A few weeks into the beta, I've noticed most questions here are what I flippantly referred to in chat as "Sunday school fodder", but I don't think that really covers what I find so unappealing about the level of questions being asked.
Which got me thinking about the other betas that didn't do so well, and I remembered the blog post about Artificial Intelligence.SE. In it, it talked about how it wasn't a very interesting site because nobody was asking expert-level questions: it was filled with people who were merely curious about the subject, and as such, they were asking questions that would make real experts' eyes roll. It also offered this piece of advice:
Establish a site’s expertise early. New users, anxious to jump start their communities, inevitably start asking uninspired questions that have all been asked 100 times before on every phpBB forum. You’ve seen them: “What is your favorite…”, “What is the best…”, “What is the definition of…” Unfortunately, these idle questions can fill the front page in the opening days, and left unchecked will permanently color the tone of the site. Your front page is your billboard, it defines your target audience.
When I look at the current front page of Christianity.SE, I don't see an advertisement for "Expert questions and answers! Right this way!" Instead, I see questions like these:
I half expect to see someone ask "Can God create a rock that even He can't lift?"
Taking into account also the other questions about people lumping all Christians together, Christianity.SE doesn't seem to be all that inviting to experts.
Instead, it seems to be inviting to people who have a curiosity in Christianity but don't really know any of the basic details about it (like that denominations aren't superficial and what sin is) and to people who are looking for a good place to get into an argument with Christians. So I called the questions here "Sunday school fodder" because I think they're stuff that would almost certainly be handled in Catechism class or Sunday school.
For Christianity.SE to succeed, I don't think our main purpose should be to be the place atheists go to test their arguments out or people curious about Christianity stumble through vague questions about what a Christian they know said one time:
- We need to be closing questions that don't clearly define the parameters of the question: if you're asking about "some Christians" or "a Christian I know" or "Christians", you're in the wrong place.
- We need to be better at identifying questions that are asked in bad faith: questions where someone is testing out their argument to disprove X about Christianity push legitimately useful questions out of the way.
- We need to be insisting answers back their claims up with verifiable sources: if you're making an interpretation, someone else more reputable needs to share that interpretation and you need to cite them.
The end goal should be rigor: both questions and answers need to show some amount of research and thoughtfulness. Otherwise, I think we might as well just point everyone to Yahoo! Answers.