Here are the last few weeks of the "visitor" metric per Google Analytics, on each Trilogy site:









They are ordered in terms of least visitors to most visitors. Stack Overflow is the blockbuster here. Which makes sense, as it's the oldest, and the site that is most in tune with the Joel on Software and Coding Horror audiences we originally started with.

Meta is only included for completeness; we don't actually need any particular traffic level there (aka, "here") due to the nature of the content.

I am not showing the larger trend graphs here, but the deeper concern is that Super User and Server Fault are not growing much (if at all) over time. Google traffic levels are one sign of a site's maturity:

  • SO has 90% google traffic
  • SF has 77% google traffic
  • SU has 67% google traffic

So we're not quite "mature" yet, but we're getting close.

I am not sure we've done a good job of reaching out to the power user (superuser.com) and sysadmin/it pro (serverfault.com) communities to make sure they're at least aware of these sites.

Why this matters: I worry that if we don't attract a critical mass of users there, questions and answers will languish. They don't need to be enormous, I just want them to be useful. And that implies some growth, at least!

So, this is my question to you: what should we be doing to reach out to the power user and sysadmin communities? How can we attract more of the kinds of power users, sysadmins, and IT pros that we'd like to see asking and answering questions on superuser.com and serverfault.com?

Suggestions welcome.

  • 26
    Interesting that meta has the same mon-fri peak as so/sf. Suggesting that people are wasting time at work on meta. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 19:59
  • 2
    A to-scale combined graph of all the sites would be very nice and useful to have. You should be able to export the data as CSV and graph it in excel. Also, a graph showing the general trend (and perhaps comparing the growth from the initial start) would be very interesting to demonstrate your no-growth point.
    – Pollyanna
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 20:45
  • Edited my answer below to hopefully get some more visibility on the format of Server Fault - meta.stackexchange.com/questions/26689/…
    – dlux
    Commented Nov 15, 2009 at 3:38
  • I think the podcast crossovers with the admin community have been a good move. I think however you'll need more. Aim for high value admin communities (MS Exchange, Red Hat, etc).
    – C. Ross
    Commented Dec 2, 2009 at 23:23
  • @Jeff could we have an update on these graphs?
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Mar 31, 2010 at 17:58
  • I agree that this is a problem to be solved. While I don't have an answer, I have an anecdote. I had been using StackOverflow for nearly a year and had amassed several thousand rep points before I even knew serverfault existed. That's something that needs fixing.
    – Ben Lee
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 6:58
  • Why not just merge SuperUser and ServerFault? sysadmin vs power user -- does anyone really care about this difference? Is there even much of a difference there at all? StackOverflow for specific programming questions, the merger of SuperUser/ServerFault for general computing, hardware, system administration, networking, etc... Commented Mar 27, 2014 at 21:23
  • Those links are either dead, or require a login.
    – Wai Ha Lee
    Commented Mar 5, 2019 at 8:23

36 Answers 36


The main problem with SU is that people usually have one problem, they go to the site, post their question, get an answer (hopefully) and they're off. It's not like programming, where you always try to gain knowledge by answering questions, by reading more stuff, by asking others for help. I remember someone saying on meta that SU is a sort of tech support; in some ways it is. People usually need it when something's broken.

However, some (broader) topics might gain an audience. Gizmodo, Engadget, Lifehacker and Ars Technica would be good places to look for a potential audience. A lot of answers on SU are based on suggestions got from one of these sites. It would be nice if some of the editors on these sites could be engaged into becoming active members of the community. John Siracusa, an Ars Technica columnist, was, at one time, quite active. If you could convince these guys to play an active part in the community, it could really help.

There's another problem on SU: a lot of the top users seem to lose interest. Out of the 35 users on the first page, 16 have had almost no activity within the last week. And if you think it gets better with the second page users, it doesn't; it's 18 almost inactive users there in the last week. I believe a community is driven by its top users. If they can't be kept engaged, them it's a major problem.

  • 6
    SO has a ton more drive-by questions than SU and SF combined.
    – random
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 6:17
  • 7
    So has a lot more traffic that SU and SF combined.
    – alex
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 6:31
  • 1
    so then, should we drop them off the front page if they don't participate? It may not be that they have no interest, it may be they have no time - I know that during the last major project (code named: hell on earth) I wasn't exactly the most active person for 3 months...
    – AnonJr
    Commented Oct 22, 2009 at 17:57
  • 1
    @AnonJr Wait a minute, I never said such a thing! I'm on the first page myself and my participation hasn't been strong either. It was just an observation; we're human beings, we have a life. But it's still a bit worrying to have so many inactive top users on SU. There has to be a reason behind this, no?
    – alex
    Commented Oct 22, 2009 at 18:12
  • 1
    @alex: the first part wasn't serious, just a decaffeinated attempt to highlight the lack of context. Time to make the after-lunch coffee.
    – AnonJr
    Commented Oct 22, 2009 at 19:29
  • I find that, as a developer, posting in SF is like trying to draw water from a stone. Until the community starts to give back, like we devs do in SO, it will never grow. Commented Oct 15, 2014 at 13:20

Apparently this issue needs to be discussed here.

