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I understand the idea behind the commit phase, but when a site can easily spend weeks in the commit phase, isn't there a big danger that it's going to lose momentum? That all those who signed up for it forget about the site's existence? That some of them move on?

It doesn't really matter that you had 3000 people commit to using a site, if only 50 actually committed within the last week, and most of the others can't even remember committing.

I'm not sure what the solution is, but at the moment, it seems like you're not just setting high requirements for the first wave of sites (which is understandable and sensible), but actively strangling them by setting the wrong requirements.

The first wave of sites absolutely should have to run a tough gauntlet to prove their worth. But the gauntlet should be to prove the site's support from its actual community. And the commit phase doesn't do that.

The commit phase, as it is now, appeals to very few people. It appeals to the people who hang around here on Meta. The rules lawyers, the rep addicts, the people who are more interested in gaming the system, in "being in charge" (or at least, in having an impact on the SE platform). But it does not appeal to the actual community it was meant to gauge support from.

To succeed, the site needs support from the community it targets. And yet it gets created if it can demonstrate support from an entirely different group.

A site might have tens of thousands of people itching to use the site, but they won't commit because they're not interested in all the power games and politicking of shaping a new system. They just want to share information and ask questions. There is nothing for them in the commit phase.

Yes, every site needs a few expert users basically to ensure that the nontrivial questions get answered. But it doesn't need 500 of them. Even StackOverflow probably doesn't have 500 of them. Something like 10-20 would be reasonable for a new site. Again, most questions are not answered by the type of user who would "commit" to using the site. They are answered by people who come here to get a question answered.

So a much more reasonable requirement would be to run the "commit" and "beta" phases in parallel, and to revise the "commit" phase to specifically ask for a small number of expert users, willing to commit to answering questions, while the "beta" phase is used to gauge support from the broader user community.

If the site can get 20 such expert users to commit, and, say, a few thousand ordinary users to actually use the beta site for a certain length of time, it has a much better chance of surviving than one which passes the current test of requiring hundreds of the kind of user who's dedicated "playing the game", rather than merely answering questions about the subject matter.

But time has to factor into it. The question should not be "can we get X users to sign this virtual petition to please create the site", but rather "if the site is there, does it sustain its momentum, or do people just check it out, and never visit again?"

I committed to using the LaTeX site. I could easily drum up 500 casual users. All it'd take is a single email to my university's main mailing list. All the CS students struggling to write their reports and assignments in LaTeX would see it, and use the site the next time they're trying to write a report. If I sent it out to the Physics and Math departments as well, we could probably call it 1500-2000 potential users, give or take. Just from me.

But asking them to commit to a site they can't use would be a waste of their time. I'm not even going to bother asking. If I did, a handful would perhaps commit. The rest would see that it doesn't actually help them, delete the email, and forget about it. And then how much time would they spend looking at the next email I send, the one which says "the site is now live"?

The commit phase is hurting the upcoming sites by turning away their actual users. It tries to accumulate a number of "signatures", but it's bleeding users because actual users have absolutely no motivation for committing to use something later when what they're trying to do is get questions answered now.

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I always figured that the point of commiting was to express such a desire for the site to live that I wouldn't dare to forget about it. The only reason I haven't been obsessively visiting Area 51 myself is because I know the structure for the Beta isn't even complete. –  Grace Note Jun 25 '10 at 17:18
    
I raised this in another thread and the answer was that the commit phase is expected to reduce is time significanly in future: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/54980/… –  Colonel Sponsz Jun 26 '10 at 15:42
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@Grace: When people commit to using a site, it is because they want to use it. Telling them "Please don't use the site, but check back in 3 months" is just a more verbose way of saying "you're wasting your time here" –  jalf Jun 28 '10 at 16:51
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@Colonel: Nice, but it doesn't solve the problem that it's basically killing off the current batch of sites. Even the most popular ones have pretty much stalled because as much as those who committed want to see the site go live, they're not going to keep asking everyone they know to sign up, when they've seen how utterly futile it is to keep people interested in something that doesn't exist. –  jalf Jun 28 '10 at 16:58
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That's not what's being said, though. It's only been 14 days since the Commitment Phase even existed on Area 51, Web Applications hit the 90% roof in 3 days. Gaming only took about 9 days or so. What's being said by the team is "Before we can make this site definition into a real site, we need people who will commit to making that site definition a real site". As it stands, the only reason these don't have beta sites is because the Beta Phase doesn't even exist yet. It's not ready for deployment. You're "wasting your time here" only if you don't comprehend how to wait for official releases. –  Grace Note Jun 28 '10 at 18:39
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@Grace: I understand how to wait for official releases. I also understand, perhaps unlike you, that people are not computers. That you can tell a piece of software to "wait for service X to become available, and then use it". You can't do that with a human being. A human being will get bored, forget about it, or just look for answers to their questions elsewhere. The entire idea behind Area51 is to create new communities. And yet the procedure that has been set up gathers everyone who might be interested, and then does its best to dissipate all the interest and momentum it had initially. –  jalf Jul 2 '10 at 0:36
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Put simply: I'm still looking forward to the day when the sites I committed to are put into beta. And while I did spread the word to a few friends I knew would be interested and willing to commit, I am not even going to bother advertising the sites further until they're in beta. I could drop a single email to my university's announcement mailing list letting all 500 CS students know about a site where they can get their TeX questions answered. I could do that, if I had a site to point them to. But I don't, so doing so would be a waste of effort. –  jalf Jul 2 '10 at 0:39
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The current model, whatever your excuse for it (and "the beta phase hasn't been implemented yet" is not a meaningful excuse, because the end result is the same, that they're killing support for the sites they're trying to bring to life) is set up in a ridiculously self-defeating way: it doesn't matter how broad support a site might be able to get, because the staging process is set up to prevent actual users from showing their support, to ensure that actual users have no motivation whatsoever for indicating that yes, they'd like to use the site. –  jalf Jul 2 '10 at 0:44
    
