99

Over two years ago now, we made a big shift in how we handle "graduation" - nearly severing the connection between "graduation" and site design. We also talked about removing the "beta" label at some point before sites “graduated” - when sites are clearly past that phase but don't yet qualify for "graduation" under our current rules. I'd like to propose a scheme that doesn't use the term "graduation" at all, doesn’t keep a “beta” label on stable sites for years and years, and lets all of our sites flourish, without over-burdening the community managers and other staff.

It’s a four-phase process:

  • Phase 1 - Private/public beta - unchanged.
  • Phase 2 - Site - includes setting up migration paths (if needed) and community advertisements. Also, a single new site design shared with all non-beta, non-custom-designed sites.
  • Phase 3 - Full site with elections - includes increased reputation levels, moderator elections.
  • Phase 4 - Custom site design - as allowed by designer time availability, includes swag.

It’s easy for me to say this but to explain why… is complicated… and to define these levels further and what should trigger movement between the stages is even moreso.

The Symptom

This started with recognizing that Stack Exchange has a problem. We have 70 sites that have existed on this network for over two years and are yet still considered “beta” sites - some upwards of seven years (Board & Card Games, Homebrewing, Sound Design, and Writing). Some of these sites have many more questions than “graduated” sites, more traffic, more answers… and yet, because they failed to meet the goal for “graduation” they’ve been stuck in a perpetual “beta” state.

This is demoralizing.

It may be OK for Google Mail to be in beta for five years but… why a Stack Exchange site? Do sites like Parenting or Gardening & Landscaping really still have stuff to iron out that they haven’t run across in six years? Even if they do, is that unusual? Meta participation doesn’t cease the moment a site “graduates”... the site continues to grow and change over time.

But this, I propose, isn’t the problem, it’s a symptom of the actual problem.

The Problem

There's a difference between when a site is no longer "beta" and when a site is ready to be considered "graduated" For years, the network has determined which sites “graduate” based on which sites reach ten questions per day consistently.

Pops looked at a wide variety of statistics and how they tracked on sites we've graduated in the past, and discovered that there was a strong correlation between graduation and the number of new questions a site receives per day. Fast forward through all the boring analysis, and here's the result: from now on, when a site starts to consistently receive ten new questions every day, we'll consider it for graduation. This is not 100% automated; CMs will still be manually checking on how individual communities are doing, and some sites might still graduate "earlier" or "later" than their question activity alone would suggest; but it's an effective rule of thumb.

If “beta” means the site is still “in development” how does that relate to number of questions per day in an absolute way?

I argue that it doesn't. Time, meta participation, and user engagement do that.

  • Is there consensus on the site for what’s on topic and what is not?
  • Does the site have custom close reasons?
  • Do the users vote to close off-topic questions (and participate in other moderation activities)?
  • Have they completed their help pages?
  • Are there FAQs that help users improve their question and answer quality?
  • Is there a reasonable tagging policy in place?

These and other similar factors are what help a site decide what it needs to work on while in the “beta” phase and what should be figured out before a site "graduates". They're discussed here on Meta Stack Exchange in the FAQ on Beta sites and in the old blog post linked to in the FAQ.

If these are the goals that we set for ourselves as beta sites, why are we using questions per day to decide when a site is no longer in beta?

Firstly, we aren’t. Because we currently only have two states, “beta” and “graduated”, a huge number of sites don’t meet the “graduation” requirements but are well past managing the tasks put to them as their work in the “beta” stage. This proposal introduces that median state. I'm going to say that, while it may be a good indicator of when to "graduate" a site, ten questions per day may not be the indicator we should be using to determine when the "beta" phase should end.

What next?

Two and a half years ago, “graduating” a site was onerous. It required a ton of work on the part of the developers, community managers, and design team. The “graduation” model makes their work more complicated for every new site “graduating” - so maybe we should fix that.

With the old “graduation” process, after a site went into public beta, there was one step - “graduation” with a custom site design. In September of 2015 we split these in two, first removing the "beta" label and holding elections and then, later, rolling out the new site design and privilege changes. Holding off on site design freed up the design team from being the sticking point for “graduating” a site. I recommend we further adjust this to allow more sites to have the “beta” label removed without requiring the more onerous work of running elections to occur. This leaves us with a four-phase process, as outlined briefly above and, in more detail, here...

