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I noticed that several high reputation and medium reputation members who used to be regular users of ELU for over 3 years have not posted anything for over 6 months. I don't want to name names but they have made major contributions here. Frankly I worry that something happened to them, though that is unlikely in the vast majority of such cases. Participating here is of course purely their own decision, but I did notice a few such users become 'active again' after a long absence.

So should the moderator team try to reach out to them via email on behalf of the community (as some other websites tend to do) and if so, what would be an appropriately short generic message?


Updated on 7th September 2017:

May I expand on my question using these comments I posted in reply to pertinent queries from members here:

The user profile can easily show the user pattern that led to inactivity. One pattern is typical -- the frequency of posting falls off slowly before no more posts since a certain date. This can be indeed be interpreted as a being a gradual loss of interest in most cases (...)

The other pattern is more perplexing: a more or less abrupt cessation of posting by a previously active member. While I shouldn't suggest anything that goes against established SE policy, these people have been our long-term collaborators in this project...

My question to the current members and moderators was simply "don't we care that senior members have left the site? Don't we want to know why, if possible? If it was your co-workers at your so-called real-life office that disappeared, will you ignore like this..."

The site administrators have the contact details such as email id of all members (...) if the moderators at ELU think it is a good idea (based on the feedback to this question) they can easily send them a pre-formatted generic email such as "dear member so-and-so: this is moderator A & you last posted at ELU over 6 months ago. You have been a valuable contributor here and we should greatly welcome your continued participation. At the very least please consider explaining in an email the reasons you are no longer active on ELU so that we might take steps to improve user experience here."

Let's assume that only 20% of former regular users even respond to such a message from a moderator with a return email giving the reasons for leaving the site (...) that's still significant and valuable feedback for moderators to understand the possible problems and take any necessary steps to improve the user experience.On the other hand, the way a few members have responded here, "let them leave - they must have their reasons - why should we care if they leave: they have contributed and the site doesn't need them any more (paraphrase)" doesn't seem to be a constructive attitude.

[to sum up] I have simply raised the issue of absent regulars here; and what to do about it (if at all to do something) should be decided purely on the basis of community consensus as expressed by members here.

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    What would be the benefit of doing so? – waiwai933 Sep 2 '17 at 2:29
  • From 2013: Is EL&U declining? – choster Sep 2 '17 at 2:49
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    In short, no. As you noted, it's not our call. – NVZ Sep 2 '17 at 5:39
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    The core of the problem lies in the quality of the questions... Boring, bad and bereft of any context, detail or research. – Mari-Lou A Sep 2 '17 at 6:03
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    I don't think that keeping senior inactive users artificially alive would really benefit the site. More attention should be probably given to attracting and keeping new users. – user66974 Sep 2 '17 at 6:12
  • A little buttinsky, don't you think? or maybe like Duolingo, a reminder of your past interest? Also, who is 'we' in your question? How do you propose to implement this? – Mitch Sep 2 '17 at 17:05
  • 'We' is the community, @Mitch but it would be represented by the moderators, as I have mentioned in the question. I was thinking that 'they' could send a generic email message, but I need inputs as to what it should say. Many websites do this when user participation is nil for over a specified number of days, but this may or may not be suitable for ELU. – English Student Sep 2 '17 at 17:14
  • @EnglishStudent This might be a strategy for the SE marketing department, in order to promote quality. But I think there should be some analytics involved first, and a quantitative measure of quality, before invasive emails are sent. -Mod- inactivity is relevant because mods actually -do- things. Why is this ELU specific? Have you researched this on the main meta or other meta sites? Are you concerned about people dying (Facebook has a policy)? Does Quora do this already? Lot's of questions here that can be raised – Mitch Sep 2 '17 at 17:26
  • @EnglishStudent This brings up a lot of things about the philosophy of the design of SE that were discussed when it was originally being built (management of the community). Look at Jeff Atwood's blog about SE – Mitch Sep 2 '17 at 17:28
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    If it's about sending stock reminder emails saying "you have not participated in a while, please come back" or something, I would just delete those emails. Or sometimes I setup filters to hide such emails. I hate being pulled into doing things. I do things when I want to. – NVZ Sep 2 '17 at 17:46
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    I think it's best to pass the torch instead of keeping it in the same hands. Let new users come. Let old users go as they wish to. They have already done their part. – NVZ Sep 2 '17 at 17:51
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    I feel similarly about some social media reminders, @NVZ but those were sites I never cared about in the first place. What if some of our co-workers in the so-called 'real world' disappear, though this is not at all the same situation... English.StackExchange is its own 'real world.' I have simply raised the issue of absent regulars here; and what to do about it (if at all to do something) should be decided purely on the basis of community consensus as expressed by members here. – English Student Sep 2 '17 at 17:52
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    @Mari-Lou A A I'm not convinced that the good old days had a lower proportion of questions that today we would close. For example, a question recently surfaced from 2011 which baldly stated: "As soon as this question crossed my mind, I realised it wouldn't exactly be an easy thing to Google, so I'm not even going to try. Surely someone here knows." The OP, who has a very high rep, would not do that today. – ab2 Sep 3 '17 at 3:56
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    What's disappointing to me is when a user with an academic background joins enthusiastically and then leaves. Better questions would help. More receptivity to new users--helping them learn the ropes without appearing insular--would help too. – RaceYouAnytime Sep 3 '17 at 16:54
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No, it's not our call.

