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There has been an announcement of round of recent site closures to take final effect on May 4th.

Astronomy and Theoretical Physics might be preserved by rolling content into Physics.SE. Perhaps just a personal opinion, but Firearms and Healthcare IT sound fairly niche to me. Some of the sites had been in Beta for a long time (e.g., Astronomy for 329 days, Literature for 260 days).

However, the closure of Economics is what worried me the most. It had only been in Beta for 197 days. It had 412 question, 739 answers, 87% answered, 240 visitors per day, forty-two 200+ rep users. Furthermore, I can't see where the content of Economics.SE could be migrated. It also represents an entire discipline; i.e., thus, it's hard to argue that it's too niche.

It's also interesting to note that 3 of the 6 sites closed were from the "Science" category. This is where cogsci.se is located.

We can also look at several other sites in the science category that are in beta and have not been closed, such as philosophy, linguistics, and biology. In particular, linguistics and philosophy have somewhat similar stats to economics.

Questions

  • What can we learn from this event?
  • How can we ensure that Cogsci.se survives?
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    You read my mind on this one. Everything except that HIT is niche, but I'm not here to argue about that. It's loss will be felt – Chuck Sherrington Apr 26 '12 at 2:13
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    Relevant: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/130361/… I think the point about too much effort required to answer is a potential problem for us when courting mostly research questions – Ben Brocka Apr 26 '12 at 2:39
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    @Ben: to clarify that point a bit, it's not a problem if folks are willing and able to put that effort in... But it will naturally slow the growth of the site in terms of people who are willing and able to devote that time. If you think of how many people answer questions on other sites in evenings, on trains, etc... It's a hurdle to overcome. – Shog9 Apr 26 '12 at 3:49
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    Also relevant: discussion in chat starting here. Long, but related. – Josh Apr 26 '12 at 3:52
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Being a newbie on the site, my impression is that the intended limitation to professionals (practitioners and researchers) might be one of the main reasons for the lack of activity. On the one hand, practitioners are often to far from research to meet the high requirements that are requested for good questions (scope of the question, initial research etc.). Thus, either they post here and their questions get closed or they don't post at all because they feel discouraged by seeing similar questions being closed here.

Researchers, on the other hand, are normally taught to do their homework alone, that is, instead of doing the research necessary for a good question, they search for the right answer right away. Thus, no need to post here.

I think that one possible way of attracting more users could be to stop scaring off users. See for example this question: Is there a field of research based around music and emotion in the brain?

Of course, this question showed a dramatic lack of initial research. But why bragging about it in the comments and down-voting the user? A simple and friendly answer could have been to guide him to the wikipedia article and encourage him to get an overview there and to come back afterwards to open a new, more specific questions.

Thus, instead of simply closing a question it could be sometimes better to answer it and explain why the question cannot be answered. If it lacks initial research, give those easy wikipedia links or the name of the technical terms that will bring good search results. If the question is too broad, give details on the fields this question touches and ask the questioner to ask a new, more specific question.

This will satisfy the questioner because he feels welcome (which he does not if the question gets closed) and he learned something as well (which he probably will not if the question gets closed). Both things together will probably result in a new and better question. Furthermore, he is likely to accept such an answer, which will help the site stats and the reputation of the respondent.

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    While I agree that situation was not ideal, there were some helpful hints left to the poster of the music question. I waited quite a bit of time after my suggestion to cast a close vote, so there was redemption available, but the user chose not to take it. I don't know that it was the "beginner" nature of it as much as it was a vague question. Your points are well taken, though. – Chuck Sherrington Apr 26 '12 at 7:11
  • My comments were not directed at any person that commented on this question, downvoted or closed it. I just wanted to explain my thoughts with a specific example in mind. Also, please note that I am quite new on the site and lack the expertise you guys collected with similar questions in the past. Thus, please do not feel offended or criticized on a personal level. – H.Muster Apr 26 '12 at 7:16
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    As our top rep "New User", it's great to have your input. This tension remains an important issue for our site. There has been a lot of discussion of this issue over the while; perhaps the closure of several sites is an argument for pushing us slightly more in the inclusive direction: e.g., greater tolerance of lay-person questions; less closing, and more editing of questions to make them good; being friendly to lay people asking questions. I think this is a continuum, and I'm thinking maybe we move just one little notch across to being more inclusive. – Jeromy Anglim Apr 26 '12 at 7:18
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    @JeromyAnglim Agreed about the inclusiveness for sure. I was merely trying to provide some context for the specific issue cited. Closing is an important tool, though, and educating new users that it is not the end of the road, but a pause button may be as important as monitoring/curbing the rate of closings itself. – Chuck Sherrington Apr 26 '12 at 7:28
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I think that everything ended up boiling down to visits per day, though Theoretical Physics had quite a steady stream. While it shouldn't be a primary concern, visits yield "foot traffic" and ad revenue.

