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I have a product proposal. Let me describe the business problem first:

My company has recently launched a product. Obviously, we needed a place to answer user questions. We hate old fashioned forums as much as anybody on this site. So, we wanted to integrate a Q&A site to our domain. We tried a few SO clones, picked one and after some effort it was all up and running.

Our product is new and has only a handful users. However, it is a software product that is used by programmers. Every question about our product is a perfect fit for SO. However, it is not mainstream enough, so nobody would ever ask a question about it on SO.

In short, my business problem is that my company ended up, installing and maintaining its own Q&A site. We don't want to do that. This is not our line of business. We don't care. We just want to take something and plug it in. We want somebody else do all the hard work for us.

So, this got me thinking...We are not the only company in this situation. There are many small business, start-ups with products out there that fit into one of the SE sites be it software, photography or cooking. Wouldn't it be nice if SE provided a widget/plugin or whatever, that I could just add to my site and have my own Q&A site for my product? The questions would be tagged with my product name. All SE users could easily login. It would just be a mini-SE site running on the small business web site. The questions would certainly enrich the related SE site, since they would be on topic. Any abuse or low quality input, can also be moderated just like any other stuff on the SE network. Small businesses would not have to hassle with installing and maintaining open source alternatives. Both the start-ups and SE community users would benefit from the exposure on the SE sites. Start-ups could reach the passionate users in the area they are in and the SE users would be informed about new products about a topic they are deeply interested in.

I think this product/feature would make the Internet a better place. My guess is that SE is already working on something like this.

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Are you asking a question or trying to get hired? I really can't tell. –  Tim Post Apr 16 '11 at 13:41
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possible duplicate of Creating an internal stack exchange for proprietary questions? –  YOU Apr 16 '11 at 13:50
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Ah come on! Give me the benefit of the doubt will you. Sometimes a joke is just a joke. :-) –  yalimgerger Apr 16 '11 at 14:56
    
I looked at the possible dublicate. That question is for internal company SE sites. This question is for external mini Se sites that are tightly coupled with an original SE. Please see Joel Coohorn's answer. –  yalimgerger Apr 16 '11 at 15:00
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I looked at the two questions mentioned as duplicates. I respectfully disagree. The first question is about syncing forums and SO. In my question, the word forum is mentioned only once and with the verb hate. The second question is really an ethics question and does not propose a feature/product like mine does. Interesting question though. I completely disagree with the most up voted answer. :-) –  yalimgerger Apr 17 '11 at 21:13

3 Answers 3

You know, I actually think there's potential here, with a few tweaks. Just keep this part in mind:

it is a software product that is used by programmers. Every question about our product is a perfect fit for SO.

As long as that statement is really true, let's consider the following items:

  • SE uses it as a revenue stream, and charges a recurring fee for the privilege of using the widget.
  • The widget would show all questions from SO with a specific tag on the guest site
  • Questions asked via the guest site are automatically tagged with the specific tag
  • Questions asked via the guest site also appear on SO. This benefits SO because it avoids fragmenting the community while still increasing it's reach, and benefits the guest because it means more attention for the support questions.
  • The price is set in part based on the percentage of questions with your specific tag that get closed. This is done so that guests have an incentive to keep bad questions out of the support site. Personally I'd go for a really large multiplier, such that as the percent closed approaches zero the product is nearly free, but as it approaches 100% the costs stretch towards infinity.
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Joel, we are exactly on the same page. :-). The only thing I am not so sure of is the economics. This can be a paid service or a free service or both (with extra options for paid users). I don't know about the Q&A business to form an opinion on this particular subject. The only objection to a paid service that I can think of is that every SE site is free, why not the small ones? This is after all for small businesses. SE doesn't charge Google or Oracle for questions on their products. Why would they want to charge a small business for questions on their products? –  yalimgerger Apr 16 '11 at 14:54
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@Yalim - they'd have to charge, to keep out abuse at the low-end from businesses that won't take care of the questions they send to the site. –  Joel Coehoorn Apr 17 '11 at 2:15
    
I am not so sure. But like said, I don't know about the Q&A business to form an opinion on whether this should/can be a free service. I sure would use it though. –  yalimgerger Apr 17 '11 at 21:17

In theory, version 3 of the Stack Exchange API will allow posting to the system. Announcing API version 1.1 (includes a roadmap of the future of the API)

I expect at that point you'll see all sorts of plugins that allow one to view topic specific widgets, and post to the sites on the specific topic assuming one is logged into the stack exchange network.

Until then, I would expect (and hope!) that SE Inc spend more time bringing the API forward than trying to make and maintain widgets.

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The biggest practical challenge I can see with this is the overhead for mods.

The challenges include:

  • Marketing masquerading as questions & answers
  • Downvoting by businesses that don't like the question (because it reflects badly on them)
  • Downvoting by competitors to undermine the company
  • Consequential damage to SO rep (the company)
  • Possible liability issues

I'm sure I'm not the only one to have seen wildy varying 'customer reviews', which range from genuine, to obvious marketing (because customers just don't write that way), to obvious sabotage (This was junk, I went for WhizzySuperMatic from Bob's Warehouse).

However, a hosted/managed service might work, as this would presumably move liability issues away from SO. It would also mean a loss of impartiality among mods.

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Phil, thank you for your input. All valid comments. All these abuses can happen in SE in its current form. I agree that mini SE's would lower the barrier. I believe the spam can be moderated just like it can be on SE sites. I agree it will be a more challenging task. Potential spam should not deter us from trying to make Internet a better place though. Otherwise, the whole Internet is left to spammers. :-) –  yalimgerger Apr 16 '11 at 15:53
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@Yalim I agree on everything apart from the economics for moderation, but think that's too open-ended to get into. –  Phil Lello Apr 16 '11 at 20:07
    
I'd vote up your last comment but I guess I can't just yet. :-) –  yalimgerger Apr 17 '11 at 21:19
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I'm missing something here: Stack Overflow doesn't allow product reviews or marketing questions anyway, so anything like that would just get closed right away. –  Joel Coehoorn Apr 17 '11 at 21:20
    
oh, as it turns out I can. :-) –  yalimgerger Apr 17 '11 at 21:21

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