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I'm going to argue that Area 51 is not the optimal solution for Stack Exchange. Right now, as it stands, the following occurs:

  1. Someone, probably an expert or at least a strong enthusiast, proposes a site.
  2. People randomly follow this site. These people aren't committed to the proposal at all. These people with no commitment vote on the questions that define the community.
  3. The site goes into a commitment phase, where people commit. Some of these will be followers from the definition, but most of them will be new people. These people can't really do anything other than try to get new people to join.
  4. The Private Beta starts, and usually the first thing thrown out is the questions at the definition stage, as only a small portion of the committers were involved with the definition stage, and many of the questions proposed were written by those with only a passing interest, voted up with those with a passing interest.

This whole process results in a bit of chaos, especially in the private beta and early public beta, where the community has to re-define itself.

So, my question is, is the Area 51 model broken, and if so, what can be done to improve it?

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Allowing answers earlier was rejected but something like that might help: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/70576/… –  Wikis Feb 21 '11 at 21:41
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@Wikis: I agree. It looks to me like your suggestion is just what is needed to bridge the gap between a list of question and a site. –  John Feb 22 '11 at 6:03

6 Answers 6

up vote 22 down vote accepted

I think that the most important part of the problem is the commitment phase and, as you mention in your own answer, that it needs to be rethought.

Currently, the process is slanted toward heavy users of Stack Exchange. While that may work for sites where the expertise is already widely present in the current userbase - programmers, web apps, etc. - it isn't as much of a good idea for most subjects. For example, I suspect that few users are researchers in economics. As a result, no matter how many researchers - real experts in their field - you persuade to commit, you'll still end up with a SmugMug: unable to proceed to beta because of a lack of users experienced with Stack Exchange.

Meanwhile, users with little knowledge of the subject but a lot of Stack Exchange reputation have a significant impact on the process which further helps diluting the original userbase.

I brought up this point a while ago and Robert Cartaino made a great suggestion:

It might better be implemented by asking the user what their role/interest is in the site rather than asking "Are you an expert?"

Something like this:

What role do you play in [Photography]?

○ Professional or Expert
◉ Avid Enthusiast or Prosumer
○ Academic or Reasearch-Level Student
○ Beginner or Learner
○ Merely Curious

Which Pollyanna then expended upon:

It would likely be better to allow anyone to join, but if they identify themselves as something less than a professional in the field then their commitment accounts for a smaller portion of the commitment required to start the site.

For instance, a site would require 40% of its commitments from those that identify themselves as professionals with 10+ years of experience in the topic, while the remaining 60% can be filled by those with less experience.

This would ensure that enough of experts join prior to starting the site, and allow the site to grow to fill everyone's needs ...

This number should be tweakable on a per site basis (perhaps have people rate it on a scale of 1-5, where 5 means only for experts, 1 means no experts required, and average the results during the following phase to give a ratio of expertise). Mathoverflow like sites would require 100% experts/graduate/post-graduate researchers, while a gaming site may be fine with 80% people who are mere enthusiasts, but not experts.

I think that these changes, along with removing the requisite of 100 users with at least 200 reputation on a site, would greatly improve the quality of sites. It would ensure that experts are on the site, right at the beginning of private beta, and that the site isn't occupied by the merely curious and the beginner.

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Thinking about this a bit more, who's to say that an avid enthusiast or prosumer is at a higher level than a research-level student... Honestly, anyone at grad level should be considered an expert... –  PearsonArtPhoto Mar 13 '11 at 5:21
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@Pearsonartphoto: It really depends on the kind of site you're building. For some sites, enthusiasts are just as good as academics. For others, the story will be quite different. I suspect in most cases grad students will be considered experts on the subject. (By the way, at least part of the system is in place. I don't know to what extent though.) –  Borror0 Mar 13 '11 at 5:29
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@pearson just for completeness, your/Robert's suggestion to have people self-indicate their level of skill has been implemented for a while now and does show on people's public commitments to the proposals. –  Jeff Atwood May 26 '11 at 4:07
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@Jeff: I've noticed that, but I'm curious, does it play into the process of getting a site started, or is it just to gather stats for now? –  PearsonArtPhoto May 26 '11 at 4:43
    
