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This is written with my metaphorical mod hat fully off and hanging on the wall next to my real hats.

I moderate two other Stack Exchange sites, History of Science and Mathematics and Mythology. They're tiny compared to Worldbuilding, getting maybe a question or two a day, if things are going well. Actually, a lot of sites I'm active in are relatively small, and considering that about 50% of you are active on Stack Overflow (and other large sites), perhaps many here think that they're even smaller.

Beta sites often have decent answered rates, maybe at 90%, 95% or better. However, very few sites network-wide have a nearly 100% answered rate. On Worldbuilding, we currently have 8 questions unanswered, out of 8,528, a 99.9% answered rate. On a site this large, that's incredible. We're #3 on Stack Exchange.

So I'm curious: What makes Worldbuilding Stack Exchange so great at answering questions? Is it the interesting topics? Is it the diverse userbase? Is it some combination of great timing and luck? Worldbuilding, you great unfinished symphony, what makes you so good at answering questions, how can we continue this trend in the future, and how could we be a model for other Stack Exchange sites?

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    $\begingroup$ Optimist: we just love to help people. Pessimist: we just love to close questions. $\endgroup$ – DaaaahWhoosh Oct 27 '16 at 14:40
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    $\begingroup$ Because many questions can be answered with little expertise required opening them up to more people. $\endgroup$ – Bellerophon Oct 27 '16 at 15:38
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    $\begingroup$ Wait, there are 8 unanswered questions?? Challenge accepted! $\endgroup$ – AndyD273 Oct 27 '16 at 16:21
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    $\begingroup$ Answering questions help the answerer to, I can say based on my limited answering that I tend to learn more from answering than reading answers. Answering question actually makes you ask yourself and answer yourself $\endgroup$ – TrEs-2b Oct 27 '16 at 16:22
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    $\begingroup$ @TrEs-2b and sometimes you don't see it coming until you're down the rabbit hole, as I commented after writing this answer. :-) $\endgroup$ – Monica Cellio Oct 27 '16 at 19:58
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    $\begingroup$ So, your metaphorical mod hat is hanging next to your real mod hat? Mind blown. $\endgroup$ – wizzwizz4 Oct 28 '16 at 15:50
  • $\begingroup$ And now we have only 2 unanswered questions on the main site, and 75 on meta :) $\endgroup$ – RudolfJelin Nov 5 '16 at 10:07
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    $\begingroup$ I'm going to flag this as opinion-based (kidding). I think you hit the nail on the head: it's the combination of interest, diversity of experience (some of us are mathematicians, some are urban planners, some are teachers, et al), and the openness of possibility: Sometimes a creative and correct answer doesn't require absolutes (on WB). $\endgroup$ – Mikey Nov 6 '16 at 8:14
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    $\begingroup$ Because it's impossible to be "wrong" in a world you create yourself. $\endgroup$ – Matthew Wilcoxson Nov 7 '16 at 16:51
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Because it's easier (and more quickly gratifying) to be a jack of all trades than a master of one.

We're a community with topics described foremost in breadth, secondarily in depth.

A large number of people can bring in general understanding of a variety of topics, a somewhat more specific (if still broad) understanding of the general subject in question, ten minutes of Googling around, and a bit of critical thinking to answer most of our questions. Seriously; scan our questions with a more critical eye at some point. The clear majority (if not all) can be answered with the previous listed "qualifications" (if I can use such a strong term).

Thus the one who answers gets to voice his thoughts, gets his (pretend) expertise commended, and he walks away patting himself on the back for being helpful. Most importantly the answerer can do all of this with both little work previously (collecting life experiences, education, etc), and with little work to answer the question.

Here on WB.SE I can weigh in on economy, politics and governance, military issues, societies, philosophy... and I'm someone with a degree in computers and who works in computers; I'm not an expert in any of these fields yet I can still be helpful. That's a rewarding experience.

Contrast this to me trying to help on Stack Overflow. My degree, profession, and hobbies are/were coding and computers, so it stands to reason that I should find it easier to help there. This is very much not the case. I can spend hours viewing question after question on that site, and only manage to offer a helpful answer if I happen to be the first to answer a question. Most of the questions (that aren't answered correctly in <15 minutes) even in my more specific fields of expertises within Stack Overflow either go beyond my knowledge, or would require significant time to recreate and troubleshoot. So I can't, or don't help with them.

