tl dr: Vote early. Vote often. Heck, just vote!
Yes, I'm new to Writers, but not new to SE. I have been a writer for some time, though. You probably wouldn't or couldn't tell it from this Meta post, though.
The reason I'm writing this post is to bring up a thought which has come to mind. I don't want to appear as "the new guy" who wants to come in and change the world as it applies to Writers.SE, but I'm hoping to find out what others are thinking and what might be done about helping Writers along to graduation, if that indeed is the goal of this stack.
Looking at the statistics on Area51, most of the stats for the site look great for graduation. The single area which needs help is in Questions Per Day (QPD). We are about 1/2 of where we need to be in order for the stat to appear in the "Excellent" column. The rest of the stats look pretty good, with the single exception of "avid users", but I'll get to that in a minute. QPD may be one of the hardest stats to improve upon, but you'll find it can be worked with and improved if you do a few key things. If QPD could be brought up over 10 and sustained, this site would most likely go through graduation. There is always a lot of excitement about graduating and with good reason. It's ... well ... exciting! :o)
Having just gone through graduation on Mechanics.SE a few months ago, I have a good idea what has to happen in order to push the site forward. I joined Mechanics a little over three years ago after finding it here on SE. It was running at a steady pace for some time and had been in Beta for quite some time (not as long as Writers, though). Not long after that there was a bit of a lull, where I can say I personally kept the stack out of the Beta refuse pile. In about 12-18 months time, I wrote in excess of 1,200 answers, ensuring as many people received help where I could provide it. The intake of questions wasn't very high (I wish I had the stats, but it wasn't a whole lot - obviously it was greater than 1,200 :o). Finally around the middle of 2015, several other users became interested in making things happen and by the end of 2015 there was a large push to ensure several of our stats were in the "Excellent" range, which before were just "Okay". By January of 2016 we were really progressing, where we'd picked up a few very excited users who asked a ton of great questions, giving the rest of us something more to do and something more to think about. Around February of 2016, we started asking what we needed to do as a community to get over the hump to graduation.
In March of 2016, Jon Ericson, a Community Manager from Stack Exchange (yes, an employee) wrote this Meta post to us. The whole premise of Jon's post centered around voting. His emphasis was more about increasing the number of eligible voters who could vote for moderator candidates during election. I believe his post has merit here and can be used to emphasise a few things which may help Writers. I'm going to paraphrase some things which Jon wrote and pull other things out in quotation. Hopefully I can get my point across. I believe this single Meta question was enough to get us over the edge and graduated. I believe it can help Writers as well.
What is a vote?
A vote means different things to different people, but I think it can be boiled down to what Jon says in his Mech Meta post:
... voting is the engine that drives the reputation economy.
In this quote, he links out to another Q/A he had written which says:
Questions and answers are expensive. It takes time, thought, and (hopefully) expertise to produce a good question and even more to produce a solid answer. Ideally, we'd all be motivated by the joy of finding things out and by the good feeling we get from helping others. But the truth is when I get up in the morning and I wonder what I ought to do with spare time, it gives me a little jolt of happiness to see that someone on the internet gave me a +1 on an answer I worked so hard to produce.
As has been stated elsewhere, a vote means different things to different people. Many SE users go by the premise that a vote is something to be hoarded, only to be used sparingly. Others think it should frivolously be given away without thought. If you can buy into what Jon is saying, the vote is what makes SE work. To me, without the vote, we are just a forum ... and who wants us to be a forum?
Why should we vote?
I think I've already touched on why we should vote, but I want to reiterate a few things about voting which may not pop out to everyone.
We can cast up to 40 votes per day (we're given 30, but this can be brought up to 40 by ensuring we vote on questions as well as answers). These votes cost us nothing. If we don't use them, they shrivel up and die at the end of the day, never to be seen again. If they aren't used, they are wasted ... POOF ... bit heaven.
Using votes can do the following:
- Entice new users to stick around. As Jon pointed out, it's exciting to get an uptick on a question or an answer. When a new user comes on the site, getting some type of validation gives them reason to stick around, by either asking more questions or providing some thoughtful (or thought provoking) answers. Giving answers in and of themselves may help bring people back, but an uptick might give them a reason to be here more often.
- Encourage those who answer to answer more often. Is Stack Exchange a way of life for you or just a play thing you throw answers at once in awhile? For me on Mechanics.SE, it's a way of life. I came from the world of automotive forums where there's more guessing, conjecture, and opinions than you can shake a stick at. I liked how SE brought good answers to the forefront and encouraged smart people to give good, honest answers. How does that encouragement happen? Through voting.
- Gives experienced users the ability to help moderate. As people gain in experience, hopefully they are gaining reputation as well. SE is, for the most part, self governed. We the users provide the muscle to help keep the site clean and tidy. Without people voting on posts, people don't gain the needed reputation and a few people are always stuck doing the clean up. At a minimum, getting new users out of the basement level of the reputation latter allows them the ability to post comments (instead of posting comments as answers), as well as the ability to chime in at The Overlook Hotel (yes, you need 20 points to participate in the chat room).
