Area 51 » Frequently Asked Questions

What is "Area 51"?

Area 51

Area 51 is the Stack Exchange Network staging zone. It's where groups of experts come together to build new Q&A sites that work just like Stack Overflow. Here you can:

  • Propose new Q&A sites. If you have an idea for an expert Q&A site, propose it here.
  • Get involved in the process. Help sites get off the ground by defining the types of questions that are wanted, recruiting a critical mass of experts, and committing to the site's success.

Someone proposed a great site. How do I get involved?

A good Q&A site needs a lot of people to support it, so users are asked to invite their friends and help build the community. Continuous participation is really, really important because each phase of the proposal has different ways to get involved.

  1. Follow it and help design the community! During the "Definition" phase, if you are interested in a proposed site, click the "Follow It!" link. We design these communities by proposing hypothetical questions, and then voting whether or not they are good questions for the site. Questions can be upvoted if you think they'll be interesting, downvoted if you think they won't be, and closed if you think they are a poor fit for the community. Propose questions you might ask or want to see answered on the site and comment and vote on those already proposed. The goal is to come up with at least 40 questions that embody the topic's scope. When at least 40 questions have a score of at least ten net votes (up minus down), then the proposal is considered "defined."

    You can comment on individual questions to suggest improvements or voice concerns. For more extensive deliberations and discussions regarding the proposal as a whole, we have a separate Discussion Zone. Click "create new discussion" link near the top of the proposal to begin a new discussion.

    We'll let you know whenever the site reaches the next milestone. A site moves to the "Commitment" phase when its definition is complete and it has a show of support from enough potential users. If a proposal doesn't have followers, the site will not get created.

  1. Commit! When a proposal enters the "Commitment" phase, we will present a petition for the site's creation. Interested users are asked to digitally "sign" the proposal with their full name to help assure that site will have an active community in those critical early days. While your full name is never shown, you may add an optional comment which is displayed alongside your username in the list of committers. To ensure that commitment is taken seriously, you may only commit to three sites at any one time.

    Once you've fulfilled your commitment on a new site by asking and answering a few questions, you'll be able to commit to another site. If you are very active, you may be able to re-use your commitment as soon as the second day of public beta. If you aren't active on the site, you won't be able to re-use the commitment until the end of the public beta, or until six months after the beta began.
  2. Beta. Perhaps the most important phase. This is the actual, live site set up on a "probationary" basis to see if people use it. It is very important to participate early. The earliest questions set the tone and topic of the site for a long time. This is also the time to spread the word via Twitter, blogs, and email far and wide. If the site does not get used, it will be deleted. Each site has two parts, each with its own URL:

    • topic-name.stackexchange.com: This is where you ask questions, answer questions, tag questions, edit questions, and vote. The beta site starts off with a temporary "sketchy" design; its final design is chosen when the beta period ends.
    • meta.topic-name.stackexchange.com: We don't want to talk about the site on the site itself, so each site has a meta discussion area to talk about things like what questions are appropriate, what tags to use, etc. The meta site is also accessible through the 'meta' link at the top of each page on the main site. This is where you can help make decisions about the site itself.

How do I start a new site?

If your area of expertise doesn't already have a Stack Exchange site, propose it! Stack Exchange sites are free to create and free to use. All we ask is that you have an enthusiastic, committed group of expert users who check in regularly, asking and answering questions.

The creation of Stack Exchange sites is a democratic, community-driven process. That does not mean the majority of Area 51 users have to love your site idea. It simply means you have to recruit a community of users large enough so that questions get good answers quickly. Reach out to other experts to build support for your site; bloggers, enthusiasts, and support groups can all benefit from a world-class, canonical collection of expert answers to the hardest questions.

Should my idea be part of an existing site, or its own site?

In general, if a site makes sense as part of a bigger site, it's better to have one big site than a bunch of little niche sites. Site X should be subsumed by site Y if:

  1. Almost all X questions are on-topic for site Y
  2. If Y already exists, it already has a tag for X, and nobody is complaining
  3. You're not creating such a big group that you don't have enough experts to answer all possible questions
  4. There's a high probability that users of site Y would enjoy seeing the occasional question about X

For more information, read the post Merging Season on the blog.

How much does Stack Exchange cost?

Creating a Stack Exchange site is free. Using a Stack Exchange site is free. The Creative Commons license guarantees that questions and answers are free to access, free to use and re-use (with attribution), and free to share… forever.

