Why is the SDMB membership declining, and what's the best way to add younger members?

Is the board still being indexed by Google? Curious what demographic is using those search results, likely mostly trivia buffs :slight_smile:

I read a book once where the author invented a vocabulary and a grammar such that only approved thoughts were possible. When the rules of a debate preclude taking an opposite point of view it does tend to make the debate ungood. Worse, it causes the advocates for a particular point of view to feel doubleplusrighteous as they can dismiss their critics’ arguments as outside of the rules. No need to engage with them at all. Doubleplusungood, it radicalises the critics if they are unable to have their thoughts heard.

This strategy is especially galling in a topic where 90%+ of the population had a different opinion just a few years ago. It’s exemplified by the judge in the Forstater case.

That belief is not worthy of respect in a democratic society" and that “people cannot expect to be protected if their core belief involves violating others’ dignity and creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating, or offensive environment for them.”

Maya Forstater: Woman loses tribunal over transgender tweets - BBC News

One year on, I still find those words shocking.

I agree with @mordecaiB that this set of rules is new and different and it feels like a line has been crossed. I have no particular dog in this particular fight, but I do care when the arbiters of speech put their thumb on the scales of free discussion. I agree with about 97% of the pro-trans arguments but I find their advocates’ tactics appalling and their manipulation of the language sinister.

The trans debate is particularly egregious but this approach of debate-by-rule-making is bleeding over into other topics where reasonable people might disagree making it harder to encounter differing opinions. I’m especially offended by it when it’s my side doing it.

I’m not a free-speech absolutist but I do, in the main, agree with the idea that the remedy for bad speech is good speech, especially in a forum that is supposedly in place to encourage discussion.

I’m not going to relitigate that thread here. However, if you’re going to make a vague and hyperbolic reference to a thread that you argue supports your point, especially without linking to it, you have a burden to be accurate in your description.

Whether or not you think the ideas in that thread have merit, it was not saying that everyone has to research everything about a topic before debating it. Argue the facts and not some distorted version of them.

I know I used to get results from the SD forums regularly when googling some obscure question. It probably drove a fair amount of traffic. But that doesn’t happen any more, probably because there are so many more sources available online now?

Maybe we can rebrand the place NextDope and start threads about all the scary people we see in our neighborhood.

Yes. Other search engines are indexing us as well. Roughly a third of our traffic here comes from web crawlers (bots for search engines that index the site).

Google’s mysterious “algorithm” is to blame. The Straight Dope used to be profitable due to advertising, but then Google changed their algorithm and that profitability went away overnight. Google doesn’t publish the details about how their algorithm works, because it’s a trade secret and because they don’t want spammers and such to game the system. They do give some hints. One big hint was that they would drop you significantly in the page rankings if your site was not what their algorithm determined to be mobile friendly. Changing the default theme to the much-hated Sultanstheme on vBulletin was done specifically to address that, and while Sultans-hated-theme did satisfy Google’s algorithm at least for the mobile-friendly bit, other changes to the algorithm have left us so far down in the page rankings that we’re no longer profitable. I’m not involved in the financial side of things here so I don’t know what other things were tried to improve our rankings. All I know is that they were all ultimately unsuccessful, which forced the end of the Straight Dope columns. To this day, we still rank very poorly in Google’s algorithm. Why? Who knows. It’s not because other sources exist now, because we used to compete very well against those other sources. Just one day we’re ranking fine, the next day we’re not. Thanks, Google.

Does anyone know if any consultations were had with Search Engine Optimization experts about improving the ranking? I know there are companies that can help provide advice to improve rankings. I’ve never used them and don’t know how well they work, however.

We should totally get in on that class action lawsuit against Google. :smirk:

The subject of the thread didn’t make any difference to my argument. If it did I would have linked to it. My point was that a sure way to lose actual new posters, not hypothetical ones, is to jump on their first post and tell them to go away and study up on the subject so they have what some posters think is the required knowledge to talk about a subject.

This is one area that makes me think that the Sun-Times wants to keep itself at arms length from the board. Surely they have SEO experts working for them, why not have them look at the board? Also, just a few tweets a year from their account could point all kinds of people here. It always sticks in the back of my mind that they don’t want something with dope in it’s name associated with their newspaper.

Can we please get some solid statistics about membership numbers?

I think this discussion is meaningless otherwise.

If you click on the hamburger menu ( ☰) and then About, and go to the table at the bottom of the page, it currently shows 107 new users in the last 30 days – which makes me wonder if we really have a problem with membership in the first place.

How has the number of active users posting changed over time? Those stats should be available to the mods.

Here’s some information on active users from 2019.

There were roughly 3,500 active users in 2019. There are roughly 1,200 active users now.

You can take a look at the Wayback Machine. That gives a snapshop of the front page of the forum. I haven’t looked at it since the change to Discourse. Looking at the trend, you can sort of tell when Google’s algorithm changed.

Based on what I’ve seen on other message boards, 107 new users in a month is super low. It depends if it’s true new users or if it contains spammers and return users past the 30 day mark, but even without that, it’s still very low.

I’m going to amend this (outside the edit limit). The 3,500 active member number was a 30-60 day average, so it’s more comparable to 2,000 active users now for 30 days.

The question is what criteria vBulletin uses for ‘active users’ vs. Discourse. They may not be the same.

It would be interesting to see the Discourse statistics after the changeover. How has activity changed according to Discourse over the past year?

I found this post by @engineer_comp_geek from Sep last year, where he shows stats from Alexa:

That doesn’t seem to show much change after we switched to Discourse.

Probably. I think vBulletin used a 60 day average while Discourse uses a 30 day average. I don’t think that would make that much of a difference though.

That graph is showing posts. My metric was people. It’s possible that fewer people created just as many posts, particularly right after the switch. But my WAG is that the decline was happening way before the transition.

Yes, but a 60 day vs a 30 day average of what?

Is a user considered to be active if he only views the site, or if he posts?

Does he have to view the site for a certain amount of time to be considered active? There may be other criteria.

If the poster logs in. There’s no way to capture who is reading without logging in, and the posting member number would be way lower.

*I was pretty sure about this when I posted it, but now I’m second guessing. Perhaps someone can correct me if they know.

Discourse does provide many stats and graphs for the mods. So I’m hoping one of the mods will take some screenshots and post them.

The truth is, probably other sites are better for the general internet population of people who are just looking for an answers to a questions. Sites with ranked/voted posts like Quora, StackExchange, Reddit, etc. are more likely to have the quick answer right at the top of the page. The SDMB is better for people who want to have a discussion about a topic. So not only what is the answer, but why is that the answer and what are other viewpoints that might have different answers. Someone clicking on a google result which points to a SDMB thread will need to read through the thread to comprehend the discussion and sift through the various conclusions and viewpoints. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing, but it’s not what most people are looking for when they search google for answers.

Insulting people doesn’t accomplish that, though.