7

Related:

The linked question talks about participation in general. However, I'm only considered about question-asking.

If you look at our Area 51, our current questions-per-day is 2.9, and 10 is a sign of a healthy beta. It's our only stat that is not "Excellent".

I personally feel the lack of questions. When I come to browse, I'm given very little to do, as there are not always questions I have the experience or knowledge to answer. My hope is that more questions means more ways I can participate, as well.

So, how do we attract more question-askers, and how do we engage existing users to ask more questions?

  • 2
    I'd also been looking at that recently. It is not new problem (there are a few highly relevant meta questions I will re-unearth and add to your question), and there definitely needs to be some long-standing solution (e.g., attracting questions for a couple months isn't healthy, we need this to be a constantly active aspect of Parenting.SE). – Acire May 4 '15 at 15:02
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    @Erica I agree. I'm always amazed how this Facebook group my wife follows called "Toddler Approved" gets so much traffic. I think there's this disconnect between SE's target demo and the parents-needing-info demo that needs to be resolved. Many of the other sites can get cross-stack exposure, but I feel like we need to have more off-site exposure. – user11394 May 4 '15 at 15:08
  • I'd like to ask something different. In what time window does Area51 collect these statistics? One month, two months, since the launch of that site? – Tolga Ozses May 6 '15 at 12:06
  • @Kartagis It definitely is not since the launch of the site (you can see mild fluctuation in the number if you check it every day, indicating a much shorter averaging period than four years); I think it's a month but I'm not 100% sure on that. – Acire May 8 '15 at 12:46
  • @Kartagis I also wonder what the window is, because right now we're at 5.1 questions per day, which has moved us up from a needs-work ranking to "Okay". – user11394 May 13 '15 at 7:32
  • Is it possible to target adverts at relevant subreddits? Would that be something that SE would consider? Or perhaps people could gently share questions there. That would need to be done carefully to avoid antagonising the subreddit and avoid calls to trolls. (ie I can't do it) – DanBeale May 30 '15 at 21:49
5

I've had some thoughts about this over the past year or so, and it's sort of a complicated issue. I had part of a post written in my head about this, but was having some discussions with Tim Post around the time he got busy with his new little one and we lost track of the discussion. I'll put that here with some fleshing out. Apologies for the length, that's what happens when I have time to think about things...

First off, there are Sources of new questions, and Barriers to new questions. We want to tap the first and dismantle the second. I like to split them up and discuss them separately, even though they do overlap to some extent.


Sources

  • Current, engaged members asking questions
  • Lurkers aware of the site having a question to ask
  • Google searches discovering the site, finding related but not sufficient questions, and asking a new one.
  • People aware of the site from other searches or from social media and asking a question.
  • Other SE users having a parenting question and/or seeing us in Hot Topics and realizing they have a question.

We obviously can directly influence the first: we can ask questions. The second is a bit more complicated, since these are unengaged members so they're probably not reading meta; we can remove barriers (see later on), at least.

The third we actually should be doing very well on, and this may be one of the things also hurting us. We have a lot of visitors. Not just an excellent amount, but a really amazing amount, compared to our number of questions. We have a lot of good questions and answers that generate views - but apparently something prevents those views from turning into questions and/or users. Some of this may be some of the barriers I'll discuss in the second part, and some may simply be that we have already asked a lot of the easy questions - so people find their answers. More on this later as well.

Social media I have no idea how we do on; perhaps Tim or Jon could find out what our most common referrers are. We could definitely try to get our name out there, and should, as Brian notes in his answer. I don't know how effective that is, but who knows.

We also could try something like having a facebook page for the site, or a twitter feed just for the site; something actively curated by some of the members with the more interesting questions and/or ones with less effective answers.

As far as other SE users, I think we do well on that as it is. I know I came from Stack Overflow, and most of the users I see here have another site on SE that they have a similar or higher rep on.


Barriers

I think we have some barriers that make it less likely a user posts a question. Some of these are facts of the site, and some are things we can probably change. These are sort of generic barriers, so some of them are less a problem for us - but that doesn't mean there aren't small things we can do better.

