There are concerns that MSE participants are a tiny and potentially unrepresentative subset of the community. What can we do to increase participation on MSE by users of other Stack Exchange sites, particularly for high value users?

I realize that since this is asked during the mess that there will be some that think this question has some hidden agenda, but there really isn't. To be clear, that means:

  • This isn't your place to complain about our hosts.
    • Particularly, while "increasing participation isn't desirable" is an on-topic answer, "SE, Inc doesn't want to increase participation" is not.
  • Things that used to be done but aren't any more are not on topic because they run the risk of turning the answers into an orchard of sour grapes.
  • Any other negative thing I've overlooked.

Please be creative and have fun!

  • 4
    Unfortunately, there's no feasible way to increase participation here such that it would be a realistic slice of the overall network users large enough to counter "data"
    – Kevin B
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:05
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    @rockwalrus, you have only been a member on MSE for 42 days (congratulations). What has made you join? I am pretty sure the answer lies in one of the points you do not want us to discuss under this question :) Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:17
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    I'm not really sure there is; what we're seeing here is the same issue that non-profits and volunteer organizations have: Out of 100 people you have 10 that want to help, and 6-7 that are your regulars and drive the majority of your help. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:25
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    How did this become a spam magnet so quickly? It's crazy.
    – fbueckert
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 17:33
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    Just in case ... you downvote my answer because I complained about SE Inc ... I missed your first bullet point. Reworked my answer to not complain about our hosts, albeit I stand with my assumption: I dont think that SE Inc. at this point, has much interest in fostering the meta communities.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 19:19
  • Err ... typo: "in case ... you downvoteed my answer" .
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 19:24
  • @KevinB Data has its place and can be very useful. Feedback has its place and can be very useful. It takes a lot of wisdom to know when each is most valuable and when to ignore each even when they seem to say what one is predisposed to believe already. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:16
  • @FrédéricHamidi For you: meta.stackexchange.com/a/338846/628364 Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:16
  • 1
    "There are concerns that MSE participants are a tiny and potentially unrepresentative subset of the community." I've felt this way for a while. Has it been discussed elsewhere? I wasn't sure how to ask the question.
    – LShaver
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 13:01
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    @LShaver How was the number of .015% of Meta users calculated? - discussion at MSO
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 21:49
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    The simple fact is that the vast majority of participants on the Stack Exchange network only care about getting answers to their questions. A smaller minority like providing those answers when they can find decent questions to answer. Only the most stalwart of us congregate here, discussing issues that have little to no relevance to the community at large.
    – user102937
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 22:26
  • 1
    Too short for an answer, but I believe this is a potential answer: switch to Discourse.
    – Benjol
    Commented Nov 26, 2019 at 10:22

13 Answers 13


Executive decisions that users don't like

Arguably, the best thing to get users to participate in meta discussion is by getting them upset. If you're upset, you're more likely to complain and that elicits discussion.

Recent events have shown that the company making executive decisions that negatively impact users, or specific users get users to voice their discontent. Furthermore, it evokes discussion around:

  • if actions were actually bad,

  • how these actions can be prevented in the future,

  • how these actions can be remedied, and

  • coming together as a community.

  • 8
    Mi Yodeya got a bunch more meta users recently (around 350), from people joining to upvote a certain question..... Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:28
  • 2
    Does that actually increase the number of participating users, or does it just make the same users participate more intensively? The diamond moderators should have access to data to tell the difference.
    – gerrit
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:28
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    @gerrit I think it's both. While I had an account here before, I never really participated other than maybe a few comments and an occasional vote (mostly if redirected here from a site meta because of a bad policy). So yes, for me this reasoning does apply.
    – JJJ
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:32

Do we need to do this?

Thinking out loud, there's a lot of concern that the Meta community is fairly small, and that's...likely by design. Not a lot of people actually care about the meta-workings of these sites, and for some use cases, it's not required that they do.

For instance, someone looking for help solving an onerous math problem isn't really going to care about the Meta discussions surrounding that; they just want their problem solved.

The same is true of someone wanting to discuss the Masuda method for breeding shiny starters in Pokemon Sword. No one cares about the Meta-discussions around the network if all they care about a shiny Sobble.

So by default, Meta Stack Exchange is opt-in, and should be advertised as such. If you wish to participate, then do.

The issue that is trying to actually be addressed here is that Meta isn't representative of the community, or of the network. I suppose that requires a more fine-grained definition of "the community", since I see two halves - one half who is predicated on only using the Q&A platform, and another who is predicated on maintaining the Q&A platform. It's obvious that the half which wants to maintain it is the smaller half, but that doesn't discount its role or value.

My take on this: you're solving the wrong problem in the wrong way.

