How serious is Stack Exchange about extending its brand beyond the community of information technology professionals?
I would like to see SE become the go-to website for serious Q&A in every field. I've just had to use Yahoo! Answers and the experience was horrible, making me appreciate again how sophisticated and responsive to users' needs and wishes the SE software is.
However, on three out of the four Stack Exchanges I regularly visit -- German, History, and Politics -- the demographic is heavily skewed toward developers, by my estimate >90 percent. On the fourth, Physics, the majority still are non-developers (physicists and physics enthusiasts) but at the end of last year, an ugly episode there resulted in the departure of two Top-5 physicists and Physics.SE has not yet been the same.
I see a kind of chicken-and-egg problem. To break out from the programmers' ghetto, the various non-IT SE sites must attract experts in each of the relevant fields as well as a broad audience of interested lay people. What prevents this breakout is a twofold institutional inertia.
- The stick-in-the-muds on the Internet are accustomed to their (inferior) Q&A websites and don't know that they could have something better. The message is not getting out (most users of Internet Q&A still haven't heard of SE and don't know of its qualities)
- Most people working in IT are good, decent humans, probably better on average than the average person. But even the best-intentioned people, if too many of one kind are concentrated in one place, can drive away newcomers. When I see the reception that experts and expert practitioners from other domains sometimes get on SE's that are geared to their fields, I wonder. Problems include unbalanced upvote patterns (people with accounts on Stack Overflow and the like getting higher votes than people without) and a lack of interest and appreciation for how professionals in other domains operate.
Just recently I saw answers here on Meta.SO suggesting that people who find it difficult to acquire rep on SO should join some of the less-frequented (non-IT, "beta") exchanges where they can quickly amass 100 rep points and collect the "association bonus". It is pretty obvious to me that a fair proportion of the askers at German.SE, for example, are there only for that purpose; once they hit 100 rep points, they are never seen again.
In my view, expanding active participation beyond the ranks of programmers and the like will not happen magically. It will require some serious effort and investment on the part of Stack Exchange, approaching universities and professional associations to explore ways that both sides can profit from each other.
Are SE management planning to do that or are they content to let each SE hatched at Area 51 sink or swim on its own?