Can anything be done to stop the erosion of quality on EL&U? Is it too
late? Can we come up with a good idea that will foster better and/or
more interesting questions?
Why is the community upvoting fewer questions? Why are fewer hi-rep
users posting questions? (Don't all look at me)
Does the blame lie solely on Low Quality Questions (LQQs) or have we
become a jaded and cynical band?
I have a few suggestions.
1) I like Mari Lou's idea of showcasing answers, and suggest that you might want to go further by taking a stab at fulfilling the goal of providing a source of definitive answers on the English language and its use. Right now searching is limited mostly to strings, making it hard to find answers suitable to questions.
Thus, individuals with expertise in a particular area might want to curate the questions and answers in a given area and provide a summary article with links to the relevant q&a's. This amounts to writing an annotated Table of Contents for a book and filling in the content with links to existing material.
How to do it? Maybe like this:
--The volunteer for a particular chapter creates a question (or the question is asked by an account called "English Enthusiast") and answers it himself or herself. The question and answer define the topic, cover misconceptions, and break the topic down into subparts with introductory/summary material and curated links to good questions and answers.
For example, supposed John Lawler could be persuaded to answers sometime like "What's with these modal verbs, anyway?" This answer then defines modal verbs, covers misconceptions, and goes on to explain. (What is a modal verb and what's happening to them?) (Ten things about modal verbs your ESL teacher got wrong)
Etymology (and the major fallacy: what you don't know about etymology that can hurt you) is another topic someone could take on that's not so broad that it becomes impossible to handle. Inevitably the "answer" is going to include a list of links to other questions.
Another Q: I'm determined to use a, an, and the properly--but I also want to know when I can go naked.
(I think a little humor or jazz is important; the audience is, after all, probably under 25.)
Developing a list of people willing to take on a slice of what's already on EL&U, and discussing how to circumscribe the "chapters," is the first task. But the whole thing need not be done at once.
The virtue of the above is that it follows the standard SE format of q&a. A link to an overview document on the questions asked by "English Enthusiast" could be placed on meta. It would also reveal areas of weakness where new questions needed to be asked. Second answers would be available for additions and updates.
2) The LQQs generate a lot of work. Possibilities to reduce them:
a) Refrain from answering the questions in a comment, even to help out and then vote to close. It is so tempting. I am guilty, guilty, guilty. If I don't do it, someone else will. And one wants to help. Yet, it gives the drop-ins exactly what they want: a quick (and usually quite expert) answer. I know tchrist campaigned on this for a while and gave up. But no one really disagrees about the consequences of feeding stray cats.
b) Automate the closing of questions by closing anything that's been open and unmodified for 48 hours and has nothing but "off topic" and comments--or something to that effect. Get from the in basket to the out basket not necessarily faster but with less work.
3) Consider, while resolutely ignoring questions that don't belong on the site, opening up a little in terms of what's on-topic. Some questions come up about how to become more fluent in English, what to read that's fiction without too much dialogue, good references on, e.g., grammar, the meaning of vocabulary or phrasing in current political debates, and the like. Some of these posters are potential contributors, and current contributors have a lot to offer them on these topics. This can be managed by upvoting a question and answering it even though it's a bit of a stretch. EL&U, assuming it survives, will look vastly different in five years than it does now; how do we let it morph?