area51 April 25, 2012

When a Site Grows Quiet

In the lifecycle of a Stack Exchange site, we’ve long held the philosophy that “it takes as long as it takes” to build a sustainable community: How long can a site stay in beta? The simple answer is, it takes as long as it takes. We’ll wait. If a site needs more activity, go out…
Avatar for Josh Heyer
Community Manager (former)

In the lifecycle of a Stack Exchange site, we’ve long held the philosophy that “it takes as long as it takes” to build a sustainable community:

How long can a site stay in beta?

The simple answer is, it takes as long as it takes. We’ll wait. If a site needs more activity, go out and evangelize it. As long as your site shows steady progress and continues to make the Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions, it will march on.

But when a site struggles to maintain any semblance of steady progress — when it’s struggling to garner an audience, a healthy core of experts, and a steady stream of questions — it becomes increasingly unlikely that the site will find a core audience to sustain it.

Next week, we’re shutting down six sites that fall into this category:

  • Astronomy
  • Economics
  • Literature
  • Firearms
  • Healthcare IT
  • Theoretical Physics

There’s nothing inherently wrong with these topics, or with the good folk who put time and effort into trying to make them work. They will likely make great Stack Exchange sites… someday. But so far, the network just hasn’t been able to provide these sites with the audience they need to make them work. Maybe they’ll find a niche on a different site, or be reborn at some later date as the Stack Exchange audience continues to grow. But for now, we’re shuttering the windows before they’re broken.

The knowledge that went into these sites is not lost. In keeping with our promise not to hoard what was given freely, all content on closed sites will be available for download from the Area 51 page corresponding to each site, in the same format and with the same open license as the data dumps for graduated sites.

We’ve always been reluctant to close a site once it entered public beta. These were difficult choices, as many people are fond of these subjects. Still, we’ve been somewhat remiss in not taking action sooner.

If it’s of any consolation, we have learned a lot from watching these sites grow and evolve. We are hard at work on a next-generation Area 51, with the goal of making site creation easier, faster and more educational: one of the most frequent stumbling blocks for new sites has been the learning curve for folks unfamiliar with Stack Exchange – providing them with help and guidance is key to creating a vibrant, healthy site.

Thank you all for the the knowledge and hard work you’ve poured into these sites. Because of it, someday there will be a site on astronomy… and economics… and literature… and the rest. Stronger and better than ever.

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