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One way to measure the effectiveness of MO is to track how often it leads to publishable research. That angle has been discussed before.

I'm wondering if there are other metrics that can be used to assess the effectiveness of MO. For example, how many questions get asked? How many get answered? Has this changed over time? Is there any evidence that "soft" questions have a beneficial effect by attracting more users, who then see the "hard" questions—or is there any evidence of the opposite, that "soft" questions cause users to abandon MO in disgust?

If there aren't such metrics, is there a way to create them? Or perhaps it's a bad idea to create such metrics, because they will be misinterpreted, leading to bad side-effects?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm a bit unclear what you're asking. Are you asking how to measure certain things (e.g. how to confirm or debunk ideas about the effect of soft questions)? Or are you asking whether certain kind of raw data is (or could be) available to the general public? Or are you asking whether such measurements have been done (but kept quiet for some reason)? $\endgroup$ – François G. Dorais Mar 2 '16 at 6:49
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    $\begingroup$ Moderators and 25k+ users have handy access to some data. (I do not know if 25k+ users have the same data or a subset.) Quite a few things can be obtained from the Data Explorer too. For how many questions get asked there is a dedicated question on that On MESE we sometimes have huge (in a relative sense) peeks of visitors (think at least an order of magnitude above the usual level). As far as I can tell "with my bare eyes" (I did not analyse this).I cannot make out any signfiicant sustained effect. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 2 '16 at 10:29
  • $\begingroup$ @FrançoisG.Dorais : Of your three options, my answer to #2 is yes; my answer to #1 is yes but it's contingent on the raw data being available so it's a secondary question; my answer to #3 is no, that idea hadn't crossed my mind. $\endgroup$ – Timothy Chow Mar 2 '16 at 15:39
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    $\begingroup$ Another "data thread" is the 'Best of MO'. $\endgroup$ – user9072 Mar 2 '16 at 16:06
  • $\begingroup$ Regarding change over time, I collected some numbers and searches in this "birthday" post: meta.mathoverflow.net/a/2486 $\endgroup$ – j.c. Mar 2 '16 at 17:49
  • $\begingroup$ There are also some site analytics available to rep>25k users (via /site-analytics). It is interesting enough for getting a rough idea of traffic volumes, patterns, and sources, but it's also relatively limited as a tool. $\endgroup$ – Emilio Pisanty Mar 9 '16 at 18:36
  • $\begingroup$ In addition to site analytics mentioned in the previous comments, some statistics can be found also in the list of all sites. (These are only very basic stats, but they are not restricted to 25k+.) $\endgroup$ – Martin Sleziak Mar 28 at 7:18
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A lot of MathOverflow data is already available publicly.

An anonymized version of the entire Stack Exchange Network database is archived every few weeks and permanently on archive.org. It's easy to download just the data for MathOverflow, which is currently 189.4M compressed. That data consists of 7 xml files (badges.xml, comments.xml, posts.xml, posthistory.xml, postlinks.xml, users.xml, votes.xml) whose contents are described in this readme file. This is essentially the full site database, minus personally identifiable information (PII). The data is licensed under the usual CC BY-SA license used for the site itself.

For those who would rather avoid downloading the entire database, the data is also available from the Stack Exchange Data Explorer which provides an interface to make SQL queries to the database. Another alternative is to use the Stack Exchange API. All of these options have pros and cons depending on what kind of processing is to be done with the data.

For security reasons, very very few people have access for the full database which includes PII and other sensitive data. However, these select individuals have been known to be helpful and process reasonable queries that would be impossible with the anonymized database.

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