Looking at the users here, you'll notice something. There are 3 active users over 30k, and then the next active users are well under 6k. It's almost like tiers. This is unnatural. About 3/4 of the users on that front page are no longer active. I believe many of them gained the rep at the beginning of the site, and left for various reasons.

That's all history now, though, and the only reason I'm bringing this up is that there is no way we as a site can move forward, until we create a much more balanced user base. If we graduated now, guess what would happen? There would be only 3 users (other than mods) with the 10k, 15k, 20k, and 25k privileges, for one thing.

I've created this question as a way for anyone interested in the site to post their ideas on how we can work together to create a healthy user base. I know more traffic would be nice. Please post any ideas/thoughts! This is an important issue, and the sooner we can work on it, the better.

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    Might one or more moderators be willing to chime in here? As of this writing, all three have less than 4,000 rep. Is part of it because you already have all the privileges that come with high rep? I could be way off base, but I'm wondering if, in general, that's a reason why some people slow down their participation after a certain rep level. Not accusing or assuming, and I know the hard work of running the site may be more important than the need for more rep. I'm just hoping to get an opinion from a moderator's perspective. Thanks! Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 14:12

8 Answers 8


Build a Bigger User Base

More users need to be pulled into the site and linger, using it as a resource and giving back by asking questions and answering them. The larger the user base the more of a hit it can take as some become disinterested in the site. You have to account for loss and find ways of having a higher retention rate on the users that have come to roost for a bit.

All of this occurs with more voting.

@kevinsky is right, it's a game

This is the ultimate in gamification of a QA site.

And that's the whole thing. There are reward mechanisms that have been implemented in the 'system' that are built around voting and reward. Have a good look at the badges. You get rewarded for certain activity whether it be editing old posts, reviewing posts, voting on questions more than answers, the list goes on.

The primary driver is voting

IMO building mid level users into higher level users comes from activity. Activity, in my mind, is answering questions with great answers. In order to have great answers there has to be lots of questions which creates high levels of activity in the site.

How do you get questions?

You get questions by having activity. I know it sounds strange, it's a bit of a chicken and the egg thing but if you need activity for search engine bots to see change on a page. The more change, the higher the ranking. A simple vote can be considered change. There is a human changing text on that webpage. So, the more pages with change in a site, showing activity yields search engine optimization (SEO) regarding the site and BAM...higher ranking in Google. A higher ranking in Google and other search engines, gets you more views, the more views, the more potential someone will linger and become a user, the more users, the more votes, the more votes, the better the optimization, the better the optimization the higher the traffic, the higher the traffic the more questions that are asked.....so the cycle goes.

Look at the Voting

This is where everything begins and ends.

Voting for the month

Voting for the quarter

It's better but needs a lot of improvement.

I wrote a meta answer awhile back regarding voting.

I stand by it. It's essential and solves almost all problems a site is having. This is a community thing. Connecting with new users with comments, asking questions that are great (whether you know the answer or not, users with more knowledge frequently create the best questions) and getting the message out about voting. Asking people, are you trying to get the electorate badge? How about civic duty?

Pull them in, make them feel welcome, ask interesting questions, vote more and reward all of the people out there that are contributing. Get a bigger user base and if some mid level rep users leave the user base for whatever reason, that's fine. Because the site is blossoming from activity and the community is rewarding one another for all of it.

Don't withhold approval, vote more. Reward, reward, reward.

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    I agree with everyone here. Even though your meta post has many views (from the featured tag) most of the people are doing the same as before. Finding a motivation would be cool.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 5:40
  • *everything ...
    – J. Musser
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 3:51
  • @J. Musser I've accidentally been raising the view count on this and three related questions here. I check for new edits, comments, or to read more clearly to prepare answers I haven't posted yet, (I promise I will soon!! :)). I use the same IP address and never log out, so I didn't think I could do that! SE Meta has lots of posts on the subject, most of which I don't understand, but, sadly, these posts are getting views from fewer people than we thought, and I wanted you to know that. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:14
  • @Sue You can't raise the view count much haha
    – J. Musser
    Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:17
  • @J.Musser Definitely not on this one! I added close to 10 on meta.gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/706/… and meta.gardening.stackexchange.com/questions/699/when-to-upvote, although even that isn't significant. I was just surprised I could do it at all! Is there any reason not to make this one Featured too? I think it would be cool. It might bring some users to meta who don't usually hang out here. Commented Feb 24, 2016 at 22:31
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    There was that highly voted question that made into the feed the other day. That's what happens when people vote on a question and multiple answers happen. Then this site get's exposure to the all of the other SE sites. This is exactly what Gardening needs. More of this. That was awesome.
    – Ppoggio
    Commented Feb 27, 2016 at 14:19
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    just wanna say, I got into SE a month ago because of trouble with my apple tree and am now hooked, happy to answer questions. just one success story :)
    – Nic
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:12
  • @Nic You are indeed a success story! 9 posts and 381 rep in less than a month (as of the day I wrote this) is awesome! Thanks for being such an important new member of this great community, and SE in general! Commented Mar 25, 2016 at 2:00

I've been hesitant to jump in here because much of what I feel has already been said, and very well. This is an important issue, though, so please forgive any redundancies. (Parts of this also apply to a few meta posts, including this.)

