We all love History Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

3 Answers 3

  1. Strange jeep-hold cable used during Operation Horev One of our better questions. The question contains the information necessary to start research. Comprable results from google are unsatisfactory.
  2. Are the Samaritans descendants of Israel's lost tribes, and so rightfully considered Israelites? I don't like this question. There is a citation, but the citation doesn't clarify the issue. There is insufficient material here for me to learn anything. This question is almost too narrow for H:SE. Beyond the definitions question, there is an underlying problem. Effectively the question is asking "Should I accept the assertions of Authority X or Authority Y about a question where Authority Y is the recognized authority?"
    Google provides answers that are significantly inferior to those on H:SE - the first three don't answer the question and the fifth drops off into fringe speculation.
  3. How was Abd al-Rahman I recognized when he arrived in Islamic Spain? This is an interesting question, clearly phrased. The question references uncited research, but there is enough information to understand the basis of the question. Google provides no useful results. The answer given is ... less than satisfactory. It is probably true, contains a citation, but doesn't contain enough information to understand the answer. Effectively the answer is little more than an assertion. This is a pity because without more information, the answer is of little use to anyone.
  4. What is “discovery” in the historical sense? How do historians today view and describe “discoveries”? There is a better answer on H:SE
  5. Why was the water in roman fountains cold? The question is clear, but should have been edited ("roman" should be "Roman") There are no comprable answers on google. H:SE provided good answers with references.
  6. Was the German Empire responsible for the advancement of german technology? I dislike this question. It is full of assertions, assumptions and opinions; it contains no meaningful facts or verifiable sources. What is "German Technology"? How do we measure advancement? Given my objection to the question, I did not research comprable answers. The answers on H:SE are .. nonresponsive and unsatisfying.
  7. What is the earliest known account of the modern military salute? This question is precise, well referenced and clear. The criteria for judging the answer are clear. This is probably a model for one type of soution to the "example" problem. Rather than asking for "example of X", if we ask for "Earliest example of X", I think it better fits the SE model. The answers are solid, well researched, and well documented.
  8. Was it common practice in Victorian London or other Western European cities to name locations as places where fictional characters lived and acted? I don't like this question. I think it is too broad "Victorian London or other Western European cities", and "common practice" make it impossible for me to evaluate answers. I think the question deserves more attention under the rubric of "list questions".
  9. Were any drugs (except alcohol) forbidden medevial or ancient times? This question is too broad and should have been closed - what are the boundaries of "medieval or ancient times"? What is "forbidden"? I rather wish that I had suggested that the question be rephrased to "What is the earliest example of an anti-drug policy?" or something along those lines.
    Given my misgivings about the question, I cannot evaluate the answer. It is true, but does it really answer the question.
  10. What factors made Europe conquer almost the whole world? CLOSE IT CLOSE IT CLOSE IT, please oh please close it I feel rather strongly about this one, but I'm in the minority. This is almost the canonical example of a question that requires a huge book to answer, and is therefore a very bad fit for H:SE. The question also gives off a pervasive odor of exceptionalism, which would require another book. Now that I've vented my spleen, I have to admit that the question gave rise to some decent answers. I will yield to the majority on this.
  • 2
    #10 would admittedly be a good candidate for our new (tounge-in-cheek) "Explained in 'Guns, Germs, & Steel'" close reason.
    – T.E.D. Mod
    Oct 16, 2013 at 18:32
  • 1
    Why close #10? It's an excellent discussi... Oh, I see. ;P
    – yannis
    Oct 17, 2013 at 8:08

We on the Community Manager Team use the opportunity of site self-evaluations to see how things are going. Looking over this quarter's evaluation, I'd say that things are going rather well on History.SE. I appreciate Mark C. Wallace's analysis of the sample questions and all the input on the July sample. They were very helpful in my evaluation.

Quality, overall, looks good. Yes, there are some below par questions mixed in, but I see a number of real pearls too. I love seeing well researched answers that cannot easily be found anywhere else. Sure there could be improvement, but I'm not much concerned on that front.

Traffic has improved quite a bit since the last evaluation and it's solidly in the green. A good deal arrives at the site via search engines (Google, mostly), which is an important sign of success. You all should be proud of your progress toward making the internet a better place to learn about history.

As I see it, this site is on a good trajectory, but there are still things that can be improved given time and some effort. The easy thing to articulate is that there seem to be about a dozen folks who participate regularly and a 100 or so who participate occasionally. I suspect that the community would be stronger with more folks providing input on the shape of the site.

Harder to address is my concern that the core of this community are not on the same page when it comes to future direction. Particularly difficult is how much leeway to give askers of controversial questions (religion, politics, verging on bigotry, and potential conspiracy theories). For better or worse, History is on the Stack Exchange site circuit for people who ask such questions. The temptation is to tighten the rules so that you don't have to deal with the fallout of such question. But there's a lot to be said for Mark C. Wallace's suggestion of demanding answerable, civil, and researched questions.

In sum, you all have built a site full of potential that is already helping thousands of visitors a day learn a thing or two about history. A primary goal should be to invite more people to participate either through personal and professional contacts or by drawing in casual users. I look forward to seeing this site grow in the months ahead.


Final Results

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