288

We've got a new statistic on the shiny new Profile Page Prototype. It's not perfect yet. And we did a pretty crap job of explaining what it's all about! Let's talk.

What you do here isn't just about solving one person's problem.

A while back, a user contacted us about his friend's account. His friend had been the top user on one of our sites, and active on a couple of others, and had died tragically and unexpectedly. We pointed him toward our guidance for these situations, but we wanted to give the family some perspective on how much their loved one had given here. It struck us that, unlike someone who donates their time in more traditional way (like tutoring), his family probably had no idea what a positive impact the user was having by helping so many people looking for answers.

I was easily able to pull up that he'd answered over 400 questions in just two years, and that the majority of his answers were deemed to be the most useful one. I could try to explain that he'd earned almost twenty thousand rep in that time. And I could tell them that what that meant was that he'd gotten roughly two thousand "up-votes." The problem was that all those things failed to convey what felt important:

A huge number of people who needed help very likely got it, thanks to this user. Digging in further, I discovered that his answers were viewed more than 590,000 times, with the vast majority of those views from people googling for help. That's the impact he made with his time here.

And the same is true for a good many of you reading this: the answers you've written and the questions you've shared have gone on to benefit hundreds, if not thousands of people who found themselves facing similar problems. This is a fundamental part of why Stack Exchange exists - and yet, nothing in the system recognizes this or communicates the multiplicative impact that individuals like you make here.

You gotta get this to get us.

Why should we care if people understand just how important the idea of reusable content is here? For existing users, it can provide some rough perspective on how big an impact your time donated here really has. One thing that drew me in long before I worked here was the idea that my effort here would help more people than it ever could buried in some forum. Now, it's fine if you personally find it just as fulfilling to help one person as it is to help a thousand. Or perhaps your motivation is the challenge in solving an especially hard problem... That's awesome too.

But whether or not the number of people who benefit from a post speaks to you personally, it's valuable for everyone to understand that the engine is designed to make content as reusable as possible, because it informs so much of how our system works...

See, once you realize that it's not just about the one asker, or the four voters, but rather the fifteen thousand searchers with the same problem... Well, suddenly, a whole ton of things that seem prickly and self-important, like editing out "Thanks in advance!" aren't about being "a bunch of power-happy pedants," they're about helping all the people who will ever have that problem to find the best answers. And find 'em instant-like.

How it currently works (and why).

Our initial idea was to capture "Approximate Views of your Helpful Posts". The concept was to give you some sense of how many people saw your work, and had a decent chance of having found it useful. It was not intended to be a replacement for reputation, or to grant any additional privileges within the system (as rep does). It's also not being shown anywhere but the individual's profile (unlike, say, badges). It's also not about measuring effort - we're working on some other ways to better display all the indispensable things folks do to improve the site, and will share them for feedback asap. This was to show the reach your effort had.

The initial methodology idea was just to sum up the total views on all your posts. But we ran into two key issues on answers:

  • We didn't really want it to include answers that no one in the community had deemed useful.
  • Plus, we can't really even count the views on answers, nor can we count just the views on a question page that came in after a given answer was posted.

So, we realized we had to start by defining some key goals and constraints:

  • Will be an estimate, but will generally be a solid approximation in most cases that minimizes meaningful anomalies
  • Can be applied to existing posts with data we have (meaning we don't need the post-answer viewcount)
  • Should limit answers counted to those that someone in the community found helpful
  • Should minimize cases where an answer that adds little (and probably isn't seen by anyone) adds large numbers to the count
  • When still in doubt, errs on the side of including views - we'd rather slightly over-appreciate volunteers then under-appreciate 'em

Ultimately we reduced our criteria to:

Views of pages where your helpful posts had some decent probability of being seen.

That doesn't mean we know the visitor scrolled to your post, or that your answer helped them - we simply don't track that. But we should be able to estimate the likelihood of a given question or answer been seen as useful by viewers without enabling the 25th answer on an insanely popular post to get a lucky up-vote and credit all the views to the new author.

