6

Earning Rep on PM:SE is a slow and tedious affair, mainly because of the slow rate of on-topic questions and apparent lack of users who read, upvote and accept answers. I once waited 2-3 days on Meta to get more than the initial 2 or 3 views of a question!) I understand that earning rep is not the main goal of the site, or any SE site, but it is part of the incentive to the community members to effectively and continuously curate the site.

I had assumed that since it is a Beta site it had always been like this. But then I looked back over older question and saw questions being upvoted in the 10s, multiple great answers with upvotes and discussions. In other words all the hallmarks of an active and popular site. They pretty much echo what I see on other sites. After some false starts on SuperUser and Stack Overflow I made PM:SE my home as it is PM practises I want to engage with and where most of any skill I have lies. After some months (maybe 10?) I randomly started up an account on ELU, just for kicks really... And I found that with considerably less effort I overtook my PM:SE rep score in a matter of a few short weeks... And it continues to outpace PM:SE even though I come here every day and try to engage with as many questions as I can...

I wasn't around in the early days- What happened to make the usage drop away so sharply? Did we reach the end of everything there is to say in the field of Project Management? How could we return the site to its former glories, or are we generally content to let it fade away on the basis "the public has spoken" and it is just not popular?

Interestingly, looking back over the past few months, there are a few instances of questions receiving 10 or more upvotes and views in the thousands- These are clearly where a question has made it onto the SE 'Hot Network Questions' list and those do seem to generate a raft of answers and interaction from (presumably new) users that browse the Hot Questions list (don't we all?)) looking for interesting questions. So perhaps we have two issues:

  • We are not generally attracting enough active visitors, I feel we are below the "critical mass" but that is very subjective
  • New visitors only visit once or very few times, tend not to value the site as a source of information and hence don't return

EDIT 2: For the avoidance of doubt, I agree the site is "alive and well" - it is demonstrably functioning and performing functionally as designed. Nor am I suggesting there is not "traffic" to the site or that we are not attracting new users (the words I have used are active and engaged users). Again, all of these are self-evident. What I am observing and commenting on is the considerably reduced amount of interaction between users and questions in modern questions. Many questions receive relatively few views, upvotes and answers, and the percentage of questions that receive accepted answers are relatively few. My main point is this:

  • This situation means it is not a satisfying place for engaged users to participate in my opinion. I offer no evidence other than my own observation and opinion- If I take half an hour of my time to answer a question, to the best of my ability, and it receives a dozen views, no (or few) upvotes and no answer is ever accepted there is the possibility that my answer was not deserving of those effect, but after it happens again and again, I begin to doubt the efficacy of the site rather than my own abilities to answer questions correctly. To put it bluntly, why will people continue to post good quality answers when the audience appears to be very small and provides little reaction or encouragement? For the avoidance of doubt, that is a rhetorical question.

The number of "avid users" is neither here nor there- In my opinion we have this problem and if we have it despite there being a notionally substantial amount of "avid users" then the correlation is broken in my view.

Similarly personal reach is a superficially correlating value. Mine says I have reached 56,000 people. That's an ego-satisfyingly large number, but I am a fairly active poster on the site and I still believe we have an issue. So clearly reaching 56,000 people does not represent a vibrant site.

You may or may not agree we have a vibrant site here- I offer my observations and opinions. The thrust of posting this long post in Meta was to open a discussion- perhaps I am the only person who sees a low-usage, low-volume, low-interaction, and perhaps most importantly, low-fun site these days. In which case I will stop worrying. But if there is a problem, let's talk about it and see if it can be fixed.

  • Thanks for the thought provoking comment, Marv. As a moderator I'll take a back seat for a bit and see what other community members say before chiming in. – Mark Phillips Sep 16 '15 at 1:34
  • You made some good edits, Marv. In light of the edits, the only thing I can suggest is that comparing it to sites that encourage FGITW answers is bound to create frustration. The subject matter of this site isn't suitable for high-volume, low-engagement answers and voting patterns, so it will always be a slow slog by contrast. – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 26 '15 at 5:20
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I'm pretty new to PM:SE, but personally, I find that some questions - software-related, pure facts, etc. - are easily answered with a single reply, but the majority are difficult to answer in the format of the site, because they are so context-specific and require a lot of back-and-forth to truly help. Because of this, unfortunately, I often refrain from replying to things I might be able to help with. Maybe others are having the same experience?

For example, someone asks "My team/stakeholder/client is exhibiting behavior X - what should I do?", or "We're trying to start Scrum - should I be strict about process aspect X?". If and when people respond, they are often very specific answers, but really, the response should be "well, it depends - tell me about org aspect a, b, c, d, e... " etc. If these are in comments, they get shut down for "being a conversation", but the one-reply-per-person format just isn't conducive to helping someone organically.