  1. We've already had asked most of the basic questions.
  2. New users feel intimidated by the current users.
  3. Certain kinds of questions get a negative first response, or not a positive one.
  4. Some questions don't seem to fit clearly into a particular tag or category.

For 1, this is in part a fact of life for an 'old' beta. We've been around for several years, and so a lot of questions have been asked. That means simply fewer incoming questions, because people find their answer. This is a good thing to some extent: it means our purpose is being fulfilled, yay! But it also means fewer engaged users, because you need a certain volume of new questions to need answers to keep people checking the site every day.

One thing I think we can do here is to be more encouraging of small variations of specific questions. Yes, we already have a million questions and answers to "Why won't my X month old sleep at night". Maybe in some of these cases we don't close as duplicate right away, but instead figure out a way to have the asker add some specifics; link them to the other questions as we do now, but give some advice as to how they might change their question to make it unique and get better specific advice.

Perhaps in some of these cases, we should have a "form" that we provide - a set of details we know questions like that need specific answers to in order to give a useful answer to their unique question. Something like:

Hi, welcome to the site. We get a lot of sleep-related questions, as you would expect. Here you'll find our sleep resource page, which has a list of some of the questions we already have on the topic, as well as a list of specific details that would be helpful to include in your question if you would like more specific help for your situation. Again, welcome to the site and thanks for your question!

Then on another page (which we'd have to make 'custom' for this purpose, part of the Help Center), we give a list of things they should make sure to answer - whatever is useful for this. That way we are more likely to get an engaged poster, and not just someone who sees that initial "look at the other questions we have" as a turn-down - even though it's the right thing to do, and it likely will help them, it isn't quite as engaging as giving them positive advice for keeping their question alive if they want (while still giving them the already-existing solutions!)

The second issue, users intimidated by our current users, I think is less of an issue here than on other sites. It's not zero, but the nature of parenting is unique in that most of our questions can have multiple helpful answers - so the "quick answering" issue is much less. The main thing we can do to overcome what we do have here is to upvote often, leave positive comments on answers, and otherwise engage newer users as much as possible.

Upvoting questions is also a big thing - and something I've mentioned before. We don't upvote questions as often as we should, though we're better at it now than we used to be by a large margin. My rule with upvoting questions tends to be upvote everything unless it's explicitly a bad question. I don't read the site enough to upvote every single question, but I try to upvote when I can.

The third barrier I see as being one hard to solve. Certain kinds of questions don't get a very positive response - and rightly so, to some extent - but that less than positive response ends up driving people away.

In particular, I'm talking about medical questions, though we do have others that fall in this category. When a user posts a question, say, "My baby has a fever of 104 and has been coughing up mucous, what should I do?", we generally simply close the question as "asking for medical advice" and let them know that they should ask their pediatrician about things like this.

This isn't wrong, per se - and it may be the only thing we can do. But it's also not welcoming, and it's unlikely to generate a new engaged user. They had a problem they thought we might be able to help with, and we turned them away.

I think it would be worth thinking about whether we could approach these a bit differently, at least in the more complex cases. Of course, we can't offer medical advice - I think exactly one of us is an actual doctor, and she certainly can't give advice over the internet anyway - but we can perhaps approach these questions in a more welcoming way that perhaps leads to further engagement.

Similarly to the "sleep" question above, perhaps we can have a more well-defined page discussing medical issues, written from the point of view of a parent but with details helping a parent understand some of the more common medical situations they will encounter. Of course we can't tell them what to do with their child right now, but that doesn't mean we can't describe what a flu is, and what the common treatments are, so that they understand what their doctor is telling them to do - or perhaps instead of including that information on our page, we link to webmd or similar pages on other sites that cover the information effectively.

We also include some information that helps them to form a good question about medical issues that is acceptable here - we don't really cover that very well in any place a new user will find, including the Help Center. Give some examples of things we can help with, for example.

