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At the moment, when a site is closed to due to insufficient activity, it's taken offline and archived.

I'd like to propose an alternative approach.

  1. Let's keep all the content online.
  2. Keep the "link" functionality active, so that people can create links to it.
  3. But put all activity that's user-generated content, into suspended animation, so that when anyone tries to ask, to answer, to edit, to upvote, downvote, or otherwise contribute to the site, they get a message telling them that the site is in suspended animation, but will be resurrected once a certain number of people (200, or whatever), have committed to contributing to it once it reopens.
  4. Manage the commitment / reopening process through Area 51, with the usual rewards for getting other people to commit to reopening, just as they're rewarded for getting other people to commit to opening a beta site in the first place.
  5. Have a banner on every page in the site, stating that the site is in suspended animation, pending sufficient commitment to reopen it - and offering a link to the right place in Area51 to allow them to commit to reopening the site.
  6. When a site is suspended, send all contributors who've given SE an email address, an email with a link to Area51 and telling them how they can help re-open the site.
  7. Don't do any reputation-recalculating or badge-awarding while the site is suspended.
  8. Apply all this to a site's Meta-site too.
  9. Exclude the reputation on suspended sites from users' Exchange-wide all-site flair. Or include it. I can see benefits either way. It's a side-issue. Can we ignore it for now, until the above points have been agreed or declined?

Advantages:

  • all the content stays on the web for people to link to and benefit from;
  • no new broken windows: the suspended animation prevents anyone adding spam or other bad content;
  • StackExchange can continue putting advertisements on the content, bringing in some revenue.
  • Beta contributors don't feel like all their hard work has gone to waste: thus they won't be deterred from contributing to other betas.

Oh, and please could this be trialled on the Economics site first?

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Does this not essentially boil down to "don't close the site at all, just put a message up indicating it's not active enough"? –  Bart Jun 29 '12 at 8:42
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No, it doesn't. An open site is susceptible to newly-broken windows. A site in suspended animation would not be. –  EnergyNumbers Jun 29 '12 at 8:45
    
The site will have be given a chance to succeed. Stack Exchange gives each site a good chance and opportunity to make progress, and to show that it can stand on it's own two feet. I'm sorry, but I can't see how a site will be resurrected successfully with this approach. –  Matt Jun 29 '12 at 9:43
    
How do you feel about the date of Astronomy and TheoreticalPhysics (i.e. folded back into Physics and we're slowing getting the tagging thing sorted out...)? –  dmckee Jun 29 '12 at 13:28
    
@dmckee in those cases, I think the re-merge has worked well, and very little content has vanished from the web. In the case of some other closed sites, a lot of good hard work has vanished from the web, and some beta contributors left very disillusioned. I'm now more wary about contributing to beta sites, given the likelihood of the content just vanishing off the web some time: which, in itself, increases the probability that the site will close. –  EnergyNumbers Jun 29 '12 at 13:52
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This proposal isn't modest enough. Needz moar cannibalism. –  Shog9 Nov 4 '13 at 19:38

2 Answers 2

You could theoretically create such a site yourself using the datadump, all the information is available. I think this would make sense if you cherry-pick the best posts of a site, but I don't think leaving the whole site online is a very good idea.

One huge problem with your proposal is that the content is frozen, it can't be challenged or corrected anymore. Any errors stay there forever, they can't be corrected. That alone is reason enough for me to strongly oppose this proposal, I don't want bad information on an SE site that can't be corrected.

And the sites that fail usually don't fail simply due to low activity, there are often other related problems. Failing sites often also struggle with quality, as they don't have the necessary population of experts that can challenge bad information and write good posts. A failed site might also mean that the scope of the site was not ideal, and a new site would start with a different scope.

A new effort to create a site for the same topic as a failed site should start fresh. They should learn from the problems of the predecessor, but they should not just take over the whole old site content. They should get the opportunity to pick the best posts, at some time after the initial site definition has been done. Those posts should be migrated without votes, so that the new community doesn't just get a lot of highly-voted questions dumped onto them.

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Here I have outlined doubts that people will be encouraged to put work into a site again if it was previously closed down. It is basically the uncertainty and unpredictability of SE decisions. Also I have to ask - is there any single example in history, when a site was closed down and subsequently reworked and became a success? –  Dmitri Zaitsev Dec 17 '13 at 11:23

The datadump isn't exactly useful. A much easier way to handle this is kick off a web archive of the site (by entering the site URL in the lower right corner box)

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Web archive isn't ideal, but it's browsable and it works. A pretty reasonable archive was made for the ill-fated answers.onstartups.com, with the most popular questions still archived.

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