Personally, I think BioSE is beginning to loose it's way. Over recent months I've noticed a couple of possible worrying signs. In my opinion there has been a change in the type of questions we receive.
We have always had, and always will have, a mix of both highly expert questions and more trivial questions. However, lately it feels like the overall ratio has shifted such that we a leaning strongly now to being a site for the trivial, popular science, basic, and sometimes just plain silly, with fewer specialist questions. It's hard to prove this because it's really quite a subjective thing and hard to measure. But what I will say is that I certainly see less value in the site for me; I have asked some questions here, but my main enjoyment came from answering challenging and interesting questions. That has been reflected in my usage, after a surge earlier this year (during unemployment), my reputation plot has just flat-lined. But then I looked at the reputation plots of some of the other top users, and a number of the top 10 have similar patterns, a slowing of reputation in recent months (or years in the case of some) suggesting that they are contributing less.
Another suggestive point has been the amount of times lately that I've gone in to the review queue and found a line of 20, 30, 40+ questions in the queue - the top users are far and away the major contributors to moderation work - but as their usage goes down, these jobs are being neglected. That never used to happen, and I think it is a joint effect of increased rates of poor material and reduced willingness from the old-guard to do anything about it. This is worrying because poor quality material is likely to further drive established users away.
Are the "older", more established users moving away from the site? Who is filling the gap? Do these users get what the site is about, have they bought in to our philosophy, or are they taking it in a new direction?
Well, what purpose is Biology SE supposed to fill? What sort of questions are we after? This extract from the help pages makes me think we are going away from our goals.
What topics can I ask about here?
Biology Stack Exchange is for people studying biology at any level.
Questions are from students, academics and active researchers in
biology and closely related fields, including:
I really don't think we are hitting the target audience very well any more. I've highlighted that is for those studying biology. It feels that the vast majority of questions are coming from people with no interest in biology, they just want to check a trivial fact, have their homework done, or want a pub debate settled. The sort of stuff that can be answered by anyone in a short time with a little wikipedia and google work, rather than things to exercise the grey matter of highly educated, well trained, and experienced career biologists.
So what about the future? Going forward I think we need to either refocus on the original aims of Biology Stack Exchange to ensure that the site doesn't just descend in to a glorified yahoo answers, or redefine the aims of the site so that they reflect the less stringent requirements of academic worth in questions that we are now working to. I really hope, for the sake of the site, and it's established community that have worked so hard for 5 years to make this site a success, that it's the former. That we don't fall in to the trappings of populism. That we don't just become another trivial Q&A site for the masses. That we take pride in our unique ability to bring together specialists in a way that provides genuine value to the scientific community.