How long is public beta? - Phase 1 & When does it end? - Phase 2

Robert Cartaino has always championed the concept of a public beta only lasting about ninety days. I don’t think this is enough time on some sites… possibly many. I’m currently a moderator on a site that’s been in beta for about 120 days and we’re nowhere near ready to be out of “beta”. But let's not focus on a magic number; every site is different. Instead of having CMs check in on some schedule, let the sites decide when to ask for the change.

Most of this work should fall on the the users and moderators. They are in charge of meeting the beta requirements. Much like requesting tags to be blacklisted or proposing site-specific features, when they feel that they meet the requirements for leaving beta, the moderators can ask the Team to review their request in the form of a meta post explaining why they’re ready to have the beta label removed. If the Team agrees, a few things happen:

  • The “beta” label is removed.
  • The site gets a new site theme, shared by all Phase 2 (and 3) sites. This lets the entire Network see that they’ve moved beyond the beta phase and are a “full site”.
  • The site gets the ability to set up migration paths.
  • The site gets the ability to have community ads.

If the Team disagrees, they should respond to the meta post explaining why.

Why the new site theme? Isn’t this more work for the design team?

Look at these sites. In this image, there are six "graduated" sites without custom designs.

Screenshot of a part of the full sites list.

Can you tell which are graduated sites with beta-style logos and which are beta sites? Click the image to see the answer.

Changing the site theme and logos will make it obvious which sites are still beta and which are full sites, especially if there are dozens of them. This gives users something to strive for and sets the sites apart more than the meager removal of the word “beta”. This is further discussed very well by Monica Cellio in her answer to my question Give Graduated sites waiting on a custom design something to set themselves apart from Beta sites.

Why migration paths and community ads?

These are, I think, things that are pretty easy for the Team to implement. Migration paths (when needed) are one-time changes, and the community ads post is a once-yearly bit of work, not something done throughout the year. They give the site something more (in addition to the non-beta site design) and recognize that they’re full sites by allowing them to stand as peers with the other full sites on the network.

When do we elect moderators? - Phase 3

Just like today, elect moderators when there’s enough activity on the site - ten questions per day - and when there are sufficient active high-reputation users to run the site adequately with the higher reputation levels. I recommend moving privilege changes to this phase because higher reputation levels shouldn’t be tied to the design team’s prioritization of when to work on Anime’s site design. These two things are irrelevant of each other.

How does increased questions per day imply that the site is ready for elected moderators and increased privilege levels? If we assume there's a good voting culture on the site, when more questions are entering the site's ecosystem regularly, more answers can be written. That (hopefully) means there's more reputation to go around and more users able to achieve these higher reputation levels required for the upper level privileges.

But… what about the custom site designs… and swag? - Phase 4

It’s become clear to me that the Stack Exchange Network has higher priority work for their design team than making beautiful site designs for our many “graduated” sites… and that’s OK. It doesn’t mean that they will never design another site (hopefully) but it does mean that we should probably work towards letting them off the hook further by allowing them do the designs in their own time rather than tying some part of the “graduation” process to their work. As such, Phase 4 is aspirational. Sites that have achieved Phase 3 status are eligible for custom designs but there’s no guarantee when or if they will happen. This is why I strongly recommend we ask the design team for a single new site design for all Phase 2/3 sites.

Swag depends on the sites having a design. There’s no way around this. That means that the big celebration for the top users, in addition to the design, is getting cool stuff from Stack Exchange.

What would the effect of this be?

If my count is correct, there are currently ten sites in what would become Phase 3 that have had elections but have not had the increased privilege levels. Some of these sites probably need to wait a bit for the increases (Data Science, Law, Arduino) but most of them should be able to manage it right now.

The bigger change is that all of the 70 sites that have been in beta for two or more years (and possibly some/many of the sites between a year and two years) can move to Phase 2 upon the users and moderators discussing it as described above. There may be a few of them that want to hold off for a bit if they’re dealing with some major scope considerations - Psychology & Neuroscience and Health, for example. But this would push the bulk of the “beta” sites out from under the “beta” label quite quickly, though the CMs can probably transition them over gradually as time permits.

