After the first post: should I stay or should I go now?

Posted on 7 August 2007 at 23:51 UTC, filed under Google, disclaimer

In response to the other statistics regarding the Google Webmaster Help groups, JLH asks:

I always wonder about a statistic, I call them Drive-by-posters. Those who come in and make a post, only to be never heard of again, even though their questions may be answered.

Let’s take a quick look at who posts in the groups (how long they’ve been active), who starts new threads and a short dissection of what first-time posters do on the group and how they evolve from there.

I split the posters of the Google Webmaster Help groups into 4 rough categories:

  • Single-posters – They come, post something either in an existing thread or start their own thread and are never ever heard of again (at least in the Webmaster Help groups).
  • New users – Users who have posted at least twice, the first time being less than 30 days from the posting. Everyone starts here, at least after the second posting.
  • Newly addicted – Users who’s first posting lies 30 to 90 days back. If they are still active after 30 days, they are probably coming back for more than just one question. This group could turn into regulars, if motivated to stick around.
  • Regulars – Users who’s first posting lies more than 90 days back. If they keep coming back for several months, they’re probably here for a purpose other than just asking a question of their own. This is the group that has spent a lot of time helping new users out.

So where do the posts come from?
I put together a chart with the number of posts per week split among the before-mentioned groups.
New posts per week by user-age
As you can see, regular users post (on average) a bit more than half of the posts in the groups.

Where do the threads come from?
Posts themselves can mean many things – they could be initial postings with questions or ideas (new threads) or the could be replies to other postings. Let’s take a look who starts new threads (again, per week).
New threads per week by user age
Looking at this chart, it’s clear that the largest part of all new threads are started by new users – including a fairly large group of users who start a new thread but never return to it (or at least, never reply to it and never start another thread). Why don’t they reply? Why don’t they stay to interact?

What do first-time posters do?
Let’s take a look at only the first post that a user makes. Do they reply to an existing thread or rather start their own? How many of the first time posters (new users) stick around, are retained by the groups and either reply to their thread or add a comment (or more) elsewhere?
What first posters do
Here we see that a bit less than half of the new users only make a single post, never to return again. It’s rare that the first post is a comment in a different thread – usually it’s the start of a new thread.

Almost half of the new users abandon the groups after their first post.

Why would they do that? How could more users be motivated to interact more – or are those first posts so irrelevant that they shouldn’t be there at all?

What do you think?

There are 9 comments to this post.
  1. I think it would be interesting to correlate hit and run posters with initial posts never replied to. It could be that is where some of the “post and run” is coming from if they don’t find an answer.

    I think a couple of other correlations that might be useful, of those with replies, how many replies per thread. The thinking with this one is that if there are a LOT of replies and the originator of the thread appears to never come back, it is likely that the thread devolved into one or more arguments, that lead to the length of the thread as well as possibly causing the originator to leave thinking it better to stay out of the line of fire. ;-)

    Another possible interesting correlation might be who replied to the “post and run” threads. A better one might be “how” they replied but that might be asking a bit much although if we know who, we likely would know how. :-()

    Cool data though! You must like this “trendy” stuff, eh?

  2. Cool stuff :) Can you extract how many questions were answered by one post, and then how many questioners returned to say “thanks that was helpful”? Or how many questioners bumped their thread and then how many of those got the answer … Your analysis might well be the grounding of a mechanismn to highlight unanswered stuff or automatically pass it to a group of employees handling the stuff the regulars didn’t bother to deal with. I could think of more neat things :)

  3. Stab in the dark – perhaps they do return, find the answer and then shag off again. Alternatively many people might actually find their answer elsewhere in the interim between posting and responses being added to the thread.

    People are fierce impatient when they have a problem, and instant gratification isn’t always forthcoming on the group.

  4. How about this, a break down of common/popular topics?

    If you have to cheap out, just go by the contents of the subject line and stay more general like, “Verification problems”, “Banned site”, “PageRank”, “blah blah blah”, but if you can combine that with trying to discern the actual topic, for Subject lines like, “HELP!!!!!!!!”, that would be even better.

  5. Hmm. Popular topics based on keywords in the title of the thread? It might also be interesting to see which topics are popular based on keywords in all posts to that thread, eg how many % of the threads see things like “supplemental-index” or “w3c validation”. Alternately it might be fun (or not) to see how many threads get into heated discussions, include things like “!!!!!!” and ALL-CAPS. What keywords could I check for?

  6. This is brilliantly interesting! One has to wonder how much effort is wasted on people who don’t return to see the answer. Though the purpose of a public group format is to help everyone that reads it, which by experience is very few due to the amount of repeat questions.

    I’d think this would be good information for the Googler’s to have. Their time is limited but not nearly as limited as their interaction with the group. Perhaps if they concentrated only on threads that have multiple responses the chance that people would actually heed their advice would go up.

  7. That’s what I was thinking as well, John. How much time do we (and the others) spend on answering people’s questions who don’t even come back to look at our work?

    Maybe have first posters/thread-openers answer a captcha a day or so later on before signaling to the rest of the group that the poster is actually still around and interested in an answer :-). Of course some threads are good to read and interact in, even if the original poster never does. Perhaps if the new poster had to commit himself to “something” when opening a thread as their first action? Requiring them to reply in a thread before being able to open a new one will just lead to “good topic” kind of posts..

  8. I think most people who post once and never come back or who post once and don’t go back to that thread and end up making up a new thread (sometimes several times) do that because they simply get totally lost in the group format. It’s horrific to say the least. When I first joined I made a post and never found that thread again. This kept on happening many times until something clicked a bit.
    I’m still lost as ever though I now keep trying different methods, including the search (novel idea LOL) to find my own threads.

  9. I had the same problem Cristina. I was so used to the more common forum scripts, vBulletin, punBB, phpBB that all pretty much had the same functionality and methodology.

    Then when I came to Google Groups’ scripts, it seemed more like a blog comment system with delusions of forum grandeur. :-D

    I would SOOOO LOVE to rebuild the Groups’ scripts from the ground up but that ain’t-a-gonna happen anytime soon.

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