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I recently read T.E.D.'s post on the recent cancellation of quite a few sites here at SE. I was wondering what we could do to improve the site's performance. Here are some thoughts:

  • We seem to be suffering from a lack of experts. It seems like we should reach out to people who have an academic background in history. It's good that we are getting quite a few people, like myself, who have an active interest in history, but no academic credentials, but it would certainly be good to have people who have devoted their careers to the study. I don't know if this has been considered, but maybe we should reach out to the various history departments throughout the world? It would be really nifty if professors asked questions here for their students to participate in. This seems like a good example of us being able to use the "technical-fetishism" displayed by many academic institutions to our benefit. Also, I'd imagine that many professors would have an inclination to help us advance the spread of historical interest.

  • Not only do we lack experts, as Hauser notes in TED's thread, we also lack diversity in interest. Again this could be improved by reaching out to institutions or various groups that have an interest in a specific historical field. It would be nice if we could implement specialty into the site's mechanics, possibly by letting users select one or two historical fields to specialize in (or automatically selecting a specialty for users based on the tags of questions they answered, possibly modified by the reputation attached to each answer). We could also have incentives for having uncommon specialties such as providing badges or incentive bonuses for a certain amount of posts for uncommon tags.

  • I don't know if this has been considered or if it's necessarily a good idea, but maybe offering users similar incentives as the above mentioned point for directing users to the site?

Anyway just some things to consider. I'd love to hear what you guys think.

  • please help , i cant ask questions in beta, error doesnt meet the requirement,it has very strict rules. – md nth Dec 14 '12 at 13:55
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I'm not convinced that the problem is a lack of experts rather than a lack of historical questions that would demand expertise. Browsing through the questions, the majority are military related. Military historians comprise an extremely small percentage of professional historians, so as it stands, most 'pros' would not be of any greater benefit to the History SE than well-read amateur historians. I'm not sure if a greater diversity in questions would actually attract experts, but I think that is the key.

So the question is how can we encourage a broader range of interests to SE?

  • I might have exaggerated in saying that the majority of questions are military themed, but certainly a disproportionate amount are. – SigueSigueBen May 5 '12 at 2:33
  • For those cases where you really need an expert, SE has just today added an interface to allow you to summon one! I believe it is a beta feature though, so it might not be available after today. Use it while its here. ;-) – T.E.D. Apr 1 '13 at 15:51
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My suggestion... Each day look at the current world news items for unusual things, and derive a history question relating to that item.

For instance, today there's a story about Mubarak in the hospital. He ruled Egypt since 1981. Wikipedia says he survived six assassination attempts during that period, however the references given in Wikipedia don't say much about that; what were those attempts and how were they thwarted or failed, and who was behind them?

The idea here being to assemble deep information on currently relevant topics that people are interested in and will be searching for, but that isn't already easily locatable.

[Update] Or, in some cases the problem is that too much information is available, and the need is to boil the lengthy history down to the highlight points that explain why the current situation is behaving as it does. Something that'd go over well at a dinner party.

  • 1
    brilliant suggestion – ihtkwot Jun 25 '12 at 2:17
  • Sometimes you get into what I have termed the line between "current events" and "history". Where history is a studied and researched codex of material that is condensed or disparate while current events are still in process and you still need to separate the wheat from the chaff. I agree with your point though that there are history questions buried in current events, it's just finding them. – MichaelF Jun 27 '12 at 16:24
  • Definitely true; the last few days I've been watching the news for good "history" questions, but once you filter out the political gunk, natural disasters, and random scandals, octomoms and what not, there's not that much of actual historical significance usually left... but sometimes you find something. :-) – Bryce Jun 28 '12 at 3:51
  • Yes, that something is the nugget of gold. Like gold it doesn't come out too often. – MichaelF Jul 3 '12 at 15:24
  • Both the questions I posted as part of this "experiment" (one about Mubarak, another on Syriah) have proven popular. There's some challenge to steering the discussions away from politics though. No idea if the questions stimulated more eyeballs to the site though. – Bryce Jul 3 '12 at 18:32
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I guess I'll get the ball rolling with what I put in the comments on that other question. I don't know that it's the answer, but I think it is probably part of the answer at least.

