It's a fact SE sites that are successful have many experts available to answer questions. Presently, experts are what Buddhism.SE sorely lacks. What can we do about this?
Some thoughts on this:
- Experts in Buddhism (at least Pali Buddhism) would be experts in the language of the texts (Pali) and may other forums questions and discussion on Buddhism goes hand in hand with that of the language of the texts. Even in universities in Sri Lanka, the Buddhist departments are named
Pali and Buddhist Studieswhere the word
Buddhist Studiesas without knowledge of the language of the texts one cannot lean the doctrine properly. Forums which have attached experts allow Pali as they naturally discuss Pali along with the doctrine.
- Improvement of the quality of content also will lead to having experts participate. The content would be largely directly from Suttas or Suttānuloma and also from Atthakathā. Most of the content here are Attanomatika or personal interpretation and opinions and where Suttas are referred to what is discussed are the translated meaning of the English words than the original meaning in some cases. Experts may be put off in participating on a site with largely questionable content. So every participant would be encouraged to lean thoroughly from a formal source or authority then contribute what one has learned.
- Community members who ask questions are not experts themselves who vote and accept questionable answers which are well formulated and articulated than based on the correctness of the content provided. I am not sure if anything can be done about this than trying to get experts to participate in which case proper answers will get the deserving votes, still acceptance is up to the user and will be limited by their knowledge.
- Also, people voting for the sake of it can also be a problem as doctrinally wrong answers can get a lot of votes implying to a novice that this is correct. Also, voting should take into account other content from a particular user vetting it to be doctrinally correct otherwise their reputation may imply mastery of the doctrinal position or depth of practice.
- Not use certain terms in a derogatory sense which might put off experts in the area especially monks. E.g. hinayana -
noun: a pejorative name given by the followers of Mahayana Buddhism to the more conservative schools of early Buddhism. The tradition died out in India, but it survived in Sri Lanka (Ceylon) as the Theravada school and was taken from there to other regions of SE Asia.(source:hinayana) when
In 1950 the World Fellowship of Buddhists declared that the term Hīnayana should not be used when referring to any form of Buddhism existing today.(source: Hinayana).
- Content from all traditions should be equally welcome without trying to limit content on whatever pretext both intentionally or unintentionally (due to lack of knowledge). When moderating care should be taken not to alienate or lean toward any particular tradition (knowingly or unknowingly) especially in areas which different traditions subscribe to opposites or emphasize different aspects holding the other opinions to be controversial. If one lacks the knowledge to make an impartial decision I think it is best that one holdback. E.g. question on Jahana and Sukkha Vipassana should be equally welcome as Thai Forrest, Pa Auk and other Samathapubbangama vipassana schools emphasises Jhana practice and deemphasizes dry vipassana while Mahasi and other Sukkha Vipassana Schools deemphasizes Jhana and lean towards dry vipassana. Similarly use of noting and not using noting Mahasi and Goenka traditions.
- We should accept both Pali and Sanskrit tags on equal footing not to alienate or prefer one tradition over the other as Theravada practitioners will want to use the Pali tags and Mahayana practitioners will want to use the Sanskrit tags. The questions should have the tag added by the user. Inability to have the relevant (Pali) tags may put off some Theravada contributors who might be experts.
- Have more complicated or challenging questions. Experts may not be attached by mundane or simple questions. They will want something which is more challenging and stimulating. E.g. some sites have a challenge questions scheme:
Thank you for everyone's interest in this. I've not read everything written here, but scanning through gave me a better sense why Bud.SE has been having trouble taking off.
What can we do to attract experts?
- THE TERRAIN This is the most important factor. Let Bud.SE be as SE sites are meant to be: a Q&A site. Don't turn it into a forum about Buddhism. (Experts don't want to waste their time with free-flow discussion.)
- ACTIVELY INVITE EXPERTS Don't be eager to answer question. It's better to let the questioner wait, than to give a poor answer. Use the "share" link. Email experts if you know them personally. Go to websites where you know they are found and place the question and the link in the right places.
That's all and that's a lot.
As well as "being attractive" there's "not being off-putting".
I always imagined that seeing people arguing on the main site, or being argued with, would be off-putting to experts, and that's one of the reasons why it's my job as moderator to prevent and/or delete that.
I'm mindful of something a Pacifist (a young Quaker) told me when I was young,
I'll discuss anything with anyone -- but as soon as it turns into an argument, I walk away.
I kind of get that impression from Ven. Yuttadhammo's parting words,
Personally, I haven't the time for or interest in debating Buddhism on the Internet
What I was looking for here was a place where I could answer specific questions about topics on which I was somewhat of an expert, under the assumption that I (or anyone) could provide the single right answer to the question as a resource for Buddhists searching for answers online, without having to deal with (much) controversy or opinion.
