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Yes, we all agree that StackExchange is not a social network. But one part of StackExchange, Area 51, serves as an outlet for people who want to connect and work together with other people in their area of expertise. It is, according to the faq, "where groups of experts come together to build new Q&A sites," and "help sites get off the ground by defining the types of questions that are wanted, recruiting a critical mass of experts, and committing to the site's success." Sounds pretty social. And it is! Area 51 gets the credit for creating communities of experts in areas like English Language and Usage, Cooking, Graphics Design, and Physics.

An unfortunate side effect of Area 51, though, is that it's also the only outlet for programmers on StackOverflow to join together into social subcommunities. The result is lots of proposals for splinter sites of StackOverflow (or splinters of one of the existing splinter sites.)

Area 51 provides a bunch of services that aren't available on Stack Exchange in any other way. For example, Area 51 proposals get free ads all over Stack Exchange (without needing to go through the Community Promotion Ad process): Area 51 proposals get free ads

Once you commit to a proposal on Area 51 you get access to tools to promote the community on other social networks: spread the word Note that this is the only place on Stack Exchange where there are sharing buttons for Twitter, StumbleUpon and LinkedIn. And the email you send isn't just, "hey I just scored 12 upvotes on StackOverflow, come and take a look," it's an invitation to join in the creation of a new community:

I'm supporting a proposal to create a new Q&A website for people interested in [topic]. It's built on the same software as stackoverflow.com, ... I'm hoping that a site for people interested in [topic] would have the same kind of network effect and turn into an amazing resource.

On Area 51 you get points for various things that help build the community. For example you get points for successfully referring new members to the community: I get rep points for referrals

Like most of Stack Exchange (and unlike most social networking sites), Area 51 tries not to annoy you with spam emails. Unlike the rest of Stack Exchange though, it does send email when something really major happens. It makes you feel like you are part of something pretty special: I get email from stack exchange

And should the proposal succeed and go to private beta there are more opportunities to spread the word with official emails from StackExchange: There are more opportunities to share in private beta

So Area 51 is a great set of tools to help expert communities form, and develop their mission. That's great and leads to expansion of StackExchange into new territories. Unfortunately, since Area 51 is also the only place on StackExchange that a subcommunity of experts can form and work together, it encourages splintering of already functional communities into smaller communities. Sometimes this splintering even grows the traffic at StackExchange by bringing in experts who weren't comfortable with, or who were unaware of, the existing sites, but it doesn't actually expand StackExchange to new audiences or subject matter.

So my question is: can we use the tools Area 51 provides in creative new ways to make the existing sites better? There are promotional tools and community building tools in Area 51 that we simply don't have access to once a site goes into public beta. Perhaps Area 51's tools could be used to find new users, inform existing StackExchange users about sites they were unaware of, strengthen existing betas by building strength in sub-areas where they are currently a little weak, or to build momentum and excitement. How?

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Area51 (as a platform) is already bad at what it does; I don't think it can fulfill your needs.

My preferred solution at this time is: use chat. Literally every self-organising community can create their own ecosystem with chat rooms.

Chat is much more suited for discussions while still being archived. Actual Q&A material can and should then be posted to fitting sites (if any).

Maybe chat needs some features in order to cater better to actual community life; I'm sure such feature requests would fly better than this one.

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    Given the purpose of the "Third Place" to be all about community engagement, improving there seems to be the right direction to go. – Grace Note Oct 6 '14 at 13:37
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Use Area 51 to propose, coordinate and promote "Q&A Jams"

One idea would be to invent "Q&A Jams". (I'm using the word "jam" in the sense of a session where a group of musicians get together to improvise new music.) These would be week-long events on existing sites, where a group of experts on some sub-topic of an existing site would come together to improve the site's coverage of that sub-topic.

  1. Someone could use Area 51 to propose a Q&A Jam for an existing site.
  2. Like current Area 51 proposals there would be a first stage to gather followers and define scope.
  3. Like current Area 51 proposals, once the parameters of the definition stage were met the proposal would go to a commitment phase. The commitment is to ask or answer 10 questions in the scope of the Jam, during the week of the Jam. The commitment phase gets advertised all over SE (in all the places where the Area 51 ads currently run).
  4. If the proposal can get 200 experts to commit to it, a Q&A Jam is scheduled for the next week on the site in question.
  5. The Jam itself would take a week on the site in question. It would be listed as a community event for the site. It might be given its own chat room. It would be good if the committers to the Jam got access to the "invite fellow experts" box in the sidebar, just like in a private beta. Other than that the Jam is just using the normal features of the site, while the site is going about its normal function. Scope questions are asked and answered on the site's meta.
  6. During the week of the Jam, committers to the Jam would earn points on the site in question for referrals and tag wiki edits, in addition to the normal points for upvoted questions and answers.

The idea is to use the tools of Area 51 to build involvement, participation, and expertise in one of StackExchange's existing sites, rather than just using it to propose new sites.

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