This is a rundown the major milestones each site goes through from proposal through graduation. The process may vary from time to time as we improve the process or take on “special projects” as opportunities present themselves, but for the most part, this is the gist of it.
- Proposal Submission — When a new site is proposed, we do a quick sanity check to find egregious problems, like overlapping scope or subjects that aren't well-suited to our Q&A format. But generally we’re okay to let a proposal develop before passing judgement.
- Discussion and Comment — We don’t generally get involved the day-to-day discussions around an evolving proposal, unless someone is asking about the Area 51 process itself, or is seeking some policy input about the viability of a proposal. Communities are largely free to discuss and experiment at this stage without a lot of interference from us. But all the discussions (and example questions) are always reviewed and considered when when we do our “Final Review.”
- Late-Stage Final Review — When a proposal reaches about 40-50% commitment, we do a final review to make sure the proposal is healthy, well-presented, and everything is ready in preparation for the final launch. We’ll look over the example questions and the audience building the site to make sure it matches the proposal title and description. Often the title and description are consolidated to get rid of a lot of extraneous detail for use in the ‘help center’ once the site is created.
- Site Launch — When a proposal hits 100% commitment, we do a final sanity check before we submit the site for launch into the private beta. Barring any technical or scheduling conflicts, private betas generally start 1-2 weeks after completion on either Tuesday or Wednesday. Anyone committed to the proposal will receive notification via email.
- Early Moderation — Prior to appointing moderators from the community, the Stack Exchange Community Managers will take on the primary roles of site moderation. During the opening weeks, we will generally take care of any ‘flags’ and other urgent matters which cannot wait for the moderator appointees. During the private beta, there is also an increased sense of rigorous moderation while we prepare the site for opening day. If there is anything we can do to help set the community on track towards a stronger launch, the Community Team will take a more active role in community education.
- Private Beta Evaluation — After one week, we will evaluate how the private beta is doing. If the content looks strong and the community highly engaged, we will open the site to the public. If there are any problems (or the community simply needs more time to develop) we may extend a private beta out to a second week. But once the stage is set and everything looks good, it’s time to open the the doors to the public.
- Proposal Reboot — On occasion, a community might not be able to get it together during the private beta. There may be nothing wrong with the subject itself. Perhaps we didn’t quite get the scope right, or the community just wasn’t well-equipped to pull it off. But whatever the case, sometimes we just have to close a private beta and (hopefully) send the idea back to the drawing board as a new proposal to try and get it right the second time around.
- Appointing Pro Tem Moderators — A few weeks after launch, we start the search for “pro tem moderators” who will watch over the site prior to the general elections (when the site graduates). This process may take awhile depending on how clearly candidates emerge from the early community, and how amenable they are to taking on that role. We try to appoint three candidates in the first round, but we may start with fewer and appoint the rest as soon as we can if the process drags on too long.
- Moderator Review — Moderators are given special abilities to be the “exception handlers” to take care of situations that cannot easily be handled through the normal community process. But moderators are expected to agree to and abide by a Moderator Agreement which outlines their responsibilities and how they are expected to carry them out. Moderator actions are logged and user messaging is monitored to review how they are doing overall. It is very unusual to find any problems in this area, but when they do, the Community Team is here to advise.
- On-going Community Self-Evaluations 90 days into the public beta, the system will solicit the first community self-evaluation, wherein the community will be asked to review ten recent, randomly-selected posts to see how they are performing relative to similar sites on the subject. The evaluation runs for about one week, at which time we will receive the results for review. We use this opportunity to evaluate every site more holistically, combining the participation in the self-evaluation with other metrics (e.g. traffic, user engagement, overall activity, moderation, meta involvement, etc). This cycle repeats every 180 days to track on-going progress and to be sure the site gets any attention it needs to help them build towards a successful graduation.
- Graduation — Once a community reaches a tipping point where the quality remains high, the community is engaged and self-sustaining, and the traffic growth reaches a critical mass that assures continued success for the foreseeable future, we can start the process of graduation. This starts with our designer(s) who will start brainstorming custom designs for the site (watch the meta forum for announcements). It’s difficult to estimate the timeframe to complete this process. Designs vary and the workload varies, but input from the community is always appreciated.
At this point the site is pretty much self-sustaining. The community becomes eligible for a few new features like creating a site blog, or creating their own “Community Promotion Ads” by submitting suggestions to the meta post by the same name. But the first order of business is to hold a general election where the community will replace (or re-elect) the provisional moderators with those elected by the community. Watch for the announcements starting about one month after graduation. After the first elections, we’ll generally check to see if new elections are needed about once per year. But elections can be held at any time, if additional help is needed. The Moderators are well equipped to watch over the site and let us know if there are any issues that need our attention. And there’s a lot of checks and analytics in place to let us know that everything is pretty much running on track.