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When I look through questions on Stack Exchange, it appears that the community used to be more active. It feels like the most often years I see are 2013-15. The majority of questions I come across appear to be older than say 2016. Is this just a sampling bias or did Stack Exchange use to be more active? Furthermore, if it is less active, are there identified reasons for that?

I really like this online community. It is an excellent resource and I think its existence is very cool. I hope the usage isn't declining.

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  • $\begingroup$ I feel the activity decreases on all SO/SE sites. Physics.SE is not the best example. $\endgroup$
    – kludg
    Jun 6, 2023 at 14:12

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While I cannot share specifics of the activity data available to moderators in public, it should not be true that the majority of content is older than 2016. We're not dead yet!

But due to our practice of closing duplicates and linking older relevant questions under newer ones, if you explore the site "organically" - by searching for the "obvious" questions and following the related links in the side bar - I would expect that you disproportionally encounter older content.

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I do agree with the sentiment that there were some great users in the past who don't seem to contribute anymore, and sometimes, seeing that, you feel the level of the discussions has reduced a bit.

I think there is a feeling that the sentiment stated in the first paragraph is sort of meaningless now that AI has been picking up steam. Maybe in the future, AI could answer all our questions immediately, in which case, whatever could be the point of Stack Exchange?

Another point is that, higher physics essentially becomes something like pure mathematics. And, questions in those can be asked in MSE or MathOverflow. The amount of genuine physical questions, one could ask is relatively less. That is also why I believe that questions which don't involve a very detailed framing becomes popular here. See here.

The physics Stack Exchange site is, I feel, more about experts sharing knowledge to nonexperts rather than people of some equal academic level to discuss (yes, I disagree with PeterH here). See my favourite question on this site

This also is a distinction from this site to other SE sites where super technical research is expected (say: the Chemistry or Biology Stack Exchange sites). E.g., or.

I understand the lack of popularity of either of these questions as these sites are looking for people of similar academic level to discuss (there is also a hint of toxicity on Chemistry, which a moderator themselves have confessed. See here).

One thing, from all of my participation in various Stack Exchange sites is that the kind of site it becomes is entirely dependent on who gets moderator powers in the beginning. But, one could argue back, saying that the subject would determine who probably gets the moderator powers.


Bottom line: The site is running its natural course, AI development has accelerated, and there is a lack of number of question which experts feel good about themself to answer/ engage in.

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    $\begingroup$ That’s depressing for a very different reason. Even AI could instantly answer any physics question, part of the beauty of PSE imo in the human contact. In that you can ask other people. In what can be a very lonely discipline it’s nice to both have the contact and to know other people are out there doing the same thing as you. thanks for the poignant response. $\endgroup$
    – EEH
    Jun 1, 2023 at 20:44
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Stats available for ordinary mortals are decreasing, but not so badly. I think the death of the site might happen after a decade or more later.

SE gives us a way to create a lot of useful statistics from a large part of the public data available here.

Here you can see the count of the open, closed and deleted questions by month. Numbers are decreasing, but not very heavily.

Here you can see the "attractive power" of the questions generated by that month. By "attractive power" I understand the sum of the average daily clicks of the questions posted in the given month.

What I see as a larger problem, is that the size of the Internet (i.e., count of the people and their activity to find content) has more than doubled in the last ten years. In my opinion, in this relative sense, the fact of the failure is beyond doubt.

And PSE had the capability to revolutionize the Internet as we know it. At least for us, "intermediate people": we with a STEM mindset, education and profession, with a strong physics interest, but without (or with very little) formal physics education. I think we were the largest group of the visitors and even contributors of the site, yet our interests and views were considered the least. That was a mistake, and that mistake was fatal.

Between physics and any other, there is a very characteristic difference. High level physics is very hard and it can not be learnt on the Internet effectively. To be a master of a programming language, you only need focus, time and experience. To know cutting edge physics well, most of us don't have any chance.

I think PSE could have become a bridge to it.

I have learnt basic QM on my own. As I bought my first QM textbook, I did not understand anything in it. Note, I knew math well enough (operators, wave functions, eigen-things and so). The problem was that the text had a lot of things obvious for the writer and for a beginner physics student, but not for me. I needed to buy multiple textbooks, compare them, and hunt Google a lot. It was much longer and it required much more effort, as an ordinary physics student does in the frame of his/her formal education.