It's easier and more immediately gratifying to answer questions here; you don't have to expend much effort to feel like you genuinely helped someone.

Other considerations

  • World building is rich in variety; it's hard to get boring or to burn out. Your mind is challenged to think in different ways.
  • No matter how much we try to fight it, many questions end up being deep in opinion, and everyone likes giving their opinion.
  • It's hard to challenge incorrect answers. Who's really to say how to prevent the collapse of the Soviet Union? Or about the future tech of automating every job? Or the best way to fit monsters in your pocket? We delve so far into theory that it's difficult to say one answer is wrong or figure out who's more right.
  • People like stories. World building as a whole aside, reading answers and writing answers in-and-of-themselves are often like stories as compared to most other SEs.
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    $\begingroup$ I think your last point about stories is the most important. World-Building often shows up in the Hot Network Questions list, and when I have a minute to spare (or even when I don't), I always enjoy reading them, and even post the occasional answer if I feel like I can contribute. $\endgroup$ – user26892 Oct 27 '16 at 19:27
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    $\begingroup$ Agree on bullet points 2&3: We're literally here to make shit up. There's a much lower barrier to a "quality" answer on WB than there is on the other SE sites. There isn't a single "right" answer to most questions posted here, and you don't need extensive references on your answers. This leads to fewer people being "trigger shy" about possibly answering a "bad" question, or not bothering for fear of being downvoted by the persnickety. $\endgroup$ – R.M. Oct 27 '16 at 20:34
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    $\begingroup$ I can totally relate to the SO thing. I know a fair amount about programming, but I'm no expert. That said, I could answer a fair amount of questions on SO, but there are a lot of people who simply do it faster. $\endgroup$ – DonyorM Oct 28 '16 at 7:59
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I think one of the things is that we have a culture where people don't have to be afraid of trying.

Let me borrow Durakken's reference to 2/10, 5/10, 10/10 answers.

On many scientific subject-specific sites, such as perhaps Physics in particular, there's a lot of great content. If you are willing to spend the time to parse the sciency and mathy stuff, you can find answers to just about anything there. If you are willing to do your homework first, a question can be quite well received, and get you excellent answers full of citations. But on the flip side, if you try to post either a question or an answer, and you are somehow wrong or haven't done your homework, chances are good that your post is going to be downvoted into oblivion. If your post is below 8/10 or so, you get downvoted. If it's below 6/10 or so, you get heaps of downvotes.

Worldbuilding has a different culture, one more of helpful encouragement to make it right than one of punishment for making it wrong.

Hence, the cost (in terms of reputation points and self-esteem) of posting a wrong answer is far lower. The 2/10 answer very likely won't be upvoted or may receive a sympathy upvote or two at most, but a 2/10 answer on Physics would almost certainly be downvoted into oblivion. Not so on Worldbuilding. Here, it's rare to see posts that have more than 2-3 downvotes or so, and even more so net votes.

Now, this isn't always a good thing. Some content in my opinion deserves to be downvoted, because it is flat out bad (factually incorrect, horribly formatted, unfocused/rambling, or what have you; the exact reasons why people downvote vary, but those are some of the things that can make me more likely to vote down than up). But it does foster a culture where people dare to try. About the worst that will happen is that your post doesn't get upvoted; hence, even if you turn out to be wrong, no great harm done. Sure, someone else got 30-40 upvotes and you got maybe one, but at least you didn't lose anything much more than the time it took to research and write up the answer.

Add to this that lots of our questions can be answered relatively easily with some basic knowledge of the subject matter and willingness to spend a bit of time with Google and Wikipedia (and in case of mathy questions, Wolfram Alpha), and you have a site where lots of people feel like they are able to contribute answers. I have answered several questions here which started out like, okay, I know enough about the subject matter to know how to approach the problem, but I had to do the research to be able to actually post an answer. My answer to How far away would an alien civilization need to be for us to not notice them? is, I think, an excellent example of this that turned out to be very well received. (Of course, it got a heap of upvotes while being horribly wrong, because I messed up the path loss calculation. At least some people pointed that out in comments so I could fix it. Sometimes I really wish people weren't so quick to vote up just because a post looks fancy. Using MathJax doesn't necessarily mean that the math is correct.)

