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What's going on?

I'm going to pull the plug on the Weekly Topic Contest as a Stack Exchange organized and funded activity. Effective tomorrow, July 10, 2012, I will no longer be running a weekly topic contest on this site.

Why?

This contest has been running for over six months now and has failed to gain significant traction or growth. From the very beginning up until now, the number of questions generated for each contest has been constant; most weeks average about 10 new questions in the designated tag. We've only had one topic that generated more than 20 questions (bread), and some topics have resulted in only 2-5 questions. (This might be because they were poor topics, and I take responsibility for the decision in that case.)

At the start, there was some discussion about lack of visibility being the reason for the contest not pulling in many people. Since then, the community bulletin has been introduced, the meta thread about the contest has received over 1600 views, and I've seen some of you comment on questions noting that they are part pf the topic contest. Despite these great attempts to promote the contest, I haven't seen a big increase in new users participating (new to the contest, not necessarily to the site) and the number of questions has remained pretty constant.

But what if we want to keep doing contests?

Some of you seem to enjoy having a particular theme to focus your quest for culinary knowledge on each week. I encourage you, the community, to continue choosing topics / tags each week and posting those events to the community bulletin if you'd like. (Moderators have the ability to create events in the community bulletin, and meta questions will show up there, too.)

While there will be no prizes awarded, weekly topics continue to be a good way to build up content and give users a chance to explore different areas they may not choose to focus on otherwise. Mi Yodeya (the Judaism Stack Exchange site) has successful weekly topic challenges without awarding prizes. Travel Stack Exchange doesn't have a topic challenge every week, but they sometimes do topic challenge days with an accompanying chat event. I hope that you all will discuss whether you want to continue and use this as an opportunity to brainstorm different ways to implement this idea or tweak it to fit your community.

What's next?

I'd love to try something new to help strengthen the community and engage new users of our site. I will schedule a chat event to brainstorm with anyone who has ideas about what we can do to promote the site, which will likely be followed by another meta post summarizing any ideas. You are always free to ping me in chat, email me, or post your idea to meta if you don't want to wait for the chat event, though.

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    It will be sad to see the contests go but I agree that they don't seem to be drawing in new users- the regulars have all started winning for the second time. I was saving up questions for the food-preservation tag. I personally don't see the appeal of a topic challenge with no reward. Perhaps something as small as getting double rep for up votes on questions on the given topic. I suspect the web site might not be flexible enough for that one though. – Sobachatina Jul 9 '12 at 17:32
  • @Sobachatina: sounds like something a badge or similar could work for; something meaningful here on the site. Feel free to post some ideas here on meta. – Shog9 Jul 9 '12 at 18:59
  • Dang, and I hadn't gotten around to winning yet :-P But yeah, agree, its not working. When is the chat scheduled? – derobert Jul 10 '12 at 16:38
  • @derobert I'm planning on this Thursday (7/12) at 17:00 UTC (1pm EDT). Just need rumtscho to create the chat even so it shows up in the "schedule" tab, and I'll make a community bulletin event, as well. – Laura Jul 10 '12 at 18:24
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To build on FuzzyChef's suggestion, I think that it would be cool if there was a bounty based contest wherein the objective was to develop a series of exhaustive, authoritative answers to some of our most frequently asked flavors of questions.

The highlight of the site for me is when I am looking for the answer to something and someone has posted an amazing answer full of detail and citations in a way that not only answers the question, but organizes additional information about how the question arises so that you can reason out other permutations on that same question.

Not to sound like I'm kissing ass, but seriously, it would be great if we had weekly competitions to bang out thorough, resourceful answers like aaronut. I'm sure everyone in the top 20 has rad answers that they're proud of, and many are either broad in scope or massively in-depth; I would like to see us able to cultivate more answers that are both.

I think this would be great in furthering the authoritative brand of the cooking site, as well as having a good long-tail effect of elevating the quality of answers and answerers generally.

This could also tie in nicely with the blog as we would be able to do a post of some "Canonical Entries in Cooking" where the question is posed, and the top three answers are included (I'm seeing it as a triptych with a big top panel for the highest voted / winning answer, and two bottom panels for the next two). Basically, it would be rad to have a kind of America's Test Kitchen series that was collectively curated.

