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I think Area51 needs more traffic. There are just a few regular people viewing plus some people who drop in for specific proposals and that's it. It's nothing like the success that SO is, yet.

My suggestion is: why not allow answers (and encourage answers) much earlier. You could do that from the start or when they acquire, e.g. 10 followers or 10 questions.

Why? Well then the site becomes used which attracts traffic. Also - the extra text creates more Google bait.

What's the downside? Well the proposals are in the definition phase so off-topic questions may also get answered. Is that a problem? No - just remove them before the Beta phase. (Any question with more off-topic than on-topic votes is considered off-topic.)

Before dismissing or downvoting: please take a look at some of the struggling proposals. There are many good proposals that are failing through building up too slowly: a result of a lack of traffic.

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3 Answers 3

up vote 9 down vote accepted

why not allow answers (and encourage answers) much earlier

We need the right kind of "site building" activity in Area 51— People focused on building sites, not using sites.

[see "Our Solution" below]

Area 51 is the place where users can go to propose new ideas for Stack Exchange sites. There are no actual "questions and answers" in Area 51. That's important. If you are suggesting that answers be offered, those answers better be damned good ones, or our core mission has failed. The Internet at large isn't going to understand the distinction of "oh, this isn't a REAL site, yet."

So, how do we do that? You talked about "getting rid of off-topic questions." You'll need voting and flagging and editing and closing and reputation to drive it all. That sounds like a Q&A site to me. What you are suggesting, essentially, is turning a proposal into a pale, trial-version of a site to see if the site might work out if we actually created it.

There's a big difference between defining a site and using a site. Asking questions and expecting answers (and providing answers) is using the site. I don't want to create "Google bait" with half-assed questions dumped into what may turn out to be an ill-defined idea. That goes against everything that makes these sites great. Quality and correctness matter! So we have to add in ALL those tools and behaviors which vet the value of the information now available on the Internet.

Good-bye Area 51; It would no longer exist, in spirit. We'd simply be creating Stack Exchange sites based on the mere suggestion that a topic might be a good idea. "Wouldn't it be cool to have a site about [X]?" *Poof* Done. That sounds like the failed model of Stack Exchange 1.0.

But let's say we can overcome the "trial site" problem. What if the proposal did not work out? Would we simply delete it?

There are two major problems with this approach:

  1. Users are incensed when we throw away "content." Can you imagine if we let people spend months (or longer) contributing hundreds (maybe thousands) of questions and poured their knowledge into answering them… then, if the "proposal" doesn't work out, we just delete all that content?

    Remember the first days of Area 51? We found that people were using the voting very differently from how we intended. So we discarded three days of voting data. That led to weeks of protests from users claiming to be demotivated, angered at losing all that effort, tired of us wasting their time, etc, etc; All that for discarding three days of voting… three days.

  2. The site develops momentum before it is even defined. People would simply start asking questions before the site had any boundaries. That run-away momentum would preclude being able to set those boundaries. Ill-conceived questions would attract more of the same. After all, what would preclude others asking similar questions (your "Google bait") when they see the same type of questions on the site? What are people voting on? The quality of the question? The appropriateness for the site? Whether it is a good on- or off-topic question? That subtle distinction would be lost on the vast majority of users.

Our Solution

To build more interest around site-building activities, we are adding features to Area 51 which allow communities for form around groups of proposals. The general idea is to group related proposals into "departments," much like you might group academic disciplines at a university.

This will make it easier to add more communication facilities to help these groups of proposals work together and decide how to best allocate the creation of sites between them. There will simply be more to do with more people to talk about these activities within the subjects that interest them. With more people gathered around related proposals (and more to talk about) communities will form out of common interests… building great sites around subjects that interest them. More details about how that is going to work as the development efforts continue…

That's how you attract the right type of activity.

