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We all love Genealogy & Family History Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

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As one of the less experienced researchers who has tried to ask those "double-duty" questions, and a moderator on a successful StackExchange (Mathematica - check out the time I used it to help my genealogical research), I hope my observations are useful:

  • G&FH has a huge amount of potential (and I dearly want it to succeed) and the topic does lend itself to the SE Q&A model. Genealogy questions are practical questions, and answers are answers, not just opinions. It's about records and evidence. The site doesn't risk devolving into a subjective discussion forum. That's good.

  • However, it is seriously struggling for lack of questions. This is odd because it should be possible to write all sorts of not too localized questions, e.g. Which is the most complete collection of parish records for that county? Where is a good source for X century wills? I've held back from asking questions just to boost the question rate, but rather only done so when I'm genuinely stumped and I think I can construct a question that does do double duty - which is harder than it might seem at first.

  • one thing that I think might help is more self-answered questions. There is a bit of an art to doing this without sounding contrived, but a well constructed self-answer can be very useful to future visitors and is expressly encouraged in the StackExchange model.

I thnk we also need to acknowledge that, unlike Mathematica.SE, which was filling an unmet need, G&FH has competition from established forums attached to the major genealogy websites. So it will be more of a job to attract more audience.

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  • I agree about the competition -- I've said elsewhere we launched into a saturated market. Self-answered questions has some mileage (although I might wait to post my own answer to see if anyone steps in first). – user104 Jun 9 '13 at 16:33
  • I like the idea of more self-answered questions. – user47 Jun 11 '13 at 16:13
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My initial observation based on doing the review:

We have a number of good questions which are ostensibly specific about named ancestors, but which each illustrate a more general question (e.g. what records are available for a particular locality at a particular time, what techniques work when attacking a certain kind of 'brick wall', how to assess the reliability of conflicting sources).

However, somebody searching for answers to the more general problem is unlikely to find our very specific 'worked example'. They're almost certain to find it if they're interested in the specific named individuals, but we need to be more generally useful if we're to attract new users via search engines (which is where the majority of our traffic comes from and is expected to come from).

Should we be making the effort to word/re-word the specific questions about ancestors to indicate that there's a general aspect as well (the person asking may not know that, but people answering often do). Or to ensure that our answers highlight the technique/sources/whatever as well as address the specific ancestors?

For absolute clarity, I'm not saying that questions about specific ancestors are "wrong" in any sense; I'm asking how we can leverage them to appeal to a wider audience.

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    It's almost like questions here need community-driven subtitles. "Where can I find more information on X" subtitle: "How do I access Ellis Island records online?" – fbrereto Jun 3 '13 at 15:59
  • Could we achieve this aim of placing a person-specific question in its broader context of a generalisable genealogical problem or procedure by the more focused use of appropriate tags? – Fortiter Jun 26 '13 at 0:19
  • @Fortiter, IMO double duty needs to be built (or edited) into the question, not simply tagged on. – user104 Jun 26 '13 at 11:42
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    I like this double-duty idea. Acknowledging the underlying theme, without taking away from the OP's desire for help with a certain ancestor. Names definitely draw people... I've landed on many a Q&A board just from google searching a name (that I otherwise never would have looked at). – Canadian Girl Scout Jul 10 '13 at 2:42
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Hitchhiking on another answer (https://genealogy.meta.stackexchange.com/a/1690/157), I think we need even more 'specific about named ancestors' questions. Most people just want the answer to their 'actual problems they face' - which usually something like 'who was so and so's mother?'. I agree teaching people to fish is good, but I maintain that there are more hits on 'names' than on 'how to'. Many other genealogy websites drive traffic from people with common ancestors. We should try to drive more hits with more 'specific ancestor' content. The relatively few people currently active could drive much more 'specific ancestor' content than 'how to' content.

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  • I don't disagree, as long as they're real questions and not merely 'cousin-bait'. – user104 Jun 4 '13 at 12:38
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    Actually, I do disagree -- in aggregate, there may be more hits for 'specific ancestor' questions (especially if they dominate here) but each specific question is likely to get less hits than a general one. I also think there's a lot of mileage in 'How do I research event X (say, a marriage) in place Y (say, Massachusetts) in timescale Z (say 1760s)' -- a lot of people want to go to the original sources to do their own research, and we should be encouraging that. – user104 Jun 4 '13 at 12:46
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    I'm not disagreeing we need 'how to' Q&A. I'm just saying we also need ancestor questions as well. We are more slanted to 'how to' at moment – Duncan Jun 5 '13 at 1:38
  • I'm saying we should make a question do double-duty if it can. – user104 Jun 7 '13 at 13:18
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    I agree with double duty questions, and with double duty answers – Duncan Jun 7 '13 at 23:56
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Final Results

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  • Am I correct in interpreting these data to mean that 11 members of the community (from 89 "avid" users and 653 others) attempted the survey and one of them stopped after the first two examples? We need to exercise appropriate caution before drawing any conclusions. – Fortiter Jun 11 '13 at 4:24
  • @Fortiter, 11 members of the community reviewed the survey and all of them completed it; however, nobody gets to review their own question, so a number of questions were only offered to 10 individuals. I agree we need to treat results with caution but there may be some conclusions we can draw about the opinions of the most-engaged members of the community. – user104 Jun 11 '13 at 7:22
  • So only people who have asked questions in the past undertook the survey on question quality. That introduces quite a (self-)selection bias. – Fortiter Jun 12 '13 at 1:24
  • @Fortiter, the selection of questions for the survey is automated and random. The users are self-selected -- the ones who are motivated enough to notice it's happening and click through to do it. On our site, a reasonably high proportion of questions are asked by our most active users, who also tend to be the ones who bother to do the survey. There's a very low probability that somebody who has not engaged with the site regularly -- either answering or asking -- will do the survey. – user104 Jun 12 '13 at 6:54
  • one of the conclusions we can draw is wrt participation in the assessment. Is it normally this low on other sites? – Duncan Jun 15 '13 at 12:59
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I completed the survey and resolved not to comment on what changes I thought I saw since the last time. I have flogged that particular horse enough.

However, I cannot let pass the opportunity to draw attention to a meta-discussion occuring on another SE site that I enjoy. Is EL&U declining? looks depressingly familiar.

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    You can find that discussion on every SE site, on a depressingly cyclical basis. As you've pointed out, there are certain things inherent in the SE model that mean it isn't ever going to have the popularity of (say) Yo A*****s. But I'm getting fed up flogging the horse that says we shouldn't be aiming to duplicate Yo's quality standards, so I'm going to shut up and go away. – user104 Jun 7 '13 at 13:27
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Feedback to survey creators - I am on a mac air with wide/short screen. I can't fill out the survey on this machine because the 'instructions' (which remain overlayed no matter how I scroll) take up too much of the screen. If I shrink the overall font size to so I can see more of screen, it's too small to read by the time it fits. I'll need to fill out questionaire on another computer which is a pain.

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    Might be better to post this a a bug report (here or on Meta Stackoverflow) -- it won't get noticed by the people who need to see it otherwise. – user104 Jun 4 '13 at 12:41

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