A danger for any new Stack Exchange site is to have a population of mostly laymen, and few experts who can ask and answer the difficult questions which the site's survival ultimately depends on.

Physics is suffering from this and experts decided to create their own site. Artificial Intelligence was closed because of this. Something has to be done to address this problem. Otherwise, many other proposals will suffer of the same fate rather than become extremely useful resources like Stack Overflow has become.

Thus, I propose that a text similar to the following is displayed when ones tries to commit to a proposal:

The success of a new site is predicated on the presence of experts on the subject. A too large concentration of laymen early on is detrimental to the website. As such, we only allow [audience] to commit to a proposal. Laymen can join the site after private beta.

The [audience] above would be replaced by what is found in the "Who is this site for?" field that is filled when creating a new site proposal.

The Economics site's commitment message, for example, would ask:

The success of a new site is predicated on the presence of experts on the subject. A too large concentration of laymen early on is detrimental to the website. As such, we only allow economists and graduate-level economics students to commit to a proposal. Laymen can join the site after private beta.

It's not perfect, but it should at least be an improvement.

Language proposals (English-French translation, Spanish Language & Usage, etc.), for example, could talk about level of fluency to hopefully chase away the merely curious and those learning a language. Again, that wouldn't be perfect but it would certainly help.

Also, to confirm, rather clicking on a button, typing would be necessary. Something like:

If you are an expert of the subject, type "I am an expert" in the box below.

Typing is required, over clicking a button, because it forces the user to read the text. Otherwise, it'd probably still be too likely that someone presses "I am an expert" without reading anything.

It might also be a good idea to lengthen the duration of private beta on topics where you'd expect the incoming of a lot of laymen right at the end of private beta.

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    But everyone overestimates their abilities and a lot of people probably do consider themselves to be experts.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Feb 1, 2011 at 9:12
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    @ChrisF: It's unlikely that someone who just started to learn Japanese will think he's an expert on Japanese. It's not perfect, but hopefully it's good enough for most proposals.
    – Borror0
    Feb 1, 2011 at 9:22
  • Hmmm. But someone who just started to learn Japanese and is serious about it may be able to ask a good question. I agree with the basic issue, but the group you want to reach is "people likely to give high quality answers and ask high quality questions".
    – Pekka
    Feb 1, 2011 at 9:27
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    @Pekka: You can still follow the site, just not commit. It's really about ensuring high quality answers. I doubt we need to worry about a lack of questions.
    – Borror0
    Feb 1, 2011 at 9:34
  • @Borror0 you will never need to worry about a lack of questions, no, but lack of good high-level questions is not uncommon I think. But I agree with the basic issue, it is there
    – Pekka
    Feb 1, 2011 at 9:38
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    By this definition, I couldn't commit to my own proposal :)
    – Benjol
    Feb 1, 2011 at 10:44
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    See the fascinating -- and tangentially related, even -- Dunning-Kruger effect for more on what @ChrisF was saying. +1 because this will expose people to the fact that the site is intended for experts, regardless of who actually signs up. (EDIT: D'oh, my screen cut off right after Ian's answer and I didn't see Piskvor's post. Oh well, an extra link won't hurt.)
    – Pops
    Feb 1, 2011 at 16:11
  • @Popular @ChrisF: I edited the post to show that more accurate language can be used, rather than the weasel word "expert." Not foolproof, but hopefully better.
    – Borror0
    Feb 1, 2011 at 16:35
  • Other examples that might set precedent: Stack Overflow vs. Theoretical Computer Science.SE; Math.SE vs. Math Overflow.
    – user149432
    Feb 1, 2011 at 17:11

4 Answers 4


This has the danger of making every site one consisting of and only for the higher end of experts - similar to mathoverflow. This is fine if that is what the site is meant to be, but a lot of sites are for general purpose questions as well as the truly expert questions.

Once beta ends and the amateurs are permitted, they will either get bullied off the site, or the experts will leave after seeing such a drastic change in the nature of the site.

It would likely be better to allow anyone to join, but if they identify themselves as something less than a professional in the field then their commitment accounts for a smaller portion of the commitment required to start the site.

For instance, a site would require 40% of its commitments from those that identify themselves as professionals with 10+ years of experience in the topic, while the remaining 60% can be filled by those with less experience.

This would ensure that enough of experts join prior to starting the site, and allow the site to grow to fill everyone's needs, rather than splashing cold water on it later.

This number should be tweakable on a per site basis (perhaps have people rate it on a scale of 1-5, where 5 means only for experts, 1 means no experts required, and average the results during the following phase to give a ratio of expertise). Mathoverflow like sites would require 100% experts/graduate/post-graduate researchers, while a gaming site may be fine with 80% people who are mere enthusiasts, but not experts.


I had considered something similar, but it might better be implemented by asking the user what their role/interest is in the site rather than asking "Are you an expert?"

Something like this:

What role do you play in [Photography]?

○ Professional or Expert
◉ Avid Enthusiast or Prosumer
○ Academic or Research-Level Student
○ Beginner or Learner
○ Merely Curious
  • 2
    I could get behind that.
    – Borror0
    Feb 1, 2011 at 18:32
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    Same here: This doesn't exclude anybody, but helps define things. I think the classification would have to be public, though, to deter people from grading themselves higher than they think. I would like this best in combination with @Pollyanna's suggestion: A site would have to have x amount of professionals to take off
    – Pekka
    Feb 1, 2011 at 18:53
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    I also like this for its side-effect; it will highlight proposals that don't seem to have any expert audience.
    – Aarobot
    Feb 2, 2011 at 19:28

The problem is that a lot of experts know how hard a subject is and therefore do not think of themselves as experts, but a lot of non-experts think a subject is easy and therefore think of themselves as experts!

There needs to be something better than asking "are you an expert".

  • Turn it around, "are you a layman [in this field]?"
    – Fred Nurk
    Feb 1, 2011 at 13:34
  • I am starting to think along the line of: "how often are you asked for advice on XXX [dayly|weekly|monthly]? Feb 1, 2011 at 14:03
  • Made a few changes to my suggestion, based on what you said. I tried to make it so the ambiguous "expert" word would not be used.
    – Borror0
    Feb 1, 2011 at 18:20

I doubt that it will work: at least in the field where I am somewhat competent (e.g. programming), I see that people who are one step above the complete newbies (not "hello world" any more, but still firmly in the "beginner" range) look down on the total newbies and think "I'm not a noob anymore, therefore I must be an expert, The Expert even!" Only with more learning, people will find out how much more there is to learn. Also, people are 1) vain 2) liars, so they'll pretend expertise to prop up their egos.

In other words, 90% of the people will proclaim themselves experts, rendering this checkbox-but-not-a-checkbox useless.

See also: Dunning–Kruger_effect (a.k.a. "unskilled and unaware of it")

  • I'd forgotten what the effect I alluded to was called - thanks.
    – ChrisF Mod
    Feb 1, 2011 at 16:24
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    -1 because this isn't useless even if 100% of people suffer from Dunning-Kruger. Many people don't even know that the beta is intended for experts, and this will spread that knowledge. I, for one, stopped participating in betas because I realized that I wasn't being a positive contributor.
    – Pops
    Feb 1, 2011 at 17:02
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    @Popular The whole commitment agreement of needing to devote posts and multiple visits every week for the duration of the beta didn't provide any sort of warning?
    – Grace Note StaffMod
    Feb 1, 2011 at 17:13
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    @Grace commitment and expertise are orthogonal.
    – Pops
    Feb 1, 2011 at 18:04
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    programming is very hard as I may be an expert in XXX, but I am more active on tags I wish to learn about. Feb 2, 2011 at 9:36
  • @Ian Ringrose: Ah okay, should have narrowed it down. Still applies in any tag though - I've had self-proclaimed SQL experts tell me that using any indexes at all is wrong, as they only slow down operations (not sure what the equivalent would be in .Net - "reflection is the solution for anything and everything", perhaps?) Feb 2, 2011 at 19:43

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