19

I know, that communities often get time to grow, until they are matured enough to go out of Beta. But sometimes also a site will fail. See this blog entry for an example. Is writers.se in risk to fail too? Or do I worry too much?

If yes, how can we avoid this? In the metrics the site goes badly in terms of questions, users and views. I think all three metrics are bound together. If we have more questions (and therefore more answers), users get more upvotes and enough reputation to be count in the metric. If more relevant questions are here, google will more often present this site as result of a specific search-request and more views will be generated. So for me it is about more (useful!) questions. Maybe more questions-types should be on topic.

Have you more (and better) ideas too get writers.se going?

EDIT: I know it's far too early to call doom. I do not. But I worry. And it's not too early for that. It's right, that Writers has two months Beta left (and some more, it usually doesn't launches after the normal period). But take a look at the metrics I linked and sjohnston inserted as picture:

This site is on pace to get 300 questions after 90 days.

The Gadgets-site had 629 questions at the time of the shutdown. So, right, it's too early to call doom and give up. But it's not too early to worry. And it's not yet too late (that's why I ask this question now) to change something. We are on the pace for 300 questions, so it's time to increase the pace. sjohnston has some good ideas to get more action (+1), but I think we need more ideas.

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    @Mnementh - in response to your edit, a few other big metrics are going to be important. One is whether or not questions get answers. Another is avid users who can have edit and close privileges once the site leaves beta. – justkt Dec 20 '10 at 18:30
  • answer-ratio is good, avid users is bad. And site-visits are. 3 of the 5 metrics presented in area51 are bad. So, should I be not worried? – Mnementh Dec 20 '10 at 18:32
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    +1 for putting this on our radar so we can actively do something about it. The first step is admitting we have a problem... – sjohnston Dec 20 '10 at 19:22
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    @Mnementh - at this same time, about, Money.SE had a similar question. They are going to graduate shortly, all metrics having come up to Okay or Excellent. I wouldn't be worried so much as begin avidly promoting. – justkt Dec 20 '10 at 19:30
  • @Mnementh - we should take the lessons from the latest Blog.SO post seriously. Thanks for bringing the whole topic up. – justkt Dec 23 '10 at 12:52
  • I didn't noticed that AI was stopped. But the blog-post match my feelings about it: I was curious, but couldn't contribute. The change for the stats in area51 makes sense in my opinion. It is much more important, how is the momentum of asked question as the full number. – Mnementh Dec 24 '10 at 9:58
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    I'm getting more concerned about the site. We're about a month further along and our visits/day and answer ratio are both falling. Most of the activity is due to a very small core group of people. Currently, we're shrinking, not growing, and unless something changes soon, I think the site is headed toward closure. I plan to start actively asking one or two seed questions per day, along with tweeting links. I would encourage everyone else to do the same, and hopefully we can draw in some traffic and some new blood. – sjohnston Jan 12 '11 at 4:22

10 Answers 10

14

It's a big disappointment to me, since I have no interest in fictional writing. I had hoped that the site would be relevant to all kinds of writing and that I would be able to offer help to people for whom my knowledge of the publication process would be useful.

I'll try to contribute questions. Lo! Should DOIs ever be preferred to ISBNs?

I can try to answer questions, but if there aren't questions that I care about at all...

Voting up questions and answers is important to getting people to feel involved. If there's one thing anyone can do to improve the site's prospects, it's this.

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    thanks for making the site a place that will be helpful not only to you but to other people in your field. – justkt Dec 20 '10 at 14:32
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    +1 for the fiction-versus-everything else ratio and for voting. I know that reputation shouldn't matter as a number, but what it does matter for is telling me that answers I put time into writing are actually valuable. When the number doesn't change I wonder if the community is trying to tell me something. – Monica Cellio Aug 31 '11 at 2:11
  • @Monica: I looked over your posts and found seven that I liked and upvoted, and an eighth that has motivated me to go off and research. This atom of the community likes your posts, but looks at the site's recent activity rarely enough that I never read any posts of yours before. – Charles Stewart Aug 31 '11 at 8:43
  • @Charles, thanks for the feedback. (I saw my rep shoot up by ~150 today and wondered if this comment had anything to do with it. I wasn't trying to beg for rep; sorry if it came across that way. I was just trying to report how one user reacted to it.) – Monica Cellio Aug 31 '11 at 13:05
12

Here's our current status. Two categories Excellent, three Worrying. Almost exactly two months left before our initial evaluation.

I think our strong points are pretty clear here. We have people who are willing to answer questions. We have a large percentage of our total users who are avid users. This is fantastic, and shouldn't be undervalued.

