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Why is RasPi still in Beta? has got me thinking again about our site's stats and how to improve them, specifically the percentage of answered/unaswered questions which is comperatively low and the answer ratio which is less than two answers per question.

From other discussions I understand that accepting answers is not key to increasing the ration unanswered/answered. Looking at the unanswered tab it states that there are 1,351 questions with no upvoted or accepted answers (which with a total of 7,481 questions roughly accounts for 81% answered). So I take it that actually only questions are counting here that have no answers at all or no answer that is either upvoted or accepted? This leads to two questions:

  • why are there so many old yet unanswered questions and how to deal with those (read "get rid of them")?
  • why are answers that are at least "ok" not voted for? Or as it is put in below-mentioned thread: why are we too cautious in upvoting (both questions and answers)?

I know that the issue has been discussed before. Prominently and with lots of valuable advices here Is the lack of marked answers going to affect our graduation chances? but what's the consensus now and how do we more actively implement it? I have the strong feeling that I need to agree with Jivings suggestion that we need to more welcoming to new questioners although I plead guilty to have called to close a badly phrased question over guiding the newby towards a helpful rephrase occasionally. Furthermore it is encouraged to lure the newbies into chat - but the chat is more or less clinically dead.

Please do note that I by no means intend to solely focus on the stats (following the geocachers mantra "It's not about the numbers") other than as a means to an end: to provide an open community that engages new users and provides valuable content. Dealing with above issues addresses both the content and the stats. And being more generous when it comes to voting integrates new users into the community (hopefully).

  • My experience has been each time this question has been raised no matter what the answer or laudable the goal is it leads to bad behavior on the part of a few individuals. As I have said before if we do the things we are supposed to do the rest will come. To quote Shakespeare a rose by any other name.... Beta is not a scarlet A, and as the FAQ says there is no limit to the length of time a site can stay in the beta phase. You are also correct that only questions with no upvoted answers are counted in that total. – Steve Robillard May 21 '15 at 10:39
  • I have seen other sites in beta try various tricks to increase activity and so graduation chances. 'Topic of the week' etc. I haven't seen any of them be successful. This site has been built, they will come. Let it be so. – Chenmunka May 21 '15 at 14:26
  • I think I phrased it wrongly. It is not my intend to "trick" the stats but to improve the site. And the stats are actually good indicators for what is right and what could be improved (after all that is what they are for). Therefore I'd like to see how we address the issues named, e.g. old, unanswered questions or questions that have only one answer. Same goes for the integration of new users. Of course Steve is right that the kind of a welcoming strongly depends on the individual user that welcomes said newby... – Ghanima May 21 '15 at 14:48
  • @SteveRobillard "My experience has been each time this question has been raised no matter what the answer or laudable the goal is it leads to bad behavior on the part of a few individuals." -> I don't think that's a good reason to not remind people of the ideology though, even if it is inevitably misinterpreted, over-zealousized, etc. But I totally agree about beta not being a scarlet A. It doesn't mean we're ultimately of lower quality, and as far as I know it isn't an axe hanging over our heads either. We do good work here, it is just on a small scale. – goldilocks May 30 '15 at 13:13
  • There was an interesting Meta S.E. post on this topic today from the powers that be; a few things to note: 1) "As of this post, no site which is currently active is at risk of being shut down," 2) It is possible for a site to remain in beta indefinitely, 3) Our chances of graduating may have marginally improved...but I'll let you read the details. – goldilocks Jun 1 '15 at 20:21
  • If there's enough moderation for a public beta site to consistently remain free of spam, for flags to be cleared, and for our Be Nice policy to be upheld, your site will remain open. I think we fulfill this condition (at least as of now). – Ghanima Jun 1 '15 at 21:38
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Thanks Ghanima -- as a moderator I do notice the efforts of you and others to improve the standard with edits, comments, and (appropriate) flagging. I consider the time I put in here worthwhile and it is nice to see others with time who presumably believe the same thing.

The S.E. beta system is annoying, but I suppose they have a brand to protect and this an aspect of it. Although it leaves us in a bit of a limbo, what we have here is still something to be happy about.

I've been intermittently trying to tackle the backlog of unanswered questions by going through and closing cruft chronologically. Bear with me, because there's a way anyone can help with this, but I don't want to present it as "here's how we game the game" (i.e., I'd prefer if you indulge my philosophical ramble but feel free to skip down to "What You Can Do"). My mixed metaphor theory about why our ratio is ostensibly sub-par is that the nature of the beast here is a sort of perfect storm:

  • There's a lot of technology involved with the pi.
  • Part of the success story of it and the blossoming of other "development boards" has to do not just with putting some hardware together cheaply, but of there being a market for it. The technology was probably feasible a long time before the market was, because a substantial chunk of that market are people like me, who have evolved technical skills along one line or another over the past several decades -- often longer, I know, but in terms of numbers, probably growing exponentially with the explosion of the WWW. Put another way, the Pi represents something whose time has come.
  • This still does not make the (much older) technical aspect any different than the original core of S.E., Stack Overflow, where the focus is programming, or various other broader technical sites such as Electrical Engineering and Unix & Linux. The new element is the pi.
  • Going back to "there's a lot of technology involved", it takes a lot of expertise to deal with all of the potential confusion, but the "new element" of the pi is a bottleneck with regard to channeling it.

