What are the criteria for it to be official and is there a risk of it not continuing?
The last time I talked with Stack Exchange people about the issue of beta status and progressing to official status, they talked about being in beta as something flexible. This discussion was a couple months ago, and some things they talked about were:
- the metrics on Area 51 not being hard-and-fast rules
- making progress in terms of growing, establishing a community
- we're an academic site, so we necessarily have a smaller community, and Stack Exchange is more lenient with us compared to other sites
As long as the site continues to get traffic and grow in user base and number of questions per day, we will continue to exist, and will hopefully move out of beta.
As a historical perspective, I joined the site in late November of 2011 and became one of the first moderators in December 2011. After the initial seeding phase, we were at around one-and-a-half questions a day, and have been increasingly in traffic slowly, but surely (with some dips before rises) over the last 15 months.
I believe that the site's increasing cache of computational science content helps draw in more users via Google, and that content has contributed to the site's successful growth to-date.
We can still work on getting the site out there to more people, and to improve the content, but I think we're in a good place for where we are in the process, and I expect to be around for at least another 6-12 months, during which I hope to do a little advertisement for the site at conferences.
The life cycle of a site progresses through a course of increasing engagement and development:
Area 51 proposal > private beta > public beta > graduation
The "public beta" is the final proof-of-concept phase before a site gains the lock-in that comes with graduation.
There's little functional difference between a graduated site and the beta phase you are in now. A beta site is, essentially, fully functional. There’s no harm in staying in public beta, so long as the quality of the Q&A is high and the site does not become a ghost town.
But the the graduation you are working towards brings some added benefits:
A Site Design
The site gets its final design. The generic beta design is nice, but it is generic, by design. After graduation, new visitors will see a form that fits the function of the site.
A Link in the Footer
Computational Science SE will get a link at the bottom of every page in the Stack Exchange Network. The link in the footer is good for traffic.
A final stage stage to establishing your governance. Early on, we appointed several moderators to engage the community in both the community-building issues and site management. But elections are that final phase where everyone has their say to take part in "taking ownership of the community."
Okay, this one is a bit of added functionality. When a site graduates, the migration paths are activate which means that posts that are typically closed as off topic can optionally be transferred to another site better suited for the content. You can receive incoming content, too.
Graduation tells the community (and everyone else) "you finally made it." That's why we're waiting for that expected upturn in traffic site before launching the site. If all goes well, graduated sites also get some additional press/media/blog/article coverage from the notoriety surrounding a grand opening. That provides a nice source of traffic to the site.
The risk of a site closing becomes substantially less the longer it exists. As long as it is showing steady progress and not drastically losing audience or deteriorating in quality, it is generally allowed to continue as long as it takes.
This site has about doubled in visitors since this time last year, so there are no traffic problems of note. Community-wise, you typically know when a site is in trouble. You can just feel the faltering engagement as the site struggles to hold interest and attract new users.
There are two blog posts that outline the criteria for graduation and when it's (not) time to worry. Long story short, we don't want sites obsessing over their numbers. Your job now is to create high-quality content to attract even more users through search. That's about it. If you're not hearing from us and the site generally feels healthy and useful, it probably is.
Update on the subject matter:
- There is no risk for our Computational Science Community. It's hard to imagine that we would fail to keep our questions/answers clean, free of spam, and follow the "Be Nice" policy.
Success and graduation are not the same thing
When a site starts to consistently receive 10 questions/day, we’ll consider it for graduation.
According to current SE policies, we have to meet 10 questions/day consistently to be considered for graduation.
Currently, we don't meet 10 questions above criterion and are not even close to it. So, we should work on improving our content and try to attract a bigger crowd. Anyway, even if we are in a constant beta status, that does not mean any sort of failure.
There are multiple proposals on a different life-cycle of SE communities, and we might fall into some category that will give Computational Science community some benefits. Say, removing the beta label.
Should we work on other metrics listed in Area 51? yes. Because they still measure content quality. And having more questions & answers is certainly not a bad metric. Should that be done simply for the graduation purposes? No.