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This is a follow-up to an earlier discussion Feedback Requested: Design-Independent Graduation.

Like the title says, design-independent graduation will go into effect and become our new regular practice the second week of September! All sites which have been waiting in the backlog to graduate will get the items in Phase 1 (detailed below) in the coming weeks. Communities which the Community team clears for graduation in the future will also undergo this process.

Details and Fine print:

Privilege thresholds -- we know there was some strong support for raising them up front (in Phase 1). For now, we're rolling out design-independent graduation with higher privilege levels linked to site design. We first entertained this notion because we thought it might be a better experience to take away some user's site abilities while simultaneously giving them a design. More importantly though, it's what we can start doing now, without further delay. This topic was extensively debated on the team and in the community and giving you this version now seemed better than letting the process come to a standstill.

That said, if there are demonstrable, structural problems caused by this approach, we'll reconsider. The changes being made now aren't intended to be forever. For some time now, we've been working off of site life cycle practices which are several years old and were never really intended to meet the needs of a network at our current size and scope. Design-independent graduation and the updated site closure/graduation criteria are akin to dusting off a machine that's been sitting in a corner for awhile, reconfiguring some pieces, and turning it back on again; movement is slow to start, and the gears might grind at first, but the idea is to be able to make changes more easily and more transparently.

(To review how this will work.)


Phase 1

The Community Team announces that a site is cleared for graduation. Without delay...

  • the beta label is removed
  • elections are held
  • migration paths are set up
  • community ads are run

Phase 2

Then, as it becomes available:

  • the site gets their custom design.
  • privilege thresholds are increased to graduated site levels

UPDATE (9/9/15): The bullet on adding a link to to the site footer has been edited out because we are not currently able to pull this thread without causing other bits of fabric to unravel. After digging, it's clear we can't simply shove new links into the already crowded space, and a different solution is needed all together. We will be discussing the site footer in the coming days so we can determine how to tackle this at its root. Until then, design-independent graduation is proceeding with the remaining items in Phase 1.


As an administrative note, Magento is currently undergoing design-independent graduation early over these next couple weeks as a sort of pilot program to help the Community Team get used to this workflow.

Updating the Stack Exchange Site Lifecycle

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    I have nothing to say, but "yay"! – Marshmallow Aug 19 '15 at 16:39
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    In Phase 2, please clarify what you mean by "as it becomes available". In particular, when do you expect privilege threshold increases to be "available"? – 200_success Aug 19 '15 at 16:46
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    @200_success I appreciate that you do not, in any sense, want to be strung along. We have one designer working on site designs these days at any given time. Does this allow me to tell you what and when? No, I'm afraid not. One of the main goals here in breaking this down into smaller components is to allow us to better see and alleviate bottlenecks. I can't give you a more specific answer, but I'm glad you're keeping us accountable. – Ana Aug 19 '15 at 16:54
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    @200_success This is different in that it provided the information that this, in its current form is moving forward. We're also aware that some of the community requested and would have preferred the rep levels be decoupled from site designs, but we weren't able to do that at this point. (Of course, I said all that above but hey, I don't mind reiterating.) – Ana Aug 19 '15 at 17:00
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    @200_success What antecedent? The previous post was a question asking whether the community supported the concept and this is telling us that "we've heard you and we're implementing it"... – Catija Aug 19 '15 at 17:03
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    @abbyhairboat Is there an official list of sites available yet, or will sites find out on a case-by-case basis? – HDE 226868 Aug 19 '15 at 17:07
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    @Catija It's the "we heard you" but we-aren't-really-listening aspect that concerns me. Code Review has… um… very mixed feelings about this, which is why I'm probing to see exactly what this announcement means. – 200_success Aug 19 '15 at 17:11
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    I'm interested for Music as well - have asked Pops the specific question about any lessons learned – Rory Alsop Aug 19 '15 at 17:11
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    @200_success: Come on. You know we hear you. We are listening. We can't implement every piece of feedback we receive, and we can't customize every process for each community. But that doesn't mean we don't care, or don't consider it. The team has spent a lot of time and energy trying to understand Code Review's concerns and it's unfortunate that we're still not in a position to allay them. To imply that we aren't listening or don't care about them is just disingenuous. – hairboat Aug 19 '15 at 17:16
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    What is the hold up on Designs ? – Malachi Aug 19 '15 at 17:45
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    Does this mean that while phase 1 is going forward you are still considering whether to decouple the phase 2 changes? Or that unless something changes, two phases it is? I'm having trouble parsing the "for now..." paragraph. – otus Aug 19 '15 at 17:50
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    @abbyhairboat If the 'lot of time and energy' doesn't result in communication and instead results in many years of promises without results, is it a surprise that many users think that you don't care or don't consider it? Note: I am not saying that you don't care nor don't consider it. Nor do I believe it. I am simply saying, lack of communication leads to a perception of these things among many users. – durron597 Aug 19 '15 at 17:51
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    @otus We just made this change, and I don't have that kind of information for you yet. We're trying this out, and there's also been a lot of interest in even further adjustments/deconstructions of graduation and the site life cycle. What we're announcing here, for sure, makes all that easier. But that's the best I've got right now. – Ana Aug 19 '15 at 17:57
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    @abbyhairboat Haha, yes. You can see why that was my first reaction to reading this post :) – durron597 Aug 19 '15 at 19:22
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    I still don't understand why "privilege thresholds are increased" is in Phase 2. If a site wants its thresholds increased, can't or won't SE provide that in Phase 1? Is there any reason why SE defers that to Phase 2? I can understand delaying site design/redesign (i.e. lack of design team bandwidth), but changing privilege thresholds is surely just a per-site config change? – ChrisW Aug 20 '15 at 0:35
68

