5

I've been concerned about a lack of knowledgeable users on the site since, well, it was two days out of private beta. Looking at the most recent site evalutation, I'm not convinced that we have the right mix of users on the site to fulfill our motto: expert answers to your [gardening] questions. I decided to ask around in The Garden Shed and it seems we do have some professionals among us. I've also personally benefited with answers from people who are more knowledgeable than I am. But judging from answers to the sample questions, we could use some more experienced gardeners.

What can those of us who have an interest in Gardening do to attract more knowledgable gardeners?

  • could you define what you mean by an "expert"? Are we talking academic credentials, years in the commercial industry, so many thousands of dollars billed, so many hours in one's garden? – kevinsky Sep 12 '13 at 23:33
  • @kevinsky: I see from the answers and your comment, that I used the wrong term. Like any Stack Exchange site, I consider "experts" to be people who are good at answering questions knowledgeably. – Jon Ericson Sep 13 '13 at 0:02
  • @Jon Ericson, I could not agree more with your call for expertise. There is constant posting of grossly inaccurate answers on this site which garner plus votes. It seems that a lot of contributors here have acquired high status based on frequency of answers as opposed to quality. It's frustrating, but how can this be governed? – Brenn Mar 2 '17 at 3:29
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I suppose I could be considered an expert in gardening because I did the study and have qualifications, though I don't like the term. The point about horticulture is its variable, its not like coding - make a mistake with coding and the programme won't work, or will glitch, but that's not always true with horticulture. In the 40 years I've been in this field, I've met 'amateur' gardeners who have specialised in a group of plants, and now have become 'expert' regarding those, without any scientific knowledge or qualification, and others who have methods not written down anywhere. There is a very long history of human beings growing things, and most of them have managed to do that without the benefit of instruction in, say, gas exchange, root initiation, plant hormones, etc. The point is to do what works, whether that be backed up by science or not.

The other point I'd make is that often, a question posted does not require any kind of scientific answer, necessarily. An explanation of the fact that your tree being covered in ants is merely a symptom of another problem is useful, but for the average person with a problem, they don't want to hear about cation exchange or the krebs cycle, they just want to know what's wrong and what to do to put it right. So I'm not at all sure that a concentrated focus on science and scientific answers is particularly useful, and will certainly put off ordinary gardeners who don't have much knowledge, but like to grow plants.

I'd use the example of children - when they ask a question, parents are advised to answer only the question that has been asked, and not end up giving a half an hour lecture covering the entire subject asked about. Adults aren't much different - if they want to know whether it's 'safe' to use a particular chemical, they don't want to have to read a dissertation which doesn't even give a clear answer. An insistence on scientific explanation and being an 'expert' may well deter knowledgeable amateurs from participating on this site, in particular when it comes to answering questions.

Striking a balance between experience, scientific horticultural knowledge and common sense is critical if you want to build both a community, and have useful, accurate information. As for 'experts' in horticulture, I have heard at least two well known gardening experts in the UK be disparaging about that term, for they know that, although they have all the right qualifications and a lot of experience, they still find new information from amateurs when they visit their gardens. Life is infinitely variable, and horticulture deals with life.

I guess I should also add that I feel differently about information - my feeling is information is free and should be freely exchanged, so that's what I do. But I do recognise that other people earn their living from disseminating information, so before I get the kickback, I realise it's ridiculously idealistic to say it should be free, but each to his own.

  • In the US people don't like to be called expert gardeners either. There's a program through the university cooperative extension offices where you can get qualified to call yourself a Master Gardner. :) – OrganicLawnDIY Sep 12 '13 at 2:30
  • @OrganicLawnDIY I'd consider myself an expert, but then I really wasn't around the site when this question was applicable. – J. Musser Oct 21 '14 at 13:32
5

Find out what questions experts ask and ask those questions.

Taking a page out of Jeff's blog post, we should figure where expert gardeners hang out on the internet and watch for unanwered questions that might be suitable for this site. If we can get great answer to these questions (this is a chicken-and-egg problem, of course), it's possible to introduce an expert to the site with an answer to their question.

