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It was recently pointed out in a different meta discussion about trying to help the site graduate, that meta may be both intimidating and confusing in its purpose to newer users.

The Original Poster stated some reasons for this feeling, but I wondered:

a) is this a common experience

b) what reason/s do members have for not participating more in meta

c) do any solutions come to mind that might be able to apply here to help improve things and make all our users feel more comfortable using/participating in meta?

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what reason/s do members have for not participating more in meta

Here's what a new visitor might think:

  • Meta is hidden. A challenge: Go to the front page and try to find the link to meta! ... See what I mean? The new top-bar even hides the link under a menu, so you can't actually see it without clicking around.

  • Meta is boring. I came to the site to get parenting answers, not to discuss voting policies. It's navel-gazing by definition. How you run this site is your job, not mine.

  • Meta is dead. There's so little going on in meta that I get the impression that meta is obsolete.

  • Meta is forbidden. I need 5 rep points to participate in meta, 20 to talk in chat, and 50 to comment on others' contributions. That serves a purpose, but it's not welcoming.

  • Meta is frightening. You want me to shape this site? I'm just a visitor! I don't want to be pulled into your arguments, or even obligations! Besides, the web is supposed to be fun but you're asking me to be scientific and serious.

  • This simply works! Everything runs smoothly, I don't see anything much to discuss in the first place. What, those meta topics? You must be perfectionists, you should see what other sites argue about. Give it a rest already.

solutions to make users feel more comfortable participating in meta?

I believe meta needs to be more prominently featured. We already have these features:

  • There's also the Community Bulletin in the sidebar of the main site, but apparently it doesn't attract a lot of attention.

  • There's the tag which supposedly exposes the tagged topic to the main site. We've used this tag at times but I haven't noticed that it made much of a difference.

Those few visitors that actually enter the matrix meta don't seem to become very involved, but I don't know why. Maybe we scare them away? I feel that we treat meta contributions as respectfully as those on the main site, but I guess I'm biased.

Finally, it seems that we don't have all that many active recurring users. We gets lots of hits, and there are lots of users, but it seems that most of users are "shallow": they get their answers and leave again, hopefully until next time they need an answer. I would expect we need 100 main participations for every 1 meta participation, and also 100 drive-by visits for every main participation. These factors may be inaccurate but it indicates that meta participation is bound to be a small fraction of the site visits.

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  • And honestly, it is probably good that meta stay relatively small - It isn't pretty on Sci-Fi A LOT so I completely get what you are saying, but it would be nice to see more action in chat for sure. – balanced mama Jan 4 '14 at 2:19
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Personally, the main reason I haven't participated more in meta is that there isn't much activity on meta. I realize that's somewhat of a catch-22. However, the low activity isn't necessarily entirely negative.

A lot of meta activity on other SE sites is debate and contention. Half the community wants a certain type of question banned, the other half wants more of those questions. People whining about their questions getting unfairly closed, often not without good reason. Things like that. Compared to other SE sites, Parenting.SE is a much friendlier site with topicality that is fairly clear cut, so naturally there won't be as much debate.

On the other hand, compared to other non-StackExchange sites, especially parenting sites, the StackExchange format seems a little cold. Chatty back and forth discussion isn't encouraged, your questions get edited by strangers, and we have stricter standards about staying on topic, not creating duplicates, etc. The community moderated model is new to a lot of people, and trying to figure out if something belongs on meta, main, or chat can be confusing.

That makes for higher quality questions and answers, but is also less inviting. I'm not sure how we can improve in that area other than continuing to politely and gently point newbies in the right direction. Perhaps making the tour more prominent to first-time visitors would help.

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    I wonder if a few points on the tour might be edited slightly as well - for example "there is no chit-chat" could say, "chit chat is reserved for the chat room only" or something instead. That way, we aren't saying it doesn't or can't happen, but are inviting newbies to check out the chat room and giving them that warmth while also showing how it won't show up (often anyway) in the questions and answers portion of the site. Additonally, the tour doesn't even mention chat or meta. – balanced mama Jan 2 '14 at 23:25
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    @balancedmama wow, you're right! I posted this in meta.stackoverflow.com (the mother of all meta's): Neither chat nor meta is mentioned in the tour (/about) – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 3 '14 at 15:19
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    The comment about it being an earned privelege later is a good point - though I still think, a simple re-word, to chit-chat is reserved for the chat room instead of, "there is no chit chat" would feel more welcoming for our particular audience and alert people to the fact that it at least exists. – balanced mama Jan 4 '14 at 2:17
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People who go on most other S/E sites are tech-y. Parents maybe not so much... I am not sure that people actually KNOW what "meta" means!

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  • Good point. It would be interesting to evaluate how many Parenting users also have reputation on other SE sites, in particular the original trilogy (SuperUser, StackOverflow, ServerFault). – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jan 5 '14 at 6:50

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