There are many reasons that experienced users have for the decline in their participation. I can share with you mine.

How did I get here?

I'm an Indian raised in the Middle East. I know English a bit better than my peers back in India. I'm overly conscious of my words, and make sure I avoid embarrassing mistakes as far as I can before I send a letter to somebody, or submit a project report.

I stumbled upon ELU 5-6 years ago thanks to Google. Unlike others, this site is all about getting answers. It's not a discussion forum. There's no chit-chat. I didn't even have to ask because Google would take me directly to answers here.

I read top quality answers here; clear, concise, understandable, even without citations. It was a great feeling to see that ELU had real language experts.

And one day I decided to join.

How come I don't participate anymore?

Seeing the same questions being asked over and over and over and over again was disheartening.

But I've not given up yet. I decided to take a back seat approach. I'm now here to welcome new users and make them want to stick around, start their journeys here. I moved on from asking or answering to reviewing or moderating (without the diamond, that is), helping users find their way by answering meta questions and stuff.

I recently stumbled upon another newborn community that needed a family to raise it. So I'm spending a lot more of my time there.

Should you pull me back here? Nope.

I'm aware that my participation is reduced. And so are others about theirs. They have left for their own reasons. Some return after a while, and some don't.

What we should do is welcome new users, and make them want to be the next top participants.

Change is inevitable.

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    Good points, well made, @NVZ. One look at the Questions front page (newest questions at ELU) proves you are right. Not at all necessarily 'a decline of quality' but this: "Seeing the same questions being asked over and over and over and over again" -- comparisons are odious and ELU is a giant with its own distinctive identity, but your 'newborn site' looks far more exciting at the moment! – English Student Sep 2 '17 at 9:12
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    This. Just this. It's the same for me. I really would like to see novel, interesting, meaningful questions. Lacking those, my attention is fading. Paying attention to a fledgling site is a really good idea; we all hear that the best days in a community are the early days. – Dan Bron Sep 2 '17 at 11:52
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    @DanBron: novel, interesting, meaningful questions means the site is only useful for the elite or near elite of English users. That excludes, what, 99% of the English-speaking world? I have enjoyed answering even the simple questions. What disheartens me is when one of the elites then dings my answer because it doesn't meet their version of perfection. The average visitor wants this site to help them answer a question (even the same one over and over), too many of the high-rep users want this site to be something else entirely. – JBH Sep 2 '17 at 15:49
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    @JBH I'm not saying the site should be something else. I'm not against simple Q&As. I'm just personally feeling a bit bored, as I am a normal human being with a passion to seek new and interesting things. Others may find everything here interesting, and I did as well, back when I was new. – NVZ Sep 2 '17 at 15:52
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    @JBH The issue is that most people in your 99% ask questions on EL&U, but never answer them. The inescapable fact is that sites like SE are powered by a committed cadre of regular users; in the case of EL&U, those regular users are precisely the ones who take a specific and focus in English as a language. This small number of "linguists, etymologists, and English language enthusiasts" are the ones who provide 99% of the answers to the questions which get an answer. If you can't maintain a cadre of regular users, who answer questions, then there won't be a site.... – Dan Bron Sep 2 '17 at 16:41
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    There are users who keep on repeating that, for a number of reasons, they are tired, bored with ELU and that they are leaving the site...but here they are...interesting, is it? – user66974 Sep 3 '17 at 10:31
  • @Josh I'm not sure who you're referring to. If it's me, I never left. Just that my participation is a bit dull. – NVZ Sep 3 '17 at 10:41
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    I haven't left, but I've pulled back a distance recently. I do still hold out hope an interested for those few interesting question gems in the rough. They make the rest of the maintenance work worth it. – Dan Bron Sep 3 '17 at 13:46
  • Sorry to see you 'go', @NVZ... – marcellothearcane Sep 12 '17 at 18:15
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    @marcellothearcane Hehe... I'm not really "gone" until my name leaves the first row: english.meta.stackexchange.com/users – NVZ Sep 12 '17 at 18:21
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    @NVZ "You will only be truly gone when there are none loyal to you on ELU" - Adapted from Albus Dumbledore – marcellothearcane Sep 12 '17 at 20:07
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EL&U was something like the second or third SE site I found. (I came for a specific site and then started exploring and found my way here.) It was 2011 and I said "hey, I'm good with English (professional writer) -- I can answer questions here". And I did, quite a few.