I am ...dissatisfied with this from at least two perspectives. One perspective is that as a Programmer, one is that as a member of the Code Review Community

@200_success: Come on. You know we hear you. We are listening. We can't implement every piece of feedback we receive, and we can't customize every process for each community. [..]

This thing shows a very simple misconception about graduation and the steps associated with it. Let's run this as a codereview:

You are tightly coupling together the following things:

Group one:

  • the beta label is removed
  • elections are held
  • migration paths are set up
  • community ads are run
  • a link to the site is added to the footer

Group two:

  • the site gets their custom design.
  • privilege thresholds are increased to graduated site levels

then you say: "We cannot customize every process for each community". This is wrong

You are restraining yourself and then take the boundaries you place upon yourself as absolute. Boundaries and processes you place upon yourself should be flexible.

My programmer perspective weeps at the tight coupling you place upon yourself. It bleeds into the codebase, it bleeds into your processes and the machine you built is becoming inflexible.

You hear a complaint: "This is not flexible enough", and answer "We cannot customize it further". Why?

You should separate responsibilities. Each of these things is and should be something distinct. You should be able to turn each of these on and off, irrespective of soft terms like "graduated" or "undergraduate / beta / whatever"

If process X is not customizable enough, split it up into subprocesses. For common combinations you can provide a template.
As demonstrated on Code Review, generally tying these groups together makes no sense when seen from outside.

I say: make each of these things separate and remove the whole "graduation is a really big thing" nonsense from your process. There is no such thing as graduation. It's only about establishment and what the community can handle.

Quoting from the "Graduation, Site Closure, and a clearer outlook on the health of SE sites"

Success and graduation are not the same thing

Then remove the term graduation. Sites are successful and established or on the way to that.

Unhealthy sites are closed. There's nothing other than that in the lifecycle of a public site.

The Stack Exchange network should not be a 2-caste system. There is nothing wrong with beta sites and there's nothing wrong with graduated sites. They are only distinguishable by some arbitrary term, that you thought was an appropriate measurement. You say yourself:

Regardless of how small the site might be, you have a home here in the SE network.

You decided yourself: This measurement does not reflect reality.

Why are you keeping it?

Yes, I am proposing to remove the whole graduation thing.
Yes that is a huge change to how things work.
Yes that will need further accomodation.
Yes it will take time.

But I am not content with this misfitting model of site-health where sites are categorized into "beta" and "graduated", regardless of what the site does to make the internet better. And it seems I am not the only one