In addition to what J. Musser mentioned, there's a significant difference in some of the privileges once the site graduates. For instance, editing without needing review increases from 1k to 2k, and the ability to cast close and reopen votes leaps from 500 to 3k! Since some of us in the less than 3k group spend much of our time here just doing those tasks, the site will suffer more than we know if we graduate before finding a consistent system of moving people into a higher "tier."

So far, all of my "creative" ideas have been ruled out because SE doesn't allow much customization at individual sites. I'll keep thinking though, there must be something we can do!

In the meantime I'll add my two cents about voting, which is the backbone of entire SE system, and is a priority for me. I have Electorate, Civic Duty and other voting badges on 4 sites, am in the top group of voters even on graduated sites, and have held the top spot on GL in every category except "all" for a long time. Only recently have I really had to work for it, and I'm enjoying that! Thanks largely to these meta posts, and activity by users like Citizen, voting has increased, and the site has reaped the rewards! I hope it's not just a phase.

I've been doing a few things specifically targeted toward users who already have some rep, to try and push them into a higher tier. I recommend them to everyone.

  • Pay extra attention to older posts.
  • Check other sites for users we haven't seen in a while, and encourage them to come back.
  • Welcome people who are already in the SE network but are new here.

Pay extra attention to older posts. Older posts are often forgotten, so make a concerted effort to look at those, especially if they have only a few, if any, votes. That may indicate a user who can't participate here because they don't have enough rep. Or, you might find an established user that's never gotten beyond a certain rep level and drifted away. When appropriate, edit the post, bringing it to the front page where a new group of users gets a chance to vote on it, and obviously to learn. (For your own reward, there are badges for editors. Also, if you're competitive like me, you can follow the stats on the editors tab of the user page.) Adding a new answer helps too. It brings the question forward, offers new information, and gains rep for you!

Check other sites for users we haven't seen in a while, and encourage them to come back. Especially on older posts, I check the rep of all users involved, including the people who asked, answered, and commented. I then look at their network profiles. In many cases, people with some rep, but haven't been here in years, are still active on other sites. Just in these last few weeks, I've found many users who've been long gone from here, but are right under our noses at a different site. Here are just two of many examples, based on data gathered 3/9/16: This user hasn't been seen here since October 2013, but was here 19 hours ago. This user, last seen here in 2013, was here two days ago.

Vote, edit, comment, or otherwise give them some attention, and watch to see if they respond. A "Welcome back" is just as important as the original welcome. If you see that someone has returned after having been gone a while, give them a vote and a welcoming comment. New rep for and from them can help close the gap.

Welcome people that aren't new to SE but haven't been to our site. They're often easy to spot. A poster with just over 100 rep is usually someone who already knows how to use SE, and has gotten an association bonus. Give them a vote and a custom tailored comment. Even if you can't answer their question, you can thank them for joining us. I'm getting good results from that.

I admit this kind of behavior can be tedious and time-consuming, however, if we're serious about closing our gap and growing our site, it's well worth it. New users are great, but we should make use of the untapped resources wandering around the network who already know and like us. I'm not saying everyone we "stalk" in this way will come back, but it's worth a try. I know, because it just happened to me! A year ago I posted a question on a different site. I got a good answer and then forgot about the site. Last week, I woke up to find not only rep, but a Nice Question badge, from that one post! The first thing I did was go back there.

A few final, though not necessarily original, thoughts about voting. Again I apologize for redundancies, and thank all of you who've already said these things!

Mods should be among the highest voters! It sets a bad example for our community if the mods aren't voting. Only one of our mods has even voted this year, and it's a low number. They're onsite frequently, and see most of the posts, so voting should be easy. I'm not minimizing the value of their other duties, I just think increased voting from them would make the site better, and help close the rep gap.

Vote even if you don't want rep. Some of our highest rep people do the least voting, which shouldn't be the case. Not everyone cares about their own rep, but it's not about what we have, it's about what we give. If we don't keep that mindset, we'll never have enough higher level users to close the gap.

Empower new users. Don't forget that it takes 10 rep to post more than two pictures, 15 to upvote, 50 to comment and 125 to downvote. We welcome, teach and encourage new people, but we must use our votes to empower them. If they can't vote, they can't contribute to rep for others, and will not be able to help close the gap. We have only ourselves to blame if someone goes back to a lower quality site just because they didn't earn enough rep here to post some pictures!