It's also fairly obvious what we have to work on. We are lacking questions. We rarely have more than a couple per day. Traffic, of course, is also low, because content and traffic go hand-in-hand.

For those who want to grow the site:

  • Get the word out! Advertise the site to your writer friends, your critiquers, your blog/twitter/facebook readers, your cat, and random strangers on the subway. More users = more visits and more questions. Bringing a new, avid user to the site is just about the most useful thing you can do.
  • Ask questions. Another poster expressed his disappointment about the lack of non-fiction content on the site. Add some! Obviously questions you have a genuine interest in are the most useful, but you can still post an interesting question even if you know the answer. (However, it's usually considered proper etiquette to wait a day or two for other people to answer before you answer your own question.) Posting questions isn't just about getting answers for yourself. It's also about adding content to the site that others will find useful.
  • Vote up good questions and answers. This provides incentive for people to continue using the site. It helps good questions and answers gain prominence (making us all look better) and over the long term it provides us with high-rep users to do things like edit and close.
  • Don't give up. We still have two months left before we're even evaluated. As long as we are continually improving and have a core group of people that care about the site, we have a good chance of sticking around.

alt text

  • Not only did sjohnston's answer bring some excellent data in, but remember that we don't have to be all excellent at evaluation, just on the way there. We can be in beta longer than 90 days and still eventually graduate. – justkt Dec 20 '10 at 16:12
  • @justkt - Right. I believe "Okay" status is usually halfway between the listed values for Excellent and Worrying (e.g. 1500 questions is Excellent, 1125 questions is Okay, and 750 is Worrying). – sjohnston Dec 20 '10 at 16:34
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    @sjohnston: x < 750 = worrying, 750 < x < 1500 = Okay, 1500 < x = Excellent. – Mnementh Dec 20 '10 at 22:56
  • @Mnementh - Thanks for clarifying that. – sjohnston Dec 20 '10 at 23:39
  • @Mnementh: math error: what's with 750 and 1500 exactly? ;-) – Jürgen A. Erhard Jan 26 '11 at 19:11
  • Ask the makers of the site :-) But anyways, this was changed to answers per day now. – Mnementh Jan 27 '11 at 9:56
4

To increase the number of questions, we could let people ask for user feedback on their specific writing samples. I believe that type of question is against the initial charter (honestly haven't read the whole thing).

The answers would be subjective, but the format would be similar to stackoverflow. There will come a time when it gets difficult for new members to ask a question that hasn't already been answered in some form. This means they are less likely to become engaged in the community. We've built a strong core of at this point, but something has to change.

When I think of stackoverflow, a lot of on-topic question are basically: "Here's a sample of code I've written, tell me how to fix it." I don't see how providing a sample of writing and asking how to fix it is much different. If we want the site to be more than a general wiki on writing, then something should change in the rules to allow a more open community.

Honestly I like the current format as-is, but it will die a slow death over time as it becomes harder to find new questions. The top rep users will disappear as there will be fewer compelling reasons to drop by the site.

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    It's a little different to Stackoverflows Code-examples. I know if a code-fragment is correct: it compiles and does what is intended. Texts are more subjective. Two authors will have different opinions, which variant of a text is 'correct'. So I don't think questions match, that ask 'What is wrong with this text?'. But I (personally) think, questions could match like 'How can I make this text more tantalizing?' or 'How can I express better the feelings of the character in this text?'. Or simply 'How can I shorten this text, without losing too much?'. – Mnementh Dec 22 '10 at 10:27
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    This has been discussed, discussed, and discussed. We so far haven't found a great way to do it. This question was the only really good on-topic example of one. – justkt Dec 22 '10 at 12:54
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    If you have a good suggestion for how to get more high quality writing samples, though, add to those meta discussions or start a different, related new question. Also try it out on the site itself. – justkt Dec 22 '10 at 12:56
  • I agree with justkt. Please feel free to try out ways to get writing criticized, or set up writing exercises. The site needs something like that. Your attempts may be closed, but that's okay. I disagree about running out of questions over time, though. Every site seems to feel this will happen, and somehow it never does. Especially now that SE is encouraging multiple questions that are similar, but not quite the same, as long as they add to the site. – Neil Fein Dec 25 '10 at 4:59
3

My guess is that, if you were to go to most any beta SE site and poke around on meta, you'll find a thread like this one.

It can take time for a site to get going. I think it's far too early to start panicking. We went through the same thing at the bicycles site, and we're still here despite having a low number of questions and users. Time will tell if we ever graduate to a full site, of course, but cycling is a regional activity and the SE mods know this.

I'd say, let's keep doing what we've been doing. Keep asking and answering questions, closing bad questions (or better yet, edit them into good ones), and keep voting people's work up and down; tell your friends about writers.se, blog about the site, link to it on Facebook/Twitter, and when you do these things, please do write shorter sentences than this.

