6

Between Mother's day and Father's day (in the US) we held a small contest for asking questions. I got a few comments on the announcement:

If I'd seen this in time, I would have tried to get a t-shirt. Now I don't even have enough time for that. Unfortunately, I don't feel like stickers are worth the effort at this point. I like this initiative though.

and:

I've asked 1 question, and found the experience to be quite exhausting, as well. I guess it's a bit more difficult when the issue is so close to home.

But we'd like to know in more detail what you all thought about the contest and how we could design a set of badges around the idea.

What did you like about the contest? What didn't you like? If the prizes were bronze and silver badges, would you have felt differently? What problems would you anticipate a network-wide badge set for good question-asking days might cause?

  • There was a contest? Ha! Just kidding. I'm going to answer this though. – SomeShinyMonica Jun 18 '14 at 11:54
8

Answer #1: experience as a question asker.

NOTE: I tried to ask as many questions as possible. While I obviously was motivated by crass material rewards, I tried to ask even after reaching the required count to have the experiment work - I posted a total of 38 questions, 23 of them eligible for the contest, 11 of which after I already reached 14 required ones. I also made sure to ONLY ask practical questions, ones I explicitly faced in my experience as a parent.

TL;DR:

Compared to many other SE sites I'm active on, I did not find the experience of asking questions on Parenting.SE very pleasant or rewarding overall, and will hesitate before asking questions here in the future. However, I did get some useful answers, which means I may still ask despite my hesitations.


Summary of experiences asking questions:

  1. Sensitive information exposure concerns are a MAJOR issue.

  2. XY-problem abuse. People frequently belittle you and insist on trivializing your problems (This problem you asked about solving isn't really a real problem and isn't worth solving. Chill)

  3. Attacks over medical related issue based on opinion

  4. User profiling and being tracked by other users

  5. Possible resistance to having many questions asked.

I also posted a second answer, explaining my experience as a person seeking answers.


Details:

  1. Sensitive information exposure concerns are a MAJOR issue.

    This is an old complaint, raised on this site and some others like Relationships where personally identifiable and possibly not-popular info about yourself may be revealed.

    Unless and until SE allows asking questions (and posting answers) without linking the content to a specific user account in a way visible to other users, this will severely plague this site in the amount of good questions being asked that people strongly hesitate to post.

    More specifically, I kept count. I rejected ~90% of real-life parenting problems I considered interesting, valid for SE format, and worth asking, out of desire to NOT have those questions associated with my SE account.


  2. XY-problem abuse. People frequently belittle you and insist on trivializing your problems (This problem you asked about solving isn't really a real problem and isn't worth solving. Chill)

    I have had repeated cases where people posted comments dismissive of my questions. I have had answers (including highly upvoted ones) that did NOTHING to address my question and instead explained why my concern isn't valid ("How do you keep your kids' socks on?" - "Don't keep your kids socks on")

    A perfect example of this was this question. There was nothing WRONG with it. It was based on concern that some people - with zero factual backing - considered an invalid concern (making a medical judgement on anecdotal evidence). It gathered 6 downvotes and very rude comments, merely for daring to suggest that a specific goal was important to the health of my child in my opinion. Moreover, it actually was perfectly answerable as a great answer WAS posted.

    Some comments:

    I think this a mountain out of a molehill situation. Unless there is some reason that she really needs to kick a ball, I'd just let it go (8 upvotes, to boot).

    Some problems are ephemeral - you are just trying to get them through a stage in life until their priorities or tastes mature. Somewhat like your question on getting kids to eat raw garlic... (see user tracking thing below too)

  3. Attacks over medical related issue based on opinion. Somewhat related to #2.

    At least 2 of my questions included a side note explaining WHY I'm asking something, in the form of "I view goal A as a medical benefit". That was not very germaine to what was being asked, more of a courtesy.

    The questions were both severly attacked (mostly in comments, AND downvotes) - with either simply anecdotal evidence, or in rarer cases (Thanks @Beofett) with research suggesting that my opinion of medical benefit was relying on faulty research. HOWEVER, in no instance was there a single valid opposition showing that my opinion was indeed invalid as opposed to simply lacking sufficient research to prove it beyond my own anecdotal evidence.

