"Merging" smaller sites with StackOverflow means drowning them
"Merging" would make the serious problem of users finding relevant questions to answer even worse. Users of smaller sites would effectively lose their homepage, drowned in a sea of programming questions. In theory, after a very long time, algorithms based on user behaviour could bring some relevant questions to the surface, but a devop or sysadmin would have got bored long before such an algorithm had enough data.
People with particularly specific, narrow interests could find relevant content through tags (e.g. a devop only interested in Azure), but such users would lose the ability to visit the homepage and discover new, interesting topic, or explore a technical discipline in a way that has been refined for the nuances of that discipline (e.g. tags).
...but that might not be what they mean?
A comment from animuson♦ gives me a small amount of hope that this isn't what is meant:
"Merge" was probably a poor word choice there. From my understanding, it's not a dump of all these scopes into Stack Overflow. It was meant to be something like showing other sites related to the topic in the sidebar similar to Teams, still independent with their own scopes, but much easier to navigate between and search content from one place.
Aiding cross-pollination between related sites would be very welcome
This is starting to sound like it might be opening up to the kind of cross-pollination between related sites many of us have wanted for years. Users and volunteer moderators have been trying to improvise this, using those few limited resources available like community ads, migrating pathways and featured meta posts, but - as ever - we're powerless to help new users grasp the idea beyond endlessly saying the same thing in comments.
I think one of the suggestions during the 2018 Hot Network Questions blow-up, where the underlying problem was that new/light users didn't understand that each site was part of a diverse network, was to emphasise hot questions on related sites first and most strongly.
I think that would work here; for example, on Stack Overflow you might have, say:
From our tech support site, SuperUser:
[x4 relatively-hot SuperUser questions]
From other tech sites on our network:
[x8 relatively-hot questions from devops, unix, apple, etc]
From the rest of our network:
[x8 of the hottest questions from other sites]
Simply laying it out like that alone would make it much more understandable what was going on and would promote related sites that are relevant to users but less naturally "hot" (I.e. less clickbait-y).
And of course the rest of the network would make great use of such a feature, for example:
- On Graphic Design, we might highlight UX questions, then other "creative" sites like arts & crafts, music, etc; then everything else;
- On Physics, they might highlight Mathematics questions, then other STEM sites like engineering, chemistry, etc, then everything else;
- ...and so on, and each such list could be maintained and voted on by the sites' moderators and users.
But the reaction to such suggestions when discussed before felt like "We don't have the resources to think about anything like that; the HNQ algorithm is expensive, we don't want to touch it, we're tired, we just want it all to go away".
If we could have a real discussion about making cross-pollination work between related sites, in the knowledge that there really is at least a few hours a week real dev time available and so discussing it is not a waste of time, that would be great. I'm sure there would be many fruitful suggestions.
(But wait, are we getting ideas above our station again? Aren't we're only supposed to only expect to do bug reports and mopping the floors now, unless we're lucky enough to be hand-picked into a focus group?)