I decided to make a meta post here, so we can discuss the future of Biology Stack Exchange. As we approach 2017 perhaps it would be good to reflect on the successful five years of Biology SE and discuss where we see this site going in the future.

How has Biology Stack Exchange evolved over the years? What purpose does it serve to you? Do you feel it is meeting its goals or falling short? Would you like to see any changes here in how we do things?


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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.

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    $\begingroup$ I'm a long time lurker in stackexchange, particularly stackoverflow, and just recently joined and answered a few biology questions, so my view of the trajectory of the site is limited. I have seen a lot more specific/technical questions asked on ResearchGate than here; I wonder if the recent increase in popularity of sites like that has pulled away from some of the more specific stackexchange sites. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 21:32
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    $\begingroup$ To add to my comment... I feel like the quality of answers on this site is far and away better than Yahoo Answers, as well as better than the most upvoted responses to /r/AskScience, with some rare exceptions, so that is a point of strength. Similarly ResearchGate, which has more technical questions, also tends to have perfunctory answers, or the same answer given by 30 different people. $\endgroup$
    – Bryan Krause Mod
    Commented Nov 2, 2016 at 21:37
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    $\begingroup$ I've been less active here during the last 6 months as well (parental leave, change of jobs etc), but I have a similar feeling as you. Less moderation by users, less well-kept review queue, and less really interesting questions. My visits have been scattered though, so they might not reflect the situation. $\endgroup$ Commented Nov 4, 2016 at 9:00
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    $\begingroup$ Upvotes here aren't appreciation of the question but are required to get attention. I am a student of medicine and I have more than twice the upvotes in chemistry.se (where I'd be a layman) for less than half the questions at bio.se Maybe its that way in other places too, that trivial questions get more recognition. Despite the response being lesser when compared to reditt or sdn or researchgate, I prefer se for the fact that you can expect an answer and not just a discussion. I still prefer researchgate for methodology/technical questions. $\endgroup$
    – Polisetty
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 5:35

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