    Case A: Socks on feet. Tons of attacks over "this doesn't cause colds". ZERO posted evidence proving that assertion from research.

    Case B:Onions/garlic. Especially attacks over lack of efficacy against specifically flu/cold when the question merely asserted overall health benefits. Subsequently, I asked and got a research backed confirmation on Skeptics.SE that I was right

  4. User profiling and being tracked by other users

    This is closely related to #1 and somewhat impacts with #2.

    I have had comments posted to the effects of "from your prior question pattern, I draw the conclusion...". Heck, even Joe's answer above on THIS meta question mentions me by name, although that was done in a non-threatening context that isn't objectionable in any way. But the fact is, he bothered paying attention to the fact that I changed my username explicitly to escape the user tracking.

  5. Possible resistance to having many questions asked.

    OK, this one is much harder to pin down and is somewhat/mostly subjective.

    Looking at my "/reputation" page, it seems I started gaining a steady trickle of downvotes right when people observed a pattern that I was asking many questions (~4-5 days in). This was downvotes that were on "random" questions (in a sense of, the question only had 1 or at most 2 downvotes and usually had more upvotes than downvotes).

    I do NOT have any proof that this wasn't due to steady deterioration of my question quality (However: I did try my best to ask questions as I came up with them instead of lumping what I considered super-best ones in the first week). But the pattern seems strange - almost no downvotes for 1 week... and a one or more downvotes a day nearly every day since. Despite me asking MORE questions per day in first week.

    I'll need to crunch some #s to see if there was a pattern to which questions were downvoted, but it seems that majority were NOT downvotes on clearly controversial questions.

  6. I would also like to second Joe's point about really weird voting patterns not matching self-evaluation of quality. I got MAJOR upvotes on a question that I personally rated as one of my weakest ones. And zero upvotes on some that I considered a great, well thought out ones. Go figure.

  • If you don't want to be tracked, open a separate account not linked to your other SE accounts. There's not a very significant advantage to linking accounts other than the tracking - i'm sure the 100 rep can be earned quickly, after all. – Joe Jun 18 '14 at 3:43
  • @Joe - I'm concerned with tracking even within a site. And not everyone knows to do this "separate account" thing before already being invested in the site. – user3143 Jun 18 '14 at 3:46
  • I appreciate your hard work asking questions. I tried to ask one a day for 24 days and only got to 15. I had a very similar concern to your #4. The more questions I asked, the more concerned I became with what my "permanent record" would look like. After asking a sleep training question, I was more careful asking other sleep-related questions that might reflect poorly on me as a parent. As far as I could tell, nobody was paying much attention, but who knows? As always, it's impossible to know why people downvote, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if the contest played a role in this case. :-( – Jon Ericson Jun 18 '14 at 4:27
  • @JonEricson - counts edited into the start of the answer. – user3143 Jun 18 '14 at 11:06
  • 1
    I have to admit that I've avoided asking questions as per your #1. Creating anonymous accounts is not a good workaround. For #2, answers that don't address the question is a pet peeve of mine, and an issue we've struggled with for a long time. #3, I hope you didn't see my comments as an attack; if you did, I apologize. I also apologize that I had to step in and stop the critical comments that never should have been made in the first place. – user420 Jun 18 '14 at 12:34
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    #4 and #5 seemed very linked, and I do agree that it seemed once you had established a "reputation" of asking a lot of questions (with a few at the beginning that were not terribly popular), it did seem like your questions were being treated differently than they would have been if they were posted by a new user. This is particularly frustrating to me, as (as I mentioned below) more questions are exactly what we need. People should be rewarded for asking lots of questions, so long as they're on topic and even marginally decent (and many of your questions were excellent). – user420 Jun 18 '14 at 12:36
  • @Beofett - Nope, your comments were not an attack. They were on the very civilized end of spectrum! However, I still strongly disagreed with their contents, as they did not show my assumption to be WRONG, merely not proven to be right. – user3143 Jun 18 '14 at 14:42
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    @Beofett - you have absolutely no grounds to apologize for. It wasn't you who was generating bad comments. As a mod, you did a very nice job keeping things in check, actually! (too good a job - I couldn't find some of the comments I wanted to copy/paste here as examples :))))) – user3143 Jun 18 '14 at 14:44
  • Nor did I intend them to show your assumption to be wrong. Merely that the source cited had flaws. I had hoped that providing an answer to your question would temper my comment a bit. Glad to hear you don't feel I had anything to apologize for... I'd hate to think I contributed to the negativity. – user420 Jun 18 '14 at 14:44
  • Proving a negative is always hard and sometimes impossible. With parenting especially, asserting something and then asking for a disproof can easily wander into such territory. Questions which ask for a positive assertion instead of a proof of refutation are necessarily easier to address. – Sylas Seabrook Jun 19 '14 at 2:43
  • @JeremyMiller - the point was that this was NOT what the question asked. It was merely a side point explaining why I asked the main question. – user3143 Jun 19 '14 at 2:45
  • I wasn't making a point at any of your points (and I am not sure to which "point" you refer). It was simply a comment regarding questions asking for proof of the negative and intended for those who may read this without that point in mind, not necessarily at you in particular. :) – Sylas Seabrook Jun 19 '14 at 2:49
  • @JeremyMiller - the discussion with Beofett about proving the negative was about a very specific thing :) – user3143 Jun 19 '14 at 2:58
  • 3
    Wow, that's a very detailed response! I agree with lots of what you said, I've felt these lingering problems for a long time but didn't take such a scientific approach to researching it. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 19 '14 at 7:24
  • 2
    I think your point in #6 (lots of votes for a less-good, in your mind, question) looks like straight-up bike shedding. (I up voted it.) Damn near every parent, and even a lot of non-parents can relate to and take interest in that situation, while some of the more complex ones you think are higher-quality are also harder to relate to or care about if you haven't personally experienced them. – Jaydles Jun 25 '14 at 20:32
5

