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I've noticed that many of the recent questions asked by newcomers to the site are low quality and/or off-topic, dealing with "what's the best university for discipline X?" and "how can I get into field/program X"? On a similarly worrying note, there have not been any new users asking more academic-related questions, such as those asked by site regulars. To me, this suggests that we are attracting the wrong kinds of users, and we are not attracting the kinds of users we want. My interpretation of the data is that we are attracting typical SO users, who make up a very diverse (and typically non-academic) population, and we are not marketing this site well enough to the general academic crowd.

My question is, what do you think of this? Do you agree? If so, what should we do to fix this? If you disagree, what do you make of the trend?


In response to the comment below:

  1. What academic discipline does “Productivity Science” come under?

    This question is completely unrelated to Academia and is unlikely to benefit any future readers of this site.

  2. How can I make up for weak grades while applying for a masters?

    This question is almost impossible to answer. Sure, it's common, but there are far too many factors for a definitive answer.

  3. Part-time/non-degree computer science studies

    Off-topic, as it pertains to undergraduate work.

  4. How to get enrolled in a German university for Ph.D. in computer science

    This type of question is the most dangerous, because the information is freely available on department pages of individual programs. Many questions like this here will significantly decrease the value of this site, as all answers will be "check this link" and "-1, check department webpage".

We have had some very good questions recently (e.g., this, this, and this), but of those three, two were asked by "old" site members, while only one was a newbie. My main worry is that new folks are viewing the site differently than we are, and that the way they're viewing it isn't good for our long-term health.

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    Can you specify certain questions that you deem as low quality, and explain why you think so on a case by case basis? – Paul Jun 18 '12 at 2:59
  • @paul - added some text. – eykanal Jun 21 '12 at 17:05
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    It's seemed to me for a while that the core problem with this SO is that bad questions look like the ones cited above, but good questions tend to require an answer that begins "This will depend on the field you are in" or "This varies a great deal across disciplines", followed by a discussion of that variation. Insofar as there's a middle ground, it's a situation where the SO is de facto a Q&A for questions relating more or less to issues in CS & Engineering departments. The SO format was designed to answer specific "How do I ...?" questions, and there aren't many of that sort here. – Kieran Jun 24 '12 at 14:00
  • In light of Sturgeon's Law ("...but then, 90% of everything is crud.") I take the flood of low-quality questions as a good sign. – JeffE Jul 8 '12 at 17:38
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I don't think the flood of low-quality questions is in itself a bad thing, but what is a problem is the lack of new academic users asking higher-level questions. We got some promotion on the SE blog/G+ feed that's probably drawing in the generic users. I too don't know how to promote things better, except to keep hitting on places like Inside Higher Ed.

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I agree that there has been several low quality questions recently, but I guess it's a combination between the fact that the "regulars", and in particular those who have been there from the beginning, have somehow run out of questions to ask, and that Academia SE starts to be found on search engines, thus attracting a diverse population.

I guess that any site such as this one is bound to attract the population asking how to apply for this particular program, and what's the best university, and we shouldn't worry too much about that. However, I agree that it also means that we are not attracting enough academics.

In order to fix it, I'd say that we "just" need to publicise the site more. But I honestly don't know how :(

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I agree but I don't think it's a major problem as long as such questions don't get much upvotes. It's still the kind of most upvoted questions on a SE site that drives me to participate regularly or not at all on that site. Here Academia.se does pretty well. There is a lot high-quality content.

Also, if too much low quality questions are on the front page, pushing some of the better questions with unaccepted answers to the top is a good way of attracting new academcis and not drive them away by the flood of low quality questions.

The low quality questions I noticed in the recent past here were often very localized personal advice questions with bad titles ("What should I do"), unuseful tags, no clear personal context. I'm not really sure if such questions are on/off-topic. There are student consultants for this at local universities. The answers will often vary pretty much for different nations and university bureaucracies. So a question tagged with personal advice should also have a nation tag, otherwise it's hard for new user asking the same low quality question here to find that one and we produce a lot of duplicates/noise. Noise/redundancy is what drives the majority of interesting user away in my opinion, rather than low quality questions. Most suggested criterions when voting to close a question (too localized, not a real question,...) try exactly to avoid this noise and redundancy, low quality is rather handled by rep voting/filtering. Questions on which uni's to choose/are best are imho off-topic, there are "rankings" and choosing the best uni with the highest demands on students is often not the best choice for the average student.