Either I didn't yet understand, or this site didn't yet have clear expectations about, what makes a good answer, particularly the need to cite sources. Sometimes I did, sometimes I didn't. Some of those answers, if posted today, would be rejected, I'm sure.

Things happened -- other sites on the network drew my attention, and arguments here about scope (particularly beginner questions) made me question whether I actually understood EL&U's goals, and I drifted away without it ever being an explicit decision. I came back later and ELL was being formed (or had formed) and that left me even more confused about EL&U's scope, and because I wasn't strongly hooked at that time I drifted away again. Later still I met a senior user here and during a very pleasant conversation I got an earful about single-word requests, after which I deleted some of my answers. Every now and then I look at the review queues (EL&U sure has a lot of pending reviews, compared to my other sites), but I feel like I don't know what the norms are any more so I usually skip through the first several and then stop. It's not you; it's me. But because I'm a casual user, albeit one with 15k rep, I'm unlikely to climb the learning curve again unless there's some clear, current guidance that I can read without surveying meta. (I've read this help)

I do get pings from this site occasionally; one of them brought me here tonight, and when I decided to look around on meta I found this question. I don't think pinging me more than what naturally arises (comments, rep changes, edits) would change my behavior. For those who actively left (unlike me), the pings stand a good chance of being annoying.

Now that I've written all that, I'm not sure this case study is actually an answer to this question. But this is meta so I'll post rather than cancel.

  • Thanks a lot for the insights, @Monica Cellio -- it explains so much from the perspective of those who are no longer active here! I am only 4.5 months old on ELU and already I am less active here... Hence this question. My English background comes entirely from (fiction and) Literature, which is banned on ELU, and I found I am not the same type of Language fanatic as some users here. – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 14:11
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ELU seems to have continuously deteriorated over the past two or three years and so has the number of its enthusiastic members (like myself), quality questions, quality answers, and quality discussions, etc. What do you want to achieve by contacting those who got sick and tired of this poorly-managed and seemingly aimless site? I should not have come back. Hmm...

  • Re your statement _ "What do you want to achieve by contacting those who got sick and tired of this poorly-managed and seemingly aimless site? I should not have come back." _ My question to the current members and moderators was simply "don't we care that senior members have left the site? Don't we want to know why, if possible? If it was your co-workers at your so-called real-life office that disappeared, will you ignore like this..." -- thanks for the answer coming from your direct experience, @Rathony, and it is heartening to see that you at least did come back to ELU! – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 17:30
  • @EnglishStudent BTW, what made you think you or other users like moderators can contact those old, active users? Are there any means you can possibly think of? Do you think they would care when they see any e-mails from this site? I didn't read any of them including unpleasant notices. – user253042 Sep 7 '17 at 17:30
  • The site administrators have the contact details such as email id of all members, @Rathony -- if the moderators at ELU think it is a good idea (based on the feedback to this question) they can easily send them a pre-formatted generic email such as "dear member so-and-so: this is moderator A & you last posted at ELU over 6 months ago. You have been a valuable contributor here and we should greatly welcome your continued participation. At the very least please consider explaining in an email the reasons you are no longer active on ELU so that we might take steps to improve user experience here." – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 17:36
  • Let's assume that only 20% of former regular users even respond to such a message from a moderator with a return email giving the reasons for leaving the site, @Rathony -- that's still significant and valuable feedback for moderators to understand the possible problems and take any necessary steps to improve the user experience.On the other hand, the way a few members have responded here, "let them leave - they must have their reasons - why should we care if they leave: they have contributed and the site doesn't need them any more (paraphrase)" doesn't seem to be a constructive attitude. – English Student Sep 7 '17 at 17:48
  • RE: ELU seems to have continuously deteriorated over the past two or three years I don't see how that happened. The rules weren't as well-polished years ago, so there were no strict closing of questions like we have today; there were a lot of single line answers and upvotes were plenty. We are stricter than ever. Is that what caused this "decline" in quality? :) – NVZ Sep 7 '17 at 19:57
  • If I may, I'm very eager to know what brings you back. :) You disowned 25k rep or so, I think, when you left. – NVZ Sep 7 '17 at 20:00
  • @NVZ I was playing the most complicated board game in the world and I got bored. Who gives a shit about the meaningless rep? I just looked around a few pages of questions and I lost hope on this site after a few months and I think I made a right decision. Good luck :) – user253042 Oct 29 '17 at 17:09
  • @Rathony But that just shows how addicted one gets to it. Addicted enough to have to rage quit instead of naturally drifting away. Josh quit and deleted his account yesterday. 150k rep. Affected us all. We all lost a lot of rep, not that it matters, but it was noticeable. – NVZ Oct 29 '17 at 18:36
  • @NVZ I knew it would happen before I deleted my account. So what? What happened to ELU? That is the fundamental question. – user253042 Oct 29 '17 at 18:53
  • @Rathony "For men may come and men may go, But I go on for ever." -- That's ELU. ELU is not attached to any particular user. – NVZ Oct 29 '17 at 19:56

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