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Confusing title - simple question.

Is Area 51 unintentionally biased against people who don't already use trilogy sites, or who are not Internet power users? And therefore also biased against non-technical topics?

PLEASE NOTE I know that there is a stated aim in Area 51 to be slightly difficult to use in order to discourage noise. You want to select for enthusiasm and commitment, but you're also selecting for high web-literacy, which I think is an unfortunate side effect.

Is there anything we (or the team) can do about it?

I'll give you an example.

I'm very interested in the idea of a woodwork Stack Exchange site, and being a good Stack Overflow user I have visited Area 51, followed the proposal, voted and commented, etc., etc.

But all the other people I know who are interested in woodwork (I'm thinking mostly of the teacher and other students in my woodwork evening class) would not know where to start with Area 51, even if I was to explain it to them in class, but would take to a woodwork Stack Exchange much more easily and probably use it regularly if it existed.

How do I help this proposal get more followers and supporters who are great at woodwork but not necesarily very Web Savvy?

EDIT: Thanks to Popular Demand for the good answer, and has made me re-think a little.

At the moment the awesome Woodwork Pros (or knitting Pros, or clarinet repair pros, or North Sea Fishingboat leasing regulation pros, etc.) are all innocently answering questions on awful phpBB based websites, while the Software Pros (and Maths Pros and Web-App pros and Gamers) have these awesome Stack Exchange sites, because either they understood Area 51, or their audiences have enough overlap with the Trilogy sites.

So, Two new Questions:

  1. What (if anything) can/should Area 51 do to make it a little easier for non-tech Stack Exchange proposals? Maybe scale back on the deliberate-difficult a bit?
  2. What (if anything) can I (as a fan of a non-tech proposal) do to push followers and supporters to Area 51, to help my favourate proposal become a reality?

(I'm going to answer my own question now, to see how people vote on it.)

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This is interesting to me; I never thought of SE sites as things that required a high degree of web savviness to use. Certainly they have idiosyncracies and, uh, "community flavor," but that's probably true anywhere. Could you name some aspects of the site that present a particularly difficult barrier to entry? – Pops Aug 6 '10 at 14:28
It's not the SE sites, it's Area 51. SE sites have a gentle learning curve, and you can get value from them straight away. Imagine my conversation with my woodwork teacher, If the SE site existed it's easy "There's this awesome Q and A site for woodwork, check it out, you could answer questions, it's fun". For Area51 it's insane "So, we /could/ have this awesome Q and A site for woodwork, but it doesn't exist yet, but bear with me, first visit this other, seemingly unrelated site..." Then explaining the concept of following vs committing, and voting on questions etc etc. – Andrew M Aug 6 '10 at 14:41
Technology topics were/are over-represented at Wikipedia as well. They call it a systematic bias. – Andrew Grimm Aug 6 '10 at 15:34

Well, it's sort of like Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon:

So yes, we are explicitly starting with (and optimizing for!) the existing users, but it is our hope that eventually the sites will get enhanced and improved and large enough to attract second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth tiers of users who are only peripherally related to the relatively skilled geeks we're starting with.

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I think A legitimate answer to (1) might be: "No, but wait patiently grasshopper". Give it 5 years and the total SE audience will have grown large enough that there are enough [insert topic] Pros using other SE sites to overcome the activation requriement.

And one possible answer to (2) is Popular's suggestion of "foot in the door". I need to do my bit, and get the supporters on at a time. Knock on doors, canvas support in the streets, distribute leaflets...well, you get the idea.

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Making Area 51 better for non-tech proposals
An early example of a good question, straight from the A51 FAQ:

"Don't suggest questions like 'How do I unclog a drain.' Instead ask, 'If you run 2.5 GPM through 50 feet of 1/2" galv pipe, how many psi will be lost to friction loss?'"

As I alluded to earlier, users with a lot of existing SE rep count more for the pre-beta process. Perhaps users who suggest lots of expert — i.e. friction-loss-style rather than unclog-style — questions could also count more? I'm not sure how to implement that; I'm against adding yet another box for "this is/isn't an expert question," but looking purely at "this is a great on-topic example" counts isn't perfect either.

