If you really want to know how you can help a new site with an enthusiastic userbase- perhaps valuable insight could be gained from those ‘outside communities’ with first-hand knowledge of exactly where the pain points are, and what could be done to help these communities create vibrant SE sites.
The question assumes SE is interested in making its platform available to new communities that may not have a strong SE base, but has an enthusiastic base that can benefit from the SE platform. @Makoto posits that perhaps ‘the Stack Overflow model isn’t really built to support anything that isn’t objectively programming-oriented’; however, there are a number of successful sites that are not strictly programming-oriented. Rather, I would argue that the problem lies in the Area51 proposal process, which seems to be designed for existing SO/SE communities and is confusing (at best) and hostile (at worst) to new ‘outside’ communities. One might also argue that program-oriented sites could be readily included within SO using tags, rather than creating independent sites, and that the real benefit for additional SE sites are with these outside communities.
So, to the OP’s question:
“How should a new site with a good user base outside the Stack
Exchange mainstream get itself bootstrapped”??
As the lead of the Bioacoustics Proposal, and as a member of this enthusiastic and dedicated community, I would like to outline a few of the largest obstacles and provide a few ideas for helping other communities, such as ours, and perhaps shifting some of burden on moderators to more positive endeavors.
PRE-PROPOSAL COMMUNITY BUILDING AS A STATED PRE-REQUIREMENT
If it is critical to SE that the community user base is identified BEFORE the proposal process, then make this clear at the TOP of the FAQ, with a link to an explicit Question posted in the Area51.meta. Specifically, we suggest you modify the FAQ to include this addition, with a link to the Area51.Meta question. This serves a dual purpose of ensuring that new proposals are well aware of this requirement and have ideas of how to successfully prepare for a proposal, and this also introduces them to the idea of the Meta for learning about managing sites.
STREAMLINE & REQUIRE REGISTRATION FOR AREA51 PROPOSAL PROCESS
Currently, invited community members may ‘follow’ a proposal without registering, or may inadvertently create a separate registration on Area51 that is not linked to their existing SE account. This is extremely confusing for all users (even experienced users) and creates (at least) two issues:
- The presence of multiple ‘accounts’ per user, artificially inflating the # of followers and giving the appearance of fraud.
- The convoluted and time-consuming methods identified to remedy these registration problems can (and DO) turn off what would otherwise be valuable contributing community members. If you had to spend 30 minutes fixing your registration so that your existing SE account was linked to the proposal– how much more time would you be willing to invest in this platform?
We suggest that Stack Exchange require that everyone who joins a proposal (at any stage) be fully registered on Stack Exchange and that this registration automatically links their Area51 and SE profile.
COMMUNICATION WITH PROPOSAL MEMBERS
Currently, the only way to communicate about a proposal is through Q&A format on Area51.meta; however, once proposals reach the Private Beta stage there is a chat available for communication outside of the Meta. We suggest that this chat be available at the proposal stage, and readily accessible front & center on the Proposal Page). This would allow communities to both help themselves, and perhaps moderators can also check in to regulate inappropriate behavior early on.
MODERATORS AS MENTORS
While the FAQ are simple, the Devil is in the Details, and there is GREAT confusion (or outright conflicting evidence) on what is expected and what is acceptable. As I understand, proposals will have one or more moderators (or high level users) that join a proposal, and some of these seem to have great enthusiasm. As far as I know, the only way to get their attention is to ask on Area51.meta. We suggest that Area51 consider providing a ‘Mentor’ for new sites that will assist them in the process of creating a new site. Mentors can communicate directly with the community, help with initial navigation of finding pre-existing answers to their questions, and (most importantly) addressing questions/confusion re: what is/is not acceptable behavior and issues related to Code of Conduct. While this might be a bit of work in the initial stages, this type of work should be positive (rather than the intense negative work in addressing bad behavior!).
PROVIDE UPDATED REQUIREMENTS FOR EACH PROPOSAL PHASE ON THE FAQ
This is the ‘devil in the details’. The users are expected to search the Area51.meta for this information, but much of this is outdated (and some if it is incorrect or misguided, and there are conflicting messages EVERYWHERE). We recommend that 'accepted’ details in the Q/A format of Area51.meta could be linked to the FAQ page (with the expectation that the moderators will ensure that the most updated answer is the accepted answer).
CLARIFY THE GOALS OF THE COMMITMENT PHASE
The FAQ appears to be written for existing users who actively participate in multiple proposals and is very confusing for communities that are not currently active in the SE world but would be well served by having their own SE site. On the face of it– this is simple, ‘Users are asked to commit to participate in the site to assure that the site will have enough participation — we don't want to create ghost towns.’ (from further down on the FAQ). From the perspective of a novice community member, what differentiates ‘following’ a proposal from ‘committing’ to a proposal? On the one hand, they are asked to commit to being active on the site once it hits beta, but on the other hand, the site is actually in limbo and there is no activity.
We suggest SE revise the FAQ to clearly outline the GOALS and Expectations of the Commitment Phase so that inexperienced communities can understand the purpose of this phase of the proposal.
Is the expectation that the community will find experienced users on other sites? If so, why is it then suspicious if we advertise on the meta of other related sites (even if we got that idea as a suggestion from other meta posts?)
Is the expectation is that the community will educate their users? If so, then this should be clearly stated in the message that goes out to followers of the proposal. Remember, the only people that can communicate with all of the followers of a proposal are the Resident Aliens on Area51!
ALIGN THE REQUIREMENTS WITH THE GOALS OF THE COMMITMENT PHASE
If the goal is to ‘promise’ activity, then consider merging this with the offer to ‘follow’ a proposal. Please note our suggestion above (request?) to improve the registration process. The ‘commitment’ phase was the point at which this confusion was identified.
If the goal is to have an existing community bring on experienced users, make this clear and help us newbies understand how finding 100 experienced users within a few months strengthens our community and leads to success (please note that even though previous proposals had ‘advertised’ on other sites, it gives the impression that we do not have our own community, which we do!).
If the goal is to ensure we educate our own community, this should be stated clearly and SE should consider alternative approaches that actually serve this purpose.
CONSIDER AN EXTENDED PRIVATE BETA TO EDUCATE COMMUNITY
For cases such as the Bioacoustics Community, where there is a strong, enthusiastic and dedicated userbase with little experience in the ways of SE, their approach to success may be very different than other communities. These users may be highly motivated in their topic of interest, but have little time/energy/interest in participating in other sites. The overall success of individual users as well as the site may be well served by having an extended Private Beta which would serve not only to ‘seed’ the site with a large number of Q&A, but to also teach good etiquette (and building their own culture). We suggest providing an option for an extended Private ‘Training’ Beta with modified rules to provide foundational training of the community.
These are some concrete suggestions that we, the Bioacoustics Community, hope you will consider. Some of these may seem unrelated to the problems with inappropriate voting–but I would argue that they are part of the problem and addressing these issues would minimize the chance that users participate in inappropriate behavior. We really had the best of intentions, and I seriously doubt that any CM would expect us to go to the lengths we did to try to rally and educate our community. Yes, we are a dedicated and enthusiastic bunch. Sometimes we are just too enthusiastic.
Happy to discuss those juicy details at the nearest pub, if you are buying.