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I looked at the tags page just now and took a screenshot.enter image description here

You can see that the number one tag is united-states: a whopping 465 questions. This is a problem. There are 4235 questions on the site, and over 10% of them are about one country, despite the fact that this country comprises less than one-twentieth of the world's population, and its written history only goes back to the fifteenth century, that is if you count the three hundred years before it became an independent country (the history of what is now the USA before the Europeans' arrival is, of course, on a different tag).

Contrariwise China only has 116 tags. China's written history goes back four thousand years, and it's currently home to over one billion people: more than one seventh of the human population. How can it possibly be right that it has fewer questions than the USA?

I don't say this to disparage the USA or American contributors, nor am I saying we need fewer questions about the USA. I have asked a number of questions about the USA myself, and will continue to do so.

However, it is reasonable that the number of questions asked on a topic should reflect the quantity of information available about that topic. Stack Exchange is an American company, and I admit that I didn't read Stack Exchange's terms and conditions when I joined, but I'm willing to bet that American exceptionalism is not something I signed up to.

Unfortunately, the problem is not confined to the USA as a topic. World War 2 gets more tags than the whole of the century in which it is contained, and more than the two continents in which most of it took place. Nazi Germany, a twelve year period, gets more tags than plain old Germany, a country which has existed in some form since the Roman Empire. And yes, I have asked questions about all those things, and I don't want anyone to ask fewer questions about them, either.

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The solution

The solution, then, entails getting more quality questions on under-asked topics on this stack.

We can do this by reputation prizes. We identify what tags need more questions. When someone asks or answers a question with e.g. a China tag, and their post has a positive score of (say) 5 or above, they get a generous bonus of rep points, in the order of 200, or more.

There is nothing sinister about the profile of questions revealed by the tag list which I posted. They are simply a reflection of a user-base which is mostly Anglophone, American, and probably also white, male, and univeristy educated. Once again, there is nothing wrong with any of those things, and I am all of them, except American.

I suggested before that we need to attract different types of questions, and to do that we need to attract different contributors, not to the exclusion of existing users but in addition to them (us).

Anglophone contributors, like myself, are unlikely to be able to tell us much about renaissance Germany or 18th-century China, or ask as many good questions about them. Questions and answers at this site are posted in English, so new contributors need some command of the language. However, I strongly suggest that we should be more lenient towards spelling and grammatical errors, particularly when these are likely to be the result of non-native English. How many of us would feel confident discussing history in Italian or Arabic, or even Japanese?

If someone makes a language error that seriously impairs our understanding of their post, we should ask for clarification. When mistakes are inconsequential, which they usually are, use editing priveleges to correct it, or just ignore it altogether.

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    + 1 for suggesting being more accommodating of poor English. I think the bonus system would be hard to implement, but we could all just make a concerted effort to read and upvote non-US posts. Getting some non-US questions on the "hot network questions" list might attract some new users. – two sheds Aug 7 '15 at 17:47
  • Do you mean it would be hard because of some technical reason? Or that it would be hard to determine a list of priority tags? – Ne Mo Aug 7 '15 at 18:19
  • Technical, because that is beyond what our mods can do. It would require intervention from someone higher up in the SE hierarchy. – two sheds Aug 7 '15 at 18:21
  • Thank you, I admit I don't know much about the 'insides' of SE. But if we can drum up support for the idea here then we can take it further up the chain – Ne Mo Aug 7 '15 at 18:23
  • We have in the past done a "Topic of the Week" contest. It didn't go over very well, but that was a long time ago with a much smaller userbase. Perhaps it might work better now? I don't know that I have the time or organizational skills to run such a thing myself, but I certainly have some spare rep I could donate. – T.E.D. Aug 7 '15 at 21:02
  • Does someone on this board control the community account? It would be kind of messy, but if we give this account some rep, by upvoting a meta post by community, we can then use the community account to award bounties to answers of priority questions. It's very generous of you to offer some of your own rep and I encourage that heartily. I think that good old community account could do that too! – Ne Mo Aug 8 '15 at 12:13
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    Topic of the week worked pretty well until it fizzled out on some really obscure topics, imho. Maybe we could revive that but use broader topics, i.e. ones that focuses on a whole region and/or a few centuries at a time. – Semaphore Aug 11 '15 at 20:05
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We have a shortage of people who ask good questions about non-American topics. We need to attract such people to the site. How can we advertise that we're interested in a broad range of topics?

I think we need to game the "hot network posts" system to make sexy non-American questions visible to the general SE population. Posts go "hot" when they have more than one answer, and question and answers have high scores.

Basically, if someone can think of a sexy non-American question (especially one that could sustain two or more answers), they could post it first in chat. Regular users would read it and have advance time to prepare a good answer. Then once the questioner posts it, several answers are posted at once. If we as a site are generous with our upvotes (not saying that we should upvote something that doesn't deserve it, but we all pass without voting on multiple deserving posts everyday) then we will likely get a non-American hot network question.

Final step: Be nice to all of the 101 rep users who respond to the post.

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Speaking as the current top answerer on (and thus beneficiary of) that tag, allow me to say that I agree completely with the gist of this question. I'd love more questions on China, India, SE Asia, etc. I'm weaker in those areas, and I'm here to learn. I think the last time we did a "question of the month", my suggestion was for "Austronesian month".

It is perhaps unfair to throw the phrase "exceptionalisim" around though. We can only answer the questions we get, so everything really depends on the interests of our users. Right now, nearly 50% of all internet users are North Americans. Its probably a straight majority if you throw out internet users who don't understand English. It shouldn't surprise anyone that people in general are most interested in their own country's history. So only 10% of questions about the country most of our users (likely) come from is if anything surprisingly low.

All this concentration in effort in a few places does serve to make them look "exceptional" just by the sheer weight of material. This isn't just an academic discussion either; it does real harm in the world. To riff off your WWII example, for all the talk you see about the Holocaust to the exclusion of other genocides, a lot of people have come to see it as some kind of exclusively 20th Century German problem, rather than the part of human nature that genocide is. Genocide is not a part of human history we should be resigned to be repeating, but that's what we doom ourselves to if we don't try to properly understand it.

So yes, we should strive to do better, and I like your suggestion.

  • I completely agree. We ought to be edifying the world in a way that Wikipedia has failed to do! :) – Ne Mo Aug 8 '15 at 12:16

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