For nearly a decade, users have come together to build high-quality communities on Stack Exchange. Isn't it time to recognize that work, to end the demoralization that comes from being shackled to the "beta" label long past the time it was an accurate description? Let’s make this our goal for 2018.

  • 3
    Actually, a year (maybe more) of analysis went into determining that 10 questions per day was a very good indicator of site stability. It wasn't just a random number that was made up. You can't just gloss over that metric like it's unimportant and irrelevant. Questions per day is highly relevant to a beta - it indicates that the topic is sustainable and that activity won't just drop off a cliff at some point. Also, beta does not mean "in development". A better definition would be a trial to evaluate its potential. – animuson Nov 27 '17 at 4:48
  • 26
    QPD is not permanent. A site having their shit together, is (usually). Look at Bicycles, and Christianity, and Skeptics (among many others)... all full sites, with site designs... all under 10 QPD right now. IPS flirted with 10 QPD a month ago... it's at 6 and rising. It's absolutely nowhere near ready for the "beta" label to be removed based on any other consideration. I respect the work that you've done to find good metrics - I don't think that this is a good metric of when the beta label should be removed. – Catija Nov 27 '17 at 4:54
  • 3
    But the problem is you're completely dismissing it as a useless number, and acting like it was just fabricated out of nowhere. You don't even include questions per day in your further criteria. It's unlikely we'd ever just ignore it completely in our analysis of a site. It's still important. – animuson Nov 27 '17 at 4:56
  • 12
    I do include them... for phase three - elections and reputation increases. All I'm doing is shoving in an intermediary step... based on the site deciding it's ready for the removal of the "beta" label. – Catija Nov 27 '17 at 4:56
  • 5
    But questions per day is not an indication of whether a site can hold elections. It's an indication of whether the site is healthy. I can't imagine removing the beta label from a site without having some sort of stable QPD requirement. As I said, beta is a trial, and you can't pass your trial if you're not actually gathering questions consistently. – animuson Nov 27 '17 at 5:02
  • 14
    @animuson this proposal inserts a phase between beta and the current graduation. 10 QPD is a metric for graduation, and that doesn't change. But we've got a bunch of sites that are "beta" only in name, and I think figuring out how to separate "true beta" (still in flux, still not sure it's sustainable) from the ones that have been sustained for years (but are smaller) seems useful to the network and to the users building those sites. – Monica Cellio Nov 27 '17 at 5:04
  • 12
    Except that Ana's post has as much stated that that concept of the "trial" isn't how things really work any more. If a site is keeping themselves clean and produces helpful content, then it can stay. Why does "staying" require being under the onus of the word "beta"? Are you saying that you would never close Bicycles because it's "graduated", even if it succumbs to spam and abusive content? – Catija Nov 27 '17 at 5:05
  • 7
    @animuson take Vi and Vim for a (possibly controversial) example. It's held steady at 4-5 q/day for nearly two years now (making it extremely unlikely it will graduate), it has a steady uptick in visits (been better than the graduated Emacs for months now), and it's extremely unlikely it'll make major changes to scope or other policies. It's a beta only in name, and I'd say it doesn't need a beta label at all. – muru Nov 27 '17 at 5:46
  • 20
    @animuson the 10 QPD threshold probably works well for all sites that have a large scope, like most of the early sites. But we also have sites with rather narrow scopes now, that are quite far away from that threshold and unlikely to ever hit it. The number of questions is strongly linked to the topic, and we have a whole bunch of sites with much lower than 10 QPD that are stable for years now. – Mad Scientist Nov 27 '17 at 9:54
  • 1
    I would consider change to "canned non-beta" design simply when site gets to 3K questions because this makes a solid amount of topical content and proves stable, long-term community involvement. I think this was one of informal / unspecified graduation criteria in the past. Worth noting how all 6 sites marked red in your image behind the click are well past this threshold – gnat Nov 27 '17 at 12:51
  • 3
    @David I used to love the idea of migration paths and have lobbied for them on meta on two or three separate sites. Then I became a mod and had a closer look at what the communities I moderate want to migrate. I now understand why most mods are flat out against these paths. Believe me, the amount of crap that we're asked to migrate (by custom mod flags) is the best argument against migration paths there is. Far better to tell the OP to delete and repost elsewhere (and take the opportunity to tell them how to improve before reposting). – terdon Nov 30 '17 at 17:03
  • 1
    Interesting proposal. Indeed, Board and Card games has been Beta for 7 years! Let's see how this evolves, but IMO seems like an idea that could work – DarkCygnus Feb 7 '18 at 18:45
  • 4
    I agree with most of this, I've become a heavy contributor to Board and Card Games, like @DarkCygnus, and it's a 7 year old site. It has excellent in most of the categories. almost 6 times the number of required avid users and daily visits, 98% of the questions are answered, but we don't get 10 questions per day, in part because of a narrower scope then the heavier sites like SO, and in part due to overlap with other SE sites, like Chess. We're not really beta anymore, we've gone strong for 7 years and are definitely healthy, QPD isn't really a good metric for the heath of a community that old – Andrew Feb 10 '18 at 18:31
  • 4
    Patricularly when there are many graduated communities that have fallen below the QPD limits, they don't get demoted back to beta, so QPD isn't the end all and be all of a healthy SE community that graduation treats it as. – Andrew Feb 10 '18 at 18:34
  • 1
    Any follow-ups on this people? We've gathered quite some opinions and seems to me that there is something workable in them – DarkCygnus Apr 2 '18 at 23:34
55
+100