Failing this, if there's a great question on the site that doesn't have an adequate answer, it's an opportunity to invite an expert to chime in. This technique only works if someone has established a relationship with an expert gardener. Otherwise, it can come off as spammy or help-vampirish. We want people to be excited about sharing their knowledge and not annoyed.

One of the best ways to attract experts is to ask the questions they are interested in answering. Simply re-asking questions that experts ponder increases the odds that experts will find the site, lend their hand at an answer, and become hooked. It's hard work, but I think the results will be well worthwhile.

Please provide alternate answers to this question with your ideas. If you try something out, let us know the results!

3

I agree with John Ericson's answer. So won't reiterate his points.

Disclaimer:
When I refer to the scientific process here, I am not making an argument for or against organic vs scientific gardening, I am NOT addressing this issue at all. I am not saying a gardening expert has to be a scientist, I am referring to the process that improves knowledge base as a way to maintain a quality site.


My background:

I do not profess to be an expert in gardening. I have been a gardener my whole life, I learnt to garden from helping my mother and grandfather garden. My grandfather learnt to garden from growing up on a farm. So my knowledge and experience comes from this; watching gardening shows, reading articles and exchanging ideas. I have practical, expertise in the immediate environment I live in, as I have spent over 4 decades working within it. So I would qualify myself as a user of the site as a consumer, rather than an expert providing good answers.

I am replying to this post, as I have a keen interest in the success of SE beta sites.


Many of the beta sites have difficulty in maintaining that balance between quality, expert posts and just struggling to get posts on the board.

This question posted on SE Cognitive Sciences Meta, discusses this issue, from a slightly different viewpoint, but in essence it's the same topic.
Striking a balance between citations and common sense in answers

There's a few issues:

SE is reknown for it's programming expertise, it is linked in the MSDN (Microsoft Developer Network) searches, along with all the Microsoft site links. Currently, this is Stack's most notable achievement.

To gain the same credibility for other Stack sites, just takes time and careful moderation to foster the community.

I agree with Randy, that the commercial aspects of gardening are a, potential, hindrance in this current socio-economic climate. One way to circumvent this is to rely on scientific methodology. As with the success of StackOverflow, there is nothing lost in an individual's commercial interests, in promoting good coding practices. In fact, as an industry, it is beneficial to encourage good coding practices. Just as in the sharing and pooling of scientific resources, this assists the scientific community.

The scientific method is a body of techniques for investigating phenomena, acquiring new knowledge, or correcting and integrating previous knowledge.1 To be termed scientific, a method of inquiry must be based on empirical and measurable evidence subject to specific principles of reasoning.2 ...

The chief characteristic which distinguishes the scientific method from other methods of acquiring knowledge is that scientists seek to let reality speak for itself,[discuss] supporting a theory when a theory's predictions are confirmed and challenging a theory when its predictions prove false. ...

Scientific inquiry is generally intended to be as objective as possible in order to reduce biased interpretations of results. Another basic expectation is to document, archive and share all data and methodology so they are available for careful scrutiny by other scientists, giving them the opportunity to verify results by attempting to reproduce them. This practice, called full disclosure, also allows statistical measures of the reliability of these data to be established (when data is sampled or compared to chance).

So my suggestion is this:
I would discourage dissention within your community. When applying the scientific process, there is value in many gardening methods. The old, the new. A good site provide alternatives and it is the mix of alternative solutions that will keep people engaged.

This site is totally voluntary, and unless an individual wants to invest, with venture capital, there is no point for people to complain about loss of business. Stack Overflow has proven, that good contributions there, only enhances a person's reputation within the programming community; and in turn, any possible business endeavours. Having said this, this is accumulated over time and with consistent contribution.

The key factors are this:

  • The way to maintain a quality site, is to use the vote and flag system methodically to teach users, what is welcome and what is not. This system has proved to be successful.
  • For the core users of the community to try to work with consensus, and maintain focus away from gratuitous disagreement about gardening practices on the site, and, instead, to focus on providing quality answers.
  • Stay on-topic. Don't let personal agenda or personalities affect the quality of your posts.

As experts cannot be solicited to contribute here, the only way to make people consider the site is worthwhile is by providing a degree of "professionalism" within the conduct of the community. From there, quality answers grow.