  • 2
    The remaining question may then be: Do we need MSE? After all, always only a minority will opt-in to these kind of things. It will never be 100% representative. What advantage does it give to the users of the stack exchanges as well as to the company to have MSE? Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:31
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    @Trilarion: It does provide value in the sense that there are a minority of users who do more than just ask questions or answer questions, and that is a population which shouldn't be overlooked. How that actually translates to actionable things - well, I'm not sure on that...
    – Makoto
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:48
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    @Trilarion you cannot force people to take a stand. They have to be interested enough in something to devote their time to it - these people are found on MSE already. In whatever community you are - you always have a minority which are engaged, and a majority which is just part of the community but doesn't involve itself in governing it (I don't mean it in any negative form - you cannot have only chieftains and burocrats anyway; not everyone is going to elections, too, especially on local level). Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:07
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    I think the most important parts are listening to this minority and explain things to it. The participants of meta are biased and not representative but they are also closer to the daily activities. The listening and explaining part doesn't really happen now and the expectations from both sides also seem to be wrong (We don't get to decide, they, if they don't want to talk, should just close the whole thing.). Maybe the scope and aim of MSE needs to be redefined as clearly as possible. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:13
  • @planetmaker Do we govern ourselves here on meta? I thought more we discuss things and either the company or the elected moderators do something real in the end. But I agree, if the company allows that and we want it, we could make a government driven by interest here. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:15
  • +1 for "the smaller half" Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 11:43
  • @Trilarion sure, it's not self-governing here. But it certainly is the official feedback-forum and forum to discuss the governance of this site. So you will only find people actually interested in these things - and not people who are content with things as-are and "just" stick to asking and answering. Thus the selection is: here are only people who think something was or should be changed (the occasional exception applies, of course) - or those who are simply interested in better learning to know more background of the functioning of the site Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 14:32

Do monthly post

That show status on what dev worked on, like Joe Friend used to do when he used to work there.

Give more feedback to old feature request or bountied items.

In example, having multiple years old feature request that got no official's feedback will burn any community to give any feedback. (and to state it, MSE is not alone in this boat or loophole, as I know some other business that are stuck with feedback hub that the community started to complains that request are not done)

  • 4
    The monthly posts could maybe be advertised on these nice banners popping up now and then. That would surely create attention. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:08
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    Note that both of these suggestions are not things that “we” can do; they require Stack Exchange to do something.
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:58

Meta SE has various problems, and I believe that those problems need to be addressed before we try to attract more people to participate in Meta SE.

Jeff Atwood said almost 8 years ago: Listen to your community, but don't let them tell you what to do. We should expect SO Inc to listen to us, but we should not expect to dictate terms to them.

The network has grown enormously in those 8 years, and it appears that the Powers That Be no longer consider Meta SE to be an effective (or pleasant) way for the community and the company to communicate.

I tend to agree with that point. Part of the problem is that the Q&A format really doesn't work well on meta sites, and Meta SE has extra complications due to having its own rep. I feel that some kind of major structural change is required. One possibility is to replace (or supplement) the current (Q&A + comments) structure with a more conventional discussion forum, with proper threading.

Of course, a mere change of software won't make all the problems magically vanish, but I believe it would be a good start. With a new structure, hopefully we can build a place where staff aren't afraid to participate, and where the trust between the company and the community can slowly be rebuilt.

It appears to me that one of the problems with the current structure is that it seems to encourage a pile-on avalanche effect on questions that propose something unpopular, (especially when posted by staff or CMs) and the constructive criticism can get buried in that avalanche.

Related to that is that discussions can get out of control in comments, and unless the comments get moved to chat early in the exchange mods have to resort to fairly heavy-handed pruning or mass deletion of comments, which can inflame resentment and prolong the disagreements.