A site needs a mixture of enthusiastic experts and enthusiastic novices in the topic. Experts like to answer questions, not ask them. Novices like to ask them. Then you have a healthy site. –  lkessler Sep 3 '12 at 23:10

That's definitely a good assessment of the problem with the process. I'm not sure that the specific problem that needs to be solved is one of commitment level; as I've described in the past, we already have a problem with throwaway commitments - most people who commit, don't follow through, for whatever reasons, so I don't think this would actually help the definition phase.

Here's how I would frame the problem:

  • The definition phase defines the scope of the site - what is on or off-topic.

  • Almost anybody is allowed to vote examples up or down.

  • On a live site, the equivalent action is voting to close/reopen. However, on a live site, this is a privileged action available only to those who have established themselves as having some level of subject-matter expertise through reputation.

  • Therefore, the Area 51 definition phase is outsourcing a critical and generally privileged action to those who have not established themselves as being qualified to act.

The whole process is actually too democratic. As another member pointed out in chat, it is a bit like allowing a Canadian or American citizen to vote on government policies in Europe. Of course we'll vote for higher taxes in order to subsidize hotels and touristy restaurants. It'll come in very handy when we go for our vacations there.

Of course we'll vote up the "How do I fight my speeding ticket?" example question in the Law proposal. No lawyer would ever want to touch that with a 10-foot pole, but it's the kind of question we'd want to be able to ask.

Part of this is definitely motivational - having no skin in the game, so to speak - but commitments are purely symbolic and I can think of no practical way to make them any more "material" - except to give them a real material cost, but I doubt that's ever going to happen (nor am I saying it should).

The larger problem is that, even if these people are all acting in good faith and genuinely want to create the best proposal possible, they aren't experts in the field. Every proposal should identify its experts at the outset - Stack Overflow was for Programmers, Cooking was for Cooks/Chefs, Physics is for Physicists, Law would be for Lawyers, and so on and so forth. You really don't have the experience necessary to vote on Area 51 questions unless you're a practicing member of that community.

Maybe you don't need to be an actual lawyer - maybe a law student is fine - but "programmers interested in law" is a lousy seed audience for a site that's supposed to eventually attract lawyers.

As I've said before - having a site defined by amateurs/dabblers only serves to guarantee that the site will be for amateurs/dabblers. It's right there in the Area 51 FAQ - "Ask Real, Expert Questions." But if you're not an expert, how can you even identify an expert question, let alone ask one?

How is somebody with no plumbing experience even going to think of a question like, "If you run 2.5 GPM through 50 feet of 1/2" galv pipe, how many psi will be lost to friction loss?" I don't even know what some of those abbreviations mean! No, that won't happen, participants are almost certainly going to ask and vote for the "How do I unclog a drain?" question. It's not that they're actively trying to undermine the proposal, they just don't know any better.

I've heard a number of suggestions that I think could work, but I honestly don't know enough to rationalize which ones would work, so I'm just going to list them in no particular order:

  • Ask members what level they're at - see Robert's answer there, but instead of doing this during Commitment, do it during definition, and don't allow votes from the beginner and curiosity crowds. (N.B. Anybody can still propose questions, the restriction only applies to voting). This relies on member honesty to no small degree but, I think most people are pretty honest.

  • Engage individual professionals/organizations to help define the sites. This might cost a lot of money, but it is very likely to produce good definitions.

  • Engage same professionals/organizations as curators, i.e. moderators of a sort, who could weed out the really poor questions popular with beginners and dabblers. This would probably have less of a capital cost but could still be reasonably effective at preventing crap proposals from going out the door.