If you look over our stats on Area 51, the common thread running though everything sub-optimal there appears to be that we simply don't have enough people participating yet. Presumably we didn't get axed because the situation hasn't stagnated, so I'm guessing (hoping) things are on a slow rise.

Given that, I'd think the best thing that one could do to help the site out would be to get it out there more. The best way I can think of to do that is to link to questions (when appropriate of course), on other forums, websites, chat services, etc. which you might hang out on. That should help the site's page-rank.

These days when I have an issue with a programming facility and do a Google search, quite often an appropriate page on Stackoverflow pops up in the top 5 hits. That's what we need to be happening for history questions people search on.


Update: It appears that sometime in the next day or so I'm quite likely to graduate to the 3000+ rep realm (becoming our 5th such user, which will hopefully take that part of our stats green). Just to make sure the 1000-2999 range stays green too, I found our closest member, which turned out to be Rose-Ames, and voted up a couple of her eminently worthy answers. :-)


Update (December 6, 2012):

We are now down to only one "Needs Work" area, and it is way higher than it used to be. We only have two that are meerly "OK", and they both seem to be on the upswing as well. We need to keep things moving in the right direction, but I'm no longer particularly worried about closure.


Update (January 24, 2013)

We now have no "Needs Work areas, and two of our three that are meerly "OK" are within shouting distance of the green "Excellent" range. This includes the most important one IMHO, Visits Per Day, which is 85% of the way to the magic green 1,500 mark. Its possible the other may be a temporary blip up into "OK" range, but if we keeps our Visits Per Day this high, I suspect it will stick.

  • Interestingly, since I posted my question, I notice one of our three "Needs Work" categories has improved to "Okay". Looking over the stats, I'm guessing its because we had a 5th user hit the 2K rep mark. So I guess things are indeed improving. – T.E.D. May 4 '12 at 13:02
  • 2
    If we could start up in google searches that would be ideal. I think perhaps we need to allow more common history questions that can be relatively easily answered to stay open instead of closed. I know on other stacks this is a somewhat common practice. – ihtkwot May 8 '12 at 12:53
  • 1
    @ihtkwot I agree with you. Expert answers can be given even for "common" questions. In my opinion the idea of providing expert answers with sources (as often as possible) can be what sets this site apart from other History Q&A sites. It seems to me that we have a strong base of difficult/unique questions. I imagine these difficult/unique questions will continue to be our "base" even if we begin to allow the more "common" questions. – E1Suave May 26 '12 at 22:42
  • I'm not sure I know what you mean by "common" history questions being closed. We don't generally close a question unless the formatting or topic is inappropriate. As long as it is truly related to history, in any form, we will leave it open. We do sometimes close a question temporarily, asking that it be reworded, and once they are we will reopne them. – Steven Drennon Jun 13 '12 at 15:05
  • Do not obsess about the numbers, the stats aren't the only thing SE will look at when trying to decide if History.SE is ready to graduate or not. For example, Travel.SE recently graduated, albeit being just "ok" in questions per day (5.4) and answer ratio (2.1). – yannis Jan 28 '13 at 2:44
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Having used some StackExchange sites for over 18 months (Stack Overflow, ServerFault, DIY etc), its only today I realised a history one existed.

And that was only by going to my account -> Logins, and clicking the link saying 'Other StackExchange sites'.

Maybe Im in a minority, but I think StackExchange could do more to promote its various subsites. I cant be the only one who had no idea so many of them existed.

History one does seem to be a little deserted, but I like it so far and hope it will grow.