The community could have a meta page for adding and refining questions that require experimentation and documentation. I think that having a best-practices tag is not within our format, but narrowly defined explanations of techniques designed to maximize given characteristics a,b,c would be. The above answers successfully avoid the pitfall of best-practices debate and excessive discussion and are real cornerstones of how the brand can replace some of the garbage on the interwebs. I think we should try to cultivate that. And for many of us, I think that a decent bounty is nice, but contributing to the site is nicer.

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    You raise some really good points. Well said. There are some details of mechanics that I'll need to consider (anyone with 75+ rep can set a bounty, so we don't really need to have a "contest" to set bounties for authoritative answers), but I think you might be on to something here. I also like your blog tie-in; the blog is, in fact, designed to provide an outlet for information formatted differently than Q&A, so if people want to reformulate some of the canonical answers into blog articles, they can. – Laura Jul 13 '12 at 15:36
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Laura,

I don't know if it was the contests or something else, but the general thrust of questions has moved away from dumb nutritional questions and "can I eat this thing I left in the fridge for six weeks?". We still get those, but they're a tiny minority, not the 25% of all questions they were when I first joined the Exchange. I tend to think the contests contributed to that, even if they were mostly participated in by regulars.

I would love to see a "best answer" contest to be judged by the moderators. Occasionally some of the answers on this Exchange are surprisingly well researched and written, and it would be nice to see people get occasionally rewarded for that with more than just karma. Maybe one a month.

Beyond that, StackExchange is not as obviously a format for cooking questions as it is for programming questions, partly because of audience (it's not a Facebook or iPad app), and partly because a lot of cooking questions don't lend themselves to determinative answers. So I don't know that there is a way to make Seasoned Advice grow faster.

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    We really want to promote questions though. A best answer contest would fix a problem we don't have - quality answers. – rfusca Jul 13 '12 at 1:13
  • @rfu Quality answers build community and questions by driving traffic to the site. Promote quality answers that outweigh google results, promote the site. I feel bad going supply-side on this, but I think the kind of users we want to recruit will be drawn more by quality, resourceful answers than by the opportunity to contrive quality questions (especially if they have to learn a whole new syntax in order to do so). – mfg Jul 13 '12 at 14:35
  • @mfg - right but our answer quality is already very high – rfusca Jul 13 '12 at 14:45
  • Thanks for your comments. It's always hard to tell the qualitative results of something like a weekly topic contest; I'm sure that having experienced users providing great questions for the contests set a good example for new users, but you don't need contests for that to continue happening. – Laura Jul 13 '12 at 15:37
  • As far as "best answer" contests, I may look into doing something that works with yours and mfg's ideas. I'll do some brainstorming and let you guys know what I come up with. I'm also working on some new ways to just get the site exposed to chefs who haven't heard of us before, though I think I'm going to steer away from huge partnerships that draw in tons of people who are unfamiliar with our network. The quality on this site is great, and I don't want to have that diluted because people are looking to win prizes or whatever. – Laura Jul 13 '12 at 15:39
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    @mfg The answers are usually what draw people to the site; you're correct about that. The reason I had focused on question-asking for the weekly contests, though, is that this site typically has high-quality answers, an extremely high answer rate, and answers are usually posted pretty fast. I've found that, across the network, it's typically harder to ask a question than to answer it. The site only grows when there are more questions - it stagnates if all the questions have already been answered. – Laura Jul 13 '12 at 15:41
  • Laura, it was the first idea which occurred to me. Really, I think this Exchange is pretty self-perpetuating now; anything you do for contests or whatever are just a nice bonus for people. – FuzzyChef Jul 17 '12 at 6:12
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The best new question contest. The moderators (or some random volunteer top users) will be judges or jury, or whatever, and vote on the best new question of the week/month. +100rep or 150rep to the best question.

The hottest new question contest. Automatic. Either the most upvoted or most viewed of the week/month gets +50rep.

Or a badge.

The best and the hottest question will then be featured during the next week/month.

Or, instead of giving rep to the questioneer (questionee, well, the OP), give the rep as bonus to the accepted answer or as a bounty if unanswered.

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