That's how we got to the current method, which counts views on the following:

  • Questions
    • Non-deleted only
  • Answers - Views of the parent question for answers that are:
    • Non-deleted AND
    • Score > 0 AND
    • Also meets one or more of the following criteria:
      • In the top 3 answers OR
      • Is the Accepted Answer OR
      • Score at least 5 OR
      • Has at least 20% of the total vote count

(Note on closed questions: we originally were excluding closed questions, too, but it seemed to cause more harm than good: the ones that never should have been here almost all get closed before attracting many views, so including them very rarely matters. But the ones that are closed with a ton of views almost all were permissible back in the day, so having the score plummet when the rules evolve seemed more harm than the alternative, since the impact is so small there.)

This query is a very close approximation of what's live in the prototype. (It has some minor tweaks to make it play nicely with the public data.)

How can we make it better?

We need your help. Let's use this new number to help convey the underlying concept behind most of what makes us seem so crazy to new users, and to remind the rest of us why we (hopefully) think our time is better donated here than on any of the many other places we could be sharing what we know online. But let's do it right. That's where you come in.

Whatever we change, we're going to add a tooltip that clearly conveys that the number is a rough estimate, and also explains how it's calculated (or links to that methodology).

A lot of you really liked the idea of this number, but it elicited two specific types of helpful feedback:

  1. The methodology definitely needs to be clearer, and might be improvable
  2. Calling it "Bunnies and Puppies Saved by Hugs" "People Helped" is, at a minimum, a little distracting, and at worst, makes us "Filthy, evil liars." Okay, no one quite said that. But almost.

So, we want your input.

Big Question #1: Do you have any suggested tweaks to improve the calculation method?

Again, what we're going for is something that will generally approximate: "Views of pages where your helpful posts had some decent probability of being seen."

Remember that:

  • This isn't pure/perfect/science/a-number-that-actually-does-anything.
  • It is an estimate.
  • It's okay that it can't separate views that came before your answer, so long as it's very unusual that an answer posted way after the question on a popular question will count.
  • It's okay if it can get weird occasionally, as long as those cases are fairly rare, or will tend to occur when the number won't change that much anyway.

We think the current calc does a solid job at this, and most of the feedback so far was more about the name not matching the method (vs. the method being off,) but I bet you can help us make this estimate at least a bit more accurate.

Big Question #2: What's a better name?

We're aiming at something that:

  • Conveys the real-world, human difference you're making - "Page Views" doesn't do this well. "People helped" clearly evokes that concept, but the name...
  • Shouldn't include too many iffy assumptions about how people feel - If it suggests we know a lot more than seems possible, it clearly distracts from the goal. ("4,052 Babies Rescued From Killer Bees - All Thanks to YOU!")

The goal is to find a name that helps convey that the number is a ballpark representation of the people who had decent odds of getting some real use out of the effort you put in here.

Let us know what you think on the questions, and we can get to work improving this thing.