Specifically dealing with Server Fault, I can see why the site is not growing. Consider that you are competing against Experts Exchange, news groups, and many different vendor forums/communities. Server Fault really has some faults to overcome.


  1. I think the primary problem is that the Server Fault community is not made up of professional system/network administrators, but is instead developers asking questions about their server environments. That may be great for a PHP developer wondering why a module is not loading in Apache, but the result is a bunch questions that are not relevant to most administrators.
  2. A second result of the make up of the community is that extremely technical questions do not get answered because there are very few people to answer them. Also, when they do get answered, most of the community does not understand the topic enough to vote. Notice how low the vote counts are on most questions compared to Stack Overflow.
  3. The site is not very friendly to newcomers. Put yourself in the shoes of an Exchange administrator and then look at the front page of SF. What on that page even hints that Server Fault is a good place to ask Exchange questions or, gasp, stick around and help others with Exchange questions? Compare Server Fault to Technet or Experts Exchange.


  1. First, I do not think you are helping Server Fault (or Super User) by tying the trilogy of sites so close together. You seem to grasp that these are separate audiences; however, you only advertise the three sites to developers. Of course, SO is going to take off while the others flounder.
  2. Server Fault needs to be much less accepting of off-topic and Super User questions. Just because a question references RAID or Linux does not mean it is appropriate. Maybe give some direction to your moderators to clean up these questions to make the site more appealing.
  3. Change the reputation system to reward those that answer difficult technical questions. Unfortunately, I really do not have an idea on how to do that. The current system rewards those who ask and answer easy questions making it just as easy for non-administrators to gain reputation.
  4. Consider creating Portals on this site which target specific products or manufactures. It may be as simple is grouping certain tags on a portal page and changing the branding a little on each portal. Maybe this could include corporate sponsorships.
  5. Seek out the experts! I would be contacting every MVP I could find to ask them to visit the site. And yes, there are tons of admin-related bloggers too but they tend to revolve around certain products (like Ben Armstrong and Microsoft Virtualization).

One Final Consideration

It may be time to step back and consider whether or not the Q&A format is best for Server Fault. There needs to be a better way to format a back-and-forth discussion between users which is required to troubleshoot and solve a complex problem. This isn't Stack Overflow were you can simply post a snippet of code and someone can point out your problem or a different way to attack the issue.

The current format lends itself towards simple questions and simple answers. The end result being a site that may not be to useful for professional system administrators. Evan's comment on a different question reminded me of this - none of the admins I have told about Server Fault have stuck around. Figure out why that is, solve it, and then your community will grow.

  • +1 I was going to copy my answer from here (meta.stackexchange.com/questions/27454/improving-server-fault/…), but it looks like you got it all.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 5:50
  • 1
    I probably should have attributed this to you and Evan. :)
    – dlux
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 13:25
  • The "home page" experience for somebody visiting Server Fault looking for an answer to a question is definitely bad. Given that Google is the "home page" for the Trilogy sites, though, I think this is probably by-design. When I want to find anything on Server Fault (or any of the Triology sites), I always do a "site:serverfault.com" serch using Google rather than using the site's own search functionality because it's so horrible. I don't know how / if we communicate that to newcomers to the site, though. Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 20:03
  • 2
    Amen, brother. It's amazingly frustrating to answer a difficult question and get maybe 10 rep for it, when every answer to a fluff-ball "what are the best $FOO for sysadmins?" question (and the question itself) gets dozens of upvotes.
    – womble
    Commented Nov 12, 2009 at 17:07
  • >>> Change the reputation system to reward those that answer difficult technical questions. If there's a way to do this, it would help, another idea might be if it's possible to also reward those who are trying to build up the community - who are and have been answering, commenting, and voting over a long period. Commented Nov 17, 2009 at 21:16
  • A request for Systems Programmers from stackoverflow to spend some time on Serverfault could be helpful for adding a little more expertise to the site. Lots of system administration questions could benefit from a deeper knowledge of how the systems actually work. Commented Nov 20, 2009 at 14:59
  • the root of many of the problems appears to be the intense and deep fragmentation of the sysadmin community -- this was discussed a bit in Podcast #75 with Tim Limoncelli blog.stackoverflow.com/2009/11/podcast-75 Commented Jan 4, 2010 at 22:21
  • The problem wth SF is just the opposite: If someone has a simple question related to server administration, it should be replied, no matter if it is not the most clever/proffesional question. That's what makes Stack Overflow the number one reference for many developers, and the fact that they are better positioned in search engines by many terms, thanks to big amount of questions/answers. Limiting the questions is a FAULT. My first question in Server Fault was banned just becouse the word Plesk appears on it, no matter that the problem was with IIS. Result: SF will not be my choice again.
    – tomasofen
    Commented May 16, 2014 at 4:11

The same way you built StackOverflow. Find a blog that is very popular with those demographics and convince/Cajole those bloggers to review the site.