I'm honestly not terribly crazy about any of the above suggestions, I'm just spelling out what I've heard. I do think that we need to somehow raise the bar for definition phase, and that forcing a commitment is not going to be enough unless the meaning of "commitment" is changed substantially.

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I do like the self assesment idea, it has alot of potential. Honestly, I don't think too many people would abuse the system, thus making it something worthwhile. Hmmm... –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 21 '11 at 20:54
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Make the self-assessment public to encourage honesty. –  Pëkka Feb 21 '11 at 21:08
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How about assessment by others? Or a few sample questions you must answer(or at least identify correctly which one is off topic) to qualify as an expert. –  John Feb 22 '11 at 6:07
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well, in my humble opinion, this idea of actual experts founding a site is a bit of a lie from the outset. But a well-intentioned lie. meta.writers.stackexchange.com/questions/215/… and codinghorror.com/blog/2008/05/strong-opinions-weakly-held.html most notably "It was amateurs who made the progress." –  Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 10:08
    
@John: There's no way to make an assessment of if a person is knowledgeable, unless you first find someone who is knowledgeable to back that person up. I think there's not enough incentive for a person to overrate their level, I mean, how important is it just to vote? –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 22 '11 at 13:24
    
@Jeff: I'm afraid that you're losing sight of the fact that software development is an exceptional case inasmuch as the entire discipline is very immature and there are very few real experts. When you have well-established professions like law, medicine, engineering, whatever - suggesting that they are all well-intentioned amateurs is just going to get your proposal laughed off the table. There are people out there saying SE is only good at hobbyist/entertainment proposals like English or Scifi, and while I think they're fundamentally wrong, there might be some merit to their arguments. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 15:37
    
@aaro that doesn't explain math doing so well across 2 different sites. There are HUGE, possibly insurmountable issues of culture in certain communities, too -- can you point to any current online forum for doctors or engineers that "works"? –  Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 18:09
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That's an interesting point @Jeff - presumably one of those communities you're referring to is Math Overflow and they don't behave the way the rest of Stack Exchange does (the founders set a "difficulty" bar by fiat, there was absolutely nothing democratic about the process). Contrast with, for example, Physics.SE, where if you read the Area 51 discussion boards you'll see that some of their top-ranking members are unhappy that so little attention gets paid to really high-level questions. I'm no mathematician, or physicist, but I'm not so sure that the model is working as well as you think. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 18:19
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(cont) @Jeff - by all rights, Physics.SE and Math.SE are successful sites by virtue of traffic, but they don't seem to be hotbeds of expert or professional activity. I have argued in favour of that model, but that is because sciences (and maths) work on a continuum, there is no hard line dividing the "expert" (or "research") and the "beginner", just a lot of gray. That is not true of established professions like law, engineering, medicine, etc. - you either have your Bar, P.Eng, etc., or you don't. Those who don't are not recognized as professionals. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 18:22
    
And, @Jeff, as for being able to "point to any current online forum for doctors or engineers that 'works'" - that depends upon your definition of works, and even the non-existence of such a forum does not mean that you're going to get that market. The real hardcore Comp Sci guys are over at the "research-level" cstheory, being snobs about it IMO but partially justified snobs. I cannot even imagine an electrical engineering Q&A without the support of the IEEE or at least several P.Engs - it just would not be worth the bother. I don't care how many "enthusiasts" there are. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 18:26
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@aaro I think doctors, for example, is like chasing a ghost. The nature of the medical profession (hands on with people, not sitting in front of a PC) and the insurance / practical risks mean in practice that you could never really have a medical professional Q&A. So arguing that we can't attain this bar, when the bar itself is imaginary, is kind of .. pointless. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 19:26
    
@aaro also, I think for every site we've created, you could point to a similar community on the internet, trapped in software that was the equivalent of soviet-era concrete housing. We move the young turks from that community, trapped in that oppressive software, into modern software. So, unless you can point to an existing online community of this type that already exists, there's certainly nothing so amazingly magical about our software that it is going to somehow synthesize an element that didn't exist online before. It's good, but it ain't THAT good. Nobody is. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 19:30
    
