Is it just a personal impression or after the implementation of the new layout on ELU traffic both in terms of question and answers is well below average? I realize it is just a few days but views on posts appear to be quite low. Can anybody who has access to analytic tools confirm or deny this slowdown?

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    I’m sure the tools under /tools can answer this definitely, but I’m too lazy to look into that, so... I agree the traffic feels, qualitatively, to have dropped. My guess is this isn’t due to the new layout, but due to winter break at schools. Less homework, fewer questions. – Dan Bron Dec 12 '18 at 12:47
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    I think participation always drops in December, doesn't it? It's an awfully busy month for many adults in the US, at least. I've always assumed that was part of the motivation for the hats—trying to minimize the lull. But hopefully someone who knows how to use the site statistics can answer definitively. – 1006a Dec 12 '18 at 16:37
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    The number of views and participants have been dropping since October if you ask me. The holiday season has only just begun, most schools along with universities are still open. ELL, on the other hand, seems to be doing quite well. There's a better vibe there, and the site looks more appealing, too. – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '18 at 17:56
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    @Mari-LouA I like a whole lot about ELL, but ultimately I find the actual questions, on a day to day basis, even more tedious than here on ELU. – Dan Bron Dec 12 '18 at 18:01
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    @DanBron maybe so, but ELL doesn't close questions or downvote LQQs nearly as much as they do here. Now, you may argue that downvoting and closing LQ questions are a necessary evil, but EL&U today will not attract questions from academicians, scholars or advanced students. The view numbers are low, the quality is low, the number of upvotes is appallingly lower, the number of accepted answers continues to shrink, and bounties are a waste of time and rep (which is why I have another Q bountied, but I had reasons.) Meh! – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '18 at 18:14
  • @Mari-LouA I think your observation and mine are strongly correlated: I said I find the day to day Qs over there more tedious than here, and you said people closevote and downvote LQQ less. The former is the reason I personally don’t participate at ELL, and my suspicion is if they did more of the latter, to filter the list for me, I’d have more motivation to participate there. As for ELU: yes, we have two problems, as you say: too many lousy Qs and not enough good ones. I take these as independent. I’d prefer to solve the latter (I have a Meta Q about that), but meantime still improve former. – Dan Bron Dec 12 '18 at 18:18
  • @Mari-LouA - do you say from October because you have data that can confirm that, or is it your personal feeling? As for the “holiday season” excuse, as far as I can remember, for some reason this period of the year has always been quite busy in past years, be it becasuse of “hats” or the fact that people have more free time. – user 66974 Dec 12 '18 at 20:49
  • Based on looking at the number of visits, if a new post doesn't hit the HNQ, it will never go beyond 200 views, and that's on a very good day. I said bounties were useless for driving traffic but hardly anyone believed me. – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '18 at 20:53
  • @Mari-LouA - I’ve never seen bounties as a traffic driver, and as far as I can remember questions with bounties get more visibility, but they never get thousands of new views. The only difference is that they likely attract views from users who are more likely to post answers. – user 66974 Dec 12 '18 at 20:57
  • Not thousands, I never said they did, but they would certainly attract more visits and more answers than they do today. It's going downhill, it's written in the stars and on the wall, EL&U's days are counted. – Mari-Lou A Dec 12 '18 at 21:00

Is it just a personal impression or after the implementation of the new layout on ELU traffic both in terms of question and answers is well below average?

The answer is “yes” but the decline didn't start this December, and it's not the fault of the new theme. This downward spiral had already begun sometime around 2015 and safe to say the introduction of the new theme hasn't helped matters.

enter image description here

I seized this SEDE query from Jon Ericson's ♦ post on Meta.

Link to query, Posts per month: https://data.stackexchange.com/english/query/941812/posts-per-month#graph

In reply to Laurel's “In order to help all the lazy 25k users out here…” it's important to note that it's not immediately obvious where these statistics are available. For the clueless 25k users out there, the stats can be found by clicking on REVIEW QUEUES then “tools”, which is written teeny-tiny at the top right-hand corner, then scroll down the page until you reach a list of links, click where it says site analytics. Why these statistics are hidden behind "tools" is anyone's guess but I'm sure there is a logical explanation.

