Here are some of our favorites:

Java. C Sharp. C.
Python. PHP. SQL.
Ruby. Javascript.

— Megan Banks

There once was a hackathon faq
That wasn’t just pulled off a rack
Unlike all the rest
The humor was the best
And had information mixed into the pack

— K. M.

I love reading FAQs.
FAQs is one syllable, right?
Haikus are fun too.

— Yitz Deng

Do people read each FAQ?
I guess a few really do,
It may come as a surprise
But your information has reached my eyes

So I am sending you this email here
To make sure that you have no fear
Of your words are going unread -
I just couldn’t leave it unsaid.

— Aditi S.

Frequently asked and
always answered - events need

— James Pavur

Counting syllables:
a perfect substitute for

— James Pavur

I do not know why
I read all these FAQs
There’s no reason to

— Jack Crawford


To all the people who emailed us — thank you! We really enjoyed reading your emails!

We did mention in the FAQ that one lucky FAQ reader might win a prize. At the time of writing the FAQ, we didn’t actually know what the prize would be; after much deliberation, we have chosen to give one random winner a gift card to a restaurant that serves their favorite food!