Maybe people could lobby StackExchange to start showing a few ads to the sub-sites in the sidebar, to raise awareness they even exist

3

Echoing what Sigue says we do have quite a lot of military historical questions, I believe that is an area of contention or confusion on the part of many who ask questions, a small percentage are also more common "student" questions where people new to a topic seek answers. It would be good to get more questions here, and I am making it a goal to add more on topics I have been looking into, and to me that is part of it, participation. Both on the question AND answer front, many of the people on the site have added questions and answers, some one and some the other. Adding to either will help us out on stats.

Voting will help, as TED notes, since getting more participants with Rep helps us out, but I admit to being as discriminating as TED about who I vote up. Much as I want to see us succeed, since this site has become my main participation space I don't want that effort to go to waste. Previously SE did have a contest to get more questions to the site but that didn't really garner much, but I think WWI might have been a difficult choice, at least for me - but then it also falls into the area of Military History that Sigue mentioned. My concentrations were on Colonial American and Chinese-Japanese history so there are many questions I wouldn't feel qualified to answer without study, it'd be nice to know who focuses on what area.

I do not know about many experts that we might get, strangely many of my history professors in college I have seen recently were still not really using technology much in the classroom or their personal lives. It might be best to get college students who are majoring in History interested, especially those who might go on to MA's who might be able to add their specialization. Current students tend to be more acclimated to technology and be more willing to utilize online sites like here. I'll have to see about more promotion of the site in my alumni network for those who might be interested.

2

I do understand the many reasons why allowing easy questions on History.SE has been avoided thus far. However, it appears that our visits per day and questions per day simply are not increasing enough. In fact after a recent spike they are now slowly falling back down. Perhaps, by allowing a trial week for easier questions we could see the impact it may have on our site. I believe that there are a plethora of historical questions that any one person may have throughout the day, and nearly 700 of the them can be answered here quite well. For the average person the majority of their questions can be answered on wikipedia with answers that generally include source(s), but in a way is lacking the human element/discussion. There are many other Q&A sites that are decent (at best) in the answers provided. I am really beginning to feel that in order to generate site usage and site popularity (search engine results) we need to worry less about the question asked and more about the elite answer provided. Our biggest advantage may be our ability to provide multiple elite answers along with the human element provided within discussion (comment/chat). We as a site likely do lack historical knowledge in some arena, but with the site being recognized more and more via increased results in popular search engine we may quickly recover in those areas.

The crux of the matter is that a hard question is likely to have gone through the process of...

  1. checking to make sure wikipedia doesn't provide an answer
  2. is not a top search result in popular search engines
  3. hasn't been asked yet on our site.

This process can impact our site negatively in two ways. First and the more obvious, we don't get another question. The second is a bit less obvious, but a person who took the time to check other popular resources is much more likely to be led to the answer on their own. This is true for even questions that aren't answered on wikipedia or other popular places. This may be good for that person, but bad for us. Potentially that question could have drawn attention to our site, created internal interest from our current users, and even spawned additional questions on that particular topic. Of course one could say that we should ask it anyway, and I would suggest that it is likely that some of us who are regulars on History.SE have likely done just that. However, for someone who stumbles across History.SE or even becomes a new user may not post their original question. Worse yet, they may feel in over their head as they read our previous questions. We have a list of very respectable questions, many of which are difficult/advanced questions, but one could assume this has made some potential users feel a bit uncomfortable.

OR:

Perhaps a week of correcting/reviewing possible flawed historical accounts present in popular movies could be another way of bringing users to our site.

  • Have we actually blocked any easy questions? Or is it just that most of us are averse to asking them without prior research? – lins314159 Jun 12 '12 at 5:02
  • Correcting flaws in popular movies sounds like a great idea. Both interesting/relevant topically, and likely to garner search engine hits. – Bryce Jun 21 '12 at 18:07
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In my opinion, apart from easily answerable questions, we should have questions whose answers are not clear and are debatable. After all, StackExchange's framework is mainly built for programming questions, which generally have some "correct" answer. Many things in history which deserve comment and discussion do not have any correct answer. We need to have some place that allows such questions too.

  • Debate is for chat. It was set up for that type of thing and works quite nicely for it. – American Luke Dec 8 '12 at 14:25

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