SE Podcast #30 - Robert Cartaino & Rebecca Chernoff

by Alex Miller

on December 8, 2011

Guests this week are Robert Cartaino and Rebecca Chernoff. Yeehaw! They're members of our Community Team.

  • The original Joel on Software forums were sort of a progenitor for Stack Overflow. They had strict rules: nothing off-topic was allowed - and discussing the forums themselves was off-topic. So a Joel on Software Off-Topic discussion group was created for all of That Stuff. Joel's forums are still going strong!

  • What happens if we let a community go on forever? If it's stagnating or not really growing, it's not necessarily making the internet worse. It's just not doing anything. Right? But think about something like an eHow, that has low quality pages that still rank higher for most queries than other pages with real, good information. The Community Team does evaluations of the quality of sites, but they are beginning to make that process transparent to the communities or even have their communities do the checks. Or potentially to hire really deep experts now and then. Or both?

  • What if we have the best site on the web, but it's for a terrible topic? For example - what if horoscopes.stackexchange.com was the best darn horoscopes site out there. Does the topic still make sense on our engine? This is why proposals are examined so thoughly in Area 51 (and its respective discussion section).

  • If you haven't checked Area 51 out recently, you should stop by - there are lots of cool improvements that have been made. Robert, Jeff and Rebecca discuss the newfangled Area 51 process, and what sorts of mysterious things happen to a site when it spends its "week" in Private Beta.

  • Sometimes proposals fail and get closed. Game of Go was one of them. It got shut down, but its questions and its users got migrated over to Board Games - which is one of the ideal ways to handle having a young site shut down. Another positive way to handle the shutting down of a site is to let its users regroup in Area 51 and try the proposal again with a different approach.

  • "Wouldn't it be simpler to just create a catch-all site, answers.stackexchange.com, and split off topics as they grow large enough for their own sites?" Basically, there is no way to grow acommunity through this method, since all the people there would have nothing in common. A counterexample is the split between Stack Overflow and Programmers - but that wouldn't have worked with someone just asking a question about hardwood flooring on Stack Overflow and having it turn into Home Improvement.

  • Really good moderation is key to everything. There are 260 moderators on the whole network! We start to identify moderators a few weeks into a site's private beta by looking for active meta participants, editing to improve content, voting to close - doing activities other than simply asking and answering questions. This does not necessarily mean that the moderators must be the highest-rep users! That's like asking your grandparents to be ushers at your wedding. Rebecca tells us about the changes that were made to the Stack Overflow election system for the recent moderator election. It involves badges. Learn more about elections! The Android elections are going on now.

  • We hold chat-casts with moderators every few weeks to open a channel between the Community Team and the moderators. There's also a monthly moderator newsletter with highlights of important announcements. That's so people can get the 5-6 things they need to know without having to be too deeply ingrained in the moderators' chat room or in metas.

  • Meta Stack Overflow is to the federal government as individual site metas are to state governments. It's possible to spend most of your time on your local site government, and the newsletter will keep you apprised of the changes on the national level.

  • Moderation and meta activity are huge parts of why Stack Exchange is so awesome, but we can't forget that it's the amazing Q&A engine that makes all that awesomeness possible!

That's it for Podcast #30, which is it for podcasts in 2011. See you next year!