For those users who do not have this privilege, I have taken the liberty of uploading a few screenshots. The first graph shows the number of questions and answers posted between January 1, 2014, and December 30, 2018.

enter image description here

The second graph should also display the number of views during the same period but the data shown is limited between February 05, 2018 and December 30, 2018. Again I'm sure there is a logical explanation but I don't know what it is. In the week starting November 26, 2018, the number of views peaked at 3,201,406. For the week starting December 24, the number of views has dropped to 1,987,245.

enter image description here

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    It’s possible that splitting off ELL has had the desired effect and part of the fall-off are learners moving their questions to where they are more appropriate. data.stackexchange.com/ell/query/941812/posts-per-month#graph – ColleenV Dec 17 '18 at 16:42
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    @ColleenV: Would that that were true. But the sad truth, I feel, is that most users don't discriminate. We still get plenty of questions like "Is it a ball or the ball? pls explane!" – Robusto Jan 3 '19 at 4:04
  • @Robusto It’s hard to know with certainty if we only judge by our perception because we tend to notice those sorts of things more than things that are inoffensive. The data says ELU traffic dropped and ELL traffic went up at the same time, so I'm comfortable believing the creation of ELL is a factor. On Meta there’s a spam statistics post that shows ELU in the top 20 for getting spammed. Drops in spam could also account for a drop in traffic. Regardless, without data it’s difficult to draw a conclusion, and accurate data on human visits is hard to capture unintrusively. – ColleenV Jan 3 '19 at 14:36

I think the "English language" topic is just mismatched with the question-and-answer format, so it's probably not something that can be fixed.

  • People go to the programming-related SE sites because they are stuck with something at work or on a project. At those sites the banal questions are cherished because they are the locus for authoritative answers to common problems. The top contributors tend to be professional programmers, including consultants who use their contributions as a kind of portfolio showing off their knowledge base.

  • There are some other sites (board games, movie trivia, whatever), where all the users just like to spend time discussing their hobby. They won't ever reach the traffic of the programming sites because they don't touch on common problems. But that's not a concern because the sites provide an online community in the more traditional sense. The questions tend to be subjective and it's not too crucial which answer gets accepted, but the format works reasonably well. I doubt anyone is using the sites for personal gain.

  • Finally, there are the topics that have both enthusiasts and casual users with practical problems. Let's take things like Cooking and English language as examples. Yes, there is such a thing as a professional chef or restaurateurs; and there are English professors and linguists, but the site experts very often do something other than Cooking or English for a living. The site doesn't help their careers, so they don't get much out of answering noob questions. The people with practical problems tend to be people who are learning English, or people who don't know which kind of onion to buy. Their questions often don't interest the experts. In fact, the moderators have been actively trying to drive them away by making unreasonable demands on question quality.

I don't think SE works well for the third category of topics: you can't incentivize the skilled people to provide free advice like in the first category, and the Q&A format doesn't facilitate useful discussion between experts, like in the second category.


The answer, if we're going by raw numbers, is pretty clearly: NO, the stats don't show numbers dropping recently.

In order to help all the lazy 25k users out here is a link to the site analytics.

Views follow a pretty steady pattern: Fridays always have the fewest visits, Sunday/Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday have the most, and the other days are somewhere in between. Neither the hills nor the valleys seem to have trended either way since summer nor since the new left nav was introduced.

The data for how many posts we get is far more chaotic. However, since the start of December, the number of answers has been trending upwards. The number of questions isn't doing bad either. In any case, both of these are within the range I'd expect them to be.


The real problem is how many questions are closed.

51%. 54%. Those are the percentages of questions asked here that were closed for 2016 and 2017 respectively. How long has this been a problem? What will the numbers be for 2018? Everyone with 10k should be able to see this page, which only shows the numbers for up to the last 90 days. (As of the time of posting, the close percent for the last 90 days is 37.76%, but it's higher than that if you look at shorter frames.)

In any case, we need some solutions for this problem. Ones that will actually be done and have an effect. And apparently we needed them before I even joined this site (i.e. in 2016).

Here are two of my ideas that I think are worth highlighting:

