Lately I was thinking about how to improve the statistics on Area51 (yes, don't look at the stats, and so on and so on).

One way to attract people would be to ask more questions related to news arguments. After all history is fundamental to understand the present, so we could benefit from questions about current events.

Something on the lines of: "How did the division between [A] and [B] arised in Syria?" or "What is the relation between [event] in [1955] and the present crisis in Mali?".

This could result in a number of people interested in discussion, which we do not want. So what do you think?

  • +1, very good question. Joking, I just wanted to inform you that we have no more 'nasty reds' in the area51 stats page... :)
    – astabada
    Jan 23 '13 at 15:53
  • Actually, I'd love to see both those questions (although the first might end up being closed for too closely resembling history.stackexchange.com/questions/2460/… )
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Jan 24 '13 at 18:46
  • 1
    This BTW is a very similar question (I'm not gonna use the D-word) to meta.history.stackexchange.com/questions/208/… . I just posted an update there, but the executive summary is that it looks like our numbers (particularly visits per day) are progressing nicely.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Jan 24 '13 at 19:04

@astabada this is an excellent idea, and one that @T.E.D. brought up last October by suggesting timely questions. I think part of the problem is that in the FAQ we try to steer away from questions that are "...answered by a simple Google search or to be found in a Wikipedia page." THe problem is that some people may think a question is easily googleable, but may not be to another. I think smart, well-crafted, and timely questions would go a long way to increasing traffic.

  • Well, OK. I clearly have to vote this up as a good idea now. You're sneaky. :-)
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Jan 24 '13 at 18:43

Perhaps for those of us in academia we can recommend this site to our peers. I've introduced a few other university students to SE, sadly not history. There are many experts who have unique knowledge at just about every institution, but I feel that some have a distaste for online communities from previous experiences. We need to "sell" history.se to them somehow.

  • IMHO SE sites will always be a tough sell to acknowledged experts, as all their hard-earned reputation in their fields doesn't count for squat here. However, for the same reason, it may actually appeal to young historians looking to make a name for themselves.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Feb 13 '13 at 14:25
  • @T.E.D. - Interesting point... there's nowhere near the same issue in software development (as far as SO), with many luminaries joining happily.
    – DVK
    Feb 13 '13 at 15:54
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    I think a good point of comparison would be wikipedia's history of issues with experts. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wikipedia:Expert_retention
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Feb 13 '13 at 16:57
  • The history experts community seems to be a small one, I think the best way to get them here would be "direct marketing". For example, some people on reenactment forums are really knowledgable and the discussions there are quite on expert level. Still, the forums suffer from typical forum ilnessess, that are eliminated by the StackExchange engine/platform. Still, it will be VERY hard to get them here, as they had grown accustomed to their forums and identify their community with those forums.
    – K.L.
    Feb 15 '13 at 17:20

Note: The following is just my own opinion that's been forming for awhile, do not take this as a hit on anything, or other than what it is, my opinion.

After spending some time sitting back and taking a break from this site, to me part of the problem with adding experts here is being able to get people who can adapt to the culture of SE. My involvement with another research-based site shows me that there are two definite shifts in how questions/answers are presented in academic sites and places like SE where the community is more involved in how reputation and answers are perceived. Experts in some areas, and I can luckily say some of my history professors were not like this, can be prickly when their research and authority in subjects is attacked, which will happen in SE. I've seen it happen in many questions on SE History as a mod, though it's a small portion of what I've seen it may be a stumbling block with others getting involved. Especially considering the "burn" others may have had in previous exposures to SE sites and involvement in public forums like this.

Remember these are people who spend their time as experts in subjects and some do not take direct challenges well to their knowledge of subjects. While getting younger members of the community may help, as they are more familiar with the social media aspects of online communities and may have thicker skins for criticism that may arise. Introducing them to SE History may be good, but the introduction has to draw them in, and I am not sure even the current state of SE History questions is enough to bring them in. I know this goes back to the question quality problem we struggled with early on, and I can see it somewhat still happens, but then this is for people to have questions who may or may not be History professionals or academics, it's a place for answers. Consider as well, that while we have stressed in the past that answers should have some documentation for them, not all do. Many are someone's recollection or knowledge put out there, and some have sources to back up the statements, and many sources are not Wikipedia. What would be the expectation of an academic who is more used to using sources to back up their thesis or paper? This sort of loops back to the reputation aspect, here is someone who is already known in another community as knowledgable in their field but here they are starting over, many would not want to do that.