  • 66
    Sanity Check: So I post the 73th answer to a question with a million views. A year later it gets to 5 votes. Does that mean I helped 1 million people? – Mysticial Dec 2 '14 at 18:57
  • 6
    @Mysticial, no! That's why we're asking for help with the name, at a minimum. – Jaydles Dec 2 '14 at 19:06
  • 22
    What ever happened to the anonymous survey data? The "was this helpful to you?" question shown to users not logged in? Is that still being used? Could that data be used to reinforce this stat? – Won't Dec 2 '14 at 19:19
  • 4
    Can you provide us with a Data.SE query that lets you calculate the number on any site? – Martijn Pieters Dec 2 '14 at 19:25
  • 5
    I tried the query. "Timeout expired. The timeout period elapsed prior to completion of the operation or the server is not responding." – Travis J Dec 2 '14 at 20:00
  • 10
    I'm not really sure that we even need this stat. Right now it seems like a number to say "Wow, you're helping a lot of people!" But really, it's only for that individual. Why should any random person from Google care how many people I've helped? Why should anyone? If I'm helping a lot of people, many people probably already know my username and don't need a number to tell them that. And we already have reputation to tell someone if they're generating useful content. – hichris123 Dec 4 '14 at 1:33
  • 10
    SE isn't for helping people and if it is going to be, I'm leaving. Remove it. – bjb568 Dec 4 '14 at 1:39
  • 26
    @bjb568 so what SE is for? Insulting people only? Just wondering. – Shadow The Curly Braced Wizard Dec 4 '14 at 23:55
  • 9
    @ShadowWizard Stack Exchange is for building a library of detailed answers to questions about specific community topics. – bjb568 Dec 5 '14 at 0:22
  • 6
    I think your paragraphs entitled "You gotta get this to get us" truly encapsulates what SE is for me - I know that I will be quoting from it for some time to come - brilliant writing! – PolyGeo Dec 5 '14 at 0:30
  • 10
    There's a little of the gamer in me thinking, "Well, if I find the top viewed questions with 2 or fewer answers, and write a good post for each..." Easily fixed, though, if you include post vs answer age. It's a simple calculation and you probably only need to trigger it for posts with more than 10k views. AnswerViews = PostViews * (AnswerAge/PostAge). – Adam Davis Dec 5 '14 at 1:02
  • 26
    @bjb568 And what is the purpose of building that library of detailed answers if not to help people? – Cascabel Dec 5 '14 at 7:49
  • 8
    @Jefromi The library is to help people, of course. My point is that focusing on helping people won't make as good as a site as trying to create a library of helpful information. Creating a library of helpful information focuses on quality. – bjb568 Dec 5 '14 at 12:14
  • 14
    I have a fundamental problem with this. At least since the "Hot Question" sidebar we all know that it's not the good questions and answers which get views, but those with catchy titles and/or shallow content. I'd rather see consistent quality rewarded. (Whichever way you'd measure that.) In any case, a "you were helpful" stat only based on views -- ignoring votes and anonymous feedback for the most part -- does not make a lot of sense. – Raphael Dec 5 '14 at 14:47
  • 10
    I find it curious that this seems to include page views that resulted in negative anonymous feedback (or even downvotes). Pop in, read the question, find it confusing, click on the down arrow, leave without reading anything else - and bingo, you've been helped by three answerers! – E.P. Dec 5 '14 at 21:41

32 Answers 32

-2

It could be called "Posts helpfulness" or "Posts usefulness".

And,

That's how we got to the current method, which counts views on the following:

  • Questions
    • Non-deleted only
      ...

Sure? Doesn't count votes? And what if this question does have many views just because of many down votes? Maybe count average of views and votes (as there are often much more views that votes, you could multiply votes on some number in this calculation)?

Calculation of this number for answers should be also different. To "Non-deleted" I'd like to add "... or deleted with score of 50 or more"

it pretty much looks like a second rep system however :/

-2

On the other thread, I had suggested the name "Dissemination". (Either the comment was deleted or its parent answer was.)

Dissemination is a big, fancy word, and I think it more accurately declares what this statistic is - how much your work has been disseminated.

I also think that score > 5 should be qualified with being high enough on the page; say, in the top 5-10 answers.

Like, do you really think this answer helped half a million people? It has score of 5, and is #30 on that question.

  • 6
    Net zero votes here from me. -1 for "dissemination", which sounds too biological to my ear. But +1 for score > 5 should be in the top x answers. – hairboat Dec 2 '14 at 19:13
  • 2
    @abbyhairboat there's nothing biological about dissemination. In fact, as a professional biologist, I would only use it with respect to information, not biological processes. Are you thinking of insemination? – terdon Dec 5 '14 at 8:29
  • @terdon Perhaps, and also "pollenation". However even given the official definition I still don't like the word in this context. – hairboat Dec 5 '14 at 14:17
  • I guess the requirement "Has at least 20% of the total vote count" superseded this post. – Nemo May 4 '15 at 9:01

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .