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A beta site is slowly getting worse, in both questions and answers. The Meta for that site shows to me most users do not care about the quality of the site and would much rather focus on sillier things, such as boosting their questions to the top of the Hot Questions list, letting users post low-quality answers without any sort of quality control, trying to get the site out of beta as soon as possible, etc. Since Meta.SE is solely for posting issues regarding the SE network platform itself, where and how should I handle this situation?

What else can I do in this case? What more can I do for that site? Is there anything I can do?

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    I can understand your concerns over the quality on the site. But if the community there doesn't seem to feel that the quality is a problem, then perhaps that community just isn't suitable for the Stack Exchange network and should be closed. – animuson Nov 16 '14 at 22:53
  • My comment indirectly says that there's really not anything you can do to fix it. Sure, you could contact the Stack Exchange team, but they will not be able to do much either. If they try to enforce stricter quality guidelines, they drive away community members and decrease content. If they take no action, the quality just keeps getting worse and the site gets closed down. Unless the community starts caring, they're only dooming their own site. – animuson Nov 16 '14 at 23:22
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    If the Hot Questions list contributes to the problem (which I think it does here), one thing that SE could do is to exclude the site from the list for the time being. It's hard enough to reign in "Q&A for lulz" culture without it being encouraged by drive-up upvotes from larger sites. – user259867 Nov 16 '14 at 23:41
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    It's pretty rare for a site in public beta to get shut down, actually. I think the philosophy is that as long as there are a few people still trying, they won't kill it. – Monica Cellio Nov 17 '14 at 3:27
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There are precedents for closing down beta sites due to a lack of community involvement which had left the site looking like a ghost town, with experts drifting off due to the scarcity of good content. There's no precedent that I can remember for closing down sites for lack of quality except in the private beta stage, but this doesn't mean it'll never happen.

There is a precedent for significantly reshaping a site during the early beta: Programmers, which was defined to be for “tabs or spaces?” and “what's your favorite programmer cartoon?”, went through a period of being about subjective questions with interesting answers, and was then reshaped to be “for programmers when they're in front of a whiteboard”. The pressure came from part of the community (a minority, I think) with considerable support from On High.

The first place to raise concerns is on that site's meta site. Voice your concerns. Back them up — don't just say that the quality is bad, but explain why and how it could be better. Are the questions uninteresting? Are the answers bad? How does the site fare compared to other websites (not just Q&A but also wikis, forums, blogs, etc.) about the topic. Cite specific examples and statistics.

Then give it a little time. To take the concrete example of Puzzling, I think there's been a fairly sudden change in the dominant tone of the site. From the early beta to late October, it was predominantly a site about crafting and solving puzzles, where asking for solutions was only permitted for puzzles with an objectively-verifiable solution. In the past few weeks, the site has been very heavily dominated by riddle-type questions, where answers are subjective, of the next-number-in-a-series type.

I don't have statistics to show exactly this, but I do have statistics on a related phenomenon, which is answers that are entirely in a spoiler block (not counting many more answers where the sole non-spoiler text is something generic like “here's my solution” or “nice one”), which people tend to do when a question is a challenge to solve a puzzle and the answer is a solution. As of a few days ago, there were 2 such answers among the ~3000 first posts on the site, going up to 24 Oct. There were 175 such answers in the next ~2000 posts, in the period from 25 Oct to Nov 15.

So there's some evidence that the character of the site changed around late October 2014. Now let's look at meta traffic: 2 questions were asked in September, 8 in the period from 1 Oct to 20 Oct, 12 from 21 Oct to 31 Oct, 42 from 1 Nov to 17 Nov. It's fairly clear that the evolution on the main site did trigger quite a bit of meta discussion. The meta discussion is not over, there is no consensus that things are going in the right direction. It's far too early to conclude anything about where the site is going next.

Returning to the generic case, if you think that important points about Stack Exchange are not made or ignored in meta discussions, you may want to contact Stack Exchange and suggest they take a look. Stack Exchange staff does monitor meta sites but they don't have time to read every post so they might not notice everything.

If the meta discussion settles in a direction which you think still warrants your criticism, then it would be time to take the next step, which is to voice your concerns either on the main meta or to the Stack Exchange team or both. At that point, evidence should include not only data about the site (including both self-standing judgements and comparisons with other sites on the topic, preferably including quotes from expert on the topic), but also comparisons with other Stack Exchange sites and meta discussions.

