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.

  1. 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.

    enter image description here

    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.

    enter image description here

    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.

  2. 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).

    enter image description here

    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".

  3. 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 )

    enter image description here

    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:

  1. Twitter/Facebook/Blogs

    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.

  2. 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.

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+1 For a first-class analysis and pointing the way forward. –  Mancuniensis Aug 17 '11 at 12:22
    
From the vote, it seems that the number of active users is too low. Most users just didn't notice this question, or they don't bother to vote. –  lamwaiman1988 Sep 1 '11 at 4:24
    
I go to events called "vege swaps" in real life and these people would probably love to contribute at G&L stack exchange, but for some reason many excellent gardeners have a block about "using computers". Any suggestions? –  Lisa Sep 15 '11 at 1:11
    
@Lisa That indeed is a problem. I've known a few others who are really good gardeners in real life, but aren't familiar with computers. However, that shouldn't discourage us! Home Improvement has a top notch user Shirlock Homes who is a building contractor and an expert! SE sat down with him for a chat and if you listen to this podcast you'll hear him talk about how he doesn't use computers very much and his son got him interested (contd...) –  Lorem Ipsum Sep 15 '11 at 2:05
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@Lisa (contd... 2/2) So it certainly is possible if we encourage them. Perhaps we could guide them in the initial stages and teach them the ropes and the way of things around at SE. Please do encourage them to join :) –  Lorem Ipsum Sep 15 '11 at 2:07

4 Answers 4

A lot of state and county extension offices in the US have master gardener programs. I wonder if SE would be willing to put some of our users through the training so that we can actually become experts instead of trying to attract experts to the site?

These programs usually have a training and volunteering component and would be a good place for our users to get trained, but also to publicize the site to other local gardeners and their extension offices.

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I do like the idea of sending some of the users through the training. While certainly I'd think SE would want us to stabilize first before committing to that, it's a very reasonable request. SE routinely sponsors users on programmers/gaming to conferences/devdays/conventions/etc., and there is also history of them sponsoring a user on a well established, but still beta site to go to a conference. So yeah, this could be our equivalent of devdays! –  Lorem Ipsum Aug 16 '11 at 14:35
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Wow that would be cool! Problem with gardening though is that it's often fairly specific to the region. So you'd need one person to train in arid climates, one for tropics, one for temperate and one for cold climates. –  Lisa Sep 15 '11 at 1:18

One problem I have with this site is that I'm not a gardening expert, I'm just a guy with a garden who made a lot of mistakes in the past and is finally getting the hang of it.

My wife's uncle on the other hand, is a gardening expert. He's a guy with something like 10 acres that he raises veggies for the biggest farmers market in the state on. But he's too dang busy all summer to answer people's questions.

We need guys like him answering questions. Furthermore, although wishful thinking, we don't need "Call your local extension" answers so much as we need "Hello, this is your local extension" answers!

Perhaps if we had some promotional material, we could go to farmers markets and promote the site face to face. I was at my wife's uncle picking last friday and got that idea while talking to a complete stranger there about our shared love for librivox.com. I'd imagine he'd like this site too but I didn't think at the time to bring it up.

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Thanks for your thoughts. How do you suggest we go about promoting? What promotional material did you have in mind? –  Lorem Ipsum Aug 16 '11 at 14:09
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@yoda Since most transactions at farmers markets deal with paper currency, we could slip notes in with our money (or deface the bills). Going to farmers markets when they're not so busy would be smart too, when the vendors are more apt to chat. –  Peter Turner Aug 16 '11 at 14:12
    
Talking to knowledgable people during off hours is fine, but I'm totally against the others. First, if I'm not mistaken, defacing currency is illegal (at least in the US). Secondly, slipping notes in without explanation won't help much. It lacks the personal touch, the part that interests them enough to join. –  Lorem Ipsum Aug 16 '11 at 14:16
    
@Peter Turner nice one! Just handing them the note with the G&L web address, the fact it's free, and one sentence with you name and why you use it might just work. I'm going to try this at the next vege swap I go to! What I mean is not doing it covertly but openly. –  Lisa Sep 15 '11 at 1:14

There are a bunch of gardening forum outside. One can have account for those sites. Visit the sites and search their questions to see if we already have an answer for their question. If yes, we can post the link of our question to their thread and says "You can check out this link.". Then the user was redirected to our site and can have a glimpse on our site. If he/she think our site is awesome, he would like add our site to their bookmark.

For example, there maybe a site called "ABC Gardening", and there is a thread titled "What can we plant in summer?"

We quickly know that we have a bunch of such questions, then we can paste the link of our question to that thread.

Surely the OP of that thread would check out our link, and probably the other guys will come too.

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While this is a good idea if it can be done well, just like here, people who post a lot of links to sites they represent or their own content come off as rather spammy. If this can be done well its a good idea, but its fine line. –  wax eagle Aug 17 '11 at 13:53

After viewing the votes, I think there are not much user care about this question. So the last option is to increase the number of user. There are nothing you can do to increase the number of user suddenly. You just wait for random guys pop into here via google search.

There is phenomenon that most of the answer(about 3/4) are provide by a tiny subset of user. However, there are about 1/2 questions asked by users with 150-1k rep.

Obviously they are interested to gardening, but why they don't answer? I can sum up to 2 reasons:

1)The questions involve common sense, and was already answer by the active users.

2)The questions are too difficult to answer and require an expert.

As for the 1) reason, we can't blame the active users for being fast.

And for 2) reason, we either need more experts or we turn the user into experts by education or self-experience(though planting more).

So there are nothing we can do. We should focus on increase the number of users. But at the end there are not much thing you can do.

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Thanks for the reasoning but can we be a little more optimistic! –  Lisa Sep 15 '11 at 1:16

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