I don't think people are computers. However, you and I are from different cultures, so we view this differently, and I'll suffice to leave it at that. –  Grace Note Jul 2 '10 at 2:22
    
One comment after a long time... you can see that lots os sites wouldn't go to beta because they couldn't gather the required commits. Then I re-proposed the site, and again it's growing very slowly, since there isn't interest about asking questions that won't be answered for a while... –  woliveirajr Sep 10 '12 at 23:35

6 Answers 6

Proposal: Genealogy & Family History

So we work hard to get it to go quickly up to 50% Commitment and then the brakes of the train stop as there are no more people with 200+ Rep available .... 51% ... 52% ... 52% ... 52% ... rigor mortis

Believe me, we've been attacking all fronts to find Stack Overflow / Stack Exchange people who have an interest in Genealogy. They're two separate universes.

We've excited our community with energetic people trying to get this going and going quickly. But now there's this effort required to find people with rep to come and help us.

It's frustrating and it's energy zapping, when what we want to try to use our energy on is to get the Beta going successfully.

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The appearance of a question on the new Area51 discussion site, Is the reputation requirement during the commit phase too strict?, reminded me of this one.

We've seen enough sites go under the bridge to give a better informed response to this. The commitment phase has three effects:

  1. It means that fewer sites that get through the definition phase result in sites created at the beta phase;
  2. It means that the activity in the beta phase starts with less momentum than it would have if we went straight from definition to beta;
  3. I guess means that the private beta has about twice as many participants than it would otherwise have had.

All I think are good, if we want to reduce the total amount of time wasted by participants in betas of sites that ultimately fail.

A fourth point: I sometimes follow sites whose evolution I am interested in, even though I have no interest in participating in their beta. It's hard to count following as commitment if when you first follow some proposal, most of the defining questions aren't yet submitted, and the name and remit of the proposal don't resemble their final form.

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I disagree, or at least, think the points should be qualified. #1 is good, if the right sites are being culled. And I don't think that's happening, as I wrote in my question. #3 is naive, because beta might start with that many people formally subscribed, but my point in the question is that 80% (made up figure) of them might have forgotten about the site or moved on, or found a solution to their questions elsewhere, so they'renot actually participants. Which is basically why I'm skeptical of the process. –  jalf Jan 28 '11 at 14:19
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The current process is set up so that a site succeeds if it has a lot of "meta" people supporting it. A lot of people who enjoy hanging out on meta arguing about rules. A site should succeed if it had a lot of actual domain experts/users. And while those people might commit to the site, they won't hang around for a month waiting for it to start a limited private beta. They committed because they have actual questions they want answered today. And when they realize the site can't help them with that, they move on and forget about it. –  jalf Jan 28 '11 at 14:21
    
@jalf: W.r.t #1, I agree, sites that might be viable don't get through with the current scheme. But I'd rather have a bunch of sites not get much of a chance than there be a higher risk of participation in a beta turn out to be time wasted. I don't understand your objection to point #3: people who sign up for the private beta by necessity are people who haven't forgotten about and ignored the proposal. –  Charles Stewart Jan 28 '11 at 14:37
    
@jalf and Charles, there are stats on Area 51 about how many people actually follow up on their commitments in the beta - it's in the right sidebar. Because some scenarios are a bit distressing, there are some thoughts about how to get better commitments. Though I foresee a bit of opposition to that, as well... –  Grace Note Jan 28 '11 at 14:48
    
@Charles: so you're arguing that because it'd be bad to let every proposal launch, we should filter them by arbitrary criteria? ;) I'm all for (harsh) culling, but let's use some relevant criteria for it. Like I said, the current process culls based on how many meta-users a site has, not how many actual users there are. It's jumping through hoops to verify the wrong thing. And @Grace, I think that's a symptom of what I'm talking about. A lot of people commit without following up, partly because the process discourages actual users by not letting them use the site when they first hear of it –  jalf Jan 28 '11 at 16:31
    