So it's been my (not always successful) intent to shield people who answer from controversy, to limit the number and tone of comments.
Simultaneously (and perhaps at odds with the above) I think Yuttadhammo also suggested we exercise stricter quality control over content:
I also don't have the time for or interest in answering questions about meditation practice in a broad public forum
suggests that some questions which are currently allowed should be off-topics (our moderation policy for questions is unusually permissive compared with other SE sites)
answers based on personal opinion are acceptable
suggests there should be more quality control on answers too, and that perhaps a site policy like What about providing sources? should be reversed (and/or some other mechanism for the moderators or community to police answers.
Given that he doesn't have time or interest to answer all questions, that's a reason why I've tried to answer so many questions myself. I try to answer some of the questions with a reference, I figure if any expert also wants to post a better answer that would be welcome, otherwise at least the OP gets some answer, and the users who are relatively experts might be free (i.e. had the time) to answer question that I couldn't.
And so I've been a prolific poster though I'm relatively novice.
Anyway I see my job here as being to provide a hygienic, sheltered, orderly environment in which people can post -- with a minimum of "rules" they need to learn, and a minimum chance that their post (questions or answers) will be criticised -- because I think that's the kind of policy and moderation that the community asked for (the majority of people expressing their views on Meta when the site started).
Some SE sites are a bit exclusive. Stack Overflow is for any programming question, but some people find it hostile (their questions are easily closed), it's mostly for professional or professional-level programmers.
Mathematics.SE says it's "for people studying mathematics at any level and professionals", there's a separate site (MathOverflow) for "research-level mathematics".
Our policies are unlike those of other religion sites on SE too, which forbid "pastoral" questions.
It would be slightly counter-intuitive tome to imagine that changing our policies to increase quality -- to forbid more types of question and to criticise or delete more types of answer -- would make this site more "attractive" (to experts) or "popular" (to users in general).
Anyway you might want to criticise or give me feedback on:
- The policies we defined -- see the faq topics
- The way in which I moderate -- whether I have a right balance between permissive, advisory, and prohibitive
- The way in which I post -- given that I'm a prolific user I hope I'm not "part of the problem" and doing more harm than good here (and a reason for the "sore lack of experts")
I see little good coming out of the scoring system, as it is counter to pretty much everything buddhism stands for. I wonder if that puts potential new users with a background as serious practicioners off from participating. (I should add that i understand that the scorings comes with the SE territory.)
I wish i could give you a clearcut answer, but unfortunately i only have more questions like yours.
However, reading old answers to questions gives me the impression that the forum was more prolific historically. If this is true, it is a clue to learn from.
Sometimes the current forum culture reminds me of my university years, where students - in my opinion - had way too much saying about the contents of the curriculum and/or literature.
I assume it must be important to improve the quality of questions, in any way possible.
I recommend for example this description of 'a good question' -- perhaps a question which "shows research effort" etc.
This site's Moderation policies for Questions is exceptionally lenient (permissive) of any "low quality" in a question, for the sake of being Welcoming to new users.
I usually upvote any question that's on-topic, which I think is worth answering and/or which I hope someone else should answer.
I propose we begin to consider holding at least the regular/established users to a higher standard -- and vote down (or even vote to close) their question if it's "unclear" or "shows no research effort" -- i.e. if it isn't asked well.
The interest to encourage new participants with knowledgeability re Buddhism at this site is a reasonable, and people with knowledgeability/ expertness re Buddhism would be expected to be ordinarily present within a typical group of persons looking up a Buddhism website! So encouraging new & continuing participation on the site for All people will result in a larger pool of text analysis scholars as well! So, encouraging new & encouraging continuing participation by everyone, & avoiding discouraging things, is sensible & would result in more new participation & more continuing particpation by everyone, including knowedgeable/ expert people!
*It may be good to continue to be, as some put it 'more lenient' cf some other sites: Buddhism is broad subject with thousands of specific analytic topics, existential aspects, & tangible topics. Buddhism is a broad philosphical/religion area generally based on participation, honesty, helpfulness, generosity, & kindliness, and so to be presented in the same format developed for some other sites. Persons(including Buddhists) tend to perceive Buddhism as being associated with kindliness, so if they see something which to them seems contrary to that, they may consider it unappropriate. And the more that persons might be familiar with The Teachings of The Buddha, the more they might notice both obvious & subtle aspects of a site.
*The site seems somewhat directed to speakers of English: so encourage having the English used be more usual English usage. For example, maybe stating what an 'expert' is being defined/considered as could be helpful. The term expert re Buddhism is considered by many here to be a person who has studied/ studies Buddhist books and is knowledgeable regarding Buddhist texts & lists of texts. That might confuse some persons, since they might construe a Buddhism expert to imply unusually scholarly Monks/Nuns, Abbots, Masters etc.
