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In this post on Meta Hardware Recommendations (requires registration through A51 to see), Robert Cartaino tells us that the Stack Exchange team have decided to extend the private beta period to 3 weeks. To quote:

We've extended the private betas to last about three weeks total. In actuality, if you call the initial launch "week one", the evaluations and discussion happen near the end of week three. We extended the private beta another week because the logistics of launching a private beta and getting everyone together to wrap everything up in two weeks made the deliberations all but impossible.

That's fair; it gives the SE team more wiggle room to decide about a beta.

However, my concern is about beta activity. Over the course of a private beta, activity dies down. By the end of week 2, there's enough new content coming in to keep the site alive, but sometimes only just. My concern is that at the end of week 3, there will be even less activity. This could potentially lead to the SE team seeing this and saying "oh, this beta isn't very active - better close it".

In short, I'm concerned that 3 week private betas will lead to a greater closure rate of new sites.

So, I'd like to know two things:

  • Have the team considered this? What was the result of the discussion?
  • If applicable, what's being done to remedy the problem?
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    I've been in a couple betas that almost died after two weeks for want of activity. That being said, I think the only real answer here is "try it and see."
    – user206222
    Sep 13, 2015 at 18:42
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    I'd think if the core for a site can't generate enough activity for 3 weeks (instead of 2) that it's highly unlikely to succeed.
    – enderland
    Sep 13, 2015 at 19:21
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    @enderland With ≈200 users? There are only so many questions people have about a subject matter... at some point, opening it up to the public is necessary solely for the sake of new questions to answer.
    – user206222
    Sep 13, 2015 at 19:30
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    @enderland Echoing what Emrakul said, but replace "~200" with "~20". I've never seen a private beta with >20 really active users. Those people are vital to the site's success, and if we bore them out of the site... the site is gone.
    – Undo
    Sep 13, 2015 at 19:36
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    The decision to extend private beta probably has something to do with new reluctance to shut down public beta sites. Sep 13, 2015 at 19:38
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    @Emrakul if the point is to flesh the site scope/etc out, then those people should be asking/answering questions to do so. There is plenty of meta activity which should be happening, too...
    – enderland
    Sep 13, 2015 at 19:43
  • It's already becoming extremely apparent in hardwarerecs.SE that there aren't enough active users to keep it all alive. Sure, ~200 users are invited, but only a fraction actually take up interest in the site while in beta. I'm a little worried.
    – Adam
    Sep 18, 2015 at 6:22
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    Also, here's an answer from another question that provides some great info on this debate.
    – Adam
    Sep 18, 2015 at 6:41

2 Answers 2

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My concern is that at the end of week 3, there will be even less activity. This could potentially lead to the SE team seeing this and saying "oh, this beta isn't very active - better close it".

Usually new communities are concerned that we didn't give them enough time.

Either way, there's really no need to be concerned. We are accustomed to monitoring how much activity there is (or isn't) throughout the entire public beta cycle, so we are not going to shut down a site because three weeks is longer than two.

On the remedy end of things, I am currently looking at some ideas for how to improve the private beta scheduling and experience in general. Nothing concrete yet, but extending the process another week was simply a way to give each site their full two weeks before we started rounding everyone up for the evaluations. With a growing Community Management team, the logistics of launching a private beta and getting everyone together to wrap everything up in two weeks made any kind of deliberations increasingly difficult to pull off in a timely manner. The extra week doesn't really change the current private beta process in any meaningful way.

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However, my concern is about beta activity. Over the course of a private beta, activity dies down.

That's true; private beta activity usually slows after the first week.

However, activity doesn't magically spike once the site goes public. A common assumption is that once a site leaves private beta, there will be a crowd of people who haven't joined the private beta but who will join and contribute to a public beta. That usually doesn't happen1. In most cases, it takes at least six months for a site to begin to gain users who find the site using search engines and social media. During those 6+ months, a site needs to be able to rely on its members from the private beta to keep the site active.

If your private beta can't sustain a reasonable level of activity for three weeks (as opposed to two weeks), it unfortunately has little hope of being a successful site.


1 Unless you're a community like askubuntu that has a large audience online that already likes to ask questions about Ubuntu.

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    My experience is that you get a flood of questions during the first week of private beta, followed by tapering activity, followed by a flood of questions the first time the site hits Hot Network Questions, followed by tapering activity, followed by slow, steady growth (hopefully).
    – Mark
    Sep 19, 2015 at 1:20

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