I'm speaking from the perspective of someone who uses and moderates several low-activity beta sites. I agree that it can be, at times, a bit demoralizing to see some sites quickly graduate,1 while others of us get left in the dust. At times, I feel a bit like Spirit, waiting for that call from NASA - except I know that there's no time at which I should expect my site to graduate.2

Let me take Astronomy, a site I think I know and understand pretty well, as an example. The Area 51 stats are a mixed bag - low questions per day (3.2), a decent percent answered (93%), a strong userbase, and decent views per day (3,150). I've been on Astronomy for three years now, roughly 75% of its age, and I've seen those stats remain the same. I've kind of resigned myself to the fact that they may never change. But there are some things that, once in a while, make me think that there's hope for graduation, or some sort of progression:

  • We don't have any huge scope issues; those have been dealt with. Our boundaries with some other sites are fuzzy, yeah, but if a question's on-topic here, we'll keep it.
  • We have a consistently populated community. People have come and gone, as people do, but that's not really a problem, because others have filled their shoes. A community should outlive its founders; if not, it's not at all healthy.
  • Stuff that shouldn't stay around generally gets deleted or closed, as it should. We do have the caretakers that Ana talked about two and a half years ago as an important criterion for site survival.

I'm not trying to make a case for Astronomy to graduate; I'm just using it as an example because I know it really well. There are other sites I know not quite as well, but which I suspect have the same stats or better, and are also strong in the community, moderation and scope areas. Writers and History come to mind. The sites fail the 10 questions per day requirement, but they're really strong everywhere else. And they're getting good traffic3 - 10,000+ views per day for these last two - meaning that they're helping people, in another way.

So as, like Spirit, we the people of the small betas trudge on through the wasteland of Mars day-to-day existence, we sometimes wonder what we're aiming for. Is content rate all that we need to improve? Is that all we're doing wrong? We might not reach 10 questions per day within the next month, or year, or decade, but we're doing pretty darn well everywhere else. In fact, you might say that . . .

. . . we're stable. We're not stably producing 10 questions per day, but we're stable nonetheless. We're stable at 3, or 4, or 5, or 6 questions per day. I'm not gonna argue against the data that says that 10 questions per day indicates a stable site producing a healthy content . . . but I will argue that these sites have passed the initial trial. We can do it. We can maintain a level of questions per day for years on end, even as people come and go. I'd say that's pretty successful.

