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I would like to raise the issue of whether the commitment criteria are too stringent to allow areas to form in relatively new directions. My case-in-point is the Buddhism proposal, which is in commitment phase and leveling off under 40% -- frankly it looks like it will not make it to beta.

When I committed and saw the process and stats, I immediately thought of inviting my 150 or so online Buddhism buddies, and posting it in places that would reach thousands more online types. But then I realized that, since the commitment score is the minimum of the three components, it was futile unless I could find folks who were already active on SE -- the proposal only has 37/100 of those with 200+ rep. Well, among my friends I'd be surprised if I could find even one already active on SE. I am connected with them because of Buddhism, not because of computers, math or other technical subjects, which is where SE mostly is today (26 of the top 30 SE sites by # of users).

In effect, the commitment requirement as written now forces SE to expand only by leveraging its current active user population, which, when you get down to it, is a pretty small sliver of all online activity and heavily weighted toward technical or computer-related topics.

I certainly see the need for (a) committers to show firm evidence of likely active participation; and (b) some limiting mechanism to prevent SE from branching out wildly in all directions like a weed -- we're not trying to build a fb or even a quora here. But I think the requirements as written may be overdoing things significantly... and missing a good bet that can be handled differently... read on.

Among my online friends are certainly 10-20 or more who would be eager to answer questions regularly on Buddhism and are also qualified to do so (and also perhaps to ask questions across a range, but generally at the more knowledgeable end). How can I be so sure? Easy! They post a lot on fb, with just the kinds of things that would enliven an SE area on Buddhism. And they've been doing it for quite a while with little sign of tiring. I'd rate all of these in the 500+ equivalent range for rep, many in the thousands, and at least one in the multi-thousands.

The obvious problem is -- how to confirm the level of interest of such folks behaviorally, which is the only really reliable method, and without manual processes. I don't think we want to start writing code to extract activity levels from fb, quora or other such places. But we can simply ask committers -- not "will you be active on SE?", but objective things like, "how often do you post on this topic on fb, quora or other such sites: continuously, several/day, one/day, several/week, one/week, less". Sure, folks can misrepresent their level of activity for a variety of reasons conscious or not, but that doesn't concern me very much, as long as we ask for very specific, quantifiable responses. And if we're really worried about that kind of tilt -- or even systematic ballot-box stuffing -- someone can do an easy manual spot check or sampling at some points during the commitment phase.

So, make any sense? Has this been already discussed -- perhaps endlessly -- and is already firmly decided? Or are we open to such possible changes?


Disclaimer -- I am somewhat new to SE and very new to Area 51. I did search discussions for this topic, but did not find anything in the first 5 or so pages (there are a zillion pages from searching "commitment")

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A quick history —

The current Commitment requirements are there so a large contingent of experienced users are helping build all our new sites. It's all about passing on the education and helping build the core governance that is needed to make these sites work.

That worked very well for our first generation of sites, but it has stopped working for the next generation of users that we wish to create sites for. We know this.

Rather than repeating the next-generation action items here, I'll leave you with this post:

Next Generation Area 51

A next-generation Area 51 isn't about fixing what we have now. We are talking a decidedly different direction than the fixes you are proposing. But I am quite confident that the next-generation process will put everyone interested in next-generation sites far ahead of where they are now.

  • Great -- I look forward to it. But what will happen to "first generation" proposals -- like the Buddhism area I discussed -- for which the first generation process does not work, but are "in process". Will they have to start over from scratch? I hear you that the "next generation" process will be so great, we won't care. But anxiety thrives in the dark! – David Lewis May 9 '12 at 22:35
  • Nobody's going to have to start over from scratch. As I said in the linked post, even if its not ultimately the current "Area 51 process" that launches your site, you are still gathering ideas, building consensus, and finding an audience to help build your site. That will all be put to good use so you can pick it up from there... and you will be far ahead of where you were the day before the next-generation launch. – Robert Cartaino May 10 '12 at 0:39
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how to confirm the level of interest of such folks behaviorally, which is the only really reliable method, and without manual processes.

That's not the purpose of the commitment requirement.

Stack Exchange is not a forum. It is a technology designed to facilitate Q&A-style interactions. A person asks a practical, answerable question. One or more persons attempt to answer it correctly. The end.

The design of SE makes discussion-style interaction difficult. However, that doesn't mean that it isn't impossible. No technology is fool-proof. And if people want to have discussions, they will find a way.

The only real way to keep a site focused on Q&A is for the primary users to enforce this standard. To readily close chatty/discussion-type questions. To downvote answers that aren't actual answers. And so forth.

The people most willing to do this are also the people who best understand the difference between Q&A and forums. And those people are, more than likely, Stack Exchange users. The more rep you have on SE sites, the more likely you are to appreciate the distinction and have a personal investment in Q&A.

That is what the commitment requirement does: it ensures that the initial participants on a site (the people most responsible for building the initial community and behavior) are people who are familiar with the SE approach to Q&A. And yes, this does bias Area51 sites towards computing-related technologies. It's no surprise that one of the biggest successes outside of the Trilogy is Gaming. But for the time being, that is the most effective way to ensure that the Stack Exchange methodology holds up.

SE's paid staff cannot enforce the SE methodology on a site. Only the community can do that. So SE tries to ensure at least initially that the community for a site knows what SE is all about.

Your proposed solution not only doesn't do this, it is quite prone to being lied to. If the information can't be validated by independent sources, then it's not actually information.

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I agree, it should be easier for completely new users to commit to sites.

Suggestion: Remove all entry hurdles, but let them write ~five complete questions before they count towards the limit.

I'm thinking of proposing a site myself (roughly about liberal/progressive theory and activism), but right now I cannot see that I will get enough users that are active in other sites. I do know a bunch of people who would probably join, are prolific writers, and I believe would participate regularly. However, none of them are programmers, gamers, or stackexchange users.

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