So I'm a big fan of the promotional grant idea, but I think we could also do something that targeted new users. How about a "Stump the Gamers" contest? The goal would be to try to get new users coming in and asking/answering questions.
The top prize would be given to the most upvoted unanswered question (aka "Stumping the Gamers") asked during the contest period.
Other prizes could also be awarded for things like
- Most upvoted question
- Most upvoted answer
- Most total rep earned
Only new users would be eligible to win. Prizes could be free games! If the prize was substantial enough ($100 of free games?) we could probably get some publicity from gaming sites, and by emphasizing voting, we'd be indoctrinating users into our way of doing things. The reputation requirements for up and down voting should help prevent gaming the system too much, and you could improve your chances of having the best unanswered question by trying to answer the questions of others!
To expand on Jeff's concern: Why is it good to encourage people to ask unanswered questions?
- It makes the contest feel more like a challenge of skill than just popularity. You have to not only ask a question that lots of people like, but it has to be a question that stumps our entire community. I think people outside our community are more likely to think they have a shot at winning by asking a hard question than if we tell them they have to be the most popular, and that means they are more likely to try to participate.
- Focusing on unanswered questions makes people realize how rare they are on our site. Lots of sites have popular topics, but our site is the one that will get you an answer, no matter what.
- It encourages contestants to not only ask questions, but also to answer other people's questions (thus taking their question out of the running for the top prize). Once they realize how much fun it is, they'll stick with the site whether they win or not.