I'm going to state a claim. I hope it's wrong, but what I've seen fits the data: Not every topic is going to beget a site that gets 10 questions per day within any reasonable amount of time. Writers has been in beta for seven years, and it's not seeing a huge rise in question rate. And yet the site goes on, and it seems to still be doing okay, and it's stable (yes, it's stable!). But nobody would say that it should be closed down, right?

Let's say you have a niche topic - like, say the history of science and mathematics. There aren't a lot of people interested in that, right? Certainly not as many as are interested in the actual science and mathematics involved. To reach those 10 questions per day might mean that you need to get more people interested in the topic - and that could be a good thing. But it seems a little unreasonable to expect a site to do that to graduate. Satisfying the current people interested in the topic is a lot more important. If the people of professionally study the history of science and mathematics, and the people who read about it as enthusiasts, are happy with the site as a great resource to go to to ask questions and get answers, isn't that successful?

That site might be reaching a much smaller fraction of the humans on Earth than, say, [example site that's metaphorically on fire]. But it could be a healthier site if it's met all those other metrics. I'd rather have a low-traffic site that's healthy than a high-traffic site that still has some problems. Obviously, question rate is far, far from the only consideration for graduation. But it shouldn't be what holds a site back.

Time and again, we the people of the beta sites, thinking "Hey, this is what we really need to work on, and if we raise the question rate, maybe we'll graduate!", make a push to try to raise question rates, such as topic challenges. Sometimes they work for a bit - a week, a month - but many times, they eventually collapse, and we go back to our equilibrium question rate. And then we're left still stuck on Mars, wondering what we did wrong. I can say from experience that this sort of thing really, really stinks.

Let me say what I like, in particular, about this proposal:

  • It gives some things to work for in the early days of each site. After private beta, a lot of people often leave a site. I've been in this group a lot. Sometimes, it's because I feel like I couldn't really contribute much to a site (Open Source was an example for me). Other times, life outside the Internet pops in, or I find that I need to put more time back into other sites. But for many cases, I just can't summon the urge to devote myself to a site that's going to be left in limbo for . . . how long?

    Maybe this is partly the immaturity and impatience of youth. Could be. I'm willing to own up to my faults. But it's not hard be demoralized when only one goal in site - and that's far off. That's what this proposal largely talks about. This is what I like about Phase 2: It's an acknowledgement that a site's solved some problems, and gotten through some growing pains. Did we solve scope issues? Have we gotten our close reasons straight? Do we have systems in place to guide new users (the help center, FAQs, etc.)? If so, it would be nice to have an official acknowledgement. If we don't hit 10 questions per day . . . we don't get that. Our work feels a bit unrecognized.

  • I also like that the proposal breaks up the process into related chunks. I feel like there's a growing popularity of this sort of step-by-step option for beta sites - starting, or at least becoming more popular, after Ana's meta post. In this plan, the changes to the site come as needed, and make sense. Community ads and migration paths4 come as expected: when the scope's straightened out. When we do reach those golden 10 questions per day - and yes, they still have a role in this plan - we get the upgrades that come along with higher traffic (elected moderators, raised privilege levels, etc.). I also agree with keeping the site design for the very end, as a sort of ultimate reward.
  • I also like that it involves the users and moderators taking the lead when it comes to figuring out if the site's ready. Catija suggested

    When they feel that they meet them, the moderators can ask the Team to review their request in the form of a meta post explaining why they’re ready to have the beta label removed.

    As a mod, I feel like I can always talk with a CM about something if I need to. Y'all do a fantastic job of being accessible to us mods. But the dialogue with the userbase as a whole sometimes isn't as great as it could be. In part, that's on us users. I picture a bunch of penguins standing around looking at each other and being a bit clueless about our site's health. Having an outside opinion from some of the best in the business helps a lot, obviously, and that's what currently decides whether a site's fit to graduate - and will still do so, in this model.

    But the decision becomes that of the userbase. It forces us to do our own self-evaluation,5 look at our problems and figure out if we've fixed them or not. That's . . . great. We're no longer Spirit; we have to actively and formally figure out if we think we can graduate. And if a community doesn't really care enough . . . then it won't necessarily graduate. And that's fair.

