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As we discussed pretty extensively in the comments of a recent question: all of our stats are lacking! Improving them can seem a bit overwhelming and sometimes a chicken-or-the-egg sort of chase. However, to me the main cause seems to be a lack of regulars -- users that take the time to read every (or almost every) question on the site, vote regularly, moderate, ask strong questions, and provide technical answers.

There was a recent question about over-moderation and building a userbase. With the moral of the question being that we might be scaring users away by being harsh on weaker questions. I don't think this is the issue; it might cause problems for drive-by questions or infrequent visitors, but I don't see how it would discourage potential regulars (who I would expect to be fluent enough in cognitive science to ask strong questions).

I find (at least for me) that my willingness to be a regular is proportional to my perception of the quality of the site, as well as my interest in the topic. Since I think many have interest in the cognitive sciences, I don't think interest is the issue.

Hence my questions:

1. How can we encourage more people to participate regularly on cogsci.SE?

2. Do you think that increasing the number of regular users will help resolve our other weak statistics, or should we be concentrating on something else?

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    Thanks for starting this conversation Artem! I'd also like to ask, 3. What, if anything, would the community like to see the pro-tem mods be going to assist in this area? – Josh Mar 17 '12 at 22:03
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    I would like to note that we're not doing as bad as it might seem for a narrower interest community: see Astronomy's numbers – Ben Brocka Mar 19 '12 at 21:12
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I think it takes time. In the first few weeks, we did a fair amount of active promotion of the site on social networks (e.g., some of this stuff. That pulled in a lot of traffic that boosted our traffic stats for a while. I think also that meta is a great place to discuss specific site promotion ideas (see the site-promotion meta tag).

Ultimately, I think there's some kind of probabilistic formula operating. My ball park estimate would be for every new visitor we get, perhaps

  • 2% joins the site
  • .5% engages in some form of activity on the site (e.g., post a question, an answer, a vote).
  • .05% becomes a 200+ rep user
  • .01% goes on to become a 1000+ rep user

You can see on the new user tab that each week we are getting plenty of new users. I think that a big part of it is that it takes time for the probabilities to work their magic to grow the site.

On this basis, to grow the site we need to get more views, which is largely a function of time and amount of quality indexed content. Promotional activities can increase the speed of this process, but ultimately I imagine Google will provide the main background hum of traffic that gradually increases our user base.

I think cogsci.se along with many of the new science based stack exchange sites have the challenge that they can't rely on too much user transfer from the traditional core of stack exchange sites that are typically focused on programmers. In general, when I compare cogsci.se to other Science betas on Area 51 we're basically on par with them. Also, some of the metrics seem to be updated medians (visitors/day, questions/day), so short term interventions (e.g., posting a lot of questions in a short period of time, or social network promotions) are useful but don't show up in the ongoing area 51 stats except in terms of the much smaller long term effects such interventions have.

I would really like to see the site grow faster especially in terms of getting more committed psychology and cognitive science researchers involved. However, I think time will be a key factor.

That said, it's not going to happen by itself:

  • great answers, great questions, good editing and moderation
  • promotion through social networks, blogs, and so on

That is all going to be a part of it.

Already, I think the site provides the best online forum available for asking questions about cognitive science and psychology. I guess it is up to those of us who see the potential in the stack exchange model to stick with it and promote the site until it reaches the critical mass of expertise and community which will allow us to take it to the next level.

  • Psychology is my field and since joining CogSci, I've answered exactly two questions. Why? Because there's quite a lot of specialties in psychology, such as organizational psychology, forensic psychology (my branch), clinical psychology (counseling), and neuropsychology (psychology of the brain), and questions in my particular field are rarely presented. So, to me, this site has a definitely tilt toward cognitive science, which I don't have the expertise to ask or answer questions in. It says it's for psychology too, but it doesn't feel that way. Respectfully, of course. :) – Catharsis Apr 1 '12 at 2:36
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Voting is a big thing. Stack Exchange has an economy based on rep; Rep gives the feeling of popular support of one's opinions and it gives access to more privileges. Rep also allows users to make bounties on posts, which provide additional incentives for answers.

Of course, we don't just need to upvote all posts, we need to upvote posts that show research effort, competence and correctness. This is how good posts are rewarded. Similarly, bad posts should be downvoted (but don't downvote already closed posts); these posts are incorrect, hard to understand or show no effort. This also helps sort our posts so the best content rises to the top to give a good impression and correct answers to all future users.

Rep, voting and privileges are a big part of what makes the SE experience addictive for many of the "regulars" on any given SE site, and unfortunately I see a good amount of well researched answers out there with mediocre or bad scores, even considering the size of the site.

There's a reason high-rep users are counted as a stat on Area 51, I think they're a very good indicator of the quality and vitality of a site. Not only are higher rep users more engaged and rewarded for their efforts, though their competence in the subject matter they're afforded privileges like Close Votes (which are so hard right now), flagging posts, editing, and setting bounties to promote good content and improve or remove not so good content.

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