I was advised that my question on Area 51 - Linguistics belonged here.

I'll restate it for this different context.

Like many people, I've stumbled across some proposals on Area 51 that I liked. Yesterday it was a banner ad I clicked on for Linguistics. I read the list of questions that were in/out of scope, and my interest grew. I skimmed through the details of the commitment clause, noting that I was would be promising to ask or answer 10 questions in a 3-month period. I clicked on "commit".

Then I was ready to fulfill my commitment. I began looking on the site for linguistics questions I could answer, or where to ask them. I could not find a way to do that. Nor could I find a statement saying that I could not yet ask/answer questions. It was frustrating. As a new recruit to the site, I was turned off.

I tried to vote or comment on some of the example questions. If you click on one of the titles of the example questions, and then happen to scroll to the top of the list, NOT the top of the page, you see a notice saying "This proposal is now in the Commitment phase — example questions are locked!" I didn't happen to do that for quite a while. Nor does it say anything about real questions.

People familiar with Area 51 already know that during the commitment phase, you can't ask or answer questions about the topic. You have to wait till the beta. I know that now. However it was not clearly displayed for me to see. Presumably if I had dug deep enough into documentation about Area 51 processes, I would have found this information. But that is not a way to encourage new recruits. "RTFM and when you're done, come back and we'll talk"?

Others have argued for more things to do during commitment phase, and while I agree, that's not my point here. Rather, given the way things are, can we please label them better? If new recruits have to wait an unknown period of time before they can contribute, at least let them know that prominently, so they don't go banging their heads against the wall in an effort to contribute, and get soured in the process.

For example, in the upper right corner where it says

This proposal is in: Commitment

Before the site is created, it needs people to commit to use it. Right now, it's 36% complete. When it reaches 100%, the beta will begin.

We could add

Until then, it is not possible to ask or answer questions about the topic.

And to the "more info" area, add a link to information about the life cycle of a proposed Q&A site, where we can find out more about what Commitment Phase implies.

3 Answers 3


I think the solution is pretty simple. You've got this badge on the side of the page that says

This proposal is in: Commitment. Before the site is created, it needs people to commit to use it. Right now, it's 43% complete. When it reaches 100%, the beta will begin.

All you have to do is add a sentence to that badge (the unexpanded badge) saying

At that time, people who committed to this proposal can fulfill their commitment by asking or answering 10 questions withing the 3-month beta period.

  • That looks ok to me.
    – LarsH
    Commented May 12, 2011 at 15:02

It's hard to argue against making the process more discoverable and easy to understand. I do see once in awhile, users who haplessly stumble across a block of text with a question mark and try and answer it anywhere they can. For them, we try to make it clear what the process is about.

But I'm having trouble envisioning that you became familiar enough with the process to commit to a proposal, and yet still didn't run into the many places around the site that say things like:

"This proposal is now in the Commitment phase — example questions are locked!"


"This proposal is in: Commitment. Before the site is created … "

Even if you found something to click on in your enthusiasm to start answering questions, you would have hit:

This proposal is in the Commitment phase … The Commitment phase is a petition to have the site created …

I get what you are saying. I'll have to look for ways to make the process more understandable. But short of "stamping" each individual question with a red "Example — Do not answer", I'm not sure off the top of my head to how to head off every possible point of misunderstanding like that. But the gist of your request has not fallen on deaf ears. Thank you for the suggestions.

  • Thanks for the understanding answer. And I appreciate the user-interface problem, how do you make the important things easy to discover, without burying the page in a heap of noisy notices? One problem with the existing notices is they presuppose the notion of "site creation" without explaining it. To the casual visitor, there is already a "site", and there are already "questions". The finer distinctions are not yet apparent. Cont'd...
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 18:58
  • 4
    In other words, it is not obvious that "the site" has not been created, nor that even tho example Q's have been added, real ones cannot. As mentioned in my question, I eventually did run into the first notice you quoted, but only by happenstance. If you recruit people to do X and they come ready to do X, but they're not allowed to yet, they should be told that at the front door - not after they spin their wheels trying to do X for a while. Re: 'becoming familiar enough with the process to commit' - that part was quick and easy, starting by clicking on a banner ad.
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 19:03
  • Agreeing that we can't head off every possible misconception, but having the stated goal that a lot of new evangelized recruits are going to come to the proposal web page, some of them not understanding the phases of site incubation... Does my concrete suggestion to put this particular statement in the upper-right notice box make sense?
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 19:09
  • 5
    I just wanted to point out, @Robert, that this is a recurring problem. (Not that I have a solution; just supplying another data point.) For example, we had a high-rep user on ELU, who's also a 10k user on SO, who wasn't able to figure out what the Commitment phase is all about and went on to post a sample on-topic question in the Area51 discussion zone instead. Which, of course, promptly got killed. Which, of course, made him rather sad. But as you say, I'm not sure off the top of my head how to fix that. For the time being, I just keep explaining things to people so that don't stay sad.
    – ЯegDwight
    Commented Apr 20, 2011 at 19:16

Robert Cartaino finds it hard to understand how someone could commit to a proposal and yet not understand she has to wait for the Beta to participate. Well, let me share with you my recent experience.

Yesterday I got this email:

enter image description here

I didn't remember I was following that site proposal, and I only had a loose memory of what Area51 was. But I do care about that topic, so I followed the link. When I clicked the "commit!" button, I got this:

enter image description here

When I read this,

I commit to participate actively in [project name] for at least three months

I was like, "OK, am I gonna be very busy for the next three months? Maybe I can manage".

especially during the private beta

I was like, "OK, it's gonna be on beta for the next three months"

and to ask or answer at least ten questions.

I was like, "that's a lot of work, but OK, let's get started now and do at least three or four"

And then, it was impossible to ask or answer questions. Bummer.

So let me propose four ways to better handle users' expectations regarding commitments:

  1. Add a link to Area51's FAQ in both the email and the commitment text, saying something like "learn more about site creation phases"

  2. Expand the "Commit!" section in Area51's FAQ, emphasizing that users cannot yet ask or answer any questions. Also add a link to this thread.

  3. Change the commitment text as follows:

I commit to participate actively in [project's name] as soon as it reaches the private beta phase and for at least three months, and to ask or answer at least ten questions.

  1. When the user clicks on the Commit button, show her the following notice:

Thank you for committing to [project's name]. You will get a notification as soon as it reaches the private beta phase so you can start asking and answering questions. In the meantime, check these related projects.

I think these four improvements will help users understand that, even if they're very excited about participating in that hot new project they've been following, there's not much more they can do for the time being.

  • 1
    Excellent job documenting your experience as a new user, since it's not something that's easy for old-timers to get access to. I had a similar experience. Also kudos for the constructive suggestions.
    – LarsH
    Commented Jan 9, 2018 at 15:23

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