Inspired by a graph posted on blog: https://stackoverflow.blog/2020/05/07/the-way-forward/

CEO says:

Along with the surge in traffic to our sites, we have also seen an encouraging lift in new users signing up for accounts. You can see the spike and continued lift that has been happening in 2020.

As I have mentioned in the answer the number of new accounts being created each day is not a good metric for showing increased participation. Are there any other graphs or numbers indicating that Stack Overflow (and other sites followed) have seen an increase in participation? Was there any increase in the number of good quality content being posted recently? Was it all just curious passer-bys who saw a release announcement for dark mode and wanted to see what the UI looks like with no intention of participating at all?

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    I think that with traffic they might mean visits but not participation in asking or answering. – Trilarion May 8 '20 at 20:08
  • @Trilarion: That's literally what traffic means, doesn't it? – einpoklum May 8 '20 at 20:51

Stack Overflow has seen a moderate increase in participation by new users, but almost no increase in participation by active users (those with 500+ reputation) in the past few months. However, both for new and active users, the minimum participation has increased (that's usually the weekends where not so many people are on the site, so that's simply an indication that more people are active on the previously-slow days):

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If we look back a few more years, SO has actually seen a decrease in participation from its peak in 2014-15. The current peak is reaching just short of that level:

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If we look at Academia - the other site that's been called out as having a large increase in traffic in recent blog posts... well, there may have been an increase in traffic, but almost no increase in participation (click for full size):

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These graphs were generated by a Data.SE query, which you can play with if you want to look at other sites or timeframes.

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    I wonder how much of this spike is due to posts not yet deleted by roomba. – Dharman May 8 '20 at 19:03

Using query provided by ArtOfCode I made the following two graphs. They show unique users weekly over the past 10 years (for Stackoverflow.com, not the entire network). One is a total number of users and the other are active users with at least 10k reputation. Not really what I was looking for, but I think they show useful information too. The spike does correlate with the spike in new accounts being created that CEO talked about.

We can see that participation has risen in the past few weeks. It's difficult to draw any hard conclusions because some of it could be due to the fact that the query doesn't consider deleted posts. However, it does look like we now have almost 90k unique users active each week.

Weekly unique users on Stack Overflow

The following graph shows the participation from users with a considerable amount of reputation (>10k). We should be observing an upward trend, because more and more users should cross the 10k threshold, but instead we see a steady downward trend. Reputable users are decreasing their activity. Neither dark mode nor any of the Meta drama has impacted their activity. It looks like less than 5000 10kers are active every week. >10k Users on Stack Overflow

If both trends continue we could see a considerable decrease in the quality of the content posted on the site. The reason why I compared it against 10kers is that these are the people who have both close vote and delete vote privileges. They know the rules and what is good on-topic post and what isn't. If all we get is more new users and less old users then there will be fewer active people who can curate the content and take necessary actions.

With increasing noise, there will come a time when proper high-quality content will be more difficult to find and all users will start looking for greener pastures.

Here is my plea to Stack Exchange:
Please, do not focus on new users coming to the site. Focus on retaining the active user base. This is the way to ensure steady and sustainable growth.

  • Is this for SO-only or for all of SX? – einpoklum May 8 '20 at 20:50
  • @einpoklum I executed the query only for SO, because I believe it has the biggest user base and is the most influential of the sites. However, the question was not only about SO, but about the userbase in general. – Dharman May 8 '20 at 20:51
  • I edited that bit of info into your post. – einpoklum May 8 '20 at 21:07
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    I've created a graph of log of reputation against percentage change in number of active users between a 6 month period 5 years ago, and the last 6 months: data.stackexchange.com/stackoverflow/query/1236588/…, We've been losing users at every level above 100 rep, and loss at 3k is particularly bad, just at the level people start to gain close votes. – user1937198 May 9 '20 at 1:45

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