I'll stop there as I feel I've dumped enough. Thanks for reading!

  • Voting this up, primarily becase the first paragraph is exactly my thoughts about why we can't (and shouldn't) expect to see any big well-repected historians here. Somebody who's worked hard to earn a good reputation in a field is not going to want to go somewhere where their "reputation" starts over at 0. The second paragraph illustrates why that shouldn't really matter. Good answers should be sourced. Dang near anybody can do that, and thus it doesn't really matter one bit if said person is an "expert", as we aren't relying on that person's expertise, but rather that of their sources.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Mar 6 '13 at 17:11
  • While I don't necessarily disagree, I think you are over-worrying over the "sources other than Wikipedia" aspect. personally, I always try to upvote answers based on good original sources, and I'm pretty sure other people do as well from what I've observed. Answers that are well sourced are rarely lightly-upvoted. Heck, I even upvote "professional-looking" questions (those that clearly need expert knowledge to answer) that are way outside my area of interest or care, just to encourage more of such.
    – DVK
    Mar 6 '13 at 20:32
  • Also, as far as "people not used to being chalenged", that one seems easy to fix - if one is a quality academic expert, they are 100% sure to be able to back up anything they say with tons of citations, since that is how they publish their own research. Moreover, they likely are MORE used to necessity of doing so from their academic career than a random non-academic user.
    – DVK
    Mar 6 '13 at 20:34
  • Generally, on SE sites, genuine experts automatically accrue good rep, without their outside reputation being known. Tom Christiansen had the highest rep on [Perl] tag due to the expertness of his answers well before a large group of users were aware that "tchrist" was in fact an author of one of the main Perl books.
    – DVK
    Mar 6 '13 at 20:37
  • Perhaps I am misunderstanding but you say "many sources are not Wikipedia" like that's a bad thing? While Wikipedia is reliable or almost-reliable in its articles on mathematics and hard sciences (physics, chemistry), it is often very dubious in its history articles. There are simply too many crazies with far too much time on their hands relentlessly pushing some extremist agenda, and too many sub-articles for knowledgeable editors to patrol. A reference to a .edu site or a respected academic work carries far more weight with me than a reference to Wikipedia. Mar 7 '13 at 6:56
  • Example: Today I linked to Wikipedia in a comment, out of laziness and because that particular article (on Amschel Mayer Rothschild) is short and does not appear to contain glaring errors. But the parent article Rothschild family is a horrid mess. It lists dozens upon dozens of supposed "Rothschild descendants" but most names lack a reference. There is at least one documented instance of someone manufacturing false R. family descent for himself... Mar 7 '13 at 8:16
  • ... but other names still in there are surely false as well. To read the talk page archives there is to glimpse the dark underbelly of humanity, with people raving about a supposed trillion-dollar fortune of the Rothschilds etc. etc. WP is the "encyclopedia anyone can edit" but it can be very hard to make a correct edit stick and equally hard to keep out misinformation unless you watch articles like a hawk every day and there are not enough people to do that. Mar 7 '13 at 8:21

I think a new feature as follows could help (these are comments that appear here):

"One more thing": StackExchange sometimes (but not here/now) displays a "Know somebody who may know the answer ..." field where one can provide an e-mail address to forward a link to the question. If it were available, I would contact Prof. Freeman that way (see e-mail address on linked web site). Does anybody "see" that field or know how the mechanism can be accessed/activated (for I don't want to use my private e-mail address)? If not, I may write this up as a question on meta ...


"Know somebody who may know the answer ..." goes through your email client, not via some anonymized SE email. And it does show only on new questions. As soon as at least one answer is added by anyone, it disappears.

Maybe not a short-term solution, though, because it would require changes to the StackExchange engine. Still, maybe here is a good place to keep track of the idea.

  • 1
    The "Know somebody who may know the answer ..." appears when there are no answers in the question. But it's not really necessary, you can just email the url of the question to anyone you like.
    – yannis
    Jan 19 '13 at 3:03
  • Of course I can send a (any) URL to a (any) person from my own account, but my point is that this could be improved upon: Some senders may not want to use their own e-mail account for sending (e.g. I prefer to use only a pseudonym here and would not bother to create a new e-mail account just for the purpose). Some receivers (such as busy academics) may be more inclined to open a message if it is branded as from StackExchange rather than some random dude (i.e. yours truly, in this case :). So yes, the machinery is already there, but perhaps friction (so to speak) could be further reduced.
    – Drux
    Jan 19 '13 at 5:33

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