# A Plea For Actual Domain Identities

There is a blog post from Joel on the Stack Exchange blog around the time of WebApps' Area 51 Graduation:

A while ago, I wrote:

“Individually-branded sites felt more authentic and trustworthy. We thought that letting every Stack Exchange site have its own domain name, visual identity, logo, and brand would help the community feel more coherent. After all, nobody wants to say that they live in Housing Block 2938TC.”

Well, funny thing… that didn't quite work out the way I expected... mostly because nobody could think of any good domain names. Believe it or not, "NothingToInstall" was one of the better suggestions. Ack.

This reasoning was used as justification for reverting "Nothing to Install" to "Web Applications", and maintaining graduating sites as "topic.stackexchange.com".

I understand the backlash that Nothing to Install received, and I understand that some sites' names are just difficult, wordy, mildly ambiguous, and aren't the obvious solution to the problem. But let's flip this situation on its head.

Ask Ubuntu has graduated and maintains its own domain identity, that being askubuntu.com, which ubuntu.stackexchange.com redirects too. I'm well aware that this is in large part to the partnership between Stack Exchange and Canonical. Here in pure Stack Exchange land, though, there are a handful of sites that actually have and actively maintain identities, with spectacular names (Ask Different, Seasoned Advice, Cross Validated), and the domain names to match.

Then there are those that were fraught with contention and didn't have an overwhelming agreement regarding the name/identity of the site. Nothing to Install -> Web Applications, and personally-notable, Gaming.

Everyone is correct here. Domain names are important, and both topic.stackexchange.com and an actual identity serve a significant purpose. An elevator pitch is important not only for introducing the users to the site upon their first visit, but also to explain what the site is in, well, elevators. All of these work together.

However, there are sites that have developed and earned their identity. I admit to speaking with absolute bias with regard to Ask Different, but I also am incredibly fond of Seasoned Advice. To date, Ask Different has accepted users publicly for over 1 year now, and has benefited tremendously from external advertising, the WWDC and Lion release traffic, and stands to continue this trend from iOS 5, and the continual release and update of hardware by Apple. There has been one question about not understanding the name of the site, but this is far from the mixed opinion that other sites have encountered.

In general, neither approach is correct in all circumstances. Forcing every single site to not have their own identity or branding, but to simply be subsumed into the generic "stackexchange.com" domain is, in some ways, just as harmful has forcing all sites to choose their own name, domain, and branding.

For sites that have graduated and established their use and identity, please grant us the use of our brand domain name.

See also: a very topical point on Meta Gaming.SE.

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1) Register superawesome domain name for x.SE 2) Set up your DNS to redirect to x.SE 3) Spread 4) Watch smugly as everybody prefers your domain name to x.SE 5) Sell to JA for mondo bux 6) Cash check like a boss – Won't Aug 22 '11 at 20:53
@Won't In the case of Ask Different, Seasoned Advice, and Cross Validated, SE already owns the .coms and redirects them. But virtually no one ever uses them. – Kyle Cronin Aug 22 '11 at 20:56
What exactly are you asking for? For example, what would Gaming's "brand domain name" be? Seasoned Advice and Cross Validated got names because, well, they had names. – Grace Note Aug 22 '11 at 20:59
I was blown away, when after they made the WebApps site change names to a the generic, they allowed other sites to have their own names. There doesn't seem to be a consistent rationale for it. – Lance Roberts Aug 22 '11 at 21:00
@Grace I won't presume to speak for Jason, but on Ask Different we're asking to officially change the site name from "Apple" to "Ask Different" and to use "askdifferent.com" as the primary domain for the site. Whether or not other sites (like Gaming) use a separate name and domain should have no bearing on whether or not we do. – Kyle Cronin Aug 22 '11 at 21:02
Convenient history link: Nothing to Install > Web Apps discussion – Pops Aug 22 '11 at 21:21
Kyle is exactly right. I more or less laid out that some sites did not come out of beta with a good enough name, e.g. I'm indifferent about 'Nothing To Install' but I really didn't like 'Boss Level' nor 'Pause For Help', nor any other highly rated suggestion. I'm fine with topic.se when no appropriate name is chosen and accepted by the majority. But Ask Different has absolutely taken off as a brand, and I've wanted to use it for... well, ever since that name was suggested in Meta. And again I also REALLY like Seasoned Advice and Cross Validated. – VxJasonxV Aug 22 '11 at 21:48
Oh, and in case there is any question about "majority acceptance" of the domain name; 1. The Domain name is actually in our header (as it is on Seasoned Advice and Cross Validated, and as opposed to WebApps and Gaming). And 2. The beta Apple.SE domain name thread had a very very obvious majority before it was closed. – VxJasonxV Aug 22 '11 at 21:56
This seems reasonable. Not all sites are going to have unique branding and will be able to come up with effective yet clever names. But for those that have, there seems little wrong with adding a redirect to their custom domain. Definitely agreed with the comment that "neither approach is correct in all circumstances". The topic.stackexchange.com form should be retained regardless. – Cody Gray Aug 23 '11 at 10:32
Just to re-iterate, I'm 100% ok with apple.stackexchange.com continuing to work and exist. But I want apple.stackexchange.com to redirect TO askdifferent.com, not the other way around as it currently is. We have our identity, Stack Exchange has everything in place to facilitate this, they should let us and similarly successful sites (SA, CV) use our primary identity as our domain name. – VxJasonxV Aug 23 '11 at 15:05

