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We have a lot of discussions about what we like about this site, what we don't like, how we feel, where we should try to improve the "look and feel", what's on topic, and so forth. For this question I'm not interested in any of that.

What I'm wondering here, is how we are doing, objectively speaking. In other words, according to the SE metrics, what are we doing well, and where do we need to improve before this could be considered a "great site"?

I know this site is still in beta and has a relatively narrow focus, so I am assuming that our "number of active users" is much lower than other SE sites, but I'm also assuming that this is to be expected, and would be taken into account in how the site's success is judged. So, maybe a better way of phrasing it would be "For a beta site with the sort of narrow focus that we have, how is BH.SE doing according to the metrics?"

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Frankly, the objective measures I noted last month haven't changed. I've been thinking about one axis that's a bit hard to measure, however:

Quality

Every quarter we run a survey of users to see how the quality of a site is holding up. You can read the questions and the results (along with Dan's epic analysis), but you might be interested in a table summary. The columns are labeled:

  • Excellent
  • Satisfactory
  • Needs Improvement
  • sKip
  • Total = E + S + N + K
  • NET SCORE = E - N

The results:

E   S   N   K   T   NET SCORE
-   -   -   -   -   ---------
4   4   0   0   8   4
5   3   2   1   11  3
3   7   1   0   11  2
2   4   1   2   9   1
1   6   1   2   10  0
2   3   3   2   10  -1
2   3   4   1   10  -2
0   3   2   2   7   -2
2   5   5   0   12  -3
1   5   5   0   11  -4

The first thing to notice is that there were at least 7 and up to 12 reviewers who took the time to take the survey. That's a good sign that lot's of people care about the site's success. The only question that nobody thought needed any particular improvement was: How do the traditions of the LXX and MT versions of Jeremiah relate? That tells me the active core of the site is reasonably honest with itself. I think Dan's answer is a little overly critical since I personally found some of the questions to be excellent.

Keep being critical of content; stop being critical of people

I've noticed (and couldn't help but be notified) that some folks think the site has failed utterly to be a place where "Jewish, Christian, Atheist and other viewpoints" are welcome. Honestly, I would not care about this site in the least if it were tied to one particular doctrine. In fact, I find no other site as open about the Bible without falling into a seething mass of nonsense. But I think a lot of people are mistaken about how that was achieved and how it can be encouraged to continue.

On several sites (Server Fault, Quantitative Finance, and WordPress come to mind) we've seen communities tend toward an attitude of excluding people rather than content. It's an easy condition for sites to fall into. Thinking goes:

  1. Our community used to be great before all of these X people started coming.
  2. Now the community is falling down on Y criteria.
  3. Those X people are often the perpetrators of Y.
  4. Therefore, if we exclude X, we will be saved from Y.

But that's shortsighted. The fact is nobody is attracted to a site that makes exclusion of people a founding principle.

I credit Bob Jones with being a useful example. He seemed to enjoy posting even when his answers were downvoted. You see he cared about the subject matter and enjoyed having a platform. He encouraged me (and I suppose others) to write alternative answers that corrected what I considered errors in his analysis. Even though I disagreed with his fundamental assertions, I found that I was able to upvote some of his answers. He was the ultimate minority (of one) and for many months he was tolerated, if not embraced.

And then, for reasons I will never understand, some people on this site started to target his answers for the crime of being wrong. I get that his views were occasionally offensive and rarely supported by, well, anything. But he was an enthusiastic fellow willing to take more downvotes than anyone else on the site (I don't even need to look that up) and keep posting. Finally the abuse on chat and in the comments got to be too much and he left. It makes me sad to think about it.

Lately, two other people have indicated they are done with this site. I'm sad about that too. But if the community spends a little less time judging each other, maybe it can get back to the task of writing interesting answers and voting based on merit, not truth. If folks spent less time sitting in judgment over other people's beliefs and a little more time being curious about how other people read the Bible, this will be a far more welcoming place.

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  • Interesting. Thanks. – Jas 3.1 Dec 17 '13 at 2:08
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    @GoneQuiet: I think it appropriate to be emotional about intolerance. For the record, I didn't have you in mind when I used the word "abuse". But at any rate, I've made the transition to second half of the answer more clear. – Jon Ericson Dec 17 '13 at 3:52
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    I don't think your example of Bob Jones supports your point. If anything, his posts are an example of what we don't need on this site. You say, "If folks spent less time sitting in judgment over other people's beliefs and a little more time being curious about how other people read the Bible, this will be a far more welcoming place," and I agree. But you also note that Bob's answers "were occasionally offensive and rarely supported by, well, anything," and that his major qualification was that, "he cared about the subject matter and enjoyed having a platform." – Bruce Alderman Dec 17 '13 at 7:12
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    And I just think that if we want to open up BH to anyone who wants to use it as a platform, then it's not really a hermeneutics site, and a lot of users will find better places to go. – Bruce Alderman Dec 17 '13 at 7:13
  • This is an awesome answer which really sums up what is right and what is wrong on the site. @Bruce although Bob's answers and perspective don't really fit here and never would, the way he was treated was at times shabby to say the least: there is no reason at all to make personal attacks on his beliefs in chat. The goal of keeping the site focused can be achieved without demeaning people or their beliefs I think. – Jack Douglas Dec 17 '13 at 10:00
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    @JackDouglas: I don't know what happened in chat; I had avoided this site for most of a year until last month. I agree that if there were personal attacks, those were inappropriate. I'm not in favor of demeaning people or their beliefs. Apart from that, though, I don't see much effort from BH.SE leadership in keeping the site focused on hermeneutics rather than dogmatics. – Bruce Alderman Dec 17 '13 at 16:54
  • @Bruce the tricky thing here is agreeing on terms. I've eventually come to the conclusion that religious terms should be avoided altogether for site definition and we should focus on guidelines that don't need to be argued or explained, eg 1) respect the text, 2) questions start from the text, 3) show your work (for all important reasoning, joining dots from the text upwards). I the site is doing well with these guidelines, though I'm in favour of beefing up some enforcement of 'show your work'. – Jack Douglas Dec 17 '13 at 18:06
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    @BruceAlderman: Ah. There's a fine distinction here. His content was never well received if you examine the voting on it. But according to the FAQ/about page, his beliefs are welcome here. As a person, he certainly ought to have been treated better than he was. As for the leadership, I gather there is now a chatroom for these sorts of discussions. – Jon Ericson Dec 17 '13 at 18:11
  • @BruceAlderman: I found the place in the transcript where Bob seems to have given up on the site for the last time. It certainly doesn't rise (sink?) to the level of personal attack, but you can see a basic impatience with people who fail to share a religious perspective which is tied to a hermeneutical technique. Since I consider the people who regularly use and contribute to the site as leaders, I really don't consider myself to be part of that group much anymore. That people aren't taking ownership is another concern. – Jon Ericson Dec 26 '13 at 12:37

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