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On Serverfault I saw the question "Invalidate Google Site Validation (Google Webmaster) [migrated]" and was disappointed to see that it redirects me to webmasters.stackexchange. (I was expecting the [migrated] note to indicate that this question had originally been asked on SO.)

A couple of days ago I ran into a MongoDB question that redirected me to db.stackexchange

Yet. Another. Stack Exchange Site.

Last year (well, 2010), when I discovered that there were both a Unix and Ubuntu sites, I felt some concern over the division of communities. (There may be other ones now that I don't know about.)

Having a separate Linux/Unix site for end-users than for server administration makes sense to me (such as with the Apple community site for end-users), but I hate separate sites per distro. (This seems like the defining use case for how and what Tags are for.) If I squint and cock my head, I can almost see a reason for a separate DB site. However, I cannot see a good reason to separate Web Administration from Server Administration.

A caveat: I like the ideas of many of the non-CompSci/IT sites. For instance, the Mathematics site, the Gaming site, and especially the Parenting site! These are completely disparate communities, and in my mind warrant their own sites. (Lest we just have a "Random BS" community site... Oh the Humanity!)

First, this division of communities creates confusion for those with Questions. 'Which site should I post to?' Where does a Drupal question go?!

Second, as someone who has some level of expertise in many of these areas, and want to help answer people's questions, this creates a whole lot of sites that I would now need to check. I enjoy the simplicity of checking SF when I have a moment, and have the opportunity to help in a wide variety of areas. I dislike the ideals having to troll many sites.

Third, (admittedly minor), this makes a mess out of peoples' reputations! At the moment, I have a higher SF rep than Jeff Atwood, but if I hadn't been around for awhile (say a week), I wouldn't realize that he runs/owns the site and has a SO rep somewhere around a billion. (I have a lot of respect for Jeff; even just on the surface of a Developer having that much insight into Servers and Ops is commendable.) That's just between SF and SO. Now add DBs, Webs, Unix, Ubuntu, WinXPx32, WinXPx64, Fedora, RHEL, CentOS, Server 2008 Standard, Server 2008 Core, Server 2008. What about Hardware?! We could split Rackmount vs Tower, HP vs Dell, Proliant DL360 series vs DL380 series... Do these all warrant their own communities?

No, this is what I think Tags are for.

Can someone either explain how this is a good idea? Failing a good explaination, could we stop the madness?

  • In a potentially interesting note, this fragmentation may also be responsible for some of the stagnation in growth of question and answer rate that has been observed. – Shane Madden Jan 5 '12 at 1:20
  • John Gardeniers' answer makes me feel somewhat validated that I'm not completely insane. I took a quick look at tag-sets per sysadmin1138's suggestion. Upon first glance, it looks like a hack, but I think that it bears actually trying out. – gWaldo Jan 5 '12 at 1:25
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One of the guiding principles for 'what site should I migrate this question to' is, 'keep it where it is, unless it'll get much more love somewhere else.' This very question was brought up many times back when the whole Area51 thing started out. In brief, The Powers That Be are not afraid of overlap. In fact, overlap can be good. Overlap builds (multiple) communities.

Specifically regarding the AskUbuntu and Unix/Linux point: https://meta.stackexchange.com/a/72753/131633

Where things get tricky, especially for a site like ours that has been here long enough we now have questions that are over 2 years old, is the shifting values of 'topical'. Thanks to the Ubuntu, and especially the Unix & Linux stackexchanges, we are no longer the default site for "how do I do complex things on a [generic] Linux system" questions. It has allowed us to focus more tightly on the first line of our FAQ:

Server Fault is for system administrators and desktop support professionals, people who manage or maintain computers in a professional capacity.

We are now giving the benefit of the doubt to ever fewer questions here. Unless it's clear that something is in a professional capacity, we're much more likely to shovel it on over to SuperUser or just OT-close it.

