I've been pretty concerned about Biblical Hermeneutics failing, but recently I've also become concerned about this site. Here's a snapshot of the stats today:

If memory serves, BH has increased (about doubled) in the last few months whereas Christianity has about halved over a similar period of time.

Do we need to take action?

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One day later, they are neck and neck at 2.4/day! –  Wikis Jun 1 '12 at 19:02
    
And now BH (at 2.4) has overtaken Christianty (2.2), at one quarter the number of visits! –  Wikis Jun 3 '12 at 18:49
    
Yes, we absolutely need to take action! The world is dying –  Jesusaddict Jun 19 '12 at 14:09
    
@Jesusaddict Of your motivation for participating here is to safe dying people, allow me to suggest that this is completely the wrong venue for that. Please get involved in a a church and maybe help them with missions. This site is not even Christian, much less a good place to do outreach. It serves a purpose, just not that one. –  Caleb Jun 20 '12 at 14:47
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4 Answers

Question volume has fallen off a bit in the last few weeks. Our overall traffic has been increasing for months (although this week hasn't been good) but there is something going on with questions.

I would like to suggest a problem. I don't think we've been strict enough with making both questions and answers adhere to high quality standards. We've been very lax the last month or two, and I think it's hurting us.

I would surmise that the increased traffic we've seen lately is mostly from some topics starting to show up more prominently in search engine results. A lot of the new user traffic we've seen lately has been from people not hooked in elsewhere on the SE network and totally unfamiliar with how things work. We've let people get away with a lot lately without expecting much from them. Along with not being strict enough on quality guidelines, we also haven't been proactive enough in showing the ropes to newbies that come along.

The end result is that the home page fills up with pretty hum-drum stuff. A very small minority of the posts coming through, both questions and answers, are expert level stuff. When an expert drops by and sees a flood of half-baked content, they aren't going to be motivated to drop in the next day. When personal opinion quips are accepted as answers and voted up on about the same scale and researched and throughout treatment of topics, what incentive is there for the expects to come back?

With the quality standards down, more people are coming here because they are eager to put their 2c in than because they feel a need to learn something. The people with the best contributions get burned out dealing sorting through the mess and eventually put the whole site on the back burner.

If more of the community (besides the moderators) put their weight behind requiring some level of effort to ask quality questions, the place would be much more interesting to people with expert level knowledge. Also, if they would weigh in with comments helping people understand the system and use their votes to help sort out the really good from the mediocre, and also flag the really bad -- together we might be able to keep a clean enough house that is enticing for company to come and stay a while.

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Absolutely. When I've felt motivated to answer questions (and ask them), it's when the community seems to be serious about seeking defensible answers to challenging, answerable questions. Since I contribute to the blog, I have a strong desire to be associated with quality questions, answers, and comments. I intend to flag, VtoC, and downvote more often (with appropriate comments). –  Jon Ericson May 31 '12 at 22:39
    
Please can you provide some examples. Without these I cannot decide whether I agree. Personally, I haven't noticed any change in quality so I'd like a better idea of what you consider high / low standards. –  Wikis Jun 1 '12 at 7:59
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Examples: This. The accepted answer is a rehash of high-school-level evangelicalism without any consideration of alternative doctrines of the atonement. –  DJClayworth Jun 1 '12 at 13:34
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@DJClayworth That's my answer. Why should I defend "alternative doctrines" with which I don't agree? If you want to defend these, then do so and I'll upvote your question if I think you've explained it well, even if I disagree. I'm also unclear about what is "high-school" level about it. It's the central doctrine of Baptist/Puritan Christianity, and the OP was unfamiliar with it entirely. WHAT ELSE WAS THERE TO SAY? –  San Jacinto Jun 1 '12 at 13:46
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Sorry, not meaning to pick on you here. The point here is that the site is supposed to be answering questions about Christianity, not "my branch of Christianity". How about at least mentioning that there are alternative ways of looking at the crucifixion? –  DJClayworth Jun 1 '12 at 14:21
    
P.S. To be fair, the whole question was phrased aggressively and probably a troll. I don't think there was an answer that was going to look good in response. However it is indicative of why I'm not really interested in participating in this site any more. –  DJClayworth Jun 1 '12 at 14:26
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My motivation drops greatly when after spending a lot of my time formulating my question I receive something like "closed as not a real question". I agree I may have not yet fathomed the science of what kind of questions I should ask here, but whenever I receive this kind of verdict that my question is not a real one, I always struggle my temptation to leave for good. I already know a few folks who have lost in this struggle. –  brilliant Jun 7 '12 at 20:45
    
I voted you up just because I like that you used some nice big words =) Ironically, "ironically" is the only big word I am using in this comment. lol –  Jesusaddict Jun 19 '12 at 14:11
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While I'm tickled with the idea that Christianity feels Biblical Hermeneutics breathing down it's neck, I'm not sure the questions per day statistic is the most important thing to be looking at. For one thing, it's highly variable. On BH, we bounce around from 1ish to almost 3 questions a day depending on vacations, who's reading their Bible and people discovering the site with enthusiasm. Second, it's temporary. Questions per day is a treadmill that never ends. In 6-months, nobody will care if we had 10 Q/D or 1. So we ought to focus on the long-term sustainability of the site and not the immediate stats.


Caleb's answer gets at one aspect: maintain quality. But I also want to address San Jacinto's answer.

The sort of person we are looking for when we talk about experts isn't exactly what most people think of. My degree is in Atmospheric Sciences, my day job is mostly programming and theology is strictly one of my hobbies. Yet I feel like I'm an expert in answering Christianity questions on the internet. I'm not sure there is a strong correlation between formal training and this particular form of expertise. (I think I used knowledge from my degree field once on Stack Exchange and it wasn't particularly well received.)

