44
votes

NOTICE:

Since this site is now in beta, it is time to have these conversations with the folks who are actually building this site. Please bring your comments and discussions to this site's 'meta' support forum so not to split these conversations. Thanks.

Proposal: Startup Business

On the old startups Stack Exchange I was a user with 3,000+ rep, 84 answers, and hundreds of edits. I proudly linked to my profile from LinkedIn, Quora, even my email signature. Answers.OnStartups got me involved in other StackExchange sites, where I've contributed with answers, edits, and questions on Stack Overflow, Webmasters, Wordpress, User Experience, and others.

Now, after providing Stack Exchange with who knows how many pageviews and associated revenue, all of my contributed content on the site I was most active on has been trashed into a zip file, and I don't even have an archived profile to show for my effort.

After the fact, I've learned that the issue was that not enough of the original community was still active. Rather than trying to re-engage that community, without even a single email sent to the broader community to discuss alternatives to closing, someone (I assume the StackExchange "Community Managers") decided to close the site, posted a notice to the rarely-visited meta section of Answers.OnStartups, and shut it down a month later.

How can the Community Managers not see this as blatantly disrespectful to the creators of the content the network is built on? Why should I or anyone else participate in re-creating a community they've already trashed once?


Edit: With thanks to Robert Cartaino for his reply, the core question is still unanswered. Why should the larger amount of content creators contribute when their work will be thrown away without consultation if the core community can't figure out how to get more people to moderate?

Is the expectation that Dharmesh Shah, Jason Cohen, Patrick McKenzie, and members in general shouldn't expect their participation in the community / content contributions to be valued unless they're also willing to edit answers, close questions, organize tags? Throwing away everyone's content sends the signal that these communities are not a place worth contributing to if you can't regularly participate in "core governance" too.

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    Hopstream has gotten the site back up under a new name at BrightJourney.com -- Several people in the valley donated to get it going. – Jacob Jan 24 '14 at 19:38
23
votes

The "rarely-visited meta" — as you called it — was a big part of the problem. Meta hosts the core governance of the site. I wish I could point you to the myriad of efforts that went into getting this site going again. The Community Managers, Moderators, and top avid users tried valiantly through a multi-year effort to try to energize this community into doing something. Anything.

The site had a reasonable amount of fleeting traffic, but the problem was attrition — few people actually stuck around long enough to run and maintain the site. The questions became predominantly off base (with few people to fix them or even care) and the bulk of content was largely poorly maintained. That's too bad, because it once hosted some of the best content on our network. It just wasn't enough.

The Moderators and the (few) top users worked very hard to try and jump start and re-invigorate this site, but ultimately there was just too few people sticking around long enough to listen. The site was unmaintainable with an all-too-weak foundation to build on. It had to be shut down.

To answer your question about "why recreate the community?"

For all it's faults, Area 51 does one thing very well — it determines of there is an organized and energetic community to rally around the subject of a site. The founder of Answers.OnStartups never had the time to put into building the site, losing one of the main rallying points behind launching the site in the first place. The base of avid users left a long time ago. We couldn't even draw enough of the community into a discussion to determine if the subject itself was suitable as-is… or if a new site scope was in order.

So that's what starting over would do: It would give us a fresh start to determine what the site was supposed to be about; to determine if there is a need for a site at all, and if there are a sufficient number of people around to make it work — because we couldn't make any of this work on the actual site.