So, to summarize this long and jumbled journey of an answer:

  • A lot of sites seem to mostly have their stuff together, and are sitting at low activity levels . . . but they're certainly stable.
  • I'm betting that many will never end up reaching those levels of activity we all sort of aspire to.
  • This proposal takes emphasis off of that criterion - although it does not remove it.
  • Having these intermediate benchmarks is encouraging, as a user.
  • These stages, and the process around them, seems like it might encourage discourse and discussion on growth issues by the community.

Maybe this is an optimistic vision of it all. It probably is. But hey, on Astronomy and Writers and History and so many more, it feels like we're stranded on Mars. This is a way off that planet, one that challenges and encourages us to build a better site and strive for goals, without setting unreasonable ones.


1 I've used, and now moderate, some of these sites, so don't think I'm jealous! Sites that graduate deserve celebration and some recognition.
2 The 90 days reference in that comic is coincidentally equal to the original 90 days (now since deprecated) of a beta site.
3 I think I'm an outlier in Stack Exchange, someone who came in from these small to middling sites, so my expectations for activity aren't, and never have been, comparable to those of some of the larger sites. So I have a different perspective than many folks.
4 I'm not a huge fan of the migration system, but it's here for now. That's a whole 'nother discussion.
5 The old ones are mostly gone, as of two years ago.

  • 11
    Its worth considering, as well that some sites just have a smaller audience, but are meeting other criteria. Not every site can be the shining city on the hill, but if you're keeping your users happy and engaged, and have shown you can manage things, you're doing better than a hypothetical site with 10 QPD and constant raging tirefires. – Journeyman Geek Nov 27 '17 at 6:37
  • @JourneymanGeek Nice point. I'd hope that that sort of tire fire site wouldn't graduate because it would fail some basic commonsense requirements - obviously, 10 questions/day isn't the only standard - but it certainly doesn't mean that a site is objectively healthy. – HDE 226868 Nov 27 '17 at 6:50
  • 1
    Well, that's kind of where the graduation process goes beyond pure metrics IMO. Metrics are nice and neat. People are messy bags of meat :) – Journeyman Geek Nov 27 '17 at 6:51
  • People are, at the end of the day, the problem and the solution. I know I used to (like, two years ago) really focus on the Area 51 stats as a sort of objective measure of whether or not a site was succeeding. But that wasn't the greatest way of looking at a site - a valuable one, but not one that gives the full picture. – HDE 226868 Nov 27 '17 at 6:53
  • 6
    Re note #3, I wonder how much people like you and me are outliers. SO is the big main site and some people obviously cross over from there to other sites (beyond the trilogy, even), but several of my sites are full of people who came in via other paths, many of whom aren't even programmers. There are communities and subcommunities on SE now that are mostly non-programmers. – Monica Cellio Nov 27 '17 at 20:43
  • 2
    @MonicaCellio I remember Shog saying something a while back that people like us are becoming more and more common, which is obviously happening a lot as SE expands more and more. I'd bet that if you take the trilogy out of the picture and just look at the rest of SE, then we're a larger block of the userbase than, say, five years ago. – HDE 226868 Nov 27 '17 at 20:55
  • 1
    @MonicaCellio and me! All of the sites I actually use are "soft" sites. :D – Catija Nov 27 '17 at 21:25
22

I've been excited to respond to this question because it gets at one of the biggest deficiencies I see on the network. After the Area 51 process, there are precious few community achievements. Graduation stands as the one thing a site can look forward to after passing through private beta. Traditionally, graduation implied a commitment to keep the site on the network which was sealed with an investment in a professional design. More recently, we started graduating sites without also giving a design. This was mostly a stop-gap solution since our design team couldn't keep up with sites passing through our newly-minted heuristic.

Personally (and I should make clear this post is my opinion and not the conclusion of the Community team, though I bet we are mostly on the same page) I felt this was one step in the direction of giving sites bits of graduation as needed. But the trouble with separating design from the functional parts of graduation is that it's not easy to tell what stage a particular site might be in. You, as a loyal reader of meta, know that there's a difference between Code Golf and Biblical Hermeneutics because one has the word "beta" after it and the other doesn't. With some detective work, you could figure out what other aspects of graduation Code Golf has, but the average user would not even know most of those things exist.