Don't forget the people in the middle! Some mid or lower-level users have stopped getting votes; gone for a long time without seeing anything in the green "reward" box; feel a long way from the next privilege; and have begun to wonder if they're even needed here. Votes for them are essential to closing the gap.

Upvote questions you answer. We're blessed with an excellent group of people who answer a question, often within minutes of it appearing on the site. Sadly, some of the people who answer the most vote the least. That's one huge place where we're askew. In fact, I think it's one our worst problems, and is definitely not healthy for the site. Why answer a question that isn't worthy of your vote? Even if it has to wait for edits or clarification, at some point almost all answered questions should have votes from the people who answer them. Voting is private, so if you don't want it to be obvious that you're the voter, come back later and do it.

Vote for the post, not the topic. Even if you're not interested in the topic, that's not a reason to withhold the vote.

Upvote any question with a decent answer. If you like the answer, thank the person who asked the question. Remember, they need twice the votes to get the same rep as the person who answered.

Upvote subsequent answers. Many people are shy about adding an answer, especially if one has been accepted. Since it's human nature to read just the accepted, or most highly voted, answers, later ones are likely to have fewer votes. If you see that there is more than one answer, read all of them.

Finally, Make voting feel automatic. Consider resting your cursor on the arrow as you read a question. Then just click before you move on. Pretty soon, voting becomes automatic, and you have to remind yourself not to do it if a post doesn't warrant it. That way, voting becomes the norm, rather than the exception, and everybody wins!


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    Yup. When I'm on that's how I vote. Always wonder what everyone's rep would look like if I didn't haha!
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 15:32
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    I also agree strongly with giving more attention to questions. Even more than answers. More questions is like what we run off of and giving lots of positive attention is going to be super beneficial.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 15:34
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    @J.Musser If you didn't vote, a lot of people's rep would look very sad, including mine! From the first day I got here, your votes carried me to that place where I could start participating, reach milestones, and have fun! Without them, I'm sure I would no longer be here, or any other SE site. Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 17:22
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    I really like what your saying here! Go Sister!
    – Ppoggio
    Commented Mar 24, 2016 at 6:25

I believe many repeat users see a forum as a game. When you get a really high rep you have "won" and no longer need to participate.

The traditional way to encourage interest in users who have been around a while is:

  • customized avatars (everyone can do this)
  • some kind of badge or star visible to all users that let's you show off your accomplishment
  • access to inner forums that are limited to high rep users (not a good fit here)

None of these ideas seem practical or desirable here but the idea of offering something for users to keep contributing sounds possible.

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    That is a very interesting point about it seeming like a 'game'. While finding ways to encourage those users to stay active is great, that outlook is not exemplary and I wonder if there is a way to promote their viewing of the site differently. Food for thought, thanks.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Feb 17, 2016 at 0:18

Well I must just be weird - I don't contribute because of the votes at all, evidenced by my presence on three other sites where there is no voting system. I do it because I'm bored a lot of the time, age and arthritis meaning I can no longer do as much gardening professionally as I once did, but I still love it. But then I'm female, and I hate computer games, well apart from Tetris and word games, wonder if that makes a difference...

The point you make about 'tiers' is easily understandable though - those of us who are professional in the field will likely be giving more accurate, informed answers, and I think most of the top rep ones either are, or have been, professionals.But it would likely be quite difficult to get a lot of high rep users, because inevitably, they'd be people who are professionally involved in horticulture one way or another, and if they're working full time, they won't have the time to contribute here. And many I've known down the years deliberately wouldn't contribute here, because they feel they're giving away for free what they'd normally charge money for. Plus, there's the boredom factor - many people join a site like this, are really active for a while, maybe 2-3 years, and then they just get bored by it, move on to other things. Whatever buzz they got out of it initially seems to wear off within 2-3 years, voting system or no, I've seen it happen on other gardening sites too.

I imagine I'll stop contributing at some point, but only when I start dribbling into my beard, losing my marbles or any of the other myriad hellish things that happen to people as they get old ...

If the voting system doesn't attract the bulk of professionals to contribute, I'm not sure what else would - there are certainly many men who are highly competitive, but that often goes along with the attitude mentioned earlier - not wanting to give away free info, and waving money around as an incentive isn't an option.

One other thing - since a lot of the users are not professional horticulturalists, some of them may well be discouraged from responding in case one of us high rep people comes in and says something else - not wanting to look like a fool prevents many people from giving an opinion. In fact, you could argue that you really don't want high rep users, leaving the medium to low rep ones to contribute more, without fear of being embarrassed, and with more of a chance to acquire some points, whether the opinion they express is incorrect or not. In the same way, fear of being downvoted may prevent many from chipping in, since that seems to matter a great deal to many people.

