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.
It's a bit unusual for us to write about an upcoming private beta. Most proposals struggle to get critical mass, so beta periods tend to be the culmination of months of community building. When it launches early next week, Emacs will be the second fastest site to go from initial proposal to private beta which is a key to site success. (Craft CMS holds the record at 12 days. As with this proposal, the majority of that time was waiting for us to launch the site after 100% commitment.) So we are pretty sure this site will be fast out of the gate.
Even so, we have some concerns. Dominate among them: we don't want to divide Stack Overflow into an archipelago of platform islands. If Emacs succeeds, there will be pressure to create sites for Vi, Eclipse, Visual Studio, etc. and so on. In fact, we debated internally whether or not to close this proposal as a duplicate. It was a close call, but we did decide to let the proposal go to private beta. (Note: we decided before Joel committed to it. He wasn't part of our conversation.)
A quick aside: Stack Overflow is an extremely strong brand among developers and technical folks. When I tell people I work for Stack Overflow, they generally know the site. When I say I work for Stack Exchange, they assume it has something to do with Wall Street. (Confusingly, our headquarters is in the Financial District.) It's increasingly strange that you go to Stack Overflow for coding questions, Programmers for design questions, Code Review for peer review, and Code Golf for a bit of serious frivolity. Closer to our bottom line, if you want a job or to hire a programmer, you go to Careers 2.0. So splitting off Emacs questions runs counter to our current thinking about what's best for our company and (we suspect) the users of Stack Overflow.
How will Emacs be evaluated in the private beta?
Given that programming questions are best asked on Stack Overflow, we are going to be looking for the Emacs site to cover topics not easily raised on our flagship site. At the end of the private beta, we'll have no problem shutting down a site that mostly mimics the emacs tag. That's not to say that elisp is off topic. Rather, we will be discounting questions like those (that seem to fare pretty well on SO today) when evaluating what the beta tells us about the need for a site like this. We'll be looking more at the activity level on questions that highlight benefits that can't be had without a more dedicated community, like:
How can I get emacs to search the text of all files inside a single project?
How can I select a rectangular area that isn't complete lines?
While the answers to these questions will probably include some code, that has more to do with the nature of Emacs (a full programmable editor) than with what's being asked. It's ok to ask programmers' questions (like "How to get intelligent auto-completion in C++?") but if they dominate, there's little reason not to fold Emacs.SE back into Stack Overflow.
Questions? Concerns? Comments?
Stick 'em below. I will be posting a similar post on meta when the site has been created.