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    Again, if a section of the site doesn't have enough activity, that's not the space to organize an effort to reinvigorate that section. Where was the site-wide broadcast? Where was the email to members? Where were the individual messages to former frequent contributors? Where was the big, red banner that said "if things don't change, the site will close"? I appreciate your response, but it doesn't answer the question of why the larger amount of content creators should contribute when their work will be thrown away if the core community can't get enough people to moderate? – Jay Neely Jan 7 '14 at 20:56
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    @JayNeely I have no first hand experience of this specific situation but I find your statement somewhat odd. You being one of the high rep members of the community would have all the access needed to moderate the community and perform some basic housekeeping. In fact, in SE communities, that is exactly how things are expected to work. Users, even the content creators, have to actively pariticipate in site moderation tasks otherwise it gets impossible to manage a even a moderate traffic site. – asheeshr Jan 11 '14 at 13:57
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    Your comment seems to suggest that you believe that there are content creators and then there are content moderators. That belief in fact, is a part of the problem. There is just one community. There are no "sub communities" on most of the smaller SE sites. It is equally important to moderate and create content. – asheeshr Jan 11 '14 at 13:58
  • @AsheeshR for what it's worth, our moderation queues never had stuff in it for more than a few minutes. I never saw any solid evidence that moderation wasn't happening. – rbwhitaker Jan 11 '14 at 14:25
  • @rbwhitaker In my experience, the problems dont always make it to the queues. Most recently, [productivity.se] has been given something of a notice regarding content quality and overall site quality. The queues even before that were always empty. – asheeshr Jan 11 '14 at 14:44
  • I don't think I'd say site quality was even the problem in the first place, though. The low quality stuff was closed or otherwise filtered out pretty quickly. Our problem was in getting new people to ask thoughtful questions, or drawing the right crowd to begin with, not in moderation. – rbwhitaker Jan 11 '14 at 15:17
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    "...tried valiantly through a multi-year effort to try to energize this community into doing something..." Really? I was there several times a day for two years and all I saw was new users being shot down because they didn't know how to ask questions "correctly", along with inconsistent, capricious and quite honestly dysfunctional moderation. I did my best to help the community (see my comment below), but spent a lot of time being told off by moderators for "doing it wrong", then a week later being told to do the exact opposite, then round and round again. In the end I gave up and left. – Steve Jones Jan 21 '14 at 9:40
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    While I don't completely agree with Steve's assessment of the moderators (though I can definitely understand where he's coming from) I couldn't agree more with him on his comments regarding your statement about "[trying] valiantly through a multi-year effort...". This was never done, and least not in a way that was ever visible to normal users like me. – rbwhitaker Jan 21 '14 at 19:53
  • @rbwhitaker Whether we blame the moderators personally or the moderation rules which they blindly followed is not really important, as the end result is the same. My comments were not against the moderators themselves, although I do tend to subscribe to the concentration camp guard philosophy, where I'd hope that someone in a position of power would exercise their common sense to avoid catastrophe. Obviously, we all knew how it was going to end, but mere users like myself were powerless to help and had my own battles to fight against the "regime". – Steve Jones Jan 31 '14 at 10:35
17
votes

Being frustrated with how the Answers.Onstartups knowledge was closed, we re-created the community over the last month: Bright Journey

More details on this answer here:

Site "On Startups" is closed - what to do now?

It took us a month working on this 'round the clock, but it was well worth it. There was tremendous knowledge on the site and knowledge is a terrible thing to waste.

UPDATE:

We have transitioned all accounts. In order to regain access to your old Answers.Onstartups account either:

OR

  • Hi, I also participated to answers.onstartups. I would like to try your website with my answers.onstartups account. When I insert my email in the "new password request", I get the answer that my email wasn't found. Could you help me? My answers.onstartups account was: Datasmarter – DataSmarter Feb 6 '14 at 23:15
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    @DataSmarter Could you send me a direct email at nick AT bright journey DOT com? The password recovery only works with the email address you initially used on Answers.OnStartups. Email me and we'll manually verify. You account is indeed in the system: brightjourney.com/u/datasmarter – Hopstream Feb 7 '14 at 16:01
13
votes

I visited answers.onstartups.com nearly every day for almost two years. I even checked the meta site most days. My complaint with what happened is that we were never told, "If you don't fix this, we'll have to shut it down." It was, "This site is shutting down November 12th." At that point, there were actually quite a few people there trying to find a way to salvage the site, but in my opinion, we were never given a chance to try. By the time we were made aware that the site was facing impending death, it was apparently too late to try to salvage it.

