This may not even be a concern with the users, and there's probably a valid reason, but the answer ratio on GIS is kinda low (84%) compared to other Stack sites with similar traffic (but not that much lower). As of this posting, 2,082 questions on GIS have no upvoted answers. Being inexperienced with the GIS community both here and at large, I'd like to know if this seems normal. Are these questions bad questions with bad answers? Are they about obsolete software?

From my experience working with Stack Exchange, we tend to see this as a problem; it'd be easy to assume from the number that a lot of users come here, ask a question, and don't get a decent answer (or an answer at all). I do understand that that most likely does not apply for GIS. I just want to know if you, the loyal users, think the low answer ratio is a problem to be fixed! And truthfully, from my perspective this is a very healthy site, and this low-ish answer ratio is the one area of improvement.

If you want to help lower the number of unanswered questions:

I would like to see if we can get GIS's answer percentage up to 90% over the next month. Looking at the questions in the links above and giving them the once over is a good place to start.

Closely related: questions answered by comments and Does GIS have a low voting problem?. The latter provides partial answers to your initial questions. –  whuber Nov 6 '12 at 17:16

5 Answers 5

I've been looking into the open questions (only the ones related to tools I know).

One part of them contains potential solutions or pointers to solution in comments. Someone would have to migrate the main points from comment to answer but even then if the orignal author doesn't frequent the site anymore, they will never be accepted.

Some questions turn into feature requests. They ask if something is possible, the answer is "No, file a feature request". Usually nobody writes such an answer and/or accepts it.

Other questions require extensive knowledge about data and use case which the author can/does not provide. I guess those could be closed.

Good assessment. Regarding questions in which the OP will most likely never return, it's my understanding that an answer only needs an upvote to count, not an actual marking as accepted. When you look at the "unanswered" tab, it states "with no upvoted answer." So would upvoting one of the provided answers help? –  Brett White Nov 6 '12 at 19:35
Brett, that gets back to the previous thread on low voting, where it has been pointed out that many questions (and answers) are so specialized that few community members feel qualified to vote on them. I don't think we want arbitrarily (and perhaps ignorantly) to upvote answers just to increase the answer ratio on our site. Assuming you agree, just who exactly is going to do the upvoting? (I periodically look through unanswered questions and have voted wherever I can, so I'm confident that I personally would be of no help in adding votes at this point.) –  whuber Nov 7 '12 at 17:11

I also think that the lack of specificity to GIS in the FAQ has been part of the reason for the lower answer rate. GIS questions tend to be highly technical in nature and very often question askers do not provide enough information or structure their question in such a way that it can be reasonably answered. A better FAQ could help.

Related: (How) can we improve our FAQ?

A nice notion, but remember that not many people necessarily read the FAQ. –  GIS-Jonathan Nov 12 '12 at 12:24
@GIS-Jonathan I think that's part of the problem. I don't think we want people who haven't read the FAQ to run around loose ;-) –  R.K. Dec 19 '12 at 13:06
@R.K. - I can't say I've read the FAQ..... ;-) –  GIS-Jonathan Jan 4 '13 at 11:53
@R.K. - Huh, we have a FAQ? The problem is not that people are running around loose, not reading a FAQ, it is that the site has a massive weakness when it comes to existence and access to a FAQ. –  martin f Jun 11 at 20:04
@martinf do you mean the Help Center? What was previously known as the FAQ is now the Help Center. If you mean frequently asked GIS questions, we have the beginnings of one here: Do we need a list of canonical questions? –  blah238 Jun 11 at 21:16
I meant a GIS FAQ (and didn't realize about FAQ being the old name for Help). You have a good list at "Do we need..." but i don't know how we'd use it. –  martin f Jun 11 at 23:33

I think a lot of the problem is that so many of the unanswered questions are basically unanswerable. We get a lot of people who come to the site with a single specific problem who do not or can not provide enough detail to generate an answer and then leave the site when an answer is not forthcoming.

This will also discourage people from answering older questions, as the person they are trying to help appears to be long gone.

A moderator flag of Unanswerable could be useful as a way of identifying such questions, allowing a distinction to be made between these questions and good questions which have not yet been answered for other reasons.

I like your idea. But what would "unanswerable" do that closing does not accomplish? After all, if there are questions that do not have enough detail to allow answering, they ought to be closed under existing guidelines. –  whuber Nov 7 '12 at 17:08
That is a good point. Maybe unanswerable is the wrong term, I was trying to convey a state somewhere between an active, valid question and a closed, poor question. So that users can focus their efforts on answering questions that will actually benefit other users. –  sgrieve Nov 8 '12 at 8:31
Maybe we should try something like cleanup day? But instead of cleaning up the titles, we flag questions that need to be closed. –  R.K. Nov 10 '12 at 14:39
That sounds like a great idea. –  sgrieve Nov 10 '12 at 16:58

The others have identified the reasons why, but one possible solution:

Back when I first joined the site a few months ago, I went through a period where after checking the days questions, I'd use the rest of my 40 daily votes to try and vote up answers to questions that appeared to be correct (as well as under-rated questions) but hadn't been yet. Even managed to answer one or two as well.

I did this by going to "Unanswered", sorting by "newest" and then going to the very last page. Currently page 43 when using 50 a page and then working forward. It doesn't take that long though of course with only 40 votes a day I only managed to get through probably 2-3 thousand before I gave up.

Other folks may therefore want to try similar (although not everyone should start at the very "end" of time).


Just to bring this question up to date and back into the fold, here is some updated data on our site's answer rate. The Stack Exchange Data Explorer has a wealth of information that can be extracted with queries such as this one: Is the rate of answered questions declining?

The rate of questions with answers has slipped from 90% to 77% since Jan of 2013:

date        answered  total   ratio
5/1/2011    2459      2515    98%
6/1/2011    2836      2913    97%
7/1/2011    3203      3292    97%
8/1/2011    3542      3659    97%
9/1/2011    3893      4033    97%
10/1/2011   4213      4376    96%
11/1/2011   4564      4767    96%
12/1/2011   4899      5130    95%
1/1/2012    5173      5434    95%
2/1/2012    5538      5843    95%
3/1/2012    5995      6339    95%
4/1/2012    6479      6884    94%
5/1/2012    7062      7554    93%
6/1/2012    7725      8294    93%
7/1/2012    8355      9022    93%
8/1/2012    8999      9775    92%
9/1/2012    9604      10480   92%
10/1/2012   10176     11157   91%
11/1/2012   10918     12017   91%
12/1/2012   11710     12958   90%
1/1/2013    12354     13722   90%
2/1/2013    13137     14686   89%
3/1/2013    13819     15551   89%
4/1/2013    14585     16623   88%
5/1/2013    15317     17664   87%
6/1/2013    16032     18720   86%
7/1/2013    16675     19685   85%
8/1/2013    17364     20779   84%
9/1/2013    18057     21844   83%
10/1/2013   18757     22907   82%
11/1/2013   19525     24140   81%
12/1/2013   20189     25247   80%
1/1/2014    20758     26230   79%
2/1/2014    21518     27477   78%
3/1/2014    22151     28744   77%

If you compare this with other mature sites (by switching the site selector at the bottom of the query page) you'll see a similar trend. This obviously does not answer why this is happening, but I would assume it's a sign of maturity and probably closely follows the site's user population.

I found another very telling query here: Number of users answering or questioning.

Year Quarter Questioning Answering 
---- ------- ----------- --------- 
2009 3       1           1         
2010 1       2           2         
2010 2       2           8         
2010 3       215         253       
2010 4       231         226       
2011 1       382         330       
2011 2       497         396       
2011 3       533         404       
2011 4       554         424       
2012 1       796         550       
2012 2       1209        670       
2012 3       1259        772       
2012 4       1475        822       
2013 1       1743        974       
2013 2       1918        1007      
2013 3       1962        995       
2013 4       2058        1033      
2014 1       1693        819

This seems to confirm something that I've suspected has been going on, which is that there are a whole lot more people asking questions than answering questions than there used to be.

This is probably a natural progression with site maturity. When a site is young it is filled with enthusiastic, knowledgeable users who have been around since the dawn of (the site's) time and are both knowledgeable with the site (they know, for example, that answers yield twice the reputation that questions do) and the subject matter. As time goes on and word gets out about the site being a great resource to ask questions, the demographics change and you get a whole lot more people looking for information rather than offering it.

+1, but I think we can do better with more pro voting attitude around here. –  Andre Silva Mar 4 at 19:55
+1 and it may be worth mentioning that you would expect Questions available to Answer for 3.25 years will have a higher probability of being answered (or closed) than those there for only 30 days. –  PolyGeo Mar 4 at 21:52
That's a good point, the query probably does not account for when the question was answered. That's probably also why the number apparently never goes up. –  blah238 Mar 5 at 0:01
It's a pity the Visits per day data is not accessible to graph - I suspect that would give the clearest picture of an SE site's health over time. –  PolyGeo Mar 5 at 12:11
@PolyGeo Maybe not, check out this site: -- according to that our traffic has basically gone up by 5x since 2011. –  blah238 Mar 5 at 17:47
There is another factor that we cannot take into account with these kinds of queries. Some unanswered questions are deleted after 1 year: –  blah238 Mar 5 at 20:49
There is a good analysis on Meta SO here: –  blah238 Mar 5 at 20:57
Thanks for providing these numbers - all in all it looks like GIS SE is healthy enough. –  PolyGeo Mar 6 at 2:45

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