I was recently involved in a moderator election on another Stack Exchange site and the question that made me think the hardest was:

What do you think is the biggest problem facing this SE? Do you think there needs to be any changes made to the policy or rules - what would you suggest?

I would like to ask the users of G&FH SE the same question i.e. what do you think is the biggest problem facing the Genealogy and Family History Stack Exchange, and what policy/rule change would you suggest to address it?

If you think there is more than one big problem, then I recommend using more than one answer to describe each individually so that we can use votes to float the one(s) perceived by our community to be the biggest to the top.


Not enough questions, pure and simple.

Questions needs answers, and scope to answer attracts regular users. Without interesting questions, it's hard to attract more users and more traffic. Obviously high-quality questions are better than low-quality questions. But even bad questions can be improved through editing. In my view, it's better to have more questions of modest initial quality than just a few questions.

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    I am in total agreement with you and I think anything that we can do to try to turn on a flow of questions (of any quality - until we can afford to be choosier) will benefit our site greatly. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 23 '14 at 7:10
  • May we add as a suggestion in the FAQ (if it isn't already there, and I missed it) to avoid titles that are yes/no questions? – Jan Murphy Mod Sep 27 '14 at 17:45
  • I just looked through our Meta and found an earlier Q&A that discusses this very issue. If I had not found it I was probably going to try and write a very similar question as a spin-off from this Q&A. It's title is How to increase our question rate? and I encourage anyone interested in this answer also consider looking at the earlier Q&A where it is never too late to vote or offer new answers. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 27 '14 at 23:45
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    I'd also like to add that weaker questions give newbies an opportunity to try their hand at editing. ...Maybe even earn a 'first edit' badge. (A useful skill, I'm sure we'd all agree ;) – Canadian Girl Scout Oct 4 '14 at 19:46
  • Hopefully we can start to try and address this via the Weekly Topic Challenge – PolyGeo Mod Oct 11 '14 at 0:39

Focus on English language and thereby no user base for curating questions from an international multilingual community. This is a huge problem, even for regular users, because e.g. Americans won't find help with their European, non-British ancestors.

  • I'm thinking hard about how/whether we can make G&FH SE more accessible to non-English speakers and more multilingual friendly because I think you are right about that being an untapped "market". – PolyGeo Mod Sep 27 '14 at 10:30
  • @JanMurphy What is our policy? – lejonet Sep 27 '14 at 23:48
  • Since I'm still a relatively new user of Stack Exchange, I didn't remember the SE policy, so I searched and found the Meta post which had a pointer to the post on the SE blog. The links are in my previous comment. I understand the philosophy expressed in the blog post -- there is a feeling that questions in English will get a wider audience. As long as someone has enough proficiency to make themselves understood, the rest of the community can help out with editing and polish. – Jan Murphy Mod Sep 28 '14 at 0:00
  • I was involved in a similar discussion at Meta GIS SE and through that my initial thinking changed somewhat. The links cited by @JanMurphy seem to make a much stronger case for "English only" on a programming site than they do for here and since they seem to reference StackOverflow almost exclusively I don't think they should be binding on us. I'm going to write up a separate Q&A for here. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 28 '14 at 3:48
  • My separate Q&A is now available here: meta.genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/1888/… – PolyGeo Mod Sep 28 '14 at 4:45

Genealogy.SE is demanding. A lot of genealogy message boards work like this: Users often have no precise questions ("searching everything on John Doe!1!") and often don't get specific answers (e.g. the first googled document that mentions some John Doe). But a certain amount of content of this kind attracts search engines and users that actually add benefit to such a site.

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    Its demanding format is something that draws me here in preference to any other Q&A, message/bulletin board, discussion forum site but I think we may be wise to try to become much less strict than some other (particularly programming) Stack Exchanges. Getting the right balance is likely to be challenging but I would certainly be keen to try and encourage some initially imprecise questions and then to gently try to help people split some more focussed ones out of them. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 27 '14 at 10:38
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    People elsewhere ask for information, cousins 'meet' and then talk about things off-site, which is no help to anyone else. I prefer SE's format but how to convince others? – Jan Murphy Mod Sep 27 '14 at 15:11
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    @JanMurphy I prefer it as well, don't get me wrong. – lejonet Sep 27 '14 at 23:45

No upvotes for good questions and answers the regulars are just not interested in (see no 1, one of our most visited questions at all has just seven votes for example). Good but late answers have no chance of getting voted up to compete with earlier but more generic answers.

  • I had not thought to look for them using a badge, and it is certainly interesting that highly upvoted and highly visited do not seem to be highly correlated. I've upvoted your other two answers but am holding off on this one for now because, using #2 on that list as an example (genealogy.stackexchange.com/questions/3845/…), I am not sure that lots of "relationship calculation" questions will help. On the separate aspect of good but late answers I think editing them occasionally (to make them active) may help. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 28 '14 at 0:21
  • @PolyGeo -- Is there a correlation between the age of the question and the number of views? – Jan Murphy Mod Sep 28 '14 at 6:12
  • @JanMurphy I suspect that it could be determined using the Stack Exchange Data Explorer but I don't have the SQL or statistics skills to drive that tool. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 28 '14 at 6:37
  • I would expect older questions to have more views simply by virtue of having been around longer. – Jan Murphy Mod Sep 28 '14 at 6:45
  • @JanMurphy I would expect the same i.e. cumulative views would go up even if view frequency tails off as they go "stale". I certainly think that once you have a lot of questions and answers out there on an SE site you start to see a "trailing commission" effect coming into play where suddenly you'll get another 5, 10, 15 or even 25 points from a question and/or answer you wrote 3-4 years ago that someone stumbled on or got back to. The community user bumping them occasionally can also contribute to this. – PolyGeo Mod Sep 28 '14 at 7:33
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    I agree. I feel that some users are very stingy on votes. Sometimes I wonder if they like the prestige of having significantly higher 'rep' than other people, and this keeps them from clicking. Votes cost you nothing (unless they are down votes); I think of them as the 'good-vibe currency' that keeps people coming round :) – Canadian Girl Scout Oct 4 '14 at 19:15

Part of the problem may be that we are fighting against a trend in genealogy (and in consumer-oriented computing in general) for "one-stop shopping" designed to lock users into ecosystems.

Example: I have a Windows computer, an Android phone, and an iPod. I suspect this is unusual because Apple has put a great deal of energy into providing an environment which is vertically-integrated.

In genealogy, Ancestry provides both a desktop product (Family Tree Maker) and the online resources of Ancestry.com. The Ancestry website is laughingly primitive when it comes to member-to-member communication, but the message inbox and member forums, ugly as they are, make it easy for people to sign up for Ancestry.com and never leave the 'walled garden'.

You can substitute 'Family Tree Builder' and 'My Heritage' and so on and the pattern repeats. Brightsolid is setting up the same scenario with FindMyPast because they are also setting up a family tree manager.

So the audience for FH&G.SE is automatically limited to the subset of users who are brave enough to actually do a search of sites like Google and find things outside of Ancestry.com or MyHeritage.com or whatever their chosen ecosystem might be.

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    Another consequence of the integration trend you described is that there are fewer questions like "where can I find ..." on the message boards. Messages in all forums have dropped off. With more digitization of records and easier discovery of matches with shaky leaves and hints, and wikis for the help in understanding record types, there is less need for the basic questions. – bgwiehle Sep 29 '14 at 12:49

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