So, following on from Attracting new and interesting questions in 2018, I may have a theory, but I don’t have the necessary knowledge to figure out if it’s correct or not.

The theory is that "interesting questions" are slowly migrating naturally to ELL.

I fear that every time I comment with "you might find more resources on ELL" or "try asking this on ELL", I’m not just pointing a mere beginner to ELL, I’m migrating a potential strong user there. Everyone was a beginner once, and most (?) beginners will shy away from being told they’re wrong on their first forum post. So I’ve redirected a potential to ELL and there they stay, gaining competence in English, asking interesting questions, comfortable in the knowledge that they won’t be told they’re too much of a noob on that site. And nobody ever says "hey, this is a decent question, you should post it where the linguists hang out". Also, rather than redirect, the linguists there will simply answer the question, because it’s less effort, the user gets an answer, everyone is happy.

If the flow is mainly in one direction, there’s a chance ELU will wither. But I’m not familiar enough with ELL to know if that’s the case or not.

So, is the flow in one direction? Are there stats to show migrations? Or anecdata from users? Should I carry on redirecting, even though I fear I’m partially responsible for a brain drain to ELL? Or should I just spend time there to discover I’m mistaken?

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    1) There are rare instances of migration from ELL to ELU for questions on etymology. 2) I think you are confusing new users with beginner learners of English. – user 66974 Oct 24 '18 at 21:19
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    I don't know the answer to your Q, but I like anecdata! – ab2 Oct 24 '18 at 22:00
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    …there’s a chance ELU will wither… It's not only EL&U, it's Stack Exchange that is withering. The problem of finding and answering good questions is a common one on many different sites, it's not just here. Oh, and EL&U is not just withering, it's dying. The number of core users is shrinking, but the number of boring boring low-quality questions from new "contributors" don't seem to wane. I'm losing more and more interest with each passing day. – Mari-Lou A Oct 25 '18 at 1:29
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    It's worth noting that Stack Exchange is just not really as relevant as it was a few years ago. It's not that ELU is dying... SE is dying because most "users" only make their account to ask a question then ditch once they get the answer, either from us or elsewhere. I only kept using SE when I joined in Jan/Feb because I wanted to contribute because I knew I'd need help, and I hate owing people... so a social currency in a way. But most people don't do that. Most of the regular users here were on SE for a while back when the site was better thriving and active. SE's become a changed landscape. – Sora Tamashii Oct 25 '18 at 2:36
  • Follow-Up Point: I hypothesize most people stay at ELL instead of leaving because they are actively learning, so they have plenty more questions to ask and answering questions can serve as a means of improving their skills as well. It's free English lessons, basically. It's a different purpose than ELU and may honestly be the reason why ELL could potentially survive longer than most of the other SE sites. – Sora Tamashii Oct 25 '18 at 2:38
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    @ab2, it's normally used derisively as in "I don't need your anecdata, I have facts/statistics", but given that there's a limit on the number of people with high enough rep to get at the actual stats, I thought I'd use it to try to encourage anyone with a concrete story to post. After all, ethnography and case studies are still valid research techniques. – Pam Oct 25 '18 at 10:28
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    @Mari-LouA - your comment reminds e of the Italian saying: “augurare la morte allunga la vita!” :) – user 66974 Oct 25 '18 at 18:31
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    I hope the answers are mollifying your anxiety. I don’t think there’s anything to worry about with encouraging (the appropriate type) of users to check out ELL. But I agree with the bigger concern of a long-term withering, and IMO the remedy is attracting more English geeks to the site, along with their novel questions. – Dan Bron Oct 25 '18 at 20:26
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    Yes, @DanBron, I think it has. It also helped that a quick look on ELL shows that it does not have a "linguis*" tag and the "etymology" tag comes with a "please consider posting this on ELU". The stats definitely show the flow of questions isn't a problem. I guess the natural progression is: is the flow of users the same, but that's another question for another day - there are too many variables in that question to get meaningful stats. – Pam Oct 26 '18 at 10:40
  • @Pam That's a worthy answer. In your shoes, I'd post it and accept it (so it stays at the top). Collen and other ELLers have popped in to this Q; I'm sure they'd appreciate that sentiment. – Dan Bron Oct 26 '18 at 11:46
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    There is a huge gap between ELU and ELL. No one seems to notice....One doesn't suddenly jump from being an ELLer to being ELU-material. And many ELU-material OPs are not necessarily even super fluent. If this découpage were some other discipline, perhaps it would be/have been more noticeable. – Lambie Oct 26 '18 at 23:32
  • I'm sad but also feel so validated to hear that other's have also identified decreasing interestingness. I keep logging in and caring less and less – Unrelated Nov 2 '18 at 19:45


The bottom line is migrations, in either direction, are relatively rare, and consequently don't have an impact on the bottom line. Furthermore, a net migration of questions from EL&U to ELL was always expected, and intended, and will remain the pattern as ELL matures¹.

