I feel the Stack Exchange Network will fail, and it won't be as successful as Stack Overflow. It looks likely the idea of the Stack Exchange network came from the brains of engineers. From my point of view, it seems it wants to become another kind of Wikipedia. Accumulating the critical mass to support a website is crictial for its success, but based on the rules of Stack Exchange, most of the sites on staging will die before it can reach the outside world. Why?

  1. it is very difficult to have many experts in a small field.

  2. it is very difficult to recruit experts by simply using Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn (although it may achieve modest success).

  3. Experts want to answer questions, but you have to have good questions asked by somebody else. Where to find these people to ask questions? Your friends? Your colleagues? Your family members? It is not that accountable.

  4. Stack Overflow makes money based on ads and job listings, but how do these Q&A sites make money? No rewards, no survival.

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    The first two sentences seem to be superfluous. You'll get less of an emotional reaction, and more of an analytical reaction, from readers if you delete them. – Peter Ajtai Aug 12 '10 at 23:32
  • @Peter Seem fine to me. – nb69307 Aug 12 '10 at 23:35
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    Shouldn't this be a blog post? Not a question on a Q&A site. – Tyler Carter Aug 12 '10 at 23:38
  • Always with the negative waves Moriarty, always with the negative waves. – Lance Roberts Aug 12 '10 at 23:43
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    I intuitively feel that your intuition sucks, but you don't see me writing 4-point rants about it, do you? – Aarobot Aug 12 '10 at 23:54
  • I intuitively feel that StackExchange Network will fail is a statement, not a question – raven Aug 13 '10 at 0:16
  • @raven, you are right. I changed that. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 0:22
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    Are you under the impression that every single proposed site must succeed? It seems likely that some will get critical mass and some won't. The area51 process does seem to try to weed out the obvious failures. But it seems silly to call the whole network a failure just because some of the member sites may fail. – Zoredache Aug 13 '10 at 7:05
  • @Zoredache: In fact, they expect some sites to fail, that's the point of the beta! – Aarobot Aug 13 '10 at 14:08
  • @Zoredache that is not what I mean. The success of SE itself also need to accumulate the critical mass of success of its satellite sites – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 16:28
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    According to the theory of heat death, stackoverflow will, nay, must fail eventually. So the definitive answer to the question posed in the title is "Yes." – Pollyanna Apr 1 '11 at 14:55

10 Answers 10


I'm going to ignore point (1) because as far as I'm concerned, Stack Overflow has already proven you wrong. Or at least it proves that "difficult" is not equivalent to "impossible" if you do it right.

Point (2) is interesting, but also incorrect. The core audience for Stack Overflow came from the combined readership of various blogs, which you quietly ignore. People blog about other subjects too. All it takes is a few of those bloggers to drop names, and you're in.

Point (3) is slightly more reasonable, and it's fully addressed by the entire Area 51 proposal process as well as community and official moderation on the betas. You may not have noticed it, but people actually are out there, asking good questions; positioning the site toward experts is simply a matter of weeding out the really poor ones.

Point (4) is wrong again. SE sites will probably have ads, just not in the beginning (when the team was asked, the official response was something along the lines of "not yet"). And since you haven't defined "success" or "failure" at all, I'm going to define the former as "breaking even" on the bandwidth and hosting costs. I'm not an insider, but the team has blogged several times about what it takes to run Stack Overflow, and it's not monstrous; many SE sites can probably be hosted on a single server while they're small, so it won't take all that much to recoup any losses.

Of course I can't know that SE will be a smashing success; no one can. But obviously the venture capitalists pouring money in believe it, as does the team and as do the thousands of users participating in the various betas. What I can say for sure is that your "evidence" for SE's inevitable failure is suspect at best, and your argument is... a fail. The points you're making are, quite frankly, blindingly obvious, and apply equally well to any new business; no matter what you're doing, you have to to recruit the best "employees", build up a customer base, and tighten up the financials as much as possible so that you're actually turning a profit. SE really isn't any different.

Starting a business is hard. Running it is harder. Just because it looks like it's too hard to you, doesn't mean that people who are much more experienced and have a lot more money to burn will fail.

  • Please ignore SO. it is an exception. I mean Area51, which is the fundation for SE. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 0:26
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    How can you "Ignore SO"?! That would be like saying "I think that hydrogen filled airships are safe - if you ignore Hindenberg" – Mark Henderson Aug 13 '10 at 2:04
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    @farseeker: people do say that... – Shog9 Aug 13 '10 at 2:12
  • @dmv: Do you have any evidence or even any justification for the claim that Stack Overflow is an "exception?" And Area 51 is just the proposal staging site, it has nothing to do with the success of any given SE site once it launches. – Aarobot Aug 13 '10 at 14:07
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    Plenty. For example, ServerFault and superUser want to reproduce the successs of SO, but most likely will fail. Just like techmeme (maybe not a very good example) wants to expand it to other topics, but never got what it wants. The success of SO is because it has the right topic, right audience, right platform, and right business model (and maybe right time). I don't see other staging sites has such potential. If the staging sites cann't succeed, then it is the failure of SE. The definition means here: a site can generate revenue to sustain its success and reward its owner. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 16:13
  • +1 for "Running it is harder." – Lance Roberts Aug 13 '10 at 16:24
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    @dmv: So your evidence that SE will fail is another totally unsubstantiated claim that SF and SU will fail, and a bunch of useless rhetoric involving repeated use of the word "right." Fail. – Aarobot Aug 13 '10 at 17:06
  • Your logic is wrong, and it should be the opposite at best. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 17:46
  • @dmv: dictionary.reference.com/browse/logic – Aarobot Aug 13 '10 at 18:54
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    @Aarobot, I think you're logic is mostly right, and that you were thoughtful in considering the OP's points, but might you consider ratcheting in the tone toward the end? Calling someone's argument a fail might pass the civility test, but the "wait for it..." ellipis preceding "a fail" seems a tad much. And calling someone's points "blindingly" obvious seems like one adverb too many. (And in this case, I think it may be inaccurate, too - I think point three isn't obvious so much as incorrect.) Just a thought - hate to see a poster dismiss a good response due to tone. – Jaydles Aug 13 '10 at 21:52
  • @Aarobot The correct logic (if you really want to argue with me) is:So your evidence that SF and SU will fail is another totally unsubstantiated claim that SE will fail, ..., not the opposite. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 22:22
  • @Jaydles: You're right of course, but you should see the edit history on the question; the original formulation was (and still sort of is) so inflammatory that it's hard to take completely seriously. And as you've probably noticed from the comments to your own answer, the OP has not really demonstrated a willingness to listen to reason here. – Aarobot Aug 14 '10 at 14:04

You were wrong

Maybe not it terms of money maybe but everything else, wrong wrong wrong.

As of today Fri, 01 Apr, 2011 there are 49 sites. (Quite a few in beta) :

Even the odd sites like cooking and english have a few thousand visits a day and a few thousand users.

Interestingly ads are only on the trilogy websites if I'm not mistaken. Smartly enough, there are ads that promote the other SE sites, and this is working as most older users (including myself) have joined a few other SE sites.

Stackexchange Stats:

  • 46 Q&A sites
  • 838,977 users
  • 1.7 million questions
  • 4.1 million answers
  • 2.1 million visits per day

I think Aarobot's answer covers all the point very well, but I am just trying to understand something.

You've created an account on Area51, which is 1 day old. You've made 2 proposals for new SE sites, one competing directly with 2 other proposals way past the definition stage, as well as another one that in my humble opinion is way to localized.

Then, you decide to predict the failure of SE and choose to ignore the reason SE was developed in the first place, that being the success of SO, and later SF and SU.

Therefore based on this my first initial response would be: Please can I have what your smoking?

My honest response:

No one knows if SE is going to be a success, but if there is only 10 sites that ever survive and become successful, that is 10 sites that make the internet a better place. If the success of some of the SE 1.0 sites is taken into account, I think it is more then reasonable to suspect that it will happen. MathOverflow proved this very well, and so did Moms4Moms, which both drew predominantly non-technical users and built a thriving community.

The systems wasn't built by engineers. It was built on a highly successful recipe. So far.

  • What your thought about my thought is groundless. How do you know I thought that way? My claim is based on the proposed sites and those live sites based on SE. I never say that it is not good to have SE. If you think a site with 1000 questions (so far) is a success, that is what you define your success, not mine. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 17:57
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    @dmv51 The subtle point I am trying to make, is that there is more going on behind the scenes and then just what your seeing currently in SE. It's not even 2 months old yet. There is a reason it is SE 2.0. There were quite a few successful SE 1.0 sites. Before stating something is not going to succeed, or even setting your own criteria for success, do some research regarding the history and track record of SO and all it's sites. – BinaryMisfit Aug 13 '10 at 18:09
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    That's good point, I have to say. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 18:18

What is your opinion?

You're probably right. But hey, it's not your money they're burning - enjoy it while it lasts!

  • But I have a site at area51. I do not want it die. – user150015 Aug 12 '10 at 23:53
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    @dmv51: I don't want Wave to die, but it looks like it will. Life is like that sometimes; we are not the arbiters of what will be. – Shog9 Aug 12 '10 at 23:57
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    I like burning money! – Tyler Carter Aug 13 '10 at 0:13
  • How did Wave end up here? – juan Aug 13 '10 at 2:06
  • @dmv51: If you don't want it to die then how about making some suggestions about what could be done better NOW rather than pondering the demise of your beloved are51 site – going Aug 13 '10 at 3:14
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    @dmv51: You have a proposal, not a site. – Tobias Kienzler Aug 13 '10 at 7:47
  • @xiaohouzi79 Worring my site might die means I have to make suggestions here? This doesn't sound that convincing. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 22:28

No, it will not.

Many of the site proposals will fail to ever escape Area 51. Which is the idea.
Some others will likely die in beta if they fail to achieve and maintain critical mass.

But others, in my opinion, will demonstrate sustainability in beta, and will be wildly successful.

As successful as SO? Maybe, but probably not - programming seems especially suited to this model, as its users tend to be collaborative, like to show off their smart solutions, aren't terribly proprietary, have problems with multiple possible solutions but some ability to measure which solutions work better, tend to be online a lot, and love run-on sentences. Okay, I was projecting on the last part.

But you don't to be as successful as SO to have succeeded. You don't need a response time measurable in microseconds to mark a win here. If a photographer can get a professional quality answer to a complex question in an hour, or a day, even, I suspect you've got a site that can sustain itself for a long, long time.

  • The is reasonable arguments, and makes sense (if making money is not taken into consideration for the proposed site. Wikipedia is a similar model, I respect it because it does not exploit its contributors' efforts to making money). – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 21:52
  • @dmv51, it's safe to say that even if Joel and Jeff and their employees didn't care about making making money, their VCs, as hands off as they may be, certainly do. They're just not worrying about it yet. See this post: blog.stackoverflow.com/2010/05/announcing-our-series-a The gist is the google approach: 1. Get everyone to use your thing. 2. Start charging somebody for access to everyone. – Jaydles Aug 13 '10 at 22:02
  • I doubt it will succeed if the business model is like that. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 22:25

Well, you are quite aptly outlining the challenges that a project like Stack Exchange is facing and likely to face. I don't really see any real point in it, though - what would you expect the team to do now, faced with this prediction? Back down and close everything down?

Anyway, it's now documented and you will be able to say "I told you so" if SE fails. :)

  • Let's wait and see. – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 17:45
  • You did not get my points. What I did not say is, based on my observation of current business model, most likely it will fail, unless it changes. Well, that is my opinion. Do not assume your thought is mine. I have some ideas (maybe worse than theirs), but why must I speak it out here? – user150015 Aug 13 '10 at 19:54

No, however all the sites will be limited to topics that programmers find interesting: cooking, maths, photography, computer gaming, gadgets to name a few.

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    money .. money.stackexchange.com – Chris W. Rea Aug 14 '10 at 2:08
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    (yeah, shameless plug ;-) .. but I do disagree. I think you're right initially, but eventually the network will have more non-programmers than programmers participating. The question is really how long until that happens. – Chris W. Rea Aug 14 '10 at 2:09
  • @Chris I hope so, but most of the propositions on Area51 are the hobbies of a programmer though as you said Money and DIY break that rule – Chris S Aug 14 '10 at 20:00
  • ...cooking is a topic that programmers find interesting? Moreso than DIY and Money? – Grace Note Sep 16 '10 at 14:19
  • @Grace Yes, especially cooking waffles. – Helen Sep 18 '10 at 8:15

Don't worry about it. The cream of the crop will rise and the most "useful" sites will survive. Look at the stats @giddy posted.. things are looking Ok to me.
As others said, its not your money, so don't worry about it.


Give it 6 - 8 weeks.

  • ...and then it will succeed? ...and then it will fail? ...and then we'll know more? – Jaydles Aug 13 '10 at 21:56
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    @jaydles Then the unicorns will decide. – Andrew Aug 14 '10 at 4:59

"Will the Stack Exchange Network fail?" "Will"? It already has! But they fixed it.

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