I thought about reposting my WA answer here, but it's already getting enough attention, so I'm going to post something new instead that's been brewing in my addled brain since last night.
All of us here - all of us on the SE betas and Area 51 and even Stack Overflow and the trilogy sites to an extent - we're volunteers.
Oh sure, the team paints pretty pictures about us being autonomous communities and I myself have written about some of the underlying social phenomena. But underlying all of those things, our actual relationship with the team is that of volunteers; unpaid workers who do our thing because (a) we get a hearty pat on the back, (b) we get the occasional perks, and (c) we sometimes, sorta, enjoy the work we're doing.
A few weeks into the Cooking beta, I mentioned the concept to my mom and what we were trying to do. Her response surprised me. It wasn't "Tell me more", but it wasn't "That sounds too technical" either, it was something totally out of left field. She asked me, Why are you doing all of this?
And it was a bit of a struggle to come up with an answer. What it all came down to was that I wanted to be part of a knowledgeable community but that the only other venues for that are clunky discussion forums, and that if you want something done right in this world then you've got to step up and do it yourself.
The Community aspect was, by and large, the crux of my argument back then, and still is today. We actually have a few chefs there, people with real kitchen experience, people who know a lot more than I do and are willing to share on occasion - unlike all of the forums where I'd mostly be jabbering with ordinary Joes in the same boat that I'm in. I'm there answering questions not for my personal reputation but for the reputation of the community - that we get your questions answered fast. And now I'm there moderating not because I like to tell other people what to do, but because I desperately want the quality of questions to stay high so that we can establish ourselves as a reputable community.
A community's identity is central to that community and the name is, fundamentally, the identity. We learned this crap on the street in high school; you're either a member of the jocks, nerds, goths, emos, ravers, punks, hipsters, metalheads, trendies or preppies. If you're not part of something then you are just not cool. Worse than that, you're essentially nobody.
Originally it was stated that we would get to choose our identity, which is what almost every coherent community does. They might name themselves or they might adopt a popular name chosen by outsiders but either way, that name defines who they are.
What is our identity going to be now? Nothing. To anyone outside programming circles, "Stack Exchange" might as well be 102-47th Street. Individual communities are apartments in a nameless high-rise building. That's not really a community at all, it's a weekly tupperware party.
And this brings me back to the point about being volunteers. Many of us out there are doing our damnedest to help build real communities, but it seems that the team keeps kicking up clouds of sand in our faces.
First, the Area 51 rules were changed and all of the votes were scrapped.
Then the beta period was extended from 60 days to 90 days, so we've all been forced to watch activity dwindle while we prepare to promote ourselves (which is nigh on impossible while the site is still in beta).
Then proposals like Software Engineering started getting questioned because the system failed to produce quality definitions, which was blamed as a failure of the community itself.
Then legitimate proposals like Compiler Design started getting canned on the grounds that they would be a "drain" on existing sites - even though the evidence clearly shows that no such activity is currently taking place on any existing sites.
Now, communities are being denied the
right to privilege of a name, and thus an identity, guaranteeing that we'll look like losers and nobodies if we ever try to get ourselves noticed by bloggers or even friends.
Well, team, here's a newflash for you:
We don't give a f*ck about Stack Exchange.
We care about our individual communities.
I don't care if the Webmasters, Photography, Stats, Mathematics, Home Improvement, GIS, and Ubuntu proposals all fail. I don't care if every single proposal other than the ones I'm actively involved in fails. None of us care about somebody else's community.
We don't care about the Stack Exchange brand. We don't care how many or how few sites there are. We don't care how much money you make from clicks and ads, unless you plan to give us a piece of the pie. We don't care what your SEOs and VCs say. We don't care that you want Stack Exchange to be the next Wikipedia.
We. Just. Don't. Care.
We are donating ample amounts of our personal time to these proposals/betas for one reason and one reason only: So that we can be part of a community that we're proud of.
What we don't want is to be a nameless, faceless portal page that's part of some conglomerate that's supposedly very big and important but most people outside a specific industry have never heard of. We'd rather at least attempt to make the sites stand on their own rather than have to suckle at the teat of a franchiser. And it seems to be that at least on WA, the community has spoken quite loudly in agreement with this principle.
What it all comes down to is this:
If you want these communities to continue volunteering their time for your business venture, then you are going to have to start treating those communities with a little respect.
Yes, I get it, it's your company and you don't have to do everything we say. But you throw up obstacles and insult us at every turn. The bizarre voting rules on Area 51 are fine, it's just that most people don't "get" them. Beta periods need to be extra-long because you don't trust us to keep the axles greased. Fledgling subcommunities must abandon hope and join or die. Communities will only get their own names when they're making you enough money, and even then they might not because most of their ideas for names suck (oh, I forgot, Joel Spolsky came up with NothingToInstall - so it must be the community's fault for voting it up so high). Oh, and anyone who disagrees is clearly not worth listening to, so we're just going to revert the one existing domain anyway regardless.
If you want to crowdsource, you need to start showing a little less contempt and elitism toward the crowds.
If you genuinely want our support, then convince us - with evidence, not a bunch of flippant remarks and bad analogies and vague references to The Google, whose proprietary algorithms Google outsiders know precious little about and could turn their metaphorical back on you at any time.
If, by contrast, you wanted complete dictatorial control over the entire process then you should have just said so. I don't see why you even bother with the whole Area 51 ritual at this point. Just create whatever sites you want, with whatever names and branding you want, and see how many people are willing to join and contribute. That's what you did with Stack Overflow and it basically worked.
But don't dupe a bunch of innocent people into thinking that they have even a modicum of say in their community's destiny when you're so eager to pull the rug out from under them within a matter of hours.
It's insulting. It's hostile. Frankly, it's bad business.
Don't take your community for granted. It takes months, even years to build trust, but only minutes to destroy it.