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As I see it, the only effect of having three sites instead of one is that questions in Server Fault and Super User are seen less and answered less.

This just causes audience fragmentation and dissipation for no reason.

In addition it causes useless friction and waste regarding the endless issue, where does this question belong? Belongs-there, belongs-here...

The site comes with a powerful tag filtering feature anyway.

Those three sites have very similar audiences, questions, and expertise fields.

Take for example:

  • Where is the limit between writing macros and programming (Super User or Stack Overflow)?
  • Is configuring rewrite rules for Apache programming or administration (Super User or Server Fault)?
  • Is advanced registry configuration administration or power-user tasks (Super User or Server Fault)?
  • Is writing Bash scripts programming or server administration (Stack Overflow or Server Fault)?

Feel free to add your examples in the comments...

I think the answer is that most questions fit in at least two sites and what matters is not the issue itself but what was the bigger issue the asker was trying to solve.

share|improve this question
per your examples: macros are programming, the context of that depends on the question being asked though; rewrite rules for apache is admin; registry config is admin; bash scripts is admin. ;-) – Steven A. Lowe Jul 13 '09 at 15:22
also it would be descent to not spam down votes on a user just because the question should be migrated. On top of that, I found a bug the other day. I had a question. Someone migrated it but still to the wrong site. then users wanted to migrate question again but that is not possible. So this needs to be fixed. – yan bellavance Dec 22 '09 at 21:35
Don't forget to add the various stackexchange sites like codereview.stackexchange.com and dba.stackexchange.com to add to the mix of confusion – Ray Oct 30 at 21:24

10 Answers 10

Less noise.

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less signal as well – yan bellavance Dec 22 '09 at 21:33

I think the idea of the three sites is a good one, but what we need to be addressing is the interface (yuk) between the sites.

Questions like yours and this one address the issue and even suggest possible solutions. Even if the exact solutions mentioned here aren't implemented they will have some effect on those that actually are and eventually there will be cleaner interface between the sites.

One suggestion could be that when someone asks a question the similar question search is performed on all sites and the site that returns the most answers is the one that should get the question. Or check the tags from all the sites and direct the question at the site that contributes the most tags.

So pose your question and then suggest a possible solution or two and you never know one of them might get implemented.

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well, there is already an integrated search between all sites: Google. – Jeff Atwood Jul 13 '09 at 12:08
site:stackoverflow.com php – Sampson Jul 13 '09 at 12:15
Point taken on the search. I was thinking about using the site's own search box (I know shock horror!) – ChrisF Jul 13 '09 at 12:21

I think that most people would not bother to tag their questions accordingly ([SO], [SE], [SU]). This would result in much noise, as Jonathan points out. Some questions might be valid on 2 sites, and in this case we should be rather forgiving to prevent shuffling.

I do think that the answering style will be different as well. If I as a programmer ask about a macro problem, the people on SO will tend to assume that I have some basic programming knowledge and give a higher level answer that does not teach the absolute basics or go further into the stuff as would fit for a professional programmer.

Asking on SU, I would probably get a totally other style of answer, starting at a much lower level.

This will route the people to the right site over time.

I first thought about shared questions between the sites (maybe through a shared database), but the argument I just stated speaks against that.

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you dont need to tag SO SE SU SWhatever....the tags relating to the question would take care of that automatically – yan bellavance Dec 22 '09 at 21:31

I can see why they're separate - there is more power in a focused community, and it's more attractive to the search engines.

But I also tend to agree that there is a lot of potential overlap in the sites.

Perhaps an option to see consolidated question and answer lists might be an answer?

Ultimately, user experience is what counts. If users get frustrated switching from site to site again and again (I'm already suffering a bit of this when checking MSO as well as SO) then eventually someone else with another SO clone will step in and fill the need.

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+1 option to see consolidated questions – sixtyfootersdude Jun 20 '10 at 10:59

Update: made policy on the blog


This just causes audience fragmentation and dissipation for no reason.

But if you are discussing everything, you are discussing nothing.

There is no (good) community that can form around "let's just talk about everything and tag it".

It's also same reason neighborhoods tend to form in communities -- chinatown, little italy, garment district, wall street, etcetera.

I think the answer is that most questions fit in at least two sites

Examples? Most questions do in fact fit pretty reasonably into these ..

  • programming (so)
  • servers (sf)
  • general computer hardware or software (su)
  • discussion about the discussion (mso: you are here)

.. buckets.