Parenting Is Different.

I may not be a high rep. user on Stack Exchange as a whole, but I have hung around for a little under 3 years now, most of that time on Stack Overflow. I like to lurk. When I can answer a question I do and when I can't find the answer, I ask, but mostly I lurk. I like to watch the community. After being on Stack Overflow for almost two years straight, modifying my brain for Parenting.SE was quite difficult. Let's face it, Parenting is different. Here's why I think so:

This isn't programming

The Stack Exchange model is great for questions that will have a concrete answer. There are a thousand ways to skin a cat and this model provides an exceptionally good tool for allowing everyone, all over the world to describe how they skin that cat. This is excellent for programming questions, excellent for database questions, excellent for questions where OP says "How do I do this with this: [inserts stuff]". But parenting isn't programming (unless you are warped and think you are programming your children).

I would say the majority of questions that are asked here apply to a VERY specific situation. Some of these questions may even desire a similar outcome compared to other questions, but they aren't THE exact same question. Every human is unique, every situation is different. As a person coming from a community like Stack Overflow, that makes it very difficult wondering what I should flag as duplicates or flag as too localized. You can't have a blanket answer to cover everyone's needs.

Parenting is personal

These are our children. This isn't which IDE to use or which field to assign as a primary key. It's extremely difficult for parents to ask questions about their offspring, even on the internet. Parenting style is unique for all persons. It's also a subject we take extremely personal. Putting yourself out there for potential criticism of your style is a very real concern.

Asking is hard.

Providing enough detail to get a quality answer on Stack Overflow is simple:

"How do I convert this int to float in C♭"

Providing enough detail to get a quality answer on Parenting is not simple. You spend 3/4s of the time typing up the back story of why you are asking in the first place. Then you spend time after posting explaining missing details in the comments in response to everyone's request for further information. Asking here isn't fun (sorry). When I got to my fourth measly question I was grasping for straws.

What does this have to do with the question here?

I say all this because I don't think badges for question asking are going to help. And even if it does generate more content, what will the quality of that content be since people will just be going for badges rather than caring about what they post.

Side Note to user Joe - I had honestly not read through the most recent questions on the board that day or for the entire several days prior when I posted this. I stayed consecutive in my days simply because Parenting is always open in my browser. Sorry if I stole your thunder. I didn't mean to.

  • ""How do I convert this int to float in C" - hopefully VTCed as "not enough research" :))) – user3143 Jun 21 '14 at 16:03
  • 2
    @user3143 I hope it would be VTCed because I don't think C Flat is a real language....someone should make it – SomeShinyMonica Jun 21 '14 at 16:13
4

I like anything that incentives people to ask questions.

