I am half way into my second year with WPMU DEV. When searching the forum. I have noticed that some pretty smart and helpful wp developers/users are no longer members. Also I see a number of once helpful staff members are now inactive too.
An important question is how much of the community is now novice and intermediate users and why are experts dropping out?
There has to be value in keeping these high level wp folks in the membership. Even when they are asking questions they are adding expert conversations to the forum. They are also potentially a valuable resource for WPMU when you need help. They should also help take pressure off paid support by helping each other and other members. The longer they stay a member the more familiar they become with WPMU products and therefore even more helpful with WPMU specific questions.
Old staff is an immediate source of expert members that could be added. So consider offering any old staff that left on good terms membership for free.
I think it is important to determine why talented and helpful members might decide to leave.
Personally I have a little understanding as to why they might choose not to stay. Myself I was a computer programmer, and have a lot of experience with database design. I joined WPMU DEV as a wp novice but my level of expertise has grown to point where I myself am considering dropping my membership this June when my second year is up.
I think that part of the problem is that some of the brightest members eventually add more value then they are deriving. As they help and contribute they are not being rewarded for their contributions (as they make them). Yes they may eventually get a lifetime membership, but that can take a while. So unless they absolutely need WPMU products then there is little incentive to stay.
Part of WPMU DEV's value comes from belonging to an expert community. So if experts do not stay then WPMU DEV should take a better look how experts can be encouraged to stay. There is value in keeping them on as expert members in the community and this adds to WPMU DEV's overall value at little cost. It is worth evaluating who makes up most of the paying community. If most of the revenue is from a novice and intermediate user base, then having more experts stay should be a fairly high priority.
The point system is a good idea, but it flawed in that any user lowers their perceived member rank and status when they give points away. Novice, new and non lifetime members who need points are also less likely to give them up, and the majority of members probably fall into this category. Members have to hit 600 point before their own points are worthless toward a lifetime membership. Then we're back to the status problem.
A solution to the above would be to award 2 points for every post. One that counts toward the members points and one that does not count toward their own points, but can be given away. Then award helpful members extra time as they reach a certain number of points from other members. So members that have expertise and are helpful are rewarded and will have no reason because they maintain their membership just by staying helpful to other members. Eventually they will reach their lifetime membership but have already proven themselves to be an asset to WPMU DEV.
This system could even be offered to inactive members. Maybe they cannot initiate a question to get support or get updates for WPMU products until they have enough points. This way experts can answer questions for other members to acquire points towards becoming active again at no cost. When they earn enough points for being helpful their membership automatically reactivates and remains active if the keep hitting point milestones. As long as a member stays active as a helpful member they could be free until they eventually get a lifetime membership. This would greatly improve the community and raise the average expertise of the membership in general.
Another issue is that it is not easy for members to be helpful to each other unless you are regularly visiting the forum. I believe more members would help other members if there was an easy way for them to see new questions without having to go to the forum.
Personally I would enjoy seeing new forum posts unintrusively pop up, and have the ability to easily click and respond. Also having the ability to select the type of post to see would be good. An intermediate member might only want to see beginner posts, figuring that they might be able to help. An expert might only want to see the advanced questions and plugin questions but not themes and beginner questions etc.