Way back in March 2011, when Joel had a random open chat session, I asked him this:
The more time I spend on Stack Exchange, the more it seems like one of the biggest factors — if not the biggest — in SO's success was its seed population of Coding Horror/Joel on Software fans. Are you planning on reaching out to other existing expert communities for new SE sites?
Joel responded with this:
The Joel on Software mailing list was about 50,000 people. Stack Overflow now grows by 70,000 people a month. So the seed was Joel On Software / Coding Horror, but the number of Joel on Software people who are on Stack Overflow is probably miniscule now.
Here's the full transcript for those who care. (Please ignore the formatting of my initial message. I wasn't yelling. The bold/italic was added in later by an enthusiastic moderator.)
What Joel says is true. His 50k figure is generous, even; only 2576 SO users have the Beta badge. However, I think he missed the key point of my question (which is understandable; he was getting hit with questions from all sides at the time).
The first SO users may not have been numerous, but they were experts, and they set a high bar for quality on day one. That quality led to people having respect for SO, which led to other experts showing up, and... well, you know the rest. Without the great content — and, yes, the crowd-pleasing poll questions — that those first users contributed, it wouldn't have mattered how cleverly the SO system was designed. In short, the impact of the first users was much larger than their numbers alone would suggest.
I still think Stack Exchange sites should try to work with existing expert communities. But you know what? We don't have to wait for Joel, or Jeff, or anyone "official" to proselytize. Jeff even kinda sorta addressed this in his blog post Helping The Experts Get Answers, but that's small-scale.
Should we be doing more to get existing expert communities to work with Stack Exchange? What steps can we actually take?