I'd think Superuser would be a good topic on LifeHacker.

Don't know many blogs focused on the admin types though.

Also, maybe if you posted some of the more popular (and general interest) questions to the appropriate Reddit, Digg, or Technorati subsites you'd get some traffic from there.

I tried that once for one of my questions on SO (Tells of a Novice Programmer) and got a decent bump in views the next day.

  • 7
    I've already linked up SuperUser on Lifehacker before =) Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:40
  • 6
    We searched a long, long time for the "Joel" of sysadmin bloggers and couldn't find anything. I am open to specific suggestions of blogs we should be reaching out to, though. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:43
  • 1
    I'll talk to my IT guys at work and see what blogs they read and get back to you if there is one they all have in common.
    – JohnFx
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:44
  • 7
    Well, Bruce Schneier may be the "Joel" of computer security professionals, and may have a significant number of sysadmins in his readership. There should be a good amount of overlap in the question content for ServerFault and the security field. Don't know if there would be enough though.
    – retracile
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:55
  • @The How-To Geek: They'll have to get on the front page again ;-)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 5:20
  • serverfault.com/questions/76183/other-sys-admin-hangouts has some places, although I suggest you don't advertise in alt.sysadmin.recovery ;-)
    – TRS-80
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 14:47
  • Other communities: macosxhints.com, macosrumors.com and Make Magazine have the right audience for SU. Perhaps theregister.co.uk for SF?
    – Ether
    Commented Oct 27, 2009 at 22:27

Well, since SO has all that trafic. There must be some ways to make use of it.

For example, how about changing the "first time visitor" message to give more information about the trilogy?

Instead of

First time here? Check out the FAQ!

You can have this

First time here? Check out the FAQ!
We also have sister sites focused on system administrating, serverfault.com, and super users, superuser.com.

Because I doubt the casual visitors of SO see the links to SF and SU at the bottom of the page.
And you could also try mentioning those sites to the users with 200 or less reputation, under the ad on the right column.

  • house ads would serve the same function, though. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 9:38
  • Which house ads, Jeff? Or better: they won't! Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 18:48
  • 7
    +1. My eyes "can't see" ads anymore, but I can see SO's messages.
    – GmonC
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 19:45
  • @çağdaş is so right here! Many questions, that belong to SuperUser or ServerFault, are usually asked on StackOverflow. Take for example Emacs - it is a programming topic (when used as IDE, or when Emacs Lisp is tinkered with), but it is also a poweruser topic (it is a general-purpose text editor after all), so for bigger audience Emacs users go to SO, not SU as they should. In other words, many topics overlap, Emacs is just an example. Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 7:03
  • I would even add, that there are so many identical questions asked on, for example, both SO and SU, like superuser.com/questions/255086/… and stackoverflow.com/questions/5451135/embed-svg-in-svg - maybe implement a mechanism for searching and moving/deleting these duplicates? Commented Oct 26, 2011 at 7:54

For SuperUser, the various wrt related tags have a fairly small number of hits (18, all combined). But router has 118.

I would suggest approaching the various wrt related projects out there (openwrt, dd-wrt, tomato, etc, etc.) for advertising or some sort of partnership. Perhaps offer tag sponsorship (with logo) to them (which I really don't think they'd ever be in the position to buy anyway), in exchange for them encouraging their users to seek help here.

I went looking at the wrt stuff since I'm familiar with it; but I expect you could apply the same idea to a number of other tags.

  • 4
    very good idea for SU -- allow informal tag "sponsorship" in exchange for "use this for support" links. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 3:01
  • 5
    In that case were almost a Microsoft support forum! Get some of their big bucks in to answer specific Windows questions ;-)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 5:23
  • 2
    @Ivo: like Jon Skeet?
    – perbert
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 17:48
  • @voyager: Lol SuperUser is definitely a support forum for how to use Google!
    – Ivo Flipse
    Commented Oct 27, 2009 at 17:28

Perhaps it sounds a little obvious, but I'd recommend putting out an overt call to the community at each site asking everybody to spread the word. More eyes on the site is better for everybody.

I have yet to show Server Fault to a sysadmin and not received a favorable reaction.

Getting a few of those people who regularly attend local sysadmin SIG meetings, user groups, etc, to spread the word would be helpful, I'd think. As obvious as it sounds, I'm betting that most people don't even think about spreading the word.