The plural of anecdote

That said, empirical analysis is always nice, even if it's only to set our minds at ease. With that in mind, I threw together this SEDE query.

Here are the results, broken down by quarter, of questions migrated from here to ELL and vice-versa.

chart of migrations

The first thing you'll notice is that your instincts are correct: there indeed has been a recent trend of net migration away from ELU to ELL. But there are two important caveats.


For the first, let's look at the data tabularly, as it's hard to get a solid, immediate sense of scale from the chart. I'll only post the last 3 years this way; the table gets too long otherwise, and data before that is less relevant, which we'll come back to in the second caveat.

Focus on the last column, the number of questions we "lost" to ELL.

|FY18Q4         |35       |1       |34           |  
|FY18Q3         |22       |0       |22           |  
|FY18Q1         |13       |0       |13           |  
|FY17Q4         |10       |0       |10           |  
|FY17Q3         |9        |0       |9            |  
|FY17Q2         |2        |4       |-2           |  
|FY17Q1         |10       |0       |10           |  
|FY16Q4         |12       |2       |10           |  
|FY16Q3         |14       |1       |13           |  
|FY16Q2         |6        |3       |3            |  
|FY16Q1         |6        |0       |6            |  

Note that the order of magnitude is 10. Over the course of a quarter; that's 90 days. To put that in perspective, EL&U gets an average of 54 questions per day. Even the highest "loss" quarter, the one we're in, we only migrated 34 questions to ELL. That's about one every 3 days, or about 0.7% of all the questions.

That's not a lot.

Peanut Gallery

But, you reasonably ask, isn't it alarming that the trend is indeed increasing? Ah, this brings us to our second caveat.

It was always envisioned to work this way. Before ELL was set up, the EL&U community realized it had a problem: trying to serve two separate audiences with two distinct sets of needs. We had questions from the nominal audience (linguists, etymologists, and English-language enthusiasts), and even more questions from another audience (people learning English as a second language).

They didn't mix well; it made the people in the first audience grumpy, and people in the second audience frustrated. Thus, ELL was born.

But it takes time to start, build, and establish a site. Rome wasn't built in a day. So while ELL was cutting its teeth, ELU still received dozens of questions a day from the audience we hadn't yet totally migrated to ELL. Now that ELL is mature, more of that is happening.

The hope is, over time, Google results and other organic forces will eventually result in ELL-style questions being asked on ELL from the get-go (and, likely, we're going to have to make some additional, less organic adjustments¹).

But until that Halcyon day, we'll continue to receive these questions, and continue migrate them. That's all. This is to be expected².

Silver Lining

However, if it still worries you, maybe you can be consoled by another fact. If you remove the WHERE mSite=N'ell' from the SQL query above -- that is, count up migrations to and from the entire network -- over the last 3 years, we've been gaining about 8 questions every quarter.

¹ However, organic changes as ELL matures will likely not be sufficient to totally shift the ELL-asking population to asking on ELL in the first instance. This is because there are several strong signals to Google and other entry points to StackExchange that EL&U is the right place to ask these questions.

These include the body of such questions already existing here -- ironically, to fix that, we need to increase the number of migrations we make to ELL -- but also things like our canonical URL being english.stackexchange.com.

Having said all that, all this goes to decreasing the number of "ELL-style" questions on the site. But that does not, of course, help us increase the number of EL&U questions. We need a seperate remedy for that.

² Contrariwise, it's not to be expected than an ELL user, intentionally posting on ELL, frequently asks a question that requires the expertise of ELU.

And if and when that happens, I wouldn't begrudge the ELL community keeping it, should they decide to do that. The answering community there are also experts in English, and I'm sure they like a meaty question now and again to sink their teeth into.

