81

So, we still haven't quite reached the mark on questions per day. But we're killing all our other stats. It's hard to find a question here that doesn't immediately have a ton of answers and votes. We also get a very healthy amount of traffic. It's clearly NOT the case that people aren't finding us, or that they aren't engaged when they get here. It might just be the case that the writing process itself doesn't continually generate as many novel questions as (say) the newest programming language.

I know other sites have exited Beta without perfect stats. Philosophy had a very similar profile to ours when it made a successful pitch to exit beta. They had a devoted and engaged pool of users, like we do, and only a slightly better questions-per-day stat than ours. Is it time for us to make that push?

Please include in your answers any suggestions for moving this forward (if you agree) or any knowledge you have of the process. If you disagree, please explain why in your answer.

  • What are the benefits? – EJoshuaS Feb 21 '18 at 20:40
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    @EJoshuaS the main one is removal of the "beta" label, which can give visitors the wrong impression. In principle it means we'd get a nice site design and logo instead of the generic blue one, but the line is really long so that would take a while. (On the other hand, maybe they'd at least let us design a banner graphic to use in the meantime? I harbor hopes...) There are also other effects -- moderator elections so the community can choose who oversees the site, community ads, and some tweaks to question migration. – Monica Cellio Feb 21 '18 at 21:13
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    I was right there to see Chemistry SE going from Beta to having its own site design. – Caters Feb 21 '18 at 21:52
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    @MonicaCellio If graphic design services are required, I can oblige. I'm not a professional graphic designer, but I've been doing it for years. Provided I have all information and/or assests I'd need, I'd be happy to help if needed. – Thomas Myron Feb 23 '18 at 1:24
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    @ThomasMyron thank you! I have no idea if SE would let us design our own header while waiting in the full-design line, but given our challenges with information scent, coming up with some sort of graphic that conveys the variety of types of writing that are on-topic here would help us quite a bit. When we get that far we'll be sure to pull you into the conversation. – Monica Cellio Feb 23 '18 at 1:32
  • @MonicaCellio Sounds great! – Thomas Myron Feb 23 '18 at 4:41
  • @MonicaCellio Considering that PPCG.SE has had a full design ready and avilable to use as a userscript since before they exited beta (around the same time as WorldBuilding did I believe). I have my doubts that Writing will get anything for a while. – The_Lone_Devil Feb 23 '18 at 8:53
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    @The_Lone_Devil I know the design team won't have any time for us for, probably, years. Maybe both our sites can appeal to them to let us plug an important gap in the meantime. I'm not talking about a full design, just a header graphic. We'll see -- first we have to graduate. – Monica Cellio Feb 23 '18 at 14:55
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    Just noticed that our questions per day is now at 6.1. That's the highest I have seen it. Perhaps bringing over the tech comm people is making a difference. – user16226 Feb 24 '18 at 5:13
48

Thank you for pointing out the precedent from Philosophy.

We will probably never have 10 questions per day, for reasons already mentioned in other answers, and that's ok, because:

  • We have sufficient new questions coming in, and a large body of existing questions that still get new answers.

  • We have lots of high-quality content.

  • We have many engaged users who ask, answer, help new users, and moderate the site.

  • We have enough users at the various reputation levels to support the higher privilege thresholds that come with graduation.

  • We have enough active users to support a moderator election.

  • We have stood the test of time. We are one of the oldest sites still in beta and we haven't seen quality, activity, or the user base decline.

Update 2019-08-01: We are no longer a beta site! (Along with 28 other solid sites that don't happen to have 10 QPD.)

  • Hi Monica, I gave you the checkmark because you're the only official moderator to post here. Do you know what the next step is? We seem to have a unanimous consensus among the power users on the site, how do we move forward? – Chris Sunami Feb 19 '18 at 19:15
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    @ChrisSunami I'd hold off on that checkmark, since the issue isn't really resolved yet. The next step is for the moderators to approach SE with a display of overwhelming support. The post announcing the name change has 29 upvotes and the one suggesting migrating TechComm questions here has 16, so I think it'd be better to see some more votes here (at least on the question). After the TechComm migration is complete, I'll feature this question. – Monica Cellio Feb 19 '18 at 19:34
  • OK, that makes sense. Thanks for the update! And hopefully the TechComm migration will improve our questions score anyway, so that might improve our case. – Chris Sunami Feb 19 '18 at 20:29
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    We're up to 29 votes here... – Chris Sunami Feb 24 '18 at 15:40
  • Hi Monica, we're up to 45 now. Have you and/or the other moderators initiated this process? – Chris Sunami Mar 5 '18 at 14:11
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    @ChrisSunami we have sent a request, yes. – Monica Cellio Mar 5 '18 at 14:16
  • I'm curious as to the status of that request. Has there been any word back? – Thomas Myron Jun 8 '18 at 23:53
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    @ThomasMyron see Jon Ericson's answer, posted recently. – Monica Cellio Jun 9 '18 at 0:06
  • Should this question be marked as status-completed? :D – Secespitus Aug 2 at 8:42
34