For example, that "x" as a function operator means the operator which converts f(x) to x*f(x), and that was for me months to understand. All my textbooks, without a single exception, simply forgot to mention this little nuance and I could not ask anyone: What is that? PSE did not exist at the time, but today, with my current skills, I would still find hard to formulate such a question in a way which would not be closed on the site now. I think, asking this is practically impossible on the current site for a beginner (both in physics and in PSE).

It could have become a pretty learning platform where we could learn a lot of physics, what we normally could not learn on the Internet (or not effectively). It did not. Opinions differ; why not? My opinion is the large amount of expelled users and unfairly killed content. Contradicting opinions typically cite the need to preserve the site quality, and the indirect deeds of the Stack Exchange company seem to side with them.

You can search for Stack Exchange critics on the Internet. I think their common point that they are mostly false in the "logical framework" of the site rules and working mechanisms, but they are painfully right in the viewpoint of people just looking for answers to the questions he/she could not ever ask from anyone.

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    $\begingroup$ You have made a critical point, the internet population has doubled but the amount of people on PSE has remained stagnant. But maybe, that could also be because the places which internet usage is more available are not English speaking. For example, I know korean people and chineese people at the very least have their own versions of stackexchange in their local languages. $\endgroup$ Jun 1, 2023 at 13:42
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    $\begingroup$ @HopefulWhitepiller There were strong community initiatives to have Stack Exchange on other languages on the area51.stackexchange.com . The company killed them all. Do not ask, why. I don't think they would know it. (Of course I know, what did they lie about their reason, but their real reason... probably no one knows) $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jun 1, 2023 at 15:48
  • $\begingroup$ You start off fine, showing data that seems to support "no we're not declining" then I stopped reading when you went off on a tangent about PSE revolutionizing something and everything after that. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Jun 2, 2023 at 21:10
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos Unfortunately, voting down reality does not defend you from the consequences of your bad behavior and choices. I think you are too strongly in denial. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jun 3, 2023 at 3:45
  • $\begingroup$ If you find people disagreeing with you, you need to check your premises that you're describing reality. That said, I only downvoted because of the seemingly unnecessary diatribe at the end about your own personal lamentations. Save it for another venue and answer the question asked. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Jun 3, 2023 at 16:17
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    $\begingroup$ And to be more abundantly clear, if you removed the useless banter about revolutions and whatever followed, I'd give the post an upvote. It's a decent answer to the question asked that just unfortunately goes off on such a tangent that it detracts from the main point you've made. $\endgroup$
    – Kyle Kanos
    Jun 3, 2023 at 16:18
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    $\begingroup$ @KyleKanos I don't understand what did you read out of the post. Yes, I believe you were one of the guys who made this site failed, thus if you try to oppose that on some indirect way, that would be understable. Anyways, the meaningful part of our discourse is over, I think. $\endgroup$
    – peterh
    Jun 3, 2023 at 17:27
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I predict a significant incoming spike of users.

There is currently a poll on /r/AskPhysics asking users there if the subreddit should go dark in protest of Reddit's recent announcement of API changes. Currently, the vote stands at 83.5% of the 575 voters supporting "Go dark until major changes have been obtained from Reddit".

While I support this goal (and am part of that 83.5%), I question if Reddit will bend to these demands. If it does not, then that subreddit will shut down for the foreseeable future, resulting in an exodus of users - many of whom will find their way here instead.

There's no telling what the long-term ramifications of that will be, but that subreddit has over 128,000 subscribers. Granted, there is no telling how many of those subscribers are inactive or already present here.

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    $\begingroup$ But Stack Exchange is moving in the same direction as Reddit. From the same: "I somehow hoped that they would continue doing what they did for many, many years. But it turns out they are evil after all, so I will go. No, I will run. As fast as I can. Anywhere. Just away from here." $\endgroup$ Jun 11, 2023 at 9:47
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterMortensen lol nice quote. Exactly what I had in my mind when I read this $\endgroup$ Jun 11, 2023 at 10:42

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