That said, we do have Pro-Sysadmins who are up to their eyeballs in Sharepoint or Wordpress. Their questions, if asked on SF, shouldn't be immediately OT-migrated to their respective SE sites unless we simply can't handle them. They are topical here. The same goes for Mongo, MySQL, and MSSQL. The key thing is "professional capacity".

As for Keeping Track of All The Things, one of the coping mechanisms they created was the ability to follow tag-sets on multiple sites.

http://blog.stackoverflow.com/2011/04/improved-tag-sets/

This would allow you to follow on SF, DBA, and even SO and SU.

  • This. I only like to migrate questions to other sites if they're un-loved here (open for a few days with very low views). And we do get a lot of flags that are not actioned asking for these migrations. I couldn't have said it better than sysadmin1138 did. – Mark Henderson Jan 2 '12 at 20:35
  • All of that said, I definately would have migrated the question that the OP linked to because it's not a sysadmin question, it falls much more inside the webmaster.se site definition than ours. – Mark Henderson Jan 2 '12 at 20:36
  • +1 for the tag sets – Jeff Ferland Jan 5 '12 at 17:17
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From my own perspective, the breaking up of SF into a bunch of only semi-related sites has dramatically reduced the value I get from SF, which is reflected in my ever decreasing enthusiasm for it.

When I first came to SF it covered all the topics I was interested in from the sysadmin perspective (as well as a whole lot more). Now I'd have to troll a number of sites for the same coverage, most of which have the useful content buried under tons of stuff that isn't relevant to us professionals. I have neither the time nor the desire to do that.

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    This is especially true of security.SE and dba.SE -- Both are highly relevant to sysadmins; Neither site has a signal-to-noise ratio (when viewed from a "relevant to my job" standpoint) that keeps me going there daily. – voretaq7 Jan 4 '12 at 23:18
  • @voretaq7 - definitely try it by tags. I use 30-odd SE sites, so it wouldn't be useful to visit them all and trawl through, so I have a tag set which I look at a couple of times a day and follow the links to whichever site has the question. I also do a fair bit of 'ignored tags' on some sites just to help with this. It just cuts down the 'noise' to a better level. – Rory Alsop Jan 5 '12 at 16:55
  • @voretaq7 One counterpoint: Security.SE has a lot of professionals who are focused on that. When answers from SF are migrated to us or we come here looking, we sometimes see ridiculous or wrong answers that are highly upvoted. Also, we were recently home to highly voted yet closed as off-topic question: security.stackexchange.com/questions/10340/… (serverfault.com/questions/345962/…) – Jeff Ferland Jan 5 '12 at 17:16
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    @Jeff, every SE site gets its share of highly upvoted ridiculous or wrong answers. Of course those on a given site may not even be aware of just how wrong some answers are, as you are hinting at in regards to SF. Also, as pointed out in one of the comments to the linked question, upvotes are no indication of whether or not it's on topic. – John Gardeniers Jan 5 '12 at 20:46
  • @JefFerland: Voting on SF is erratic and sometimes perverse. If that question hadn't mentioned $EvilEmpireOfYourChoice it would have been closed as off topic with a much lower (if any) number of votes. – user9517 Jan 6 '12 at 7:40
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On the one had, I agree that there are too many overlapping sites, but that's the SE business model, so there's not much that can be done about it. I don't follow Security.SE or Linux or Webmasters, and I'm sure there are some questions on those sites that I'd be interested in, but I don't have time to be active on those sites.

OTOH, it doesn't seem to be hurting ServerFault. As others have pointed out, the general rule is to only migrate questions that are clearly better suited for the other site and that seems to be keeping appropriate Q&A on SF.

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tldr; some sub-sites are justified, others are just a pain.

I believe so, especially when you consider that revenue is generated via ads, and the more visits to a single SE site the better.

I tried to get the good folks over at RPi.SE to see that their questions fit happily inside of a linux SE and a Embedded electronics site such as that proposal I just linked to, but as you can see it wasn't happily received. From what I gather they can't see past the fact that their site is in beta and the other one isn't (although that will change soon).

Also, The top answer here indicates that those proposing sites aren't familiar with the intended purpose of the sites, to attract experts and then n00bs, not keep the site for n00bs. Even for a site for rookie programmers such as Arduino and/or RPi, it would hugely benefit them to have people with higher level knowledge in those fields visiting that site, and that probably won't happen.

A snippet of my answer from the above question:

In general though, it seems a lot of cliques just want their own 'board', but don't really understand what goes into making a site, and also don't understand why common interests should be merged into a single site. SO is really a shining example: There is pretty much every programming language under the sun in scope on SO, both compiled and interpreted languages. There isn't a separate site for python programmers, or windows programmers vs linux programmers, scripters, or arduino programmers, etc. If it's a programming question it goes on SO. C or C++ has a large enough following to warrant its own site, but that doesn't mean it should, for way too many reasons to list. Suffice it to say that

  1. Common interests should stick together - Programming concepts are fundamentally the same across all languages, even if syntax is different. Thus, someone with expertise in a different language could answer your question, but may never even see your question if it's on some niche site.

  2. A broader question scope draws more traffic - more traffic equals more Q&A and more search engine results, which equals better ad $, which equals the possibility of a sustained site and not a killed beta.

3

I agree with SysAdmin1138's post. And to specifically address your concerns:

  1. They can post the Question on any site and it should be migrated to the correct site. Perhaps this should be more clear in the Question Asking page; and it should be reinforced to the community to migrate appropriately if it's a decent question (obviously crap should be closed).

  2. Yep, it's an issue. They made it so you could follow tags on multiple sites but it really doesn't cut it. I'm with you that I could easily help on [unix.SE] or [dba.se] or others, but don't have the time or inclination to check multiple sites. I've proposed a hierarchical model of sites rather than the current flat model and it's usually received with initial interest followed by the realization that organization takes a lot of effort (and there's more apathy than effort available).

  3. Yep, another issue. I think the answer is to include both your rep for the particular site and your total, similar to the chat rooms or the [SE] site.

3

They are not subcommunities. They are partially intersecting communities. Many of the questions on Database administrators are firmly on the database side, involving no administration at the system level. Most questions on Webmasters involve the page contents, not the administration of the servers. Many of the questions on IT Security are not about system administration but about application security, data security, etc. The list goes on and on.

This is natural: subjects intersect, audiences intersect. You can't have a straight separation between subjects. This happens in fields that aren't computer-related as well; for example there's a science fiction site which discusses SF books and movies (and, occasionally, SF in other media).

Across the Stack Exchange network, I'm only aware of a single case of a site whose subject is a subset of another site's: Ask Ubuntu, where all the questions would be on-topic on Unix & Linux. You'll note that AU has a lot more traffic than U&L. A significant proportion of AU users don't care that there are other Linux distributions (let alone unix variants); they want an answer for their computer. They wouldn't be as satisfied with U&L answers, which often tend to be more generic at the expense of being more complex.

Grouping sites doesn't work in all cases. AU vs U&L is an example: AU superficially looks like a tag on U&L, but the target audiences are different. Beyond content, there's also the issue of moderation policies: they are not the same on every site. For example, circumventing someone else's policy is a big no-no on SF, only raises a few eyebrows on SU, and is not a concern on U&L. Different sites have different stances on “soft” questions such as literature requests or social concerns. Again, tags don't allow such differenciation.