One of the reasons I haven't responded to this question before now is that the symbols I thought of would be either too expensive (meaning, hiring more designers) or too impersonal. Removing the beta label might mean we are committed to your site, but it's not a very good symbol. It's a bit like having a wedding where the couple doesn't exchange rings, take picture or have a party afterward. Those symbols mean something. (And if your culture doesn't have wedding rings, I'd be willing to bet you have some other set of symbols that signal commitment.) Wedding rings work not because they are costly (though they usually are) but because they represent the specific relationship between two people.

This week we got a potential solution: standardized site themes. Obviously the priority will be to get sites with existing designs converted to customized themes. Because of loss aversion, I've been focusing on how those sites would become less unique. But the next step will be to start building designs for sites that have been patiently (or not so patiently) waiting for them. Because theming reduces the range of design elements to consider, that process should go much faster. Assuming that's true, custom design elements would be good symbols of our commitment to a site.

Graduation, of course, would be signaled with a full design visible to all visitors. Beta sites (however we define that) would retain the beta theme. In between, sites can accumulate incremental design changes. Perhaps the first order of business after a site exits beta is to decide on a color scheme. That way visitors will see at a glance that the site has a achieved something significant.

Other design elements like a background image and a logo could be tied to moderator elections and privilege level changes. These are somewhat weaker signals and it might paint designers into a corners, so to speak. So maybe we shouldn't try to be too rigid here.

  • 1
    I think this would be a great option, Jon. I've never expected my proposal to be adopted as written and I'm sure there are places where it's not perfect and where I haven't considered everything... or couldn't possibly consider everything (like the upcoming design changes)... but I've long felt that something should change and it's good to know that I'm being heard. – Catija Mar 15 '18 at 1:28
  • 12
    This is a promising approach. That said, don't discount the value of removing the word "beta"! It doesn't make a big visual difference but, at least for the communities I'm part of, it's a strong signal to the people building and maintaining the sites that their achievements are recognized and appreciated. It also helps prevent visitors from thinking "oh, this thing is under development and might go away; maybe I shouldn't invest too much in it". To convert visitors to community members, we need to provide appropriate signals about the site. – Monica Cellio Mar 15 '18 at 3:17
  • 6
    Strongly agree with Monica that removing the beta label would feel great to a lot of people even without theme changes (even if people would also like those). If it comes with a local meta post saying "hey, we know you're stable, we're removing the beta label (sorry, XYZ shiny things have to wait for now)" that would already be a lot more acknowledgment than some sites have gotten in years. – Cascabel Mar 15 '18 at 18:01
  • 1
    @Cascabel: I know the beta label is an important signal too. But I think removing it would only have a temporary effect on sites. Right now it's an obvious sore thumb since there are sites in beta for many years. (We've probably blown past the beta record set by Gmail.) Working with sites to set color themes would have a more permanent effect for all users. So, yes, let's remove beta, but why not do more at the same time? – Jon Ericson Mar 15 '18 at 18:31
  • 1
    Yeah, I actually joke about gmail in my question... it was only five years. :P Doing both is pretty much exactly what phase two is in my proposal... only that instead of a single site color for all non-beta sites to set them apart, this would be more customized. – Catija Mar 15 '18 at 18:34
  • 2
    I'm all for doing more at the same time. If it's possible soon, that's good enough, probably. But if it's going to take a year, then it'd be nice to let folks know "you're stable, you're not really beta" before waiting that long. (And in hindsight, it'd have been nice to do that a long time ago for a lot of sites.) – Cascabel Mar 15 '18 at 19:19
  • 6
    @JonEricson re your last comment, yes -- it doesn't need to be either/or but both/and. You can remove the "beta" label today from sites that are clearly ready, and we can also work on the first theming steps that you described here. I'm not saying do the "beta" thing instead; I'm saying that there's value in doing it as soon as it's feasible, rather than waiting for the theme (which we should also do). – Monica Cellio Mar 15 '18 at 22:44
10

I think it would be better to start with changing the beta header with a custom image, then to follow the four phases you listed.