## 6 Answers

When the announcement went out

Domain Names: The Wrong Question

… there were still many passionate (and divisive) arguments on both sides of the issue. Over and over, each site would get mired down in the mind-rending work of just naming the site. So, we finally made the decision to stop squandering all all that passion and energy on such a cantankerous issue like custom naming.

With the 20-20 hindsight of launching 61 sites, the simple naming convention (descriptive of their place in the network) was the best decisions to come out of the controversy. I'd rather just get to work and focus on the content of the site.

Having said that, There were a few sites that made an impassioned plea to keep their name. Under the hood, sites still have their topic.stackexchange.com name, but we are able to accommodate those few sites by creating a permanent redirect from from their custom name. It was a simple solution, so we were glad to do it.

If you are seeing inconsistencies in the naming convention, that's only from the stuff we grandfathered in for those few sites. I'm not the final arbiter of what is technically feasible or how effort should be expended coding around these exceptions, but rousting this age-old argument doesn't seem like it will produce anything useful. Coming from the developers, though, it looks like we're just going to have to say "no thanks."

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Robert, you guys already accept the name, that's my point. It's already in the Site Layout. And you folks own the domain! askdifferent.com completely works, except that you simply use it as a redirect. Compare an apple.stackexchange.com link to an askdifferent.com link. They both go to the same place. The domain is there, and it works. Let us use it. – VxJasonxV Aug 23 '11 at 14:57
The problem here is that Ask Different and a few other sites are in limbo between their own branding and the generic, topic-based SE branding, and it's causing confusion. Go to the home page of Ask Different and you'll see the words "Ask Different" in the upper left. Except if you visit with your iPhone, in which case it says "Apple". People subscribe to the "Apple Newsletter", but visit the "Ask Different Chat", etc. – Kyle Cronin Aug 23 '11 at 16:31
@kyle that's some stuff which is grandfathered in based on the age of the site. – Jeff Atwood Aug 23 '11 at 20:43
@Kyle The comments seem to be taking on a different life from the question asked. Regardless, I removed the excessive verbiage in my answer and tried to respond to the underlying request more directly. – Robert Cartaino Aug 23 '11 at 22:28
The question/intent has been the same in this whole question. Ask Different has an identity, it would be great if we used it for everything on our site. – VxJasonxV Aug 23 '11 at 23:27
Wasn't there also something about a site getting its own domain when it reached Server Fault - level traffic... like Ask Ubuntu? – uɐɯsO uɐɥʇɐN Aug 24 '11 at 1:51
Ask Ubuntu's identity, as best I understand it, is primarily because it is a joint venture between Canonical and Stack Exchange. – VxJasonxV Aug 24 '11 at 2:27

Seasoned Advice is an awesome name. I send people links to http://SeasonedAdvice.com/ instead of http://cooking.stackexchange.com/, 'cause it just looks so much better.

Unfortunately, making this the primary point of entry would set a bad example. 'tis the old, "If I give one to you then I have to give one to everyone else" thing - pretty soon, every graduating site wants one, regardless of whether they actually have a good name. This was a bitter argument once twice already; the outcome was a real bummer for those of us who wanted unique domain names, and it was a sour note played during what should be a time of jubilation - does this really need to be repeated for every site?