  • There are quite a few instances of comments pointing an ELLer to an ELU question that addresses the ELL question in more depth. I think that we will always have some overlap and that it is more likely that someone nicely directed to ELL will also participate on ELU than someone who had a bad first experience because their question wasn’t a good fit for the community. – ColleenV Oct 25 '18 at 19:19
  • @ColleenV I hope nothing in this answer can be read to cast any kind of aspersion on ELL or its members! If so, let me know, and I’ll change it. – Dan Bron Oct 25 '18 at 19:21
  • Nope, I was just trying to point out that migration of questions isn’t the only way to get users to flow between sites. I’m on my phone and have typing challenges. – ColleenV Oct 25 '18 at 19:24
  • @ColleenV Oh! Totally true. But I can’t quantify that, so in the grand tradition of my statistical forbears, I’ve blithely ignored it :) – Dan Bron Oct 25 '18 at 19:24
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    Maybe I will try a query to find comments on ELL that point to ELU. It would be nice if the related questions sidebar could handle in-network questions and not just questions from the same site. – ColleenV Oct 25 '18 at 19:39
  • @ColleenV Happy to add that analysis to this answer if you get around to it. – Dan Bron Oct 25 '18 at 19:40
  • It looks like there are roughly 2400 comments on ELL that mention ELU : data.stackexchange.com/ell/query/565309/… Some of those are references to the ELU help center made before the question was migrated, so I added /q/ to the search string (links to questions) and /a/ (links to answers) and got 236 and 285 respectively. 500 link-backs is less than I thought there would be but it makes sense considering that the right person has to have seen the right question/answer on both sites and remember seeing it. – ColleenV Oct 28 '18 at 12:57
  • @ColleenV Thank you! I’ll update the A later today. I might consider doing a similar analysis for ELU comments pointing to ELL, but there will be more noise, as two of our closure reasons have direct links to ELL in them. If really prefer to analyze “hand crafted” pointers of the user (not Q) to ELL, and maybe even cherry pick a few of them to post in our “best practice for comments” Meta-thread. – Dan Bron Oct 28 '18 at 13:01

Looking at the stats (10k+ link), two questions were migrated here from ELL in the last 90 days:

In contrast, 205 questions were migrated to ELL from here (12% rejected) in the last 90 days. I'm not going to list these :P, but you can probably find most of them via search.

ELU users can vote to migrate questions to ELL but ELL users can't migrate questions to ELU. So, it is necessary for a moderator to do the migration. It was suggested in 2015 for there to be a migration path from ELL to ELU but nothing happened and I doubt this would change since they don't grant such requests unless there are lots of questions being migrated by moderators.

If you see a question that's not yet 60 days old that you think belongs on ELU, you can flag it for moderator attention requesting it to be migrated here. Make sure that that the question is actually off-topic for the site it's currently on.

It's also worth thinking about sites other than ELL that might have questions that are worth taking. I'm not aware of any that have a significant number, unfortunately. (Except perhaps Writing, but I think the mods there are already doing a good job at migrating things, giving us 15 questions, although 40% was rejected, in the past 90 days.) I do know that History has a few English questions that they've closed but not migrated but I'm not sure if they're too old or not.

I made an SEDE query that can find undeleted migrated questions from a specific site. Here's the query for questions that were migrated from ELU to ELL. Here's the same query for ELL to ELU.

  • Hmm, your data and mind disagree quite a bit. Given that you got yours from /posts/migrated/stats which is the intended interface for this data, and mine are from the (ahem) lightly-documented PostHistory table on SEDE, I'm inclined to trust your numbers over mine. That said, I think the conclusions, with either set of data, are the same. Migrations, in absolute terms, are small potatoes, and it was always intended that these types of Qs flow to ELL, and it's less likely to get one coming from the other direction. – Dan Bron Oct 24 '18 at 23:38
  • @DanBron I'm not sure what's up with your query. You're not using the same timeframe (90 days vs. quarterly) and I suspect that there's at least one bug (for example, where's FY18Q2?!?!?). I made my own simple query and I got 192 things migrated from here to ELL, which is almost certainly the best that can be done, since it's not updated and deleted posts aren't shown. – Laurel Oct 25 '18 at 0:25
  • I’m not good at SQL. But I suspect that Q2 is missing because there were no migrations. As for 90 days, that 12 mos/ yr * 4 qtrs / yr * ~30 days / mo = 90 days. What am I missing? – Dan Bron Oct 25 '18 at 0:28
  • Also, can I see your query? I’d like to see if it sheds light on any of my bugs. – Dan Bron Oct 25 '18 at 0:37
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    @DanBron Well, nobody's good at 50 line long sql queries. My code's not even based off yours and you can find the links in my answer. – Laurel Oct 25 '18 at 0:41

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