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  • $\begingroup$ I cannot compare to Physics, as I spend too little time over there, but I know that compare to some other sites, low quality answers are more prone to get deleted here. Which then lowers the apparent ratio of heavily downvoted answers to answers. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Nov 7 '16 at 7:16
  • $\begingroup$ Came here to say this. We have a bunch of creative people from all walks of life here; chances are better someone here who sees your question will have enough background to give a decent story-worthy answer, but above all of that is the assumption that we are having fun and that the margin of error is far higher than in, say, asking how to correctly format a hard drive with the btrfs file system. $\endgroup$ – Adam Wykes Nov 7 '16 at 17:00
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Because there are many experts at building worlds. We all do it every day in some way or another. We come up with what could possibly connect point A with point C if we can't see point B and know what it is.

Contrast that against how many experts or people that practice those other field there are in the world and it really is no contest. No matter how big the percentage of people that exists of those other fields they can never match the number in the world building field.

There's also the bredth and depth of knowledge thing. Someone who asks a question in other fields may get an answer that is correct, but it will always lack in overall completeness, because it doesn't matter how one got to e=mc^2. Only that it is the right answer, because that is all experts on those fields focus on. World builders however, need to know where it came from, when it happened, the context they came up with and all the other details that others find irrelevant. The breadth of knowledge is what allows us to construct better worlds so we learn more things in a general sense enough to know how it works within the universe. This means that the majority of world builders will likely be able to deliver a 5/10 answer on any number of subjects. A few might know more and be really interested in the subject and so they'll provide a 10/10. And since the average quality is that of 5/10 it's rare that you will get below that simply due to not wanting to look bad or knowing that someone else will write a higher quality answer so if you're not going to get to that level you might as well not answer.

Contrast that to other fields again. A lot of them are 100% fact based so you either get a 10/10 answer or no answer for the most part, because only those who understand will/can answer while simultaneously if there is no answer for long enough, someone knowing they don't have enough understanding of the subject will attempt answer and those result in poor quality (~2/10) answers...or they'll just remain unanswered.

So... TL;DR, The number of world builders that exist in the universe just out number those of any other (read some Terry Pratchett where he sometimes argues that humans should be called the Story Telling Ape) and the nature of World building vs other fields causes it.

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  • $\begingroup$ I build a world a day during my daydreaming. Some of them in my actual sleep-induced REM dreams. Only about 1% of them end up in writing. $\endgroup$ – Mindwin Nov 1 '16 at 14:25
  • $\begingroup$ Yep, I build a world everyday when I talk about what is going to happen with Brexit. Or what will happen if Clinton or Trump wins the US election. $\endgroup$ – Bad_Bishop Nov 7 '16 at 13:07
  • $\begingroup$ Terry Pratchett is perhaps the original word-builder of our times $\endgroup$ – David Andrei Ned Nov 7 '16 at 14:54
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Everyone is pointing out the good things about questions and answers, but there is one pretty big thing that I believe has not been properly mentioned. In addition to many of the other answers here.

When I come here, the default page is the Active questions page for me. Its also the place I spend the most time looking at when I want to find questions. Right now, the oldest update which is on that page, is about 23 hours ago. Of every question that is asked, Updated, or answered, All of them in the last 23 hours is on that page. This is a big deal for exposure. Every question gets usually at least a day on that page, since every edit and answer puts it back on the top of that list. So anyone who visits every day can without navigating away from this page see almost every single question asked on this site since they start visiting daily. With our decent population, this means that every question asked will be seen by at least a few active members, and if it is close worthy, it will probably be closed. If it is worth of an answer, then it has at least a day on the front page for people to find.

So, Not only does WB.SE have the things mentioned in other answers here, like interesting questions that contain a wide variety of subjects, and a high acceptance of nearly opinion answers backed by Solid facts, But it also allows every question, good or bad, to get lots of exposure to everyone who frequents the site. This means every question gets the attention it needs. No question gets left behind (except those 8, but since they were brought up, not for long I am sure)

