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Is there somewhere an explanation of the various stages a proposal goes through on its way to Launch? E.G. for each stage, why does that stage exist, what should we expect to see, what should we do, how do we move onto the next stage? At which stages can a site be closed, and what are the criteria?

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From the FAQ:

Beta. Perhaps the most important phase. This is the actual, live site set up on a "probationary" basis to see if people use it. It is very important to participate early. The earliest questions set the tone and topic of the site for a long time. This is also the time to spread the word via Twitter, blogs, and email far and wide. If the site does not get used, it will be deleted. Each site has two parts, each with its own URL:

  • topic-name.stackexchange.com: This is where you ask questions, answer questions, tag questions, edit questions, and vote. The beta site starts off with a temporary "sketchy" design; its final design is chosen when the beta period ends.
  • meta.topic-name.stackexchange.com: We don't want to talk about the site on the site itself, so each site has a meta discussion area to talk about things like what questions are appropriate, what tags to use, etc. The meta site is also accessible through the 'meta' link at the top of each page on the main site. This is where you can help make decisions about the site itself.

Beta starts with a private beta, where only people who have committed to the proposal can participate. Private beta usually lasts 1-2 weeks, and then the site moves to public beta, where participation is open to everyone. This is the most critical stage of the site, a public beta will either graduate to a full (launched) site or it will be closed.

Public betas share the same theme, few examples of current betas are:

Launched sites, on the other hand, have custom themes:

A site may remain in public beta for a while, the older one right now (afaik) is Personal Finance and Money (810 days in beta).

  • Good examplw with Money SE! We stayed in beta for nearly another year after that, for nearly 1100 days, I think but successfully made it out of beta at last! – Ellie Kesselman Nov 13 '14 at 7:17
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There is a pretty good explanation of the various stages here:

http://area51.stackexchange.com/faq

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