We also might want to consider allowing a few more questions on the medical side of things with the understanding that we won't answer directly with medical advice - nothing like "You should take your child..." or "You might want to take a temperature and ...", - but instead allowed to ask about similar experiences. Rather than What do I do if my child has a fever for a week even after the Doctor said nothing was wrong, which is still medical advice, we edit the question to the reasonable, Has anyone had experiences with their child having a fever for a long period of time while the doctor says nothing is wrong?

To a large extent, parents who come here with medical problems aren't coming here because they want a doctor - they're coming here because they're stressed and confused, and want reassurance that their child is normal. Allowing questions that are "medical advice" to instead be modified to "parental coping" might help lead them to be more engaged and get what they really need - reassurance that they're doing fine, they're making reasonable decisions, and their child's experiences are normal.

The other kind of question that often gets a negative initial response are questions about discipline that don't fit in this community's mindset. Questions about physical discipline, for one, end up largely rejected; they usually get answers telling them they shouldn't use physical discipline or extensive arguments in comments.

There isn't necessarily a good answer to this either - clearly the community here (myself firmly included) are averse to physical discipline of any sort, and it may be simply we don't want questions like that here. But we also need to own that we're rejecting a large set of the US population, depending on what statistics you believe as much as half of our US userbase, in doing so; and in particular, we're rejecting certain demographic groups disproportionately. That may be something we just live with, but we should be aware of the consequences. It also may be something we can fix, to some extent, without alienating our current userbase; either by simply staying out of questions that involve topics we're not comfortable with entirely, or by designing a Help Center page or a meta question that explains why we don't answer questions like that, in a nonjudgmental fashion.

For 4, I think we have a good selection of tags to help users find the right tag. We might want to consider if we should have some official tag guidelines we can publish in the help center or on a meta page; things like "use an age-specific tag on any question that is not general to all children", or even a description of what the age specific tags mean.


Parenting's Different

Finally, some discussion of whether this is relevant.

Parenting is a different beast than the rest of StackExchange. It's not exactly a Q&A site with a simple, direct A for every Q. The questions are more opinion-based and broad much of the time, and there's no definitive answer for really anything.

It's also going to generate - and need - more of a community by its nature than the rest of StackExchange, at least most of the other sites. StackOverflow is a bunch of programmers answering each others' questions. Some of the users know each other (in chat, or from outside user group meetings or somesuch), but on the whole they aren't really a community in the sense that it's a group of people who can talk to each other about ... whatever.

Parenting has that to some extent, but it also misses that a large extent. I think the users here are "nice" to each other, and even "friendly"; and in chat periodically we congratulate each other on our new children or our children's accomplishments. But I don't think we really know each other, and I don't think we really encourage these discussions outside of discussions about the site itself. I think this is where parenting-type sites tend to succeed or fail: if they're a true community they succeed, if it's just a bunch of strangers then they fail. You get engaged users on StackOverflow by having a bunch of Python and RegEx questions to answer, which leads them to answer questions in other areas.

Here, you can get engaged users by sharing baby pictures and talking about how cute my toddler was yesterday when he told me he did not want me to help him clean up his toys (because he wanted to). We're (mostly) parents, and we like to talk about our kids and show off and be proud of them. It's an avenue of engagement that is uniquely relevant to our site.

As such, I think two things. One, we don't need the 10 questions per day that other sites do necessarily. They need that because you need people to always have something interesting to answer in order to come to the site.

Instead, we need some way to increase our sense of community. Photography.SE has a photograph contest, for example, where users submit their photographs, and one of them is visible on the main page at all times. What can we do in this area?

  • A Facebook page or Instagram group or other kind of social media connection. Maybe we make a facebook page for our community, curated by either someone with experience doing so, or perhaps even SE staff can help out some. This would allow sharing of interesting questions (both answered and unanswered) in a different location, plus allow us to share our own pictures and stories in a more interesting way.
  • Chat events. We already have chat, and while I'm not convinced it's a good forum for this sort of thing (due to our busy lives, we're not likely to be there all at once), it's possible we could host events where we just socialize for an hour or something.
  • A site blog, where we write up interesting questions and also allow guest posts on different topics - how your approach to discipline works, how you got your kids eating vegetables, how you overcame the dreaded first day of school.
  • Craft, cooking, etc. ideas shared in some fashion - a blog, a pinterest collection, or as encouraged questions (more below).
  • Sharing kid pictures in some fashion. This isn't necessarily going to be everybody's thing - many of us have privacy concerns about sharing pictures of our minor children - but certainly some people have posted pictures on chat, so there might be some interest.
  • ???