  • The network has grown 4 of the 8 years and kind of stagnated for the remaining time, I think. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:24
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    @Trilarion Perhaps, but it has grown in the sense that there is a constant influx of new members. OTOH, a huge number of those people just post a single question, and of those that do stick around, only a very small proportion have a desire to participate in site metas or Meta SE.
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:32
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    There has been a constant influx as well as a constant outflux. If anything the composition of the community is changing all the time, every day and every minute. I think that the total number of active users is somewhat stagnating though for quite some time. See for example: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/1145323/… (for SO) Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:37
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    @Trilarion Thanks for doing that query. True, the number of active users does appear to be fairly stagnant. And then there's the huge number of people who use the sites via a search engine & don't bother to register, or who are members but don't bother logging in when doing a search engine lookup. I assume that most of those people are happy to just use the network, and have little desire to become involved in meta issues.
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:56
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    "[I]t appears that the Powers That Be no longer consider Meta SE to be an effective (or pleasant) way for the community and the company to communicate." I'd have to agree with that. I used to suggest people ask things here, or direct people to information on this site, like how HNQ works for example, but I can't really see myself doing that anymore.
    – user215040
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:43
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    @metasnail Somehow the power that be have not come up with an alternative yet and communication has rather broken down. And I don't really see how it could be otherwise. If the company is only happy to react to praise but not to criticism how can you communicate? The lesson seems to be that nobody in the world, not even professionals from a company, can deal with a couple of hundreds or thousands of downvotes professionally. it just seems impossible. Everyone just walks away from such a situation. That is the situation now. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:07
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    @Trilarion There have been a couple of hints from staff & community managers that the powers that be are looking into an alternative to the current Meta SE structure. Maybe that merely means they'll only use the blog to make announcements, but I'm hopeful that they're working on something that will restore proper civilized trustful communication. Maybe I'm being too optimistic, but I need to believe in some kind of light at the end of the tunnel...
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 10:19
  • 1
    @PM2Ring That may be a topic for a different question but I think the discussion is relatively civilized and that is not really the problem. I'm all for civility, but I'm also all for having clear views and expressing differences. I think that the company owes the users clear explanations, something they aren't giving. That's why I have a different answer to this question here. But who knows, maybe a different structure would also make the participants behaving differently. I wouldn't put my hopes up too much though. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:01
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    @Trilarion FWIW, I like your answer here. IMHO, one of the problems with the current structure is that it seems to encourage a pile-on avalanche effect on questions that propose something unpopular, (especially when posted by staff or CMs) and the constructive criticism can get buried in that avalanche. Actually, I should mention that in my answer...
    – PM 2Ring
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:43

Listen to the community

If the company would ask the community before a planned change, discuss the planned change with the community, listen to the community feedback on that planned change and then give a thorough explanation of the change once it's decided (one way or the other) and then again listen to the feedback on the change. I'm sure that would attract some more "high value users" as you like to call them.

This measure is kind of old, but also new in a way.

P.S.: Just a clarification. With listening, I didn't really mean the recent ideas of the company for some kind of panel but more the unconditional listening to everyone who has something to say. These ideas would be a different kind of feedback system from the one proposed in this answer.

  • 7
    I'm not so sure about that. Human nature unfortunately dictates that a well-oiled system that works correctly generates less drama and attracts less participation than a mismanaged system completely on fire. Just look at the traffic on social networks -- they positively thrive on conflict. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:43
  • 1
    @FrédéricHamidi You have a point. Maybe they should throw in the occasional completely antagonistic decision. But then the question was about attracting particularly "high value users", not sure if that can be achieved by drama only. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 16:47
  • 1
    @IamMonica Yes, I agree. But that is not the way to attract more "high value users" to MSE. I propose that the company just changes course in this regard. That would definitely be a new thing, wouldn't it? Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:06
  • @Trilarion: It's kind of ironic that you wrote "as you like to call them." :) I was searching for words that would allow readers to fill in their own values for the kinds of people they want to be here. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:42
  • @rockwalrus-stopharmingMonica I don't think that it is a good idea to allow total arbitrariness there. If you are not specific with your question, it might become unclear or too broad. If the answers depend on the definition of "high value user", it might also be opinion based. Typically all those traits don't make good questions. There could be an exception of course. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:49
  • @Trilarion: That's a risk. I actually did originally have a more specific criteria originally, but I changed it before submitting because it wasn't an important detail and I could imagine the conversation turning in the direction of "that's not a good indicator of who should be involved in Meta." While "What is a good indicator of someone who should be involved in Meta?" is an interesting question, it's not the one I wanted to ask. Besides, no one wants to brainstorm how to encourage people they don't want to participate to participate. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:56
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    This sounds good on paper, but it's much harder to put in practice now than it was...say a few years ago (and especially compared to a decade ago). Not just on SE, but all over the internet, people are more aggressive and openly negative about all kinds of changes than they used to be, and that drives both the people that want to have a civil discourse and the devs away because who really wants to show up to get yelled at? Also, I think there are very few things that the full community can get behind, the rest is controversial or more beneficial to one group vs another.
    – Troyen
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 11:03
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    @Troyen Not sure if this is really true, but with the existing material here we could probably test it. If it were true, the question would be how one can have a civil discourse with angry participants. That's probably a good question. On the other hand many controversial questions here are pure bike-shedding. People argue because the stakes are rather low (often it doesn't really matter much). It seems we all like a bit of drama from time to time instead of concentrating on the really important events. The events in the last two months are excluded from that however. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:08
  • @Trilarion Agree we should separate out the post-September environment, so I'll set those events aside. The voices I find squelched the most on meta is the middle crowd, somewhere between 10 and 10k rep. Neither power users nor help vampires (though often lumped in with the latter when people are arguing against changes). Changes like increasing question rep and putting a temporary cap on the displayed negative score (like reddit does) can benefit this group, but based on the reaction to both, I don't think asking meta beforehand would've gone much differently, even in January.
    – Troyen
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 21:59
  • @Trilarion Power users can provide valuable insight, but their experiences and interactions with the site/community are different from everyone else's, so if a change is proposed that targets a different group and the power users strongly disagree with it, but the company goes ahead anyway (to help that other group), I think the reaction would be worse than if it wasn't proposed in the first place. Now you get complaints that the community was overruled instead of the community wasn't consulted.
    – Troyen
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 22:01
  • Absolutely not claiming the company is blameless here (especially not with recent actions), but I can see why they may not want to bring some changes to the community for consideration. The bunker mentality explanation matches what I've seen, though instead of "last two years" I'd say closer to "since 2013-2014". Then again, SE is not a monolithic entity anymore even if they're treated as one. I'd argue Megan's team is pretty invested in working to improve the site, for example.
    – Troyen
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 22:04
  • @Troyen My idea is that talking about it is almost always better than not talking about it, at least in the long run. The sympathy for the company is at a low currently and not without reason. Jeff Atwood, kind of idol for many users especially older ones, coined the statement that listen to the community is important as long the community doesn't decide. And just because always someone will complain listening and explaining seems to me to be instrinsically better than what they are doing now. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 10:57
  • @Troyen I don't know so well for other exchanges, but SO is going down, the number of answers (not to speak of the quality) is down from it's peak to the level of 2012 and no end to the downward trend is in sight. The company does almost nothing to encourage more and better answers, if anything it seems focused on questions and some side things. The changes they made in the last years are rather cosmetic in nature. To me it looks like they seriously think that pronouns usage is the most important issue at the moment. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 11:00
  • @Troyen There is something to be said about the bunker mentality and it's true for the stack exchanges as well as for the company. The million dollar question is how to leave that behind and basically invent yourself new regularly without breaking all that's good or heading in the totally wrong direction? I admit that the company tries to introuce change, but so far it's much more announcements than real action and what real action there is, is mostly shallow or not very thought through in my opinion. Listening might help finding better solutions. Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 11:08

