An Area 51 Apology -- and Clarification

by Jeff Atwood

on October 1, 2010

We'd like to apologize to the Area 51 community.

Allow me to explain with a diagram:

In this diagram:

  • Charlie Brown is the Area 51 community.

  • Lucy Van Pelt is Stack Overflow Internet Services Inc.

  • The football is the following proposals: Developer Testing, Compiler Design, and Vim.

As Joel explained in Merging Season, if ...

  1. Almost all X questions are on-topic for site Y
  2. Y already exists, it already has a tag for X, and nobody is complaining
  3. There’s a high probability that users of site Y would enjoy seeing the occasional question about X

... then your proposal should be closed as a duplicate on Area 51, which has a close reason precisely for this purpose!

Area 51 was always envisioned as a tool for broadening our scope -- for creating new sites serving new topics and answering questions that were previously considered off-topic on our existing sites. Area 51 was never intended as a tool for creating overlapping sub-sites that would cannibalize users from our existing sites!

We thought we made this clear in the Area 51 FAQ, but apparently we didn't.

That said, it is completely and utterly our fault that we didn't stay on top of these overlapping proposals and close them as duplicates in a more timely fashion. It was unfair of us to let these proposals advance so far, when it is clear that they -- however well intentioned -- did not meet the spirit or letter of what Area 51 is for.

That is, as the kids say, "not cool." And I would like to apologize on behalf of Stack Overflow Internet Services for failing the community in this way.

Yes, this does mean that these proposals -- and, for that matter, any other proposals that would tend to drain audience away from existing Stack Exchange 2.0 sites -- will be closed as duplicates.

In the future, so we don't make these mistakes again, we plan to institute the following changes:

  • be much more diligent about scrutinizing proposals as they move to commitment phase, not months later when they're at 80% commitment.

  • try to build better vote-based tools that can assist proposals in merging together under broader topics so they have a stronger chance of surviving and defining their own unique topic space.

  • strengthen the tag page support in our engine so sub-communities can prosper in a set of tags without feeling that they absolutely must "break out" into their own site.

We're sorry. But we're only human, and we make mistakes too. Area 51 is something we love and are very excited about, but it's also new to us -- and we're learning about the process as we go along.

We hope you'll stick with it (and us) to see where it goes.