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@Robert Cartaino - thanks for the really well thought through answer. You've given me plenty to think about. Disclaimer I wasn't around during the Stack Exchange 1.0 times, nor at the start of Area51 so I bow to your knowledge there (and your general A51 experience). But I think your objections can all be answered. Yes, why not have the definition phase a trial version of the site. But you don't vote on how good a question is but on its relevance - as A51 now does. OK, don't throw away content; just close it. I think the current way of working is too strict; this way allows evolution. –  Wikis Nov 21 '10 at 18:33
    
continued... @Robert Cartaino - by "strict", I mean binary. I think a site could evolve over time. I like the new ideas you are having (departments) but I still think you need more people looking at Area51. Do you agree? One other question - do you agree that we do have a problem with sites taking off or do you, as @Jon B says, think that "the bar is ... about right"? –  Wikis Nov 21 '10 at 18:37
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@Mark Robinson: In SE 1.0 times, we created about 2,840 sites under the "let's see if these will work" model. Out of those, MAYBE 10 were viable (I am being extremely generous here). Creating "trial" sites with a 99.6% failure rate did immeasurable damage to the concept and the brand. We won't be doing that again. –  Robert Cartaino Nov 22 '10 at 15:44
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@Mark Robinson: In five months, Area 51 has proposed, defined, promoted, built, and launched 33 pretty darn successful sites. Sure, I'll call that bar "about right." Those 33 sites were created by some fraction of the 6.7 million people visiting one site, Stack Overflow. Our next task is to bring back the more versatile audience of those 33 sites we've created since. That's all part of attracting the right type of activity and what we are working on with the enhancements to Area 51. –  Robert Cartaino Nov 22 '10 at 15:54
    
@Robert Cartaino - thanks again. One more question: what do you mean by "Our next task is to bring back the more versatile audience of those 33 sites we've created since."? –  Wikis Nov 22 '10 at 16:20
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@Mark Robinson : That first group of sites was created mostly by our Stack Overflow audience. Those 33 sites have since expanded our audience outside our core programmer group. We need to bring that new audience back to Area 51 so they may support our next generation of even-more diverse sites. We have only very recently started promoting Area 51 back to the newer Stack Exchange sites. –  Robert Cartaino Nov 22 '10 at 17:15
    
@Robert Cartaino - got it, thanks again. –  Wikis Nov 22 '10 at 18:09
    
@Robert Cartaino - after much thought I'm reluctantly marking this as my accepted answer. You made a good argument and I cannot think of a better response right now. Thanks. –  Wikis Nov 29 '10 at 10:46

Fundamentally I think this is the same as simply lowering the bar on new sites by quite a bit. The new SE sites seem to be experiencing a mix of success and... not quite success. This tells me the bar is probably about right.

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B - I assume your conclusion is based on the fact that the sites are getting enough traffic. What if they're not? –  Wikis Nov 20 '10 at 16:14
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@Mark - my conclusion is based on the fact that some sites are doing well and some aren't. The ones that aren't tell us that the existing process is letting more sites through than it should. If we "lower the bar", then I suspect we'll have more failing sites. –  user27414 Nov 20 '10 at 18:20
    
B - I think it's more likely that we'll have more successful sites! But we won't know for sure unless we try. Perhaps we could try with a smaller number (10) of test cases. –  Wikis Nov 20 '10 at 18:23

I completely agree. I think that may be why it is hard to get some of the non-technical sites going. If we allowed question/answers people who were not users of some other stackexchange site might also participate and discover more about the the system.

To elaborate: we techies sit in front of our computers for work and for fun. So it is no big deal for us to quickly check in on a site to add example questions and vote on them. We are already hooked on the format of the site because we use it for work and our technical hobbies. But, someone who does not live in front of the computer is going to loose interest and, even though they may be the kind of expert we are looking for, if they can't add content and benefit from the content right away then we will loose them.

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thanks! We probably need to make more of a case though for such a big change. Any suggestions? –  Wikis Nov 20 '10 at 16:14
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@Mark - see edit –  Beth Whitezel Nov 22 '10 at 5:23

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