Frédéric Hamidi invited me to share why I'm here now, and I can see the relevance. It's not actually as exciting as he suspects. One of my pet interests is how user interfaces affect the culture on web sites, and vice-versa. I've lurked intermittently here for longer than my 42 day counter would indicate; I just never wanted to say something before, so my previous read-only activity isn't recorded. I've definitely been more active here since I decided to hit "join", and a large part of the reason for that is because this site is designed to be addictive once you ask that first question.

I'm not sure what would have gotten me to post sooner; after all, I didn't speak up during the Welcome Wagon, which hit that UI-community nexus pretty hard as well. (My thoughts at the time were that SE did have a problem with setting up new users for success, and while it didn't look to me like the biggest issues were being addressed first, I was hopeful that it was a step in the right direction.)

There is a bit of a dependency issue. I probably would have been vocal here sooner if I was a more active participant on non-meta sites, but I have to admit that my first attempt at contributing something useful at SO1 left me with a bitter enough taste that I only rarely wanted to do more on Stack Exchange sites other than the minimum necessary to be able to vote up answers that were useful.

I was raised that if you care about something you should care about its politics. If everyone had that attitude MSE would get a lot more traffic, even if a lot of it was read-only like I was. I do care about SE a lot, because I use SO a lot, even though I was just starting to warm up to contributing more than just upvotes there before this started blowing over.

My approach to encouraging participation in MSE would be to encourage people to care about the "big issues" here. It's not an easy thing to change a site's culture to value something more, and I don't have any easy answers, which is why I asked this question.

1: This would have been almost a decade ago at this point. I wanted to contribute that the answer to a question worked on older versions of XStream, a then rapidly evolving Java library, but needed to be adapted for the latest version. I read through the help pages available then, which implied that the right way to address answers that were out of date was to suggest an edit. I suggested an edit that added the additional step needed for the latest version of the library, and it was rejected later without explanation. I now realize that the culturally correct thing to do would have been to write a new answer referring to the old one and explaining what to do with the new version, but then being not allowed to comment, having had my edit suggestion rejected, and the help pages discouraging additional answers that were small variations on an existing answer, I felt I was in a catch-22 and SO didn't seem like it really cared about keeping its information up to date, so I didn't bother to try again.


It's not about quantity - it's about quality

Someone reminded me that it's been a year since meta moderators were appointed. I had a few goals - trying to help meta be a useful space for communication between the community and the company, trying to get some of those conversations off the blog into meta and so on.

It's kinda tough seeing nearly a year's work getting wiped away in an instant.

Participation should be of the sort that are constructive and insightful. It should be more than just quantity. I'd certainly like to see more staff participation than we do (but that obviously needs a bit of work at this point), and a diversity of issues is always fun.

People getting upset and yelly doesn't really do any good. It makes it easier to ignore meta. It turns into an echo chamber of angry people. It's not sustainable without new controversies - and is generally unhealthy.

Good meta is targeted - it has goals, and tries to achieve them.