  • This is some good stuff, Bamboo. About full time work getting in the way - it has everything to do with priorities. I'm doing about about 40 hrs/week through the winter, and up to 85 in the summer. The point I made about 'tiers' was because we need to work on that in order to move the site forward (it's still in the beta stage). I feel there are a lot of home gardeners/hobbyists out there as well, who could easily have a lot of knowledge on some topics (thankful for the tagging system). I used to do more on other sites, but the system here keeps everything tidy. Well designed.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 18:47
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    PS: I think everyone would appreciate it if you don't start dribbling into your beard (haha) for a good long time. We need our 'senior pro'! You're probably more appreciated than you realize.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Feb 22, 2016 at 18:50
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    I think you make some very good points. Many contributers from the core site are geeks. The true pro's are people like yourself with experience as the basis for an answer rather than a google search :-)
    – Ppoggio
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 0:59
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    @J.Musser - hmm, well the beard's well on its way, Its just the dribbling I'm waiting for... but thanks for the appreciative remark!
    – Bamboo
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 12:28
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    @Ppoggio thanks - what you say is true, but then we're left with the issue of experienced folks having both the time, the interest and the altruism to keep contributing, don't seem to be any easy answer. And I was certainly terrified the first few times I posted an answer, Kevinsky's score made me gasp... and I've got plenty of front, so for others who don't have plenty of front, they're probably put off from answering, even if they know the answer, specially as the site requires a high level answer.
    – Bamboo
    Commented Feb 23, 2016 at 12:31
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    I think you make a great point about the intimidation of high rep users and the initial fear when you are a new user. It brought memories back for me when I first began to participate in SE. I will say, once I overcame the initial hurdle and asked a question, getting upvotes made me feel accepted and made me feel less nervous.
    – Citizen
    Commented Feb 26, 2016 at 0:11

How about bounty?

Don't forget that we cann add bounty to great answers and questions!

Right now even though I just have 300+ reputation I am willing to give bounties on great answers that I've received.


Add self-answered questions to the site on topics that are common, but not addressed here. That way more people will be funneled here by Google. That's how I got here and ended up asking as (admittedly simple) question. The more questions there are here, the more hits there will be from search engines, and the more people will come.

All the other ideas have merit as well, but nobody mentioned search engine content or self-answered questions, so I wanted to. I am a computer person rather than gardening (horticulture, arboriculture, etc.) so I am more likely to ask questions on this Stack Exchange site than answer them, unfortunately for the community.

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    I sometimes do that. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:12
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    Some of mine are more common searches than others and you brought up a great point about that.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:12
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    Excellent suggestions Joshua! If I knew anything about computers, I could help out elsewhere, so I know how you feel, but please don't think you're not contributing to the community. This post alone offers a great way to help us grow. Since I've been here a while, I feel like my questions should be fancy, but that's not true. I forget that Google works best with questions "normal people" are looking for. I think we also forget about self-answering too, although @J.Musser's very good at that! Thanks for your help! Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 23:08
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    @J.Musser I learned quite a bit just looking at those 5 questions and answers. I think those are very well done. Sue you're right about my contributions, but I still can only do so much to answer questions until my knowledge grows, which will happen eventually. Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 4:40

I think more should be done to retain high reputation users. In biological systems, things decay if not fed and watered. So, users need to start suffering erosion of their points unless they keep them fed by earning a minimum in each quarter or other time period.

In other systems just as loyalty programs, you start to lose your points if you don't use them. Whether this would fly across the other SX sites is another matter.

  • There is no reputation decay, but I for instance (counting myself as high rep) haven't had a good amount of time for the site, and am not as active as I would like (at the moment), However, I continue to receive 30 - 60 rep/day from old content... I think you have a good point, but in my opinion the main focus could be on next level users' content (if you're going to pick through content in that fashion)
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 17:16
  • Graham, congrats on being #1 in rep in week and month, and #3 in quarter and year!!!!! Thanks for your hard work! Since I've been spending so much time in older questions, I've been able to raise rep for those, including yours, and @J.Musser's, I think some of our newer voters are doing the same thing, which helps keep those points fed and watered. I agree with J, though, that we need to focus on raising people to the next level, and I see you succeeding at that. Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 23:41
  • Thanks @Sue. Seems I have too much free time on my hands these days! Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 23:46
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    All the better for us! Commented Mar 17, 2016 at 23:48

I believe more simple features on the site, such as a header plant ident, would allow users to learn more from the site whilst the question/answer feature is left the same.

See my answer on the question - A Gardening.SE showcase

  • There was a time when we considered doing something similar, with a blog.
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 20, 2016 at 22:51
  • @J.Musser and what happened?
    – Nic
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 10:39
  • I don't think it ever started. Something like that would need consistent work from a few people, and that's been a bit spotty
    – J. Musser
    Commented Mar 21, 2016 at 15:39

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