Aarthi (one of the SE Employees on the community team) noted:

Much like The Workplace, we'd really like to see more content that isn't software development related. That's not something that will magically change, and the reasons for why are pretty obvious (Stack Overflow). That said, I feel PM and Workplace will have some similar challenges moving forward and as they grow. (It's not by crazy random happenstance that you all share a moderator with that site.) There already seems to be some overlap in the sites' userbases, so it seems to me that you all recognize this implicitly, as well.

This was in response to a question about the PM SE moving towards graduation. So obviously this is an issue that we will need to overcome to graduate as well.

What can we do to start getting more questions that are not IT/Programmer specific? How can we grow our community outside of its roots as programmers?

  • Just for reference, this is the "greatest hits" list for this site. These are questions that are sorted by votes, anon feedback, and popularity/views. This listing is available (but unlinked) on all sites.
    – Aarthi
    Apr 8 '13 at 21:29
  • I am part of the user base that overlaps with SE and Programmers, but not PM. Just sayin'. May 2 '13 at 2:47

Well this is easy to say what the "what" is - the "how" might be harder. Either:

I do not think we have an overwhelming problem with this.

Most specific to software questions are closed here quickly and we have a lot of non-software specific questions. I don't know the percentage but the majority of non-closed questions are not software specific.

Only 2 of the top 50 highest voted questions are even tied to software (and 1 of them is very generalized and the software element is not a defining factor). Expanding to top 100, still only 4 are software focused (from titles, at least).

If anything, we have a problem with people assuming all questions are software questions and answering in kind.

Sure, we get "help me please / review my resume" types of questions which tend to be from software people, but they are not by any stretch of the imagination the dominating factor here.

I think Aarthi is off base with her assumption :)

The specific plan to do this, more practically is:

  1. Downvote or vote to close poor questions immediately - do NOT say, "well there's a good question here, so I'll leave it open to be edited." Leaving poor questions open encourages answers - which normally match the quality of the question.
  2. Strip out the "software specific" elements in the edit phase. This might be possible before the above. But most questions asked here are not specific to software. Most have a generalizeable question.
  3. Only when the question is "fit" for the site, reopen. This site has an active community of people either on the site, chat, and meta, if you see a question which is closed and then edited to be reopened, it's easy to make this happen here. Post on meta and the question probably (if appropriate) is reopened in an hour, nearly at all times of day.
    • Having a question closed before answers show up is nearly a prereq for this. I have a hard time voting to reopen a question which picked up a few mediocre answers regardless of question quality.
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    we have a problem with people assuming all questions are software questions and answering in kind. - I definitely agree with this statement. - But I would note that Aarthi is on the community team and part of the decision on graduation/axing of SE's. So even if she is off base we need to change the perception that we are software baised Apr 5 '13 at 14:50
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    I do agree that we don't really have this problem as far as questions. Additionally, I'm not sure that's what Aarthi was saying - that sentence seems ambiguous to me. Could be "we'd like to see more non-software content on PM, like on The Workplace" or "both PM and The Workplace need more non-software content"
    – yoozer8
    Apr 5 '13 at 17:24
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    @enderland Note that Aarthi is talking about content not questions, so for all you know "we have a problem with people assuming all questions are software questions and answering in kind" might be exactly what she means.
    – yannis
    Apr 5 '13 at 21:19
  • @Yannis I doubt that given how subtle of a problem it is (at least it seems subtle to me). Might be worth asking :)
    – enderland
    Apr 5 '13 at 21:20
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    I'm also under the impression that a lot of the site's content is related to IT / soft. dev., but I'll admit I haven't been around much lately. That said, the battle plan you've laid out in your answer should be followed regardless of whether there's a content diversity issue or not.
    – yannis
    Apr 5 '13 at 21:24
  • @Yannis while I think many of the questions originate from software people, but most of them are 100% relevant to non-software people. If anything is amiss about our questions, it's that we're missing the entire non-salary workplace demographic.
    – enderland
    Apr 6 '13 at 0:52
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    @enderland - Most of our users are from a software background, and closing their questions simply because there's a software element may alienate this group. Is it possible for us to talk to our non-technical coworkers and encourage them to use our site instead? +1 to the editing ideas though. I don't see harm in trying to hide some of the sofware-specific details that aren't necessary to sort of take the focus off software, but we shouldn't close or downvote questions/answers simply because "software" is mentioned.
    – jmort253
    Apr 7 '13 at 3:44
  • [cont'd] - Building more on what you're saying about editing, what do you think about editing existing posts to tackle the non-software side of the workplace? For instance, if answer A comes from a software perspective, is there harm in editing the content to tackle some other cases as well? I'd think looking at the posts with the highest views would be a good place to start. Most of those asker's questions would have already been answered, so my thought is we're less likely to alienate anyone if we change what Google searchers are seeing....
    – jmort253
    Apr 7 '13 at 3:50
  • @jmort253 I'm not saying close all software questions. I'm saying close all poor questions. Generally speaking, questions super specific to software will tend to be poor, however.
    – enderland
    Apr 7 '13 at 3:55
  • @enderland - Okay, great! I just wanted to address that so no one thinks "oh, software question. boo! -1 -1" :) as someone could misinterpret and start downvoting any software question. With that said, I'm thinking that if we want to get more users that aren't from Stack Overflow, we need to think about where they're coming from, and that's Google searches. So, if we look at the questions with the highest views and assume they're driving in the 1 rep newbies, maybe edits to that content could help people searching for non-technical workplace problems to more easily find the site also.
    – jmort253
    Apr 7 '13 at 4:00

Wow, there's a ton of comments and stuff for me to respond to!

