I haven't had enough gumption to work on my own research lately, so to fire up my imagination and take a bit of a break, I've been watching videos on YouTube, particularly the Ancestry.com videos that describe how their pros do searches. (Many of these are archived from Live presentations; the people who watched Live had the opportunity to chat with the presenter afterwards.)
In one of the videos, Crista Cowan said that she could tell from the comments she was getting in chat that some of her audience wasn't able to apply the concepts from her case studies to their own research. So she took even more care than usual to emphasize the basic ideas in her talk and to encourage her viewers to apply the same techniques in their own searches.
If that is true of the majority of people asking genealogy questions on the Internet (big if, but I'll address that in a moment), then the new user's inability to apply the concepts shown in a case study is going to be a big stumbling block in sustaining Genealogy.SE as well.
I didn't understand the SE way the first time it was described to me, but once I got here and saw the strengths of this format, I quickly came to appreciate it. My (limited) experience of genealogy communities was either with forums (which on a lot of sites are on rather old and unsophisticated technology), with query boards, or with what I like to call comment chains on blogs and sites like Facebook.
And it seemed like what usually happened was this. Someone posts a question about a particular family line and they don't give much information, so the only people willing or able to answer will be the ones who already know the answer. Whether the question is meant as cousin-bait or not doesn't really matter -- if none of the forum regulars are already working on that line, and no one knows the answer, no one will answer, so the question just sits there. Or, if someone is working that line, very often the two users will take their conversation private, so there's no useful information left behind for others who come later. That happened even on the RootsWeb Mailing lists, which otherwise seemed to have a higher level of discourse.
However, I learned very early on, when using the query board Curious Fox, if you post your question as a puzzle, and give enough information that someone that isn't already familiar with the family and area can get their teeth into the problem, you'll attract the people who like a good challenge, and then you'll get answers, whether they know your family or not. I left a very detailed query about specific things I wanted to know, and got very specific, helpful answers from another user who took up the challenge of working that problem.
Because of that experience, I came to SE already knowing that you had to make your questions something interesting that people would want to work on. And since I had read several good how-to books on genealogy when I was first starting out, I came to SE already knowing the value of reading a case study, and knowing how to mine someone else's case study for ideas on how to solve my own problems.
I like to answer questions on SE because I learn about things when I answer someone else's question, and if I think about how I would write up a question for SE, and then how I might answer a question like that, I discover things I had forgotten to research. So I think the format has tremendous value for people doing genealogy, and I want the site to succeed.
The challenge for G&FH.SE is: how do we get across, in a nice way, that the reason a lot of people are stuck is that they aren't asking the right questions? (Or, as Crista said in her video, that they have blocked themselves?) And that we can give them better answers if they tell us more information about what they've already done? How do we convey that there are other ways to get information than simply asking for help from people who are working on the same line as you are?
SE can be very effective at smashing down brick walls, if the new users can grasp the idea that the SE way is so very different from the other forums and query boards, and give us something to work with.
I'm thinking about the recent question How to find death record from late 19th century New York (State)? where I wrote up what I thought was an okay answer (given the limited information we were given to work with) and was told "oh, I've already looked in all those places". (This happens all the time when I'm recommending books; someone will ask for a recommendation and I'll suggest a bunch of books and they'll say "oh I've read those already" but when I ask what their favorites were and what they liked about them, they can't always articulate it, and they don't see the purpose of my asking.)
I just don't know how to break that mindset that some people have of only working on their own families, and not thinking about the larger view. In addition to letting people know that they can get the answer to their questions here, how can we get the idea across that if you answer someone else's question, you build skills that can help you with your own problems? And that it isn't always necessary to have people familiar with that family line in order to crack a problem?
I know there are other Meta questions about how to encourage people to write up a summary of the work that they've done already, and discussions of the elevator pitch, and I'll go review those (pointers welcome). But I wanted to toss this out, because it bugged me to hear Crista say that her audience just wasn't seeing the point of the case studies she was using to illustrate her talks.
Maybe this is more of a big deal to me because I come from an academic background, but I still remember how exciting it was to have people come back from the field with the things they were working on. They would present questions from their fieldwork that they were stuck on, and ask for our input. They wanted our opinions, about real questions that no one knew the answer to yet. And what we had to say really mattered -- it wasn't just for a grade. It was fun.
I want to convey to people that writing up a summary of your work so far is actually helpful in itself, as well as making it easier for someone else to suggest ways to answer your question. It isn't just asking people to jump through hoops before we answer them, because we feel like it. It's what SE is for -- to be able to present your tough cases to an intelligent audience who can help you with your problem.