  • 5
    But this meta is targeted. It has goals and constantly tries to achieve them. For example just see the "Stop doing harm to a moderator..." thread. It can hardly become more targeted and goal-oriented. Still, the experience is not very satisfying if you try to achieve a goal but realize, the chances to actually succeed are rather low. But I would say that a lot of the stuff written here is constructive. But if you want I would be happy to be proven wrong. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:00

Maybe we do not need significantly more users to be active on Meta.SE more than we need the opinions of the average user to be heard?

Participating on Meta.SE requires a fair amount of time if you want your participation to be worth something, and not everyone is ready to spend that much time. I myself got more implicated since the October debacle, and even then I more often than not refrain from posting my views on the various subjects. And we cannot ignore the fact that the opinions expressed on Meta.SE might not always reflect those of the average user.

I also question the various "we listened to our community" statements made in the recent blog posts made by some SE employees. I'm not saying they are lying, but there have been many cases where the point of view they expressed went against the general consensus on Meta (10 points on question upvotes for instance). Who was consulted? Which group of users happily shared their opinions?

My proposal would be to have anonymous polls opened on various subjects, something akin to the Facebook pools, but in a better way if that makes sense. I have not thought it through, so my proposal is a rough one, but I could see polls being triggered by some "authorized" users (e.g. SE employees, mods, users with more than a certain reputation threshold) on subjects such as how some groups feel they are being treated on the network, global site redesign, new features, or any pertinent subject. Obviously, none of this would be binding in any sort of way (after all, SE owns this platform, so they can do what they want with it), but at least there would be a possible channel of communication between the general community and the staff.

The advantage I would see with those polls would be an easier way for the "general population" to make their opinion known, while not having to go on Meta.SE, which can be daunting for many. Additionally, the polls could keep some information on the voter (e.g. reputation, gold badges in some tags, account age) so we could observe tendencies in the votes (high reputation users prefer feature X while new users prefer feature Y). As I said, this is very rough, so any improvements would be more than welcomed.

  • 1
    This is a great idea. It solves the "Sure, Meta says X, but our confidential surveys say Y." "Really? Sounds dubious. Let us see that data." "Sorry, we can't. It's secret." "Whose fault is it that it's secret?" problem. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 19:29
  • 1
    @rockwalrus-stopharmingMonica That was exactly my motivation when writing this ;)
    – Laf
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 19:30

Not a direct answer to your question as asked, but about "How to keep [meta] users from leaving" or "How to not decrease participation in MSE":

Encourage users to be more selective about which posts they interact with.

You may not be interested in all topics which are currently being discussed. I fully understand, and recommend to ignore those topics, if you can with the help of tag ignore feature. But where there are not distinct tags, simply glance over them and look for the posts you want to participate in.

If you have been paying attention, some longtime users have been editing and posting in purely technical questions about platform bugs, feature requests, tag cleanups, etc. The usual for meta. In normal times that would not illicit any reaction from me, but these days I can say I commend these people for continuing to support the global cause of maintaining a high quality Q&A experience available worldwide, despite the politics of the organization hosting our content.


I think the answer is clear.

More unicorns please

preferably ones that know how to draw red freehand circles.

Also, some waffles would be nice.

Seriously, we just need to let off some stress and have fun once in a while.


Participation in meta will always be something for a minority of users. That does not mean that it's not somewhat representative from the greater community. It's a vocal, self-selected minority that chooses to make itself heard and express their opinions and views about the rules, policies and well-being of the sites they participate in.

A slightly greater participation could be achieved, but the certain aspects of the "meta" should be updated / changed; since I believe they are no longer really fit for purpose.


To work in the long term, there should also be a retooling of voting. Votes have overloaded meanings in Meta, where a custom has developed to vote up an down to signal "disagreement".

Which is relatively effective, if crude. But coupled with the facts that these sites have much lower post traffic relative to their userbase, and that (MSE excepted) votes do not affect reputation, vote counts can soar very highly or sink very deeply.

That not only can be really tough on newer meta users (and for old hands as well, even if they know how things can be), but makes scores less useful and expressive than on the main sites.

Also, communication with staff can get really weird with our voting system. For example, when answers to support questions get downvoted into oblivion because many in the community disagree with policies that are very likely not in the hands of the one answering the question.

Something different should be tried, since the simply voting mechanism that works so well in the main sites is rather lacking on the meta sites.


Additionally, meta serves (or used to serve) more roles than one. It is used for community building and shaping. Community sourced support. A living record of how and why many of each site's policies came to be or not, and continued discussion of further policy evolution.

But as feature suggestion / bug tracking tool... it sucks. A specialized platform should be used for this. I think the company is well aware of it, and hopefully some day they'll get there and have a solution that's open enough, allows for a useful amount of community participation, permits to have some sort of transparency on the development roadmap... and it's not horrible. I can dream.