(If nothing else, I want more questions on the site to answer... >smile<)

  • Agreed, alot of the hard work is to get people to look at it, just once, once they have my experience is that they invariably go back to look for answers to their problems, and then start answering questions when they delve deeper.
    – Sam Cogan
    Commented Oct 22, 2009 at 11:36

I have purposely not replied to this until now, as I wanted to see what the discussion would lead to. I must admit I am somewhat surprised at some of the responses and although I agree with most I also have my own thoughts on the subject.

Google is the Trilogy Home Page

One of the biggest issues I see coming forward from the community on a regular basis is the lack of quality questions and answers. However it seems that unless you were part of the original SO beta group, no one has realised the purpose behind these sites.

The trilogy is meant to be a canonical collection of questions and answers continually updated with the latest information.

Therefore to drive traffic to the site, the easy "Google It" questions should and must appear on SU and SF. With the ability of 2K+ users to edit posts, the idea is that these questions, if bad, gets edited into properly indexable questions with up to date answers. This is what makes the Trilogy stand out from the rest of the forums and sites out there. If someone types a question in Google relevant to a topic on one of the trilogy sites, that site should be the first 10 links that come up.

This means that the current user base needs to be guided and taught what the purpose of the site is, and the 2K+ users must take on the responsibility given to them by having the abilities, as they have a vested interest in the success of these sites. The development of the Stack Overflow Careers should be more then enough motivation to drive this change in attitude.

Blog, Blog, Blog

Each person that has a blog has a readership. Whether that readership is 1 person or 20, the more the sites are exposed in blog entries, the more they are indexed by sites like Google as the canonical source of information. Between the blogs and twitter, awareness needs to be spread irrelevant of the smaller communities it represents. Moms4Mom's recent explosion was caused by the twitter exposure when people like Scott Hanselman suddenly sends a tweet about it.

Both Joel and Jeff have access to some of the biggest names in IT, not just development. Get Scott to evangelise this in his podcast, even consider sponsoring his podcasts.


Find the right podcast and become a sponsor. This could also potentially open up a huge traffic boost, and also reach a broader audience. Most users ignore internet advertising, we know this. However podcasts, RSS feeds and others can't be ignored. I have to admit creating a twitter account for each of the sites which people can follow is not a bad idea, maybe listing the top questions for the day.

Final Thoughts

Speaking specifically around the MVPs, involving them is by no means an easy task. They are often held back from involvement due to other commitments, and the never ending list of NDAs put in place by Microsoft. As a VSTS Ranger I have learned this the hard way. Not too long ago I was asked to remove answers of SO due to me violating the NDA, and I wasn't even aware at the time I was.

They are also by no means know the answers to every question, since at the end of the day received an award from Microsoft for an achievement, not because they know every answer. I am by no means saying they are not good, however they are human, and often not the right people to answer questions.


We need to ensure that we meet the initial goal of the site, which I have already listed. Be the canonical source of information where people find the answers to their questions. Not only by driving new users, but engaging and keeping the existing user base.

  • Moms4Mom's only has 285 questions. These communities need to grow much larger to have any relevance
    – Casebash
    Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 8:21
  • @Casebash. Agreed. However the exposure helped if you look at the userbase. The awareness of the site is there, and it was seen due to the people that notice. Fact is, Jon Skeet is one of the top Moms4Mom users. The point right now is not the size of Moms4Mom, but the exposure it is getting. Commented Oct 29, 2009 at 9:07

Here are my thoughts on SF's "problems":

  1. There aren't enough experienced admins contributing. I don't think SF has reached a critical mass yet.

  2. There's a need for some meta about SF, but meta.stackoverflow isn't working well for it. There aren't many of the higher-rep SF'ers here, and I don't think they're likely to come here. I think most people who are active on SF like the way the site works so meta about details of how the sites operate isn't very interesting and doesn't draw admins over here.

UPDATE: Just had an example of this, I asked a meta-question about how to deal with a certain type of "bad question" that shows up regularly on SF. Many of the answers weren't helpful because they're from people who are mostly on SO and didn't understand why it was a bad type of question. One guy gave a list of questions he thought mine was a dup of, but none of them was really the same as my question.

  1. When you ask a question, one of the hints on the side is: "We prefer questions that can be answered, not just discussed." That just doesn't work well for a lot of issues sysadmins deal with.

    While it's certainly up to Joel/Jeff to decide what sort of site they want, I think if you rule out discussion questions, it makes it less interesting. I'd like SF to be a place where I could go (and I can suggest other people go) to get answers to all sorts of sysadmin questions, not just ones that have clear-cut, step-by-step answers.

  2. I haven't thought about this one much, but it might help if there were a way to quickly filter the 0 votes/0 answers/minimal views questions. I think a lot of these are the "barely sysadmin" questions that people want to ignore. There'd have to be a time factor in there as well, since all questions start as 0 votes/0 answers/minimal views, but maybe if you could hide them if they're more than an hour old w/ low interest.


After advertising, I'd want to say that there are a LOT of fora for questions like the ones that show up on Super User.

