I - PREAMBLE
We're now a little over 2/3rds into our beta phase and as of now, our site stats at Area51 show 3.6 questions/day, with 99% answered. There have been some concerns regarding the low volume of questions (man, we had 4.8 then!) in the past and the low "avid users" count of 89 and visits/day of 152 are also causes for concern. While the benchmarks set at Area51 are highly optimistic and not every proposal can attain them, one factor that's not explicitly shown in the stats and is very critical for a site to graduate (and it's eventual success) is a healthy and active user base. In fact, I'd even go on to claim that other stats (like questions/day and visits/day) are dependent on this.
Right now, we have several interesting, high quality questions (96 questions have the "nice question" badge, which is nearly 20% of all questions) and several top-notch answers on this site. The effort that some users put into researching their answers is indeed very remarkable! However, if you've been spending time on this site, you would've noticed that only a very small subset of users are active in nearly every activity - questions, voting, answering, editing, etc.
We need to grow! We need to reach out to the other users, and also expand our user base so that we have diversity in the questions, answers and more importantly, so that we don't become over dependent on a tiny fraction of users hence over burdening them. Such a claim shouldn't be made without evidence to back it up, so here's some stats.
II - USER ACTIVITY STATISTICS:
NOTE: All the data in the following charts/graphs is publicly available and was obtained using the StackExchange API. You may also skip this section if you're pressed for time.
Distribution of users with <1k rep
At the time of processing this, we had a total of 533 users, and only 13 have more than 1k rep. How do the rest of the users stack up? Each interval below is 50 rep points.
Nearly 83% of the users fall well below the threshold for the "avid user" classification and 233 of them (43%) have exactly 101 rep that they automatically get from associating their accounts. Several of the sub 1k users have tremendously slowed down their activity from the initial buzz of private/public beta. In the graph below, showing the reputation from users <1k rep, a good chunk of them have reduced their activity from 500-800 rep/month to ~40-50 rep/month, most of which comes from trickle upvotes from old questions & answers (the thick lines are crudely added for visual guidance). I guess the point I'm trying to make here is that even if we hit the target for the number of "avid users" on Area51, it still isn't enough because our "active" user base is small.
Let me make one point clear though: there is nothing wrong with these users not participating. Most of us have accounts on other sites which we created because we thought we might participate, but now use it just to lurk around and dole out upvotes sparingly, if any. That's perfectly fine and we cannot and must not hold anything against them and in fact, should be thankful for their participation early on (every little bit counts).
However, we must be cognizant of the fact that it does artificially inflate the user base and give the appearance of having more users than we actually do. We need to look past this and actively start looking at publicizing our site and drawing in users who are genuinely interested and get them involved in building up this community. Perhaps all that these users are looking for, is a well developed and vibrant community - something that's so different from when they left it in beta, that it'll blow their minds out.
Distribution of users by upvotes
Voting is central to the Stack Exchange way of things and each user is given the privilege to upvote content at as low as 15 rep. Although each user is given up to 40 votes per day, only 17 users have the Suffrage badge for voting 30 times in a day and 11 have the Vox Populi badge for using up all 40 votes.
Voter apathy is not new and is a common issue plaguing other SE sites. However, it appears that a very small number of users participate in voting regularly. 458 users (86%) have sufficient rep to vote up content, yet only 25 users (4.7%) have given out at least 50 upvotes over the entire two month period. This is definitely not looking good. Here's the break down for users with less than 50 votes (each interval is 5 upvotes).
326 (61.2%) users have given out less than 5 upvotes and 186 (34.9%) have not voted at all! In addition to an informal statement on their participation & contributions, even mundane janitorial tasks (retagging, editing without approval, voting to close/delete etc.) are closely tied to one's reputation.
There is no easier or better way to say this, but please upvote good content!. That's the least a user can do in terms of participation. Reputation of the community as a whole is integral in determining its "worth".
Contribution of users with rep >1k
Earlier on, I had alluded to overburdening the top users. So how exactly do their contributions rank among the rest of the users? The following charts show the details (Note:
1: rep ≥ 1k, 2: 150 ≤ rep < 1k, 3: rep <150)
Users with > 1k rep account for more than 50% of all upvotes given out, nearly 67% of all answers on the site, and about 25% of questions asked. While by the very nature of reputation, these users (on an average) are bound to have a larger slice of the "% of answers pie", they constitute only 2.4% of the total user base! More than the percentage, the extremely small number of users who account for most of the activity is what's worrying. I must confess, these numbers are a lot lower than what I had expected them to be, before I looked at the data.
The reason why we're keen on growing our list of active/top users is that without a ever growing, dynamic community, this will just become an online playground for a few of us and the site will remain in beta forever.
III - HOW DO WE GROW/PUBLICIZE?
What we're mainly looking for, is an organic growth (steady and manageable) without resorting to spamming anyone. Sudden, unexplained spikes in our growth are in general not healthy, especially in the absence of a mature community, because that's a whole lot of users to train all at once and might end up with a higher turnover rate than a steady growth. Some of the (well known) ways of publicizing that come to mind are:
If you have an active twitter account or Facebook account, a tweet to your followers or a Facebook wall post is a great way to give the site a shout out. These will reach out to folks who have a direct (presumably) online link to you and "trust" you (they are your "friend"/"follower" for a reason, right?).
There are several ways one could go about this. Did you just write up an awesome answer or did you happen to see one that was? Simply tweet the link! Does someone in your group have a gardening issue? Point them here!
I've seen that a few of you have been asking around for answers to questions on twitter, which is great! Please continue doing so. In addition, it would be nice if you also directed them to where you found the question (and perhaps encourage them to answer it themselves!).
If you have a personal blog, you could also write about your experience on the site, etc., and promote it. Blogs are great because they allow you to be more expressive and even share bits of what you learned from this site, instead of being restricted by a character limit.
Good ol' fashioned word-of-mouth
Do you talk about gardening with your neighbour/friends? Are you the go-to guy or do you have a go-to guy for gardening questions? Direct them here! Let them know that there's a site where they can ask and answer questions. If you're chums with your local gardening center (or even other wise), you could drop in a word as well.
IV - SUGGESTIONS
Of course, there are several other ways to publicize, and we'd love to hear your thoughts and suggestions. Please feel free to share ideas that an individual, from the comfort of their home or without too much effort, can use to promote the site. In addition, we also encourage you to suggest ideas for site promotion that the Stack Exchange team can help us with.
While we haven't asked nor have they (SE) promised any support for promotional ideas, I'm certain that reasonable requests will not be hard to sell.