*Encourage/ allow having scholarly questions indicate at their outsets their textual analytical nature by having a specific relevant Name/ word in the Title, (maybe even in actual Pali etc), before presenting most of the text of the question. That could make it easier to notice questions of more technical/ analytical content, as well as make it easier to notice less analytic questions: more efficient for everyone.
*Scholarly analysis of Buddhism texts can be very helpful, and is one of many aspects of Buddhism. When most people(including knowledgeable experts)see sites named Buddhism, they might tend to expect a broader site than only textual analysis, which is comparatively specialised. Also, posts dont seem to currently contain much Sanskrit/ Pali/ Etc text, which terms & text can be useful(& many persons' PCs can support the character sets to some extent), since Romanisations can be ambiguous for the same actual terms. And pronunciation of Romanised material can be misleading, especially if exact Branches & Texts aren't cited. And some links seems divergent from the material theyre listed as references for, and if new participants encounter that, they may be less inclined to continue.
*Some things, which if observed, might be unencouraging/ offputting of participation re a Buddhism site, maybe moreso the more knowledgeable re Buddhism the oberver, such as:
+aspects of the format of the site: the scoring listings etc is part of the basic featuring of the site. But perceptive persons would likely notice & appreciate how this site is operated evenly & nicely wrt all users! (eg, this site might be operated less like a mathematics or programming site: Buddhism q&a isnot the same as, eg, what does 1+1 equal in a standard Decimal System, so instead of deleting anything other than 2, in Buddhism, there could be correct aspects to several different answers!) And if something is actually Incorrect, then maybe suggest something gently in a comment: And knowledgeable/expert people will notice such things, even if that q&a hasn't anything to do with them directly.
+re extensive replies which are interesting & correct yet would seem likely to be nonunderstable by the Asker, or are out of context re the context of the question: leave the answers up if theyre nice & well intended
+avoid automatic favouritism to high scores: yes, listing scores is apparently part of the structure, but may discourage new participation, especially if seen as such
+avoid automatic disfavouritism to low scores: eg, please dont shoo them away because they arenot deemed worth paying attention to: experts/knowledgeable persons observing that might be unencouraged by that & other such barriers to participation. Buddhism isnot like an arcade game where certain sets of scores need to be arrived at & then all of a sudden scores for the same thing are multiplied by a hundred or a thousand: the accounts are largely nonfunctional & languish until they accrue a certain number of points. Simply the listing of scores may tend to bias impression(which may be intended), yet new contributors will be encouraged if they observe that contributions from people of all score levels are appreciated & respected.
*Be encouraging and nice to everyone! Nicer for everyone, and will encourage sincere study of material which guides such kindness and helpfulness.
*Synopsise text, & reply in helpful ways to people sincerely asking asking for advice (a kindly example of this is a helpful comment below from a Participant who is clearly knowledeable re Buddhist texts)
*Continue gentle editing etc of all answers & questions, which encourages participation from people with technical knowledge to reply to perhaps mundane questions; kindly steering questions, & answers which may seem sort of tangential to reply to a specific question is encouraging. And seeing such atmosphere may encourage everyone, including new technically knowledgeable participants!
To create a new question from this
As suggested by Suminda, I think a weekly or fortnightly topic challenge might be interesting, though I'm not sure how much participation would be generated.
This question shows a good example.
Topics can be like:
- Parents and children
- Riddles #1
- Life of the Buddha
- Similes #1
- Monastic order and lay people
- Buddhist traditions
- Parables and anecdotes #1
- One sentence teachings
- Daily life
- Five Aggregates
- Similes #2
- History of Buddhism
- Finance, business and economics
- Samatha and jhanas
- Riddles #2
- Three Poisons
- Social discrimination e.g. racism, sexism
- Parables and anecdotes #2
- Dependent Origination
- Teacher and student
Maybe send a swift messenger to some Venerables saying; 'Come Venerable Sir, you too can be moderated by a Perfectly Enlightened Householder whose coming was foretold!'
If that doesn't get them lining up you can mention the free of charge training in tolerating abuse by Dhammadhatu.
If that still doesn't get them excited you can tell them about the prospect of seemingly endless & futile complaining about the policy & moderation on meta.
If you want to keep experts then you have to realize thar you can't bargain with them, you give them whatever it is they ask or keep building a community without.
I would suggest finding people you want to recruit and ask what that particular person wants and then proceed to give them exactly that hoping that is sufficient and that they will be kept satisfied, otherwise you can just be without as there are really no alternatives.
You just don't have any leverage to negotiate with one who is independent of the learning place. Any real expert can easily make a youtube channel if they really want to teach or just teach irl.