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The results are in, and they're not pretty.

Out of 10 randomly selected questions, only one received a positive evaluation.

Granted, there were only 3-5 people reviewing each question, but that is a problem in itself.

So, what do we think we can do to improve this? What suggestions do you have?

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    I featured this, as it is important and should get more visibility. – Tim Post May 23 '13 at 14:30
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The turn out for the self evaluation could have been better, but I'm not really that alarmed by it, I'll explain. When you see a number that indicates a lack of community self interest it should cause you to take a look, but doesn't always indicate that it's actually happened. I think folks are just used to browsing the site once or twice a week because question volume is low - and people just missed it. The fact that we're having this discussion is a clear indicator that there's still a thriving community here.

As you've probably noticed, a substantial number of questions come from brand new inexperienced parents finding their way with babies and toddlers. After you reach beyond that point and have grown your bond with your children, parenting becomes more instinctive and intuitive. You become less likely to ask for help and more inclined to simply figure it out along with your child.

At that point, you're probably going to be more inclined to answer than ask. Specific parenting questions require context that's very personal to people's children, I think many are rather selfish when it comes to sharing parts of their child's life, and of course wary. Beyond babies, questions surrounding parenting, but not really describing a specific scenario are probably going to be our on ramps - but there's a limited quantity of them that would fit.

With that being said, let's take stock of what's good here, which is quite a bit:

  • The quality is excellent
  • This community is very friendly and welcoming, and has a lot of combined experience to offer anyone who cares to ask a question.
  • Unscientific (doing averages in my head) measurements on random questions indicate that folks get answers relatively soon after asking - that's critical for sustainability and success
  • The appointed moderation team is doing an amazing job - their focus is precisely where it needs to be, despite many efforts not bearing much fruit

The site is strong when it comes to answering the types of questions that it gets, but needs users that have significant reach and influence evangelizing it after seeing those strengths in action. I think the question we should be asking is, how do we attract the sort of users that can send thousands of like minds here with a tweet?

I'm quite convinced that this site would finally reach a huge success if it just had a few well respected evangelists promoting it. I'm not talking Oprah caliber, just parents that have a substantial following. Who are these people, and how do we get them to notice us? If we come up with those answers, then we've come up with half a plan. The other half is discussing the idea of what people could ask here, if they're not really comfortable asking about the real world problems that they face.

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  • I'm interested in what kind of "evangelists" we'd be going for. The Penny Arcade guys, for example, set up a charity directly relating to children, and discuss parenting as gamers on their site. At the same time, I get there'd be risks about being associated with PA's more questionable content. – deworde Jun 5 '13 at 11:12
  • @deworde Perhaps something similar - We're looking for parents that have a strong online presence, lots of followers and a good head on their shoulder. Some might be championing children's issues - like diseases, schools, or other things - and find value in pointing people here to ask questions. Now - the finesse is - finding folks that champion things that bring out the kinds of questions we're well equipped to handle or seeing if new experts can join in and increase the breadth of our knowledge domain. Sorry to be kind of vague, but meta posts from me are coming soon. – Tim Post Jun 5 '13 at 11:52
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    @deworde (part 2) - Adding me in the mix lets me reach out to these people in a more official manner, and I already have some people in mind that I'm acquainted with. It's probably going to be next week before I finish digging, form concrete ideas and then bounce them off the rest of the team - so please, if you have folks in mind or can think of any, I'd love a ping here or in chat. – Tim Post Jun 5 '13 at 11:55
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    I work in an elementary school. I also know a lot of mixed Japanese/American couples who have some very unique issues when it comes to parenting. The majority of my friend network consists of parents who work in the IT field, making the basis of the Stack Exchange network welcoming as in, when this site slows down, they can head over to Stack Overflow or Super User to remain involved. I will begin letting people know about what goes on here, and encourage them to get involved. – SomeShinyObject Jun 7 '13 at 2:32
  • @ChristopherW That's a great idea, and should help add to the overall 'interestingness' factor of the site for someone that isn't desperately trying to figure out if they just broke their baby. As some may know, I'm an expat living in The Philippines, and have similar questions brewing. – Tim Post Jun 7 '13 at 5:59
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What attracted me to stackexchange in general is that it purports to be building a library of questions and answers, and I believe in libraries. I liked the idea of a place where people could come and ask questions and others who have some expertise in the area or were good at researching might help answer them.

What I see happening on this site is:

While this site has potential, I think the general quality of answers is not where it needs to be, and it makes me uncomfortable in recommending it to parents (and I see hundreds of them in the library at children's programs every week). As @cabbey notes, our goal is to be an informational site, but we really are more of an advice site. Our aim is off.

The other thing we have to consider is very strong competition coming from the internet and actual libraries. There are many parenting websites out there - some quite popular with pediatricians and parenting experts on staff. Actual libraries are fairly ubiquitous, and they have children's librarians, research librarians, and stacks full of parenting books (plus magazines and databases full of articles). If we are not offering something different/better, then our success will be limited.

