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I just read a question on http://meta.webapps.stackexchange.com that asked something about the domain name. (http://meta.webapps.stackexchange.com/questions/210/banner-to-inform-users-of-domain-decision-process)

Jeff Atwood's answer was this:

There is absolutely no way we're choosing the domain in two days. For one thing, we don't even know if the site will survive public beta.

I was wondering, what are the criteria to decide if a Stack Exchange site should survive the beta or should be dismissed, instead?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I've written blog posts, several meta posts, and said many other times that "It is simply too early to apply numbers to the process." It's easy to look at a site and say "yeah, that site is working," but what does that mean, exactly?

Q&A sites tend to run heavily on network effects. If you have "X" amount of activity, the site runs pretty well. At 90% of X, the site will start to spiral downward. So what is "X?"

I guess we can make something up, but we'll likely get it wrong and kill many good sites in the process. Or, we can wait until we have real data from live Stack Exchange sites to number crunch -- to determine at what point does the site "work" and when does it just flounder.

A rough definition of a successful site is that most questions receive an answer with a reasonable amount of time. So, what's "most questions?" What's a "reasonable amount of time?" Some sites will be really large. Other sites will be very successful with a smaller audience. Some questions can be answered in seconds. On a highly theoretical, niche site, it might be reasonable to wait a week or more.

All of these issues have to be taken into account when deciding the "criteria to decide if a Stack Exchange site should survive the beta or should be dismissed?"

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Joel has blogged about this now.

We’re looking at lots and lots of metrics, but the most important ones are people and questions.

People: Do we have a lot of people visiting the site? Are a lot of people signing up? How many people are answering questions? How many page views does the site generate?

Questions: Are questions getting answered? Are they answered well? Are they answered quickly? Are a lot of answers accepted, indicating that the person who asked them was satisfied? Are a lot of answers upvoted, indicating that some third party thought they were quality answers?

Our philosophy is that if a site is getting a lot of traffic, that’s all we need to know… it must be doing something right. If it’s not getting a lot of traffic, it may still be valuable, as long as the few people who go there are getting great answers to their questions (which, thanks to our architecture, is really easy to measure). So, essentially, a site needs either traffic or good answers, but if it has neither, we don’t think it will work.

And

A site needs to have a wide enough swath of active experts to cover the entire domain it purports to cover. Stack Overflow itself has a huge domain, but a huge number of highly active experts, so questions get pounced on, no matter how esoteric. Many of the smaller Stack Exchanges only have a few experts but the domain is narrow enough that they can really answer just about anything. But having a wide domain and a shallow pool of experts results in not enough peanut butter on the sandwich. That’s what we think happened to Gadgets, and thats why we think that narrower sites like Apple and Android are likely to do better, even if it means that we don’t have a place to discuss garage door openers.

To answer the question: in principle, the only thing we’re looking at in deciding whether to close a site is metrics, but we’re also using our brains to see if there’s something behind those metrics before we pull the trigger.

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I was pretty sure one of the recent blog posts highlighted it (I can find statements for the old system, and implications on the same line for the new system, but no concrete wording for me to link), but we can also use Robert's post here.

If everything goes smoothly and your site has sufficient traffic to support itself, you're good to go.

The main requirement is that the site needs to have enough traffic. Even post-beta, when the site has become live, it needs to maintain a minimum amount of traffic to stay alive. I reckon the requirement to leave Beta is probably actually the same level of traffic needed to stay alive, if not slightly higher.

Edit

Hah, I knew I'd find something if I just searched for "traffic" on Meta. The following is quoted from the email all Beta users got, emphasis added by myself.

Q: How long is the beta?
A: The beta will last at least 60 days. At the end of 60 to 90 days, if the site has enough ongoing traffic and enough questions are getting answers, it will graduate to a full-fledged, permanent Stack Exchange. At that time the community will decide on a permanent, top-level URL, a web design and a logo.

So the criteria are traffic, as mentioned earlier, as well as a good quantity of questions that are getting answers. Failing those will probably result in dismissal of the site.

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1  
Enough is such a precise measure, too. It makes one wonder if enough is going to be the same for all sites. –  tvanfosson Jul 6 '10 at 17:29
2  
@tvanfosson Quoting the blog, under "How much traffic is needed", "It is simply too early to apply numbers to the process." Not to mention, putting hard numbers during this early stage of development would be hazardous. People can end up focusing on hitting that specific cap more than the actual quality of the site. I think the nebulous terminology is better, because then we'll just keep shooting for high traffic and high quality content, rather than just enough to survive, in fact. –  Grace Note Jul 6 '10 at 17:31
    
I disagree with that in the long term. In the short term it might be an issue since there isn't much data to go by (just the trilogy) to know what is actually viable. In the long term, the cutoff needs to be clearly stated and unambiguous otherwise it's open to abuse. –  tvanfosson Jul 6 '10 at 17:46
    
@tvanfosson I don't disagree with you on that. But we're not even in the long term yet. We don't have that data. Hence the original quote and why I emphasized that it is dangerous in the "early stage of development". –  Grace Note Jul 6 '10 at 17:52
    
...though I suppose "the nebulous terminology is better for now " might've been a better statement. –  Grace Note Jul 6 '10 at 18:09

Another take on this.

The team clearly can't give a precise quantitive definition of what 'working' means for any given site. But we can use another approach, which is that SE1.0 sites were (mostly) deemed to not work.

So check out the figures here (reproduced below for link rot...). The latest ones are from about 6 months ago, when most of the SE sites (I believe) were around 6 months old.

Now, I'm not sure exactly where the cut-off point between 'working' and 'not working' was (this is the top 25 out of 125(?)), and the ranking is debatable (the linked question has other proposed rankings), but I'm assuming that it's somewhere in this list.

Site                        Qstns  Answers Users LowRep OldAct(hrs) Tchrs NiceAs
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
stackoverflow.com           523641 1784331 136800 40500      0.5    58721 46731
serverfault.com              29112   86123  30633  4974      3.8     6935  1558
superuser.com                28574   83220  23751  4584      2.2     6876  1944
meta.stackoverflow.com        8662   31497  14749  7242     22.6     2366  2144
startupscom.stackexchange.com 7419   14180   3044  1325     16.2      964     3
mathoverflow.net              3871   12130   3221  3028     25.0     1188  1066
styleguidance.com             3160    4915    225   246     49.3      522     1
tutordaily.info               2063    1705     79    21      5.9      331     0
meta.stackexchange.com        1505    2964   1087   548     69.3      293    23
answers.onstartups.com        1391    6901   2065   782     73.7      795    36
ask.sqlservercentral.com      1178    2970    596   299     84.5      202     8
www.epicadvice.com             939    3974    966   447    219.3      459    57
fogbugz.stackexchange.com      851    1270    474   111     75.7      116     2
ask.sqlteam.com                770    1175    315    21    176.5       85     0
inwardquest.com                762    3586    341   246     63.7      334     1
moms4mom.com                   719    3652    726  1026    325.5      354    66
ask.recipelabs.com             695    2845    537   133     72.1      384     0
merspi.com                     524     761     69    46    169.6       73     0
www.sharepointoverflow.com     456    1126    368   119    166.4      148     2
home4film.com                  452     497     90    66    226.1       47     0
www.forceclose.com             406     872    250    99    264.8      164     1
mautanya.com                   384     931    176    21    147.2       99     0
chiphacker.com                 360    1287    435   358    678.9      227    23
www.taxqueries.com             337    1038    199    51    210.2      159     0
advice.personforce.com         331      57     22     1    121.6       15     0
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