My ten cents.

-1

Gardening is competitive, where people have invested interests in products or a methodology of gardening. Experts may not want to contribute because they sell their skills in seminars and consulting or have products with sales that depend on a public believing a certain way. Experts may be biased as to a type of gardening, for instance organic gardening is fashionable these days, therefore if you want to sell your products, you will be biased in your information. This is in stark contrast to any other SE site. In math, physics, chemistry, biology, auto repair, home improvement, cognitive science, seasoned advice, skeptics, etc, etc there are no two opposing philosophies which are competiting for credibility. Additionally, if the gardening site is predominantly organic gardeners, then more scientific gardeners won't fit in and will leave. This dichotomy must be resolved if SE is to be a source of factual information instead of merely popular information.

Therefore, it's not necessary to have experts per se, but it's necessary to have people who aren't biased in their thinking or have invested interest in perpetuating a biased thinking and who seek to learn and become experts one day. These are the people who will have motivation to provide factual content to the site... those who are still in the process of becoming experts.

I also think Are chemical fertilizers poisonous to people or animals? is a good example. Here we have a simple Q n A where an answer has been posted which doesn't answer the question, but strays off into a debate tangential to the question and which displays an obvious bias. If you open an encyclopedia to find the toxicity of a compound, and instead you find a commentary about how you should not be worried about toxicity, but the impact to the environment or some other tangential topic, would you feel that is a factual source of information? If you're an expert in the field, would you want to contribute to such an encyclopedia?

Here is another example What is the best way to sow grass seed in high rainfall areas? where the question wasn't answered, but deliberately not answered in favor of commentary based on assumptions (incorrect ones as it turned out).

These types of answers would never be accepted in many other SE sites. The garden site seems to be the only community I'm aware of where straying off-topic and NOT answering questions is actively encouraged. If you're an expert, would you want to participate in such an environment?

  • 2
    It seems pretty obvious to me what's going on here. This is a Q&A site. You're using it your personal wiki/blog. If someone answers one of the questions you intended to answer yourself and that answer gets voted higher than yours you get defensive in comments. It's not just with me. See gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/8325/what-is-acid-soil I'm not sure you understand the concept of how a site like this is supposed to work. – OrganicLawnDIY Sep 9 '13 at 10:23
  • @OrganicLawnDIY I'm not sure you understand how to post factual answers. If you would post the truth, I would be saying "good answer!" like I've done in the past. All I want to do is get the truth into print without a bunch of falsehoods to contend with. If you have an issue with my Q n A, take it up with the owners blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/07/… – Randy Sep 9 '13 at 18:26
  • "If you're an expert, would you want to participate in such an environment?" Oh yeah! – J. Musser Oct 21 '14 at 13:45
-1

Here are my thoughts on the matter...

There are a bunch of already established gardening forums with active communities. The "experts" have already found their home in them. Other experts have built their own homes along the lines of new forums, blogs, facebook pages, twitter, etc.

If they build their own presence they derive benefits from it including more control, a way to promote themselves and the possibility of earning revenue either by advertising their own services and products or by earning revenue from ads and affiliates.

Information has value. What is the benefit for experts to give that value to a site like this rather than to keep it to themselves? That's not a criticism of the site but it's a question you want to think about if you want more expert participation. (When I say value, I'm not implying money.) Also for manufacturers and retailers they already have a few main channels that they use to interact with their customers. They don't want to add another "inbox".

I don't like the way Jeff handled his example. He copied Tim Bray's tweet verbatim with absolutely no attribution as to its source. That's no better than what a scraper site would do. A friendlier, more organic way to do it would be to tweet back at Tim with something like "Hey try asking at apple.stackexchange.com" and hope he joins and asks the question.

I've also seen people asking questions just to have the question on here then they copy and paste the answer (including graphics) from other sites just to add that information on G&L. Again, just like a scraper site. As I'm writing this I see a perfect example. Are chemical fertilizers poisonous to people or animals?

These types of things seem to go against the principles of the site and if it continues then there's a risk of becoming nothing more than a spammy answer site.

