This somehow turned into a giant entry, so I split it into a few sections; it starts discussing the launch procedure and ends with me rambling about how voting is good and why we should vote more :)
Area 51 metrics and launch process
The beta launch process was changed somewhat after the first few sites launched. Originally it boiled down to "at 90 days, either the site launches or it folds", and the first few sites all made the cut. However, they immediately ran into problems, so the process was changed. There are a bunch of useful metrics listed on our Area 51 page now:
- Number of questions
- Percentage of questions answered
- Number of users, including users with 200+ rep, 2000+ rep, and 3000+ rep
- Average number of answers per question
- Average number of visits per day
Each of those is marked Worrying, Okay, or Excellent
Importance of reputation
As Robert (the community coordinator) said in the blog post:
the graduation date of a site will depend heavily on having enough users with sufficient reputation to properly lead and govern the site.
Users who haven't been on a launched SE site before may not realize that we're currently operating with greatly lowered reputation requirements. Most relevant to this post:
The reason for Area 51 emphasizing the number of users with 2k and 3k rep should be clear now -- those translate to the number of users who can edit and close posts, the two most important maintenance tasks. It takes 5 votes to close a post, so even if all our 3k users vote it won't be enough; a moderator needs to do it. Sites need to be able to self-police (edit and close posts without mods getting involved), so they won't launch until that happens.
We discussed beta launches at the network meeting this week. Jin (the SE designer) can design about 1-1.5 sites per week, so they can't really launch faster than that. We're told this is the current way site launches are ordered, in order of decreasing importance:
- 90+ days -- sites need to be at 90 days before they can launch
- Sufficient 2k and 3k users to maintain the site
- Number of Excellent, Okay, and Worrying stats on Area 51 (in that order, naturally)
As of 10 Nov, the sites ready to launch were TeX, English Language and Usage, and Personal Finance and Money, and TeX actually did launch about six hours ago.
We're second of the other five 90+ day betas (first is Home Improvement) that aren't ready to launch yet -- we're missing sufficient high reputation users
This leads nicely into the last point:
Importance of Voting
People gain reputation through high quality posts, but they only do so if the posts are voted on. From what I've heard talking to mods on other sites, the sites that have gone on to launch averaged about 200 upvotes/day during the beta period. Last month we were averaging just over 100/day, and so far this month (through 10 Nov when I pulled the data) we've averaged about 55/day, despite having about the same question volume and an increased number of visits (the last four days have had more visits than any days since just after public beta started).
Votes do more than just affect reputation, they're used in lots of places. Off the top of my head, for questions:
- They affect the hot, week, and month tabs on the homepage
- They affect the hot and votes tabs on the questions page
- They affect the votes tab for an individual tag
- Highly upvoted questions are featured in house ads on other SE sites
- Posts with -2 or less score are hidden from the homepage
- The top (and bottom) 15 show up in the 10k tools
- They affect the ordering of answers on a question (by default it's accepted answer followed by descending answer score)
- They affect the unanswered page -- questions are considered "answered" when they have at least one upvoted answer
There's a good post on the Web Applications meta about when you should up/downvote. We each get 30 votes/day, which is almost exactly the number of posts/day we average, so running out isn't a big concern. As an added bonus, there are quite a few badges associated both with voting and receiving votes