The only thing I didn't like about this contest was that I felt like I was being punished for asking multiple questions within the same day. I missed that part of the contest until about the third read-through, and I think I had a couple of questions that I asked on the same day, which presumably means only one of them counted towards the contest, and the others did not.

Coming up with good questions can be hard. Basing them on real world scenarios that are happening to you, particularly for our site, can be even harder given a time constraint.

If you were going to associate badges with "good asking days", I would suggest that you remove the "within x time period" requirement.

  • FYI: The original idea was strictly based on questions asked with out a time element. Obviously, that idea did not go over well with people used to more active sites (i.e. Stack Overflow). The intent of the time element is to encourage people to get into the habit of asking questions as they come up rather than think of a bunch of questions to ask all at once. Another option we rejected was "good asking weeks". I'm guessing that would have felt even more punishing... – Jon Ericson Jun 17 '14 at 16:45
  • @JonEricson That's really a shame. I get the concerns with people spamming questions, but the situation is quite reversed with the trilogy sites compared to most beta sites, and a fair number of graduated sites. If someone spammed our site with 50 questions that were good enough to avoid closure and receive positive scores of 1 (or 3, or even 5), I'd be ecstatic, not annoyed. Lack of questions (and the attendant increase in high-rep users a good influx of questions could bring) is what is holding us back. Is there a possibility of "beta only" tags? – user420 Jun 17 '14 at 16:59
  • Well, we do have this badge. ;-) I'll kick around the idea (and a few others) and see what we can do. Very helpful feedback. – Jon Ericson Jun 17 '14 at 17:12
  • That one and also this one. Maybe that's enough of a precedent to add more badges exclusively available pre-launch :). Thanks again for trying this contest out, and looking at how to boost question participation; I'm sure I'm not the only one who appreciates it! – user420 Jun 17 '14 at 17:24
4

Answer #2: experience as answer-seeker.

Obviously, the main point of asking questions on SE site isn't to get a positive experience or swag. It's to obtain useful answers. To that effect, I made sure to ONLY ask practical questions, ones I explicitly faced in my experience as a parent. I posted 38 total questions as part of the contest, and 3 more earlier in my site participation.

Below, I'll analyze how much help the answers to my questions were, disregarding the experience to me as an SE user from the process of asking them.


Summary of experiences getting answers:

  • I did get some answers useful to me but not too many, and few truly outstanding ones.

    The ones I did get were enough to make me consider this site a valuable resource for future cases where I need an answer and can't easily come up with one.

  • I got many more "good" answers that were not useful to me personally (mostly because they contained obvious to me and/or trivial points)

    They were good solid ideas anyway, that I may have posted as an answer myself had I been answering my own question.

  • However, many people post non-answer answers, and it's clearly considered fine as many of those were upvoted. Some, higher than the useful ones.

  • The questions that were asking for research fared reasonably well though not as well as I was hoping for based on my experience on Skeptics.SE


More detailed breakdown

I posted a total 38 questions for the contest; and 3 prior to it.

  • 13 (33%) of my questions got good, useful to me answers.

    6 (15%) of them got absolutely great, above-expectations answers (some, more than one of those).

  • 25 of them got good solid answers (this # is independent of the previous one).

    However, those answers were NOT useful to me, mostly because at best, they contained ideas and information I already had/knew of; OR at worst were on the trivial and obvious side.

    They still were solid answers that might help further visitors, just not myself.

  • 11 of them had somewhat useless answer but which wasn't complete cr^p.

  • 12 of them had non-answer answers

    Interestingly enough, that had very low overlap with 11 last ones.

    So in total 20 (50%) had really bad answers. And only a couple were downvoted. Most were actually upvoted, some pretty high.

  • I posted 8 questions which explicitly asked for research backed answers as opposed to opinions or anecdotal evidence.

    Of those, 3 had NO research answers and 5 had research based answers. Of the latter, 2 had great answers.

    Pretty decent ratio but obviously not what I'm used to on Skeptics.SE :)

  • 5 of my questions gathered some form of "XY" answer (I ask how to achieve goal X, the answer explains why I don't want/need to achieve goal X).

