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What criteria are used to determine to launch a new community?

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Codidact currently has several communities (with varying levels of activity), and several more proposals for new communities. There seems to be an effort in many of these proposals to collect users to ensure that there's enough interest before launching a new site. This makes sense, because an empty site without participants (especially expert answerers) isn't particularly helpful to anyone.

But how much interest is "enough" interest? Are there some objective (or even subjective) criteria that need to be met in terms of number of "signed-up" users, number of moderators, how many upvotes the proposal gets, or scope definition completeness before a site is launched?

Or in short, what's the process from proposal to actual launch look like in terms of how the decision to launch gets made?

Why should this post be closed?

1 comment

See also https://meta.codidact.com/q/276971. luap42‭ 26 days ago

3 answers

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I'm speaking only for myself here.

Unfortunately, we're still kind of winging this, and learning as we go. We now realize we launched some early communities without enough active, engaged members, but we don't know where that sweet spot is yet. We don't want to hinder communities, and we also don't want to set them up for failure. Early on we were paying too much attention to votes on proposals, without asking whether those votes meant "I'm interested" or "that sounds like a good idea". This is why I started adding the posts asking people to indicate their interest.

One thing that I've come to realize makes a difference is velocity. Our Judaism community gathered support quickly and launched within days, which meant the community could continue that momentum. The proposers of our Electrical Engineering community came to us as a group of interested experts and, similarly, we launched within days. Early on I thought the RPG community would take off, but it's been waiting for a while without much activity and I don't know if the original supporters are still interested. We have a new proposal for Christianity and a recently-revitalized one for Code Golf, both of which also seem to have active supporters. (Christianity only has a couple who've said they're enthusiastic; I'd feel more comfortable with more.) With the momentum that Code Golf has, I'd be happy to launch it soon -- we're actually blocked on a technical matter, not the community (aside from the matter of a name).

We've been launching communities with "enough 'starter' scope" with the assumption that communities would then refine that scope as questions come up. On Software Development we've gotten some pushback that we were too vague to start. That might be due to the unusual way this community got created, though.

I am very interested in hearing feedback on how to do this better! We want to help communities build homes for themselves here. Some will do it more quickly and some more slowly, some with broader scope (encouraging more questions) and some with narrower scope (more specialized). If the community isn't there (or doesn't stick around because there's not enough activity), we aren't serving them well. If we place too many hurdles before launching communities, we aren't serving them well. We're aiming for balance, learning from each community we launch, and doing some guessing. I'm sorry; I wish I had a better answer.

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I think it will be misguiding to count the number of casually interested. Those might not end up very active, lose interest or just end up as passive "readers". Maybe we should ask how many that are willing to act as moderators or consider themselves domain experts (or at least professional). That gives a good idea for how large the group of core users might be initially. As for a number... well at least 10 such users as a bare minimum? We need to stop launching ghost towns. Lundin‭ 26 days ago

@Lundin There's another side of what you're writing here - it's just the way of things online that there will be more casual readers than heavily active participants and we still need to think of them. Asking for 10 people who are willing to be mods is too much, I think. We don't require sites to be highly active and even if we did, 10 is a lot - most sites don't even need half that. It's also not necessarily the best thing to ask until the site exists Mithrandir24601‭ 26 days ago

@Mithrandir24601‭ I said mods or domain expert/professional. Like if you launch the Cooking site, you might want at least 10 people who are either willing to do moderator work, or work professionally in the restaurant business or has cooking as a major hobby/passion. Not 4-5 people who say "yeah I cook food for dinner so I'm interested". And then I'm counting on half of those 10 who claimed to be interested dropping out for various reasons. Lundin‭ 26 days ago

As things stand, we have some ~3-4 "ghost towns" and also several sites struggling with participation. The ghost towns in particular should probably not have been launched. It looks bad on the network as whole if you have lots of dead communities. Lundin‭ 26 days ago

As someone who really wants an RPG community, I agree that we don't yet have enough people to take off. For any community, we don't just need "participants", we need "answerers" and other people willing to write high-quality content regularly. It's a big commitment, really. For many communities here I browse them occasionally but don't feel qualified to give good answers (and probably wouldn't have the time to do so a lot even if I were qualified). Peter Cooper Jr.‭ 26 days ago

Show 3 more comments
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It seems that two things are required for a new site to be successful:

  1. A core group of domain experts that commit to being around to answer questions, and initially, to do the housekeeping.
  2. 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:

SW   XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Jud  XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
EE   XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Lang XXXXXXXXXXXXXXX
Math XXXXXXXXXXXX
Cook XXXXXXX
OutD XXXXX
Phot XXX
Writ XX
ScSp X

So what does this tell us?

  1. There is no clear cutoff between active and dead sites. We seem to have a continuum.
  2. The more recently launched sites are generally doing OK.
  3. The bottom four (maybe 5) sites have in common that there is no group of domain experts committed to the site.
  4. The top four (maybe 5) sites have in common that there is a group of domain experts committed to the site.

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In terms of data, it appears that sites which mass-imported from SE aren't doing as well as those that didn't. One site (Judaism) imported a few questions from SE and is doing very well, as far as I can tell. Might be more useful to give some hard numbers though Mithrandir24601‭ 26 days ago

@Mith: Yes, of the sites I regularly check, it seems like Photography and Scientific Speculation are dead, and Outdoors is nearly dead. Of those, Outdoors and Speculation did lots of importing, and Photography was abandoned by the original proponents. Olin Lathrop‭ 26 days ago

@Mith: To get Electrical Engineering going, I grabbed a few of my own popular answers from SE, but they weren't just imported. I edited and cleaned up each one individually. I also only grabbed a small number, under a dozen. That seems to have worked. Olin Lathrop‭ 26 days ago

Both EE and Judaism had lots of veteran users and mods from SE coming over and that's simply the main reasons why those two communities seem to do OK. This is exactly why I insist that we should look for how many such core users a community can count on before launching. We can argue about the exact number. But casually interested people won't carry any new community, there needs to be a core group. Lundin‭ 25 days ago

Nice work on collecting the data! Zerotime‭ 23 days ago

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I think this answer by @laserkittens to a community proposal is very interesting. It does not just keep track over how many that are interested, but also a qualified guess over how active the users will be, if they are potential mod material and so on.

This is something that a user cooked up themselves without site support, but couldn't we do something similar for all communities? Optionally with site support. Then over time/with experience come up with some metric over how many "active", "casual" and "mod" etc candidates there should be.

If this was integrated in the site, then specific users could "age away" from active to inactive in case they haven't participated in any community or meta for a while, so the data gathered would still be valid some months later, after the initial community proposal. Maybe make it so that a user on the list could "bump" their name "yes I'm still interested" etc.

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