Community Manager - Status Update 6/2020

This is your semi-regular update on my work as Community Manager. Here’s what’s been happening since the last update.

Tags & Field specific communities

Being asked by @vianeylb to support the ecology community, we decided that the best way to let people of specific fields interact with the forums was to use tags (see here for more background: Let's use tags for field-specific content and much more!)

I’ll repeat from the post

To me, the most important feature of tags is that you can follow a tag, by clicking on it (either on a post that uses the tag or via the Tags link in the “Hamburger menu” and choosing the “Bell” icon (protip: you can also mute a tag, the same works for categories).

This didn’t result in a lot of attention or feedback. I added some tags to posts for both scientific fields and model families, but the usage remains sparse. Even the ecology tag which had the most “population” initially has been last used three weeks ago.

Maybe it doesn’t work very well for people? What are your experiences? Did you notice?

Community leaders

I am behind on announcing a proposal for leaders (basically semi-moderators on the forums) chosen from the community, which have been in beta for a while. The proposal will be a separate post in the near future. The community leaders (@maxbiostat, @Ara_Winter, @emiruz, @andre.pfeuffer, @arya, @Max_Mantei) helped with a lot of the day-to-day tasks involved in running this forum and even claimed to have enjoyed it, so a big thanks. I hoped to be more of a coach to them, which didn’t really work out.

Post templates

I did a small overwrite of post templates for most of our categories (the text that is prefilled when you start a new topic). The main point was to mention that people should share code and data. Would be happy if others provided feedback / proposed better ones.

Answering questions

With the help of Leaders and everyone else we are keeping the number of completely ignored posts low, though I regularly end up going through some questions that fell through. Those tend to be questions that are of lower quality (hastily written, hard to understand, missing important info, …), so I usually don’t feel too bad over letting them sit there for a bit longer. Overall we have IMHO very low ratio of poor questions and that’s great.

There also was a proposal to encourage people to limit topics/threads to one question which didn’t really end with a conclusion.

Tagging people in unanswered questions seems to not be working very well. Most often the person I tag doesn’t respond and it seems (though I made no stats) that few other people do this. What usually happens is that I tag somebody to answer a question, this bumps the question to the front page and then someone else answers it. Maybe we just need a bot to occasionally bump unanswered questions to the top?

Quick link to unanaswered questions

Since searching for questions that need attention is actually non-trivial, I’ve created a quick redirect that fills in the search box for you with topics that didn’t receive attention and are at least two days old.

This search also uses no-solution-needed tag that is currently visible to moderators only (not that it’s secret, but I didn’t want it to clutter the interface). I use it to remove announcement and other posts that don’t really need to be answered from this search. (Funny thing that it is a moderator-only tag, but anyone can use it for search. This is probably a bug in Discourse, but so far I am happy with it :-) )


So, what’s next?

Restructuring the forum (dropping categories)

One thing that got my attention when thinking about tags is that we have IMHO too many categories. Without going for a complete overhaul of the forum structure, I think we could shorten the list a lot:

  1. One thing that we could potentially also do would be to eliminate the “Interfaces” subcategories and use tags instead (we can enforce that at least one interface tag would be added to every post).

  2. While at it we could also eliminate the following rarely used categories: “Google Summer of Code”, “Technical working group”, “Meetings” and possibly “Project Proposals” and merge them with either “Stan Governance” or “General” and add tags to distinguish them.

Any thougths?


This was actually my plan for this spring, but I didn’t manage to pull it of. The goal is to figure out some low-effort way to more effectively share best practices, high quality resources or answers. I am thinking about having a very light Elm/Javascript frontend for quick “search as you type” over a curated list of links stored in JSON in a GitHub repo (so adding resources is by pull requests).

Medium Term

Other things on medium-term agenda, that I’ve chosen not to follow through right now

  • Discourse guidelines - non-binding recommendations to guide better usage of this forum (probably best handled after CoC has been settled)
  • Pinned post with info about the site

Thanks for trusting me with working for the community, I am still enjoying it and hope I am being useful.


Hi Martin,

Thanks to you and everyone else that put in so much work into the forums! I’ll just say quickly that people in ecology might be trying to do fieldwork over the (northern hemisphere) summer, or figuring out what to do in lieu of being able to do fieldwork? I imagine engagement will increase again in the (northern hemisphere) fall, once a new normal is established. There’s a lot going on in the world (definitely in the USA at the moment).

There’ll be a Stan workshop at the International Statistical Ecology Conference this weekend and we’ll be pointing them to the forums and stan ecology site.



Thanks for the update!

I’d actually say that others showed me that I had jumped to a solution before properly describing the problem, and that the problem (how to enable volunteers to efficiently see threads with unsolved questions) had a better solution (i.e. use the “solved” tag more aggressively).

1 Like

Thanks for the update Martin!

Yeah that would be nice. Alternatively, I wonder if we could have a bot that (after some amount of time) replies to an unanswered question encouraging the person to post their question again and also provides them with some suggestions for writing posts that are likely to get an answer? (E.g. don’t ask too many questions in one post, provide code and data whenever possible, etc.) I’m not sure, but I’m just thinking out loud here.

For (1), I like the idea of tagging for interfaces instead of separate categories. Maybe at the same time we could add an “Installation” category to group together installation questions (there are a lot of these!). That way all installation questions would go in one category but they would get tagged with the tag for the corresponding interface.

For (2), yeah I definitely support this. There are a bunch of categories like the ones you mentioned that should be consolidated.

Definitely useful. Thanks for doing it and I’m glad to hear that you’re still enjoying it!


Along with the above excellent suggestions for improving questions, I’ll add one. In the title and first couple of sentences, precisely ask what you’d like help with. Then provide code and details.


@martinmodrak, thanks for all that you do!

I’d be very supportive of narrowing down the categories. It’s hard to navigate and keep on top of the notifications as-is.

If you have any discourse settings that are really useful, mind sharing?