We shouldn't obsess over our Area 51 stats, but our questions per day are a concern. For a healthy beta, we need a minimum of 5 questions a day, which equates to 1 question every 140 days from our whole user population (circa 700).

One question every 5 months per person doesn't sound like a lot, but we're a long way off achieving that, and the more good questions (well-answered) that we have, the more we'll attract search engine traffic and users who see our value and want to stay around. Which is the best way of ensuring the survival of (what I believe is) an excellent resource for family historians and genealogists at all levels of experience.

Our stats were around 0.8 questions per day, 2.6 answers per question and 99% answered when this Q&A was first posted in April 2013.

Our current (28 Sep 2014) stats (here) are around 0.6 questions per day, 2.4 answers per question and 98% answered.

I'd like to propose an ongoing goal that we aim to get and keep our site statistics at:

at least 3 questions per day, which is a decent step towards 5 (the "Okay range")

To get to 3 questions per day, just keep an eye on that statistic, and if it's below three, ask a question yourself. Even consider self-answering a question, if you think it is interesting and worthwhile.

If you need a prompt to help you come up with a question, you could look at the "Topic Areas" at the bottom of this post: Analysis of questions to date

For discussion:

  • Is it useful to set such short term goals?
  • Is this a reasonable short term goal?
  • Would you define it differently?
  • What else can we do to increase our question rate?

Edited to add some stats:

Nearly 80% of our traffic currently comes from search engines.

3 questions per day is an initial target -- as Area 51 says, 15 questions per day is a health beta.

  • You can't assume we have 700 active users. Counting our users who have done something significant other than signing up who have reputation other than 1 or 101 gives a count of only 144 users who have contributed. I suspect maybe half of them haven't been active here in over a month. That's not very many people who are asking and answering questions. – lkessler Apr 27 '13 at 23:12
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    @lkessler I didn't say 700 active users... If we had 700 active users we'd be doing a lot better. – user104 Apr 28 '13 at 10:04
  • You did say that each of the 700 users would need to answer a question every 140 days resulting in 5 questions a day, implying that those 700 were around to answer the questions. – lkessler Apr 28 '13 at 12:58
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    @lkessler, I was trying to convey that what might look easy, based on the 'public' figures, definitely isn't so -- or else we would be doing better than we are now. I clearly failed. But 3 questions per day from 144 users is still only one question per user every 7 weeks, and it might just be the sticking plaster that buys us time to survive. – user104 Apr 28 '13 at 13:13
  • You did a good job and kickstarted an increase in questions for a while. But it's now a month later and it's back to the one question every two days rate. I wish it were as easy as setting a goal, but something more has to happen to get this site noticed by the genealogical community. – lkessler Jun 9 '13 at 3:52
  • @lkessler, the number of new visitors we get every day is holding up well and increased markedly during May/June -- coinciding (?) with the increase in question rate. Most of our traffic is still coming from search engines, which is what we want, or directly. Referrals from other sites has always been low -- and when I google for reference to this site, almost everything I find is about the commitment phase. Publicity was clearly effective then, as it got people to commit (although most of them didn't follow through); what did we learn then that would get us noticed again? – user104 Jun 9 '13 at 10:13
  • According to Quantcast, around May 6, our uniques went up from about 100 a day to 150 a day. But that's still an order of magnitude smaller than what we need to really be viable. And I'm worried that it has dropped off in the past few days back to the 100 per day. New visitors are great. I also see them asking new questions. They are what we need, but if our traffic isn't on a growing trend then as many people are losing interest as we are gaining. Something did happen on May 6 to raise our hits and keep them there for awhile. I can't know what that might have been. Do you have any idea? – lkessler Jun 9 '13 at 14:15
  • @lkessler, I wish I knew - especially as it coincided with a marked upturn in "New Visits" as well; as you say, they're our life blood as long as they stay around or at least come back when they need us. Maybe they were googling for Genealogy Karma and found the meta post here made on May 6 that referenced it? – user104 Jun 9 '13 at 14:59
  • @lkessler, the Mocavo reference hasn't got an especially high number of views, so that's not it... – user104 Jun 9 '13 at 15:34
  • It's four months later, and things are picking up! See: meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1767/… – lkessler Oct 13 '13 at 0:27

The problem is not the questions per day. The problem is that we're not growing the site.