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    Thanks for taking the trouble to check. – user 66974 Dec 13 '18 at 18:33
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    The real problem is not the number of questions being closed, or the number of off-topic questions but the questions themselves. If questions are on-topic but banal–and the majority of them are–they can jump through all the hoops we set them, it won't matter, the questions will still be banal. If these questions don't pique the interest of regular users, they won't be answered. The top expert users don't post answers for the badges or the rep any more but because they find the question interesting. Meanwhile, new users post their questions, and leave, they don't stick around as they used to – Mari-Lou A Dec 16 '18 at 17:41
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    @Mari-LouA Spot on. The issue is banal questions, and no amount of hoop-jumping can save a banal question. Nowadays, I only ever answer questions which interest me, and I don't care a whit for points or badges. What we need is a steady flow of interesting questions from new contributors, or the site is sunk. I believe the best way to do this is to (softly, with finesse) market ELU on sites where interesting material is studied, like Language Log, etc. But that requires explicit and dedicated effort from us, the regular users. No knight is riding in to save us. – Dan Bron Dec 16 '18 at 19:22
  • @Mari-LouA I completely agree with you about new users not sticking around. I recently got to hear the thoughts of a new user on his first (and at this point only) question. It wasn't a good experience for him even though he's been doing etymology work for decades. I was hoping he'd post a meta question about it but he didn't. – Laurel Dec 17 '18 at 1:46
  • @DanBron Marketing works best when we're selling a site that's easy and pleasant for new users to use. Otherwise people don't stay around. (See comment above.) – Laurel Dec 17 '18 at 1:50
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    @Laurel My general thesis is if someone asks an interesting question, they'll find the site easy and pleasant to use by default. If they ask a banal question, one which no one but them cares about, or which can be answered in 15 milliseconds with Google, they won't. The site seems grumpy or maybe even hostile because we're constantly assaulted by people who want us to do work on their behalf with nothing in it for us. But maybe my thesis is flawed. Can you link me to the question the etymologist had a hard time asking? – Dan Bron Dec 17 '18 at 13:40
  • @Mari-LouA - what is a banal on-topic question? What is a challenging question? I think it very much depends on the topic it relates to rather than the intrinsic complexity of the question itself. – user 66974 Dec 17 '18 at 16:04
  • @DanBron: I believe that Laurel is talking about the question Back-dating "drunk driver", evidently posted by the proprietor of Etymology Online, who had hoped to post a couple of questions a week if reaction to his first post was generally positive. I envisioned a steady stream of first-occurrence questions asked by someone who was in a position to recognize peculiar, complicated, or otherwise interesting ones to ask. However, a commenter—acting in good faith, but nevertheless in the role of a devil's advocate— – Sven Yargs Dec 17 '18 at 17:48
  • ...suggested that Etymology Online and EL&U could be seen as rivals in some quasi-business sense and that the poster from Etymoline might be viewed as enlisting EL&U members to do his work for him. My view is quit the contrary—that we are all engaged in trying to unearth and post accurate and useful information and that this common purpose makes us natural allies. But I gather that the Etymology Online poster inferred that his proposal to ask a continuing series of questions at EL&U would receive at best a mixed reaction from EL&U participants. I hope he will change his mind. – Sven Yargs Dec 17 '18 at 17:48
  • @SvenYargs Oh that is quite disappointing. It is exciting that the Etymonline guy posted here, and wanted to make an ongoing series of it! That is precisely the kind of marketing and engagement of external English experts I long for, and think can be the only salvation for this site. And recruiting the power of SE to find antedatings seems like an ideal use-case for SE! Oh, I'm so disappointed he felt rebuffed..... – Dan Bron Dec 17 '18 at 17:52
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    @DanBron: Yes. I was planning to wait a brief interval and then ask a Meta question along the lines of "Should we view EL&U as being in competition with other online resources dedicated to various aspects of English—and if not, how can we encourage collaboration?" The "drunk driving" question was a perfect example of the power of EL&U's multiple researchers to find things that no single researcher would be likely to turn up: different posters dealt with the posted question in different ways and found different early instances of the phrase. But somehow we discouraged the OP. – Sven Yargs Dec 17 '18 at 17:59
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    @SvenYargs I always enjoy your Meta posts, but I don't think you need to post that one to solve this problem. More pressing is to get OP's attention back and soothe his sense of discouragement, Maybe I'll email him. I don't think we're going to have a row on EL&U over whether we're competitive with him; I wasn't there for those comments, and they seem to have been deleted, but I suspect it was only one person who took issue. I'm certain the balance of the site would support this OP's project here. – Dan Bron Dec 17 '18 at 18:12
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    @DanBron: Please do. You'll find the (arguably) discouraging word about "rivals?" in a comment beneath Douglas Harper's posted answer (not really an answer) to his own question. Again, the posted comment isn't hostile, but it suggests that Etymology Online's proposed collaboration may meet with some resistance at EL&U from "the powers that be". I think that Douglas Harper was testing to see whether his questions would be enthusiastically welcomed or might instead be controversial or (for various reasons involving hoop-jumping) not worth the candle. He did like the answers his question drew. – Sven Yargs Dec 17 '18 at 18:46
  • Well there you go, it's all gone topsy-turvy because someone must have flagged the answer/thank you post as being low quality or "not an answer". Someone who obviously knows very little about etymonline, and the person who runs it, or someone who has made it a habit to sneer at it. – Mari-Lou A Dec 17 '18 at 19:38
  • You mean the percentage closed is too low, right? 37.76% is at least 50 percentage points too low. – curiousdannii Jan 3 '19 at 12:47

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