Dear fellow music fans,
Our site has been in Beta for close to 2000 days now, but, rather than moving forward with great enthusiasm, we instead find ourselves mostly... just drifting along.
Well, it's time to change that. Read on to find out how!
There are four aspects that we need to address to revive our site activity:
- Q&A: How do we create a steady flow of good quality questions and answers?
- Curation: How can we better organize our content, to help people find interesting questions and submit new interesting answers?
- Policies: How do we delineate what our site norms currently are, and how do we establish site norms where none are currently present?
- Users: How do we retain users who come to our site with their questions?
I believe we can readily address three of these four aspects: Q&A, content curation and policy-making are entirely in our hands. User retention will happen as a consequence of improving these three aspects.
Q&A: Back to the basics
The quality of our answers depends not only on the knowledge of our users, but also on the quality of the questions. There's only so much that one can do with questions that just do not excite.
In a community of music fans, one simple thing to stimulate interest is the exchange of new music. Currently, this is happening passively. As new questions come up, people may find references to new artists, genres and music that they might choose to listen to. Furthermore, the expertise of our users is only brought to the fore when a question happens to turn up that they can answer.
Let's flip this model around. Instead of consuming new music passively, let us actively share music between ourselves through a monthly Topic Challenge:
- A new Meta question titled "Music Fans SE Topic Challenge Suggestions Thread" will be opened.
- Users can suggest one artist/band/composer/album that they recommend listening to. No genres. One suggestion per answer.
- Detail in the answer a little background about the musician, or history behind the album, etc., why you enjoy their music, and why you recommend it.
- Voting on the answers will indicate the popularity of the suggestion, and the top 5 suggestions will be used to run the Topic Challenges for the next 5 months.
- The Topic Challenge will consist of listening to the music that your fellow music fans recommend to you and then asking questions about them.
- We will have good questions and good answers.
- Go to step 1.
More details can be given in the dedicated Suggestions thread itself, but I will just note two points. One, a good question can also be a simple question — after all, none of us are experts in all areas of music, nor can we be. Two, the motivation for participating in the Topic Challenge will be — I believe — something that is inherent to music fans: a longing to share music that has touched you in some way, and to spread the experience of that music to more people. I think this can be a great way to leverage the collective expertise of our users.
A shoutout to the good folks over at Literature SE — this idea is entirely based on their Topic Challenges. I had the pleasure of participating in one of them recently, and I think it was fantastic. You can take a look at some of their Meta posts to get an idea of what this might look like.
Curation: Where are my tags?
Tags are an under-appreciated resource. They simultaneously serve two purposes:
- they organize the content on the site, allowing people to quickly find questions of their interest, and
- they provide a valuable picture of what our site is all about.
My focus is on the second point, which is especially important for our site because of where it stands today. There is a severe lack of tag organization on both Main and Meta: nearly 2/3 tags on main lack a wiki, and nearly 1/2 lack an excerpt. On Meta, over 9/10 tags lack a wiki and excerpt!
This needs to be fixed. Because our tags lack organization, not only do we not know what questions we have, we also don't know what questions we don't have. In other words, we do not even know what areas our site covers, and which new areas our site can expand into.
To fix the situation, we need a two-pronged approach:
- The passive approach: Add excerpts and wikis to all our tags on Main and Meta.
- The active approach: Discuss on Meta about the scope and usage of existing tags, and about the creation of new tags and deletion of obsolete ones.
What can you do to help contribute?
For approach 1:
- If you have the reputation to run through the Suggested Edits review queues, then please check in regularly on both Main and Meta for suggested tag wiki and tag excerpt edits.
For approach 2:
- Go through recent Meta discussions on creation/deletion of tags, retagging requests, synonymization and merging requests, etc. and vote! Your votes are highly valuable — only if there is sufficient community support can the mods take any action. So vote on proposals, vote on requests, and go through Meta regularly.
If you have the time, energy and inclination to participate more deeply in content curation, that's great! There's plenty of curation work to go around, from writing excerpts and wikis all the way to extensive retagging efforts on Main.
One final word on tag usage. The Stack Overflow policy is to create only those tags that can be applied to a "large" number of questions. This does not work for our site. Instead, we should maintain our lesser-used tags just as carefully as we do our popular ones. We are closer to Literature SE in this aspect, because just as they have a countless number of authors and literary works, we have a countless number of artists, albums, bands and composers.
For example, check out the list of tags on Literature SE — for a site with a similar number of questions, they have 44 well-organized pages of tags, 6-7 times our number, and all of them lovingly curated.
Policies: Creating FAQs
- What ID questions are allowed on this site?
- What does a good answer to an ID question look like?
- When is it appropriate to upvote an answer to an ID question?
- What do we do with questions that have become obsolete due to link rot?
These are just some of the questions that have been discussed in the past — some of them several times over — in order to determine site policy. There has been a large turnover of users over the our site's history, so our policies have also changed a few times. It is important to have a proper repository of answers to such questions — an FAQ of sorts.
The FAQ need not only be about controversial questions. Some broadly applicable questions are:
- What sorts of context should I provide in my ID question?
- Is it necessary to link to Wikipedia articles about artists mentioned in my question?
- I want to link to a song in my question. Which websites or streaming services am I allowed to link to?
It's easy to think that we know our policies thoroughly when we have less than 200 questions on Meta in total. But, what if our Meta experts leave our site? What happens when we find that our site has grown a lot and our policies need a refresh? There's no doubt that having an FAQ to refer to would be invaluable.
To this end, I have recently created the Meta tag faq-proposed and added it to the highly-linked question: What should I do to improve my identification question?. I haven't created this tag out of the blue: it is commonly used on larger sites, so I have only introduced it to our Meta. Posts tagged faq-proposed should be refined by the community until they reach a mature stage, after which a moderator can add the faq to it, making it an easily accessible, official site-policy.
What can you do to help?
- Add the faq-proposed to questions that you think should be part of our FAQ, if they already contain a well-established material.
- If you do not find any posts that address the issue you have in mind, then create such a question and add the faq-proposed tag to it.
- Curate the content of posts tagged faq-proposed to clearly explain the site-policies as they stand.
Important note: use the faq-proposed tag only for creating FAQs about current site-policy. Do not use it for questions that are about crafting site policies or about clarifications regarding current site policies.
Users: retaining our content creators
Music Fans SE should be the place on the Internet for questions related to music history and critiques from a fan's perspective. We can make it such a place only when our user base includes active users from all across the musical world. And, users will actively visit Music Fans SE, coming back for seconds and thirds, only when we have content worth retaining them.
This can be done. It is entirely within our reach. Let's make it happen, together!
A Carnatic fan,
Wow, you actually made it this far! As a thank you, here's a scintillating piece in Raga Ābhēri by the maestro L. Shankar for your listening pleasure: