There has been some confusion and misunderstanding about the use of Area 51. The problem stems from the lack of clarity into the purpose of each phase. We made some interface and programming changes to alleviate those issues (details below). Unfortunately, those changes also render much of the voting data invalid.

With the new changes, we have:

  • Removed all question votes (on-topic and off-topic)
  • Recalculated everyone's reputation scores

We have not:

  • Removed any proposals or followers
  • Removed any questions
  • Removed any comments or comment voting

Any reputation gained from account association, e-mail verification, followers, and other non-voting activity will remain with your account. Existing questions are still available for voting so reputation will be regained as voting continues.

It is unfortunate that we have to undo work already put into the system, but we want to work out these kinks early in the beta before the service is announced.

So what does all these changes get us?

The changes are designed to make the desired behavior more self-evident. We have more work to do but nothing this major. So, to help undo some of the misunderstandings and preconceptions the old system caused, here's a quick rundown of how a proposal becomes a site:

(1) Definition (was "Discussion")

Notice the name change. The first phase is not about discussion. Detailed discussion happens later in Beta. The "Definition" phase is about finding some really good "example questions" to define the audience. It's just setting up that basic framework which will be reworked and refined later when the actual community is working on their own site.

When an expert first visits your site, they are going to see questions. And those questions are going to say to them "Yeah! This is the site for me!" ...or they're not. Your goal is to come up with those best questions (what will be asked, and not asked) that exemplifies your site. It's those first questions you would like that hypothetical expert to see when they first see your site.

To encourage users to select the best example questions, each user can only vote for a maximum of 5 on-topic and 5 off-topic questions for each proposal. Users can also now vote "not a good example" to clear out duplicate questions, or questions that don't add to the discussion. Each user can cast at most 50 "not a good example" votes per day.

(2) Commitment

Commitment is the solution to the classic chicken-and-egg problem. A site needs activity to get people to use it. People wont use it if there's no activity. The best way to solve that problem is to reach critical mass, fast. So, commitment makes sure all the seats are filled on opening night.

(3) Beta

Most of the discussion happens here. You start out with a vanilla site with an end goal of molding it into what you want. Behind the scenes you have a meta site to hash out the hairy details: pick your name, your moderators, the design, the rules, you discuss acceptable behavior, you write your FAQ—it's the Constitutional Convention to put together your site's charter.

If everything goes smoothly and your site has sufficient traffic to support itself, you're good to go.

  • 15
    My votes! My precious votes!
    – Shog9
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:17
  • 1
    How many votes do I get now?
    – user102937
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:18
  • 4
    While we're at it, can we nuke all of the spam sites?
    – user102937
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:22
  • @Robert I updated the post to include the number of votes you get. It's also in the FAQ. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:23
  • Do you get a rep hit for voting "not a good example"?
    – juan
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:25
  • 2
    @Juan no, but the user loses 2 rep. See area51.stackexchange.com/faq#reputation Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:31
  • About the beta phase, I understand how those things can be decided upon by the community, but who/how will they be enacted? Will some people be automatically considered moderators/admins on the beta site based on their participation in the proposal, or will it be an automated process? Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 10:08
  • @Maxim Z.:When there's an obvious/logical choice, first Moderators will be appointed in a temporary capacity. Soon after, there will be some sort of nominations/elections. Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 10:41
  • I think 'meh' should be renamed to 'Vote to delete', that way the cruft would be automatically pruned...
    – Benjol
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 10:33
  • I think whoever proposes it should be the temporary mod. Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 17:18

14 Answers 14


I'm annoyed, but not devastated, that my original votes and half of my rep are gone.

However as I expected, I'm finding this new voting system awkward, frustrating, and stressful.

  • It's no longer clear whether "off-topic" should still apply to "Subjective & Argumentative" or "Not A Real Question" type questions, which would seem to be an important part of the "definition" of a site.

  • It's no longer clear how off-topic an off-topic question is supposed to be in order to be considered off-topic. The existing votes seem to be inconsistent.

    • One of my submitted example questions was intended to be blatantly off-topic and received several corresponding votes.

    • Another that was slightly less off-topic (but still very off-topic) received "meh" votes instead.

    • Yet another that was previously voted highly off-topic actually received one on-topic vote! (and no off-topics)

    • On the other hand, many of the "borderline" questions seem to get several off-topic votes. So it seems that the highest-voted off-topic questions will either be just slightly off-topic, or incredibly off-topic almost to the point of trolling, but not just really off-topic.

    • I really don't care how my questions get voted, I'm simply trying to figure out how votes should be distributed by studying other people's, and the results seem to be all over the map. They made sense before - now I can't make heads or tails of them.

  • With only 5 votes in each direction, I feel like I basically have to study every single question in the proposal, memorize them, and consciously or subconsciously rank them. It's paralyzing, and I always end up giving up. The fact that I can change a vote after the fact really doesn't help at all.

  • I'm also highly reluctant to use the "not a good example" vote. Because almost all of the questions are good examples. Voting "meh" just feels silly; a question is either on-topic or off-topic. The question may be a good example of an on-topic but poor question (which would remain open but receive low views and possibly downvotes), but that's not the same as being a bad example of an on-topic question (which would actually be closed and probably deleted on a real SE site). I think I would only ever use this for obvious trolls (and I preferred the vote-to-delete feature).

  • It's also rather clear that the NaGE feature is having some less-than-positive effects. Maybe it was the intended effect - but I really don't think it's a good effect.

I suspect that the team won't listen now that the "reboot" is out the door, especially considering that they didn't listen before rushing it out the door. Nevertheless, I still have to point out that this system feels inferior in every way to the one we had originally.

I stand on my meta record when I say that I'm not the type to fear changes to the Trilogy/SE sites, nor do I make a habit of opposing the dev team just for the hell of it. I just honestly and sincerely think that the updated voting system sucks.

  • 2
    +1, couldn't have said that better.
    – Massimo
    Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 16:35
  • 2
    +1 for the memorize/rank/paralyzed problem for voting alone - that is discouraging. Commented Jun 6, 2010 at 2:59
  • How there been comments about the things you said in the above post? A lot of what you say are things I was thinking of bringing up, especially that "It's [not] clear whether 'off-topic' [applies] to 'Subjective & Argumentative' or 'Not A Real Question' type questions, which would seem to be an important part of the 'definition' of a site."
    – Borror0
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 18:06
  • @Borror: I don't think these issues have been re-visited in quite some time. It's actually interesting to see how some parts of it have aged... and how some parts haven't. Looking at Area 51 today, it's clear that many people still do not properly understand what the off-topic examples/votes are for.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 19:26
  • Thanks, and I agree. I wanted to be sure before bringing any of it up again. I think the voting process really could use some revisiting. Like you said, many people still do not properly understand what off-topic is for.
    – Borror0
    Commented Feb 3, 2011 at 19:32

I think it might work better if you just allowed everyone to vote one of the three statuses on every question, then picked five of the top-voted ones in the on and off-topic categories for each site.

This would make it a lot quicker for all involved, and wouldn't weight as heavily the first questions posted.

I'm scared to death to go back into web applications and try to rank 163 questions, so I can pick the best 5+5. It hurts my head just thinking about it.

  • 1
    Exactly, this is what I assumed would be done from the get-go, just take the top-ranked questions, or put them through some additional pruning process. So simple.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Jun 7, 2010 at 13:34
  • 1
    I think it was very smart to offer three choices, rather than two, and think starting fresh was a great idea. Sticking with a system that doesn't work makes no sense. But now there really are not three answers, but five. I don't just have to decide if a question defines what should be in and out of the site, but also whether it is so defining that I should use up one of my five votes. And once those votes are gone, I have to go back. So not one trip through 100+ questions, but several. And again when new questions get posted. Ugh! It seems like too much trouble to even start. Commented Jun 9, 2010 at 3:30

After using it for awhile, I am warming up to the new voting system.

We'll see if any of the proposed sites can muster enough votes on any of the questions to afford them "on-topic" and "off-topic" status.

After further use of the new voting system, I am of the belief that it does not scale well. With five votes up and down per proposal, it's fairly straightforward to pick the five best if there are 25 questions or less, but on a proposal with 100+ questions, it becomes increasingly difficult to sift through all 100, especially when new questions are coming in.

I would rather be able to cast a vote up, down or meh on each question (or abstain), and let the quantity of votes cast by everyone speak for themselves.

  • 1
    Scale is definitely the issue. This voting system resembles an actual political election, where you have to worry about all of the ramifications of your vote and sometimes even vote strategically instead of voting for what you really want. It's already an inefficient (albeit workable) system when there are 2-4 serious candidates per vote; it's terribly impractical when there are 50 or more.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Jun 7, 2010 at 13:39

I really don't think that the slight changes in use of discussion and definition is going to change most people's minds about whether they want to participate in the community.

If I am an avid cyclist and the cycling title caught my eye I am going to participate regardless of the content skew. Same goes for organic gardening or firearms, or whatever topics you currently have.

It seems to me that there is a little too much time spent on making perfect little process documents and diagrams and metrics, and not enough really making people want to join.

I feel like I am at a circus. But I am not in the audience. I am one of little animals the SE crew is trying to train to jump through all the hoops.


I think it is more productive to let people show their enthusiasm rather than limit the ways in which they participate. It is the interest I think that is the driving force - not the specific ways in which you measure it and control it that are important. This control now seems to me to be taking the wind out of the sails and cools people's enthusiasm for this as a platform. What it seems like is that the SE team wants to fit things into a mold rather than change the ways they look at the metrics or the potential sites. While I won't go so far as to classify it as laziness, it sure seems like the backwards way of doing it. It is akin to a writer making the reader do a lot of extra work just to save himself some editing. The wrong part of the equation is driving this in my opinion.

But, as someone else said, this is not devastating. though I will probably sit out the comment period and the definition period. It just isn't worth it for me to spend my time this way. I could care less about the badges or hitpoints - it is the loss of useful time that dismays me.

  • 2
    The definition phase is not supposed to be very involved. A normal user follows, adds a few questions, votes on some questions, and then comes back when it's time for commitment. Commitment is real the focus, and it's all about getting people to join the site. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:33
  • 6
    I understand that, but yet we have all this heavyweight process and rules changing and discussion - that seems contrary to your "not supposed to be very involved" comment...
    – tim
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:42
  • 1
    @David - I have to agree with tim here, isn't the entire point that you want a really involved community for when a site goes live? It seems this would make for a stronger/better site, giving it a better chance of thriving. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:02
  • 2
    What it tells us is that we can't trust this site with any information we care about. If the management don't like it they can delete it - and will do so. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:18
  • 4
    I disagree. There are already statistics forums all over the Internet, and they suck because they're inundated with poor-quality or duplicate questions. Having sites with clearly defined boundaries is a pretty big deal to me. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:32
  • 7
    Let me preface with saying I'm super excited about StackExchange so this is constructive criticism but I have to agree with Tim. This change has left me feeling like I'm jumping through hoops whereas before I felt a clear direction. Now it's hard for me to "see" what five questions are the most on topic and which five are most off topic. So I look at a question and I get the anxiety and cognitive dissonance as I think "Should I vote for this one or not?" The new process forces the user to try to get their head around all the questions at once in order to pick the 5 best and 5 worst... Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 9:31
  • 5
    ...What's worse, once I've voted for my 10 questions I have not much left to do. I considered voting for the others as "not a good question" but many of them are a good example, so I just give up and go away (well, come here to comment about it.) I think it would be far more valuable to let us vote for every question by marking it between -5 (most off topic) and +5 (most on topic) and then your system could figure out the ones that fit the best. JMTCW. Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 9:34
  • 6
    One of tim's comments to Chris's answer really hit the nail on the head. Joel, Jeff & Co opted for a totally hands-off style for Stack Overflow and it thrived because the community was allowed to choose its own values, even if they didn't necessary conform to the "vision". I know you guys are dealing with VC money now and and you feel like you have to maintain creative control, but you didn't even wait a week to see if the community could work out the kinks on its own. If you treat people like children, that's usually how they'll act.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 15:27
  • Aarobot you hit the nail on the head with the VC money angle. This smells like a process thought up by someone who has spent some money and now wants to swing a bit of their weight around and this voting system is the result. :(
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 7, 2010 at 8:38
  • @Justin I doubt that the SO crew would allow VCs to interfere in any way and I think they vetted the VCs well enough to avoid that. I also think that investors in SO are bright enough to realize that Jeff and Joel and Co. should probably be left alone to do their thing - each have shown the ability to create value and succeed. So, while it is a nice theory, blaming this on VCs is (IMO) absolutely wrong.
    – tim
    Commented Jun 7, 2010 at 14:16
  • 2
    @tim then why on earth did they go and build a cathedral in the middle of a perfectly good bazaar?
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 6:21
  • All your proposal are belong to us...
    – Benjol
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 13:16
  • Make your time...
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 13:56
  • @Justin -- I have no idea. They do many things right, but there are some things they do that always leave me puzzled. I am certain though that this is NOT coming from investors. This is all Jeff and Joel and Co. doing.
    – tim
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 14:38

What is silly though is that you can't vote anymore for your own questions. When I submitted my questions, I did it with thinking that it would be good on-topic, or off-topic (not with all of them, ok, but more than half).

And now, I see my poor questions lingering, I can't say that in my opinion it is on topic, besides by commenting. But I can't vote on or off topic, and that's frustrating.

  • 2
    There's no voting on your own question to be more consistent with the rest of the network. If you submit a question, it is implied that you would vote for it. There's no more "frivolous" question submissions. If we didn't allow voting on your own stuff on day one (like we should have), the issue probably would have never come up. Our bad. Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 0:17
  • 5
    @Robert: One thing to keep in mind, though, is that on Area51 there are two types of questions being posted; those that are intended to be on-topic, and those that are intended to be off-topic. I don't know if that's what you meant to happen. But while, yes, they may wish to vote for their own question, you don't know whether they want to vote it as "ontopic" or "offtopic". On the other sites, people are only going to vote it "up".
    – Margaret
    Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 0:45
  • 3
    If it's not obvious whether the question is supposed to be on- or off-topic, it's unlikely that the community will come to a consensus anyway. The truth is the original author's intent is not actually that interesting in such cases, since they're not going to end up being definitive to the site. Still, you can use the comment field to explain WHY you're posting a certain example question. Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 1:03
  • 11
    @Joel: You'd think so, but one of my example question that I intended as an off-topic example got several on-topic votes before the reset. And after the reset, two of my questions seemed to reverse polarity. It's not as black-and-white as you guys seem to think.
    – Aarobot
    Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 15:17
  • 1
    I also experienced reversal on one example question, "follow the leader" anyone? Commented Jun 6, 2010 at 2:53


I don't think I can face going back and reading all the questions again and re-thinking and mentally classifying as more or less off-topic than the other off-topic questions, etc. And that's for my own proposal.


Questions in the previous voting system with 10 votes were recognized as on-topic or off-topic , but in new voting system we have a question with 11 great on-topic example vote but it's not on-topic,It's not clear How many votes is required for this.

Another thing that I noticed is there is no vote to delete anymore!

  • According to this a question is considered on- or off-topic when it reaches 30 votes!
    – Hamed
    Commented Jun 7, 2010 at 18:12

As I stated earlier today (no need to link the post anymore, I suppose), I totally disagree with this new voting system, and I think it's going to heavily limit people interaction with Area 51.

But, even if I agreed, I'd like to point out that maybe such a big change should have been discussed a little more with the user community, instead of being imposed from above and rushed into production this way.


What on earth is the point of trying to join in, play your silly reputation games and then, when you don't get the answer you want, discovering that you have decided to ignore everything I've done.

I've got better things to do than mess around with this, I have more important and useful things to do.

  • 7
    We are in the process of beta-testing Area 51. In the process of testing, we found that people were using the site very differently from how we intended. Unfortunately, the best solution was to fix it quickly, and do a one-time reset of question votes. Once the site goes "live", we won't do things like this. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:35
  • 4
    So, you destroyed all the work that people put into it! And you still want people to contribute? Why should we bother? What happens the next time you don't like the answer you get? Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:41
  • 4
    So this is a reset on a reset? I had a feeling this SE2.0 was too focused on process and metrics and the like.
    – tim
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:44
  • 5
    Rather than try to force people into how you "intended" you should see if the audience has a better concept and perhaps your view of the world is wrong. I'm probably just going to take my ball and go home...
    – tim
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:50
  • 1
    I know what beta looks like, this isn't beta, not even alpha. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:55
  • 2
    Let me know when it's live and I'll consider joining. Your idea of beta, with arbitary changes by the management, is too fluid for me. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:20
  • 1
    I've got to also agree with Chris. I put a lot of effort into that site and started building reputation. Then it was all gone. That was really rather annoying to have chosen to make that effort and then loose all the benefits. Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 9:37
  • 1
    @MikeSchinkel: one of the benefits of being part of the beta is being part of the community building. You also have a chance at being part of one of the founding sites. There are sometimes consequences of being on the cutting edge. It sucks, but it's better for the group. I lost reputation too, pouted for a day, and took a day to get excited for the next round.
    – kevtrout
    Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 16:30
  • 2
    @kevtrout, "being part of the community" really loses a lot of appeal when the people running the site just don't listen to what the community is saying...
    – Massimo
    Commented Jun 5, 2010 at 16:47

Did the designers actually try rank 150 questions themselves with this new system? If 50 people participate in a proposal 3 questions each; one up, one down and one meh. You now have 100 questions to pay an awful lot of attention to (if you join late when 50 question have already been "meh'd"). This system does not scale? Its been brought up in other answers as well but WHAT HAPPENS TO NEW QUESTIONS? I've spent all my up and down's now I see a really awesome new question pretty late in the game. I can weigh my previous votes and see if any are not as good as the new question then change my vote... really guys? No I mean it REALLY?

I can suggest you drop example question limit to 1 or maybe 2 and that way make it more manageable.

Oh and finally I will leave you with this sentence which is easier to read than the new voting system is to use and some adjectives to describe the way I feel about the new voting system.

If the users of the site are not using your site how you intended the users to use your site but the users really enjoy using your site the in way that the users use your site then stopping the users from using your site in the way that the users enjoy using your site is not the best way to change the way that the users use your site.

Here are a few of adjectives you can freely associate with the new voting system:

  • Awkward
  • Unintuitive
  • Convoluted
  • Esoteric
  • Broken-by-design
  • 1
    You forgot the most important adjectives: "limiting" and "discouraging"...
    – Massimo
    Commented Jun 7, 2010 at 8:54
  • 1
    @Massimo indeed, although I might call those the core design principals of the new system rather than mere adjectives.
    – Justin
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 7:34

I think 5 on/off votes is a bit low, considering that the goal for the discussion process is to find 10 great on and off topic questions. If the goal is to point out those, we should at least have that many votes.


I'm feeling lost.

I can understand that the voting was not how it was intended to work, but this change seems too radical.

I will live with the change and participate or I will give up and come back when the site is up.

More urgently, I'm lost: I can't seem to vote or comment. I can see that previous comments are still there and I can see that others have voted, so where am I going wrong?

  • 1
    Is the site you're trying to vote and comment on already in the Commitment phase? You can only do voting and commenting on example questions during the Definition phase. I understand it can be perplexing, though.
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Commented Jun 26, 2010 at 12:47
  • @grace: Yes the site is in commitment. Thanks. I ~obviously~ missed that bit. Commented Jun 26, 2010 at 13:05

You have screwed it up for all the people who were trying to get something useful out of this. This is unbelievably demotivating.

Continual product specification churn is the death of projects, ask Joel, he's written a book about it.

  • 11
    It's a beta test, a full reset of the data is commonplace in beta environments...no offense but you shouldn't blame anyone else for not understanding what "beta" means going into it. If you would have asked, there are hundreds of people here who would gladly explain it. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:59
  • 2
    We must remember that a popular beta is still a beta and as such things like this are completely acceptable.
    – Earlz
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:24
  • 4
    Google poisoned his mind with what a beta means.
    – MrChrister
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:37
  • 3
    This isn't beta, it isn't even alpha. But the fundamental thing it that it can't be trusted with information. Nor is it under the control of the community. At least that's clear. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:39
  • 1
    it's not clear at all. I've tried to understand what you are complaining about, and I can't. If you can do so without using insulting words, please post your concerns as a new question and they can be discussed openly.
    – Ether
    Commented Jun 8, 2010 at 19:29

And I can't even comment on any of the stuff I've done because I'm now locked out.

This system can't be trusted as a means of supplying information because it's at the mercy of the people running it, no pretence that the users are running it at all.

  • What do you mean you are locked out? If you mean you can't do anything because you don't have enough reputation, you can earn 50 reputation by verifying your email address. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:41
  • Locked out. I can now not comment nor ask a question. I asked a couple of questions to get enough karma to vote before but now I can't. And the email address is at work and I won't be back for a week. It's all a complete waste of space, if you don't like what happens next you will just change it all again in any case. TOTALLY UNTRUSTWORTHY. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 21:47
  • 2
    you can change your email address and verify that one. Area 51 requires either a verified email or an associated account with 200 reputation to participate. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:17
  • I think he is talking about the site being locked for changes - I notice I couldn't add comments, either. Give it time to be reset...
    – John C
    Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 22:48
  • 2
    You have demonstrated that this site can't be trusted with information that disagrees with what the management thinks and that's good enough for me. My Open ID account doesn't work and I'm certainly not trusting you with another email address. My hope was that sites like SO could have been useful. But I don't think that's going to happen. The venture capitalists want it to be another social networking site like FaceBook and if it doesn't match that it's out. A shame but there it is. Commented Jun 4, 2010 at 23:02

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