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Yes, it really really does. Because there is nothing wrong with a case-by-case basis. Besides; Stack Overflow, Server Fault, Super User. They all have one, give one to everyone else (that deserves it). Also, you can't EASILY send people links to Seasoned Advice, you have to manually change it to do so every single time because the site does not generate seasonedadvice.com links. – VxJasonxV Aug 23 '11 at 23:20
Of course this elaboration comes to mind 1 minute after the edit limit, sorry for two in a row. (1) You can't send tailored seasonadvice.com links easily, to specific questions, without manually changing the url yourself. (2) The irony of "sending people links to seasonedadvice.com" is astounding. I repeat a point I made already. It is my belief that the Ask Different community has accepted it's name. You cannot say the same about Nothing To Install and Gaming. But Ask Different, Seasoned Advice, and Cross Validated all seem to be in agreement that the name fits. – VxJasonxV Aug 23 '11 at 23:32
It's damning the sites that are able to coalesce around a single name when other sites aren't quite fully baked branding-wise. Redirects feels so much like Tripod and Geocities where people would buy domains and redirect them because they couldn't really set it up properly. – random Aug 23 '11 at 23:36
@VxJasonxV: Ironic? Why? I would hope we could both agree that it's a very nice name and easy-to-remember domain... However, you know quite well (or at least maintain in your question) that some sites don't and probably can't have such an effective alter-ego. If we're gonna do it, we need to do it right - every must come up with an effective identity before launching from beta. Since we're not doing that, best to avoid arguments... Be the best Geocities possible. – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 2:16
The statement of irony was the fact that you do use SeasonedAdvice.com yet you don't think it should remain in the address bar afterwards. Why must sites that cannot rally around a concise name hold back the sites that did? We want consistent branding on the site, this includes the domain name AskDifferent.com in the address bar at all times during site navigation. – VxJasonxV Aug 24 '11 at 2:44
@VxJasonxV: actually, I think each site should be forced to come up with some solid branding 'fore getting a theme and launched status. Buuuut, that's not how we're doing it. So rather than listening to this sad trombone playing each time a new site launches, I'm arguing for consistency (and making the best of the site that does have good branding, even if it doesn't stick around in the URL bar. Not like the folks I'm sending these links to even know what a URL bar is.) – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 2:52
@Shog9, I want mathjax support on cooking.se, why can't I have it? No fair! – Benjol Aug 24 '11 at 5:00
@Benjol: pretty sure mathjax is available to any site that needs it... Don't see much TeX on SA though. – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 5:29
@Shog - why do you think consistency is so important? I don't mean that as a rhetorical question. If other sites are happy with X.stackexchange.com, while others have coalesced around a true domain, why not give everyone what they want? And for the latter case, X.stackexchange would still redirect to the new domain, so in that sense it'd still be consistent anyway. – Adam Rackis Aug 24 '11 at 15:57
@Adam: in this particular case, I think it's important because there's such an obvious appeal to having a unique identity that the temptation would be for new sites to strain at coming up with one... Even when they have little need or even good choices. (There was a recent discussion on the SharePoint site about this, mostly in regard to keeping their SE1.0 ID... That name? SharePointOverflow... Not much of a unique brand, eh?) – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 16:04
@Shog HA! Well there's no shortage of bad domain-names ideas, but with due respect, I think that's a bit of a straw man. The Apple community seems to be in agreement about their domain, and, assuming Jeff and Joel have no problem with it, why not let them run with it? Other sites' stupid domain ideas shouldn't hold back the good ones, should they? – Adam Rackis Aug 24 '11 at 16:08
@Adam: which brings us back to the start of this thread, where I said, "This was a bitter argument twice already [...] and the outcome was a sour note played during what should have been a time of jubilation" - sites are being launched because they're doing well at Q&A and we want to encourage them - not give them a routine slap on the face with "Nope, your name sucks, no domain for you". See Jeff's answer - originally, there were plans to do this for all sites, then only high-traffic ones; now, it's the rare exception when there's an exceptionally-good reason for doing so. – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 16:15
At the time of the "Sour Note", the expectation was that all sites would pick a domain name, period. That requirement has now been somewhere between abolished, or perhaps just drastically changed to the much more sensible: "Write an elevator pitch." I don't disagree than the current "this is what you need to graduate" set of tasks are nearly perfect for SE's needs, but why prevent successful communities from going above and beyond? Robert originally indicated that people could suggest "eureka!" quality domain names, and that's what I'm doing. – VxJasonxV Aug 24 '11 at 16:23
It does seem like the current system goes beyond fixing the problems described above to actually impeding reasonable requests like this. Why is an intelligent middle ground so hard to find? – Adam Rackis Aug 24 '11 at 19:01

In response to the two current answers: If I understand correctly, you're arguing for the lowest common denominator?