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    +1 Very good points. – Marv Mills Sep 16 '15 at 15:01
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    Jeff, in those cases, the best thing to do is leave a comment on the question asking for more details and then editing the additional details into the question. Once there are enough details, we should then be able to answer without extensive back and forth in the answer body. Hope this helps. – jmort253 Sep 18 '15 at 3:25
5

To help further the discussion, here's some data on the site analytics from the public beta in 2011 to present.

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  • Do any of the rest of us have access to these analytics? I know there's data.stackexchange.com, but I don't see these reports on the site. Are they part of the diamond moderator toolset? – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 28 '15 at 1:58
  • Interesting that site traffic always plunges around the new year. However, I don't really understand what "Posts" is measuring. Do we really have historical periods where we're posting 100+ questions or answers a week, or is this measuring something else? – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 28 '15 at 2:02
  • Yes, site traffic generally falls around New Year, holidays, etc. The same behavior is seen on Stack Overflow and other sites which are primarily work related. Yes, we do have historical periods of 100 + questions and answer per week. – Mark Phillips Oct 4 '15 at 2:53
  • If anyone is wondering where these reports are from, they're from the 25k privilege and found at pm.stackexchange.com/site-analytics. Other than a short period of inflation immediately after the start of the public beta, the numbers seem consistent and healthy to me. They just don't indicate growth of interaction; just growth in traffic. – Todd A. Jacobs Oct 11 '15 at 0:31
3

My answer may not cover all the points that you have mentioned, however let me put forward some analysis based on the data collected.

Earning Rep on PM:SE is a slow and tedious affair

Generally, I agree. Though there are few users who are pretty active on PM.SE and receive a good amount of reputation through writing good answers. However, its the nature and small userbase of PM.SE that makes rep earning a bit tough. The site may not be very useful for general internet users as compared to some other sites such as ELU.

I looked back over older question and saw questions being upvoted in the 10s

During 2011 and 2012, users voted heavily for questions which were later closed. Based on this, I think looking at votes on old questions doesn't give us an appropriate picture. Here the data about closed questions having a positive score:

Year - Closed posts but score > 0
---------------------------------
2011 - 78% (31 Qs score >=5)
2012 - 67% (10 Qs score >=5)
2013 - 18% (0  Qs score >=5)
2014 - 28%
2105 - 28%

Note: closed posts percentage has remained consistent in the range of 9% - 11% of total questions during all these years.

I assume high voted questions got high votes answers as well.

What happened to make the usage drop away so sharply?

Usage didn't decrease. Traffic increased over the years. However, votes may have decreased. In June 2104, site had 2479 visits per day. In Oct 2015, it is 4637 visits per day.

I guess, some of the core users of the early days who were committed to public beta and were quite active became less involved. I agree with you that there are now fewer active and engaged members on PM.SE but overall more users.

if there is a problem, let's talk about it and see if it can be fixed

It's good to see that community members are concerned about site's health/progress and would like to discuss on Meta to improve it further. I think we need to spread the word about PM.SE more than ever. Share, tweet, and link to good PM.SE posts on blogs and social media. Let the world know about the great content our community generates. I believe this is not being done to a fuller extent. I base my opinion on the number of Announcer (share a link to a question later visited by 25 unique IP addresses) badges awarded during past 3 years. It has been awarded 97 times till now, but only 5 badges in 2015, 2 in 2014, and 4 in 2013.

Don't give up !!! :)

  • +1 Thank you for the great contribution to the discussion! – Mark Phillips Oct 11 '15 at 12:58
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It's about critical mass and how it is in the interest of PM.StackExchange.com fans to recruit more new PM fans ... numbers matter and NEW, zealous recruits matter even more.

I have not done enough, but I am trying to use every decent opportunity I find to strongly and bluntly suggest looking into MOOCs and virtual classrooms and other fora like the PM and Math and Stats fora on StackExchange ... not just for project management ... but for ALL other serious training as well.

Sustaining any educational community around any topic requires "critical mass" and increasingly it is becoming apparent that geographically-located or other traditional forms of higher and specialized education are simply TOO EXPENSIVE and worse than that, they are TOO UNRESPONSIVE to changing needs (eg schedules that do not afford the luxury of having one's butt in a seat).

The single most important skill for any professional to master is to learn how to learn independently, without being guided at every step [as in a traditional classroom]. No one anywhere in the world can afford to endure and support the constraints of the traditional classroom any more.