And sysadmins tend to talk to their LUGs for feedback, or spend uncountable amount of time in man pages or reading InfoWorld.

I'm active (to some level) on all three sites, but find the Server Fault one to be most useful, as it's what I do for work most.

I also think (but have no statistics to back this up), that there are substantially more "programmers" than there are sysadmins - how many homework questions are on SO, vs. either of the other two? (1589SO vs. 16SF vs. 8SU.)

Lots of folks have to do programming for school/work/etc. and then move into something else later.

Personally, word-of-mouth communication is how I think this is going to grow most.

  • 5
    +1 for correctly pluralising "forum" ;) Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 8:08
  • :) ..there are multiple ways of pluralizing, but I prefer the "right" one =D
    – warren
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 8:47
  • 1
    About the numbers...SO is home for programming questions, from the simplest questions from newbies at home to esoteric questions from people's jobs, or for that matter sysadmins writing scripts. SF is for professionals: people who administer significant amounts of somebody else's equipment. I suspect there's a lot more people who write programs for some reason or other than people who work as sysadmins. Commented Nov 17, 2009 at 21:24

I totally agree with Josh, but let me add to his answer.

I didn't find out about SO until the day I noticed those links on the side of your blog (which BTW are kind of small (also why isn't your flair on there?)) and I probably never would have otherwise.

SOLUTION: Advertise! I would suggest starting with sites that have high traffic that are geared toward computer enthusiast and SysAdmins. How about Everything SysAdmin for SF and ExtreamTech for SU.

Seriously make those links bigger on your blog, and maybe show the favicons.

  • 3
    ExtremeTech recently fired all their writers, and is not long for this world from what I've heard. I'll look into Everything Sysadmin, that's a great recommendation! Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:45

There are already some well known users on Server Fault.

For example the "Standalone Sysadmin" Matt Simmons

He has also put up a blog post that he has put up an OPML file of his Sys-Admin subscriptions.

  • 5
    definitely will do, excellent suggestion. It is SO hard to find sysadmin bloggers, whereas you can barely click a link on the internet without ending up on some programmer's blog.. :) Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 3:00
  • 1
    I only found out about him from reading one of his answers. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 15:26
  • He also recently linked to reddit.com/r/sysadmin but that's pretty dead.
    – TRS-80
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 14:51

Regarding SF, have you tried working with/cross promoting the various professional bodies, like SAGE, LOPSA, etc. (list here)?

  • great idea, we are contacting them all this week. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 4:48
  • and regional groups like NC*SA (ncsysadmin.org)
    – warren
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 3:00
  • @warren, thanks, added NC*SA to the wiki. Feel free to add any others you know.
    – pgs
    Commented Oct 24, 2009 at 5:59

House ads would help, but I suspect that part of the problem is the nature of those audiences.


It has been my experience (which may or may not be typical) that more Sys admins are of the "I had to learn it on my own, so you need to as well" and/or "I don't want to talk about x lest someone use it to penetrate the system" - resulting in the Admin community being more a scattering of islands with a few kind souls trying to connect all the little silos of information.

Contrast that with the programmer community, where sharing and mutual growth are expected and encouraged - and you see where you'll get more support for a community Q&A site.

You're probably getting a lot of programmers (like myself) who end up doing double duty as the server admin and the programmer.


It seems we haven't really tapped into the real SU community as (from a semi-regular visitor's standpoint) we're getting a lot of "tier 1" type help desk questions - not a group of enthusiasts that like computers, are not "professionals", but have a desire to learn more about computers, scripting, etc.

Don't hear what I'm not saying, they are there, just not enough of them. As others have suggested, audiences like Lifehacker and Gizmodo would likely be good places to post a few ads and/or contribute a few "guest" articles to bring some attention to the sites. The latter might be better received.

  • I don't really see any of what you describe as your experience on Server Fault (though, granted, I don't necessarily look at every question). My face-to-face contracting work with fellow sysadmins makes me feel that "sharing and mutual growth" are also the norm in sysadmin circles, too. Getting the word out is the problem I see w/ Server Fault. I've had fellow sysadmins tell me about the "hyphen site" time and time again, but I've yet to have a fellow sysadmin tell me about Server Fault. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 19:43
  • @Evan: I've not seen much of it on SF per se, but those types of people wouldn't be participating there either. ;) I have seen it in person and in other communities where they will only share if you are already "in the know"... at which point you don't really need their help.
    – AnonJr
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 20:05
  • Again, as I mentioned, it could be that I just suck at finding good Admins to work with. Not all Admins are as helpful as your profile would indicate.
    – AnonJr
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 20:09
  • 3
    +1 for the Super User observations. SU still feels like it's inhabited mainly by programmers. I want it to be the site my mother goes to first when she has a computer problem, before she bothers me about it. As long as the front page is full of questions about things like mounting an ext3 partition in Windows inside a dynamic disk, that's not likely to happen.
    – phenry
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 21:07

It's forum fatigue (community fatigue?)

