I'm happy to have been appointed as a new moderator pro tempore, next to Jivings and Steve Robillard. Full fledged regular Stack Exchange sites get to hold elections, but we have to make it out of beta first!
Making it out of beta means improving our stats. Doing this isn't just about trying to work numbers so we can have a fancier banner, a real logo, hold elections, etc. It should also help to improve the general tenor of the place, inspire greater confidence in users, save time navigating around when looking for an answer, and so on.
We are not doing all that bad to start with. The two most obvious problems:
- Not enough questions.
- Too many questions without accepted or upvoted answers.
The second one is more serious, since that's the one that explicitly "Needs Work". However, it bears a bit of a relationship to the first one, which is just barely "Okay". Some questions don't have good answers simply because they are bad questions; these can be closed, but this lowers our question count at the same time as it improves our answered ratio. Of course, that doesn't mean we should leave bad questions; there's no value in cruft. It means we need to ask more good ones.
Writing Self-answered Questions
One thing some users may be unaware of is that you can ask and answer your own question all at once to describe a solution to a problem you think others will find useful; there's even a check box to do this directly at the bottom of the "Ask Questions" form. This is encouraged and should not be seen as self aggrandizement; decent, complete Q&A's help the site as a whole. Self answered questions actually tend to be of higher quality than those written by someone that did not already know the answer, because the questioner is less likely to be confused by irrelevant details. This makes it more useful to people looking for an answer since the question is, ideally, a clarification of their problem. If you are looking around on Stack Overflow or the Unix & Linux Exchange, two larger sibling sites with a lot of material pertinent to raspberry pi users, you will sooner or later run across some excellent examples of the self-answered Q&A.
I've added an example of my own, based on something I did recently with the pi. Notice that the protagonist of the question is essentially hypothetical (it isn't really me, I already had an answer). It is nothing spectacular, and all of the information is available elsewhere online, but this brings it together as a solution to a problem. Most importantly, there's no real duplicate on site already -- always check for those before you start typing.
Self-answered Q&A's are a good fit here because experimentation and problem solving are what a lot of us spend a lot of time doing. And, not only are they a nice way to share information with others, they are also great for making notes for yourself. By having to communicate the information publicly, you've reduced the chances of abbreviating too much, etc. How many times have you looked back at your own purely personal notes and wondered what the heck you were referring to? This is probably worth more than any number of upvotes.
There's also always the chance someone has an even better answer you hadn't thought of. By the way: you can't accept your own answer immediately, but make sure you come back and do so when/as appropriate, since otherwise this could end up as just another Q with "no accepted or upvoted answer". Keep reading if you don't yet get why that's significant.
Dealing with Stale Unanswered Questions
We also need to provide more answers to normal questions, of course, but not indiscriminately. If you think you have an answer, put it out there. If it turns out to be wrong and gets downvoted, that's okay -- downvotes are important feedback on the way to becoming an even better contributor. It is not the end of the world, there's no shame in this; it is how the system should work.
If you're bored or curious enough, spend a little time with the unanswered questions list. Note that unless you select "no answers" in the lower tab bar, this list is actually questions with no upvoted or accepted answers, but that is what counts statistically. Hence, the easiest way to improve the stat is to upvote reasonable answers where they are found.1 Presuming the site stat is short of reality (that is, does not reflect the actual number of decent answers) putting in an effort to read a few Q&A's and cast a few votes is a corrective measure.
The other aspect of dealing with unanswered Q's is to close or delete them as appropriate. This activity tends to fall behind because it takes five normal users to close a question. It only takes one moderator, but I am uncomfortable doing so with new questions if there is any ambiguity (meaning I'm actually one less potential vote in such cases). However, having a question go without a decent answer for a month or more provides further indication that the question might be inappropriate or unanswerable. In this case, I'm quite happy to close them and have spent some time this weekend doing exactly that.2 So, if you are browsing through the unanswered list and find old questions that are candidates for closure, indicate so and they will go into the close queue where other users can concur; if I find them there (and again, they aren't brand new), there's a good chance I will do it by fiat.
But please, only questions for which there is a legitimate reason besides being old and unanswered. Don't queue them for the reason that they are stale, just take into account the fact that they are stale as further evidence that they may be too unclear or broad to have received reasonable answers. We also have a lot of off-topic questions that might easily already have an answer on another site; those can be closed. However, good unanswered questions may get an answer at any point, and even if they do not, closing them sends the wrong message.
Increasing the User Base
As mentioned earlier, focussing on increasing the quality of the Q&A's may reduce their number, which our daily average is lowish as is. Improving that is our toughest task. One thing I'm open to (keeping in mind, moderator != god emperor) is the suggestion from Bex and others that we try and open the site up a bit to include questions from users of similar dev boards. Exactly what that might mean I'm not sure. The number of different devices in this category being sold to end consumers has increased quite a bit since this exchange started 2 1/2+ years ago, when the pi seemed like such a unique beast there wasn't much of a category. From this I'd exclude things which use a proprietary interface specific to them, such as the Arduino (the beta site for which appears to be doing well anyway). We probably also want to exclude a name change, so really it might be a matter of starting to accept questions so that word gets around; U&L is better for general linux questions, but we might actually be a better place for questions that have specifically to do, e.g., with the GPIO and I2C subsystems, since those are of no interest to the end user on most actual linux systems. I'll look into what is and isn't possible and present a more fleshed out concept sometime in the next month or so.
The other thing I'm looking into is bumper stickers, but please: if you stick these on mirrors in the library bathrooms, I didn't give you the idea.
If you have any suggestions relating to my focus here -- namely, creating more good Q&A's and getting rid of bad ones -- please leave an answer, but if you have a question about something else, keep with the format and ask it separately. Remember, we're not a straight-up discussion forum.
If you ever want to bother me in particular about anything, I'll try and keep myself available in chat. If you are not familiar with S.E. chat rooms, just
@goldilocks your message and sooner or later I'll reply (you get a regular lil' red notification of this).
1. I think we are generally a bit stingy about this. Upvoting an answer doesn't mean you think it is the best possible answer (you can upvote more than one), it just means you think it potentially provides a genuine answer to the question. Some of you may be from higher volume sites where votes are easier to come by, and some of you may just not have considered what the purpose and significance of the voting is, but if there's one thing you take away from this, I hope it is giving consideration to giving credit where credit is due.
2. For those of you who know a bit of SQL and are unaware of the Stack Exchange Data Explorer, this can be useful for finding posts based on arbitrary criteria. Beware it's for all S.E. sites, so make sure, e.g., "raspberry pi exchange" is indicated in the dropdown before you run a query, or you may end up with something else. Also: the data explorer data is not live; it's a weekly snapshot.