My question (In inverse theory, how do I transform the averaging kernel matrix to a new grid?) earned me the tumbleweed badge: Asked a question with no votes, no answers, no comments, and low views for a week. What is the "take home" message for that?

  • No downvotes – it is apparently not considered a bad question.
  • No close votes – it is apparently not considered off-topic.
  • No comments, no upvotes, no answers (before I figured out my own answer a week later, and posted it).

What can I learn from the tumbleweed badge? What is the "take home" message when I get it? Is such a question too specialised, too localised, or simply not very interesting?

(Edit: It seems this post has generated some attention to the linked question, eliminating its former tumbleweed status. But the question remains.)

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    $\begingroup$ That badge seems to be a kind of weak joke. Smile wryly and move on. $\endgroup$
    – Nick Cox
    Jul 29, 2014 at 16:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ "You tell us!" seems to have been a good interpretation in this particular case. Enjoy your self-learner badge and the meta effect! $\endgroup$ Jul 29, 2014 at 20:20

4 Answers 4


This is an age-old question. Seriously: there's an MSE thread about this that's five years old.

My two personal favorite explanations:

I see it more as a consolation prize. No one looked at your question or answered it, so here's something to hold you over until you get an answer.

-- https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/1579/165581

...it's the the engines way of saying "Sorry, I couldn't get you an answer. Please forgive me :("

-- https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/1653/165581


Sometimes, for one reason or another, a question gathers little attention.

It might be a really useful or interesting question, but for some reason didn't particularly get noticed (sometimes the day or time of posting might have been unfortunate, for example - if you just happen to post when many people's attention is elsewhere ...).

Or maybe its more of a niche interest than you feel it should be.

On (rare) occasion you can have a question that gets little notice, but picks up later on, for one reason or another.

Sometimes it may suggest you should edit it to be a bit punchier, and consider how to promote it - via a bounty, say.

But other times it's just one of those things.

I have only asked a handful of questions, but I have managed to gather a tumbleweed myself. (I suspect in my case it was more 'asking a question most people just didn't care to read'. I think I have to work on my 'how to ask a question' skills -- or at least my 'how to write a title' skills.)

It's nice to at least have the consolation prize of a badge when it happens.

On the other hand, if nearly all your questions are tumbleweed ... that may be something to worry about (it might suggest considering whether another forum might be better, for example). And even if the question gets some attention later (it seems to have some now, at least), you get to keep the badge.


I wouldn't take it hard. Most of the views of a question come from people seeing the title on the main page and finding it interesting, either as something that they think they can contribute a helpful answer for or as something they want to understand better themselves. There is a certain amount of 'churn' on the main page (which is a good thing), and so when the thread gets pushed off the main page its ability to draw attention goes down considerably. Without a question being edited or answered (and so 'bumped' back to the top) it will drop off of the main page within a day. Thus, the "for a week" part of the definition of tumbleweed isn't as bad as it seems.

My take here is that your question is good (in the sense of being useful and clear and showing research effort, etc.) and is definitely on-topic for CV. However, it is also quite specialized, even esoteric. My sense is that most questions on CV are about fairly basic aspects of linear models and hypothesis testing, and that the bulk of the CV users are most comfortable with topics like those (for example, I am). As a result, few people might be drawn to your question before it drops off the main page. This is unfortunate, particularly in your case.

I used to read through the new badges everyday, including going through the tumbleweeds to see if they needed work or just to be bumped, but I do that much less often now that the new badges are no longer on the main page. You will probably get some more attention arising from this meta thread, but we can also add a bounty if you want.


I have also earned this badge for a question of mine. I would interpret this "zero-response" as the result of some, or all, of the following (assuming that the question covers the usual requirements for being on-topic, being clear, etc)

a) Too specialized a question

b) Too "textbook" as an issue (so everybody leaves the rather boring answer for everybody else)

c) Not textbook, but still dull

d) These are random processes and a zero-response has strictly positive probability of happening, just because of random variability.

  • $\begingroup$ +1 for the extra example, but I think I disagree with your interpretation. I'm still reading, but without really finishing it or forming a more thoughtful opinion of the question, I see it's a bit of a "proofreading" question: one response you're requesting is any critique of your argument, which is pretty elaborate. This might be cynical, but I think that might be holding this question back too. With most questions, it probably takes less than 5 minutes to reach roughly 90% comprehension, but yours has already taken me about that long to read incompletely, and I'll need to reread... $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2014 at 19:54
  • $\begingroup$ I've often sensed that the audience here is conditioned to expect relatively small demands on their attention spans, especially from questions. One can skim an answer for useful bits and move along, but I hesitate to answer if I feel I might be missing some important wrinkle. People also reward clarity, which depends on terseness when one isn't willing to read carefully for more than 5 minutes to follow an otherwise-clear train of thought...but people don't usually punish elaborate writing when other flaws aren't clearly present. I think they just conclude that it's not worth the time... $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2014 at 19:56
  • $\begingroup$ ...which is so often the limiting factor. Some examples from my experience: this comment on a question of mine, which probably owes its popularity more to the unpopularity of the notification I propose to change...after an elaborate discussion of the need for it...and this version of my question on Parenting.SE, which got a "too broad" response before major reduction made it more digestible. $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2014 at 19:59
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, and my own personal tumbleweed on Area 51. Granted, traffic is much lower over there in general, but in retrospect, probably the same problem. I hesitate somewhat to ask questions now because I usually want to ask something long-winded like this if I can't just answer my own question quickly enough, but it seems difficult to get any input at that level of complexity. Happily, my experience here has been better, but the answer was delayed understandably. Votes/comments were quick though $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2014 at 20:06
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    $\begingroup$ @NickStauner Nick, thanks for the input (and the upvote to my Tumbleweed I guess). The "proofreading" remark is right on target -I was trying to avoid having the answer closed because "it will mainly generate opinion-based answers". For the fun of it, I added in the beginning of the Tumbleweed a TL;DR brief (it fits in one small-laptop screen!). $\endgroup$ Aug 1, 2014 at 21:16
  • $\begingroup$ FWIW, I think I would've given the same answer without the TL;DR section, but it definitely helped me put everything together...kind of like an abstract would: I knew what to expect as I read, and made easier sense of sections that were a little over my head because I already knew the context. Hope it helps you get more answers than just mine! Of course, editing to bump it in the active questions list is always a good tactic anyway. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2014 at 4:56
  • $\begingroup$ A meta-question regarding question length: Does length of a question influence probability of receiving an answer? Hard to say if it really works the way I feared, but with your edit, your question follows the "inverted pyramid" guideline (mbq's suggestion) much better. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2014 at 19:08
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    $\begingroup$ @NickStauner ...which is what we do in business also: start with the "executive summary" and then proceed with gradually more detail. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2014 at 19:11
  • $\begingroup$ @NickStauner It is "inverted" in terms of "criticality" perhaps, but a normal pyramid in terms of volume. $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2014 at 19:13
  • $\begingroup$ Yeah, criticality seems to be the logic of the metaphor, but the normal pyramid metaphor appeals more intuitively to me, now that you mention it...Leave it to American journalists to confuse things with a bad metaphor I guess! $\endgroup$ Aug 2, 2014 at 19:15
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    $\begingroup$ I remember reading it when it posted. I recall thinking ... "hmm, that's not a trivial question - it's certainly not something I can deal with now, but a couple of short questions might fit into the time I have available". I did at least view it. $\endgroup$
    – Glen_b
    Aug 5, 2014 at 5:12
  • $\begingroup$ @Glen_b The time factor again... if only we could behave as our asymptotic results... $\endgroup$ Aug 5, 2014 at 8:29

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