If they were just sub-forums of Stackoverflow you wouldn't really have that problem.

  • 5
    I disagree; they really are separate audiences, and if you co-host you're just going to lose them in the noise. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 4:22
  • 7
    we'd have entirely different problems, though. "One size fits all" kind of sucks in practice. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 4:51
  • What if just the links at the bottom of the page were at the top of the page as a sub-menu, implying sub-forums.
    – ck_
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 4:51
  • 2
    Putting the links to the top could at least help with the visibility.
    – AnonJr
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 20:11
  • 1
    Disagree, I spend most of my time on SF, because thats what I know, I don't spend less time on the others because i'm fatigued, its because I can't answer many questions at least on SO) the audiences on these sites are very different and should remain seperate
    – Sam Cogan
    Commented Oct 22, 2009 at 11:34

Specifically relating to serverfault:

As has been mentioned, reach out to some members (and non-members) who have well read blogs. Matt Simmons is an obvious candidate; Tom Limoncelli is someone else who's generic 'sysadmin' blogs I read.

Now on to an issue that may be hindering serverfault; not sure how to address it, but you should be aware of it. The term 'sysadmin' covers a far wider variety of disciplines than does 'programmer'; and the relative breadth and depth of knowledge varies widely between the <10 user office admin to the 3rd line network engineer at AT&T (for example).

From my observation at work (more on the 'enterprise' side of the scale) most infrastructure departments tend to be pretty siloed, particularly as the size of the organisation increases. You have your network geeks, your storage geeks, your database geeks, your *NIX geeks... the list goes on. Each of these groups probably frequent a different set of forums and blogs, with little overlap. You may have better luck trying to engage each of these communities separately? There are several excellent 'jack of all trades' on serverfault already; is it worth now trying to court the specialists?

  • I don't know that I can agree with you about programmers not having much variety. Someone creating web pages with PHP is a lot different from someone maintaining some legacy cobol application. Developing software for the enterprise is a lot different then say building a site like stackoverflow.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 5:53
  • Zoredache: that's true, perhaps I'm not being clear. I'm trying to make two points - firstly, that though there are different types of programmers, there is a lot more overlap between the different fields. Secondly, perhaps due to the reduced overlaps between fields, practitioners of the various fields that make up 'system administration' don't necessarily view themselves as 'sysadmins'. Commented Nov 2, 2009 at 20:25
  • "Each of these groups probably frequent a different set of forums and blogs, with little overlap" great point, so target the verticals and identify the major players? Commented Nov 4, 2009 at 11:05
  • @Jeff: yes, that would be my suggestion. Perhaps open a bunch of questions on SF or Meta titled "What <topic> blogs and forums do you read on a regular basis?" to get a pool of candidates? The other (slightly more intrusive) approach may be to email the top responders in each "vertical" tag and ask them for suggestions directly? Commented Nov 4, 2009 at 20:49

Try reaching out to the IT Pro Evangilsits at Microsoft (there's only 3 of them) and see if they have any suggestions as to IT Pro bloggers you can talk to. I've got contact into for the west coast guy if you don't have you local IT Pro guys info (your local MSDN Evangilist can hook you up).


I've been thinking about this as well. I'm more in tune with the Microsoft side of things and was thinking that for SF enlisting MVP's would be a good start. There are a number of well-known MVP's already participating on SF (indeed, even one of the mods) who provide a wealth of great, advanced knowledge. Would be great to get more, and get them to help evangelize.


I think DLux got it pretty much right. The exchange administrators are relatively easy crowd to please, you'll know SF is good when the network engineers accept it. As they are relatively comfortable with Nanog, vendor-nsp mailing lists, irc and other relics, I guess it'll take at least few years. Even if SF starts going to the right direction today.

However, as the good and interesting questions are scarce and the crowd really doesn't appreciate them or the good answers, it's pretty hard to imagine how SF wouldn't self-select itself into uselessness.

Some people have suggested advertising, and I would have to say it wouldn't help. To make it work and gain visitors who would actually return, SF would have to be a valuable resource that just needs to be found. The value is not there at the moment. When someone has a SF-related problem, Google usually finds some obscure blog or years-old mailing list post, but seldom anything from SF.

Big part of this can be attributed to the fact that old stuff runs the world. It's not uncommon to have to work with decade old hardware and even older software. With programming, the pressure is towards using the most productive tools. With systems and network engineering, the pressure is towards causing as little capex as possible. SO crowd has questions about new stuff, the intended SF crowd has questions about antique. Because of this, it will take way longer for SF to find its way to the first results of sysadmins' google searches.

