This might be a bit open-ended, but something that we need to think about as over time the metrics for the site have actually gotten worse (8.6 questions per day when this question was asked and it is now 7.1 questions per day with less answers per question) and the visits per day are still staying quite low which likely has several reasons.

As there has been a focus on the use of linguistic terms on the site and the focus this discussion is going the other way: is JL&U being student unfriendly or for that matter, just not doing enough to make itself friendly to students.

  • There's a new blog post that is related to all of these recent questions worried about questions/visitors per day: blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/07/…
    – Troyen
    Jul 27, 2011 at 20:15
  • @Troyen - I'm not as worried about them shutting down the JL&U at the 90 day mark as it is pretty niche but it is a useful niche. I'm more worried about the site self-limiting the number of people coming by not giving them enough reasons to keep coming back.
    – user51
    Jul 28, 2011 at 13:25
  • possible duplicate of Is this forum for Japanese learners or language learners?
    – jkerian
    Jul 29, 2011 at 15:13

2 Answers 2


Answering my own question to divide things up a bit conversationally. For some background, I would consider myself to be more or less entry level student in that I know the hiragana and katakana (although it might take me a second to recognize the less used character) and a some kanji, but I'm no where near the point where I can even sit down and read a children's book without a means of looking up the vocabulary and I'm still in the process of learning the grammatical set phrases. As such, I'm going to try and focus on listing off the issues that I have ran into with JL&U being a useful resource.

  • Questions are sometimes hard to parse - Granted there isn't much that can be done about this as it boils down to requiring that the reader have a certain degree of vocabulary as they are reading through the home screen questions; however, it is worth mentioning as it is quite likely that others have thought the same.
  • Inconsistent use of furigana - If you go through the questions there tends to be an inconsistent use of furigana in the questions, while tools such as Rikaichan can go a long way towards helping a student it should not be assumed that one must have it installed to be able to use the site. A constant furigana policy might help a lot in this regards.
  • Use of linguistic terms in answers - This has been mentioned before so I'm not going to go in depth, but from the standpoint of a student that doesn't have a background in linguistics, learning Japanese is hard enough without having to learn linguistics as well. :)
  • Questions related to the learning process are disallowed - The reasoning for this is completely understandable but I'm mentioning for the sake of completeness.
  • Questions tend to fluctuate wildly in terms of their usefulness to a student - This is a common problem on all of the Stack Exchange sites, but given the limited churn that JL&U currently has it is a bit more pronounced. Namely, when going through the questions on the homepage, the number of ones that are useful to a student (e.g. new vocabulary that can be readily applied, grammar concepts that are at the level of the student, etc) are quite limited. This is a bit of a concern as it can lead to people not checking in on the site as often which in term leads to them eventually not coming back, likewise, this leads to the next problem.
  • Site is difficult to find via Google - While I should highlight that this isn't something that JL&U has a lot of control over, it is a concern as it means that the site has to work harder to keep people coming back once they find the site and that it still shows upon Google with some searches. Since there is enough Japanese search that some things a student might look for might not be written out in romanji there is a good chance that they are going to find things. Likewise, most students starting out don't have a reason to type Japanese yet so they are going to be relying upon romanji in their searches.

Now all of that said, what, if anything can be done? As I noted in a couple of the bullet points, some of these are just a side effect of the Stack Exchange format and there isn't much that JL&U can do about them. However, the number one thing that needs to be done is encouraging students to keep coming back to the site. If people coming back to the site that at least proves there is a demand for JL&U in the internet community which in turn means there needs to be some sort of "hook" to give people a reason to check the site every day, so a couple thoughts:

  • Word of the day questions - As it says, pick a word and construct a nice solid question and answer around it. To keep it from being abused moderators can enter these as community wiki based upon feedback from the meta.
  • Grammar point of the week - This might be limited to established sites, but the Photography Stack Exchange has new photograph from community members featured every week, as such, one possibility would be for JL&U to do the same thing. Again, this would have to be based upon community feedback, but it gives students a reason to come back and students eventually mature in to long term users who can contribute at higher and higher levels.
  • Consistent furigana policy - Not everyone has heard of Rikaichan or always has access to it from their web browser and being able to read the furigana for a kanji goes a long way towards retaining it and learning from what you are reading. A constant policy will give students reasons to come back just to learn more vocabulary in a different setting.
  • Can you give some examples for #1? I've seen some in the past, but actually being able to look at a couple might help with brainstorming ideas to make them more accessible. #3 doesn't have to be an issue - answers could have a short summary explaining the answer to all audiences followed by a longer description of the more technical parts for advanced speakers. #5 - we had an influx of Twitter translation requests recently, so the front page wasn't interesting to anybody. #6 - as mentioned above, maybe we should reopen the SEO issue as a bug instead of a feature request.
    – Troyen
    Jul 27, 2011 at 19:26
  • @Troyen - I'll take a look around and try to update the answer with some examples for #1. Likewise, I agree that #3 doesn't have to be a problem and once there is a linguistics SE the questions could just be created or migrated there as applicable. I'm not sure if the Twitter translation requests have been cleaned out or not, but I actually found some of the katakana questions interesting in part because the reading can be different than the English meaning. #6 is going to be a major long term problem that is going to need a technical solution, maybe I'll post something on that question later.
    – user51
    Jul 27, 2011 at 19:57
  • 2
    The first two of your suggestions (word of the day..., grammar point...) sound like a good fit for a community blog post, rather than being forced into a Q&A format. There are guidelines for starting a community blog if anyone's feeling up to the task.
    – ento
    Jul 28, 2011 at 0:41
  • Word of the day or grammer point of the week are dreadful ideas for the main Q&A site. They're a pretty decent idea for chat though.
    – jkerian
    May 2, 2012 at 4:00

Forgive me for being a little harsh on that one, but this is at least the fifth "Is JLU too un/friendly to X" question in this site's short existence. And even the first one could have probably been done without.

As you point out yourself, practically all these issues are part of Stack Exchange's own format. The bottom line is that you do not decide who posts or who answers and how they do it, as long as basic guidelines are followed (and they are).

While there is nothing wrong with suggesting what sort of content should be on JLU, this type of rain incantation does little to help... If you have ideas for good questions, then go ahead and post the questions! It has been pointed numerous times that all types of relevant questions, including those for which you know the answer, are fine, so feel free to start posting "word of the day" questions (but you will quickly realise that it's a lot less easy than it sounds to find proper JLU questions around a single word, on a daily basis).

The truth is that there is a natural bias against beginners on Stack Exchange and JLU in particular, for two simple reasons:

  1. There is, by definition, a rather limited set of true "beginner" questions: you will find that most of these have already been posted and answered on JLU. Once these are asked, there is no re-asking, so current questions will naturally veer toward newer, more advanced topics.

  2. JLU is extremely SEO-unfriendly. Question titles do not get properly encoded in URL, most likely resulting in poor ranking on search engines (and lower view counts). This has been raised already and is entirely SO's problem.

Neither of these two points are directly addressable by us, so better stop flailing and concentrate on posting the best questions and answers that we can. You cannot wish types of users or questions into existence, merely do your best to make such users/questions feel at home on JLU (and I don't know that a single "student" question on JLU has ever been treated unfairly). In the meantime, I really do not see the point of these Meta debates (if half their energy was spent actually asking questions to the authors' liking, there probably wouldn't be a need for them).

The only point I agree can use some immediate work, is the furigana issue, and it has already been tackled specifically in its own question (and while I am personally unsatisfied with the consensus that came out of it, any further discussion should probably happen there, not here).

  • 2
    First off, I'm not trying to do some sort of rain dance to get better questions on the site but rather trying to start some sort of dialog to actually get the site going in a direction that will maintain a long term usefulness, sometimes the only way to do that is to be a bit blunt about things. That said though, I disagree that there is a limited set of beginner questions, they just need to be presented the right way (even native speakers go to school for years to learn their native language, that is more than enough to keep us going), also, some of the suggestions need to have buy in ...
    – user51
    Jul 27, 2011 at 18:21
  • ... from more than one person. A word of the day can easily be gamed by someone trying to build up reputation and is better curated through something in meta while a weekly grammar point also needs to have community buy in. Likewise, most of my points are towards trying to drive people have a reason to come back and visit the site which is why I gave the longer list of items - those are reasons that I would be disinclined to come back but it is fair to assume that a chunk of them are going to be common to other students.
    – user51
    Jul 27, 2011 at 18:25
  • 1
    Should we relabel the SEO problem as a bug instead of future request, on the grounds that the current SEO scheme doesn't work with our titles?
    – Troyen
    Jul 27, 2011 at 19:14
  • @Troyen: good point. Updated the tag. Now if anybody feels like rewording the question to make it clearer...
    – Dave
    Jul 27, 2011 at 19:25
  • @Dave I can't seem to edit posts on meta, so I just asked a duplicate at meta.japanese.stackexchange.com/questions/432/…
    – Troyen
    Jul 27, 2011 at 20:09

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