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Allow me to ponder on the future of Academia(.SE):

I don't claim to be an integral or representative user of this site, but I've noticed I personally haven't been using Academia as much lately. This is probably a natural phenomenon for many users across the SE sites, and isn't necessarily a problem for the sites if they are getting enough new active users (and may be a boon, if you're getting less of me :).

The above was sort of a disclaimer to this observation, which is my main worry: it seems to me that when I have been browsing new questions here, most of them are either duplicates (if not in the technical sense, at least morally so) or about some specialized issue I am not so interested in. I think this partially accounts for my decrease in activity here. It seems to me that this may be more of an issue on Academia than some of the other sites (because there are a lot more possible questions of "broad interest" and/or questions are more focused on changing developments).

If this observation is true, then it seems likely that either usage (measured in some sense) of Academia will eventually peter off or questions will tend to become more and more specialized.

First:

Do other people see a similar issue with the questions being asked here? (mostly duplicates/very specialized) Or is there any data for or against this? (Surely we can get data about numbers of questions that are or aren't duplicates; being "too specialized" may be hard to measure directly, but we could try to measure "broad interest" by counting question votes inversely scaled by the growth of the site.)

Second:

If this issue is in fact real, is there anything we can or should try to do about it?

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    I think, instead, that Academia.SE hasn't yet reached its full potential: I'll expand on this in the next days (while struggling to digest Christmas lunches and dinners :-) ). – Massimo Ortolano Dec 24 '16 at 0:28
  • @MassimoOrtolano I think we're still growing too, but I was wondering if we're headed for a peak then a downward plunge or if we'll just sort of flatten out at "max potential." – Kimball Dec 24 '16 at 2:31
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    Having specialized questions is not a problem if they are being answered. In a mature SE sites most of core questions have already been asked and answered, but the site is growing with more specialized questions. In Stack Overflow most non duplicate questions are very specialized, and probably it makes the new questions feed less entertaining for casual reades, but it makes the site more useful. – Pere Dec 24 '16 at 12:19
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    For me, the main negative about academic.SE is orthogonal to the ones you talk about. It's that it attracts a lot of questions asking for personal advice, and a lot of answers that are based on opinion. Personal advice and opinion are poorly suited to the SE format. – Ben Crowell Dec 26 '16 at 0:01
  • The issue is over-moderation and not trusting the sites voting model. Like most things on the internet, the less the community decides, the fewer people are interested (distrust of authority?). If any authority exists, it should be applied towards improving the voting model, not moderation. – TheDoctor Dec 31 '16 at 17:37
  • Regarding duplicates, I did a small review of the data last August in response to Unjustified trend of labelling too many questions as “duplicates”. I heard in the SE podcast that for all sites, as the catalogue of existing questions grows new questions are bound to be more frequently marked as duplicates. – Cape Code Jan 3 '17 at 8:49
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    what bothers me the most is that it seems mostly scandalous/gossip questions get all the attention and that we are really biased towards comp. science/math/engineering. So when we drift towards more specific questions as already discussed, the interest decreases. – Herman Toothrot Jan 3 '17 at 22:59
  • I doubt that the complexities of human interactions in an academic setting will ever be completely solved. Academia SE will run out of questions about the same time as everything that can be invented has been invented (or the zombie apocalypse, which likely comes sooner). – Jon Custer Jan 5 '17 at 19:29
  • @user4050 I will say for myself that I make a deliberate effort to provide a non-CS/Math/Eng perspective on things (most often the necessity of LaTeX) because we do indeed have an overrepresentation. – Fomite Jan 8 '17 at 7:25
  • Please back your feelings with some statistics. We have the data explorer, use it to demonstrate what you feel actually happens. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jan 29 '17 at 17:41
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I've also dipped significantly in my use recently, but I don't think that's related to sustainability of the site so much as personal ebb and flow in attention and whether Academia.SE is currently beating out other options for entertaining myself.

I do suspect that we will see a lot of "the core questions" getting answered over time, but I don't think that's going to end up with the site ending up being "done" and pointless. A lot of what we talk about here is about relationships and organizations, and there is never a shortage of interesting human complexities in such things.

