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Very early on in the life of Astronomy Stack Exchange, during private beta, Jon Ericson expressed concern over the level of questions the site was getting. The problem then was that the site was getting questions that were a) commonly answered elsewhere; b) answered no better than they were answered elsewhere; and c) aren't really high-level questions. Scrolling through the old questions that motivated this post, it's easy to see the trend, even though many of these questions were quite popular, as is common in private beta.

It's almost three years later, and I'm a little concerned that this hasn't really changed. The issue was actually brought to my attention by What are the intended boundaries of this question and answers community?; my answer there shows some of my basic thoughts on the issue:

  • We've certainly got a number of experts covering a variety of topics - stellar evolution, galactic dynamics, general relativity - but their (valuable) contributions come mainly as answers, not questions. Is it bad that they're no asking questions? Not necessarily. But I still consider it a concern.
  • We're no longer asking the super-easy, commonplace, already-answered questions that concerned Jon nearly three years ago, but I still don't see a lot of technical questions. Technical questions attract technical answers - which we certainly see - and more experts, which hopefully raises the overall quality of the site.
  • The site's not dying, or in danger of being shut down (I think!), because of the question level (and I'll be frank, the questions certainly aren't terrible), but it's not at the level where I could look at it from a distance and say, "Hm, this site is really, really healthy and is living up to its potential. Graduation, maybe?"1

So, all that said, I think a push to consciously raise the quality of questions on Astronomy Stack Exchange - not overly artificial, if possible - could really do some good. I haven't been here since the star of private beta; I joined nearly a year later. However, I feel like I haven't really seen a change in the site's evolution. Yes, I admit it, I might be unconsciously comparing us to what a graduated site - whatever that is - should be like, because I've been with several sites as they've gotten all the way there from birth, but I do think that, even though graduation and success aren't necessarily the same thing, we're farther from either than I'd like.

And yes, I think that increasing the number of technical questions - not eliminating all the beginner ones, for the record - can certainly help.


1 To be clear, I'm not saying that this will make a difference between graduating or getting shut down or something in between - if any of that happens - but I am trying to compare us with sites that are healthier.

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    $\begingroup$ It's not anywhere near as bad here as it as at stackoverflow.com. The overall quality of questions there has been decreasing for the last several years as the volume of questions has increased. This site, on the other hand, is still growing. Sure, many (most?) of the questions here are garbage, but the same holds for every SE network site. There are quality non-garbage questions, and the volume of those has been rising as of late at this site. $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 30 '16 at 18:18
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    $\begingroup$ There is a problem that will perpetually plague this site. The number of professional astronomers, astrophysicist, and astrobiologists is very small compared to the number of professional computer programmers / computer scientists (stackoverflow.com) and sys admins (superuser.com). That said, we do have some professionals who visit this site regularly. (Shout out to @RobJeffries ! Any question that provokes him to write an answer is almost certainly a quality question.) $\endgroup$ – David Hammen Sep 30 '16 at 18:24
  • $\begingroup$ Meaty question asked... and thanks DH. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Oct 2 '16 at 15:55
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    $\begingroup$ But now the highest ranked unanswered question... :( $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Oct 15 '16 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries That's absolutely shameful! Bountied; I hope perhaps someone can change that. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 15 '16 at 19:20
  • $\begingroup$ Very generous of you. $\endgroup$ – Rob Jeffries Oct 17 '16 at 16:14
  • $\begingroup$ @RobJeffries As was your bounty on my question. I hope we get some answers. $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Oct 17 '16 at 21:26

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