  • 18
    "Yes, I am proposing to remove the whole graduation thing." -> I agree. I think that's probably in the works down the road. Like Ana said: this is the first step. We haven't made any changes to this process in 5 years, and we're finally re-examining it now. It used to be one step. Now it's two steps (phases). We'll keep working on it, and it will be more steps soon. – hairboat Aug 19 '15 at 19:21
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    I really recommend you read some of Robert's answers on this subject. It sounds pretty obvious that SE is aware that the system is imperfect but that it is best to implement things gradually rather than shocking the system with a sudden change. – Catija Aug 19 '15 at 21:12
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    I couldn't have said it better myself. ++ The only thing I can possibly add is that if there is a technical reason for tying site design to privileges (as the system is currently implemented), I really wish someone from SE would just say so. As a programmer, I can understand that something is coupled together that shouldn't be, but I just don't buy the "you need something to celebrate" line. – RubberDuck Aug 19 '15 at 23:06
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    Did I understand well that you in fact propose: "revert to the previous state, which was even worse, before the long-term plans can be implemented"? The state proposed now is a stage on the path to the abandonning of "raduation", at least the SE staff propose it as such. You nitpick as though it was the definite state. – Pavel Aug 20 '15 at 9:03
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    @Pavel "as you thought it was the definite state" ... well. Yes I thought exactly that. If you check the timestamps, the explanatory comments / answer by abby hairboat were only posted until after this answer. Which means that the premise of this answer is flawed. Then again I do not propose "reverting" to the old state. I just state that the current mechanism is flawed. Maybe less so or more so than the old mechanism, but still flawed that I am not willing to settle for that – Vogel612's Shadow Aug 20 '15 at 9:13
  • @Vogel612'sShadow: now I understand your answer. I've understood that the proposed state is meant as a base for further discussion and probably will be changed later from the question itself + from older posts on this topic, but this might not be clear enough without Abby's post. What I don't understand is that your post gets quite a lot of upvotes even after Abby's clarification. Is it just a fear that things will freeze in the current state, in spite of some mods' statements? – Pavel Aug 20 '15 at 9:34
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    -1 Honestly, I think it's a great idea to have a point of no return for sites. Once a site is graduated (which should a lot quicker now) you know for sure that it's going to stay around and based on that a lot of choices are made (design, migration, etc.), but the main reason for -1'ing would be that the idea of seperating the different things that fall under graduation even further would destroy the homogeneity of the SE network significantly. Something that really should be limited as much as possible. (cont.) – David Mulder Aug 20 '15 at 10:12
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    The only real problem is that graduation should truly be graduation, and that's now (more or less) happening. As soon as it's clear that a site is going to stay there is no more waiting for resources (design) and with a click of a button the site changes. All current problems are primarily caused due to sites staying in beta all the time whilst they actually aren't truly in beta. – David Mulder Aug 20 '15 at 10:14
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    @DavidMulder - a graduated site can still decline and die a miserable death. Ask Patents, anyone? – Deer Hunter Aug 20 '15 at 10:39
  • @DavidMulder the concept of "beta" and "graduated" is destroying the homogenity of the SE network. What difference does it make whether a site runs community ads or doesn't? Or has elected moderators instead of appointed pro-tems? What significant difference to an outsider does graduation bring (apart from design)? Your point seems moot to me, because the most significant parts of graduation are all about moderation, which is in no way related to the "homogenity of the SE network" – Vogel612's Shadow Aug 20 '15 at 10:47
  • @DeerHunter As far as I know the idea is that even despite the decline the patents.SE will not be deleted. Something that can happen still happen to beta sites. – David Mulder Aug 20 '15 at 11:35
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    @Vogel612'sShadow A tryout phase before committing to something makes a lot of sense. And commitment means things like running moderator elections, allocating resources, allowing migrations (more freely), advertising it, etc. And no, it definitely doesn't matter a lot to outsiders, but SE is already a confusing enough place for insiders as it is, making that even more confusing rather than less confusing is a terrible idea. After all, as there is a single point in time where commitment is decide and all those things flow from that point, why split at all :S . – David Mulder Aug 20 '15 at 11:41
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    Would it be fair to summarize your answer like this? The process a site goes through (instead of being beta/graduated) would be analogous to what a user does: earning privs in steps as it goes along. – Jan Murphy Aug 20 '15 at 15:33
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    @JanMurphy that sounds wonderful, yes you could say that – Vogel612's Shadow Aug 20 '15 at 15:38
  • I think I would group these into 4 categories, but not be completely independent. Removing beta label, including in footer, and community ads together, increased reputation/ migration paths (reputation could be first, but should be a requisite to migration), elections, and site design. – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 20 '15 at 18:27
61

Some clarification:

This is only one step in a very long process of figuring out what it means to be what kind of site on the SE network.

We had the concept of a strict graduation for many years. You were a beta site until something mysterious happened and we descended from on high to tell you that you got to be a graduated site and then you waited around for your design and once that happened you got your election and other stuff and that was just how it worked. For years. We didn't touch the process. It chugged along and it more or less worked for a while.

But it didn't scale, and it ran into problems. A backlog built up because our network of communities is growing way faster than our design team is growing. So instead of hiring a few more contract designers to get the backlog cleared - which probably wouldn't actually work, and even if it did, would just be kicking the can down the road a few years until the scale problem reared its head again - we decided to take a step back and actually examine the concept of graduation for the first time since its inception and see what was working and what wasn't.