I think it is very definitely the case that writing does not generate the same volume of questions as programming. Programming is very analytic. It breaks problems down into smaller and smaller problems. But communication, by its nature, is synthetic. It is about how you put it all together. Fewer, larger, questions go with the territory. But if the audience is there, then that seems like a good reason to graduate us.

It is a mistake to apply the same thresholds and metrics to different applications of a model -- this is true across every field. Even if the model works for the new field, it is highly unlikely that it will produce the same metrics in every dimension. A good model can apply to many problems, but not if it is a straightjacket.

24

Giving the overwhelming show of support for this proposal, the moderators have posted a request to graduate. It's in the hands of the larger StackExchange organization now. :)

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    And that was 10 months ago :-( – Cyn Jan 24 at 15:40
20

I think if we have four out of five Excellent, we should make the case to graduate. This is a solidly established site with plenty of active users and some great questions and answers. We have healthy Meta discussions about our scope and not many Immediately Closed questions cluttering the front page. Let's go for it.

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    Who should we contact about this? What's the next step? – Neil Fein Feb 16 '18 at 16:29
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    @NeilFein Maybe one of the moderators knows? I assume it would be the same channels we used to get our name changed. – Chris Sunami Feb 17 '18 at 2:34
12

I agree with Mark and Lauren.

Here are some reasons I think justify leaving Beta without a large volume of questions:

The coding and OS generate more questions because programmers (and network administrators and other techs) have very specific tiny detailed questions, bugs, and/or error messages to address, and they are indeed slightly different by the thousands, not duplicates that can get the same answer.

IMO this is just not true of "writing". In "Writing" this would be the equivalent of critique, plotting, or What to Write. Many Stack Exchange coding answers will both critique their OP's code and provide What to Write, cut-and-paste syntactically correct chunks of code that do the work requested. If the OP asks "where is my bug in this code" the answer is usually "write it like this". I know several programmers that have used dozens of these code snippets in their projects.

The rules of what is on topic here naturally restrict the questions that can be asked and reduce the volume of questions. I also think that guidance in writing is just generally broader; a site that did not provide specific answers to specific problems in coding, and only provided guidance in good coding style, would probably have even fewer questions than Writing!

I also think the more generalized type of Writing questions we answer will necessarily have a larger footprint than the specific questions about coding or grammar, and this broader footprint leads to more duplication and overlap of questions, and perhaps fewer questions if potential queries are short-stopped by a basic search.

Worldbuilding, for example, has a lot of questions because is like coding, the problems are specific. Map critiques and logic critiques (eg. on the rules of magic) are welcome, the equivalent of "What to Write" is not prohibited; e.g. "I need a flat plain in which a forest borders a desert, what natural phenomenon can cause that?" Or, "How can I make spiders go extinct?"

I am not advocating a change of on-topic rules in this post, just saying there is reason to accept we are a mature site without meeting some magic threshold of question rates. I should think that, like writing itself, the rate of production of interesting material is much less important than the number of fans!

  • You're dead on about the questions. I'm a very active user here and I've only posted one question. I've had ideas for others, one I almost posted last night, but they've all already been asked. – Cyn Jan 24 at 15:38
11

A couple of years ago, we did some research on what makes a site self-sustaining. Overall, we concluded:

  1. If communities that can keep their site free of spam and other nonsense, there's no reason we should consider shutting them down.
  2. Sites that consistently field 10 questions a day will likely continue to have solid participation for years or decades to come.

Our long term goal has been to make sure that sites have the features they need when they need them. Initially, we assumed graduation was a binary state: either a site is large enough to host an election, justify a custom design, be ready for elevated privilege levels, and etc. But we've slowly come to the realization that not all sites develop the same way that Stack Overflow and other early entrants to the network have. In particular, some of my favorite sites don't get tons of questions as a result of their subject matter. So we are working on breaking up with graduation.

I talked with the moderators here on Writing and the consensus is the main concerns are with the "Beta" label (which makes Gmail seem rational by comparison) and the intentionally unembellished beta theme. (The images are missing from the blog right now, but you can still see them on the Wayback Machine.) Both of these issues will be addressed by the new customizable theme framework which is currently being tested on Meta Stack Overflow.

Now Writing will start off with the stock theme, but once that's in place, it'll be a lot easier to offer customization to sites. In the past, creating a site design has required a month or more of work from one of our professional designers. (One of my favorite designs, Worldbuilding took longer than that.) By building a customizable stock theme, we can reduce a lot of the inefficiencies in the process. As a result, we'll be able to provide design customizations to our "beta" sites. The current plan is to start with the oldest ones first.

With 173 unique sites, there's a ton of variation in what they might need. But I think we can build a system something like our privilege system to celebrate community milestones. Writing is an excellent example of a site that has been quietly building a solid collection of questions and answers over the years. That should be acknowledged somehow.

  • So if I'm reading this right... instead of graduating we are essentially removing the beta category altogether? From the whole network? – Thomas Myron Jun 9 '18 at 15:45
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    Jon, you said in this answer that the new theme framework enables both customization away from the stock theme and removal of the "beta" label. I know that the former will take some time yet (the theme has to finish rolling out and then you have a long queue), but what about the other? What stands in the way of removing that obtrusive and unwanted "beta" in our site name? – Monica Cellio Oct 9 '18 at 19:53
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    @MonicaCellio: I'm working with Robert to finalize a plan for betas and graduation. (Basically tossing the distinction out in favor of incremental changes awarded as needed by the sites.) I think we can get customization fairly soon after the rollout of the themes. (Well, soon in terms of developer time, but maybe not so soon due to vacation schedules and other calendar considerations.) Banishing the actual label is obviously not hard—especially for sites such as this one that clearly don't need it. I'm planning on discussing it internally and I hope I'll have an answer soonish. – Jon Ericson Oct 11 '18 at 18:58
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    Hi @JonEricson. Any update on those internal discussions? – Monica Cellio Nov 14 '18 at 22:37
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    Do we need to develop the full set of policies for all 100 sites before we can drop the word from the name of one very obviously not-beta site? (There are probably a few other obvious cases too.) SE does sometimes make a quick localized change well in advance of the broader change (most recently, HNQ). I really worry that we're alienating users and prospective users here. – Monica Cellio Nov 14 '18 at 22:56
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    A custom design would be great, but in the meantime, since that's going to take months if not years, I'm asking to remove the ridiculous "beta" label. SE allowed the HNQ change to stand instead of reverting it, so "see where that quick decision got us" doesn't really apply -- it's a sustained decision at this point. But I don't want to argue about HNQ; I want to do something for this longstanding, high-quality community that has been waiting years to be allowed to be one of the big kids, and waiting nine months now from this most recent request. It's demoralizing. Can't we fix this? – Monica Cellio Nov 15 '18 at 18:26
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    I propose: age > some significant number (for starters, maybe 5 years?) + successful meta discussion on the theme of "are we a mature site? any barriers?". I think the present post does that for Writing. Publicize the candidates on main meta so anybody with opinions can weigh in. – Monica Cellio Nov 15 '18 at 21:52
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    We are now in 2019. Any updates? – Galastel Jan 5 at 17:17
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    Jon, you have made here the statement that 10 questions a day are needed for a site to graduate. We have that now. You have also made a statement regarding "likely continuing to have solid participation for years or decades to come", We've had that for nigh a decade. Can we graduate now? Or will the goalposts be moved again? (@MonicaCellio, pinging you for witnessing) – Galastel Mar 4 at 0:18
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    As we've said multiple times before, design is very low on our priorities list with regards to graduation. On top of our priorities list is getting rid of the 'beta' at the top of the page. Following that - the rest of the technical features of being a graduated site - migration paths, reputation thresholds, etc. Can we at least get rid of the 'beta'? – Galastel Mar 4 at 0:37
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    So, now, because we expressed a desire for something, pursued the goal with unwavering dedication for over a year, pulled all our creativity together to achieve the benchmark required of us, because we cared and couldn't stop caring, because of that, our smallest of requests must be denied? – Galastel Mar 4 at 0:56
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    Few would see "a series of pings". What other SEs would see is a site that marked graduation as its goal, and worked very hard to achieve it - broadened its scope, welcomed a large number of new members, until finally 10 questions/day were reached. – Galastel Mar 4 at 1:00
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    @JonEricson what is the current process specifically with regard to the "beta" label (what SE once called design-independent graduation)? Is there something on MSE that I can go read? I don't want anybody to feel like our community is nagging you; we're trying to satisfy every requirement as we learn of it. Maybe I've failed to keep up with current process; I'll accept responsibility for that and am asking for a pointer if so. Thanks! – Monica Cellio Mar 4 at 1:14
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    Thanks @Jon. So, keep doing what we're doing, sustain 10QPD, and we can petition for the removal of "beta" even if we have to wait a while for design changes. We're fine with that! It sounded like design was going to block us from advancing at all; I'm glad that's not the case. – Monica Cellio Mar 4 at 14:46
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    In the absence of sustained 10 QPD, however, we're back to being able to do nothing about the "beta" label. There has to be something we can do for sites that are years past "beta" but don't quality for "graduation". – Monica Cellio Jun 28 at 21:35
9

I think it would be a good idea to have this site graduate. Not only are there enough people to support a steady supply of answers to all the questions that may arise (99% answer rate means that basically all questions are answered), this site also has a lot of content that attracts people that are not regular users of SE. The following is an addition to what has already been said in other answers here.

Take a look around to see what I mean, for example with the search query views:20000

There are 57 questions with at least 20k views. A wild guess is that those views do not only come from the users of Writing.SE and not only from other sites of the network. This site attracts lots of people that simply search for things via Google and therefore this is an important site. Even if not so many people stay on this site and become users, that's still a lot of traffic that we are generating.

For comparison: WorldBuilding has the same amount of questions with such high view counts. We are on the same level as an established, graduated site when looking at this stat. Granted, the stat is chosen completely arbitrary and not included in any of the official metrics, but in my opinion that only goes to show that there is more to a site than the metrics that we can see on the Area51 proposal or on the right side in the little bar on Main.

When looking at even higher levels of views, such as 30k, we get even more results than WorldBuilding. At 50k WB only has 3 questions, while Writing has 19! Questions like What is the correct usage of “P.S.” in Emails? and How to write a polite reminder email? attract loads of traffic to the site and thereby to the network: ~600k and 2.4 million respectively! The highest question on WB is at ~68k.

I took WorldBuilding as a comparison mainly because that's the site I am most active on. StackOverflow as the by far biggest site on the network has 39 results with more than 2.4 million views, but a better comparison would probably be other Beta sites such as History, whose mostly viewed question is at ~900k or Philosophy, the graduated example from this Meta discussion which has two questions at ~125k and 130k views, while Writing has 5 questions that are at least at 125k.

The amount of people that find help on this site is an indication that this site is valuable and that we should graduate. There are viewer questions, but these fewer questions tend to reach a broader range of people looking for help than on some other sites.


Another thing to keep in mind is that we currently have an answer rate of 100%. Not only the 99% anymore that you can for example see in the beginning of this post. There are still a couple unanswered questions, but overall it's not even enough anymore for the statistics to declare this as 99%. That shows that you can find your writing related answers here - it might take some time, but in general every on-topic question will receive an answer at some point.

7

Yes, the time to exit beta has long passed; lonnnng passed, in my opinion.

I wanted to update everyone on what I've been working on because I've seen many discussions, proposals, and improvised solutions about how the Community Team might allocate various "graduation" features with or without a custom design (e.g. increased reputation threshold, elections, migrations, etc).

There hasn't really been a comprehensive solution regarding how this would work sustainably juggling ~173 sites, much less deciding which sites would be eligible and when/how it would get implemented. So efforts to handle each request one site at a time has been caught up in indecision, confusion, and back logs… which does not work. This request is almost a years old, arg.

I'm taking a different approach.

I've taken it upon myself to write up a comprehensive (i.e. sane <grin>) entire-site life cycle workflow which would include breaking apart everything once bundled up under "graduation", and enabling each feature as soon as a site can support it. It's roughly based on the premise I outlined here — But what happened to Graduation?.

It's hard to say yet how well it will be received in its first draft. Completion and full implementation would likely be at least a few months out, but I suspect this has a much better chance of getting this community what it needs rather than waiting for action on this aging, one-off request.

  • 3
    Thank you for this information. I cannot over-emphasize how frustrating, insulting, and demoralizing the "beta" label is for us, 8+ years in. If there is anything you can do to prioritize removing that inaccurate label, apart from the rest of the proposal that you say is likely to take months more after all the time we've already been waiting, we would greatly appreciate it. – Monica Cellio Jan 23 at 1:45
  • @MonicaCellio If you recall our multipe comment exchanges around the issues of getting rid of the "beta label" and breaking up "graduation", we are entirely on the same page; have been for a long time. Hopefully if I can get full support, maybe we can roll out the implementation agile-y (release early, release often) but I have not had that type of apparent buy-in until now <fingers crossed>. – Robert Cartaino Jan 23 at 1:51
  • Yes, I know you want this too. I don't know what SE's processes are usually like, but if there's anything you can do to make this more agile than usual, we'd really appreciate it! Yes we want the rest of the package, but what's really been hurting us for a long time is that one little word, like a glowing neon "don't rely on this" emblazoned across the top of the site long past the time it applied. – Monica Cellio Jan 23 at 2:01
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    While this sounds okay (I'm not experienced enough with SE to see pitfalls, but there may be some) but I'm concerned about workload. If we have to present a case for every element of what used to be bundled up under a single graduation, wouldn't it take forever, since there are many sites that would be doing the same? Or am I missing something? – Cyn Jan 24 at 15:34
-2

I think the site is lacking expertise; I do not mean people who answer questions, often with skill. I mean professionals who write for a living.
Frankly, I don't know those sorts would ever have the time.

I also think the question count per day is low.

I don't oppose, or really care, about the beta state changing; but there's a clear difference between the subjectiveness of this sub and the clear answers on the technical subs.

My understanding is it's just brownie points anyways. Solid meh from me. Seems to be doing enough as is.

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    How do you know the site is lacking professionals who write for a living? Most users don't identify one way or another what they do. – Thunderforge Mar 4 '18 at 2:44
  • Spidysense. I don't know. And I guess now that technical writing is here I'm partially wrong. – Kirk Mar 4 '18 at 13:41
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    @Kirk FWIW - I believe most of the top-ranked posters here have done at least some professional writing of one sort or another. – Chris Sunami Mar 6 '18 at 16:13
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    There are clearly several of us here who earn our living writing. Thought I see no evidence that that includes people who earn it with fiction. But what I do see here is widespread ignorance of the fact that there is a substantial body of knowledge about what does and does not work in writing and so people commonly regard both questions and answers as opinion when there is actually considerable knowledge available on the subject. To the uninformed, everything looks like an opinion. – user16226 Mar 17 '18 at 11:58
  • I do not want to get into an argument; but a quality answer on a site in the style of stack-overflow should read more like a formal definition or how-to manual than an anecdotal account. Which is not to say that those anecdotal accounts do not have value. However, it does reinforce the view that expertise on this site, where it exists, is not always well expressed; and that in turn can lead to distrust of the site as a resource. It is usually worse when someone thinks they are right, but is ignorant of the ways in which they are wrong and it is harder then to discern between opinion and fact. – Kirk Mar 20 '18 at 16:27
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    That is more down to the subject matter than the community. Stories are how we deal with all the things in life that we can't define in data tables and algorithms, and the creation of stories is one of the things that falls largely in that category. That is, it is not reducible to data tables and algorithms by any method yet discovered. You can certainly question if a subject like this fits the SE format, but while expertise is genuinely thin on the ground here, it is the nature of the subject, not the qualifications of the community that is fundamentally to blame. – user16226 Mar 22 '18 at 12:28
  • Writing is a practice. There are many tools and a common language. While every story is different, it is not something that defies understanding. There are things that make literature work, there are tools. And so while there may be room to pick the correct tool for a problem, there usually is still a set of formal devices that will help with any problem. People answering questions should be able to explain those tools with the elegance that befits an SE dedicated to the expression of thought using the written word, and an expert understanding of those tools. – Kirk Mar 22 '18 at 14:03

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