On practical matters:

  • If you wonder where to ask your question, think which community is really focused about that subject. If it's primarily a system administration question that happens to be about a security feature on Linux, ask on SF. If it's a question on security that happens to be about a Linux feature, ask on Sec.SE. If it's a Linux question that happens to concern a security feature, ask on U&L.
  • If you have cross-site interests, which is inevitable for many people (for example, you can guess from my profile that my interests include various computer-related topics as well as science fiction and French — they aren't all going to be on one site), create a tag filter on stackexchange.com.
  • Reputation denotes expertise in a particular topic (insert caveats here). That's why it's per-site.
  • 1
    Very well said. Like the Internet itself, diversity -- and putting the right question in front of the right experts -- is always the goal. There are (n) sides to every question, it just depends what your Primary focus is. (I think too that individual communities are a little selfish internally and want to control all related topics.. ) – Jeff Atwood Jan 6 '12 at 3:58
  • And yet despite everything, SO has not been split up into different sub-communities/interest groups (or whatever you care to call them), even though it's the best candidate for splitting up that I know of on SE. – John Gardeniers Jan 6 '12 at 9:49
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    @JohnGardeniers None of the sites has been split up. There are overlapping communities, e.g. SO/DBA, SO/Gamedev. – Gilles Jan 6 '12 at 11:06
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I think sysadmin1138 and Gilles have this question pretty much nailed down... So I'm just going to address this:

Which site should I post to?

There's an old blog post on this...

Is it really so hard to figure out which community you belong to, and thus, where your question belongs? Ask yourself this:

  • what is your job title?
  • which community do you consider yourself a part of?
  • what are you trying to accomplish?

Open up the FAQ on any of these sites. The first sentence, in the first section, should look pretty similar to this:

Server Fault is for system administrators and desktop support professionals, people who manage or maintain computers in a professional capacity.

Then there's the bit about the various sorts of questions that are appropriate. But, that's secondary. You can't enumerate in a reasonable space every topic that system administrators - or webmasters, or programmers - might need to ask questions about in the course of doing their jobs. The important thing to realize is that you're here because you have a question for the other folks who frequent this site - and that line describes them.

This notion that there's one and only one perfect site for every question is nuts. There were plenty of sites where you could ask questions like these before the site launched, and there are plenty of questions that still aren't appropriate anywhere on the Stack Exchange network. If today there are three sites where you could conceivably ask a given question and tomorrow there are 50, that doesn't matter so long as it can still be asked here, answered by these experts, and benefit those who've come to know this site as the place to look for answers.

So the answer to the question of "where to ask", if you're a sys-admin looking for answers from other sys-admins, is usually going to be: Right here!

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Well, basically these sites come to be because of Area 51. This is where new Stack Exchange sites are proposed, and they get more people committing to them, until eventually it reaches enough to have a beta, then a full site. You can see a full list of those that have been launched.

Is this a good idea? I do not think so. This is just my opinion. I feel the system is flawed, and were just chunking up communities and tossing questions around wildly. This happened a lot over at Super User, when Apple.SE was launched, and people were suggesting migrating everything Apple over. The same happened when Ask Ubuntu was launched.

The problem isn't really one we can control - The Stack Exchange team decides on which sites are going to go through. The only way to fully stop it, is if you can prove that "< New Proposed site > is a duplicate of < Already made site >".

Do these all warrant their own communities?

That's really the point of the FAQ - it outlines the scope of what is acceptable here, and what is to be moved elsewhere (or not go anywhere at all.)

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Can someone either explain how this is a good idea?

Joel Spolsky did this blog post which I would roughly sum up as "because people are pettifogging separatists and you can't change them". Of course there are legitimate reasons for forking - especially if you consider that a site's reputation is not just a number. But I agree with you that the current implementation makes life more difficult for those with several areas of expertise or interest.

Failing a good explaination, could we stop the madness?

Probably not. As there is little we can do about the forking, I would suggest solving the problem by "finding the right tools". May it be some meta-site which consolidates questions from your favorite tags and/or sites and groups them conveniently or an Über-RSS-reader doing the same for you.

Personally, I admit not having put much effort into research on this topic - although I also have the common problem of being interested in security.SE / dba.SE or unix.SE content but at the same time being too lazy and too time-constrained to check the sites separately.

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