I started to post this as a comment to Jeff's new "QA is Hard, let's go shopping" post, but realized quickly it deserves its own discussion. (A side note, I don't understand why we can't have this type of discussion in Area51 itself, since its really about the details in forming a specific site.)
I've been thinking recently about the (still in commitment phase) Astronomy SE at http://area51.stackexchange.com/proposals/51/astronomy. I'm into backyard astronomy, stargazing, telescopes, and a very frequent participant in the CloudyNights forums.
I haven't yet signed on as a supporter to the proposed Astronomy SE site, though, for the following reasons:
I think that "astronomy science/astrophysics" questions by themselves are a very small fraction of what keeps the amateur astronomy community going. Cloudynights has a single "astronomy science" subforum (of several dozen other subforums), but the SE proposal, at least initially, appears to be focused on this somewhat narrow area.
The (apparent) failure of the SE 1.0 astroanswers.com. I know they had a rough start because they were initially focused on one specific product niche (ASCOM, an API for telescope/mount control). How can we learn from their mistakes to make a successful SE 2.0 site?
I'm not sure how much of the discussion that currently takes place at CN would really work on a SE site. The bulk of the forum discussion on CN seems to fall into several overlapping categories:
- Help me decide what (telescope/mount/eyepiece/other piece of equipment) to buy.
- Check out the new awesome (piece of equipment) I just got!
- Individual product (review/critique/improvements/hacks/comments)
- Let me share this (awesome galaxy photo/amusing observing story/frustrating Craigslist purchase experience)
- Detailed 100-photo worklog for a (new homebuilt scope/custom backyard observatory/classic scope rebuild)
- Anyone in (city)? Lets get together for a (star party/observing session/equipment sharing/beer and pizza)
Even the questions that fall into more traditional Q&A seem to be carry a lot of product-specific info:
- Having (specific) trouble with (product). How do I fix it, or do I need to return it?
- I've been on the waitlist for (high-end product) for (length of time). Should I stay on the list and continue waiting, or purchase (other product) instead?
Anyway, I'm definitely convinced (based on CloudyNights) that this is a huge community, and I am still convinced that there is probably enough true Q&A to support a SE site, but I still have a couple of questions:
I think that stargazing/observing/telescopes has more potential as a site focus than the currently-stated astronomy-science/astrophysics stated focus. Is there a way to change the focus of the current proposal? Should I propose a new one? Is it just a matter of inviting the right kind of participants to the beta (if it ever gets there), and it'll happen naturally?
In line with Jeff's new post "QA is Hard, let's go shopping", how do we best encourage the "right" kind of product questions, instead of the "wrong" kind?
Any other thoughts on how to make the Astronomy SE proposal better?