This means we end up with a lot of hard, sometimes dubiously answerable, questions, and not enough people to deal with them. Part of what's frustrating with the S.E. system are the one size fits all aspects. It takes five votes to do something on Stack Overflow, where there are probably hundreds or thousands of potential voters poised at any given time, and it takes five votes here.

Fortunately, the rep needed to get privileges is scaled (e.g. 500 here to cast a close vote, 3000 on S.O.) but perhaps not enough. We have a tough crowd. It is hard to earn rep here. That is not unjustified, considering the nature of the material and the peculiar bottleneck -- but I think we could be a little more generous. Having reasonable, responsible people with the 500 points it takes to go through the review queue is important.

With regard to the aforementioned backlog of unanswered questions, a lot of these perhaps should have been closed in the first place but were not. I think we have a very, very high ratio of closable questions in relation to other sites because:

  1. There's so much overlap with S.O., U&L, and E.E., and we cannot turn this into a place for people who own pi's to learn python, or the bash shell, or sysv init, or bit banging. That's not fair to them in the end, even if they don't get the picture right now.1
  2. A lot of pi owners get in over their heads very quickly, sometimes so much so that there's not really much that can be said. I think people who are new to programming and computer technology often massively underestimate what's involved. This doesn't mean those people are beyond hope, but it does mean some of the questions they are prone to ask are.

Both these kinds of questions often get left open I guess out of a sense of optimism -- maybe someone will have a quick solution. But once they are months and years old the likelihood of this becomes much less.

What You Can Do

So, with regard to upping our answered stat, I've been going through the backlog via the SQL powered S.E. Data Explorer. That front page is worth pausing on (at least in the form it was when I wrote this). At a glance, it would seem that graduated-from-beta status is a little bit arbitrary.2 There are graduated sites that don't have stats much different than ours. There are also some very broad beta sites that topically, one would think should have graduated a long time ago. E.g., Philsophy S.E. is very interesting (at least in this regard...) -- what went wrong such that philosophy rates only a beta site while (e.g.) TeX graduated?

Moving on: The Data Explorer is a great place to hone those SQL skills! Joy! ;) If you don't know what that is, don't worry, you don't need to. Here's the query I've been using to get chronological lists of unanswered questions, mostly to find the closable ones (which to be honest is most of them). Doing that effectively takes a mod hammer, but the other side of this coin are "unanswered" questions that actually have decent answers that were never upvoted or accepted, possibly because the O.P. did not get or care about the system (IMO, in case you-yes-you are still reading, "doesn't care about" is synonymous w/ "doesn't get" here).

Upvoting only takes 15 rep, so that's most of us, but it does raise the stingy voting issue again since I think it may take a surprising amount of time for some people to get there, here. Presuming you can upvote, here's a derived query that lists all the questions with answers, but no accepted or upvoted answers.3 There's 306 right now, which is ~4% of our total. I am not asking anyone to just go through and upvote blindly -- I could do that myself in less time than it took to write this -- but if you want to have a look, please do. If you have the requisite 500 rep, you can also vote stuff into the close queue, which I will start perusing more.4

Best of all: If you find questions you can provide a better answer to, do. It is hard to get an upvote this way, unfortunately, which brings me to

What Else You Can Do

If going through the backlog is too tedious, then something that would help a lot is paying attention to the "active" queue. If someone going through the backlog finds a question they can provide a decent answer to, we then need people to upvote that answer if they feel "this answer is useful" (that's the tooltip on the upvote widget). Old questions with new answers appear in the active queue, and if you pay attention to the the "modified by" line, and the date on the answers, they are easy to find. Note the ones modified by "Community" usually haven't been modified at all, they are just being randomly (I assume) bumped up for attention. These are significant though since they usually are questions with no upvoted or accepted answer.


1. Of course we do, inevitably but arbitrarily, tackle questions of this sort, and there's no doubt a perceivable unfairness to that. But, for better or worse, I think that's again simply the nature of the beast here.

2. Sort of like what I'm saying about how questions get dealt with here in footnote #1. The nature of a different beast.

3. Beware the Data Explorer data is not live, it's updated once a week, but the links to the questions are real, so you may find stuff on that list that's been closed or upvoted in the meantime.

4. I haven't much since I was appointed moderator because I can't vote normally (i.e., as one of five) anymore. My hand is a hammer and I'm hesitant to use it on stuff in the close queue since the community at large does have the opportunity to do so more democratically. But as mentioned, complicating things, we do have a scarcity of voters. So I'm going to go through the queue now and hammer some of the more egregious questions...

  • Dear Goldilocks, thank you so much for your elaborate and insightful answer. While my SQL skills as of now are limited pretty much to USE and SELECT the Data Explorer seems like a good excuse to delve into it a little more. Other than that I'll go on trying to provide and improve content and cast as many votes as reasonable possible. As you pointed out answering old questions is a little tedious as getting it upvoted is quite unlikely unfortunately. – Ghanima May 30 '15 at 14:16

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