Considering your examples:

  • Writing macros?
  • Configuring rewrite rules for apache?
  • Advanced registry configuration?
  • Writing bash scripts?

I'd first ask "what is your job title?" and then "which community do you consider yourself a part of?" followed by "what are you trying to accomplish?"

You can use the same mountain to go downhill really fast on snow -- but it's usually plainly evident to the participant which culture they consider themselves a part of, "skiers" or "snowboarders". There's not a whole lot of confusion within the community itself.

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+1 For the snowboard example. – BinaryMisfit Jul 13 '09 at 13:04
Jeff, take for example Wikipedia. Wikipedia is about everything, although each article is about something very specific. And some may say there is noise, because of undeserving entries about, let's say, Britney Spears. Which may be true, but Britney Spears does not appear in the entry about Chinese Pottery. The questions you think I should ask myself when posting are not so relevant, what matters is the question, not the asker, I think. – flybywire Jul 13 '09 at 13:11
we're a hybrid system and thus can never go too far in any one direction -- there's a push and pull from the opposing forces depicted here codinghorror.typepad.com/.a/… – Jeff Atwood Jul 13 '09 at 13:47
I must say fail on this one. You had me at Stackoverflow then it just adds useless overhead – yan bellavance Dec 22 '09 at 21:33
I agree with Yan. I really like stackoverflow. But with all due respect, the other sites need to be stopped. Even your analogy breaks. "skiers" and "snowboarders" will have questions about jackets, sunglasses, etc. It doesn't matter their culture. Consider those people in small startups. They have to be involved in all aspects of technology and even sales and marketing. There's no "sys admin" supporting them. – User1 Jan 8 '10 at 4:57
@yan, @User1: If you only like StackOverflow, the current design (separate sites) should be fine for you. – Daniel Daranas Apr 13 '10 at 8:23
@flybywire: I would say that Wikipedia is almost the only example of an encyclopedic site that actually works. It shouldn't be used as an example to prove that StackOverflow would work as an "ask anything, we have tags" site. (And Britney Spears is not underserving, she is a popular singer and if some day I want to know where she was born, I'll go to Wikipedia.) – Daniel Daranas Apr 13 '10 at 8:26
I personally think there will be only one site that will be left in the end. Joel and Jeff will realize that it ain't working. Take the example of photo.stackexchange.com. Most of the questions are already answered and there are already well established sites like www.digital-photography-school.com that features forums, blogs, critique your photos, etc, These sites are already known to photographers and it is such a big waste of time to go to one site for reading blogs, getting my pictures critiqued and then switch to photo.stackexchange for asking questions. – CodeToGlory Jul 18 '10 at 1:34
also, stackoverflow is a hit as it filled a void. There were no decent Q/A sites that were good and even it is there those sites are not user friendly to use. – CodeToGlory Jul 18 '10 at 1:35
+1 for "You can use the same mountain to go downhill really fast on snow" lol – Stephen Sep 29 '10 at 17:29
Oh very informative. I was kind of asking myself this question and I really appreciate your answer – lucapette Nov 14 '11 at 23:15

Jeff is bending the rule already... meta.stackoverflow and stackoverflow. why not servers.stackoverflow then? less Google-OpenID friction at least.

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For consuming information and answering questions, it certainly would be nice to have better integration, but as Jon Skeet says on the blog, SO has a certain magic broad-but-not-too-broadness about it. You wouldn't just want to log in and view all the questions in the universe. Since StackExchange will probably result in lots of good communities that people might be interested in, I think the following idea is a good dream. You have a central identity, like an email address, which is used for any knowledge-exchange community, and you can subscribe to any number of such communities (e.g. SO/SF/SU/MSO/CookingExchange). Within each community, you can have your interested/ignore tags and so on. When you sign into your account, you can see all the questions in all your communities (maybe this should have to be tweaked; you'd probably want all your SO/SF/SU questions together, but CookingExchange questions separately).

Of course, reputation in separate communities would have to be kept separate. Also, you'd have to deal with the problem that people need to post to the appropriate community, so this solution doesn't really solve the problem posed in the question. Come to think of it, this dream is basically what we've got now! Keep up the great work, Jeff et al.

I think the current setup is very good, but I do wonder what's going to happen when StackExchange happens. It would be nice if there were some way to migrate accounts and questions between different knowledge-exchanges.