@Jeff: Okay, I see where you're going with this. Have a look at the CRS forum for medicine, or the eng-tips forum for engineers. Both pretty active. If you want these audiences, you're going to have to raise the bar from what's on the E&R chiphacker successor or the absolute disaster of a health proposal. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 19:50
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@Jeff: Even if you look at what's supposed to be a genuine professional proposal - for example, the dermatology proposal which is already in commitment - it's plagued with complete garbage questions like "What is the best dermatology book to use when studying for boards?" and the ever-present "What are good online [insert-topic-here] resources?". How could this get all the way to commitment? Is any real dermatologist going to want to commit? –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 19:52
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I'm glad you think so, @Jeff. I do too. I only wish that the Area 51 process/community was more effective at defining the kinds of expert/professional scopes that Joel articulated on day one and that are so necessary to get the attention of communities like that. It would go a long way toward getting SE to be taken more seriously outside of geek circles. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 20:32

To issue a verdict of "broken" (or not), you have to look at what comes out of the other side.

You are looking at Area 51 as a vending machine where you insert proposal and get that site. It doesn't work that way. A proposal is not a site; It's an idea. A successful Stack Exchange site comes out of months of poking and prodding by hundreds of people — small incremental units of work by a BUNCH of people, all pushing in the right direction. It's not a "master plan" by some visionary, all neatly organized in committees and procedure, to implement their original vision.

What you call a "process that results in a bit of chaos", I see as a process of chaos that self-organizes ONLY when all the required pieces are in place. That's what Area 51 is about: taking someone's random idea and seeing if you have the people, the desire, and the talent to build it up onto a workable solution.

enter image description here

If ALL the pieces are not in place — if you do not have the the right people with the right knowledge in the right place at the right time — the process falls apart. The process should fall apart.

It is so easy to say "There should be a site about …" But that's where 99.6% of those ideas fall flat. That was the failed model of Stack Exchange 1.0.

There are plenty of folks who think we should should just go ahead and create these sites as a means to see what will work. Others feel there should be much more activity and discussion before launching a site. Area 51 meets both of these groups somewhere in the middle.

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Fair enough. Are there any updates re the "ask people what level they are" suggestion? Is this something the team is looking at? –  Pëkka Feb 21 '11 at 21:48
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I will argue that it does fall apart sooner or later under the current process, but that the process more often than not ends up being later. There are at least 3 recent cases of sites that fell apart in beta, two of which are still struggling (Sci-fi and Atheism), and the third of which was just closed (Artifitial Intellegence). So I'm going to still argue there's something broken that allows sites to get that far. –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 21 '11 at 22:05
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@Pearsonartphoto: Sci-fi is struggling. There is doubt, but there is also hope. Atheism, on the other hand, is just falling part. –  Borror0 Feb 21 '11 at 22:09
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@Pearson - I still think it is reasonable for sites to fall apart in beta. The folks at SE need to find a balance somewhere and there are many people who would argue that more sites should be making it through to beta. The beta process is the "lets give it a go now and see if it works". It's not like a software beta release where it gets polished further and will definitely be released at some point. –  xiaohouzi79 Feb 21 '11 at 22:18
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@Pearsonartphoto: I edited out a portion of my post that may be apt "A proposal is not a site; The definition and example questions are not a site; Commitments are not a site. I can even argue that a beta site is not a site". At some point you have to stop testing and measuring and just try it out. Failure is an option and each time we make adjustments to the process. 41 sites (and counting); Pretty impressive. Oh, and Scifi-SE is following the same, basic traffic patterns of many other of our successful sites. So... –  Robert Cartaino Feb 21 '11 at 22:29
    