If my SE feed is full of low quality redundant questions, I unsubscribe. There are now so many SE sites, that browsing SE via feeds is the only way for me to notice new and interesting questions, browsing http://stackexchange.com/questions or a specifics site's frontpage is too time-consuming. So what you can do as a high rep user with privileges is edit and tag question titles in a clear way, avoid redundancy. Redundant/duplicate questions should be deleted instead of being closed and therefore still popping up in my feed. If I cant deselect all the personal advise questions on http://stackexchange.com/filters because they are not tagged as such, it's likely I unsubscribe.

  • I like the idea of making more of the high quality questions appear on the front page and deleting the low quality ones (rather than simply closing them). As Hauser suggests, perhaps we could add some way to filter many of these out of feeds. – Dan C Jun 19 '12 at 16:45
  • Your comment about browsing behavior is interesting. Unfortunately, since this site is in beta, it means that if others do the same, the site visits number will stay low, putting the site under pressure for deletion. I'm not saying you should change how you visit the site, but I'm not sure what to do about it. – Suresh Jun 25 '12 at 23:39
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What may be low quality to you may not be so to the next person. Lets ask the question. What criteria determines a quality question on Academia SE? And as you have pointed out, there are varying level of quality of questions. Are we only abiding by 'Low' and 'High' quality or are we going to introduce some middle ground?

We would not want to detract others from the site by merely closing their perceived low quality question. And especially closing their question without a valid reason. This I had found to be a real nuisance on SO when what I perceived to be be a totally valid question. Giving a general reason (e.g. This question is not a good fit for Stack Overflow ..) is open to abuse by moderators who merely just wants to 'clean up low quality questions'. Being curtious in ones answer and giving an appropriate reason when closing questions is the way to go instead of the plonking down a generalised answer leaving the person who asked the question at times scratching their heads. If you have moderator rights (which can be perceived as senior), then behave accordingly. As academics we are more precise in our ways when answering our assignment/research questions, lets do the same for the questions on A.SE.

We must bear in mind that people from all over the world with vast cultural differences vists the SE sites. Being mindful of this is of utmost importance. Politeness and curtiousness is the right and safe route to take when answering questions. Would you be short and abrupt when answering an 'high quality' question? I would think not. hence we should show respect when answering/closing questions of those that may not be aware that their question is perceived to be 'low quality'.

Given the name of the website (academia.stack...), if one just glances at that while knowing that the 'stackexchange' sites answers questions, one would think that you could ask any academic related question including ones like 'which unviersity is best to study flying pigs'. Let me put that as an example. I know there is a 'Golf' stackexchange site, hence my thoughts would be I can ask anything thats Golf related including 'Is it legal to eat pork chops while playing a round of golf'. Disclaimer, I no absolutely nothing about the game of golf. But these are the questions we should expect and its all on how we handle these questions. I think it will grow your reputation in more than just points when one can handle that scenario's accordingly.

Attracting academics. Of course we want to attract new academics. Those that are brand spanking new, those that left academia and came back as well as those that has been around forever. The experienced academics can sift through a pile of questions with ease picking up only what they need and ignoring the rest without breaking a sweat or batting and eyelash. I would think that the majority of people asking questions would generally be newbies. We want these newbies to stay. A sure fire way of driving away a newbie is to treat them and their question with disrespect.

So whilst it may be frustrating that there are 'low quality' questions about, I would rather have those questions around and close them with appropriate comments/reasons. The world is full of 'low quality' questions. There's no escaping it.

  • Note that this question was asked in June and (in my opinion) doesn't really apply now. – eykanal Oct 21 '12 at 0:48

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