And for company wide announcements it's poor as well. Most users who visit a meta will visit their meta, not MSE. So publishing this kind of thing here is pointless. And on top of that, most announcements really do not benefit from the Q&A format. They are announcements, not questions. And "answers" serve little purpose there.

The blog is not nice either, because of how divorced it is from the community. The kind of thing they are publishing in the blog should probably happen in meta, but for that to be really possible and productive, changes need to be made to the supporting software.


Easy: Promote it more, and more often.

Participation will always be minoritary, which makes sense. Logically, the vast majority of users will be interested in using the site, not in discussing how the site should be used, moderated and governed.

But when, for example, moderator elections are held, promotion of the event and the meta-related features are much more heavily involved, and thus I would imagine we see spikes in participation.

We used to have "hot in meta" that drove additional traffic to meta, but it was removed because of the perception of how things went on in meta. I believe it should be added back, but that also changes in the tooling for meta should be made to help have healthier interactions.

  • 1
    Reading your answer, I am really baffled about the downvote you got, too. As I wrote on my answer: such votes sure do not help to motivate new users to further contribute.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 20:29
  • 1
    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica You really still care about downvotes, after so many years and so many questions and answers that you supplied? This really reinforces the argument by Jon Ericson that people are loss-averse. Maybe we should abolish downvotes then. The missing upvotes that people may never get for one reason or another don't seem to bother people when compared to a downvote. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:27
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    @Trilarion I care when people give negative feedback. Because that is an opportunity to learn something. Which is really hard when the feedback only manifests as downvote without any further explanation. Sometimes downvotes aren't surprising. But sometimes they are. And almost every time I then asked why... some other person would give helpful suggestions what could be improved about the post. Which can be a true eye opener sometimes. And note the reverse argument: isn't stack exchange about high quality content?! How do you get to that with users that don't care any more about downvotes?!
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 3:11
  • 1
    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica Sorry, I didn't mean not caring about downvotes. I thought more along the lines of seeing them as a statistical thing. A single downvote caries only little meaning. Only aggregated they say something. For this post here, there are now 5 upvotes and 3 downvotes which means that it's somewhat controversial. Probably it means that people don't like everything that is written in this post or find the content is not so relevant or they think it could be shortened a bit. But I cannot read minds, it may be something else instead. Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 8:54
  • @Trilarion Yes, that makes sense. Nonetheless, even that depends on your stance a bit. Every vote (up or down) means: someone found your content convincing, or not. And sometimes (see the discussions on my answer here as example), there is really something to learn from any person who took the time to give feedback. Which is easier when the feedback is more than just a vote.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 9:34
  • 1
    @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica Yes, I understand your desire for more explanational feedback. I just wanted to say that not only a downvote should be accompanied by feedback but also an upvote that didn't happen. Not only ask yourself "Why did somebody downvote me?" but also "Why did people not upvote me?". Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:04
  • It's my answer and I'm not asking myself anything about the voting. I'm not sure this discussion about voting is about my answer anymore, right?
    – yivi
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:05
  • @yivi Yes, that is correct. Happens sometimes here. I was just very surprised when I saw the initial set of answers yesterday, and how many good answers, including yours, saw such a mixed or plain negative feedback. And then one comment leads to the next ... but I can sure remove my stuff if you think it shouldnt sit here?
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:10
  • No need to remove anything unless either of you want it. Just that if you want to continue the conversation, maybe somewhere else where I'm not pinged? I don't mind the pings if they are actually addressing the answer, but I rather not get them for conversation I'm not part of. Thanks.
    – yivi
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 12:12

I read your question as: what we the community can do. So here are some basic ideas:

  • We have our profiles. Right now, many folks use that place to explain "MonicaGate", and to list links we deem important. So why not use the profile space to invite curious readers to visit MSE (and/or the corresponding meta sites, like MSO)?! Write a few sentences, explain why MSE and the meta sites are important!
  • Constantly mention MSE/MSO/etc. At some point I realized that it can be pointless (besides getting to a point of deep frustration) to convince new users about basic rules of the community. Nowadays, when that happens, I quickly disengage, instead I suggest to them that they can turn to MSO or MSE, to ask about the problem at hand right there.
  • Whenever there is a good reason, link to matching MSO/MSE content. Like when folks are discussing "what to do about X", just go "turn here on MSO/MSE, that has been discussed there many times ..."

Long story short: lead by example. Show active non-meta users that knowing a bit about the meta site(s) helps them with their efforts. But to factor in some of the concerns: be aware what you are doing. I am not talking about blindly throwing links at people. Each post you respond to, in the end, comes from an individual. So identify what really matters, and if there is some meta link that clearly addresses the topic, provide that. With enough context for people to get it.

Beyond that, gamification could help:

  • Make the first badge(s) you earn on MSE show up on all your other network profiles.
  • Have your first upvotes on MSE go to other profiles, too.