The crafts and cooking questions idea also sticks out to me as a possible source of new questions. Right now we largely encourage questions about how to raise your children from a behavior and psychology perspective - almost all of our questions are in that side of things. If you look at active parenting sites, though, what you see are a lot of other things moms (and dads) like to share: recipes and snack/meal ideas, crafts, games, etc. Can these be brought into the site in some way? Can we have reasonable questions that lead to recipe sharing and craft ideas getting onto the site, such that we become a destination for this kind of thing as well? Is this something we want?


All things considered, I think the site is to some extent healthy now - and I wouldn't be shocked to see it graduate in the next year. I also wouldn't be shocked to see it stay in beta perpetually, or until the powers that be decide it will never graduate and either tell us that or shut it down. Parenting isn't exactly a normal site, and I don't think we can ever make it into exactly what the rest of SE is. What we can do, though, is think about how we approach things, and see if there are new and interesting ways to grow our community and develop it in its own way.

  • 1
    Very well thought out. My first reaction is that we should definitely have a better format for when we detect the user asking certain questions. "Please include the age of the child." "Provide these details:" If it's thought it might be a medical question, maybe we could put up a warning (like the subjective question warning) that says something like: "If your child is currently in pain, distress, or is exhibiting sores, rashes, or injuries, and you want help, please contact a medical professional." Followed by a message on acceptable medical-related questions. – user11394 May 7 '15 at 18:54
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    I just noticed the part about Cooking/Craft sort of questions. I think these are a great idea. Craft and food ideas get a crazy number of likes, shares, pins, etc. as well as engagement. If there's a way we can ease up on the rules regarding subjective/opinion-based, we can encourage these questions. Right now, I'm not sure a question such as, "What sort of crafts can I do with popsicle sticks with my toddler?" would stay open. (However, I have a related question I'm now going to ask and test this with!) – user11394 May 7 '15 at 18:58
  • The rephrasing of "medical advice" into "parental coping" is an interesting idea and deserves its own meta question to be discussed in more detail. – Acire May 8 '15 at 12:34
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    I completely agree about needing a sense of community. One of the weirdest transitions I had as a parent was a sudden certainty that I was an expert on pregnancy, breastfeeding, and babies — I'd just gone through it and learned so much. I wanted to share that expertise, bragging about my amazing kid as well as my clearly excellent coping skills. Clearly I've managed to tone down that egomania over time ;) but that urge to collaborate is what can create a cohesive community. Q&A is a mediocre structure for that at best; I want to see a very active chat room instead! – Acire May 8 '15 at 12:44
  • Walls of text like this are one of the reasons people don't use the site. There's no nice way to say it, but it's true. Too many answers are way too long. – DanBeale May 29 '15 at 15:53
4

Maybe those with plenty of reputation on the site can start sharing the questions instead of jumping in to answer them. It's easy to be helpful, especially on a site like this one, but increasing site traffic in general will lead to more questions.

Start pushing these questions to Facebook groups of parents and encourage them to come to the site and answer them. This should lead to those people bringing their questions here as well.

EDIT: This is what i am referring to when I said share. I guess they're only available on questions with no answers at all though.

Know someone who can answer? Share a link to this question via email, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook.

As to who is in charge... just like almost everything else on SO, the community. Each of us that cares enough to come back day after day should be helping to make a better site, myself included.

  • 1
    What's "plenty of reputation"? And, if we don't get answers quickly, do we also risk alienating people who want answers right away? – user11394 May 4 '15 at 22:22
  • Plenty is subjective. Once you're comfortable with your rep level I guess. Anyone over 1k rep. Once the privileges kick in really. We do run the risk of alienating those who want answer right away. Maybe we should share questions that have answers and don't have the checkmark yet. – Brian Robbins May 4 '15 at 22:24
  • Share them where? Are there specific FB groups that should be targeted (and would it violate any group rules to advertise for here?) Who's in charge of sharing? Is there some sort of community manager that should be doing this? – user11394 May 4 '15 at 22:26
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    Brian - you can always share questions, whether they have answers or not. – Rory Alsop May 4 '15 at 22:33
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    I like this idea of not jumping in to answer. @CreationEdge, for your "if we don't get answers in quickly" question, I'd say, usually one pick up on urgency in the question. Those cases would clearly be an exception. – aparente001 May 20 '15 at 14:22
3

(This answer is likely going to change over the course of the days, as I have more time to think, write, and find information.)

It's useful to get a more granular idea of the questions-per-day statistic than Area 51's snapshot (ref. Can we see a plot of our site's Area 51 stats over time?).

About a year ago, the graph looked like this:

parenting questions stats 2014

Today:

parenting questions stats 2015

We clearly are stuck on a plateau with regards to new answers per day, and have been for a very, very long time.


The lack of new Questions is one of my significant concerns both as a user and now as a moderator, and perversely one which I may be most poorly equipped to understand. I can link to help pages about good Q&A, I can provide a voice of reason and calm, I can compose well-researched answers and vote on Q&A and edit to improve the overall quality of material -- but I am pretty bad at publicity.

A Recipe to Promote your Site may be a good starting point.

  • I'd need to understand the query better to write a similar one of my own. I did convert the data into a questions/answers per day value (using the 30 day periods given in the query), and the outlook is not good. At our current rate of growth, it'll be years before we hit 10 questions per day. The outlook may get better if I use data all the way back from site creation, so I'll try that eventually. – user11394 May 4 '15 at 15:53
  • Thank you for the charts. Weirdly they show more traffic than I expected! (Although I agree with you that much more traffic would be lovely). – DanBeale May 30 '15 at 21:46
3

Being mod on a few sites I get to see a few graphs, and one of the ones which is important is not how long a particular averaged line will take to reach a target, but have we reached a turning point, where the gradient suddenly increases. There are other indicators as well, but this was significant before Security graduated, and not long before we were told Music would be graduating soon.

So absolute numbers aren't necessarily all we need, it's that exposure/growth/vistors/questions/exposure cycle that needs to take hold.

Some ideas from other sites:

  • It doesn't appear that we're seeing a sudden increase to questions, if the target for a successful beta is 10. We're seeing a small upward trend, but it's been relatively flat. Is there a way to increase our gradient, as you put it? – user11394 May 4 '15 at 22:39
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    Unfortunately a lot of the conference or contest options aren't really as applicable -- but there are plenty of other ideas there that could potentially take hold in some fashion. – Acire May 5 '15 at 2:01
3

Joe touched on one thing in his answer:

Certain kinds of questions get a negative first response, or not a positive one.

Frankly, it has been my experience that a LOT of questions get a negative first response.

And the worst kind of first response at that - specifically, "this is not a real problem, you shouldn't care about it" in response to "how do I address problem X". This is made materially worse by the fact that a lot of the long term users are then upvoting this non-answer (despite such an answer violating Meta guidelines AND the OP's comments stating that the answer is extremely unhelpful).

I'm far from a newbie at either SE or even this site, but this type of response basically drove me off of this site as an asker; after a rigorous attempt to participate (which was discussed here on Meta previously).

Please note that this is somewhat orthogonal to antagonistic response to specific question types/topics (which Joe's answer discussed in a very thorough detail, so there's not much to add).

  • 1
    I'm cognizant of this issue, and have been personally making an effort to be more encouraging to question askers and new people answering. I've been asking a lot of questions lately, and it feels like half of them are met with a comment of same sort that says the question isn't good enough, doesn't fit the site, shouldn't be asked, or isn't worded to someone's satisfaction (even if that person doesn't seem to plan on answering). It's very frustrating since I'm choosing to participate, when I could very well look up answers on my own and keep it to myself. – user11394 May 13 '15 at 4:05
  • @CreationEdge - the things you mentioned are opposition to the form of the question. What my issue is, specifically opposing the content in the specific form of "this isn't a question you should want an answer for". E.g. it's not a poorly asked question (while i'm far from perfect, I have enough experience to avoid most of that type of backlash), it's "not a question worth asking". – user3143 May 13 '15 at 4:12
  • Yeah, I've had that happen, too. Although such a response was from only one user, negativity like that often outweighs multiple positive responses. – user11394 May 13 '15 at 4:16
  • "This is made materially worse by all the long term users upvoting this non-answer" to clarify, I know for a fact that not all long term users upvoted the answers you are referring to. However, the apparent hostility towards askers is a problem inherent in many SE sites (I know, for example, that physics.se is one I will never participate in, nor refer my physicists friends to, for that same issue). – user420 May 13 '15 at 12:38
  • @Beofett - "all" was meant as in "all who upvoted", not "all who exist", sorry – user3143 May 13 '15 at 13:50
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    @Beofett - and yes I agree it's not parenting specific. I also heavily leaned off of asking on SO itself due to exactly that same problem of assorted "too smart" people posting popular "this is an X-Y problem" non-answers that are of zero help to me. – user3143 May 13 '15 at 13:51
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    Arguing with the premise like that is one of my pet peeves, and I try to keep an eye out for it. Should we be more strict about moderating-away such non-answers? – Acire May 13 '15 at 22:23
  • @Erica - indubitably so :) – user3143 May 13 '15 at 22:30
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    Would you be willing to make this answer into a meta question? I, for one, think it's worth a discussion of its own. If not, please let me know. Thanks. And I am sorry for your experience. – anongoodnurse May 14 '15 at 4:19
  • @anongoodnurse - wouldn't it be a dupe of meta.parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/123/… or meta.parenting.stackexchange.com/questions/702/… – user3143 May 14 '15 at 16:35
  • Most likely, but perhaps it's time to revisit? If our responses are driving users away, I don't think another post is a bad idea. I would guess that most users don't really scour meta for site etiquette. If you don't want to post, though, that's ok too. Let me know, and I'll post. – anongoodnurse May 14 '15 at 16:46
  • @anongoodnurse - not so much as "not want" but frankly don't have time resources to invest (need to do research etc...). If you wish to, you're more than welcome to post and steal any examples of mine you see on the contest Meta posts. – user3143 May 14 '15 at 17:45
  • Will do, and thanks for the answers! – anongoodnurse May 14 '15 at 17:58
  • Hey all, when I saw a link to my answer in such a bad light, I noticed... that you are actually right about the negativity. I rephrased and extended my answer. I hope I'll be better understood this time. – Dariusz May 18 '15 at 6:30
3

One more idea stolen from my prior Meta post:

You would get a major possible spike in questions if you get SE dev team to implement anonymous participation - more specifically, disallowing anyone from seeing your Parenting account's association with the main SE account.

Likely objections addressed:

  • Do you have evidence?

    Anecdotal one, Yes. During the "question posting challenge" 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.

  • Just create a brand new account for parenting SE.

    Frankly, not worth the bother, to have 2 distinct SE accounts.

  • Just post questions anonymously

    You lose any gamification benefits, leading to reduced effort (lower quality, lower investment in the site, lower participation)

  • Do you have any information showing that others don't participate in more personal stacks, such as ours, because they don't want in tied to their other accounts? – user11394 May 14 '15 at 18:35
  • @CreationEdge - not anymore. But it was a popular complaint on Relationships.SE while that particular fun house lasted. Anyone whose parenting/social views are outside the perceived cultural mainstream would be extra reticent. – user3143 May 14 '15 at 18:44
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    I'll chime in to say that there's been stuff I haven't posted because I wasn't comfortable having it associated with my se account. – user420 May 15 '15 at 16:23

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