I'm not saying that the method can't be successful, I'm just saying that a bit of tweaking might make it a bit more successful, that's all. A few changes might make the site mods go a little less crazy in the first few weeks of some beta sites. –  PearsonArtPhoto Feb 22 '11 at 2:04
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I don't entirely disagree with this analysis, but I think what we're seeing is that proposals that should be falling apart actually appear to be holding together. We're seeing a lot of proposals actually making it to commitment with hopelessly basic or wishy-washy definitions. Although the Area 51 discussion site is no doubt helping, I still think there aren't enough people vetting the definition, looking at these echo chambers and saying to the community "guys, this is garbage, try again". –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 3:15
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@aaro we need to start aging and removing some fraction of commitment weight over time, otherwise zombie proposals stumble across the finish line with no real life. There has to be live, current velocity in the proposal, more than dead weight of ancient commitments. –  Jeff Atwood Feb 22 '11 at 10:13
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@Jeff, that's all well and good, but try looking at sites like SciFi.SE and tell me that activity level is the problem. Some sites are just really, really poorly scoped in the first place. (An even better example would be Programmers.SE, originally "Not Programming Related" - how much of the SOIS team's time did that suck away trying to make it viable?) –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 15:30

It seems to me that the biggest problem in the system is that the people voting on the proposal's questions have little to no commitment in the final product. In other words, the people who make the decision have no commitment over the final product, which anyone who knows anything about managing knows that that's a very bad thing. You want the people who make decisions to be held accountable for those decisions, and I feel like that isn't the case.

I think this could be solved by limiting the number of proposals that a person can vote on. If you have to think really carefully about what subjects you are going to participate, you aren't going to go crazy about voting. You're either going to be an expert in the subject, or a suitable enthusiast who knows what's going on. This commitment to a proposal should continue on to its beta. If you drop out in the early proposal stage, then your votes go away. And once it reaches the commitment, you can't drop out (or at the very least, there's some kind of a period of time that you are committed to stay in).

I'm not going to get specific at this point in time, but I will say that there are lots of things that would need to change, including:

  1. The number of proposals that one can vote on might have to decrease, or perhaps limiting voting to a proposal you have followed.
  2. It should be made a bit easier to gain reputation in Area 51.
  3. The commitment phase should also be re-thought somewhat, possibly leaning towards allowing non-SE people to have a higher weight than they do now, so a site of experts in a field can join without having to have so much help from heavy SO users.
  4. Something needs to be done to keep people going back to a project they have committed to. Without this, they have little reason to pursue it, unless they REALLY REALLY want the site to happen. And let's face it, how many people commit to a site that they really want to happen?

Anyways, I welcome all thoughts on the subject.

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+1 for point 4. The early sites that I committed to went beta relatively quickly. The later ones are taking a lot longer and with limited amount of free time I'm just not keeping up with them. –  ChrisF Feb 23 '11 at 14:22

The problem is that the sites are too narrow, for example Webmasters is basically covered by Serverfault and stackoverflow, and if it's not fully covered then Serverfault and/or stackoverflow should be tweaked so it is covered.

Also another problem is splitting a subject into 2 sites, one for high-level (eg Physics Research proposal) and one for low-level (eg Physics.stackexchange.com). This means the people with the answers hang out on the high-level site, and the questions on the low-level site basically get ignored.

An another example of a narrowness is science stackexchange sites, biology, physics and chemistry are huge areas but there isn't a big enough audience to warrant three separate sites. Maybe one day when there are enough users on a general science site they could be split up.

People see the way stackoverflow works, and thinks it's great (because it is, and questions get answered quite quickly and "goodly") then they want to ask a question not programming related and so propose a site, when all they want is to ask a question.

There needs to be a cut off point where a very general (not completely general though) stackexchange site is made.