Why?

Because I am a regular user of Gardening and Landscaping SE and from what I can tell the site has two options of reaching 10 questions per day or else to stay in beta forever:

Option 1: Convince much more people from Australia and New Zealand to use the site in order to counteract the low traffic coming in winter fron Northern hemisphere. Is this a doable approach?

Option 2: Convince more people worldwide to use the site. To achieve that, we need to be seen as an alternative to a dozen of other established sites that have at least a tree, a bunch of green leaves or some colorful flowers on their front page.

I dare anyone to give me a link to a site with a similar scope and more questions per day that doesn't have a plant somewhere on their home page. For people in the gardening habit, content means plants not a block of text covering 100% of the front page.

I will stick to GL no matter what, beta or not beta, tree or dull front page, but how many people do you know to not care about the appearance of a site?

I want to stress that I'm suggesting just an image on that light blue header, not full design.

  • 3
    While I completely respect this, I don't think that it's possible for the designers to do this. There are 170 sites on the network and more than half of them have the default design. That'd be a huge undertaking of work and something they simply don't have the time for. Every site wants a custom design but they have to be choosy about how they use staff time. – Catija Dec 1 '17 at 18:59
  • 1
    I'm suggesting just an image on that blue header, not full design. – Alina Dec 1 '17 at 19:47
  • The Area51 metrics are 2 week rolling averages. If you reach 10 regularly in Northern Hemisphere Garding Time a plea for graduation to the CMs might be quite successful. That doesn't give you a design though. However, I wholeheartedly agree that a (preliminary) site logo for beta sites seems like an effort that the design team should be able to handle for each site that makes it to a year. – Helmar Dec 1 '17 at 20:03
  • 2
    Those beta sites might even profit a lot from that logo as you very pointedly well point out. – Helmar Dec 1 '17 at 20:04
  • 5
    Some folks on Writers have been discussing that header lately, too -- there's a feeling that a header graphic could convey the breadth of our site in a way that "Writers Beta" just doesn't, and it might help us keep more casual visitors and convert them into participating users. We shouldn't ask the design team to produce such images; that's clearly not going to work given the number of sites and their other priorities. We should look for a way for a community to provide this graphic and submit it for review. SE would provide rules, like with community ads. – Monica Cellio Dec 3 '17 at 3:52
  • 1
    @Monica I'm sure every community will be more than happy to create their own logo. – Alina Dec 3 '17 at 13:22
  • 1
    Alina I didn't mean the logo (blue with white letters by default); logos have a lot of design constraints like scaling, use in different contexts, etc. I meant a banner graphic on the site (only), like SFF, Worldbuilding, Photography, etc. – Monica Cellio Dec 3 '17 at 16:11
  • 1
    @Monica Yes, a banner or anything that requires minimum modifications to the site, we're not picky :) – Alina Dec 3 '17 at 20:27
5

While I like the idea of handing out a Phase 2 design and agree with most of your points regarding the advantages of that approach that doesn't address one very important thing the sites with the full design really have on beta sites. Site recognition.

That's why I think Alina's idea which I gladly up voted is a better first step towards moving beta pages forward. Giving beta sites which meet certain criteria—which might be as simple as making it half a year or a year without dying off—a site logo of their own. A logo that is in the overview, the tabs and the header of the site.

This might even be a preliminary logo and it's just a logo. Something that gives the site some better identification and recognition. Those two are things that very likely improve the sites chances to reach the other metrics to actually graduate, reach the next phase or however the process might look like then.

That single logo (yeah I know in some different dimensions and stuff) might not even have to be designed by the SE design team. Maybe the site's meta can come up with it. Maybe the 75k users of the Graphic Design SE can lend some expertise (or hold contests). If there were some guidelines about those preliminary logos I'd think the community could come up with great creations to give the more stable beta sites some better identification and brand recognition.

  • I like the idea of letting the site come up with a "community designed" theme via discussion on the Meta. It's not really as important/meaningful an investment as actually posting Good Questions and Good Answers to them, but it does encourage an "emotional investment" in the community. – Jeff Zeitlin Aug 21 '18 at 17:06

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .