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We all love History of Science and Mathematics Stack Exchange, but there is a whole world of people out there who need answers to their questions and don't even know that this site exists. When they arrive from Google, what will their first impression be? Let's try to look at this site through the eyes of someone who's never seen it before, and see how we stack up against the rest of the 'Net.

The Site Self-Evaluation review queue is open and populated with 10 questions that were asked and answered in the last quarter. Run a few Google searches to see how easy they are to find and compare the answers we have with the information available on other sites.

Rating the questions is only a part of the puzzle, though. Do you see a pattern of questions that should have been closed but are not? Questions or answers that could use an edit? Anything that's going really well? Post an answer below to share your thoughts and discuss these questions and the site's health with your fellow users!

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I think one thing that could be done to drastically improve the website given the criteria is editing questions after the answer is given. Often, questions I reviewed contained bizarre statements that were successfully addressed by the answer, but are not relevant in the question the OP wanted to ask.

It would be clearer for outside readers to have these questions rephrased after a satisfactory answer is posted. However, I'm not sure this gain in clarity is worth encouraging big edits or if we should keep the posts that way.

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  • $\begingroup$ Let me just say that, in principle, editing is strongly encouraged. There is nothing wrong with big edits, as long as one preserves the intent of the original author. In cases where you are not sure, you could simply ask OP if he thinks an edit is reasonable or not. $\endgroup$ – Danu May 14 '15 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ @Danu the "intent of the original author" is the problem here $\endgroup$ – VicAche May 14 '15 at 12:11
  • $\begingroup$ I am no stranger to these problems but I think that, in at least a large majority of the cases, significant improvements can "safely" be made. $\endgroup$ – Danu May 14 '15 at 12:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Danu Will give it a try for a few outrageous cases this afternoon/weekend :) $\endgroup$ – VicAche May 14 '15 at 12:15
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Following the rules to the letter, I found that I basically had to mark most of our questions as "needs improvement". This was not any fault on the part of the posts here directly, but only a few were ranked very highly on relevant Google searches. The goal of the queue, as I understand it, is to evaluate how a new user would find this site and what sort of content they'd see when they get here. For the most part, I couldn't even find us, so I doubt many other people are either. To some degree, this explains our persistent low traffic.

I found most of the questions were rather basic, to the level that they were already covered at a number of other places satisfactorily. As a rather young site, we fared poorly against these large sites. In most cases, I couldn't find us at all in Google searches unless I used almost the exact same terminology as the title of the question, and even then in some cases we weren't on the first couple of pages.

The only two I found easily on Google were rather specialized/esoteric: Why don't we learn Buridan's laws of motion? and What motivated Gauss' quadratic sums?. While we didn't do much better or worse than other sites on these in terms of answer quality, we at least ranked in Google's results. These two got away with "Satisfactory" ratings, while the rest all failed to show up in searches and so necessarily were "Needs Improvement"

There are some things I took away from this:

  1. Titles are very important for attracting traffic. A couple of the questions probably would have done better if their titles had been more specific.
  2. We have a lot of competitors at a fairly low level. There are literally hundreds of "popular science"/"popular mathematics" sites on the internet, and almost all of them are going to be ranked ahead of us.
  3. With that in mind, I think our best bet to beat those sites isn't by answering the same old questions slightly better than elsewhere, but by answering those questions that aren't already answered well anywhere else.

To some degree, this will improve over time. Right now we're a rather young site, and as we get more posts and more people elsewhere cite us, we'll do better in search results. But we'll likely never overcome the ranks of Wikipedia and the other big technical history sites. With that in mind, I think the real place we can make a difference is on specialized expertise, not on the sort of general questions that pop up repeatedly.

In addition, we need to realize that this site will likely have relatively low traffic levels for the forseeable future. That's fine; so long as we have more incoming questions and answers and our users remain active, traffic levels will eventually go up. But we need to keep an eye out that these are actually happening.

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Final Results

Net Score: 8 (Excellent: 9, Satisfactory: 1, Needs Improvement: 1)


Net Score: 7 (Excellent: 8, Satisfactory: 0, Needs Improvement: 1)


Net Score: 5 (Excellent: 5, Satisfactory: 4, Needs Improvement: 0)


Net Score: 3 (Excellent: 5, Satisfactory: 1, Needs Improvement: 2)


Net Score: 1 (Excellent: 3, Satisfactory: 4, Needs Improvement: 2)


Net Score: 0 (Excellent: 2, Satisfactory: 6, Needs Improvement: 2)


Net Score: -1 (Excellent: 2, Satisfactory: 4, Needs Improvement: 3)


Net Score: -2 (Excellent: 1, Satisfactory: 4, Needs Improvement: 3)


Net Score: -3 (Excellent: 1, Satisfactory: 5, Needs Improvement: 4)


Net Score: -4 (Excellent: 1, Satisfactory: 2, Needs Improvement: 5)


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