@jalf: I don't say the commitment phase works well, I just think it has some value and that your alternative is worse because it would increase participation in failing sites. –  Charles Stewart Jan 28 '11 at 19:21
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There's little to loose when you participate asking questions or giving answers in a site that won't succeed. There's a lot to loose when you simply don't create a site because only 99 persons that were eager to participate would have more than 200 points of reputation in some other site. –  woliveirajr Sep 10 '12 at 23:39

The site I am interested in took about 7-8 weeks ;-) to get from definition into the commitment stage. As somebody that jumped on board early on, I needed quite some stamina to get to here, especially at the end when the last off-topic question took about 5 days to go from 18 to 20 points.

Now, today, I was the first to commit. My 11k reputation did not even show up in percentage. Within 6 hours, 5 people committed to the site. I would hate it to wait another month or even more without anything to do.

There is no development reason any longer (apart from team size and work necessary to promote a page to beta) for a delay. Yet, I agree with jaydles, that if we would start beta right now, it could become boring with only a few people.

Yet what about starting the beta when 10-20% are reached and give some stimulation in reputation and badges for early adopters? Maybe even a function of time: if 10% are reached within 5 days, start beta, otherwise start at 20%.

I hope that the page will be pre-populated with the questions from the definition phase that received more on-topic than off-topic votes. I would love to answer those questions right now and add dozens of new ones.

Edit:

Ten days into the commitment phase of the proposal I am most interested in we only picked up 13% with 26 committed people. It starts to get frustrating to wait and kinda daily look for the one person or 1% increase, if at all. (Slow down is helped by negative feedback about the site design of area51 - does not fit the community targeted too easily.)

Referral possibilities are spread, mouth-to-mouth I do. It would be great to have some possibility to further invest and get the site going.

Edit:

We are two months! into the commitment phase and still there are only 32% commitment showing, with 65 people interested. The page (Biblical Hermeneutics) is at place 42 in progress of all stackexchange sites. Not too bad. But it is boring to come back first daily, then weekly, only to see progress in the fraction of a percent. Give me some possibility to seed the page and to let people out there know what it will look like, please.

Edit:

Yet another 2 months gone (4 months of commitment phase) and 39% with 79 people. There have been some dropouts. This is ridiculously boring. Again I want to emphasize that something like a closed beta for committed people would make this waiting period much more bearable.

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I think the solution would be to actually create a proposal site in private beta stage right after definition stage, so there will be real questions and real people answering them, not fake questions and undecided committers. Then in couple of weeks it will be clear whether or not this site idea is picked up and ready for public beta. If not the site is just getting closed.

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couldn't agree more. I really think the commit phase as currently conceived is flawed as anything more than "we need to hold people in place till the software is ready". –  Suresh Jun 30 '10 at 21:02
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I can see a justification for a minimal commit stage. The site does need a small number of dedicated users to add value to the site. A Jon Skeet for every site, basically. But it doesn't need 1000 Jon Skeets. If, instead of asking anyone to commit, commitment was specifically requested from expert users, only a very small number of commits would be necessary. Say 20 experts users commit to checking the site and answering questions. Then all that's needed is to show that plenty more non-expert users asking questions also exist. And that is best done in the beta phase. –  jalf Jul 2 '10 at 0:50
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please implement this; listen to serg and jalf's suggestions –  sibbaldiopsis Apr 21 '11 at 23:24

It is already happening in my opinion. All the people that advocated a site during the proposal stage, and wrote answers, and discussed, and voted... then for a too long time has nothing to do.

I think that the proposal and commitment phase should somehow overlap a bit.

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Well, there's currently a development driven delay, as indicated here. That's not really avoidable, and is the main reason that Web Apps and Gaming are not in beta now.

Once that's not the case, I think your suggestion has a circular problem:

Yeah, they want to use it now, because they think it will be AWESOME.

But if it stinks, they'll lose interest.

And it will if the first three committers are able to go there by themselves, and stop going before the rest of the party shows up.

I think a simultaneous influx of serious users is key to retention.

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I don't think it's circular at all. Of course the site needs a certain number of people to sign up before it goes into beta, so you have more than "the first three committers". But in order to keep attracting people, it also has to actually be there. –  jalf Jun 28 '10 at 16:54
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For example, look at the TeX/LaTeX site. It has a huge potential audience. TeX is used widely for textbooks across the world, and among math/CS/physics students. But most of these users are interested in using the site: they're writing a report and they need to know how to do X. They'd use the site if it was in beta, but they can't really use a promise that "one day, months from now, the site might actually exist". The same is obviously true for web dev: the interest is there, but why would people keep committing to some abstract promise that "one day" you might get something? –  jalf Jun 28 '10 at 16:55

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