Bottom line: I think Academia.SE will become unsustainable around the same time that relationship advice columns become unsustainable. At that point, we can all just live on airborne bacon.

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    Well, your level of usage was absurd for awhile :) So do you feel like we're getting as many good, interesting questions as we used to? I don't, but I can't tell if that's due to my personal interest ebbing or an actual change in the site. – Kimball Dec 24 '16 at 2:48
  • @Kimball Well, I'm just dipping back in after a few months off, but my impression is that it's about the same. In my experience, after one has been active a while, questions that used to feel fresh are less so since you've seen other similar questions enough times. – jakebeal Dec 24 '16 at 3:19
  • It's exactly the same for me. – xLeitix Dec 24 '16 at 9:59
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Some of these questions are probably answerable with the data explorer. Moderators also have tools to look at site analytics. Our site "graduated" from being a beta site in April of 2014. This was during a period of intense growth as measured by most, possibly all, meaningful metrics including number of posts, votes, views, visits, users, and posters. This growth continue for about a year after graduation. Since April of 2015 our growth has slowed, but I see no indication that we are shrinking.

  • Thanks--I knew about but never really figured out the data explorer, and I wasn't suggesting we are shrinking now, but was wondering if we'll soon hit a point of most "core questions" being asked and answered, which might change the nature and usage of the site. – Kimball Dec 24 '16 at 2:34
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At its base this doesn't seem all that different from StackOverflow to me. If you look back, questions from 2009 about how to do a very basic thing in Python would get 2000 upvotes and a stream of updated answers over the last 7 years. If you follow the current queue of questions, you'll see instead that they tend to be very specific and that garnering 2 upvotes and 1 answer isn't at all unusual

Does programming change more than academia over time? It seems obvious that it does, and SO will always benefit from an influx of questions about whatever is newest. But the fact remains that there are still dozens of new questions per day about things that have been around "forever", such as Python. They do seem to get more specific, and I would guess the rate of duplicates has risen also. So I still think it's generally a good comparison where their "core questions" are asked and answered, but the site remains very active.

And just like SO questions about Python (or other older languages), despite diminishing returns I'm skeptical the community will ever reach a point where there simply aren't any more good questions.

  • No you wouldn't. Relatively-general questions with dozens of upvotes are routinely asked on StackOverflow.com . Look at the data explorer. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Jan 29 '17 at 17:40
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I see no real threat with specialized questions, as long as they are actually answerable in similar level of detail.

What typically does happen rather more often is that you get questions asking for advice, given a particular situation; majority of which are specialized to the extent that it's difficult to give a satisfactory and factual answer without knowing the people involved and situation in detail. Thus majority of the answers boil down to "talk to your supervisor" or "check with the department administration", something along those lines.

My personal involvement at Academia.SE has also decreased over the past year, partly because of my stress over changing jobs, hunting postdoc etc, and partly because I feel rather disillusioned by academia altogether and I find that many of frustrating attitudes/statements about life in academia are also perpetuated here e.g. "doing research is a way of life, not a job" or the notion of citations and publications being fair.

I realize that a lot of those things that I would like to have feedback on and discuss with other academics are not a good fit for the Q&A format of the site, and that's totally fine. That's why people get a drink and chat after work :)

It's just that there aren't many practical and factually answerable questions about academia, I think. At least, I haven't come up with anything lately... Instead, I think there will be many graduate level questions about interaction with students, teachers or otherwise faculty, about positions and salaries etc.

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it seems to me that when I have been browsing new questions here, most of them are either duplicates (if not in the technical sense, at least morally so) or about some specialized issue I am not so interested in.

Honestly, one the front page I feel very similarly at times. There are days when I don't have the patience to deal with questions that look very much like "Have you tried asking your advisor?" or are on extremely specialized subjects.

But in my perspective, the site has always been populated by a large number of these questions. They're part of the inherent nature of the site, in the same way "How do I do this embarrassingly simple thing in Python" is part of SO.

There's also ebbs and flows in my participation in communities. I used to be very active on CV, but I'd drifted a bit. There's times here where the site is up all day, and times I haven't checked in a week. And I've definitely seen some sites that have hit unsustainability - I think Academia is pretty far from that point.

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