    Some of those XY answers were upvoted. In at least one case, higher than the actual answer that addressed my problem.

    In addition, several questions gathere XY comments (without XY answers) that IMHO were just as bad as XY answers.

  • I have a spreadsheet with raw data, but am wary about linking it here - I'd rather not gain even further personal exposure by giving people my Goggle Drive account – user3143 Jun 18 '14 at 14:39
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    It's good that you point out the noticeable amount of non-answers! It has been decided that such are not encouraged and are often closed (deleted) as soap-boxing. It seems that more flagging by users should be encouraged, and mods should be more strict against non-answers. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 19 '14 at 9:28
  • Thanks for the feedback. Would you mind contacting me via the email address in my profile? I'd like to learn more about your experience. (Also, I'd like to get you your prizes. ;-) – Jon Ericson Jun 20 '14 at 22:45
4

The analysis of the contest would not be nearly as useful without the significant effort of user3143 who demonstrated a passion for parenting and treated this contest for its true purpose, a study. Super kudos and thanks!

  1. The contest had what I considered to be a rather rough challenge for the t-shirt — starting from the announcement, roughly every-other day, ask a question. It seemed to me to be a very high ratio and as the contest results show, only one person met that challenge while only 4 people met the sticker challenge (not even the maximum number of 10).

    I personally didn't even try for the contest (though I, of course, actively participate in Parenting.SE!), though I appreciated its motive. Based on the results, it did not appear to provide a moderate motivational factor for asking questions for many people.

  2. I don't know how it all works, but a number of the questions asked ended up on the Hot Network Questions which increased exposure and traffic, which very well may have increased overall membership and participation.

  3. I think largely through the efforts of user3143 a danger was brought to the forefront. Parenting is a very personal adventure and how questions are flagged/treated must be looked at very closely to ensure we do not develop a reputation of being caustic. I won't say that that means every parent who believes something is right or practical is going to hear validation of their own views, but how we express ourselves is just as important as what we are saying and will determine the site's reputation.

  4. I agree with the comments about voting being unpredictable. Some questions with zero upvotes which have answers with non-zero upvotes, I can see as non-interesting questions in some people's views with unexpectedly-interesting answers, but this is by no means the norm. Accept behaviors are equally odd — good questions by non-new members with good answers which have no answer accepted… I even had an accepted answer unaccepted days later – and no other answer marked as accepted for that question.

    I rather doubt that this is unique to Parenting.SE, though.

The contest proved useful in some areas, but for future use adjustments should be considered (making the goals easier to attain, announcing in advance, for example [no, I can't think of anything better than those at this point]).

  • Some of the problems you noted were intentional. The bronze badge (if implemented) will be easier to obtain by setting a lower bar for days and lacking a time period to finish. I'm sorry this contest was a bit too intimidating. We did learn quite a bit and it did help us test the idea. – Jon Ericson Jun 18 '14 at 4:38
  • @JonEricson Oh, please, no need to be sorry! To be honest, I don't remember all the questions I have had to-date while raising my daughter. When others ask questions, it actually helps me recall things I had forgotten. The goal was to learn and I believe that's what we all have done. – Sylas Seabrook Jun 18 '14 at 4:40
4

I think the contest was interesting, and introduced some new questions certainly which is a boon for the site.

I also think, though, that it probably introduced somewhat lower quality questions as a result. Not bad questions - they have to be upvoted - but it's just not possible to come up with so many questions over a short period of time. I don't know how user3143 did it, honestly, and I didn't think that all of his questions were all that good - but certainly plenty of them were useful questions. I stretched to hit seven, although some of that was due to the next bit.

The other thing is that at least on this site, which questions get upvoted seems fairly random sometimes (not that bad questions get upvoted, but why one question gets upvoted and another doesn't is not always clear). That's something we've discussed before, but it was more obvious with the contest. One of my questions for example got zero votes (either way), while this question got several upvotes - despite a comment that it was a close duplicate to mine and several days later (and mine was, intentionally, less medically focused and more parent-appropriate). Several other questions during this time period I was very surprised to be casting the first upvote while several answers existed on these questions, implying someone thought it was a good enough question to answer but not worth upvoting.

We may want to revisit this question, honestly; this contest or no, we don't seem to vote enough on questions here (answers seem okay to me vote-wise).