"We can't do that because everyone will want one" doesn't really convince me, and it's NOT applied consistently:

• sites don't come out of beta at the same time.
• not all sites even survive - how unfair!

Both of these are 'fuzzy' decisions which you apparently don't shy away from.

I've argued this point before, but please forgive me for saying it again:

I don't believe people get mad, impassioned or cantankerous because they disagree with your decisions, so much as they get mad because you change your minds1, or don't deliver what's 'written on the box'.

I'm totally convinced that you can have a differentiated approach to domain names without the strife, as long as you are upfront about it:

After one year out of beta, if a site has clearly coalesced around an identity/domain which we are also happy with, we will consider switching to the given domain name (while conserving the topic.se as a redirect)

1. This doesn't mean you should never change your minds, I'm just explaining what I believe generates the flak.

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we kept the existing names as a courtesy redirect to reflect grandfathered and mothballed discussions, but the "United States of Stack Exchange" is the model for now and the future -- barring any acts of God like Apple, Inc deciding to bless the site. We have the State of Apple, the State of Bicycles, the State of Literature, and so forth. – Jeff Atwood Aug 24 '11 at 12:19
@Jeff Why does Apple have to sign off on the use of Ask Different, but not on the fact that you are currently using their actual name? After all, it is the Apple Questions and Answers, and the Apple Community Moderator Election, and the Apple Newsletter. – VxJasonxV Aug 24 '11 at 14:20
@VxJ: I'd guess that unless some money goes to SE, they'll want to keep things together to promote the overall SE brand (though not at the cost of moving things around that currently work). – Donal Fellows Aug 24 '11 at 17:56

There was some discussion of sites perhaps "graduating" to a custom domain at roughly Server Fault traffic levels, which I believe 10 months ago was around 60k/visitors day. Apple.se currently gets around 12k/visitors per day.

But I don't think we would want to do that now, even if the site did grow by 5x. As you pointed out ...

Ask Ubuntu has graduated and maintains it's own domain identity, that being askubuntu.com, which ubuntu.stackexchange.com redirects too. I'm well aware that this is in large part to the partnership between Stack Exchange and Canonical.

From my perspective, this is now the only condition under which custom domain names will be considered.

Of course we are happy to maintain the courtesy redirects for sites that did pick a decent domain name under the old plan, but this is strictly a grandfathered-in best effort sort of deal. We now prefer the "United States of Stack Exchange" model for its simplicity. In retrospect, the idea that we would have 50 websites, with fifty different domain names, is COMPLETELY INSANE. I honestly have no idea what we were thinking there.

Any way, long story short -- if you can get Apple, Inc. to officially sign off on the site, we will happily change the domain name to whatever is required. Beyond that Act of God scenario, we simply aren't doing custom domain names for any sites as a matter of policy.

