When an Area 51 proposal makes it to private beta, the site has 2-3 weeks to show viability or be closed instead of advancing to public beta. I agree with that, but I wonder if we're being clear enough about the expectations to the users of those sites.


  1. We seem to promise that the site will advance to public beta:

    Area 51: "public beta will begin soon"

  2. The email that committers receive when the private beta starts says this (or did about nine months ago, the latest sample I have):

    Q: How long is the beta?
    A: After a few months, when it becomes abundantly clear that it's Making The Internet A Better Place, we'll slap a proper logo and design on it, and make it a full-fledged citizen of the Stack Exchange network.

  3. The community members have just been through a months-long process, maybe up to a year, to get to this point. They probably aren't expecting to have only a couple weeks to validate the site.

  4. Proposals recruit, and are sometimes proposed by, participants who are not all that familiar with the inner workings of Stack Exchange. We should not expect them to know stuff that isn't in the Area 51 FAQ or the proposal pages or the email we send them.

This question is not about lengthening private beta. It's about better communication about expectations and timeline.

There are no formal, objective requirements; the CMs make a judgement call based on their vast experience with network sites. They have some rules of thumb, and even if we don't want to be too specific, we could at least use some hedging language:

  • In this answer to another question, which is about public beta, I suggested some wording changes for that email that would also help with this issue for private beta.

  • On that Area 51 status message, maybe we should say the site will "be evaluated soon" or that "if all goes well, the site will advance..." or something like that.

We don't want to be discouraging and cause users to worry, but we do want to send the signal, somehow, that reaching private beta doesn't automatically mean a site will go to public beta. We hope it will, and the email gives some good advice about what to do during the private beta. But it sounds like we're making guarantees that we do not, in fact, make.

I don't know how often private betas are closed, but it does happen and each time there's a group of disappointed users, so it seems worth a small investment to be a little clearer.

  • 1
    roughly what fraction of private beta sites move to public beta? Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 19:14
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    @KateGregory I don't know and don't know how to get that information from Area 51. We might need a CM. Anecdotally, I think there are a few per year. (The question was prompted by a private-beta closure.) Commented Feb 19, 2018 at 19:30
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    Monica, for the record, I agree with you. As you may recall, I have been very vocal about both clarifying AND simplifying the site-lifecycle process many times over. Unfortunately, my early efforts were shut down summarily (fixing the whole beta label, site graduation thing) and I have already outlined changes to the private beta specifically, but will need some buy-in from the dev teams, which has been in short supply these days. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 13:46
  • @RobertCartaino I realize you want to fix all this too. I can't fix things, but I can try to raise visibility using MSE in hopes of getting more support for these efforts. Commented Apr 30, 2018 at 15:15

2 Answers 2


The copy on the sidebar on Area 51 has been updated, and it now looks like this:

New copy reads: This site is in Private Beta. Everyone can participate and invite fellow experts. Committers were notified of the Private Beta launch. The site will have up to 5 weeks to qualify for Public Beta.

Additionally, the emails sent out to users once a site gets launched into private beta was also updated to better set expectations with regards to the private beta duration, etc. The bit quoted in the question was changed to read:

Q: How long will the private beta last?
A: Private betas generally last up to 5 weeks, which should be enough time for the site to be populated with questions and have its initial scope established. After that, the Community Team evaluates the health of the site and its community. If it all looks good the site will be moved into public beta, but if it doesn’t look like a self-sustaining community was established it will be closed.

That email was also heavily edited to provide better, updated guidance with regards to the Area 51 process and how the users can help the site succeed.

Finally, the FAQ page was also updated to reflect the current site lifecycle.


It would be good if it was communicated to people that people have 2-3 weeks. I personally had no idea that there was a ticking clock and assumed that organic growth was the way to go. But if you only have 2-3 weeks you need to really engage all the people that signed up and make sure that they have got around to trying it and getting them into the habit. Humans are habitual. It takes them time to change from their existing habit of the site not existing and them doing whatever coping mechanism they had before to using the new site.

It's almost set up so that anything that involves organic growth fails and rewards projects that game the system. Really doesn't feel fair. And this is in a world which is already deeply unfair to so many people on so many levels.

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