What non-tech proposal evangelists can do to get followers/supporters
When you figure out an easy answer for this one, please let me know; I'm struggling to drum up interest for a proposal, too. Until then, I can only suggest getting people excited about the site and finding ways to advertise it. Maybe ask what they've always wanted to know about woodworking but didn't know how to find out, and then suggest that they could get an answer if they helped create a woodworking SE. Or, depending on the person, play on the desire to help others and/or share expertise and/or look better/smarter than others.


Okay, I apparently misunderstood you at first. The psychology concept of the foot in the door might help you here. It's definitely harder to get people to commit to creating a site than it is to get people to join an existing site. But it's much, much harder if you try to explain the whole commit process to them right off the bat. Maybe you could first explain the concept to your friends as if the woodworking site already existed. Then, if they're interested, explain that you just need to find a few more people to sign up to use it for it to be created. You might use the proposal page to say "these are the kinds of questions you would see once the site got up and running," and invite them to think of potential answers or their own questions.

Your comment focuses a lot on getting people to agree to use their time and energy on your proposal, but doesn't really touch on web savviness. Is there anything about the actual website that you think would make this difficult, or is it just the fact that all these steps exist?


You say

I know that there is a stated aim in Area 51 to be slightly difficult to use in order to discourage noise.

but I believe you're misinterpreting the stated aim. The idea is to build a community of woodworking experts, not a community of especially web-literate people who happen to have some experience and/or interest in woodworking. The rationale is in the A51 FAQ: "Remember, the pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!" Creating a particularly web-literate community would not help with that end goal.

Is Area 51 unintentionally biased against people who don't already use trilogy sites

No. Area 51 is intentionally biased in this way. For better or for worse — I'm personally divided on this issue — the fine folks at SO, Inc. decided that they would give more weight to existing SOFU users because they would already understand the UI/community rules, and be able to focus on content. It's kind of like how new elephants at the circus are placed between more experienced elephants in training. FWIW the difference between the weights of experienced users and new users has been scaled back twice so far.

And therefore also biased against non-technical topics?

This is, I think, a separate issue. Many of the current users of SE sites are people with high-tech backgrounds, simply because they were users of the tech-oriented SOFU trilogy before SOFU expanded into the more general-purpose SE network. When Area 51 opened, many of those people naturally thought, "hey, now I can make a SO-like site about [my favorite technical topic that is considered off-topic on SO]!"

So while there are certainly many technically-oriented SE sites, I don't think that's indicative of a built-in bias. Percentage-wise, more SO users are likely to care a lot about advanced Ubuntu than about advanced usage of the English language or advanced cooking. As the network grows and the initial pool of techy people becomes a smaller part of the whole, this problem should resolve itself.

How do I help this proposal get more followers and supporters who are great at woodwork but not necesarily very Web Savvy?

For me, this is the most interesting part of your question.

Now, I admit that, as a young person who works with computers and code on a daily basis, my definition of "requires web savviness" may not mesh with the general population's. But that said, I've always thought of the SE platform as quite welcoming and intuitive for new users. Sure, we get occasional questions on Meta about people trying to change upvotes to downvotes by undoing the upvote first and then clicking downvote, but they're pretty rare considering the volume SOFU sites see.

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As noted elsewhere, Area 51 is optimized for existing Stack Exchange users by design, and the reasoning behind that choice seems quite sound. However, I'm wondering if there would be benefit to encouraging new users joining via an Area 51 proposal to participate on some of the existing sites?

There are some proposals on Area 51 with a high percentage of commits coming from new users who have been introduced to the system by a reference to Area 51. A proposal with a large portion of committers having just the 51 points earned by confirming their email on Area 51 may end up languishing at a low commit percentage. A significant number of users with higher reputation will improve that situation, but getting new users building reputation on existing sites may be more likely.

Unfortunately, I don't have any good ideas to accomplish this. I don't remember exactly what Area 51 says after committing to a proposal, but would it would make sense to directly encourage a new committers without associated accounts to consider joining other sites from Also, it might be useful to explain in general terms how building reputation on other sites can help the proposal the user has just committed to. (This might also help make the commit percentage a bit less obscure.)

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