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I still think just merging them all would be best, but a general aggregator site would be better than the existing setup. I suspect this won't happen though. – Ray Nov 1 at 16:28
I take my last comment back, on StackExchange you can aggregate question across all sites. – Ray Nov 1 at 17:09

This just causes audience fragmentation and dissipation for no reason.

It's not for no reason. It's for the same reason as why I'm interested in learning what's new in .NET 4.0 and yet I don't know (or care about) why your printer doesn't print.

I like to have only programming related tags, users and reputation in Stack Overflow. It helps keeping things more consistent.

Update. In Barcelona there are stores like Fnac or El Corte Inglés where you can buy music, DVDs and books, among others. There are also book stores. And there are also technical book stores.

In theory, the general stores can have books about everything - they are well organized in sections and they have plenty of space in the store.

Now, go and try to find C# in Depth in El Corte Inglés.

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I really think it should be one integrated site. Everyone's worried about noise? Well, then maybe something's wrong with searching. People a lot less technically advanced than us use Google everyday, but most web pages don't have tags and ratings like StackOverflow.

BTW: I love stackoverflow and use it almost everyday. I hope this issue doesn't fracture the momentum.

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Someone directed me to functionality in StackExchange where you can get a aggregated view of all sites you care about (http://stackexchange.com/filters) and apply tags, etc... This addresses most of needs I have for my want for merging the sites


Yep, I got the purpose of ServerFault wrong below. This highlights the issue with needing to figuring out the correct site to ask a question. A single site that aggregates similar disciplines with sub categories would provide higher utility for the general population of users.

Sure, photography, camel feeding and coding might warrant different sites.

However, we now have:

These hats are increasingly worn by the same individual working on the same project. Having them in different places buys us nothing and the lack of support in terms of actual activity and contributions on any of the non-SO ones confirm this.

Your reputation as a developer should be agraggate of all development areas you participate in. At some point there's a cut off, but the current segmentation only causes additional futz for the primary community contributors and users.

Of course an obvious reason I see that no one's bringing up is the increased footprint and marketing affect for StackExchange as a business to have multiple sites where one would suffice.

Why not put this up for community vote (if this hasn't been done already)?

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Unless their scope has broadened significantly since I lasted looked, that's not what Server Fault is for. Basically, SF is for professional sysadmins, just like DBA is for, well, DBAs. Are you either? If not, skip those sites. That leaves you with SU ("How do I use program X?"), SO ("How do I write a program to do X?") and CR ("Does my program to do X look good to you?"). – Ilmari Karonen Oct 30 at 22:03
Of course, nowadays there are a bunch of other SE sites more or less related to so software development besides those you mentioned, like Programmers, User Experience, Software Quality Assurance & Testing, Webmasters, Information Security and even Software Recommendations. Most of those (except maybe Programmers, for which see here) should have reasonably obvious scopes; if in doubt, go to the site, open the "help" menu in the top bar, click "Help Center" and select "What topics can I ask about here?" – Ilmari Karonen Oct 30 at 22:09
@IlmariKaronen yep, you're correct, I confused what Server Fault was for, which is at the core of my preference for a single site. Just make one site with sub categories where you can have an aggregated view and filter like we do tags what you want to see. You can also aggregate the reputation so you can see someone's full system reputation, or sub category reputation. The problem with 'if in doubt, go to the site, open the "help" menu in the top bar, click "Help Center"' you need to at least know there is a site maybe about X, Y or Z before you can go check. – Ray Nov 1 at 16:17
@IlmariKaronen Just as an earlier comment pointed out, there aren't many wikipedia sites, just one. The concept of creating sites as sub communities assumes there isn't a greater combined community better served by a single site. With this, sub communities like DBA just put their filters on and ignore outside stuff, while those who want to participate cross category aren't prevented to do so. I see no negative to a single site, other than the desire of the creators to have multiple sites. – Ray Nov 1 at 16:26
Each of these splits has a long and painful history. Neither site was created just willy nilly. – Pëkka Nov 1 at 16:29
@Pëkka I don't doubt or make claim that the choice was arbitrary or willy nilly. I claim that it is not the optimal solution for a healthy chunk of the community. If not merge, why not have a site with the ability to have an aggregate site for those who wish to see all activity across all sites they participate? – Ray Nov 1 at 16:37
On your last comment: it is possible to aggregate the questions from different sites. Go to stackexchange.com choose "filtered questions" and choose what you want. – quid Nov 1 at 17:00
@quid AHHHHHH yes!!!! This is great. – Ray Nov 1 at 17:09

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