What we've done so far:

What we could possibly (NO PROMISES) do in the future, now that we've dismissed the notion that graduation is a single event:

  • Decouple the graduation treatment even further by defining thresholds at which each change is made (you get migration paths at X migrations/month, you get elections at Y% of the community being eligible to vote, etc)
  • Move the privileges changes into Phase 1 instead of Phase 2
  • Deprecate the terms "graduation" and "beta" and be smarter about the vocabulary we use to describe site states
  • Allow communities to choose features they want from sets of things they've become eligible for

I'm not saying we will do all or any of those things. I am saying that they're all possible because we've opened the door to discussions about what it means to graduate. This is an opportunity for all of us to figure out what comes next.

So: assume that for the next few months, graduation functions the way Ana describes above. What are the next changes you'd like to see? Write it up and let's hash it out on meta like we would with any other .

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    I feel sorta dumb that I didn't realize that this news would seem like we were saying "This is how it will work for the next 6-8 years!", because it's been about that long since we last made changes to how graduation works. We've failed to communicate that that's not the plan here. It's ongoing and subject to change, and it definitely will benefit from the community's ideas. – hairboat Aug 19 '15 at 20:00
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    Thank you! This is the announcement that should have been posted. – 200_success Aug 19 '15 at 20:11
  • +1 for the much needed clarification, and what @200_success said. I'm 100% behind this change now. – Ixrec Aug 19 '15 at 20:12
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    Yep. Sorry for the confusion and tension, @200_success. We were all just talking past each other for a while because nobody on our side had grasped this key component yet. – hairboat Aug 19 '15 at 20:12
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    For what it's worth, I think the original post was pretty clear this wasn't all set in stone. Thanks for working hard on all this! – Cascabel Aug 19 '15 at 23:40
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I'm glad to hear that improvements are coming. Thank you. No it's not perfect yet, but Abby's answer gives me hope that more improvements will come as you continue to refine this process.

Since privileges are such a point of contention, please consider this proposal: create a single new design for semi-graduated sites and associate the privilege bump with that. This does a few things:

  • It creates a shared visual identity that isn't the current beta design. In addition to helping users (and mods) on other sites understand what's what, it produces a clear visual change for the site's users (progress!).

  • You're reluctant to bump privs, i.e. take privs away from some users, without giving them a design change at the same time.1 This is a design change that you can use for that purpose.

  • When you roll out the real design in 6-8 whatevers, you can make an even bigger deal about that because it'll be the only thing changing then. When Mi Yodeya graduated we held an online launch party around the new design and the "graduation" idea; that other stuff, like privs, was changing too was almost secondary.

My prior suggestion was to do something as simple as changing the color theme on the beta theme (and removing the word "beta", of course). If you want a design change that'll make users feel positive it might need to be a little more than that. And yes, I realize that I'm asking you to respond to a design shortage by adding another design to the list -- but if you're willing to consider that, you could give users on mature sites the graduated-site experience that they seek while still satisfying your goal of having a nice design to offset the loss of privs.

1 "Note: We propose keeping the lower privilege thresholds in place until designs are ready because we think raising them without giving you something to celebrate just wouldn’t be that much fun." (Source)

  • +1 Graduation feels hollow without a visual change to the site. The only substantial change as it stands now is moderator elections. – Chris Mueller Aug 20 '15 at 12:07
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    I kinda like this idea. One idea that I'd like to spin off of this, maybe as a consideration, is instead of (or perhaps on top of) a mini-design, maybe we can look at having logos for the sites. I think that it helps not only distinguish the site from those still in "beta", but also gives the site a sense of uniqueness among the rest of the "no-design-graduates", a sense of individuality. We'd probably have to wrestle a bit though as to whether we want to have basically "preliminary" logos that are subject to change in the final design or not, though. It's tricky, maybe too tricky, but hmm... – Grace Note Aug 20 '15 at 12:23
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    @GraceNote logos would be nice. I don't know how independent they are of the overall site design; do you have to do most of the design work in order to get to the logo, or is it more separable? (I've only watched the process develop on one site and that was a while ago.) A question for your design team, I guess. Even if individual logos aren't doable, a change to a different global logo and color scheme still seems like it would help. – Monica Cellio Aug 20 '15 at 12:42
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    @GraceNote why do I read "having a logo" as "possibility for site-specific swag"? ;-) – Mathieu Guindon Aug 20 '15 at 17:52
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    @Mat'sMug I look at it more like "The template ad I make for community ads isn't going to look even more identical across so many sites". – Grace Note Aug 20 '15 at 18:28
  • @GraceNote A logo would be a nice-to-have, but even provisional logo designs aren't effortless, and at the rate things are progressing, I'd rather have the graduation process be truly design-independent. No excuses for delay. – 200_success Aug 21 '15 at 3:09
  • @200_success Special design as proposed or logo, the idea behind adding it would be in a fashion that does not revert us basically back to "design-dependent graduation". Otherwise, well, that's a step backwards, no? – Grace Note Aug 21 '15 at 12:53
  • I've just asked a question about this and I'd love if you presented your thoughts there meta.stackexchange.com/questions/265813/… – Catija Sep 4 '15 at 22:03
7

A few thoughts...