In sum: the sites are too specialized, this can be good if there's a large potential audience, but in most cases there isn't

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@Jonathan - Your argument unfortunately doesn't solve the problem. As you say in most cases the sites are too specialized. However there are exceptions and in the case of something like Ubuntu, given its success, you wouldn't want to chop that off. So you can't argue that sites are too narrow if our #4 site is incredibly narrow. –  xiaohouzi79 Feb 22 '11 at 2:29
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I'm no fan of pointlessly narrow proposals (guitars, anyone?) but I don't actually see how this is relevant to the issue. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 3:16
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The 3rd-to-last paragraph is actually right on the money, it's just too bad that it's buried in an otherwise off-the-mark answer... –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 3:17
    
-1 for suggesting that all natural science questions should be on one site. Biology alone is a huge discipline. Adding both chemistry and physics to that is insanity. –  Borror0 Feb 22 '11 at 3:22
    
@Borror0 I don't see a biology site here?? It may be a huge discipline but it doesn't look there's an audience that wants a stackexchange site –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 8:39
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@Aarobot, narrow sites means low users, means low number of question which means dead community, which means that the area51 method isn't working. As the OP said it's mostly done with passing interest, people ask one question and don't come back, because there's not enough for them to ask; because the sites are too narrow. I think that should explain my answer and shy it's relevant. –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 8:49
    
@xiaohouzi79 I completely agree some really really good sites have come out of area51. But sadly it's not the majority (at least when the next lot of sites come out it won't be the majority) –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 8:50
    
@Jonathan.: You didn't look very hard, then. –  Borror0 Feb 22 '11 at 9:00
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@Borror0: Yes I know that's there, but that's a definition, not a site, with 79 followers and 9 sample questions and not even half way through the definition stage, while there's been a physics site for quite a while. Even chemistry is only just other half wa through the definition, while the second physics proposal (not that I agree with it at all) is almost half through the commit phase. Sadly that is the wrong way round, we don't need another physics site (it will just kill the existing one), but we do need a Biology and chemistry site. And that's why area 51 doesn't work. –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 10:24
    
@Borror0: the biology site is 96th in line to become a site, while the 3rd physics sites (yes there are 3 physics proposals) is 2 places ahead of it –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 10:26
    
Jonathan, the trouble here is that "narrow" is subjective. When you say "narrow", you actually mean "too narrow", and how narrow is too narrow depends on the subject matter and the community. You seem to be employing some circular reasoning here: The proposals fail because they're too narrow, and we know they're too narrow because they fail. There's no cogent logic or hard evidence supporting your claim of causation. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 15:25
    
@Aarobot Well make them less narrow: eg Insteading of narrowing physics site into one high-level site, and one low-level site, keep one physics site, where anything physics can be asked. Eg Guitars -> Music, or at least string instruments. EG allow code review questions on stackoverflow, and then get rid of codereview.se –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 16:09
    
@Aarobot: we know they are too closed, when too many questions are getting closed, because there a few over active people following the sub-pixel of the FAQ. It's almost the same as counterurbanisation, people move because what the want isn't there, there's nothing there because there's no people, etc. Circular reasoning works. –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 16:12
    
Yeah, look, I've been active in a lot of the merging discussions so none of this is news to me. But you still haven't established any link whatsoever to proposals failing, and in general we're talking about things that happen long before the beta phase. Circular reasoning doesn't work, and you haven't done anything to establish that narrow scopes are actually a significant cause here. This just reads like a rant against the scopes of certain sites; fine, but off topic for this discussion. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 18:11
    
@Aarobot; One last go, the sites fail because people propose too many sites on area51; the less sites, the more general(/less narrow) the sites will be. I can't be bothered anymore, if this was a rant I would have given up a long time ago. I'll just use the sites I normally do and leave any other ones to die or grow as they wish. –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 18:27

One possible solution is to completely rework Area51 to be a filter to create branches off a generic Q/A Site.

More specifically: Create a generic Q/A site that is a bucket of questions for non-established stack exchange sites. Then break off a branch of that site into a new site when a "critical mass" of questions and experts is identified.