3

I think because this can be such a subjective topic, we really need to define what it is we offer over crowd-sourcing an answer from any other site aside from restrictions on the preferred format and content of interactions.

Do we have any resident experts? If so, what is the benefit of asking an expert a question about writing, as opposed to other parties. If there's no discernable benefit, could we be asking the wrong questions?

Would a healthy third place attract more interest, given the topic?

2

Initial recruitment was severely hampered by the decision to launch in the middle of crunch time for NaNoWriMo participants. I alone have been able to recruit about a dozen people since December first (the first day after NaNoWriMo's end), despite the hectic holiday season.

I don't know whether we can get back on track for our participation goals within the normal 90-day window -- November and December are the worst possible months to do this -- but I'm certainly trying. If we each recruit just five people between now and end of beta, we'd be doing great.

2

Well, one important policy change:

(DEPRECATED) Policy on Writing Critiques

1

It's a bit early in our public beta to be crying doom, I think. Some of the SE sites take longer to get going than others.

Time is going to be one key in generating inbound traffic from Google. The other key is quality back-links. Are you a participant on this Q&A site with a blog or twitter feed? Mention your favorite questions, note that you just asked a question and are looking for answers. Publicize, publicize, publicize. We want an external web presence that points back to us.

If you think our community is lacking in the kinds of contributors who are in your field, you can bring them in. Know a quality blogger in your area of interest? Write him or her and ask him or her to join and mention the site on the blog. Have a relationship with an editor, agent, or other authors? Mention the site to them and ask them to bring their questions.

In terms of our on-topic definition, make sure to try out (or ask about on meta, if you are very unsure) the kinds of questions you think would work that you'd like to see. The community - not just the mods but the whole community - should be discussing this with interest. Make sure to visit meta regularly to see what's over here.

Finally, continue to check out, vote on, and contribute to the elevator pitch question. A strong start for defining our site - and for giving you ideas for how to talk about the site - can be made over there.

1

It's been seven months since this question was first asked, and as a late arriver to the party, I'm beginning to think the answer is a resounding "yes". I noticed the answer pertaining to a concern about the lack of interest in non-fiction writing. Well, I have also noticed a certain bias against self-published writing.

I have added comments elsewhere, but this seems a more appropriate place to discuss this. I belong to two other writer's groups, both primarily focused on self-publishing authors, and each with over 300 very active participants. Questions posted to either group quickly result in an average of at least 50-60 answers/comments. I have been very active in both groups and have a pretty good "reputation" in each.

I tried to get members of both groups to come and check this site out, because I like the idea of being able to vote on answers and working towards a group consensus. I work for a company that actually has a license to SE and it is extremely active within our organization, so I definitely believe in and support the model.

I believe at least 100 people checked out Writers.SE at my request, and yet I only know of 1 person who actually created an account. I received personal messages from 29 other people so far who said they would never consider joining because they felt the site was "too formal", "too judgemental", and "out of touch with current trends". There were other comments, but these were the most common.

I have detected a pretty heavy bias against self-publishing, and that is something else that was commented on by a number of people. Frankly, I don't understand this, because I personally believe that this is the golden egg for authors. Publishers don't want to take a chance on new writers because the financial risk is too great. However, if you have proven that you can sell books as a self-publihed author, then they are MUCH more likely to offer you a contract.

I personally know seven different authors who have signed "traditional" publishing contracts as a result of their e-book sales over the last six months. I'm not including people like Amanda Hocking or John Locke (who declined the offer). I am talking about "average" writers who I have actually exchanged messages with and who I have interviewed on my blog. These are people just like you or me who started out with a dream and are now seeing it come to fruition.

If this site continues to chase away people like that who are extremely eager and willing to help each other out, then it is most certainly going to fail.