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    I definitely prefer research over anecdote, when practical. Part of the problem is that a large number of parenting questions simply can't be answered by research. For obvious ethical reasons, there's a limit to the amount of actual research on child development, and much of the established source materials really boil down to opinions with extra credibility due to the profession of the source of those opinions. I do agree that we get more anecdote than research, though. Any suggestions for addressing this? – user420 Jun 1 '13 at 23:26
  • I don't know that there is any way to address this in a Q&A site. People come here looking for quick answers (particularly for behavioral problems) when they should be reading books by parenting/ child development experts which would put the problem they are dealing with in the context of the child's total development. Expert opinion is more that just opinion - it is based on years of experience and observation plus a reading of relevant current research literature, limited though it may sometimes be! Perhaps we should be encouraging answers backed by expert opinion. – MJ6 Jun 2 '13 at 0:20
  • I'm not sure I place as high a value on expert opinion as you do. Some of the most notable experts make broad, categorically unscientific assertions in the interest of selling books. I'd even go so far as to say that some deliberately sensationalize their opinions. However, that's not really relevant to the issue at hand. As you know, in the past, I've tried to come up with ways to encourage referenced answers. Do you think more efforts along this line, or other lines, would be beneficial? – user420 Jun 2 '13 at 0:39
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    I think it couldn't hurt. It would be nice if there was a way to award people extra points for a referenced answer - a lot of people seem to be very motivated by points. When I think of experts, I think of people like T Berry Brazelton, with 60 years of treating kids and involvement in developmental research. I am thinking Mayo Clinic. I suppose there are a lot of semi and pseudo experts out there just selling a book! – MJ6 Jun 2 '13 at 0:44
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I can't seem to comment on Mary Jo's post, but I just want to state my agreement with it. I work as a Speech Language Pathologist in the birth - 36 month population and in the short time I've been here I've seen an exceptionally high number of answers which are inaccurate at best and dangerous at worst.

I think you need qualified curators if you want to grow into being a useful resource. There are plenty of places people can get poor advice, they don't really need one more. The problem with parenting is that it's not like programming where you just go try the solution and see if the code works, so there needs to be some sort of working vetting process. What I see currently is people who don't really know child development vetting the posts (thumbs up or down) of other people who don't know child development, which leads to a morass of conflicting bad advice.

I draw a strict line between experts and celebrity experts. I know some experts. They don't sell books, are not on TV, and you don't know their names because they spend their days working with kids. Those are the people you need to attract, not people with a monetary agenda behind their advice.

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  • As mentioned in your other answer, claiming a high proportion of answers contain "dangerous" advice needs some examples. – user420 Jun 13 '13 at 14:18
  • @Beofett I think Wonko has a valid point here, even without specific examples. This was one of the major reasons Christine Gordon left our site, despite her awesome contributions: As a professional, she found it too frustrating that so many "amateur" answers received upvotes. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 13 '13 at 19:54
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    @TorbenGundtofte-Bruun I'm not necessarily disagreeing that there is a valid point in here, but as was discussed in the other meta answer Wonko posted, claiming that there is "an exceptionally high number of answers which are inaccurate at best and dangerous at worst" is only really productive if we can see examples. Without examples (and the one example provided in the other answer seems to be more a misunderstanding of the question than an example of actual "dangerous" advice), this answer mixes potentially misleading information with valid points. – user420 Jun 13 '13 at 20:07
  • I cited three questions in my post above where the answers were all anecdotal and where research would have yielded much better/ more helpful answers. I think that there's too much anecdote and not enough research for us to offer ourselves as experts. In many cases, what we offer is not any different than what people get from their neighbors, friends, and playgroups. – MJ6 Jun 16 '13 at 17:04
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I completely missed this round, bummer! I saw the first meta post but then never got around to acting on it. I guess I have enough on my real-life plate already at the moment.

One thing that strikes me is that several of the titles are poorly worded. We made a huge effort once to go through all questions and rephrase the titles, and even some of the contents. We could pay more attention to these basic things again.

More to the point though, I feel we're stuck in a loop. Few active users = few new questions = few new visitors ... repeat ad nauseam. I recognize most steady contributors by their writing style before I even see their name card - doesn't that indicate that it's the same old suspects? The site is good and the content quality is excellent - there's just not enough traffic. We've been talking about the lack of new returning users since the site started, and I'm getting worried.

My own direct recruiting efforts have been rather limited because English doesn't suit German-speaking people well. I've shared post that were curious, interesting, or promising on two social networks, but frankly the linkworthy gems are too far apart to be useful as marketing ammo.

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Like Torben, I missed the review... I also missed the announcement!

I think he's onto something with the rut we're stuck in. I'll have to admit I've given up on trying to recruit folks. The feedback I get is always the same.

Birth educators are violently against all online material, because there's so much of it that is so horribly wrong. I also think to a large extent it goes against their financial interests... they make money by having classes to teach new parents.

A lot of new moms and dads (or soon to be ones) looked at me like I was crazy when I suggested the idea of a stack for parenting... these were folks that are familiar with stack exchange. One put it very succinctly: "I barely want advice from my family, I sure as hell don't want advice from a bunch of random strangers on the internet."

Teachers... honestly I haven't talked to too many of them about the site, but those I have mostly fell into variations of the above, OR, the ever popular, "I went to school for 4 years to learn how to handle kids, and continue to go back constantly to take new classes and training and professional development, why would I want to debate this stuff with some random person on the internet that doesn't have any formal training?"

I honestly don't know how to fix this. I spent a lot of time trying to think of ways to do so, but nothing has come to mind. I can't even mentally defend the site against some of the things folks have said. (A lot of it IS false perception, and you can tell them it's not what they think it is... but not all.)

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  • You can tell those educators that the reason they should be here is because when it comes down to it having to defend your answers is good for you and keeps you honest. I'm certainly having to defend my answers on another thread, but I frankly believe that you guys have a useful resource which just needs some tuning. Otherwise I wouldn't be here. I guess my point is that they (and I) are responsible to shape the resources we want to have for our families. – WonkoTheSane Jun 14 '13 at 19:06

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