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I am planning on launching a stackexchange web site and would like to better understand how to make it successful. (Initially, I thought that asking this question was equivalent to asking people to give up business secrets. But I realize now that when stackexchange launches the likelihood that two sites will compete with each other is close to nil. So we all benefit from sharing ideas on growing our sites so we can defend them against the big boys when they join the party.)

What are the key ingredients in making a stackexchange web site successful? Is doing paid advertising for the site important? Is having a big mailing list of potential participants important? Is SEO important?

I'm also interested in the importance of having a set of experts who are willing to answer questions as soon as the site launches. In answering this question, Adam Davis writes: "Jeff and Joel both agree that to start a really good SO style website, one must already be or have subject matter experts that are there to start it off."

How critical is this? If it is critical, what is the best way to gather a group of SMEs to answer questions on the launch date?

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I think the main requirement for good SE site would have to be the topic. If your topic is popular there is a higher chance that you will be able attract not just people that are interested in the topic, but experts that want to share their knowledge with these people.

Now this is the Internet and niche markets can attract lots of people, but some niches are so small that you will never be able create a user base that will grow (it will stay a ghost town). Topics should be on things that all people have an interest in, like health, books, cars etc. These topics all have experts in the field as well.

Now as for paid advertising... I think it is a waste of money. I have never seen any advertisement for SO. SO and hopefully other SE type sites will get free advertising though search engines, which is how probably 80% of all SO users found SO. Another good form of free advertisement in today's age are through informative blogs. Both of the founders of SO have great blogs with great articles on topics that their sites are based on. Finally the main way people are going to find your site is through today's word of mouth, hyperlinks. As your site grows more people will tweet/blog/send emails with links to your site and blog. Unlike true word of mouth where you say something once to one person and that's it, hyperlinks are always there telling people to GO HERE.

With all of these publicity, paid advertisements will never match the capabilities of Web 2.0 communication. So, create a blog and a twitter account for your service, and make sure you invite a bunch of friends to participate to start the community up and spread word.

If you build it they will come.

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Us. ;)

The programmers who choose to participate in Stack Overflow are the “secret sauce” that makes it work. -Jeff Atwood

Or more generally, a knowledgeable and active community for whatever field your site will serve (good mechanics for a "RadiatorOverflow" site about car repair, etc.).

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The programmers who choose to participate in StackOverflow aren't exactly going to be the same ingredient to success for another stackexchange style site. – TheTXI Jul 10 '09 at 14:27
  • An Audience (preferably with enough knowledge to answer the questions).

  • An active set of moderators.

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How many moderators should there be? What do they do? – user130657 Jul 10 '09 at 14:30
As many moderators as it takes to police the site. When you first start out, I would imagine you wouldn't have many users with high enough reputation (which I imagine the scale can be modified) to do things like revise questions and answers and close topics by voting, so your moderators at the beginning will be important. In most cases I would imagine having a single moderator is sufficient, but as your populace grows, the more you may need to keep up with the demand. – TheTXI Jul 10 '09 at 14:32
There is a saying in my country: the thing is not to know but have the number of those who know. – quantme Mar 13 '11 at 1:33

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