It seems that two things are required for a new site to be successful:
- A core group of domain experts that commit to being around to answer questions, and initially, to do the housekeeping.
- Getting the word out. Somehow those people with questions need to know to ask here.
I think 3 committed domain experts is enough for launching a site. That's the relatively easy criterion to meet. The experts in any domain are well known, so you simply reach out to them and invite them. Some will already be somewhere else, aren't comfortable with the whole concept, or just don't want to take on an additional commitment. You keep going until you get at least three.
Note that this reaching out doesn't have to be done by a domain expert. Either way, the result is well measurable. Either there are 3 people that have said they'll be around to answer questions and provide content, or there aren't. Don't launch until there are.
Getting the word out is much more difficult. I don't have ready answers how to do it, nor how to measure whether it is likely to get done. Getting the word out can't be properly done until there is a site, so the decision to launch has to be made on whether there is a believable plan.
I don't have a good answer to what constitutes a believable plan. For now, we probably need the core group of site proposers to present a plan, then we'll wing it on whether it sounds good enough or not. This will likely include some back and forth negotiation. In the long run, we will hopefully learn what works and what doesn't.
It would also be instructive to look at the two issues above in retrospect for each site, together with some evaluation of how well the sites have taken off. I think some patterns will be apparent.
Not counting Meta, we have run 10 different experiments already. It's time to gather the data and see what it tells us.
Real data, 30 Oct 2020
To get at least some measure of how successful each site currently is, I looked at the non-meta activity in the last month. I counted all the post in a category where the system showed the last activity being less than "1 month ago". I then added up the result for all non-meta catagories for each site:
Software Development 79, 6 85
Judaism 27, 5, 9 41
Electrical Enginnering 25, 1 26
Languages 15, 3 18
Math 14 14
Cooking 5, 2, 2 9
Outdoors 4, 1, 1 6
Photography 2, 1, 1 4
Writing 3, 0 3
Scientific Speculation 1, 0 1
The first sets of numbers are the number of posts within each individual category. The last number is the total of the others. I used that total to make a quick visual representation of relative site activity:
So what does this tell us?
- There is no clear cutoff between active and dead sites. We seem to have a continuum.
- The more recently launched sites are generally doing OK.
- The bottom four (maybe 5) sites have in common that there is no group of domain experts committed to the site.
- The top four (maybe 5) sites have in common that there is a group of domain experts committed to the site.