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Most of my time is spent on the Stack Overflow site. I find that when I ask a question that is off topic it is closed fairly quickly. For a site that has over one million questions and has such a dedicated fan base this is fine.

When you are on a less used Stack Exchange site, it seems like it might make sense to relax some of the controls we have put in place in order to gain a wider audience.

I guess a summarized version of my question would be:

Would we prefer to have a site that strictly focuses on one topic but gets little use or a site that has a more relaxed focus and gets a larger audience?

This question is spawned from my personal experiences from:

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Is "lesser" not a bit condescending? –  Pëkka Mar 13 '11 at 9:39
If we allow our scope to creep and choose quantity over quality, in the end you're left with Yahoo Answers, so I strongly disagree. If you want to help the sites grow, ask better questions! –  Ivo Flipse Mar 13 '11 at 12:57
"... it might make sense to relax some of the controls we have put in place in order to gain a wider audience." - Sounds like what they do on Quora and then they have questions like "Is summer better than winter?" –  Dmitri Mar 13 '11 at 13:57
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4 Answers 4

up vote 10 down vote accepted

The site scope is decided by regular users of the site, and not by the people who happend to be walking by or even Jeff.
So, if feel like cooking.se could benefit from expanding its scope, you should appeal to the cooking folks directly: they have their own meta. None of the decisions we might make here will have any value.

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No, we shouldn't. The idea is that those questions asked during the early days establish the focus, and essentially become/define the site itself, and its 'acceptable' questions.

Allowing easy, off-topic, tangential or borderline questions into the site in those early days — and even worse, during the private beta — serves to reduce the incentives for experts to come to the site, as it's littered with 'fun' or 'trivial' questions, rather than questions targeted towards a professional audience.

This is touched on in Jeff's blog entry.

It's worth noting that, while I think off-topic/easy (etc.) questions should not be asked, it's absolutely fine to ask questions which re-focus the community. As, again, Jeff noted: Stack Overflow is you; re-focusing is fine, reducing the quality, it seems, is not.

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well said, and also some classes of questions are fundamentally a bad fit to what we're trying to do, for example blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/11/qa-is-hard-lets-go-shopping –  Jeff Atwood Mar 13 '11 at 9:30
+1. Diluting standards of quality in order to attract a wider audience is bound to end in tears. –  Pëkka Mar 13 '11 at 9:40
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You don't get a wider audience by having more questions, you get a wider audience by having more good questions. “Good” isn't an absolute term here, the question has to fit the site somehow. If you allow too many questions that don't appeal to the core audience, you'll lose the experts. Without experts, there is no site..

Now it's sometimes possible to stretch the boundaries a little. But you have to tailor your question to your audience. Your question looks like an interesting question for a medical audience. For a chef, taste is a central preoccupation, but not the mechanics of it. If you're interested in how colds and medicines affect taste, try framing your question around food: what kinds of foods remain tasteful when you have a cold? How can you adapt your cooking to eaters who are taking this particular medicine?

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Interestingly, Heston Blumenthal would probably find it a very interesting cookery question, albeit I absolutely agree that this isn't really appropriate for the site. =) –  David Thomas Mar 13 '11 at 15:29
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Would we prefer to have a site that strictly focuses on one topic but gets little use or a site that has a more relaxed focus and gets a larger audience?

I have to reject your assertion.

It is exactly when a site is small that QUALITY is more important than ever. When the site is small, every question asked appears on that front page for a long time to come — So EVERY question plays a HUGE role in the design of the site.

It's that front page that will drive what types of questions people will emulate when they see what the site is about. The "wrong" type of questions will only encourage more of that type of question to be asked.

So saying that we should relax the controls that define a smaller site will only send it in the exact opposite direction it needs to go. The "quality content" that defines a Stack Exchange site comes from the hard work of the community behind the scenes, making sure the site provides something beyond the mundane, uninspired questions asked 100 times one every other phpBB forum out there. That doesn't just happen spontaneously.

If you believe nothing else, believe this:

Lots of questions is not Job One!

Encouraging (or even allowing) uninspired, off-topic questions is not a sustainable way to build a site. They may pump up the question count in the short term, but users will quickly tire of the banality of it all and leave in droves. The absolute lowest priority in all those analytics you see on a site is the question count. How well a site force-fed a bunch of low-quality questions is not going to cut it. Pity that people still think that is the end goal.

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