For example the giant spawning pool site would collect enough questions under tags relating to firearms that at some point you have hundreds of questions with a set of tags related to firearms and many users that have rep from those tags. The Area51 site would be about defining what tags met the criteria for a new site and voting on whether 'actual' questions were on topic. Once enough questions fall into those tags, the questions are migrated and the site will begin with many expert users already having rep for the answers they have previously submitted. (Anyone going to the generic site who tried to use the tags that got moved would be directed to the new site). This would also allow brand new users to participate immediately instead of committing to a site and forgetting about months later when it actually starts.

Edit:

To clarify some things based on the comments. I am not talking about a generic sandbox where ideas can be testing and experts weeded out from people who are just interested on real questions as opposed to people committing and debating about "example questions". As Neil put nicely: "We'd still need to attract the non-SE users, but it'd let us find out what topics would work with the SE model from the start."

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Sounds like having another Yahoo!Answers –  random Feb 21 '11 at 20:03
    
@Random, exactly. Except it would be a sandbox to test out questions, generate content, and find experts in different fields. –  jzd Feb 21 '11 at 20:21
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I think this does sound like an interesting idea, but I don't think a group of experts on any topic would ever emerge from a site about every topic. –  Bill the Lizard Feb 21 '11 at 20:21
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@Bill, I agree. But Area51 would be directing groups to this site. So instead of having 40 followers on a proposal voting about questions. You would have 40 people on a generic site asking and answering questions with tags on the same topic. You really would have puddles of people that are trying to start a sites, instead of a huge ocean of everything. –  jzd Feb 21 '11 at 20:25
    
Exactly what problem does this solve, and how? You say it's a "solution" but haven't clearly explained how somebody's "tag reputation" should be calculated, or how it's going to be any more useful than Stack Exchange reputation (especially if you've got nobodies voting on the Q&A). As I read it, this basically amounts to Area 51 as it already is, but with less process - basically short-circuiting the definition and commitment phases. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 3:18
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I'm going against the crowd on this one, I like this idea. It's be a way of identifying what areas we have experts and enthusiasts in, approaching the problem from the other side. We'd still need to attract the non-SE users, but it'd let us find out what topics would work with the SE model from the start. –  Neil Fein Feb 22 '11 at 8:52
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@Aarobot I think jzd is saying that there should be a generic site and instead indvidual sites they use tags. Then when a tag reaches a certain number of questions and is still active it gets split off into a new site. And users have already have tag reputation. (meta.stackoverflow.com/tags/answers/topusers) –  Jonathan. Feb 22 '11 at 8:55
    
@Jonathan, yes, you said it better than I did. @Aarobot, maybe a better way of looking at it, is that the definition and commitment phases actually involve asking and answering real questions. –  jzd Feb 22 '11 at 11:59
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Based on the comments and the updates, I really don't think you understand the purpose of the staging process (Area 51), which is to build up critical mass before launching sites. If you don't have the user base, the community will die. It doesn't matter whether it's a site or a tag. Your solution would be, essentially, Yahoo Answers, because the lack of experts in any given field will lead to poor answers and poorer voting, and the site or "tag" will become a joke (or a tumbleweed) before it ever reaches that point. –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 15:28
    
@Aarobot, maybe I haven't explained it well enough, but Area51 would still be focused on building critical mass before launching a site. The main difference is that example questions would be merged together and would have actual answers from Area51 users during staging. Then the content and users would be moved to a unique site once it had proven critical mass. –  jzd Feb 22 '11 at 16:26
    
You've explained it perfectly well - you basically want to allow Q&A activity to go on before the viability of the community or scope is established, except under the Area 51 umbrella with less process and less rules (until such time as it's big enough to move to an "official" site). This suggestion has come up again and again, and been rejected again and again. It's never going to happen because we've all already seen what happens when you throw together a Q&A community without having established who's going to answer the questions (properly). –  Aarobot Feb 22 '11 at 18:15
    
@Aarobot. Got it. I guess I haven't seen this suggestion before, I didn't realize it was already proposed. Thanks –  jzd Feb 22 '11 at 18:28

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