  • I might be misremembering the details, but I thought that the economics site was at least in part shut down due to quality issues. – Mad Scientist Nov 18 '14 at 23:20
  • @MadScientist Ah, I didn't follow that site at all, I just remember it was closed with a bunch of others where lack of traffic was the main point (even if quality may have entered into the equation — e.g. I think quality was a small but nonzero part of the picture for Literature, but quality wasn't a problem at all on Theoretical Physics). Is there any surviving discussion about it that you could point to, or would that require digging into the archive of its meta? – Gilles Nov 18 '14 at 23:24
  • I didn't follow it closely either. I'm not sure if there is anything left of that outside the data dump, but I doubt that this was discussed anywhere else. – Mad Scientist Nov 18 '14 at 23:25
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    The increase in the number of meta posts should be compared with the number of active users at the time. The increase could simply be due to an increase in the numsber of total site participants. – Kenshin Nov 19 '14 at 4:19
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    @Mew Typical meta growth isn't proportional main site growth, it's only fairly loosely correlated with the number of participants and more strongly correlated with what there is to discuss. On a typical beta that's fairly settled in its scope, quality expectations, tagging practices, etc. but getting more traffic, meta tends to stagnate. – Gilles Nov 19 '14 at 8:43
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    +1 constructive, emphasis on specifics. – A E Nov 19 '14 at 10:02
  • The closing of Economics and Literature (and a few others) was explained in this blog post in 2012. My impression is that, aside from that list, it is extremely rare for SE to close a site that's in public beta no matter how far the quality degrades. (Startups got rebooted recently. Have any other public betas closed since that blog post? I can't think of any but I could have missed some.) – Monica Cellio Nov 19 '14 at 16:05
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    @MonicaCellio Thanks for the link. There was also Gadgets (63 days), Atheism (94 days), Libraries (380 days) and SmugMug (512 days). I think that's all, the others were closed in private beta or merged (Guitars → Music, Sound + Video). – Gilles Nov 19 '14 at 17:35
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In an attempt to answer this in the generic case, you, as an outside observer, should either:

  1. Participate positively everywhere on the site and gently/respectfully push the community in the right direction, or
  2. Do nothing at all.

Ultimately, quality is an issue between the members of the community, moderators, and community managers. While outside commentary can be true, it will rarely be helpful. Your only real options are to either become a part of the community and help change it from within, or let those responsible for the community do so.

To reiterate: quality is not an issue between members on other SE networks and a particular SE site. Commentary can be helpful, yes, but rarely, in respect, and with best intentions. Frustration won't get the site anywhere, especially if that frustration is coming from a source that has no apparent involvement in the community.


Is this an over-simplified way of looking at things? Yeah, of course it is. If you happen to have what you find is an on-point observation and can present it in a peaceful and open way, I'm certain users would be open to it. Ultimately, though, these exceptions will be few and far-between. So this is the summary:

Those are your two options. You can either do nothing, and let involved people sort it out, or become an involved person and help sort it out. But you can't expect to help sort out quality issues if you're not an active member of the community, particularly if all you're expressing is your frustration and disappointment.

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    “Participate or shut up” is an exaggerated position, especially regarding a site where few of the participants can be regarded as experts in a field (as opposed to, say, criticism about a site about a language coming from someone who doesn't speak that language). “Your poor quality doesn't make me want to have my name associated with the site” is a defensible position. – Gilles Nov 18 '14 at 21:56
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    @Gilles Users of other sites have a right to be irritated - but if I went to SU Meta and started complaining about poor quality control and site standards, people probably wouldn't appreciate it. – Aza Nov 18 '14 at 21:58
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    (Not that SU has poor quality control/site standards - don't know enough to say. I just pulled that as an example.) – Aza Nov 18 '14 at 23:47
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  • Don't criticise the quality of content until you've made at least one high-quality contribution yourself.

  • Limit yourself to constructive criticism. That means avoiding labelling the entire community as 'toxic', and similar terms of abuse.

  • Examine your own motives. If you genuinely want to help then it should be obvious that name-calling (for example) is not helpful. Try to avoid gross generalisations about the intelligence and motives of members of the community.

  • Don't confuse 'constructive criticism' with 'heckling from the peanut gallery':

Statler and Waldorf

So - if you genuinely want to help and you're willing to take the first step of joining the community and posting some high-quality content yourself - then how is this 'constructive criticism' thing done?