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I can see that you would need some blessing for "Ask Apple", but not how it would be necessary for "Ask Different". The "fifty different domain names is insane" argument is not really a good one. – Paŭlo Ebermann Aug 24 '11 at 13:23
When are you going to revert the names of SO, SF, and SU to Programming.SE, Server Admins.SE, and Computers.SE, respectively? – VxJasonxV Aug 24 '11 at 14:18
@VxJasonxV SF/SU/SO were never SE2.0 to start with.. – Sathya Aug 24 '11 at 14:40
@Sathya: So we should shut them down or force them to switch to SE2.0 like we did all the SE1.0 sites? :) – Powerlord Aug 24 '11 at 14:59
Strickly-speaking, @Powerlord, they were never SE1.0 either... ;-P – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 15:27
Err, you do realize that the real United States have their own individual names? I said my piece on this a long time ago, but, for the present... you might want to pick a better analogy. Might I suggest about.com or some other example that actually uses generic sub-domains or sub-somethings? – Aarobot Aug 24 '11 at 23:13
@aaro "state of Georgia", not "Peaches Extreme". Stated another way. ga.usa.gov not peaches-extreme.com – Jeff Atwood Aug 24 '11 at 23:16
Yeah... exactly. "Georgia" is a name, not a generic thing/concept. The analogy to ga.usa.gov is askdifferent.stackexchange.com or seasonedadvice.stackexchange.com. And... there's also a georgia.gov. – Aarobot Aug 24 '11 at 23:20
@aaro Apple is a name, not a generic thing/concept. see here apple.com -- we can certainly set up an askdifferent.stackexchange.com alias if that is what you want. – Jeff Atwood Aug 24 '11 at 23:37
Apple is... probably the only subdomain that qualifies (vs. Gaming, Cooking, Web Apps, Judaism, Parenting, ELU, Webmasters... etc.) It's not about what I want, I never use that site, I just think that "united states" is a badly-strained analogy that would cause less confusion and probably less negativity if it were replaced with one that made sense. Stick to your guns if you want, it's hardly worth an extended debate for me - but I doubt I'll be the last person to respond "WTF?". – Aarobot Aug 25 '11 at 0:57
+1/-1. "We don't want to manage 50 different domains" rings truer than "we can't treat sites differently 'cos people will be sad". Not much more convincing though :) – Benjol Aug 25 '11 at 5:26
Jeff, you've now made that point twice, but still haven't explained why Apple has to endorse Ask Different, but doesn't have to endorse their own name/trademark. – VxJasonxV Aug 25 '11 at 6:15
I think I can somewhat grasp the practical difficulty of having 50 domain names, but I'm still firmly with Aarobot on this. By categorically barring individual sites from getting their own domain name unless there's an act of God (or Steve Jobs or whoever), you're taking away part of each site's opportunity to grow into an independent, unique resource on their respective topic. I don't care if the process of finding a good domain name is made almost impossibly hard (like, Jeff and Joel and the community need to actually like the suggestion!), but the possibility should exist. – Pëkka Sep 8 '11 at 20:25
@Jeff surnames are actually a pretty good example. Who really needs to know that the individual Bill is part of the Gates family? His family; the government; and a small, immediate circle of friends and contacts. The general public, the worldwide audience he is known to? Not really, it's just social convention. I'm uncomfortable with the .stackexchange.com umbrella. My feeling is it sets a limit to what each individual site can achieve in terms of becoming a "big name". I hope I'm wrong! – Pëkka Sep 9 '11 at 7:27
I'm confused by the "official sign off" closing - are you saying that you chose apple.SE over askdifferent.SE due to liability issues? – bmike Sep 9 '11 at 14:13

Since It's clear that a custom domain is off the table (something I emphatically disagree with, but there appears to be no feasible way around), could we at the very least get the name in the system changed from "Apple" to "Ask Different". I'd be mostly satisfied if the mobile site said "Ask Different", people subscribed to the "Ask Different" newsletter, we were listed as "Ask Different" in the Stack Exchange list of sites, etc. Using the actual askdifferent.com domain would be nice, but the confusing branding actually on the site is a bigger concern to me.

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This whole situation is absurdly frustrating. I was the person that typed the letters a, p, p, l, e into a text box on the Area 51 site, never dreaming about just how hard it would be to change. – Kyle Cronin Aug 24 '11 at 17:19
Yeah... You typed "f o o d a n d c o o k i n g" too. I think we should blame this all on you. ;-) – Shog9 Aug 24 '11 at 18:09
I'm also more of the opinion that the confusion is made worse by the "half-implementation" of the AskDifferent name. Set aside whether it's .com or .se.com - the URL having apple instead of askdifferent seems to ripple down throughout the site: navigation at the footer of all sites, the window title of each bookmark, the mobile site's only name, and several other places. Is the "no to askdifferent.com" being applied to the rest of the " apple vs. askdifferent" request? – bmike Aug 25 '11 at 18:46
@KyleCronin: There is nothing hard to change about that? Audio.SE and Video.SE were combined into AVP.SE, why can't Apple change it's name then? – Tom Wijsman Aug 28 '11 at 1:37

In my (albeit limited) experience telling people about Ask Ubuntu, it's a lot easier to explain to people that I'm a community member of AskUbuntu.com, a Ubuntu Q&A site, instead of being a member of "Ubuntu.stackexchange" - it just doesn't click with people who

A. don't already know about the site,

or

B. don't know about stackoverflow (or superuser, or serverfault, or....)

So having a domain name is nice when you're explaining the concept to folks, but the answers above have good points as well.

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