- You can earn badges! I know, the first thing which comes to mind is the old movie cliche of: Badges? We don't need no stinkin' badges! While you may be right, some people aren't here for the glory of reputation or badges, it still makes being here a little bit more fun. To encourage voting, there are several badges which are available you can earn for yourself by voting. To my knowledge, those badges are:
- Electorate: Gold badge issued when you vote on 600 questions and 25% or more of total votes are on question. At this time there have been only five awarded.
- Civic Duty: Silver badge awarded when you vote 300 or more times. Only 35 have been awarded.
- Critic: Bronze badge awarded for your first down vote. 290 have been awarded.
- Sportsmanship: Silver badge awarded when you up vote 100 answers on questions where an answer of yours has a positive score. Only four have been awarded.
- Suffrage: Bronze badge awarded when you use 30 votes in a day. Only 70 have been awarded.
- Supporter: Bronze badge awarded on your first up vote. 3,466 have been awarded.
- Vox Populi: Bronze badge awarded when you use the maximum 40 votes in a day.
The reason I put how many of the voting badges were awarded is to bring light to something which is so simple to earn, yet hardly anyone has earned them. To me this shows just how little people on here care about voting. How hard, really, is it to earn either Suffrage or Vox Populi? Not hard at all. Even the newest of the new users can earn these in no time. Some people have been on this site for years and have never earned them. Take a look at Electorate. If, for instance, a user has placed just one vote per day on a single question, it would take a little under two years to earn this badge. There have been active users on this site for more than six years who have yet to earn this badge. How sad is that?
How should we vote?
I'm not going to tell you how to vote. My thinking is we just need to vote. I do have some thoughts about how I vote which I'll share, which might help others.
Some may believe there are only two different ways to vote: Up or Down. I'll submit to you there is a third way to vote: The non-vote. Here is my thinking on voting and how I apply votes:
- Up Vote: I use an upvote for several reasons.
- For doing a good job on a post, whether it's a Q/A. If it looks like they've done some research or put some thought behind it, it's worth an uptick.
- For bringing to light some insights I might not have thought of.
- To encourage new users to come back (also, so they have some minimal privileges of comments and chat, which makes the moderator's job much easier).
- Down Vote: For egregiously wrong answers. If something is just wrong in my humble opinion, I'll downvote them.
- Non Vote: If someone really doesn't put any effort into a Q/A, I just leave it alone.
I have a different philosophy about downvoting than some others do. A lot of people will downvote a question if it's poorly written or has punctuation/formatting issues. To me, that's no reason to downvote. Why? Because more than likely these individuals can be coached into doing things better. We can do that through comments and even editing the posts ourselves. Since this stack (and most of the others) use English as the primary language and we are a world-wide entity, it comes to mind we may get some people whose first language isn't English. They may not know the difference between "too", "to", and "two". Should we penalize those who may just not know, but are after knowledge and are doing their best? In my eyes, no. Not only is it unfair, it's a good way to drive people away. In a slight way it goes against the general concept of SE which is to be kind.
Please do vote your conscious, though. Voting is by far the most important thing to do here.
Why is it important to vote?
If you've gotten this far, you've probably figured out where I'm going with all of this. Votes are the currency on SE. You are given votes to spend as you see fit. Once those votes are expired, you cannot get them back. You cannot keep them on retainer. They're given to you so you can use them. By holding them back, you aren't hurting yourself, you are hurting the site as a whole. You are keeping the site from growing. You are not allowing the site to prosper. Voting is the key to getting that 800lb gorilla called "Beta" off of the site. You would not believe the burden which is lifted once you're no longer in Beta unless you've been through it before. Not only is it exciting, it's fulfilling in so many ways.
I said I'd get to something later as it pertains to "avid users". Avid users refers to those who are on the site and regularly doing things, like voting, editing, asking, and answering. To get to graduation, one of the things you need is a strong "middle class" of people within the stack. Those are the people who are in the 3k to 10k range of reputation. If you don't have enough of these people, the SE powers that be, like Jon Ericson, are more than happy to leave the site in Beta until there are enough people in that reputation range to support a full and honest election. The only way to get people to those levels is to vote!. Squandering your votes doesn't help you or your fellow Writearians toward the goal of graduation. Writers will continue to flounder or quite possibly die on the vine without this key group of people.
Let's do this community a favor and get it rolling towards graduation. Let's help Writers.SE become a full fledged site. You know, Writers needs to graduate if for no other reason than to become eligible for the site design ... white and blue are so boring. Writing brings color to an otherwise drab world ... shouldn't that be reflected in this site as well?
Be well. And please vote.