But to Jay's larger point, I'm disappointed that the only thing I have to show for the time and effort I put into that site is a .zip file. (Though thank goodness there is at least that.) I don't have anything I could point out on a resume, in a job interview, or even to a friend about what I did there. I think Jay is right on the money that this is very demotivating. When a site is closed, it would make a world of difference if there was still something there that is readable and linkable, instead of just a data dump.

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    Inspired by this, I've put together a working mirror here: answers-onstartups.tlvince.com – tlvince Jan 13 '14 at 14:11
  • @tlvince, I'm not sure what the mirror is supposed to do. It starts a download called 'download'. I like where your head is though! – rbwhitaker Jan 13 '14 at 17:08
  • I think that's an issue with my server set up. Using Chrome, I can reproduce your issue on first visit. After a refresh, it's fine. I'll look into it. – tlvince Jan 14 '14 at 17:50
  • Yeah, that's looking better. Thanks! – rbwhitaker Jan 14 '14 at 18:14
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    @rbwhitaker I too spent a lot of time on the site (see answer below), but I did see the notice about the shutdown. The disappointing thing to me was that everyone could see the site was a failure due to overzealous moderation making it hostile to new users, but it was shut down rather than making any meaningful attempt to address the obvious issue. I think it could have been salvaged, if the dysfunctional moderation was addressed, but it wasn't given a chance. As always, IMHO, YMMV, etc. – Steve Jones Jan 21 '14 at 9:36
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    @SteveJones, that's my point exactly. I think we all knew there were problems, but they were easy for me to sort of sweep away as, "someday it will be better." Had somebody said something to the effect of, "If this doesn't get fixed and fixed quickly, we're going to have to shut the site down," the community that was active there would have been willing to try out all sorts of things to make it work. Once the shutdown message was posted, it was already past the point of no return, apparently. That's really where my complaint in all of this lies. – rbwhitaker Jan 21 '14 at 19:58
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    @rbwhitaker I agree with you, but the difficulty was that whenever anyone mentioned the overzealous moderation (on meta I mean), it was deleted by overzealous moderation. I had posts deleted and others did too. It was like the moderators were drunk on their (tiny) power and would rather drive the whole thing off the cliff, instead of admit there was something wrong. Very childish behaviour and totally destructive. If new users always ask questions "wrong" and have to read a 20 page FAQ to ask them "right", it is pretty obvious what the end game will be. – Steve Jones Jan 22 '14 at 9:19
7
votes

Like many others, I too spent numerous hours on the answers.onstartups.com site over a couple of years. I answered a lot of questions and did my best to help people, as well as report spam, up-vote questions and comments, edit typos, etc. In short, I spent a lot of time being "a good citizen" and this seems to have been reflected in the reputation points I received (many thousands).

However, from my personal point of view, I could never understand the moderation, which was often overzealous, arbitrary and lacked consistency. For example, some of my answers were up-voted several times, but I was told by a moderator not to provide "non-answers", whatever that means, and to only use comments. So, being a good guy, I started answering questions as comments (even though it was more difficult), only to be told some days later not to answer questions in comments, but to provide proper answers instead.

Whether you blame the moderation rules or the moderators is a distinction without a difference. In either case, the old site was extremely hostile to new users, so it is not a shock that a community never developed. This is a massive wasted opportunity, as it seems like there should be a startups Q&A site, especially after the demise of the Joel on Software forum (I was active there since 2001).

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    I suspect it is the moderation rules as I see the same overzealous moderation going on on other small SE sites. I get a sense of what the moderators are trying to accomplish, however, it looks to me that some process review is in order. A group of people with the authority to change the moderation rules should look into the issue and talk to new users and get their feedback. – JSWilson Feb 10 '14 at 19:12
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    SE seems to be stuck in its schizophrenic goals split: "Building a rich database of high-quality answers is our top priority; we don't care about specific ad-hoc help to random newcomers" combined with "The sites must be alive, with newcomers asking new questions and active user base." Plus the "user retention" myth, belief that expert users will stay. No, old expert users will quit and newcomers must become new experts. The flux is essential, and newcomers must be given both chance and incentive to stay, learn and become the new experts. And nothing turns them away faster than deletions. – SF. Jul 20 '14 at 23:48

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