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  • $\begingroup$ While this is an important factor when compared to, say, Stack Overflow... It isn't that strong compared to, as the OP mentioned, Mythology or HSM, where on the same page, you could cover a whole week. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Nov 7 '16 at 7:22
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin Very true, but those sites do not have the userbase WB.SE does. Exposure is important, but there is no point if there are no users who can answer the question. WB has 11.5 and 6 times more users than Mythology and HSM Respectively. A week on those smaller sites is a fraction of the exposure a day is on WB, and im not even starting on expertise and general interest, which WB has a significant advantage. Maybe i Should add that to the answer, It does seem to be unclear, and I am known for forgetting side facts because I forget people are not in my head. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Nov 7 '16 at 16:11
  • $\begingroup$ SO has close to 200 times the number of users WB has. So for the same activity ratio, 50 questions per day, come to 1000 questions per day. So in average 72 minutes on the front page for each question. $\endgroup$ – clem steredenn Nov 7 '16 at 20:26
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin Which does not add up since right now, There are 40 questions with "asked 5 minutes ago" or less. So 10k per day is a more reasonable number of new questions. The Front page however, goes back to just over 3 hours, and has about 125 questions or so (hard to count manually). As a Newer Programmer, I could never even hope to answer any questions on 80% of the tags on SO, and perusing thousands of questions to find them is scary. At least here, My hobbies of watching Science Videos on YouTube mean that I could possibly provide valuable input on almost any tag. $\endgroup$ – Ryan Nov 7 '16 at 21:07
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From my point perspective, the reason I like to contribute to this site boils down to my hobbies. I do have many hobbies but the biggest is to learn stuff. I read random wiki pages, I learn quantum mechanics, biology, chemistry. I have nothing to with the knowledge I gained apart from them being helpful sparsely in real life. But in here, the knowledge I have is put to use. While answering questions I learn even more. Thus this is a great way to put my hobby into good use. I hope there are others who are feeling the same way.

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Good points in previous answers, which I mostly agree with, but I will add my two sour cents.

The answers as it was mention, are pretty flexible in their content, but so are the Questions.

Which questions are fit for WB is not determined by some strict borders(like facts or attributes, field of knowledge), field of Questions have soft not defined borders.

As result Q are closed and put on hold based on -- do WB users like question or don't. If we like a question, it stays and get answers because it is likable, it we do not like the question it is closed.

So to check the real situation and stats probably closed as broad should be included(a bit hard as some of them have answers before others close them). Those questions are equivalent of hard question which do not gets answer on SE.

Wide spectrum of users(different about the same question) also helps to close questions for different reasons, as interpretation of question depends on field of knowledge of person who votes to close. As result we get more generally acceptable questions, by WB user base.

But when Q gets more specific, significant variation, sometimes mistakes are happening, as for my opinion. As an example How quickly could modern humans go through the techtree? [duplicate] closed as duplicate, and it looks like error of some user who proposed for OP to close it as duplicate, and inexperienced user agree with it.

I personally do not see why are those two questions duplicate, for me they are significantly different questions, but for someone they are obviously not different.

In general everything works fine, but effectively it limits set of questions which could be asked on WB to Q people willing to answer.

It is rather good thing, most of the time, but sometimes Ouch happens, as reminder of existence of echochamber borders.

So in general it is more about having fun in answering question, then providing answers for reputations. And that question may have multiple answers helps there, because no policy of "first come first served no fun for others"

Point is, WB is easy on close questions(just the must thing to do, if WB do not like to turn in to a trash can) and WB like the questions it likes to answer.

how can we continue this trend in the future

More fun, do not hurry to close broad and opinion based questions if they generate content. It is a fun place until there is fun here. Fun attracts users, but do it attracts search engine traffic. (I know one question "mine jupiter" and google gives result on first page, so I guess funny question generate traffic)

, and how could we be a model for other Stack Exchange sites?

alas, no way. WB do not fits in SE paradigm, and is successful because it is impossible to strictly follow that SE paradigm for mod users(because of variety of reasons, one of which not strictly defined criteria for Q and A).

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Though I'm not extremely active and I also haven't dug up deeply to the rules, I'd have a really strong vote on the rules of the site. Whatever means you guys have found, it's easy to catch up with and also provides enough freedom to post viable answers as well.

In my view, the topic itself is also a factor. People are often keen about worldbuilding as it deals with almost every aspect of science, from particle physics to economy, from linguistics to cellular biology, from philosophy to cultural anthropology. This is mostly about the curiosity and creativity every single human borns with.


However, this enthusiasm, if not properly supervised, then leads to answers not scientifically founded, especially in subjects barely explored, like the development of sentient civilizations. But I have no doubt in that the mods of this sub do their best to avoid such issues.

This is my 2 cents for this matter.

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