Here's some (hopefully) useful resources:

There's an art to giving critical feedback that encourages someone to improve, rather than hurting his or her self esteem. Constructive criticism should be positive in tone with a focus on a clear, achievable objective. It's also important to choose a thoughtful time and place to deliver the critique, since any type of criticism can be hard to take in front of others. Read on to learn more about how to give effective constructive criticism.The goal of constructive criticism is to improve the behavior or the behavioral results of a person, while consciously avoiding personal attacks and blaming. This kind of criticism is carefully framed in language acceptable to the target person, often acknowledging that the critics themselves could be wrong.

WikiHow - How to Criticize Constructively

This goes without saying, but one of the most important things to do when you're delivering feedback is to make sure it's not personal. Sure, criticism by nature can be personal, but you need to make a point as the person delivering it to separate your thoughts on someone's work or behavior from their personality and what you think of them outside of it. ... Keep your criticism focused on the specifics that you want to discuss, and avoid the temptation to make judgements of the person [or in this case the group] or their work based on the specific feedback you want to give. Remember, "you need to respond to urgent issues faster" is not the same as "you're slow." You want to communicate the former, not the latter.

"How to Give Criticism Without Sounding Like a Jerk" (that's just the name of the article, I'm not trying to be rude!)

Constructive criticism must always focus on the work rather than the person. Personality issues must always be avoided. Constructive criticism is more likely to be embraced if the criticism is timely, clear, specific, detailed and actionable.

Wikipedia : Constructive criticism

Of those criteria, the hardest one is 'actionable'.

Example of unconstructive criticism:

Your community's content is worthless and your users "do not care about the quality of the site". Your community is "toxic" and you yourself are "narrow minded".

(the parts in speech marks are quotes from the OP).

Example of constructive criticism:

I'm really glad to have joined this community and I'm sure we can do great things. We all recognise that we're having some teething problems (concrete examples), and I think that one idea which would really help would be X. What do other people think?

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    And how does this answer the question? Isn't discussing changes through meta enough of a contribution? – yuritsuki Nov 18 '14 at 20:25
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    What you still don't understand is that this question is not just for Puzzles.SE, but to other sites, in fact, any beta sites right now. So I don't understand why you need to gear your question towards one specific site when I make pretty clear in my question this is intended to cover all sites? – yuritsuki Nov 18 '14 at 21:03
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    @euphoriaoverlord: your link to the previous question about puzzling.SE makes it very clear that this is not a generic question. – A E Nov 18 '14 at 21:04
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    You didn't succeed in editing it to abstractify. Linking to "Extremely concerned with Puzzling.SE answer quality" makes it completely clear which community you're criticising. – A E Nov 18 '14 at 21:05
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    Then answer the other question, you're answering the wrong question here. This is a general advice question that should have answers that pertain to ANY beta site, not just one specific site. – yuritsuki Nov 18 '14 at 21:06
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    I think my reply - that you should lead by example in posting quality content, and limit yourself to constructive criticism, applies equally well to any other site in the same situation. – A E Nov 18 '14 at 21:08
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    Criticism is not coming solely from people who haven't participated on the site. Also do consider that if someone has a poor opinion of the site, they have less incentive to participate. – Gilles Nov 18 '14 at 21:54
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    @Gilles If I see a community as toxic, but would love to help change it, what's the point of contributing to it? I completely agree with your point; the more off putting a site is, the less incentive there is for users to participate, especially newer ones.I see no point of contributing the way things are, with immature answers getting a plethora of upvotes, questions that have been copied off of other pre-existing questions without proper attribution, and users who are too narrow minded to see that their beta site is having huge quality control issues. – yuritsuki Nov 18 '14 at 22:18
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    @euphoriaoverlord: In all honesty, if that's your attitude, then only two things can possibly happen. Either one: the site will improve due to other user's positive contributions or; two: the site will deteriorate and eventually close. I think you really need to ask yourself how much you want to be part of the community. If you are passionate about the site, you have to contribute to it to help increase the lack of quality in the questions/answers and continue to post concerns and possible solutions on the site's meta. – Andrew Martin Nov 18 '14 at 22:24
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    I don't see why a person would be willing to contribute to the meta site, but not be willing to contribute to the main site. That makes no sense at all. – pacoverflow Nov 18 '14 at 23:21
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    @pacoverflow Indeed. And the most vicious whiner is calling the community toxic. If it's toxic it's only because of one individual I can think of. – d'alar'cop Nov 19 '14 at 0:07
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    @d'alar'cop Yeah. While I agree that there are some bad questions and answers on the site, you can also find bad Qs/As on any SE site. The site is young and is going through some growing pains as any beta site will. The site is certainly not as bad as some people suggest - you can find a lot of great content on the site. – pacoverflow Nov 19 '14 at 0:13

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