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Today I discovered that you can track the progress of a site in beta via Area 51. (I also found that the original proposal came from Hamlet, which made me a bit sad but there we go).

This was news to me: I thought sites vanished from Area 51 once they'd gone into beta. Here's our stats:

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Not too shabby, it seems to me, for a site a year old.

We can't do much about the number of questions we get, the number of visits we get is close to where we ought to be, and we have a great user base (thanks, everyone!). But when it comes to answers, we're falling behind and it's within our power to do something about it.

One of the problems we've got on this site is that a lot of questions need specialist knowledge it's hard to source elsewhere. While you can research questions a lot of the time, it's also common to field questions that really can't be answered without being intimately familiar with a particular book. So it's perhaps not surprising we've got a fair amount of unanswered questions, or questions with a single answer.

On the other hand, given this is a site where having a definitive "correct" answer is difficult, we probably ought to see more questions with multiple answers.

Over the next couple of weeks, I think I'm going to go back and comb through some questions to see if I can find any I missed that I might be able to contribute to, even if they've got existing/accepted answers.

But is this something that, as a community, we should be putting more effort into? Or, given our subject matter, should we not care about these particular metrics?

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Don't worry about Area 51 stats. They're not used for site graduation purposes, or really anything, anymore, and haven't been updated in almost a decade. 2.5 answers per question would be an astonishing goal for a site like ours, anyway - and it would be putting numbers over the health of the site.

What matters is quality. If the answers that come in are very good (which, generally speaking, they are), we're doing all right. It's a good idea to look through old questions to find ones you can contribute to! But not for Area 51 reasons.

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    Thanks. Just for clarify, I'm not worried about the stats in terms of the beta, nor about the number of unanswered questions. I just feel that if this site is working well, given its subjective remit, we ought to be seeing more questions with multiple answers. – Matt Thrower Feb 26 '18 at 10:24
  • I would like to point out that Personal Productivity SE was closed on 6 March. There was a meta post about it; one of the arguments was low voting activity. (There weren't doing too badly with regard to questions until the close warning was posted.) – Christophe Strobbe Mar 9 '18 at 16:21
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Zyerah's answer is correct. I just wanted to add a few more things, including further reading which you (and others who see this meta) might find useful:

  • Area 51 stats aren't really relevant. At least for graduation, this is very clearly stated at Graduation, site closure, and a clearer outlook on the health of SE sites. For that purpose, the only thing we need to worry about is the top statistic, questions per day. (Of course, as also stated in that post, success and graduation are not the same thing.) Much more detailed and useful stats can be found on the site analytics (currently visible only to you, me, and the mods).

  • We're still doing pretty well. With the caveat that Area 51 stats aren't a great measure, I did do some analysis a few months ago of how we're doing, with reference to the previous failed incarnation of Literature: Lit.1 and Lit.2 - a comparison. Make of this what you will.

  • Quality > quantity. I don't think this needs much explaining. A site with some good answers and many unanswered questions where newly arriving experts can contribute gives a way better impression than a site with loads of subpar answers. See also Let's get answering and my answer to Kill the zombies (unanswered questions).

So what about an actual answer to your question? Both Zyerah and I have gone on about how you don't need to worry about Area 51 stats, or answering for the sake of answering, but none of that actually answers your question of how we can improve answer stats, with all these caveats in mind.

  • Bounties? One of the primary reasons for setting a bounty is to draw attention - to attract an answer to a so-far-unanswered question. See also my proposal at Reward system for answering unanswered questions? Unfortunately, so far this hasn't been very successful: when people start bounties on Lit to attract answers, they tend to get crickets. That's why for a long time now I've only been starting bounties to reward existing answers. Maybe things have changed by now, but do bear this in mind before you start giving away rep willy-nilly in bounties.

  • Expert sniping. We have some great users here who know how to do really good and well-researched answers. If some of them want to volunteer - as you already have - to comb through old unanswered questions and see which ones they can provide excellent answers to, wonderful! That's certainly a way to increase our answer stats while also maintaining quality (assuming nobody lets their answering standards drop, of course).

  • Patience. Plenty of old unanswered questions have received new and good answers months after being asked. Certainly answerers aren't only looking at recently active questions. I remember several of my own questions which have had excellent and bounty-worthy answers, including from new users, long after I'd almost given up hoping for any answers at all. Presumably this will continue happening, no matter what we do.

  • A slight variation on placing bounties is something like this offer. The advantage is that unlike a regular bounty where you lose the reputation regardless of whether it generates new answers, with this offer you only give up the reputation in response to new answers. – Alex Aug 20 '18 at 21:55
  • @Alex I already give a lot of bounties, especially to new answers on old questions. But I'd be a little reluctant to quantify it so precisely, without adding an out clause in case of answers which get upvotes but still aren't 'good' enough for me. – Rand al'Thor Aug 20 '18 at 22:41
  • There's kind of an out clause: I reserve the right to modify or terminate this offer for any reason, without notice at any time. Participate at your own risk. But, yeah, giving bounties to existing answers also works. – Alex Aug 20 '18 at 22:45

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