4

Jon Ericson, who I very much respect, posted this question to Meta recently, and something about it bothered me.

A couple things he mentioned were

... I think, "What question should I ask?" Asking good questions on demand turns out to be very difficult, if not impossible.

and

We have plenty of people who are able to contribute good answers, but not so many people who are really confused about the topic.

Don't get me wrong, I think, given the circumstance, it is helpful to get some more ideas around generating content for this site. And I'm thankful for Jon taking the initiative in getting the ball rolling on that, and generating some ideas himself.

Where I am bothered is not in what Jon is asking, but the situation standing behind this question. The latter statement I quoted of his is likely spot-on, but also troubling to me. It makes me wonder if this site is really worthwhile, or if it is a bit like Jeopardy. Is what we really have answers in search of questions?

What concerns me is whether this site is primarily self-serving, a way to show off our knowledge of the Bible. Jas 3.1's recent answer mentions that he found this site intimidating. On one hand, it is great that we have a reputation for detailed, well-thought-out answers. On the other hand, it got me thinking that if doing so could drive people away, perhaps that is not best serving the community at-large.

I recognize, of course, that it is allowed to ask a question for which you already have an answer. I don't mean to re-hash that discussion here; there are a number of fine points made over here. But I'm looking from a broader perspective--if we are so lacking in questions is this site helpful to you?

  • Ray, thanks for asking the question. I'm not sure if my "answer" answers anything, however. – Jon Ericson Jul 10 '12 at 21:22
6

I'm not exactly the right person to answer this as I'm very happy with the usefulness of our site. But I'm not sure about other users or potential users. So I'd like to break it down into several use cases:

Searchers

These are folks you have some particular problem and want to find a solution via Google. Currently, a huge portion (~80%) of our traffic comes from search engines. This is up from about 20% when we came out of private beta. I attribute this to SEI excellent SEO. In fact, "we explicitly optimize for “drive-by” [users] who type a problem into a search engine". I think it's safe to say that we are doing a good job of catching those users, but are we answering their questions?

That's a tough thing to measure, unfortunately. One solution might be to conduct a self-evaluation. I'd like to do that, but I'm not sure what it would show us. (Let me know in the comments if you'd like be to organize it.) Another thing to look at is our Greatest Hits. Ideally, we'd have a panel of outside experts look at our site and let us know if we are helping or hurting the cause of distributing correct information about the Bible and it's interpretation. My sense is that we are helping, but my bias is through the roof.

Readers

In the days of USENET, we called these users "lurkers". Personally, I think this is a valid use case. Obviously, we'd like to convert these people to regular contributors. In fact, this is probably the crux of the question. Real numbers on reader are hard to obtain. One measure is that over the life of the site, we've had 121 people sign up for our newsletter. But 24 people have unsubscribed. There are many reasons to unsubscribe and many reasons a dissatisfied reader might keep a subscription. Making a (potentially) wild guess, I'd say that about 80% of our readers stick around. If you have access to our anonymous feedback page, you'll see that 70% of our feedback is positive.

I think this group is the mostlikely to be intimidated by the site. I recall when I was reading, but not participating on comp.lang.perl.misc that I was very intimidated. I still was even when I was active there. Same thing with Stack Overflow and Gardening.SE and Philosophy.SE. Even publishing my thoughts on my own blog is a little intimidating to me. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but I have some ideas about making this a more welcoming site for readers to contribute a bit more if they wish. (I'm planning to write a meta post about it.)

Askers

Some people learn best by asking a lot of questions. Conveniently, we need questions to build content around. Lack of questions, especially from people who are just curious, is a real problem around here, which is why I asked the meta question in the first place. I do know that the ideal asker was once an avid reader. That's because asking questions is very difficult. Someone who has been around a while and seen what works (and what doesn't) has a leg up in being able to ask quality questions. We aren't the only site to struggle with strike a balance between quality content and welcoming users.

Experts

The way I read our marching orders, the site's benefactors value those of us who work to provide quality answers. I'm doubly grateful for those folks who have actually acquired a knowledge of Biblical languages, studied hermeneutics in a seminary or other institute of higher learning, read and are able to cite scholarship, and so on. In other words, real experts. Again, I'm biased, but I think we have a great core of people and I want to make sure we are happy about the site. Kazark's answer is hugely encouraging to me. But I don't think Ray's question was directly related to people who feel comfortable answering questions here. Hopefully, we will be bold enough to raise issues on meta or on chat, unlike users who are uncomfortable with the site already.

Conclusion

I don't really have one, except that we need to put more thought into whether we are doing a service to those who are ready to move beyond merely reading the site to start asking. I think we can strike a better balance between being a great community and having great content.

5

In my better times, I am a rather teleological individual. What I mean by that is that if something does not seem to have a purpose to me, I either stop, or have a bothered conscience for continuing.

Let me share with you some of the reasons I have continued to read and post on this site.

  • It gives me a continual challenge to read my Bible closely and make sure I am understanding what I am really, and not glossing over important details.
  • I am encouraged and enriched by many of the answers. I am especially (above and beyond) fond of the Christocentric ones. My favorite thing about Bob Jones is that he always talks about how Christ has made his prostituting bride into a virgin.
  • It brings to my awareness issues and challenges that I would not necessarily have discovered or thought of on my own, but which I would like to have answers to when I run into someone who asks me about it!
  • The community of users here has a knowledge base that I don't often have access to. I appreciate our Jewish users. With sorrow I pray that they will come to know Yeshua ha Mashiach, and I hope they will be charmed by some of the Messianic posts. In the meantime, I am happy to glean from their knowledge of Hebrew and the Old Testament, though I must always think of its relation to Christ. Also, a number of our users have been to seminary or have read widely in areas I have not. This is valuably to me.
  • It gives me an opportunity to think through various topics, particularly with the recent encouragement of self-answering questions. As far as I know in my own heart, this is not a way for me to show off, but to digest the Word of God. I am one of those people who tends to think by talking.
  • It gives me a chance to exercise my writing skills. I do not want to let them get rusty, but I do not think I would have the diligence to write regularly if I didn't know someone what reading it and critiquing it.
  • I hope that my questions and answers on this site will stimulate people to interest in the Scriptures, more careful thoughts about their theology, and further love for the true God. My hope is that my knowledge of Scriptures will not simply remain inside of me but will be useful to others.
  • It is a good place for me to keep track of questions I have. Otherwise, I read a passage, have a question, and forget it by the time I get the chance to ask someone knowledgeable. Even if no one answers my questions, it gives me a way to track what I've been thinking about. Occasionally before I was on this site, I used to write my questions down on paper. But then I would often either loose them or forget them in the moment when I had the chance to talk to a biblical scholar.
  • It gives me a place to point people to when they ask me what I think about a passage. Even if I don't remember my research on it, I can go back and review, or just point them directly to one of my answers.

Need I go on? I could probably say more, but I think this will suffice to demonstrate that to this pseudonymous user, this site is of value. It is always worth the time to ask if something is valuable; we have so much wasted time. Thank you for asking the question. I appreciate both it and this site.

3

Short Answer: Yes!!

The site is very helpful. As Jon Ericson indicated, the "helpfulness" is going to be different for each "group" of users, but I want to focus on one group in particular:

The Interpreters

This is the group of people who are actively seeking to properly interpret Scripture. They may be PhD's, or they may be your Christian grandma.

The fact of the matter is, tradition biases your view of Scripture - whether you are Jewish, Catholic, or Pentecostal. If you go to a Lutheran church, you probably understand the Lutheran take on things. If you attend a Baptist Seminary, you probably understand Baptist hermeneutics. What you don't understand are those things you don't understand!

That is where this site becomes extremely helpful. It has for me anyway. I am able to post tough questions and controversial answers and have a panel of experts from all sorts of backgrounds provide me with feedback!

I mean, can we take a moment and let that sink in? How cool is that?! Where else in the entire world can you get what is available right here on BH.SE?

This site is unique, and it is a huge blessing. So stop questioning your value and go answer my questions doggone it!

  • Hi Jas 3.1, I wonder if you could spare a minute to consider this new meta post and vote on the options? – Jack Douglas Oct 4 '13 at 18:45
  • @JackDouglas Done. – Jas 3.1 Oct 4 '13 at 23:50

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