Computer networking pioneer Robert Metcalfe developed a popular (and disputed) concept in the 1990's which became known as "Metcalfe's Law", which says that the value of a network grows exponentially with the number of participants.
Applying this concept to PaleoHacks, this site should become ever-more valuable as it grows. Yet I can't help but notice a recent spike in the amount of divisiveness, invective, closed questions, etc. Also, most of the "easy" and "obvious" paleo questions have already been asked and answered. In my view, this has led questioners into areas that are more esoteric, repetitive, localized or contentious (such as politics and public policy).
My question is whether PaleoHacks will continue to scale well, and what can we members do to keep it vital, fresh and friendly?
This is a great question.
Well one thing I want to mention -- maybe I'm dodging your question for the moment -- is that Paleohacks would still serve a great purpose even if it somehow, theoretically, lost all interest to longtime users. I told a friend about the website once, because she was learning about the "lifestyle." She came back to me a week later and told me: "Paleohacks is amazing. Every question I could have possibly been interested in is there. Omega-3? Type it in, there it is. Weight loss? Type it in, there it is. Green beans? Type it in, there it is." And so on. (Although maybe I shouldn't be making the green beans joke, since that was before my time.)
But perhaps I'm coming around to your question, because this does suggest at least one thing we could work on more: fine-tuning the answers to the basic questions, making them better and better. Because for every one registered user with a screen name and a presence in the conversation, there might be two more who are just reading along. A lot of those are beginners. How about making things better for them?
One problem we encounter here is that when old threads are refreshed with new answers or new edits, relatively few users look at them. It's always more exciting to see a new question. So there's not all that much incentive to go back and edit your answers; even if it had nothing to do with reputation, there would still be the issue of views. Why do that work if no one is going to look at it?
This leads me to believe that the "repetitiveness" of near-duplicate questions is not an entirely bad thing. It's almost like we want slight variations on the same theme, just like we want to watch the same romantic comedy over and over again, but with different actors and actresses. Patrik anyhow endorses the idea in the FAQ:
Please look around to see if your question has already been asked (and maybe even answered!) before you ask. If you end up asking a question that has been asked before, that is OK and deliberately allowed. Other users will hopefully edit in links to related or similar questions to help future visitors find their way.
But if that doesn't satisfy, if the re-working of old plotlines is not enough for us, then how about this: things do change in the paleo world. Think about all that has happened just in the last year or so: the fall of insulin, the rise of the potato, skepticism about fish oil, the re-discovery of choline -- not nearly as earth-shattering as world affairs, to be sure, but for those of us who dedicate a big chunk of our free time to thinking about this stuff it's enough to keep things at least somewhat fresh.
Maybe the site will slow down a little bit. But I don't think things should come to a stop. These two things -- refining our answers to old questions, and dealing with the occasional new ones -- are definitely enough to keep us going. These aren't startling new ideas from me, I admit, but I'm more the synthesizing type than the creative type anyway. So that's how I see things.
(Note: My own personal project is to try to keep learning about human metabolism. Because even if a lot of the basics are well-known and can be learned with biochemistry textbooks, a lot of it is still unknown. And even if it is known, even if it's out there somewhere, there's still the challenge of putting it together. I think a lot of this work happens in various places on Paleohacks, even if that's not everyone's cup of tea -- and I certainly don't think it should be. Sorry about the long answer, but, you know, in for a penny in for a pound.)
It's funny that you mention this, because I never really thought about it before earlier today. I'm reading a book called Crowdsourcing by Jeff Howe. Today I read a section that says that crowds with a similar knowledge base tend to do one of two things: A) they divide into factions that pit some ideas against others, or B) they slowly develop a consensus. Jeff's argument is that either of these actions serves to decrease the diversity of the crowd (and so decrease its value as a problem-solving entity). He seems to feel that part of the value of internet communities is to bring together people from disparate backgrounds who can increase the diversity of a knowledge base and therefore increase the number of innovative and efficient solutions to problems.
I haven't been around this site long enough to get an idea of the phenomena you're describing, but I wonder whether the plethora of information that is now available on the Paleo diet and lifestyle makes the community more homogeneous and less diverse. Perhaps people are all coming at this site with information from the same five or six books and blogs, and so therefore the perceived value of the community is not growing at the exponential rate you might otherwise predict. I’ll just have to spend more time here and see what kind of value I can discern before I can really make a determination.
I don't know if I can add a lot to the conversation regarding the more technical aspects of scalability. Many of the suggestions for helping new members/readers, are right on as I am one of them. I lurked for a while then joined, because I felt I had unique questions to ask and desired to respond to others. I tend to research my questions exhaustively before I put them out there which leads me to my suggestions as a newbie on how Paleohacks can keep the interest and participation high.
Everyone especially long time users please explain your answers fully with regards to abbreviations and acronyms. I often have to go off the site or the post to figure out what all the letters mean in some users answers.
Voting: If I get votes I'm thrilled. If it's my question and I get answers from long time users I'm thrilled. What I'm not so thrilled about is when I see answers whether mine or others not getting any votes even though they are often very good.(I've started voting a lot more!) In addition I often see longtime users (usually with very high points) getting a lot of votes for answers that are short, simple or flippant. I would find it discouraging if I felt that votes were more for popularity than for the best answers. Voting of course is subjective, but for my vote a detailed serious answer is more helpful to me. I also like thoughtful and personal responses whether they agree/disagree, or give me insights I hadn't thought of. Ultimately I think newbies will respond with more and better questions and answers when they get the feedback of votes.
One of the pitfalls of any like minded group is to lose patience, criticize, and otherwise punish people we don't feel agree enough with us. (yet:) If PH really nurtures the dissenting views, the questioning views, the skeptical views. It will make PH seem balanced and approachable. People with opposing views or who are less than "on board" with paleo are one of the keys to growing. It let's those who want to learn feel like they can ask anything without risking the ire of the group.
In other words Newbies respond to caring and support which is what I think Paleohacks does very well most of the time.
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