The various recent explanations about Area51 have clarified how the process is supposed to work, but a number of the site mechanisms are not pushing users in the intended direction. The fact that these explanations are required to understand the process, and the fact that several experienced Stack Overflow users initially misunderstood the process is a clear sign that the system could be improved (compare the experience to the much more intuitive approach of Stack Overflow itself).
These things strike me as odd:
- You get free reputation for suggesting new questions. Joel says:
You're supposed to be honing in on a small number (5 to 10) of questions which exemplify the site.
It makes no sense to incentivise questions with rep if you don't want lots of them. For a user, there is no downside to creating unlimited questions, and substantial upside.
A proposal can be edited, but not too much. This is far too open to interpretation. How do you deal with people that change the scope substantially, in response to strong user feedback?
If your proposal is the wrong width, start a new one. The problem with this is that you've already had a significant investment of people's time, energy and commitment in the old proposal. What incentive do they have to start again on the new proposal, dutifully 'unfollowing' and 'refollowing' as you leave a trail of half-baked proposals in your wake? They don't get the glory if your proposal is accepted. This is also another case where we have already been trained by Stack Overflow - duplicates are bad, don't create them!
You aren't supposed to vote unless a question is exemplary. This doesn't work because we're all trained to vote on everything, all the time! Look at the 'off-topic' questions for the Astronomy group, for example. Many are complete junk. But they've got 18 votes, and counting. If a 'meh' vote is important, then it should be quantified, so that it can be applied.
You can vote to delete stuff, but it costs you rep. This seems to be intended as an 'I think this is crap' vote. But it's not clear that's the mechanism. And what's the point of voting to delete? Everyone else is just voting 'off-topic', people keep suggesting new marginal (or useless) questions with no downside, and we're only honing the top 10 questions anyway.
To be clear - I like the idea of Area 51, and I think the intentions and the explanations of how all this ought to work seem quite reasonable. However, I think the implementation as it stands is flawed, and will not efficiently provide the optimal communities intended by its designers, if it provides them at all.