When it comes to finding the "Joel Spolsky of sysadmin bloggers", the fact is that there is none. Actually, Joel isn't really a "programming blogger", I'd say he's read more because of his business orientation than technical content. Sticking to technical stuff limits the readership. To have in-depth knowledge of some platform or technology usually means you don't have broad knowledge about related stuff and optionally you work for the vendor. And the field is even more fragmented than programming. On the other hand, if it was possible to attract the active niche gurus to SF, they could provide really great answers to hard questions.

As a quick fix and easy improvement, there really should be links to SF and SU on the "ask a question" page. It should probably be in the sidebar, with brief, clear description.


One major difference to keep in mind is that while all three fields are changing rapidly, only the programming field is changing due to its own users. Further, software can be rapidly prototyped in the comfort of one's own home with no special skills or products. If you want to try out a new RAID product, you have to buy the product.

Or, in other words, the consumers of programming expertise are also the producers of that expertise. New languages every day. New methods, techniques, etc.

The world of servers and users are supplied by companies that may or may not listen to users.

It's a cathedral and bazaar situation, in a small sense. The company that produces the product is the expert, but when one can't get help from them it's hard to find other users that also have the same products, have experiences the same issue, and have the expertise to help.

It's also due partly to how small the problem space is. Programming is large, but in comparison a single server product from a single company can generate as many questions and problems as a small programming language. Multiply this by 500 products and again by 50 companies, then add interoperability problems and you find the problem space dwarfs programming. Programming is a huge space to begin with, but you can almost always find an expert that can understand and help solve your problem because the cost of entry is so low in terms of both time and money.

I believe it's endemic to the fields. Given that new hardware replaces old over the years (whereas many programming problems are timeless in nature) the existing questions will cease to be useful at nearly the same rate that questions are entered. This means that even time won't result in a problem corpus large enough to sustain the sites.

About the only thing you can add to the serverfault site that might help is vast, deep, timeless, general server principles. Suck in the newbies and keep them around to solve the later problems they encounter that aren't general purpose knowledge. Some of this content may or may not already exist, but the key is that whenever someone does ANY server information search on google, serverfault pops up in the first page with general principles. A Server University, of sorts.

I'm not sure the same can be done for superuser - it may only ever be the 'sidecar' to Stackoverflow where programmers ask and answer each other's non-programming questions.



Apart from just building a fantastic website and community (which you already seem to have done), what about advertising (responsibly, of course) on other websites? I'm not too sure what websites you would want to advertise on. Reddit maybe?

As for Server Fault, what if you tried to form some kind of 'partnership' (or agreement) with some hosting companies to provide a place for technical resources and other content that may be beneficial for their customers. Of course, the downside is that you do not want Server Fault to be seen at the support website for a particular web hosting company. What Slicehost did with Slicehost Articles is very good, and it could be used as a source of inspiration as to what to do.

  • 1
    The partnerships with hosting companies is kind of a slippery slope. It has come up before but we turned it down. They always want it to be their private support forum. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:47
  • 1
    If they want that they can have it. Point them to stackexchange. Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 18:32

Many of the questions here seem to be focused on advertising.

I think one thing you could to on this front is improve flair so I can actually link to my trilogy profiles from other social networking sites. The badges and flair are a nice idea, but right now they are pretty much locked up on the trilogy sites unless a user is running their own web server.

Right now I cannot use flair in most places because wherever you post it either has to allow iframes or javascript. Both are blocked by pretty much every social network and hosted blog on the Internet. See flair as image.

I am aware there are scripts available that I could download and use, but I don't think this is something a user should have to do. I am thinking image-based flair should be supported officially. Or come up with some official way I display my flair and link to the trilogy sites from popular sites like facebook, myspace, blogger, wordpress.com, linkedin, plaxo, etc.

I think you should be looking for other ways to tie in to other social networking sites. Perhaps make it more obvious about how a person can have their activities on trilogy sites show up on their wall.


I wonder how much overlap there may be with the /. crowd. StackOverflow has gotten some press there, but I don't see any articles in my RSS feed about ServerFault or SuperUser.

Perhaps advertising over there, or coming up with something to grab their attention enough to have a post about either of them.

On the other hand, I could see a rather strong argument that the level of user that would likely be found there would be... uhmm... given to the wrong sorts of behaviour.

Are there other communities with better sound/noise ratios that you could advertise to?

  • That's the point of this question, to get suggestions about specifically which sites and communities we should be reaching out to. Slashdot is too broad, I think. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:47
  • Yeah, too broad, and too... well... "meme-ridden", to put it euphemistically.
    – retracile
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 3:07

I guess we have to find where are they now and what do they want.

