This is an exciting day for all of us who work on community here, and for the communities that have given thousands of hours of their time to build sites on the Stack Exchange network. Today, we are excited to announce that 59 sites are bidding adieu to their Beta statuses. The last time we did something like this was in 2019, when we announced that 29 of the sites that had been in Beta for seven or more years at that time would be ditching their Beta labels. Since then, many of the other communities that were still in Public Beta have made it clear that they were anxious to shed their label too.
So which sites are leaving Beta?
Today is a celebration! The communities that are shedding their Beta label today have worked hard over the past years to build high-quality content around their subject area, and I hope that you’ll join me (and I speak for the whole Community Team, and the company) in congratulating the communities and moderator teams that built the following sites:
- Stack Overflow in Japanese
- 3D Printing
- Amateur Radio
- Artificial Intelligence
- Arts & Crafts
- Beer, Wine, & Spirits
- Craft CMS
- Computer Graphics
- Computer Science Educators
- Drones and Model Aircraft
- Earth Science
- Esperanto Language
- Genealogy & Family History
- History of Science and Mathematics
- Internet of Things
- Italian Language
- Korean Language
- Language Learning
- Latin Language
- Mathematics Educators
- Matter Modeling
- Mythology & Folklore
- Open Source
- Operations Research
- Portuguese Language
- Quantum Computing
- Reverse Engineering
- Space Exploration
- Sustainable Living
- Ukrainian Language
- Vi and Vim
What are the criteria for a site to leave Beta?
We have over 170 communities in the Stack Exchange network, and each community is unique (and not just in terms of subject matter focus).
When Area 51 and the site lifecycle were originally conceived, there was a set of rigid requirements around losing the Beta label – including things like “has at least 10 questions asked per day”. We’ve acknowledged in the past that some of the original parameters would be hard for smaller communities to hit, and we’ve always believed in iteration as a technique to polish both practice and policy. The 29 sites that left Beta in 2019 didn’t need to meet that “questions-asked-per-day” threshold, and we chose to maintain that interpretation this year, meaning that once again this wasn’t a criterion for leaving Beta.
Another former requirement for leaving Beta was that at least 90% of open questions have at least one upvoted answer. Again, this felt like it would be harder for some communities to meet than others. When we looked to our existing sites for benchmarking, we discovered that Stack Overflow currently has 70% of open questions with at least one upvoted answer, and that felt like a more appropriate baseline to judge against.
For the sites that are leaving Beta today, the following criteria were determined:
- The site needed to be in public Beta for at least six months
- The site needed to have at least 1000 open questions
- At least 70% of the questions on the site needed to have at least one upvoted answer
There is one exception we did make for a community, and that was on the Artificial Intelligence site (AI). AI did not meet the “70% of questions with at least one upvoted answer” threshold, but their community has received three different sponsorships while in Public Beta. That is more than any other site on the Stack Exchange platform. In addition to that, their site already has a design as part of their first sponsorship, and has been consistently close to meeting the old 10 question-per-day criteria for leaving Beta.
Coincidentally, as we were reviewing sites that would be eligible for leaving Beta, their community had reached out to ask when they would be losing that label. We felt that the contributions AI has made over the years are an equally valuable proxy for a measurement of a healthy and valuable community. So we approached their moderator team to see if they felt ready to turn in their Beta label, since we strongly felt that they were. They agreed, and we’re excited that AI is joining the other sites that are leaving Beta today.
Another process change was introduced today: For this group of eligible communities, we allowed the communities to stay in Beta if they didn’t feel ready to leave that state yet. A couple of sites indicated that they felt they wanted to focus on increasing engagement in their communities a bit, and didn’t feel like now was the right time to leave Beta.
If your community is one of the remaining sites with the Beta label, have no fear. We actually have some exciting news to share with you.
When’s the next time this will happen?
This is hopefully the last time the Community Management Team will have to do a bulk Beta label removal event. In the past, moving a site out of Beta required a developer’s assistance to remove the Beta label and to either keep reputation levels lowered or bring them up to the regular levels – I speak more to this in the next section. This meant that for the last few years, we’ve only been able to orchestrate sites leaving Public Beta when we and our Public Platform engineering team both had time to dedicate to the task.
Now, thanks to one of the amazing engineers on our Public Platform team (Adam Lear, take your bow), the CMs have a tool to allow us to do this without a developer. So in the future, if a site is eligible and ready to leave Beta, we can process those requests ad-hoc and in a more timely manner.
I tested the tool out today – and if you are reading this post, it should signal that I didn’t break anything.
What does it mean to lose the Beta label?
Similar to when we did this two years ago, sites that were eligible and opted to leave Beta will:
- have the word “Beta” removed from the banner at the top of the site
- be moved to the “Launched” sites list on Area 51 - which will also remove the Area 51 information box from the right sidebar of the site
- retain the artificially-lowered reputation thresholds for site privileges, so that those thresholds stay the same as in Beta
- have their full-site moderator elections scheduled in the future (more on that in the next section)
- be eligible for community ads in 2022 (we'll be talking about that more in the new year)
In the past, we were able to offer a custom site design to graduated sites. Although site redesigns aren’t happening right now, we have a shared interest internally in experimenting with ways to get this or similar benefits back. We know the sites that lost their “Beta” label in 2019 are still waiting for a redesign, too. We hope that some sort of design love (or perhaps theme customization) will come in the future, but we don't have concrete details of what this will look like or a timeline of when this will happen.
When can sites losing the Beta label expect to have their elections?
You may remember that the Public Platform engineering team spent the first half of this year building tools for the Community Managers to help enable us to hold elections more frequently. This resulted in significant increases in CM productivity, with an outcome that we were able to hold nearly 1.5 times as many successful elections in 2021 as we did in 2020 – that’s a total of 69 elections in 2021, compared to 43 in 2020. In addition to running elections for sites that found themselves in need of additional moderators due to an increase in site activity or moderator resignation, we also had time to start going through the backlog of sites that lost the Beta label in 2019 and still needed an election to transition from pro-tem moderators to “full” moderators.
While the majority of those elections went smoothly and fit the model well, we did run into a handful that didn’t have enough candidates to make the election competitive. In those cases, we treated the elections like pro-tempore elections. (There are a number of differences between a pro-tempore election and a standard election, but the major one is that a pro-tem election doesn’t need to be competitive: a site can have the same number of candidates as “seats” to fill, or less.) Some smaller sites asked to hold off on scheduling their post-Beta elections because they considered that they might not have enough candidates interested to make it competitive.
With that in mind, some members of the Community Management team are going to spend some time in early 2022 working with community members (including moderator teams) to understand what can be improved about the election experience in general (and in this case, rather than just building tools, we also want to look at areas where policy or process can be tweaked).
One area we are exploring is whether the “one size fits all” approach of looking for four candidates to have a competitive “full” site election, with a resulting winning group of three moderators, makes sense for smaller sites.
The focus of this elections project is much broader than our earlier tooling project and will focus on a variety of areas. We’ll have more to share in early 2022 when the project kicks off, but this feels like a good opportunity to provide some insight into what we think the next steps in formalizing site lifecycle may be.
We have currently paused all elections, as we usually do around this time of the year, due to the difficulty of scheduling end-of-year elections over travel, religious, and work holidays (both ours and those of the various communities involved). When elections kick off again in February 2022, we’ll be starting with sites that had indicated in Q4 of 2021 that they needed an election. Some of these sites include ones that left Beta today, and our team will be working with them to schedule their elections. We won’t be scheduling the majority of elections for sites leaving Beta until at least April of 2022.