But of course, such ideas require that SE Inc. helps implementing them. And these ideas are obviously more complicated, and a lot of thought would be required to come up with a really meaningful definition of what exactly should be done.

And sure: you can advertise also in other places, too! I get plenty of questions regarding stackoverflow and stackexchange on quora.com. Typically, the first sentence of my answer is: "You shouldn't be asking here. Turn to MSE/MSO/whatever-meta fits".

Finally, honestly: when new users show up here, treat them really really nice:

The new users most likely don't understand that a downvote might mean "I disagree with your content". They could quickly assume instead: "that content must be garbage".

Meaning: rather aim to increase the number of mortarboards, not the number of peer pressures. Rather comment, and say what you think, instead of adding the 5th downvote on a newbie post.

Honestly: that is something that even me, as an experienced user struggle with: you put up something that you think "he, this should lighten up or help" (example: here), and then you end up with 20+ downvotes ... and rather few (initial) comments that tells you why people are in such a disagreement.

  • 1
    And btw, nice example to underline my point: the question asks "what can we do to improve X". I list various ideas to improve X. Next: downvote. Me baffled "err, now what is there to disagree with?" ... If I were a newbie, I might just turn around, walk away, and never come back. Just because I have no idea why that input is rejected.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 19:58
  • 1
    @IamMonica Well: when every user would do that, you might quickly see 20, 30, 50 answers. Which is definitely something that many users here would consider "problematic" to say it nicely. But then: thanks for your comment. Your point is reasonable, I only disagree about the proposed solution.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 20:12
  • To be honest, meta was created to remove discussion about the software itself from main posts. Advertising it on main really defeats the purpose. Discussing the way the software works on main posts also defeats the purpose of having meta. If you are suggesting users have their meta discussions in place, on main posts, then meta serves no purpose. Constantly mentioning meta is a plague on the main sites, and the abundance of canned commentary only serves to cause more problems than it creates.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 20:33
  • @GhostCatsaysReinstateMonica - The problem with that, is I see meta commentary on almost every post, mostly to the question asker. I don't really feel like needing to drop a meta link on each place I visit, and would much prefer that users simply stop placing canned comments on main posts at all. The outlook has been for years to actually engage with users directly, on specific ways actions that will improve the post, as opposed to vague "complete all the things in this checklist" links. Dropping a meta link to that effect, aimed at the canned comment, surely turns into debate in comments.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 20:59
  • 2
    @TravisJ Sure, I agree with that sentiment, posting such links should follow a distinct purpose, not a blind "here are 100 answers that maybe address the issue". When a newbie writes a low quality post, then you explain what's wrong about it. Meta links are for those situations when people keep arguing on why a post is problematic or what to do about that. I will rework my answer tomorrow to be more clear about this. Over and out for now.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:06
  • @IamMonica I think this is the wrong place to discuss that. I think it is extremely unusual here to have one user put down multiple answers (3, 5, or more) below a question. Maybe I am wrong about that ... but in order to find out whether that would be a good practice, one would almost need to write up a new question on MSE to ask specifically about it. As said, I doubt many people would appreciate that approach.
    – GhostCat
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 19:29

There are concerns that MSE participants are a tiny and potentially unrepresentative subset of the community

These are not concerns, but flat out facts. The MSE community is a super minority of the sites.

What new things can be done to increase participation in MSE?

Nothing. Having per site metas with one "over meta" is a broken design, and the flaw is just more and more glaring over time. At this rate we aren't going to have any CM's left by the time it is fully realized.

I have been saying this for years, but MSE was a terrible waste of effort. It fractured the overall community and represented the peak of the software.

There are some 90k questions at MSE, of which roughly 60k came from mSO during the great migration in April... 2014.

In 5 years MSE has created the amount of questions SO sees in 3 days.

The meta for the second largest site on the exchange, Super User, has created 12 hours worth of questions in the past 5 years.

There is really only one way to bring the meta community together and increase participation, which is to merge the metas back. There is absolutely no reason for everyone to have 50 different discussions of the same topic when one response from Shog9 would have satisfied everyone's need to discuss.

Having separate metas leads to Community Management exhaustion. It is impossible for them to devote enough time to an issue for the community to be satisfied in all places. At the same time, each individual site meta is encouraged to have its own flavored discussion of the topic. What we have seen time and time again here, is that an issue will bubble up from one site's meta, heat up without being able to have enough attention to it, emerge as an out of control fire onto Meta Stack Exchange, and then spill back out all over the other per site metas. This is not only exhausting to control, it is impossible to maintain in the long term.

Having one meta allows for the discussions to have real meaning, as they will constitute a much larger population of participants. We require a group effort in order to move the community forward, and one meta accomplishes that goal.

Per site considerations would be available using tag based identification for situations which were truly unique to that exchange itself, but for those situations the entire community could still weigh in. While some meta users may not be experts in Pets, many are experts in the software use and scope which still strongly applies in most situations. As well, cultural issues are often best solved by a resounding coalition of meta users.

