I'm torn on this one. I committed to the How things work proposal because it seemed like an interesting idea and I enjoy finding concise ways to explain the complex underpinnings of everyday life in plain, accessible language. However, it was still unclear if the proposal would make a good Stack Exchange site, so I wanted to try and help figure that out (seemingly the whole point of Area 51).
I participated actively during the private beta in both trying to find appropriate questions/answers but more importantly in the meta discussions that identified there was a problem with the proposal: precious few good questions were found that could produce worthwhile content for the site. The decision was made to close the site at the end of private beta, a decision I firmly agreed with. As Robert explains in the email sent out to private beta participants,
After working with members of the community and exploring what this site would become, it became evident that "How Things Work" was simply duplicating content found on any of the other giant repositories of "how things work."
I consider this a textbook example of how a beta should fail: the idea initially seems appealing and gains lots of interest but once you actually try it out you find that the key "Stack Exchange mojo" just isn't there. Props to the Stack Exchange staff--you are the fine line of expertise between mob thinking and emergent value.
So the site was frozen and any Area 51 reputation from the proposal was wiped, as it should be. But I still found myself wondering if I should have something to show for it all. I had spent the time and effort to really understand what Stack Exchange sites are trying to be (an investment which will serve me well on Area 51 for sure), then applied that understanding within the beta itself--participating in the conclusion that was ultimately reached. Perhaps getting a "commitment fulfilled" on my profile would have been an appropriate way to record that--thus helping "fill out the picture" of my user identity to other Area 51 participants. Isn't that the whole purpose of points, badges and the like: to identify quality by providing a more accurate picture of who Stack Exchange content is coming from?
What do you think? Should users who help to fail a beta have their commitment recorded in their profile, or perhaps get a badge or something to tell other users that they've performed a useful task for the community and aren't just floaters/lurkers? Is there some other way to make this information available about a user, or should things be left as they are? Should users be encouraged not to commit to betas unless they they are confident in the proposal's success? Is the task of helping a beta fail something that Area 51 users should be doing? I'd love to hear from the seasoned SE'ers on this one.
Apologies for the text wall.