What are some strategies to encourage people to start using a new service (such as in the beginnings of Quora, Stackoverflow, etc.)?

Tips om hur man får ett Q&A-community att växa.

Answer by Archie D’Cruz:

I’ll add some specifics to the excellent big picture overview by Amin Ariana. Much of what follows is distilled from information provided by people involved with community-driven sites; some of it is from notes for a yet-to-be-launched project I am currently involved with.

Here then are eight strategies employed by sites that have gone on to become successful:

1. Seed carefully, nurture well.

The hardest thing about making a new Q&A site is not the programming—it’s the community. You need a large audience of great developers so you have the critical mass it takes to get started. Without critical mass, questions go unanswered and the site becomes a ghost town.

– Extract from a blog post by Stack Exchange co-founder Joel Spolsky in 2008

In that post, Spolsky addresses the critical part of building a community: seeding it with a great core of people. Both he (with Joel on Software) and co-founder Jeff Atwood (with Coding Horror) already had huge audiences for their own blogs—Joel on Software was then listed at #15 on Bloglines; Atwood’s Coding Horror was at #89.

They opened the beta to only a few hundred developers, but obviously chose well, because, to use Spolsky’s words, “The site lit up instantly!” Good enough to go from private beta to public launch in just five weeks.

Though Stack Exchange has built a network of 100+ individual sites since, the strategy remains the same for every new site that users propose: 200 users interested in the new site must formally commit and support the site by actively participating and contributing to it.

Quora was launched a year after Stack Exchange, and although it took longer to gain traction, the initial strategy appears to have been the same. A lot of the early seeding appears to have been done by co-founders Adam D’Angelo and Charlie Cheever along with Quora’s first employee Rebekah Cox. Then, to quote D’Angelo on Quora’s growth:

We invited our friends, and some of them invited their friends, etc.

2. Keep it focused.

Stack Overflow was launched as a place for users to ask and answer questions on programming. Nothing else. In a September 2013 post to mark five years of Stack Overflow, VP of Community Growth at StackExchange Jay Hanlon recalled that the pre-launch landing page had this comic that symbolized what the site was setting out to do:

The site, as he put it, was:

“…by programmers, for programmers, with the ultimate intent of collectively increasing the sum total of good programming knowledge in the world.”

Every new topic covered by Stack Exchange is launched as a separate site, rather than be included as part of Stack Overflow. Today, as mentioned in point #1 above, Stack Exchange owns a network of niche sites, rather than one giant Q&A site.

3. Keep it simple.

Ask questions. Write answers. That essentially is what Quora and Stack Overflow stand for. A clean interface, no attention-grabbing banner ads, ability for anyone to answer (with SO, you can even post as a guest). There are many relatively-hidden features that power users will find useful, of course, but they do not stand in the way of a new user being able to get started fairly quickly.

4. Keep the quality high.

Or in other words, learn from the mistakes of Yahoo! Answers. Poor questions, wrong or joke answers, atrocious language, spam and the high percentage of trolls who frequent Yahoo! Answers have made the site an object of ridicule. Both Quora and Stack Exchange have been good with attracting knowledgeable people who also write well, and have taken strong measures to police the sites to ensure trolls get turfed.

5. Keep it friendly.

Quora’s Real Names policy and the BNBR rule have likely gone a long way in ensuring that most of the site’s users show themselves in the best possible light. Users are less likely to indulge in attacks of the kind you see on comment boards, knowing that their real names are attached to their answers (and searchable on Google as well). There are, of course, some issues that have to do with permitting the use of Anonymous contributions and on contentious topics, but for the most part the site comes across as friendly to new users.

6. Keep it free.

The fewer barriers to entry there are, the more likely you are to have people at least trying out the site. Price is a big barrier, and neither Quora nor SO charge a fee for entry. Quora even gives new users 500 credits to play with (so they can ask specific writers questions), right from the start.

7. Add gamification.

Love it or loathe it, there is no question that gamification drives higher user participation. Call it what you will, but Badges, Credits, Reputation Points, Stars all appear to deliver the dopamine rush that keeps users engaged on an ongoing basis. Publicly available personal stats like 30-Day Views that Quora features are also a powerful driver for active user participation.

But gamification by itself is not enough, warns Stack Exchange’s Hanlon:

At best, the points, and the gamification, and the focused structure of the site did little more than encourage people to keep doing what they were already doing.

People came because they wanted to help other people, because they needed to learn something new, or because they wanted to show off the clever way they’d solved a problem.

8. Achievement Unlocked.

Giving new users something to strive for—like Stack Exchange’s Reputation system that allows them to get past basic restrictions, or Quora’s Top Writer program—are another way to drive newcomers to increase their participation levels rather than drift away.

What are some strategies to encourage people to start using a new service (such as in the beginnings of Quora, Stackoverflow, etc.)?

Posted in Entreprenörskap, IT, Om tankesatt, Programmering.

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