Community Manager and employee messaging would be greatly amplified as they would now have a direct route to the actual community. This would remove the need for the current hack in place, which is the blog. More and more messaging has moved to the blog, in an attempt to reach the entire community; more and more the community has felt they are being spoken to, and not spoken with.

A single meta saves us all time. Meta was created to take all of the wasted discussion about the software strewn about, and focus it in one place. Fracturing meta is self defeating for that purpose. Moreover, we need to spend less time talking about the software itself, the common meme for meta "Meta is Murder" comes from the point that discussing the software kills productivity. If one thing is clear from all of the statistics and metrics out there, it is that productivity has been in steady decline since the metas were split.

  • 4
    Hmmm, MSO consists of ~50% questions of type "why was my programming question closed". Would that really be interesting for anyone else? Or who would be interested in the big Programmers-renaming discussion of 2015-2018? On the other hand, if we follow the "fragmentation is bad" idea, why do we have 100s of on-topic communities, many of them very small? "Data Science" is mostly only statistics. Veganism could be part of Seasoned Advice as well as Beer Wine and Spirits, Quantum computing, Bioinformatics, Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Astrophysics and Space Exploration could just be Science... Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:22
  • @Trilarion - There is of course some overlap, but consider that MSE already consists of 67% MSO. I really don't find any of the point you make there valid, as this overlap already exists right now today and there is no mention of problem. Meta fragmentation is bad. Site topicality is a different issue not to be confused with the current discussion. I don't find any of your false premise applying to this discussion as a result.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 21:31
  • That brings up an interesting point. Handling overlap between sites isn't just a Meta problem. Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 22:21
  • 6
    this looks wrong on so many accounts... First, that idea that MSE has too few questions coming out of thin air. 3k questions suffice for main sites to graduate and MSE has easily passed that after the split (I could argue that this criteria would be too strict for meta, but since it is met, whatever)...
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:13
  • 4
    ...Second, it would be mighty inconvenient for folks willing to discuss subtleties of specific sites topics and cultures mixed with these of 170 other, usually vastly different sites. One site to discuss custom close reasons at Worldbuilding, SO, and Math.SE, gimme a break. Tags just can't manage that, it was evident prior to MSE-MSO split...
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:13
  • 1
    ...The last but not the least, difficulty communicating network-wide matters looks purely imagined. I actively check about handful per site metas and never seen any serious trouble in that. Site moderators seem to handle this just fine, with additional benefit of enriching passed information with site-specific flavor when needed
    – gnat
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:13
  • @gnat - I am not disputing the need for meta though, I am disputing that it needs to be in so many places. I do agree that there is enough material for a meta to exist and am not saying we should remove MSE.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:19
  • @gnat - Tags do not prevent the mixing of cultures, its true. However, allowing the separate sites to fester is clearly far worse as is extremely evident post split. Merging doesn't have to solve all of the issues, it only needs to make more progress than currently exists. In this case, I believe it would be significant progress.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:21
  • @gnat - I am not sure how you missed all of the recent trouble that brewed up from individual metas, to MSE, and then back down across the entire exchange. However, that has happened, repeatedly. The issue is that it is very hard to see coming when everything is so spread out.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:22
  • 1
    On the other hand, if we all used one big meta for everything, the current tire fire would be affecting everyone on every site.
    – user215040
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:46
  • @metasnail - It was featured on every site, and almost every site saw a decrease in either moderator activity, or actual acting moderators. The current "tire fire" has already effected every site. With a more focused group, I think we could have prevented something like this, as it didn't need to spread so far out of control from the first per site meta it started at. For example, there wouldn't have been a meta question on each meta site talking about it, there would have just been 1 post. It is much easier to get an official reply in one place than in dozens.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 21, 2019 at 23:48
  • Stack Overflow gets 10,000 questions a day???
    – Alex
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 0:01
  • 2
    @Alex - Yup. Although a few thousand end up being deleted by automated process or the community. The statistic at stackexchange.com/sites#traffic currently shows 7000 per day, but I do believe that doesn't include deleted posts.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 0:09
  • 1
    @TravisJ I really think that "almost every site saw a decrease in either moderator activity, or actual acting moderators" is an exaggeration. It's affected a few sites very heavily, and affected more sites to a lesser degree, but other sites seem to be carrying on just fine with no real change.
    – user215040
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 0:22
  • 2
    @metasnail - I don't think that is an exaggeration. Here are 73 direct examples: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/333965/…. To note, those are just the publicly acknowledged ones. Don't miss out on the answers there either, where dozens of users also sign off on the notion of cutting back, leaving, requesting deletion, or taking a break. Of the points made here, I think it is fairly obvious the recent events led to a system-wide decline in moderation. It may be temporary, but it exists.
    – Travis J
    Commented Nov 22, 2019 at 5:05

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