It was clear that the traffic was declining, even though the quality of questions (and answers) was actually good. Among the community there were discussions about the nature of the problem and how to tackle it (for example, Rejuvenating the site, my opinion hard-copied below, as the link is now dead).
The question is what were the main problems of TP.SE?
I am asking this to have a broader perspective on the success (and failure) of Stack Exchange beta sites. It makes a difference, if the problem could be solved with the proper care or if a particular topic is doomed from its very beginning (for example, it is too narrow, too difficult, or too subjective).
- This question is not about the closure, but about the stagnation itself. I (and I guess most of the TP.SE community as well) perfectly understand that under the current circumstances site won't flourish (unless a miracle happens).
- There is little overlap with physics.SE -- very rarely was there a doubt whether a question should be migrated. If anyone is interested in why we split, here are some links. In short: researchers were diluted among a vast amount of high-school / layman questions (and it is way easier to ask a layman question in physics than in, say, programming) and by trial and error we learned that it is almost impossible to maintain a research-oriented community there.
- Of course 'theoretical physics' has a relatively narrow community. However, cstheory.SE works well (arguably, with an even smaller set of people doing it). And MathOverflow (Stack Exchange1.0), with roughly a similar size of the target group, succeeded greatly.
My opinion which I posted originally on meta.TP.SE:
In my opinion, the biggest problems is the lack of a critical mass of people willing to contribute. Coverage of a variety of topics is also important, but is to be dealt after the first issue is solved.
Most of the physicists I talked to like the idea of TP.SE, but they don't contribute because they:
- don't have time or will to translate their problem into question form (as it typically takes longer to provide a good enough description in text than during a face-to-face discussion),
- are afraid of asking something too simple (*),
- don't want to share credit or are afraid of their idea being stolen,
- are kind of conservative - either they don't use new Internet tools that much or just don't use something unless it is a standard in their field/group,
- or they judge a thing by its cover and perceive a forum-like thing as something that will waste their time.
I think that the most important problem here is (*) - because either people tend to ask to complicated questions (and as they have been struggling to solve them for months it is unlikely that someone is going to instantly provide a solution) or just they don't ask at all. So, encouraging users to ask (even simple) questions may be crucial. A "simple" question by a PhD student or above may not be that simple at all.