Communities don't develop overnight and forcing it to can cause problems. Don't take the walled garden approach and feel you have to have an answer for every question. All that does is create pages with duplicate content.

Let's say an expert sees referrer traffic from SE to their site and visits the pages. Then they see someone copying and pasting entire sections from their own site to answer a question. How would that make them feel about the site? Would that make them want to participate?

The stack exchange network already has a good core set of users that like how SE works. These users have varied interests beyond the boards they currently follow. Make sure they know about the other sites in the network. From looking at the profiles of some of the regulars here it seems that there are a lot of people with a tech background that joined GL after using other SE sites. These are the people that are going to be the experts of G&L. I'm sure there are more out there on other sites that have an interest in gardening and landscaping, who like how SE works and would enjoy contributing. Help them find this site.

SE does do some things better than other sites that can help attract more experts. Some sites are very strict when it comes to linking to your own pages which SE is not as long as you're not just spamming links. I've even seen sites where they charge businesses to participate on their forums which just sends them away. You can only do that if you're the absolute top destination for those customers to begin with.

I don't know that I'd call myself an expert but over the years I've gained a lot of knowledge about organic lawn care and gardening. I stopped participating in a lot of forums and created my own site a few years ago when I realized my knowledge had value and I didn't just want to give that away to another site for them to make money. The reason I began participating on SE is because I like the format, I visit other SE sites and I like that my participation can help build awareness of my own site. My site I feel also helps reinforce any answers I provide on here so people can see I have some experience in the matters I'm talking about.

Let's go back to what Jeff did. Imagine I didn't create an account here and I just browsed the site and whenever I saw a question I could answer I copied it and posted it to my own site and answered it there. How would you guys feel about that? Probably not too good I'm guessing. It's not a friendly way of doing things and it doesn't help build a community.

There are even content mills that pay users one way or another for their contributions. So what do experts get out of sharing their valuable knowledge on SE? Another question to consider. (Again, not implying it should be money. I don't like content mills or scraper sites in general.) Like I said, for me it's exposure for my own site. When I respond to a question it's not just with a link to my own site (if applicable). I answer the question but also provide a link if I can that adds to my answer or supports it in some way. This is allowed by SE's policies and I think the way SE does things is one of the more equitable ways of doing it. The asker benefits from my participation, as does SE and I get a little something for my time too.

The example of the previous thread I mentioned I feel is the wrong way to go for a number of reasons. Don't copy content. Don't try to be wikipedia. Become a hub of information and build a community based on existing users on other parts of SEN.

Also wanted to add... I am not active in other SE sites but I visit them frequently when looking for tech or development related questions. Other answer and "how to" sites I skip over in search results. The reason I don't do that with SE is because I trust the quality of the information. If GL doesn't reflect that same quality and becomes a manually created scraper site, my opinion changes and it becomes I site I don't feel worth participating in anymore and I'll tend to skip over it in search results too. I'm sure SE won't miss me :) but I don't think I'd be the only one feeling that way.

  • I agree that what Jeff did with Tim Bray's question is not exactly what I'd recommend. And, of course, copying without attribution or when the author adds nothing in particular of value, is a no-no across the network for many of the reasons you suggest. I'd also suggest that a healthy site has participation from folks on the network and experts in the subject matter. If some people are both, so much the better! – Jon Ericson Sep 9 '13 at 19:47
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    @JonEricson My interest in participating in G&L has been fading. It's not what I expected a SE site to be like based on other sites. Have you tried contacting the people that you identified as "experts" that no longer participate and ask them why they no longer do? Not a spammy "we missed you <$username> at G&L" form letter. There's not a lot of them. Identify the contributions you liked, tell them you want more people like them on GL and you're curious why they left. Just don't make it sound like a pathetic, "accidental" butt dial to an ex. :) – OrganicLawnDIY Sep 9 '13 at 20:29
  • @OrganicLawnDIY Basically, the best thing you can do on this site is lead by example. I think, if everyone on the site was a clone of me, it would be fine. :P It looks to me that three out of the top four users could be considered experts, and have been taking care of the questions. – J. Musser Oct 21 '14 at 13:43

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