Roughly speaking, the skill of answering questions on the internet amounts to being able to find sources that can be fitted together into an answer and effectively communicating that answer. The way I see it, every Stack Exchange site is a collection of information-hunt puzzles. It's stimulating to find a page full of interesting questions that I want to answer or read the answers that others have written.

Good questions are hard to write, however, since there are lot's of restrictions:

Not every question, even honest questions, will meet the criteria. And it's ok to have a few questions that are too easy or flawed in other ways. But it's not ok to have many questions that are uninteresting to the target audience because that's not sustainable.


Now the onus for creating good questions falls partially on the asker. But the beauty of the site is that anyone can edit or suggest edits to improve questions. That means if you find a question that doesn't quite work, you can fix it. Even better, the act of editing a question is a form of puzzle solving too. Some questions can't be fixed, but others can be beaten into shape with input from the community. This is something we can all work on together.

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I wanted to cover this in chat, but I guess this is a better place since we are not ever in the room at the same time.

First, I don't really see the problem with the questions as they're being asked. They are, by definition, asked by those who are non-experts regarding the topic they're asking about or else they would not have been asking the question in the first place. If a question is off-topic (like the pastoral-natured questions), it should be closed as off-topic to let the questioner know that while it may be a good question, it isn't a good question for this site. in this regard, the question quality is immaterial. If there is an expert-level user base to answer questions, then closing offending questions should naturally work the problem out eventually.

...Which leads me to my second point. I don't think that there are many who would consider themselves doctrinal experts who are even likely to find the utility of this site worthy of spending an inordinate amount of time on it. Most of these experts are in churches and seminaries, writing papers, preaching sermons, and working in the mission field. If they are technologically capable of even navigating to this site and finding it (probably meaning they are searching for something), they look at this site and think "Oh, another website where they discuss doctrine. How trite."

Those answering/voting on the questions are more problematic, in my view. In the Goliath Question, I agree that the question is fundamentally flawed. An expert would not ask the question at all, let alone how it is written. But since experts on a topic are not going to be asking questions on that which they are experts, the closing of this question was in bad form. It was much more appropriate to demonstrate why this question is merely a subclass of a larger question in Biblical doctrine and philosophy and link to resources that prove as much.

Regarding the Goliath question, here's what we lose now that it is closed...

In this question, I think the best answer was provided by Affable Geek. He answers the question with the classical doctrinal point: "for God's glory" to which Marc Gravell demonstrates that he didn't read the excellent links that Affable posted and hasn't really thought on this doctrine much.

At this point, Affable's reaction to Marc should be: "open another question, asking how Pharoah's creation demonstrates God's glory." Marc should then ask this question, and Affable (and others) should go through the time to put together a defense of this doctrine that satisfies Marc's misunderstanding, and the one who asked the Goliath question should read it as well. Ideally, Affable links back to his answer in the Goliath question in his new question and gets some upvotes for his current answer, and this answer bubbles to the top of the lot in the Goliath question, even though it would likely not be the selected answer.

So the end result would be that we get a low-quality question with a very brief answer that demonstrates why this question is not the best one and that it is a classic problem in Biblical philosophy. But we also get a very high-quality question with expert-level doctrinal answers, the type that attract people on search engines.

...but as it stands now, we get none of this. We get only a closed question because we aren't willing to put up with the necessity to demonstrate to the questioner why his question is overly broad.

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I think the dichotomy you draw between experts giving answers and non experts asking is fundamentally flawed. Of course there will always be some, but if experts asking expert level questions is not at the core of the site, the whole thing will fall apart for lack of expert interest. –  Caleb Jun 1 '12 at 14:54
    
Also I don't think the Goliath question is a good example to use for this discussion as it doesn't clearly fall into any bracket. Is just a mess. –  Caleb Jun 1 '12 at 14:55
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@Caleb My point is that everybody approaches a question with a level of ignorance (some more than others), otherwise there would be no question. Typically on the other SE sites (SO is my best reference), this ignorance is explained to the questioner. The community is cultivated, not born. If you would rather have a community that is born, then I'm sorry to say that this site will not last, but I'm glad to have read your work, Affable's work, and Jon Ericson's work. –  San Jacinto Jun 1 '12 at 15:47
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"I don't think that there are many who would consider themselves doctrinal experts who are even likely to find the utility of this site worthy of spending an inordinate amount of time on it" - That's correct, right now, but I think that's what we want/need to change. Right now, the site's questions and answers are typically from folks who are trained in computer science, but have interest in theology (with some exceptions). This site can't survive longterm as a Q&A site for Christian programmers. We need its primary audience to be actual experts and professionals in theological fields. –  Eric Jun 5 '12 at 17:22
    
@Caleb: If experts ask expert questions exclusively... the site will be useless for everyone else. –  Jürgen A. Erhard Jun 19 '12 at 23:45
    
@Jürgen I said nothing about "exclusively", I said it must be at the core of what we do. It should be our main focus and everything should cater to that. –  Caleb Jun 20 '12 at 14:52
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Ask more unnecessary questions? Create canonical answers?

I've asked quite a bit of questions on the site but I haven't had much to talk about since my Catechism class ended.

Things may pick up in the Fall, I highly doubt we'll be closed by then. SE Inc knows how many of us are migrating our interests to Gardening or Great Outdoors for the Summer.

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Categorically, no to your first question :) I don't think the answer to question volume is to encourage unnecessary questions. In fact I think the proliferation of them might have contributed to their eventual slump! Ask really good questions, and attract experts. –  Caleb May 31 '12 at 21:51
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