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How can we grow this community?

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Codidact's communities have a lot of great content that is helping people on the Internet. Our communities are small, though, and sustainable communities depend on having lots of active, engaged participants. The folks already here are doing good work; our challenge is to find more people like you so we can help this community grow.

This calls for a two-pronged approach: reaching more people who would be interested if only they knew about us, and making sure that visitors get a good first impression. I'm here to ask for your help with both.

Reaching more people

The pool of people interested in languages (and language) is large, from linguists to people learning new languages to students. My question to you is: where do we find those people? You're the experts on this topic, not us. Where would it be most fruitful to promote Codidact? How should we appeal to them to draw them in?

Please don't give general answers like "universities". We need your expert input to decide where, specifically, we should be looking. We are now able to pay for some advertising -- where should we direct it, and what message would best reach that audience? Can you help us sell your community?

Finally, some types of promotion are best done peer to peer. You are the experts in your topic; messages from you on subreddits or professional forums or the like will be much more credible than messages from Codidact staff. For these types of settings, we need your help to get the word out. If you know of a suitable place and can volunteer to spread the word there, please leave an answer about it so we all know about it (and know not to also post there).

Making a good first impression

Pretend for a moment that you don't know anything about Codidact. Visit this community in incognito mode. What's your reaction? If it's negative, what can we do about it? Some known deterrents from across the network:

  • Latest activity is not recent. This tells people the community isn't active. Anecdotally, we have lots of people ready to answer good questions, and on some communities, not enough good questions for them to answer. Can you help with that?

  • Latest questions are unanswered. This tells people it might not be worth asking here. Why are our unanswered questions unanswered? Are they poor questions in some regard? Unclear, too basic, too esoteric, just not interesting? Can they be fixed? Should they be hidden?[1]

  • Latest questions have poor scores. This tells people that either there's lots of low-quality material here or the voters are overly picky. If it's a quality problem, same questions as the previous bullet. If good content is getting downvoted, or not getting upvoted, can you help us understand why?

These are issues we've seen or heard about from across the network, but each community is different. What do you see here? What might be turning people away, and what could we do about it?

Are there things about the platform itself, as opposed to content, that discourage people we're trying to attract? If there's something we can customize to better serve this community, please let us know. If there are other changes in presentation or behavior that you think would encourage visitors to stick around, what are they?

Conversely, what is this community doing well? What draws newcomers in? I don't just mean the reverse of those bullets. What do we need to keep doing, and what might be worth highlighting when promoting this community?


  1. Should the question list not show some questions to anonymous visitors? What should the criteria be? ↩︎

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I am active on the Linguistics Stack Exchange but would really like to leave there completely. I see this site as a potential alternative, but haven't become active here yet. So in a way you could say I am one of those people that are you are trying to get a hold on :) Here are some observations.

Etymology questions

Whenever I visit I see a lot of questions in the etymology tag. Often these questions give just one example of a word that shifted meaning (rather than a couple of words that follow the same pattern), though there are exceptions (https://languages.codidact.com/posts/281087). This doesn't look good:

  • They look highly similar. Right now there is a number of questions that are all framed almost exactly the same: "How did word X shift to mean Y?" I would welcome some variety.
  • If we take one as an example, it looks like the poster has done very little work to attempt to get to an answer themselves. The concepts of seeing and knowledge are related in many languages. In English: "I see what you mean now"; "let's look into this"; etc.
  • It is well-known that words change meaning continuously. So really what I wrote in the previous bullet point is all you need to write an answer: show that the concepts are related more frequently, and optionally explain at a cognitive level why: because humans gain knowledge through sight. Now, I might be tempted to write one answer like that and explain a little bit about these kind of cognitive processes, but I'm not going to write 10 answers to what is essentially the same question.

Note that etymology questions have been a nuisance for others as well. It would help a lot if we were able to ignore tags somehow, although this doesn't help with the first impression of course.

Perhaps it is an idea to expand the online etymology resources post with information about sites like Wiktionary and also some guidance and examples for people to help them answer their own etymology questions. Then I would suggest we can close most of the etymology questions with reference to that page, and are left with those questions where the poster has put in more work and has a more specific question.

"Languages", not "Linguistics"(?), and events

There are very few general linguistic questions. Questions of the type:

  • How do I draw a syntax tree for ditransitive verbs?
  • How is passivization accounted for in Davidsonian formal semantics?
  • Is there a useful cross-linguistic definition for the category of adverbs?
  • Do consonants tend to be more stable historically than vowels?
  • How does recursion work in highly agglutinative languages?
  • Is there a universal list of semantic roles like Agent, Patient, Instrument, ...?

It has just been my assumption that there is no point in asking questions of this type since there is no relevant expertise. But maybe this assumption is wrong.

Maybe it's an idea to organize (bi)weekly or monthly events to promote a certain subfield and encourage everyone to ask (and answer) questions from that field, even if the question did not naturally arise? For instance, January could be promoted as Phonology Month. This could be announced in a meta post, which also collects all relevant questions, and those questions are invited to add a small link at the bottom to the event as well (for visibility). In an event like this, someone may be more inclined to write up a question they wouldn't post otherwise because there may not be enough expertise.

Advertising: LINGUIST list

If you want to reach professional linguists, the best way is to send in an item to the LINGUIST List. This is a high-volume newsletter announcing books, reviews, conference calls, jobs, and more.

In all honesty, I think advertising there now would not give a good impression, because of all those etymology questions. Japanese pronouns is an example of the type of question that might be interesting to this audience: it looks at one particular language, but frames it in a wider discussion. And of course there are fine language-specific questions that some will find interesting (e.g. רכב vs. אוטו), if they are familiar with the language. The absolute and relative number of questions like this will have to be much higher before I can recommend this site to my colleagues, or before it will be useful to advertise on the LINGUIST List. (I may already recommend it to students of some languages, like Modern Hebrew and Spanish, that seem to be well-represented here.)

Design

This is not site-specific, but I would suggest removing the vote counts, or at least reduce their size, in question lists. I think the red/green meter looks great, and I don't need to know the exact vote counts on the front page. See current page; mockup with small font; mockup without vote counts. Now suggested on general meta.

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4 comment threads

How did word X shift to mean Y (2 comments)
The main problem is that there is no activity in other fields (8 comments)
Please bring up non-site-specific suggestions on Meta (2 comments)
For now, I have featured the etymology resource for visibility (1 comment)
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I think the answer is a lack of a clear scope. I mentioned this in various comments in the past, but are we a linguistics site (like Linguistics SE), a language learning site (Like English Language Learners SE), a language study site (Like English Language & Usage SE), or all of the above?

Some users think we are a linguistics site, and language learning questions don't fit the "main purpose" of this site

On the other hand, many language learning questions have been well received, including questions about "is" vs. "does", conjugating "have", singular they, and pronunciation of a Russian letter, to name a few.

This lack of clarity of scope introduces another barrier to posting, as people (including me!) have no idea how their question about learning a language is too simple to be qualified as a linguistics question for this site.

Another problem is a lack of visible experts. Users come here because they think we can help them. However, due to the broadness of our scope which allows any language, it is near impossible for anyone to see if the language they want to ask about is active at a glance (compounded by the fact that currently, we really don't have much variety in the first place, it discourages new users from joining).

There has been a suggestion to split Linguistics into its own separate category; however, voting indicates that many users are against the idea, with the top-voted response positing that we maintain the status quo.

Thus, I think that before we start encouraging activity, we first need to clarify what activity we want to see, because it seems that right now we have several conflicting views.

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All of the above (1 comment)

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