I mentioned this in TL before, and it got a positive response. It has been discussed internally, but I'd like to see what the commuinty in general thinks about it.
In the past, sites used to graduate within 90 days if they showed sufficient potential, or be closed down. It seems to have been a pretty straightforward process, with not much uncertainty.
That process had its flaws (one of them was probably that 90 days is not enough to tell if a site will succeed), and was replaced with the current process where sites stay indefinitely in beta till graduation. Sites get closed if they have a consistent level of low activity or other crippling issues.
The problem with this process is that for many sites, you can't really see the light at the end of the tunnel — it's obvious that they're not in much danger of failure, but graduation is something too distant to imagine.
This goal-that-will-take-years-to-reach is a bit of a turn-off. For example, with Chemistry, I see a slow, steady growth. I can't think of any reason why it would fail in the next few years (unless all the chemists dropped everything and started working on nitrogen compounds), but graduation seems very far off too. I do have some plans to help speed it up, but not enough to make graduation come visibly closer.
This seems to be true for many sites out there. But the reasons for each are different.
For example, Bitcoin has a very high level of questions pouring in, and many, many visitors, though the community isn't keeping up as well as other sites. Music has the opposite problem: a community that is handling the incoming questions very well, but there aren't as many questions incoming. Chemistry has a bit of both worlds, though the community moderation is excellent.
(Mind you, these are conclusions I've made from looking at the numbers, but either way I doubt that all beta sites have the same problems that need to be overcome)
There are also sites that are still in beta after 3 years, and many more sites that seem to be going down the same road.
All of this makes me think — why graduation in the first place? The original reason behind the 90d beta is to test the site out and see if it has the potential to succeed. The current beta system seems to be supposed to bring the site to a sustainable pace and then graduate. But when you look at it, many of the sites currently in beta are in no danger of being closed, ever, it's just a matter of sitting it out until it graduates. If the only road a site can go down is graduation, why wait? If success is the only possible event, hasn't success already been achieved?
Of course, graduation needs resources1. It's understandable that the site design may have to wait and be handed out on a priority basis because we don't have that many designers.
But why should the rest of the graduation goodies wait because of the design? For that matter, why should they have to wait just because a site is not even on the sure track to graduation due to a single aspect?
There are multiple goodies that a site gets on graduation:
- Site design
- New rep levels
- Moderator elections
- Community ads
- Site footer
- Migration paths
- Less pressure on other sites not to migrate to the site
They all contribute to the requirements for graduation:
- Site design (Jin must have time, and the site must be pretty well established)
- New rep levels (Effective community moderation that won't go away on the rep level increase)
- Moderator elections (Enough "permanent" members, a well knit community, an active-ish meta, good community moderation, see also)
- Community ads (Views, ?)
- Site footer (Views, ?)
- Migration paths (Enough questions)
- Less pressure on other sites not to migrate to the site (Established scope, no danger of "inorganic growth" due to migration)
The blocking ones here are the requirements for design, rep levels, and mod elections. But they don't all block the site graduation for some sites.
Why should any one of these hamper the others? To graduate, a site must reach a pretty nebulous set of goals, which span all aspects of the site.
But what if graduation was replaced with incremental awarding of "graduation goodies"?
I propose that each of the graduation goodies that a site can get is awarded separately, when the site reaches a level where it can be said to "deserve" that particular goody.
For example, the site gets community ads when it reaches a high level of views (eg Bitcoin). It gets elections when the community is in need of mods and is large/stable enough to support elections (Code Review might be a candidate for this). It gets a design when it has high views, is in zero danger of failing, and Jin has time. The privilege levels go up when the community moderation can continue effectively with the new privilege levels (eg Academia). "Don't migrate to beta sites" can be replaced with "Don't migrate to sites with low activity".
This can have at least the following benefits:
- One can set down more objective thresholds for almost each goody, as opposed to the current nebulous threshold for graduation.
- By breaking down one distant goal into multiple goals, some of which are not so far off, the "beta"ness of a site is less demotivating.
- Sites don't have to lose out on a feature that they can support just because an unrelated aspect of the site is not up to scratch.
1. i.e. bacon for Jin. Lots of it.