  • Voting, especially on questions, is another piece to the puzzle. A habit of upvoting good content encourages more of it with minimal effort on the part of active readers. That's an excellent insight. As I said before, asking good questions is hard and I really appreciate your contributions. – Jon Ericson Jun 18 '14 at 4:06
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    @Jon I often feel it would help to have the vote arrows at the end of the post because I can pass judgment only after I've read it, and it's impractical to scroll up and down again all the time. – Torben Gundtofte-Bruun Jun 19 '14 at 6:55
  • On the notion that answering a question implies value, should an answer automatically count as an upvote? – zugzwang Jan 11 '18 at 20:27
4

Judging from the other answers here, the contest was very useful for quantifying some things that aren't working here. I don't think what was the goal of the contest however. I think the goal of the contest was to have a bit of fun while improving stats - increasing the number of questions, increasing the frequency of questions, increasing the involvement of participants in answering the questions, and perhaps indirectly increasing the volume of users by being a more lively site.

This contest misses the difference between our site and other S/Es.

  • We have loosened our rules a bit to accommodate the sharing of opinions based on experience and the asking of questions that might not have one best answer.
  • Our users have specific areas of interest and often have limited time.
  • Where other S/E sites have a consistently large user base, we have a lot of casual visitors - people who come here for one or two questions or just to read.
  • Our users are here to get help or help others - the points are often secondary and are in many cases completely irrelevant to the user.
  • Parenting S/E users may read posts and not vote because they have no emotional attachment - they aren't thinking about how the site needs votes to justify itself or the OP needs points for their virtual reputation.
  • Many parenting questions are slightly different versions of other questions - there are not the same infinite questions for parenting as might arise in computer programming or mathematics.

The fewer active users you have, the less statistically relevant your measures are. When we see some of the anomolous behavior noted in other answers here, it points to lack of volume. While S/E needs us to achieve certain stats to escape beta, I don't think those stats are how we actually measure our success.

Instead of thinking, "How can we get more voting happening on Parenting S/E?" we should perhaps be asking, "How can Parenting S/E better serve its users?" We have a 100% answer rate, so we ARE helping people. The number of visitors to the site each day is over 10,000, which is good but could be better. Increasing the number of questions each day is only helpful if those questions are new and genuine - I think we have to be honest that parenting does not have the infinite variety of questions that a programming or math site will have.

1

I left that comment because a t-shirt is motivation enough for me to try but I have no use for stickers.

Had I known in time and tried, I fear I would've run into many of the issues raised by user3143.

Most of all, I fear that other users become frustrated, and dare I say, jealous, to see another user collecting rep so 'easily' (in truth fast doesn't necessarily mean easy), when sometimes our own efforts are undervalued (lacking a fair number of votes in comparison to posts of a similar nature/quality).

I don't think these issues are isolated, but widespread to varying degrees, across the Stack Exchange network.

On a different note, clearly I've pointed out that the promotion of this initiative, and its exposure, was insufficient to reach me in time. In future I would really appreciate an inbox message, like I get when elections begin on various sites.

  • 2
    Good point about the notification. I've long felt that the "featured posts" sidebar placement is not nearly visible enough. I blame Google, for teaching me that any list of content to the right of the main page results are likely to be paid advertisements, and not important or relevant information. That's a hard set of conditioning to unlearn. Given how infrequent our meta activity is, too, there's not a lot of incentive to check here frequently. Even for a site mod. – user420 Jun 26 '14 at 16:41
  • Notification was DEFINITELY an issue. The only reason I knew of the contest was because I knew the site moderator personally as a user from another SE site, and he mentioned the contest in that site's chat since we mentioned parenting.SE on chat before. – user3143 Sep 4 '14 at 20:46
1

I had no idea that a competition was active. I asked my first question here in Aug 2011. That's obviously sub optimal. :-/

This is not the first time that SE employees have given special attention to ParentingSE. See, eg, Aarthi's activities which were part of activity creation plans. Here's a sample answer:-

What is Heuristic play?

This was during a similar "let's ask lots of questions!" Phase. I was going to answer that question but Aarthi's answer was brilliant.

I'm not convinced those special weeks / months work. Does anyone have stats for before and after this competition?

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