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My focus in this regard is on 2.0/Beta sites. After the initial "honeymoon" period, there are often users who hang around, read questions, maybe answer a few now and again, but once the site is "seeded" with initial questions, they cease to ask any more.

Is there any way to entice these users to ask more questions?

The questions per day is an important statistic, particularly for Beta sites, so in order for a site to succeed, there must be activity. Some veteran users are uncomfortable asking questions just for the sake of doing so, and, even with the UI now actively encouraging the already acceptable practice of asking and answering, this still proves difficult in some cases.

Perhaps one could argue that the sites are just not popular enough, but I think that there is still some factor that needs to be addressed to encourage more questions. I think this is beyond the offer a badge phase, but I'm certainly not against that. What is the factor X that these users need?

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Maybe they just found out they don't have any question to ask? –  Mr Lister Jul 25 '12 at 12:36
    
@MrLister Possible, but I would say if they were interested in a specialized topic to begin with that they would have some curiosity about it at some point. –  jonsca Jul 25 '12 at 12:38
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Sure, but I feel that if you want more questions, the better strategy would be to go out and find more participants, instead of trying to squeeze more posts out of the current ones. –  Mr Lister Jul 25 '12 at 12:41
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@MrLister It is often difficult to find new users for Beta sites when the site is not new enough to attract search engine attention. Let's assume that the increase in the community size is a significant but not an overwhelming percentage (recruiting more users could be the subject of a question all of its own). –  jonsca Jul 25 '12 at 12:44
    
(consider on the order of magnitude of something like e.g., CS.SE, not to pick on them, rather than Stack Overflow) –  jonsca Jul 25 '12 at 12:45
    
I'm afraid I don't have an answer. Just a couple of comments. If you try to force people to ask more questions, people who are not sure they can ask enough questions, will shy away from participating at all. So you end up with even fewer people. Or, the quality of the questions will deteriorate as people will think that quantity is better than quality. Sorry, but I don't have a solution. –  Mr Lister Jul 25 '12 at 12:53
    
Or, the quality of the questions will deteriorate as people will think that quantity is better than quality Well, I'm thinking about trying to go from like 0/month-person to 1-2/month-person rather than up to 5+/month-person, so I don't think there's a danger of people dumping questions. –  jonsca Jul 25 '12 at 12:59

2 Answers 2

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Weekly topic challenges and contests are both very good for this purpose. Even if a site can't offer Valuable Prizes(tm), simply encouraging a concentrated effort on niches that haven't been getting enough love is already a good start, and can get some people moving.

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I can see this motivating the already somewhat motivated user, but do you think it brings out the semi-dormant and dormant users? Otherwise I think it's a great idea. –  jonsca Jul 25 '12 at 12:56
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It gives you a chance to urge people to specific action, and reward some of those people with fame, fortune and respect (offer good while supplies last!). If the dormants are following the site, they'll see the event, because it'll be visible. Not everybody dormant will go ahead and join, but I think any level of actual interest in the site is enough for an event to elicit some response and at least a desire to participate more. –  Ziv Jul 25 '12 at 13:00

I'm not sure if this answer would apply to your beta site, but one reason I don't ask questions on some sites is because I've seen questions that were asked "out of curiosity" closed since they aren't actual problems faced by the OP

Typically the closure is accompanied by downvotes, and a link to the faq quoting

You should only ask practical, answerable questions based on actual problems that you face

I understand that SE wants beta sites to grow naturally and not have the numbers inflated by users sitting around thinking up questions to ask, but personally I feel curiosity is a good a reason as any to ask a question, and these questions should not be downvoted/closed providing they're good questions for the site.

Seeing even one question closed like this is enough to stop me from asking my "out of curiosity" question on the site.

Edit

I can't find the link now, but I've also read at least one meta post about asking seed questions, and the response seemed to be "don't do it" for the reason I outlined above, and quoting that faq line.

Perhaps as a solution if you want to allow these kind of questions on your beta site, create a meta post about if asking seed questions is OK, then post an answer saying questions asked "out of curiosity" are fine providing they're on-topic, but don't go overboard and post questions just for the sake of posting questions. The questions you ask should provide some kind of value to you, even if that value is satisfying your curiosity.

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Yup. Different sites have different tolerance for questions which could be described as "forced," "artificial," or "seeded." SciFi.SE thrives on "just curious" questions. Writers.SE finds that "just curious" questions are often overly-broad, naive, and/or unanswerable. If you think this might be part of the issue, consider what your site's "feel" would look like if you relaxed the restriction - and figure out whether the change would be worthwhile. –  Ziv Jul 25 '12 at 13:27
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I can definitely see that. The site(s) in question are science-y, so I think there tends to be a smidgen more leeway in the direction of "theoretical" questions. –  jonsca Jul 25 '12 at 13:27

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