As it happened with programmers? You knew we were spread for in a number of websites dealing with problem of finding a good answer that were both accurate and up to date. ( Across msn, the hypen site, and many other forums )

I think this process was not performed for sysadms and powerusers, what are their frustrations, where are they getting ( or trying ) to get answers right now.


heh heh , yeeap I agree with the rest. Once you find out what blogs are they reading, Advertise there, I got here too by codinghorror in first place

  • We've tried and couldn't find the "Joel Spolsky" of the sysadmin bloggers. There are precious few sysadmin bloggers at all.. Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 2:44
  • Ask Paul Robichaud what it would take for SF to be a place he'd spend more time. Commented Nov 17, 2009 at 20:11

90% of your traffic comes from Google, right? What I think you need to do is figure out which topics people are Googling to find your site, and then do a push for more of those kinds of answers, similarly to what the R (statistics package) folks are doing right now on SO. If you can develop content on under-served topics, it should certainly increase your Google traffic.

The follow-up question would be, thus increasing this kind of hit build community, or just page loads? I'm not sure.


As bad as it may sound, I think you just have to keep doing what you're doing.

I think the potential audience size for Server Fault is larger than that for Stack Overflow; the potential audience size for Super User is practically every human who uses the web. As a result, there is a lot more "noise" already out there on the web for both of these groups -- tons of scattered pages with "tips" for computer use, or half-finished notes written by admins to themselves; put up on the web because, well, why not?

It will take a while for the "signal" from these sites to start to attract more attention.

If and when Super User reaches critical mass, though, ...

  • definitely, we have patience, and I realize this takes time. I just want to make sure we're doing the right things for the stuff we can affect. Commented Nov 4, 2009 at 11:04

Ads on tomshardware and similar sites would probably help somewhat. The fora on computer help are fairly extensive, I'm afraid.

You could also do Dead Tree advertising and try to bring in maw & paw who have questions and don't know much.

Perhaps you could hire some techs from local repair shops to post their FAQs & answers on SU.

  • 3
    I find it ironic that you spelled (or spelt?) correctly the plural of forum, and you misspelled computer.
    – perbert
    Commented Oct 21, 2009 at 18:52
  • he didn't misspell it - it's the device that makes the police be quiet =D
    – warren
    Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 2:58
  • Sigh. Fiiixing now. Commented Oct 23, 2009 at 17:55

Have you given thought to how you might poach some of the IT audience from Experts Exchange? They do have a fairly large community, after all. Do these people even know ServerFault exists?

Look at things like how they advertise, who they connect to. Who are the "rockstars" there? Maybe even join for a couple months (it's free for "experts") and troll the IT support areas to see where they hang out, what ads Experts Exchange shows them, etc.

I'm not recommending approaching their members directly. That would be sleazy. But it might be useful to get to know some of them just to get ideas on how to reach their peers.


Well, lets summarize: we need advertising to "reach out to the power user and sysadmin communities".

What about a "referrals" system? I reference some people, and if they register because of my reference, I earn X reputation points (and possible badges) - and so on the person that registered. There are a lot of wesites that do this kind of thing. I thought about it after I used Dropbox and remembered they have this approach.

This way you don't have to "pay" for advertising, you're using the users that think referring someone it's worth. Of course there would be a lot of statistic rules need to avoid people gaming the system, but I don't think it would "harm" the system at all.

You don't pay these people with advertising money, you pay with visibility in the community itself with reputation points.

What do you think of this idea? Would this "cannibalize" the reputation system? And, most importantly: would it be effective?

  • I think this could be interesting. I don't think a referal should earn much rep (5-15?). I think it should only be awarded after the refered person has actually acquired some reputation on the site (150+). You would want to be sure the new users are actually going to contribute to the system, or else this would be be use to abuse the rep system.
    – Zoredache
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 23:25
  • Exactly. It is awarded after the referenced user becomes a relevant user, contributing on the community. I can't provide the exact implementation (how much reputation earned and such), but I think it could be studied as an alternative to increase the user base.
    – GmonC
    Commented Oct 28, 2009 at 23:46

... If no one else has said it, You can always send me more stickers for the events I go to!

I value greatly the ones I received for being a high reputation user, but would never give those out as I only have a few... Whenever I go to any event, I am always telling people about Super User and Server Fault, however freebies that can be given away always speak louder than recommendations!

(Being serious... or, if I can have the design, I will see if I can get any printed cheap)... At the end of the day, I am on SuperUser.com all the time... refreshing when I am bored etc... It is annoying to see no new questions or the same ones cycle all day! It is amazing to see Stack Overflow have ~10 new questions/answers a minute and would love to see something similar on SuperUser!

  • contact us if you want stickers to give out at user groups or events! Commented Dec 2, 2009 at 23:16

My suggestion (partly stolen from Podcast 76).

Let's get good questions.

Let's (the user community) find a lot of the questions people are searching for on the internet, that are spread out across the internet on forums and the site that will not be named, rephrase them so that they're good, answerable questions, and then post them to the appropriate site.

Suggestions for high value questions:

  • SuperUser
  • Firefox customizations
  • Windows performance improvements
  • The meaning of windows error messages
  • Overclocking and performance enhancements
  • ServerFault
  • Virtualization
  • Multiple server management
  • Database Management
  • Backups

Let's do it.

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