It is time to get smarter about education and to accelerate the migration ... that means taking responsibility for recruiting and stepping up to do more to evangelize those things that work ... the alternative is not very pretty...

1

TL;DR

Your post is a rant. It is not supported by the evidence. Current data suggests that PMSE is alive and well.

New Users

As of 9/24/15, there were 470 new users who have signed up in the past 45 days. While this says nothing about how active they will be on the site, this clearly does not support the claim that the site is failing to attract new users.

Most users on most sites are largely passive, or are primarily consumers. By design, they may not even need to ask questions if the site already holds canonical answers to the questions they might ask.

Value

Your assumptions about how much people "value" the site is insupportable. This is a qualitative assessment that you've failed to support with even anecdotal evidence.

Your implicit assumption appears to be that posting and voting are the appropriate metrics for how much users "value" the site. Unless you poll people you can't get qualitative data, but there's plenty of quantitative data suggesting that the site is widely trafficked.

Traffic

Area 51 says that the site has 332 "avid" users and 12,155 total users, with an average of 4,827 visits per day. Even if 90% of those visits are from search engines, that's still 482 visitors a day consuming the site's information.

For a sense of the impact this has, my user tab says that I've personally reached around 410,000 people. I'd say that's a pretty solid indication that the site has value, and that my contributions matter.

Voting Patterns

I have limited data about this. At a quick estimate, I personally seem to have 39 points so far this week, and 219 so far this month. The data is highly variable, and doesn't tell me much about how much reputation other people are getting. For that, we can turn to the reputation leagues.

This week, 25 people earned a combined total of 578 reputation points, averaging 23 reputation points each for the week. While that isn't even close to the churn on gets on Stack Overflow, it still indicates that PMSE is hardly on life support.

As a single data point, this question has 2,329 views, but only 34 upvotes. This would seem to indicate that votes represent a tiny fraction of views, and high-traffic sites like Stack Overflow tend to be even worse in that regard. In contrast, this SO question has 108,530 views and only 72 votes. If the data holds more broadly, I would say that this is a clear indication that PMSE has better levels of participation per capita than SO.

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    You posit many strawman arguments here but fail to actually address my question which is essentially looking at the difference in usage now versus usage in the past. You may be happy with the trickle of questions and poor feedback, that's fine- I'm not and I'm not here to persuade you or anyone of anything, I am here to discuss what we could do to make this site a better experience for its engaged users. I thought the subject was worthy of debate and discussion for the good of the site. Whether this is a fact or not, your response appears to try and close down such a debate by waving stats... – Marv Mills Sep 24 '15 at 22:24
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    ... which is a real shame. I love this site and I want it to flourish not just bob along the bottom. No one individual can achieve that, but by admitting the issues and discussing them we can perhaps influence matters. Or we can pretend that stats say there isn't an issue and go on as we are now. – Marv Mills Sep 24 '15 at 22:26
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Well I think that time has answered my question. In the one week since posting my question it has received the following:

28x views

2x Upvotes

1x 'Favourite'

But more importantly...

Just 1 answer (and that from a relatively new user)

On the meta part of a site, in a question posted for , about the fact the site is ailing compared to its past and asking for views on how to revive its fortunes (or whether no-one cares about reviving its fortune)... that speaks volumes.

The answer appears to me to be twofold:

  1. Apathy on behalf of existing site users
  2. Lack of engaged new users

Given how much effort has to go into proper answers to proper questions, continued engagement with this site does not feel worth the time investment, to be honest.

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    Actually I have answered my question in this post, with the figures noted and my final assertions. It may be the wrong answer, but it is an answer. As I understand it, in Meta discussions, the etiquette is to DV answers that you do not agree with and UV those that you do agree with. – Marv Mills Sep 24 '15 at 22:29
  • I'm not trying to pick on you, Marv. I think the issue is that both your question and your answer seem to be focused more on how quickly or how much people interact with a given post, rather than what your question seemed to be asking, which was "is the site healthy.* They are really very different issues, and the longer-form format that a site focused on soft-skills and contextual processes requires is simply not conducive to immediate feedback or high levels of casual posting. – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 28 '15 at 2:09
  • As for downvoting, PMSE isn't a very downvote-happy place. As a community, we seem to be more interested in encouraging refinement of posts than in downvoting things to oblivion. You won't find many heavily-downvoted questions anywhere on this site; whether or not that's a good thing might be a good question for another post. – Todd A. Jacobs Sep 28 '15 at 2:11
  • People don't visit Meta much. Its only when a post is shown under 'Hot Meta Post', it starts getting traffic. The behavior is also evident on Meta Stack Overflow. – Aziz Shaikh Oct 2 '15 at 15:20

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