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I am concerned that with the advent of many domain specific sites (webmasters, user interface, etc, etc) that StackOverflow will decrease in quality. By splitting things up this way we are decentralizing the brain-power over multiple sites. What will then happen is that someone that could easily answer my C++ question will start spending more time on the UI site and I will not get his exceptional answer simply because his attention was somewhere else.

For myself I would tend to still ask my domain specific question on SO simply because I (maybe falsely) believe SO is where most of the brainpower is still centralized and therefore I will still get a better answer.

To repeat myself, my concern is that with all the specialized sites that we will lose quality. The reason for this will be that smart people are will tend to frequent one site or another more regularly.

Am I wrong?

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Umm... I think this is fragmentation vs. hierarchy. Is the ubiquitous tag system enough? –  user150068 Oct 6 '10 at 13:14

4 Answers 4

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Another question about community fragmentation? Look:

  • All of the topics you mention were off-topic on Stack Overflow in the first place;

  • More focused sites are good because you have a better chance of getting your question answered there, and Stack Overflow is already polluted with thousands of barely-on-topic questions with mediocre answers or none at all;

  • Once the migration features are firmly in place, questions are going to end up on the most appropriate SE site anyway, so it won't matter (much) if you post them on an inappropriate site;

  • Users can and do participate on more than one S[OFUE] site! Most of the people posting "exclusively" on the various SE sites are either new (not from the trilogy) or stopped posting regularly on the original trilogy sites a long time ago.

Inherent in almost all of these "fragmentation" questions is the assumption that somebody can only be a member of one community, that every database expert will take their business exclusively to the "Outer Join" SE and stop answering database questions on Stack Overflow. That assumption is just wrong. It's not going to happen. Many if not most of these people are programmers and DBAs; they may be more one than the other, but both sites still have value to them.

If anything, individual sites with a clearer, more coherent purpose, will improve the quality of questions and answers on all of the sites, as long as the sites have sufficient interest/membership.

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This is why I wish I could favorite answers, too. Also, it's not likely said C++ expert is going to find your question among the hundreds or thousands that will get asked afterward and marquee down the main page. –  Mark C Oct 6 '10 at 5:52
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I find there is a small but noticeable overhead involved in participating on many sites. Also there is a degree of overlap between domains (e.g. C++ programmers generally have to use C++ UI libraries which constrains some design choices). The more you subdivide, the more overlap there is, and the more taxing it gets to ask and answer questions in the right place. (Take it to extremes: Would a SE site for each question be any use to anyone?) –  j_random_hacker Oct 6 '10 at 6:41
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The alternative is just to use tags. The advantage of tags is that you can label a question with more than one tag, while OTOH I expect most consider it bad form to cross-post a question to multiple sites. –  j_random_hacker Oct 6 '10 at 6:43
    
There is a time to use tags, and there is a time to keep things separate. Let us hope for the best. –  Mark C Oct 6 '10 at 7:39
    
Wow, I had forgotten that I posted this. Over a month later, it seems oddly prophetic, although not in the way that I would have hoped. –  Aarobot Oct 6 '10 at 14:16
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@j_random_hacker: The point about overhead is the most valid one so far. However, tags are not an alternative due to the (currently, anyway) inadequate filtering capabilities. Jeff & Co say "go to /questions/tagged/xyz", but doing that for 50 different tags is far more cumbersome than going to 5 different SE sites. A better solution would be a merged SE view, showing questions from all of the SE sites you select. Multiple such views would be even better (i.e. SO+Programmers+CSTheory, SF+Unix+Ubuntu, etc.) Just because sites are complementary doesn't mean they shouldn't exist independently. –  Aarobot Oct 6 '10 at 14:21
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@Aarobot: I like the "merged SE view" idea. At an abstract level that's like having 1 site with a set of "radio button tags", 1 for each "subsite", of which the question asker must pick exactly 1 tag from the set (as well as any other tags they want to add). And yes the current filtering (and search in general) is what's holding things back IMHO. –  j_random_hacker Oct 8 '10 at 11:37
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@Aarobot: I go to stackoverflow.com/questions/tagged/firefox+or+dom+or+xul+... and it's certainly far less cumbersome than going to several sites. I also can't imagine myself caring about reputation or badges on 5 different sites. I don't check other trilogy sites because they're separate and the creation of sites like programmers.SE bothers me. I don't even know when new sites are created, let alone trying to figure out if I'm interested in them or actually starting to visit them regularly. –  Nickolay Jan 9 '11 at 18:16
    
@Nickolay: I have no idea what you're talking about or why it's relevant to this conversation; all I can say is that you appear to imagine that the rest of the world is exactly like you, but it isn't; several people have accounts on multiple sites and make real/regular contributions to all of them. –  Aarobot Jan 10 '11 at 4:18

I think there is a valid concern about fragmentation.

Will the Unix gurus go to ServerFault at all now?

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Ok, but why...? –  Ivo Flipse Aug 24 '10 at 20:10
    
@Ivo, I think it has the potential to diminish the user (answer) base for other sites, as per my example. Only time will tell if that's true or not. –  Lance Roberts Aug 24 '10 at 20:14
    
I'm sure there are solutions to that problem while still creating stronger communities –  Ivo Flipse Aug 26 '10 at 19:21

After looking at all the proposals on Area 51 I'm pretty concerned about this myself. Seems there's no niche so small that people won't happily push it through. Things like Drupal and Joomla, regexes, have zero need for their own site. Plus we've got separate Coffee and Tea proposals from the Cooking site, even a freakin proposal solely focused on one board game (Go). Seems everyone wants their own clubhouse no matter how well a topic fits into an existing site. Even looking only at the proposals that have made it to Beta we've got the potential for some serious Balkanization.

My current feeling is that Area 51 needs some heavy-handed culling, and the thresholds for reaching beta could probably stand to be a significantly higher.

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Yes, but don't be worried about the instant oatmeal sites because they have a long way to go before they even enter beta stage, and I've already seen at least one beta site end before 90 days because of insufficient activity. –  Mark C Oct 6 '10 at 7:38

IIRC, Jeff (or Joel) has stated previously that sites which have a likely chance of causing fragmentation will not make it out of beta.

What will then happen is that someone that could easily answer my C++ question will start spending more time on the UI site and I will not get his exceptional answer simply because his attention was somewhere else.

However, I think that your example is a bit too concerned. For example, the UI beta site is more for decision making, such as, "How should I phrase this?" or "Where should these buttons" go. These questions have never belonged on Stack Overflow, so it's important to recognize that expansion is necessary.

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