  • Can you give some examples of this bias against self-publishing, just so we can see what you're referring to? – Craig Sefton Jul 27 '11 at 14:55
  • Perhaps I should have said "perceived" rather than "detected". I am basing this on my own perceptions and the perceptions of a few of the people who checked out the site at my request. I wouldn't say it was anything blatant, but the folks that came to visit said that they didn't feel that their opinions would be welcomed here because they are self-published. Granted, some of the comments I've seen pertaining to self-publishing were made several months ago, but I have had a couple in response to my own posts that made me feel uncomfortable. – Steven Drennon Jul 27 '11 at 15:06
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    My experience with perception of bias on this site is usually not that there is an actual bias, but that the represented population is skewed in some way. So when we had a perception of bias against technical writing it was because we had an awful lot of fiction authors actively using the site and most of the technical writers weren't asking questions very often. Once tech questions got asked they got answered - and by experts! I believe the same would be true of self-publishing. The more experts in the field who come, ask good questions, and give good answers the less the perceived bias. – justkt Jul 27 '11 at 15:24
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    At the moment we have several active users who are vested in traditional publishing - work for traditional publishing houses, are published by traditional publishing houses, etc. I think that's great. I think these users have made awesome contributions. And I wouldn't want them to speak out less for any reason. However I would gladly welcome more users with self-publishing experience as well who will add their own perspective. I'm pretty sure a well-worded question or answer from anyone will get a fair hearing here - haven't seen it fail yet! – justkt Jul 27 '11 at 15:26
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    Good points @justkt. I am going to spend another week trying to persuade at least a few folks from one of the other groups to start popping in, but no guarantees. As mentioned in another post, if we can't get more questions posted and then get links to them from other sites, regardless of the subject, then we're going to have a problem getting this off the ground. – Steven Drennon Jul 27 '11 at 15:44
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    Not that I've ever mentioned it but I am a self-published author who has no interest in "traditional" methods of publishing. Particularly as I am currently writing RPGs which are much easier to publish and distribute yourself. I have never experienced a bias against the self-published here. I also wouldn't go round hurling abuse at people who are traditionally published. It's all just different strokes for different folks. – One Monkey Jul 27 '11 at 15:47
  • Incidentally, what are these other communities of which you speak. I barely have time to sit still for ten minutes these days, let alone join an online community, but I have an abiding interest in such things. I guess we can all live in hope. – One Monkey Jul 27 '11 at 15:54
  • One is the "Indie Writers Unite" group on Facebook. You have to ask to join (Facebook policy), but nobody is turned away. There are a few traditionally published names there, including Stephen Leather and Bob Mayer. The other is kindleboards.com, which also has a few traditionally published authors who stop in from time to time. – Steven Drennon Jul 27 '11 at 16:02
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    A few responses. Firstly, I'd like to acknowledge that I think there is a bias against self-publishing. Particularly, there is great skepticism about self-publishing as an effective tool for reaching a writer's traditional goals: recognition; readership; financial success; critical success; improvement of one's craft. Self-publishing doesn't put you on that path like traditional publishing does (though the latter, of course, if much much harder to reach). There's much to argue about here, but please accept that some do not see self-pub as "a golden egg." And may argue with those who do. – Standback Jul 27 '11 at 22:46
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    Secondly, I'm truly sorry your friends felt their opinions wouldn't be welcome here. I think they would be met with open arms - and even those who disagreed with them on the specific issue of self-publishing would have lots to learn from them and share with them on every other aspect of writing - and boy, are there a lot of those! Listen, I'm not an author of any sort. I hardly write. That doesn't mean people respect my opinions any less - if I give a good answer or ask a good question, people don't care if I'm Steven King or if I sell teen-angst poetry in bus stations. – Standback Jul 27 '11 at 22:52
  • And lastly, I'm guessing the discomfiting responses were likely mine. I'm sorry if I came across as inhospitable! :D But it's important for me that we separate this from the "self-pub bias" issue: those comments had nothing to do with any bias against self-pub. My problem was that those answers were plugging self-pub with, IMHO, very little relation to the actual questions at hand. (continued...) – Standback Jul 27 '11 at 23:14
  • Staying focused and answering the original question is critical at an SE site; running through dozens of different questions saying that X is great is, umm, unhelpful for any constant value of X; and lastly, an SE beta has (and needs!) community members to express their opinion on what's appropriate and what's disruptive. My comments were intended to be friendly and constructive; I'm sorry if they didn't come across that way. I hope my answers to questions of yours have helped persuade you that that I (and others) take self-publishing seriously indeed, and welcome such questions on Writers.SE. – Standback Jul 27 '11 at 23:14
  • Thanks for your feedback, but I can't recall any of your comments as having coming across as being negative or unwelcoming. I've appreciated your comments and I feel that you have given some great answers! – Steven Drennon Jul 28 '11 at 0:18
  • Oh, good :) I was worried there for a bit. – Standback Jul 28 '11 at 0:23
-3

Allow all questions and let the community's answers lead the deviant questioner to the 'right path'.

Do not apply editorial decisions unless the question is grossly out-of-scope.

Those with access/contact to (writing/lit. study) schools/classes should start the word-of-mouth there.

Allow/encourage homework questions - everyone will learn from this.

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    This is counsel of desperation. – Charles Stewart Jan 18 '11 at 7:22
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    @Charles - and another way to ensure closure - quality is the biggest issue to the SE team, as far as I can tell. – justkt Jan 19 '11 at 18:26

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