Make privileges like badges, so once you have got them, you keep them when a site “gradates”.

Slowly increase the rep level needed to get each privilege as the side grows, so for example “vote to close” is given to about x% of the users that visit the site at least 3 times a week. Set the minimal rep needed for each privilege at the level it is at for beta sites at present, and the max rep needed at the level it is at for gradated site. (I expect that only 3 or 4 “steps” will be needed and it does not need a sliding scale.)

4

I have to say, I'm opposed to not raising the requirements. I know this has been discussed in other posts, as you mentioned, but I believe that next to electing moderators, this is the most important change to happen when a community graduates. The raising of required reputation makes it so only those users really committed to a site will have moderator-like abilities. And there is rarely a lack of these users for sites that are near graduation. For instance, taking a look at the last few sites to graduate, here are the number of users with at least 3K+ reputation (Required to close), at the moment of graduation:

With the exception of Network Engineering, it is quite clear that all of the others have more than enough users to close questions quickly, and even Network Engineering has enough to close questions without moderators. Personally, if there isn't enough active users to close questions without moderators, I would question if it should graduate.

Also, I question giving migration paths to the beta privileges recommendations. It really takes some knowledge to know if another site can accept a question, and I believe the graduated site requirements is still the appropriate level for this. Beta level will lead to many more questions being migrated that shouldn't be. Most of the time that a migration link is established, the two sites share a similarity, which can often lead one to ask questions slightly off topic. For instance, Space and Astronomy often receive questions about the other, and likely would have a migration link to the other as a result. I can tell you as a moderator at Space.SE that not everything that people think should be migrated should really be migrated, it takes some time to really understand the nuances in some areas. Thus, I would not want to see migration links for Space.SE unless it came with the increased reputation.

  • 2
    The problem that I see is that, should they opt to change the "graduation" structure so that a site becomes a full site at 90 days, this will not be the case. Right now we have a backlog of a dozen or more sites that have been ready to "graduate" for a year or more. Of course these sites have plenty of high-rep users. But, the average site wouldn't be ready for higher rep requirements at 90 days. – Catija Aug 20 '15 at 15:01
  • Your reasoning is pretty solid. Again, reiterating what both Abby and I have said respectively, this is what we could do right now even if it's not complete or perfect. Thanks for giving us that much more evidence that we need to keep tweaking and improving, and not just let this most recent change become to the de facto way we do things from now until 6 - 8 years in the future. – Ana Aug 20 '15 at 15:01
  • @Catija In our internal debates this was indeed one of the secondary concerns which surfaced. In the early days we sometimes graduated sites which didn't have enough high rep users and all maintenance tasks fell on mods, and it wasn't pretty. The design backlog, while discouraging for communities, had an odd positive side effect of ensuring that a site continued to collect enough high rep users, preventing us from putting sites in the same position. – Ana Aug 20 '15 at 15:05
  • (cont.) How do we strike the right balance and ensure that the site always has enough committed high rep users but doesn't have to wait at all past that point? I don't know yet. The site maintenance piece also isn't the only consideration in moving mechanisms around. But again, we're looking for this partial forward progress to give us more ability to see what's actually going on. – Ana Aug 20 '15 at 15:10
  • @Catija: I understand that there is variation, but the number of high reputation users rarely goes down, it usually goes up. – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 20 '15 at 15:12
  • @Ana: I remember the early days of Photography, when the very first question was closed after it launched without moderator intervention, which probably happened 3-4 months after the launch. I agree that situation should be avoided. Hence my last sentence, questioning if such sites should even launch. – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 20 '15 at 15:13
  • @PearsonArtPhoto - the number of high-rep users goes up, but the number of those who actively participate drops due to burnout. – Deer Hunter Aug 20 '15 at 17:11
  • @DeerHunter: Fair enough. – PearsonArtPhoto Aug 20 '15 at 17:13
  • Note that only 5-10 people with CV privileges were active at the time of chem.SE's graduation. – Marshmallow Aug 20 '15 at 22:12

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