When I mentioned that PM and The Workplace have a lot in common, I was alluding to PM's reality and what I realize now to be The Workplace's perceived problems of being software-oriented.

I believe enderland and Yannis have the right of it -- there's two parts to this issue. The first is, keeping away poor-quality questions. Whether these tend to correlate to software questions is irrelevant; high-quality content for sites like PM and The Workplace will (usually) be industry-agnostic. Careful editing to ensure this agnosticism in questions and answers (as applicable) is important. The second, that answers will often come from a software-development perspective because of who we are, is potentially impossible to cure. I'm not saying y'all should explicitly downvote these questions, nor should they undergo extensive editing when unnecessary. Let them be, but consider asking the OP to edit his/her response to be industry agnostic. No shame in being industry-specific. (I've asked questions about management consultancy, which occasionally have a conflict-of-interest issue that, while not unique to that industry, is fairly unique in how consultants' engagements are structured.)

The perception (real or imagined) of all the content being software-oriented can be mitigated, also, by taking a hard look at /questions/greatest-hits -- that's the list of most popular and helpful questions on the site.

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    I might have missed responding to something -- feel free to ask me to clarify or append to this answer. :)
    – Aarthi
    Apr 9 '13 at 22:11
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    For much of the site's existence, the "problem" wasn't one of perception, but a real one and a direct result of the site's origins. The site was proposed on A51 to counteract the closures of career related questions on Programmers by a (then) Programmers moderator, and during its early days the vast majority of users were also Programmers' regulars. I have lost touch with the site lately (lack of time), so I'm not 100% sure what's going on now, but I'm happy to see the regulars feel the site's content is getting more diverse, it's certainly a step in the right direction.
    – yannis
    Apr 10 '13 at 15:15
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    The greatest slaps err hits link does a good job of convincing me we do not have a problem with too many software questions here.
    – enderland
    Apr 10 '13 at 16:14

If I had to identify actual experts for the Workplace SE who actually are affiliated with a certain entity or career field, I'd have to say that would be human resources.

In many workplaces, the people hired to help resolve workplace issues generally work in human resources.

If we could reach out to these groups, could this help expand our user base from a largely technical audience to one that is more general?

The main question is whether or not HR personnel would have questions for our community, or would these people be primarily interested in answering them, if at all?

Other than that, we can share The Workplace SE with our non-technical colleagues and encourage them to ask well-written questions.

With that said, I'm hesitant to promote exclusion of questions with a software component. Curious migration to Programmers.SE is an example of a post that could possibly have fit our site that was migrated away because of our bias towards software questions.

While we should encourage more expansion into other fields, excluding the main audience of our site may create an environment that stifles our growth and which eliminates what is otherwise great content.

  • I think that we should keep the topic of the migration to its own question. It really is not an arguement that needs to be had in 2 places, and it distracts from the core of this question. Apr 7 '13 at 1:12
  • @Chad - Sure, that's fair. My intention isn't to bring that discussion here. I just wanted to emphasize that exclusion of one particular part of our core audience may not help in our diversification efforts. I'm hoping we can come up with some good ideas for expanding who uses our site. :)
    – jmort253
    Apr 7 '13 at 3:32
  • I'd appreciate getting your opinion on this, @jmort253 workplace.meta.stackexchange.com/questions/5225/…
    – MackM
    May 22 '18 at 13:31

We all understand the demographic problem rather well, but IMHO any approach to fix the problem cannot occur from our activities within the site.

As users we ask questions, provide comments, ensure quality and work within the bounds of our site abilities to provide the content. We all know why most of us are here, because a lot of us are bored/angry/emotional/egotistical software developers, mostly on StackOverflow, that enjoy writing and helping others.

But this is a marketing problem and NOT a content problem!

What I mean by that is that as users we are great at generating quality site content but are limited at marketing. We can push the site on our social media pages and recommend the site to friends. StackExchange provides the tools to do just that...

How much of us are taking advantage of the social media integration tools?

A few of us likely are. Many of us may be a bit ashamed of that one rant that might get you in trouble. A lot of workplaces also monitor employee's social media and look for bad mouthing of the employer. Even if this is rare it is a real enough fear that many of us are hesitant to push the site on our social media feeds.

How can StackExchange better encourage a grass roots social media campaign?

Perhaps one area to look is what made StackOverflow such an enormous success amongst softare developers. We can say the quality controls, the peer reviewed editing model and yes these played a factor, but ultimately it was the uncanny execution of Gamification features that took the common bored software developer answering technical questions on a forum, and turned it into a competitive game.

We all know that Area 51 rewards a modest amount of reputation for emailing, or "sharing" new site proposals with people, and that sharing itself is easy on any site. The next step is finding the right competitive edge or gamification technique that will encourage a large amount of users to start advertising the site to a broader audience.

This will have a cumulative effect in that more social media buzz and hard links to Workplace will result in increased page rank through Google and Bing, thus furthering the chances that the next 10k user in the making just happens to stumble upon it and then like it enough to stay and contribute.

What else can StackExchange do?

The ball is in their court as far as I am considered. They choose to not graudate Workplace because of a problem that only they can solve at this point so they have to own this and be responsible for fixing it.

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    "The next step is finding the right competitive edge or gamification technique that will encourage a large amount of users to start advertising the site to a broader audience." - Isn't a gold badge enough?
    – yannis
    Apr 25 '13 at 17:21
  • Yannis--facebook credits might go further ;) May 2 '13 at 2:52

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