I'm torn on this one. I committed to the How things work proposal because it seemed like an interesting idea and I enjoy finding concise ways to explain the complex underpinnings of everyday life in plain, accessible language. However, it was still unclear if the proposal would make a good Stack Exchange site, so I wanted to try and help figure that out (seemingly the whole point of Area 51).

I participated actively during the private beta in both trying to find appropriate questions/answers but more importantly in the meta discussions that identified there was a problem with the proposal: precious few good questions were found that could produce worthwhile content for the site. The decision was made to close the site at the end of private beta, a decision I firmly agreed with. As Robert explains in the email sent out to private beta participants,

After working with members of the community and exploring what this site would become, it became evident that "How Things Work" was simply duplicating content found on any of the other giant repositories of "how things work."

I consider this a textbook example of how a beta should fail: the idea initially seems appealing and gains lots of interest but once you actually try it out you find that the key "Stack Exchange mojo" just isn't there. Props to the Stack Exchange staff--you are the fine line of expertise between mob thinking and emergent value.

So the site was frozen and any Area 51 reputation from the proposal was wiped, as it should be. But I still found myself wondering if I should have something to show for it all. I had spent the time and effort to really understand what Stack Exchange sites are trying to be (an investment which will serve me well on Area 51 for sure), then applied that understanding within the beta itself--participating in the conclusion that was ultimately reached. Perhaps getting a "commitment fulfilled" on my profile would have been an appropriate way to record that--thus helping "fill out the picture" of my user identity to other Area 51 participants. Isn't that the whole purpose of points, badges and the like: to identify quality by providing a more accurate picture of who Stack Exchange content is coming from?

What do you think? Should users who help to fail a beta have their commitment recorded in their profile, or perhaps get a badge or something to tell other users that they've performed a useful task for the community and aren't just floaters/lurkers? Is there some other way to make this information available about a user, or should things be left as they are? Should users be encouraged not to commit to betas unless they they are confident in the proposal's success? Is the task of helping a beta fail something that Area 51 users should be doing? I'd love to hear from the seasoned SE'ers on this one.

Apologies for the text wall.

  • Were the badges earned for that site rolled back as well?
    – John
    May 2, 2011 at 6:29
  • 13
    Beatings. Beatings should happen. That'll teach 'em that FAILURE HAS A PRICE!
    – Shog9
    May 2, 2011 at 15:19
  • @John because the site was closed at the end of private beta, actions such as fulfilling commitments which would have earned a badge outside the site itself were never recorded. Badges within the site died with it, as they should. May 3, 2011 at 17:45

1 Answer 1


I can appreciate what you are saying. You put a lot of work in that site and you'd like to see something for your efforts. But ultimately the reward is supposed to be the site itself, and unfortunately in this case it did not work out.

I'm not the final word on these sort of things, but I believe the "gains" (reputation and anything else) in this scenario should be handled consistently as it is with the rest of the network. If you answer a question and that question is ultimately deleted, you don't keep the reputation, etc. Same goes for the entire site.

I understand that your "commitment" isn't the same as accounting for reputation, but I think the analogy applies. The bigger picture is to be consistent about how we handle, account for, and reward (or not) content that was removed.

Going back to the question-deletion analogy for a moment… A question is typically deleted because, for one reason or another, it did not belong on the network. It would be really odd if we kept this phantom reputation for content which was removed. It would remain locked in; essentially, un-vetted, unaccounted for, and never changing. It doesn't take into account why the content was removed. If users got to keep reputation for situations which should have never existed, users would be understandably concerned.

I'm not suggesting that posts on "How Things Work" were not asked in good faith (of course they were). But sites can also be closed for reasons of excessively poor content or a completely dysfunctional community. You wouldn't want a lot of credit given in that scenario. That's why a reputation recalc is conducted periodically — to bring the scores back in line to reflect the content currently on the network.

It's unfortunate, but sometimes these things happen and an investment in time doesn't always pay off. But much like real life, I would hate to see this translate into an attitude of "this may not work out so I won't even try."

  • 6
    Huh. When the page loaded, I only saw the first three paragraphs of this answer, and not the user card. After I read "I'm not the final word on these sort of things," I thought "oh, well, I'll just wait for Robert's answer, then."
    – Pops
    May 2, 2011 at 16:19
  • Thanks for your answer Robert--participating in meta is really helping me grok the way Stack Exchange sites work (very useful in regards to my pet project). I'd also like to hear from some stack exchange users too, though. May 3, 2011 at 17:57
  • What about a temporary benefit though? Something like an extra commitment slot that can get used only one time (for users who got over 200 rep on the failed beta)? May 1, 2013 at 5:48
  • I mostly agree—though maybe more because I can't think of a better solution, than for the sake of "consistency." (I think, often, arguments championing "consistency" get a bit abstract.) Currently the Beer.SE beta is underway, and I spent many hours the past week researching for answers. Unfortunately, recently I gained a somewhat bleak outlook for the site (specifically, what would happen when general questions about beer are exhausted). Feeling somewhat that the site may stagnate no matter how hard I try and how much I contribute, I'm tempted to give up. But I realize it's Jan 31, 2014 at 19:00
  • mostly because I'll get to keep nothing (of additional effort), that makes me seriously consider the option. If there were even the slightest extrinsic motivator, like some fraction of my rep on Beer.SE getting awarded to Area 51 in the event of site failure, I'd be able to justify, "Well, things might not work out, but at least something of my efforts will be preserved, so I'll keep trying." Jan 31, 2014 at 19:01
  • Psychologically, IMO, the difference between nothing and something (no matter how trivial) is notable, and you may say it's irrational that I'd give up for nothing yet keep trying for some (measly) Area 51 rep, it's not always about "rationality" when it comes to motivation—for example often what drives people to participate in betas is a personal drive to leave some kind of mark—an irrational drive to begin with if you consider only utilitarian aspects. Jan 31, 2014 at 19:02

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