Note: This is not an official Stack Exchange post.

TL;DR: I propose that community members develop an open-source alternative for Area 51 that will eventually be used by Stack Exchange.

Problem

Area 51 is flawed. This has even been acknowledged by Stack Exchange’s own Community mangers for over six years now:

There were plans to create a new site (called "Area 52") with a different process. But there were no major changes to Area 51 except for a drastically reduced time needed to pass a proposal. As a consequence no proposal has made it to beta for almost seven months now.

Unfortunately Stack Exchange does not seem to have any resources to develop a new site staging zone. I personally think this is a pity, because the Stack Exchange system is really great.

Now, what do I want?

I have thought about how Area 51 could be improved and used some of the statements from Robert Cartaino as starting point. I am not sure whether these changes will be sufficient to un-flaw the site creation process, maybe a community manager (CM) can comment on this.

My main ideas are to split the definition in smaller, easier steps and to introduce a pre-private-beta experiment stage. The process would become like this:

  1. Somebody thinks they have an audience and proposes a new SE site with a title and a tag line. Users can subscribe/follow proposals.
  2. [NEW] This audience tries to agree on three main topics (tags). The topic suggestions can be voted on and there is a limited time in which a consensus must be reached.
  3. For each of these three topics must be found two (or more) example questions. These must have a minimum score.
  4. [NEW] When these questions are found in time and there are enough followers, the site experiment starts. All users that ever participated in this process and users that subscribed to the site are invited to test the site in an sandboxed environment. The example questions are automatically imported and there is a mini-meta allowing users to find consensus on topic-issues.
  5. [NEW] The system will automatically appoint three users as moderators for the site (they need to agree to this of course) after one week.
  6. If there has not been enough activity in the experiment after two weeks: The proposal is closed and the experiment site locked. Otherwise the current site process from beta to graduation (private-beta may be excluded) will be followed.

I have also created a few mockups that show what I intend to do:

Mockup showing an example proposal info page

Mockup showing the new site experiment stage

You might wonder, why should Stack Exchange do this change when they did not do all these other suggestions over the years? This is a good question and leads directly to the most important part of this post:

How to implement this

As I said previously, Stack Exchange will probably not spend any resources to implement this. Therefore I propose to do it as an community project.

That’s right. I propose that committed members of the community help together to develop an open source community building theme. It would be published on GitHub with an permissive license like MIT, etc. Ideally one of the CMs would help us with ideas and maybe some of Stack Exchange’s developers would join the development process too.

This post is intended to solicit consensus about whether this type of community project is generally a good idea. Comments on the proposed implementation are also welcome.

  • is the problem that no new sites launch caused by how area 51 works? Does your changes increase the likelihood that more sites launch? – rene Dec 1 at 21:13
  • @rene I don't know exactly. All I know is that Area 51 is not working as supposed and that SE has not enough time to change it. My proposal is not about my implementation suggestion but about creating A52 as community project. I think the dev team (if this is done) will need to talk a lot to the CMs (esp. Robert) about exact details. – MEE Dec 1 at 21:17
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    Ultimately, this idea relies on having buy-in from SE. If SE doesn't want to participate in this experiment, the most that could be done would be to copy proposals to Area51 once they succeed on this new site... which kinda defeats the point. – David too Dec 1 at 21:22
  • @ArtOfCode yeah that is the main point. SE needs to support this. I think this is realistic, because they have already acknowledged that A51 is flawed. And I don't know about buy-in because I thought it would be Open Source so they could simply use it. – MEE Dec 1 at 21:23
  • @MEE buy-in == support, I'm not referring to them paying for it :) I think there's more to a decision of whether they support it or not than just "A51 is flawed". Supporting a project like this still requires SE resources, which they may not have; or it may just not be something they're interested in doing right now because A51 is, for better or worse, working. – David too Dec 1 at 21:25
  • @ArtOfCode Sorry I am not a native speaker. And I assume it is easier to include a given system than to build a new one. Therefore I see this project as much more realistic than a SE implementation. – MEE Dec 1 at 21:35
  • I'd be careful about making that assumption - it's not necessarily true. I think you're right that this project is more realistic than SE doing it themselves, but I'm not yet convinced it's likely. – David too Dec 1 at 21:45
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    Something worth remembering is SE probably won't run stuff on their infra if it's not based on their tech stack - it's the reason elections.se is on hiatus and the blogs moved – Journeyman Geek Dec 1 at 22:42
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    Can you be a little more specific than "Area 51 is flawed" as for what you see as being problems? – Laurel Dec 2 at 2:11
  • @JourneymanGeek Ooops, didn't know this. Well better wait for an official response to that. – MEE Dec 2 at 6:33
  • @Laurel to quote Robert Cartaino: "you may have noticed that Area 51 has been churning out progressively weaker site proposals and more anemic site launches, about a third of which fail in private beta." – MEE Dec 2 at 6:36
  1. Somebody thinks they have an audience and proposes a new SE site with a title and a tag line. Users can subscribe/follow proposals.

As per current Area 51.

  1. [NEW] This audience tries to agree on three main topics (tags). The topic suggestions can be voted on and there is a limited time in which a consensus must be reached.

  2. For each of these three topics must be found two (or more) example questions. These must have a minimum score.

Current Area 51

  • milestones are five users and five questions after three days, and ongoing activity of at least one action per seven days.

Suggestion

  • require a consensus of five topics represented by five tags within three days of proposal.

  • each tag requires a minimum number of open, upvoted questions within ten days of proposal.

  • require a minimum number of followers.

  • these topics/tags must be absent from an existing SE site, or any overlap must be excused by good reason.

  1. [NEW] When these questions are found in time and there are enough followers, the site experiment starts. All users that ever participated in this process and users that subscribed to the site are invited to test the site in an sandboxed environment. The example questions are automatically imported and there is a mini-meta allowing users to find consensus on topic-issues.

Current Area 51

  • the Definition phase is complete when reaching 60 followers and 40 questions of score 10+.

  • the Commitment phase is complete when reaching 200 followers, of whom 100 have the association bonus, and a minimum commitment score is reached (determined by a formula).

Suggestion

  • this stage should merge the current Definition and Commitment phases, and be public.

  • the mini-meta should exist from day zero, and used as the place for developing initial consensus on tags.

  • include increasing milestones for number of users, number of topics/tags, number of tags with a minimum size, number of questions, which apply at regular intervals.

  • move to private beta when the requirements are met.

  1. [NEW] The system will automatically appoint three users as moderators for the site (they need to agree to this of course) after one week.

Current Area 51

  • moderators pro tem are selected from the followers who are experienced elsewhere in the Stack Exchange network when the public beta begins.

Suggestion

  • moderators are not necessary until the community is established. Avoid selecting moderators until the public beta (see below) and avoid selecting them automatically at all.
  1. If there has not been enough activity in the experiment after two weeks: The proposal is closed and the experiment site locked. Otherwise the current site process from beta to graduation (private-beta may be excluded) will be followed.

Current Area 51

  • the proposal has four months (~122 days) to complete Definition and a further four months (total ~244 days) to complete Commitment.

Suggestion

  • an overall time limit of 180 days is allowed for the Experiment (combined Definition-Commitment) phase.

  • the private beta stage is disestablished as a hindrance to growth.

  • requirements to enter public beta are approximately those currently used, in addition to clarifications of the scope.

  • initial nominations for moderators are made by a community manager simultaneously with the change to public beta. Nominees accept or decline, the community votes. Nominees gaining a minimum level of support (e.g. at least 30% of users voted them) are established as moderators; any unfilled spots are decided by the community manager.

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