Simply said, not enough people know about G&FH SE. The initial push to get it known was not enough and it did not go viral but just petered out. Now we get very few new people each day. We have fewer than 150 people (out of the 700 users who registered (note how many still have 1 or 101 points) who have done anything significant here other than sign up.

Currently, of the 101 SE sites, G&FH SE is number 99 with regards to traffic. It is number 98 with regards to users. We've already got way more questions out of our people than other sites have, because we're number 90 with regards to questions, much higher than our traffic or number of users deserve.

I don't think setting goals for questions will work with the existing group. It's hard to think of good questions. And we've all tried and we're mostly all questioned out.

The only thing that will help is a concerted effort to get the word out to the genealogical community through all means about this great resource. Increase the number of interested users and correspondingly the traffic will increase and so will the number of questions and overall activity.

Looking at the trends (on the linked page, select "All" as the Data Range), I'd say that we've reached a nice equilibrium, where each new user coming and visiting is offset by an earlier user who has lost interest.

Earlier rises in traffic were brought about by postings about the site on popular blogs. People came to check it out, and some stayed, but nobody told anyone else. A week later, traffic was back to where it was. So following a big push, it is essential that the word has to continue. We must get genealogists telling other genealogists about it. I don't think more than 10 blogs amongst the 2000 genealogy blogs have written about this site. How many of you have tweeted about it, or made posts on your facebook page, or emailed your genealogical friends about it?

Once a site reaches a certain mass, it will start to grow on its own. That is what the Stack Exchange people are looking for out of this site - not the number of questions, not amount of traffic, not the number of users, but a site where the daily questions, traffic and number of users is growing steadily.

Here is what it takes if we want to get G&FH SE out of beta. The last Stack Exchange site to get out of beta was Travel. It did so 3 months ago. Look at its traffic history and select All for the Data Range. They started their beta with a measly couple of hundred visits a day like us, but they managed to continue to get word out and increase their traffic exponentially - to 1000 a day after 6 months, 2000 a day after 6 more, and over 4000 a day after 6 more months when they were awarded a full site.

Somehow, we've got to attract new people. Imposing a goal on the existing people won't do it.

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    Excellent analysis. You've convinced me. – user47 Apr 27 '13 at 23:47
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    I agree, we need more traffic. SE has shown that good questions attract more traffic. There is nothing wrong with multi-pronged efforts to increase traffic. No one has yet commented on my efforts to spread the word via society newsletters. Different tactics for promotion appeal to different people. Let's just all try to do what we can. Love of genealogy and sharing of good information will, I hope, prevail :) – Canadian Girl Scout Apr 28 '13 at 16:34
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    More publicity is essential, I've always agreed, but we seem to be struggling to work out what works. Would you be willing to post a new meta-question on how we can get the word out? It would be interesting to know how the "founders" of this site intended to get and keep the word out there. – user104 Apr 28 '13 at 16:46
  • P.S. We may be at equilibrium but it isn't "nice" -- I've been told by the SE community team that we're right to be worried about our stats. We need more content to attract people via the search engines -- word of mouth will only get us so far. – user104 Apr 28 '13 at 16:55
  • @ColeValleyGirl - Well, adding questions doesn't hurt. Do you think adding 1000 more questions in the next year to our 528 will be even close to enough? Sorry, but I'm as disappointed and frustrated as everyone else. – lkessler Apr 28 '13 at 20:06
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    No, 1000 isn't enough -- nowhere near. We need 5 or 6 times that (at least 15 questions a day) -- but we won't get there immediately, and trying for 15 immediately will just set us all up to fail and depress everybody. Publicity is essential -- I was incubating a meta-post on the subject to run in parallel, but think your answer would be much a better basis. (Publicity isn't my strong point, as you might have spotted). – user104 Apr 28 '13 at 20:22
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    We don't need to get to 15 QPD in the next year. There is no limit to the time we can be in beta. If we're producing quality questions and answers and have a steady stream of visitors, we can take as much time as we need. In fact many sites have graduated with around 5 QPD because they have a strong user-base and a constant flow of visitors to the site. – American Luke Apr 29 '13 at 13:02
  • I'd argue genealogy.se's 'good questions' is very stringent relative to travel's 'good questions'. They allow questions specific to a small set of individuals (I'll argue there are more descendants of someone from 1900 than there are people interested in finding a camera shop in a small town in Croatia). Their questions require less research (a simple google search) than our do. We should consider trending closer to their quality rules if we want to increase participation. – Duncan May 3 '13 at 11:40
  • @Duncan, we allow questions specific to a small set of individuals -- we're actually more relaxed about that then many other SE sites. And our faq says: "The community tends to respond better to questions that show you have already done some research (at least used a search engine or consulted a dictionary) before asking for help." How much less research do you want to do? – user104 May 4 '13 at 17:13

One issue we may consider is widening the scope of what we consider good questions. I participate in several se sites and one area where genealogy.se feels different to me is the amount of time necessary to create a good question on genealogy.se. On most se sites (and on most other genealogy sites), it only takes a few minutes to ask a question. Google or bing or yahoo) a quick search and if nothing obvious pops up, then you ask on se. On genealogy.se, I feel I should have done 3-4 hours of research before asking. I'm not saying others should do that work for me. What I'm saying is that if someone else has already done that work, then I want to take advantage of it. I don't think we are leveraging the community sharing of information as much as the other genealogy sites do.

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    I have the same feeling. – user47 May 1 '13 at 3:42
  • Duncan, I'm interested whether this is a recent observation (i.e. you think it's still going on) or whether it was true in the early days but we've mellowed a little? – user104 May 1 '13 at 7:39
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    This year (2013), not necessarily this week. Although even recently the talk on 'good quality questions' leads me to believe it's still there. If most questions on most genealogy sites are not 'good enough' for us, then I predict we'll fail since we are missing the majority of users. We want questions from non-experts yet we reject them as not good enough. – Duncan May 3 '13 at 11:00
  • I think it's somewhat insulting to non-experts to assume they can't write a good question. – user104 May 4 '13 at 16:01
  • I have writing difficulties, and sometimes have trouble expressing a question exactly as I wish it to be. When met with what I consider to be a 'harsh' or sarcastic answer, then I simply stop posting altogether - I feel that this happened with my now deleted post. – user786 Jun 1 '13 at 11:52
  • +1 I think it may be important for us to go through a period where we do everything we can to try and keep questions alive by editing them slightly and sensitively, and also perhaps by suggesting ways that specific (and new) questions may be teased out of the original. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 27 '14 at 23:51

It is pure fantasy to suggest that "x questions from each user per time period" can achieve anything because "each user" is not participating at all.

Since October, 35% of all questions have been asked by just 6 people. 50% of all questions have come from 14 people. Long-term (sic) users of the site can probably construct the list of their names from memory.

Now if each of those people were to ask a "good" question every day then the other 74 (so-called) avid users would need to contribute just one per day to reach the level of a healthy beta. Of course there may be a drop-off in the proportion of questions receiving a considered answer because guess which group of users has been contributing most of the answers.

This (SE:GFH) was a great idea and the initial excitement was wonderful, BUT ...


We have chicken and egg issues with number of users and number of questions. Increasing either should help increase the other but it needs a kick start. I assume that is why this question was asked - what can we do to kick start from the existing base.

I think if we asked more questions about individuals (as opposed to 'how to' questions), we would attract more interest and get more people to do similar. One meta awhile back suggested a 'peer review' kind of question where you supplied all you had found about an individual and asked for the community's review. Questions of this type would be good for populating our site with good content of interest to many.

  • A peer review question will take many hours to prepare -- I know; I've been working on one for 3 months in my spare time. – user104 May 1 '13 at 7:31
  • The fact that it's taking that much work is a clue we are setting the bar too high. Maybe instead of 'journal' peer-reivew, we should consider 'show my friends and relatives what I have' peer review (ie the level at most other genealogy sites). – Duncan May 4 '13 at 16:07
  • I'm not even aiming at a journal peer review, just the best work I can do. This site is not my friends and relatives -- there are experts here who opinion I value more. – user104 May 4 '13 at 16:09

Yes, I think it's both useful to set short term goals and that this is a reasonable short term goal. I think it's defined perfectly.

As for your fourth bullet - Is it an abuse, or would it be embarrassing to use the chat room and @ to contact members who haven't asked any questions (or just one) and inquire if they'd like help in the Meta room to phrase a question? We do need to increase our question rate but it's kind of intimidating asking questions here. I used the Meta room for help although I learned it's best not to incorporate all the comments :-)

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    If somebody has already participated in the chat room, then pinging them is fine, but you can't do it if they haven't already chatted. – user104 Apr 27 '13 at 13:11

H'm, yes, I see the issue. My personal view is that a lot of questions are too vague. They seem to be selected on their theoretical value, and the same goes for the answers.

How-to's are nice for programming, where new issues rise all the time, because of software updates and the like, but compared to that, the methods in genealogy are quite static, and that by itself is an understatement, I think.

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    Can you point me at some questions you think are 'too vague'? – user104 May 6 '13 at 17:13
  • I got the general feeling of vagueness after reading things like "What standards exist for ..." and your own "What's the difference between family history and genealogy". For both, I have the feeling that they were sort of made-up to get through beta. And I do remember calls for such questions in the RootsDev group. – Enno Borgsteede May 7 '13 at 18:51
  • Another example is genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1821/… – Enno Borgsteede May 7 '13 at 18:54
  • It annoyed me, because the author mentioned an Access database, but gave no response when I asked what sort of tables he had in there, and if it were feasible for him to convert to free database. In effect, this too looked like a question made up to promote a discussion, not to solve a real problem. – Enno Borgsteede May 7 '13 at 18:57
  • For some reason or another SE doesn't accept empty lines in comments, so you get to see lots of fragments here. :-) – Enno Borgsteede May 7 '13 at 18:59
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    "What's the difference between family history and genealogy" should have been posted on meta, not on the main site -- I know better now, and was glad it was closed, and wish it hadn't been reopened. "What standards exist for..." is almost a canonical question -- it was going to be asked at some point, so as well to get it out of the way early. – user104 May 7 '13 at 18:59
  • All in all, my view of the site as it is now is that it's too academic, elitist, not for real people. This feeling is strengthened by the habit to rephrase questions to make them more general. – Enno Borgsteede May 7 '13 at 19:01
  • The "key features" question was popular but I agree it was too broad to get a good answer. I'm not sure the bulk of our questions are that vague though. – user104 May 7 '13 at 19:01
  • I've seen very little rephrasing. Maybe we're looking at different questions. – user104 May 7 '13 at 19:02
  • IMO, definition like things can be very well put in a wiki, and the phrasing of questions that seem to be made-up makes me feel much like I'm in Kindergarten ... – Enno Borgsteede May 7 '13 at 19:03
  • I'm not sure that things in the tag wiki are found by search engines, and one of the key SE drivers is to create content that is discoverable by search. – user104 May 7 '13 at 19:05
  • H'm, ok, I was not referring to the tag wiki, but wiki's in general. But in the end, I still wonder what kind of traffic is wanted here, and how that can be achieved. I mean, when I have a specific question about persons in my ancestry, English nobility this time, I send it to the proper genealogy newsgroup on usenet, attach the question to existing profiles on geni.com, and Google the names of key persons and find lots of trees, and a few books in Google's library. Chances for SE to be found for this specific type of question are very low, I think. – Enno Borgsteede May 8 '13 at 20:54
  • But now that I read about key SE drivers ... creating is what I'm after. I have a problem to solve, and will post results in a tree ... not here. And I think that's the cuplrit. – Enno Borgsteede May 8 '13 at 20:56
  • I think you're right -- as I said here meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/q/1667/104 there's an awful lot of places on the net to look for answers. – user104 May 9 '13 at 6:50

Stop discouraging people from asking questions. Pretend you found this site by googling Fisher and you found this. What it tells you is that question is not good enough quality. Why would you consider asking a question yourself - it's clearly too much work and not worth it.

I believe this site should not just be for experts (who don't want to ask any questions) and should include average genealogists asking normal questions.

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    Duncan, did you read my comment explaining why that question was closed? It's nothing to do with the quality, just that you've asked it once already. As somebody who has used other SE sites, you know that isn't right. – user104 May 4 '13 at 16:03
  • @colevlalleygirl, The question as originally asked is not accessible. Search "Fisher" - and you only get the question that is the duplicate (at least that is all I get). I thought maybe the original question wasn't opened because it was too individual, which I was hopeful we were allowing now. Or it wasn't opened because of the comments, which are not applicable to the reworded question. If undeleting and reopening the old question is best, then please do that. However then the answers are no longer applicable (since they weren't to the reworded question). Your call. – Duncan May 4 '13 at 23:36
  • The quality comment was wrt the original question, which the new question is a duplicate of. Just look at as someone finding this site, without your knowledge of the history. You see a question closed as a duplicate of a question that was closed because it was not a real question. – Duncan May 4 '13 at 23:38
  • I joined this SE site about a month ago and I would agree the first couple of posts were discouraging with the 3 moderators swooping in editing my posts, asking me to refine my questions with more detail, be more specific, then asking me narrow the scope of the question, etc. Initially it left me with the feeling that I can get my questions answered elsewhere easier. It established expectations but it keeps me from asking anything I haven't already researched a bit, but I also I don't expect answers over night and like to help out beginners with research myself for them as I learn from it too. – CRSouser Dec 5 '14 at 1:54

Let's take a leaf out of History SE's book and run a Weekly Topic Challenge.

In fact we are now calling for suggestions to use for Genealogy & Family History's first Weekly Topic Challenge.


Questions are currently at 1.1 per day as I write this on 12/4/14 and I would like to see this site survive but I believe it needs to be more open as well allow for some of the more obscure questions that may come from the technologically (and sometimes socially) challenged people of StackExchange.

I think it could be more welcoming and give some people some stumbling room but also guide their behavior vs. hammering down the mold instantly.

I would propose that a more beginner question class be created that is something like the following to encourage beginners to get their questions out there and for those more experienced and very experienced an opportunity to answer (and not just the moderators) but also us not doing all of their research for them. As the site stats says itself, good lively sites have multiple answers by multiple users.

Off the top of my head I still see this as more Who, What, Where, When questions vs. the How. This would also drive up our search engine generated traffic which per StackExchange standards a majority of traffic to the site should come from, not just from within its user base. We probably are not generating that much search engine traffic with our well honed & moderated questions today.

So basically moving more away from entirely the "methods" type questions that seem to be most prevalent (if not allowed currently) and towards opening it more up to the assist and "Breaking Down Brickwalls" as described in the "how-to".

I would suggest we come up with a more open but yet specific criteria to allow for these questions and if moderators do sweep in they fill in the missing pieces with label fields or something that shows the user has performed some research already and not asking a blind question with maybe an assigned thresh hold to be complete, otherwise put on hold. I am not clear if this should be in a comment vs. directly in the body.. but thinking template into body and comment and feedback in comment.

Bad Example:

I am looking for the Y-DNA strain of Queen Elizabeth

Moderated Example:

I am looking for the Y-DNA strain of Queen Elizabeth

Who: Which one?
Year: ?
Location: *England?*
Where have you already looked?

Clarification in Comment: Do you mean mtDNA as Y-DNA comes from father and would be her fathers or are you     looking for a specific tracer?

Bad Example:

I am looking for the parents of John Jacob Jingleheimer Smidt [sic]"

Moderated Example:

I am looking for the parents of John Jacob Jingleheimer Smidt [sic]"
First Names of Children: ?
Location: ?
Time Period: ?
Mother's First Name (if Known)?
Father's First name (if Known)?
Where have you already looked?

Yes the templating is less personal, but it also can be better than down votes, and a lot of comments by the moderators too, but it still holds the question asker responsible showing they have done some homework already and asked to explain themselves. Then if after a given time period the user has not returned to fill in those blanks to meet some of the "I've done at least some homework already", then the topic put on hold or closed. What I have at least observed in other forums is the community moderates through vote rewards and as long as it follows guidelines is let to flow.

Another thing for consideration.. the moderators of this board all seem pretty knowledgable and experienced too, but seem quick to reply on most posts currently.

Moderators actively participating in forums is essential but the dominating forum can also be bad as it discourages others from replying especially if an answer (even if extremely helpful) is a "you should go check here" vs. a specific answer.. as titles and high reputations matter on the user experience on a site like this. It is almost like a executive stopping by a local office and trying to assist and encourage the new guy on how he should be doing something and even though he is being helpful the new guy thinks they really screwed up because an executive took their time to jump in and say "Hey didn't you read the manual, this is the way it should be done."

We all started out as beginners.. lets build more experts by helping them and honing their methods while also learning ourselves.

Also, please do not take this post wrong. I think the moderators are doing a wonderful job on keeping quality up.. but I have a sense that for the site to grow and be more dynamic they need to let it grow beyond that personal BBS feel.

I don't expect everyone to agree and my example moderation / entry level class questions would need further refinement.. but I wanted to get the conversation started.

Just a thought..

Update about 6 hours after original post: Added text related to "What has the user already done" in the template examples.


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