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How do we grow the Server Fault and Super User communities?

I have been fairly regular on Server Fault since it went public earlier this year. However, as the site gets older, the quality of the questions and answers seems to have gone down hill. Sure, there are a still handful of great users that provide quality answers to a lot of topics but the community in general is maybe not so great.

I may get down voted for this, but I fear the problem is that SF is really just "tech support for developers." The site's tag is a Q&A site for system administrators and IT professionals, but I would be surprised if half the users are actually professional system/network administrators.

The result is that the site works well if you have a question about configuring SQL or web servers, but maybe not so well if you are trying to figure out how to block STP broadcasts on a specific port for HP Procurves.

I guess the question is, how do we improve Server Fault and how do we get more professional administrator eyes on the site?

A good example of what I am talking about - the first four questions on the Active list are all by developers with a much higher SO reputation than on SF:

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migrated from meta.stackoverflow.com Jul 22 '10 at 18:07

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Maybe take a look at this question, it discusses the issues of attracting more professionals to the other trilogy sites: meta.stackexchange.com/questions/26689/… –  Brandon Oct 27 '09 at 15:56
    
I object, the "tech support for developpers" is already SuperUser :] –  Gnoupi Oct 27 '09 at 16:14
    
@Brandon - It looks like Jeff has similar concerns. Maybe this is a dupe then. :) –  DLux Oct 27 '09 at 16:33
    
@Gnoupi - It is hard to tell if there is a difference sometimes. –  DLux Oct 27 '09 at 16:33
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@DLux: Not all developers start out as technitions/support. @Everyone: All these answers should go into the duplicate question linked above. That was asked by Mt. Atwood himself. No better way to get your voice heard then answering a question from the man himself. –  Troggy Oct 27 '09 at 18:13
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"but maybe not so well if you are trying to figure out how to block STP broadcasts on a specific port for HP Procurves." but that's a highly specific niche -- I'd always recommend a specific community around that product first. You could also argue that sysadmins tend to be, by the very nature of their jobs, in these deep niches more than programmers. –  Jeff Atwood Jan 6 '10 at 12:11

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I'm not as engaged on Server Fault as I was when the site went public, but I don't have any feeling that the "quality" of the questions (both as a measurement of their intellectual merit, or as an assessment about their subject area) has changed dramatically. I feel like there's been a decrease in the number of questions and traffic to the site (or, perhaps, just a lack of an increase), but I'm assuming that the corpus of already-answered questions is helping some people get answers w/o having to ask new questions.

I'd direct you to the question Brandon mentions in his comment (How do we grow the Server Fault and Super User communities?) regarding some ideas on getting "new eyes" on the site.

I do think that the "problem domain" that SF is oriented towards is smaller, by far, than the SO problem domain. By nature, most sysadmins are using COTS tools and operating systems, and typically these tools are configured in "best practice" type configurations. There are a lot of possible permutations, but many don't produce productive results. If my work as a contract sysadmin has taught me anything, in excess of 90% of the technical details of computer networks are the same from network-to-network. Those that are radically different are typically pathological cases where somebody didn't know what they were doing setting it up.

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there is no question at all that the SF audience is fundamentally smaller.. you can see this just by trying to enumerate sysadmin / network / security blogs compared to programming blogs. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 28 '09 at 7:27

First, I am thinking that the site might be improved if there where a couple more active moderators that could immediately close or move off-topic questions. I think having too many off-topic and superuser questions is actually off-putting to system administrators.

There is also the issue that when I do go out of my way to try and answer some of the more obscure, highly specific, system admin questions I usually receive no reputation or any kind of reward. As I am sure is covered in many other places on meta, this system tends to reward answers or questions that are more common and understandable by the masses.

It seems to me that if we want the system to have more participation we may need to find a way to reward answering some of the more difficult and obscure questions.

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I think your two points hit the nail on the head for me. If I am a Windows admin, hitting the front page of serverfault.com pretty much shows a bunch of uninteresting questions, and a lot of SU type questions. Second, rarely do you get rewarded or asking or answering tough questions. Neither of these are problems at other sites (Experts Exchange, Technet, etc). –  DLux Oct 27 '09 at 18:30
    
If you don't like the way the front page appears, you can rectify this using your interested and ignored tags section –  Sam Cogan Oct 29 '09 at 14:05
    
@Sam_Cogan: That's true for regular users, but it has no effect on the new arrival's first impression. –  Dennis Williamson Nov 14 '09 at 5:29

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