I'm going to repeat what scores of others have said, but we need to get the name of the site out there. We should get some ideas together of where people would appreciate seeing links for our posts that won't be too obtrusive or scammy. I know everyone dislikes Reddit, but it's a great place to put links up, in which most clicking at least know that that's what they are getting into. There seems to be a big psych and neuro presence over there in a variety of different subjects, and I think some have even posted links over there before.

The other facet is trying to get academics and vetted professionals to take a look at the site. If you know people in your departments that might be interested, get them to take a look. Anyone in academic circles knows that a fresh project is risky, but it's a great place to make a huge impact if it succeeds. Remind them of that.

The last thing is to strike a balance between the high-end research questions, and those of the curious. While it would be great to have a research level site, one of the good examples of those (Theoretical Phys) is closing out from under its stakeholders. We've got to cater to both camps, and I think with the proper set of tags, we can. We can observe how Physics proper develops under these new conditions.

This site has the potential to be much more than it is now, and I know we can do this.

  • I don't understand why TP.SE is closing. Look at the comparison of TP.SE stats and those of ling.SE. Both sites are of the same age, and the only real difference I see is the difficulty of questions (TP has a significantly lower %answered and fewer answers-per-question) and a slightly smaller user-base. I think TP.SE got killed because of the overlap with physics.SE... – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 26 '12 at 2:46
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    Keep in mind, there are no ads on most of these sites. Visits are useful to track simply because if they're dropping off, well... What's the point? If you eventually end up with only the people writing reading, you might just as well have a mailing list. – Shog9 Apr 26 '12 at 3:53
  • @Shog9 Honestly, I've had the ad blocker for so long I always just assumed. Something has to keep the lights on, though. – Chuck Sherrington Apr 26 '12 at 4:00
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    The biggest sites on the network do have some ads, but most of our focus right now is on finding more symbiotic ways of keeping things lit up. How that'll take shape for other sites remains to be seen... – Shog9 Apr 26 '12 at 4:10
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    "We've got to cater to both camps, and I think with the proper set of tags, we can." I agree with this partly, and have written about it before. I don't agree this is something which should be done through tags, I recommend adjusting your answer to the level of initial research. – Steven Jeuris Apr 26 '12 at 12:09
  • @StevenJeuris It was a more hypothetical suggestion than anything, and my thought process was biased from observing the potential incorporation of the TP questions into Physics proper. – Chuck Sherrington Apr 26 '12 at 12:32
  • Related to this tag thing: meta.physics.stackexchange.com/questions/1203/… – Ben Brocka Apr 26 '12 at 21:44
  • In case I forgot to say it somewhere, the sticking point was growth, not visits per day. If we can continue to show growth that's what keeps us alive (like Biblical Heremutics) even if we're not getting super high visits per day. – Ben Brocka May 22 '12 at 13:14
  • @BenBrocka Yes, Shog alluded to that, too. One thing's for sure in that department, I think we've all been trying to post links in conspicuous pages. I don't know offhand if there's a way to tell if any new folks that followed one of our external links stuck around, though. – Chuck Sherrington May 22 '12 at 13:33
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For me, the most noticeable feature of economics.SE is that it has very few 500+ rep users (only 10 despite being in beta for 197 days) this suggests a very small set of regulars, and very few people to help with moderation (close votes, editing, etc) and thus a poorly definition of the sites topic.

The other sites seem to be closed due to a lack of question asking activity, but econ has more questions per day than us (2.4 versus our 1.3, which is closer to TP.SE's 1.5). The sites similar to econ.SE such as phil.SE and ling.SE have a higher number of 500+ users: 23 and 38. We have 14, but most close votes are cast by only a few.

I think we should focus (at least in the short term) on encouraging existing users in the around-500-rep bracket that have posted great questions or answers before, to participate more. I think a nice personal email to those that include homepage links could do wonders to encourage the users.

We should also vote early and often to feed the rep economy. It is surprising how much of a motivator fake internet points can be, even for professionals and academics.

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    Bounties, too! Argh matey. – Chuck Sherrington Apr 26 '12 at 2:41
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    Those "fake internet points" are a brilliant masterpiece of gamification and motivation :P – Ben Brocka Apr 26 '12 at 3:42
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    Not just points as a motivator, although that's clearly the idea, but the fact that someone took the time to evaluate what you wrote and rate it. If someone puts effort into posting something and gets no feedback, not even a vote up or down, that's pretty demotivating in and of itself. – Shog9 Apr 26 '12 at 3:51
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    @Shog9 I agree that it is mostly the fact that people are noticing the question that motivates (at least me). So I guess this means that comments should be a good motivator, too! – Artem Kaznatcheev Apr 26 '12 at 4:25
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    A comment is better than nothing! One thing I'd like to have in the future is a publicly-visible "activity" score that factors in voting and commenting as well as answering. I put some of this together by hand going through the sites this past few weeks, but it's a real pain to track. Telling folks, "Vote early, vote often" without much feedback on that is rough. – Shog9 Apr 26 '12 at 4:32

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