I really love learning languages....I've taught myself enough French to read books, and I've just begun Spanish, and I want to learn Russian, Arabic, and Mandarin 5-10 years down the road.

In learning French, French.SE has been an enormous help. Truly invaluable. There is no other site like it. All the other Q&A sites for languages (not just French) are forums that have long delays before mediocre replies are sometimes given. There are no online language communities that have the same quality as the Stack Exchange system. Without SE, I would have a lot more trouble answering specific and difficult language questions.

Personally, I feel this can't be debated. These sites are fairly unique in what they offer, like all of SE.

In spite of that, their traffic stats are disappointing. The questions-per-day stat is almost always in the red, and visitors-per-day is usually orange. And this is after 200-600 days in beta.

I'm worried the sites will be closed-- which concerns me terribly because I personally need them. And I'm confident that many, many, many second language learners out there would gladly join the sites' communities if they knew about them. I feel that a lack of awareness is dooming these betas, betas which are offering a rich mine of information that is so direly needed by learners.

Closure implies something along the lines of "this site's format/structure did not work. come up with a better design and try again!" or something to that effect, I believe. Correct me if i'm wrong on that count.

But these are sites whose format/structure is straight-forward and simple. There is no redesigning the sites' purposes. Which is to say that if they get closed, they're closed for good, which would be an awful outcome, because they are goldmines waiting to be discovered.

So the ultimate question is this: will these sites soon be shuttered? Is there no hope for them? Is there any alternative, such as what seems more sensible to me which is somehow broadcasting their existence?

I've read the blog posts encouraging beta users to link interesting questions all over the place, AND WE DO!!! But it's clearly not enough on its own. There's got to be something more that can be done. If Bicycles.SE can find a community...somehow...that always amazes me to think about...SURELY there's an explosion waiting to happen for the language communities.


If you're in a hurry, just read the bold.

I can provide some insight here based on my personal experience, and just watching the network grow these past few years. It's just insight, though, so take it at face value. I was going to blog something like this a while back and never got around to it. Since you asked and all ..

tl;dr: I don't think French SE is in trouble, it just needs some traffic to generate more questions.

I started out as a pro-tem moderator on Webmasters SE shortly after it entered the public beta phase. This led me to find my real calling, which was becoming the greatest pain in the ass that Robert Cartaino had ever seen.

The criteria for graduation was even less clearly defined in those days. Wait, clearly? Heck it didn't exist yet. Nobody knew the tell tale signs of a site that was ready to stand on its own because only a few had graduated. All we had were the stats on Area 51 that kept saying that we weren't getting very much traffic and didn't have a steady stream of new questions. Sound familiar?

I freaked, often, because it was a site that I really wanted to succeed. All kinds of crazy what-if scenarios went through my mind, most of them ending up in Robert's inbox. An example of such obsessive thinking is Oh no, there's barely two questions a day, the people we have hanging around to answer are going to get bored and leave, then our answer rate will plummet too!

To top that off, our meta participation was almost non-existent. Even if we (as moderators) could figure out ways to infuse the site with new participants, nobody would even be aware of the efforts. Crap! I better go e-mail Robert again to be sure he's aware that the world is going to end.

I wonder if this inspired the logo?

.... the site graduated just fine and continues to grow. Robert tired of answering so much frantic e-mail that he created a canonical answer laying out the criteria that formed after there was enough data to analyze.

If anything, agonizing over the statistics back then made a modicum of sense because no real criteria or policy had been established. It's established now, so please, save yourself a few strands of hair and just continue to find creative ways to promote the site.

I stepped down as a moderator after changing jobs because I couldn't get up to speed at work while putting so much effort into the site. I didn't want to occupy a slot that could be better utilized by someone that had more time, and I knew that I wouldn't be sufficiently focused on my new job if I still had the diamond and the job of a liaison.

Something amazing happened when I finally stopped worrying about statistics and started thinking more creatively, I actually came up with better ideas to promote the site. Brilliant, yes, I know.

I worked in an industry where the best consumer resource was this angry fruit salad of a forum. I contacted everyone I knew that had anything to do with client support in the hosting industry and asked them to do a search for extremely common issues on both sites. This resulted in more than several large hosting companies including links to Webmasters in replies to clients (who were Webmasters) to give them additional information. This had very positive and almost immediate effects on the stats. Not only were more people using the site, a few of them were even evangelizing it.

The sites I've seen closed were (for the most part) sites where my biggest fear at the time was actually realized. People got bored, gave up and went somewhere else. Yet the language sites obviously have a solid core of experts willing to answer, and answer quickly. I'd be surprised if additional latitude wasn't afforded to them even beyond "as long as it takes" It's not like the sites have tumbleweed badges rolling down dusty, nearly abandoned streets.

You've clearly identified issues with established resources in place to help those that are studying a new language, just keep thinking of ways to let people know that the site exists.

Oh yeah, stop looking at those stats so often.

  • 6
    "tl;dr: please stop looking at those stats so often". Clever! – Adam Lear Jan 3 '13 at 4:01
  • You write good. :) – Asad Saeeduddin Jan 3 '13 at 4:13
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    Oh no, there's barely two questions a day, the people we have hanging around to answer are going to get bored and leave, then our answer rate will plummet too! This, right here. It's so easy to talk oneself into the snowballing, Armageddon scenario. – Aarthi Jan 3 '13 at 15:24

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