Do you offer "white-label" or subscription hosting for Stack Exchange sites?

Unfortunately, we no longer offer a subscription service or license the software to host Stack Exchange sites. Stack Exchange sites can only be created via the democratic, community-driven process at Area 51. We offer neither "white-label" services, nor the ability to bypass Area 51 to create sites through partnerships.


Can I use Stack Exchange to support my product?

Stack Exchange does not offer a private label service for owning a Q&A site. You are free to create an expert Q&A site in your area of expertise. There is a lot of visibility and credibility to becoming a central figure in an expert community, but Stack Exchange is a product for the Internet community at large, not for corporations or individuals.

Once I propose a site, what happens next?

A site goes through several phases before it launches to the public. Each stage is designed to improve the site and build up momentum and support.

  1. Interested parties propose and discuss sample questions to define what the site is — and is not — about.
  2. Users are asked to commit to participate in the site to assure that the site will have enough participation — we don't want to create ghost towns.
  3. The site is launched for a beta period to seed it with questions, develop the FAQ, appoint temporary moderators, and refine its design.
  4. If a site reaches critical mass, it becomes a full member of the Stack Exchange Network.

If a proposal loses momentum, it may be re-evaluated or merged with similar proposals. Inactive proposals that do not receive any activity for one month may be deleted. Deleted proposals can be re-proposed anew by users with renewed energy and, hopefully, better resources to bring it to commitment.

What makes good questions?

The questions on your site say a lot about the community. To attract experts, you need a site where people are asking very interesting and challenging questions, not the basic questions found on every other Q&A site. Your goal is to make it clear that this is a professional site.

  • Ask real, expert questions
    We want you to capture the moment that plumbers feel when they look at Plumber Overflow and say, "Whoa! That's my kinda site!" On a site about plumbing, there are 200 easy plumbing questions, and they've all been asked 100 times on other sites. Don't suggest questions like "How do I unclog a drain?" Instead ask, "If you run 2.5 GPM through 50 feet of 1/2" galv pipe, how many psi will be lost to friction loss?" Remember, pro sites WILL attract the enthusiasts, but not the other way around!
  • Ask questions that can be answered
    Avoid asking questions that are subjective, argumentative, or require extended discussion. Stack Exchange does not work well with questions like "Which is the best…"
  • Off-topic questions are important, too
    If you have a good, useful question in mind, but aren't completely sure that it's on topic, ask it anyway; others can then discuss the subject and together determine if it is appropriate for the site. Questions that simply don't fit in the scope of the site should be closed, indicating that, while perhaps interesting, this topic is inappropriate for this site. This helps to define the very outer boundary of a site.
  • Vote early and often
    Besides voting up and down, you can also vote to close and reopen questions. Five close votes keep a question from being part of the proposal's definition; however, five reopen votes brings it back again. Each person can only vote once to close or reopen any given question.
  • When voting, focus on your site
    Don't worry about whether a question might be asked on another site. Your goal is to make the best possible site for this community.

You can only create 5 questions per proposal, to encourage you to narrow down to only the best questions and to leave room for others to contribute. If you think of a new question that you really want to add, you'll have to delete one of the others before you can add it.

What is reputation?

Reputation is a (very) rough measurement of how much the overall Area 51 community trusts you. Reputation is never given; it is earned by convincing other users that you know what you're talking about.

You'll earn your first 50 reputation by confirming your email address. This allows you to create proposals and example questions.

Create great proposals and example questions and you'll earn more reputation. If other users like your contributions, you'll earn:

Proposal is followed or committed to +5
Question is voted up (useful) +5
Question is voted down (not useful) -2

Each user can vote up 5 questions per proposal. In addition, a maximum of 30 votes — up and down — can be cast per user per day across all Area 51 proposals. Each user can earn a maximum 200 reputation per day.

When a proposal enters the commitment phase, you can earn reputation by referring users to the proposal:

Referred user with a confirmed email address commits to the proposal +5

After a proposal enters the beta phase, you earn the most reputation when you follow through on your commitment or a user you referred follows through on theirs. Even better, that extra reputation doesn't count towards your maximum reputation per day:

Follow through on your commitment +50
Referred user with a confirmed email address follows through on their commitment +25

Amass enough reputation points and Area 51 grant you additional privileges:

25 Propose example questions
50 Create proposals
50 Vote question up
50 Flag proposals or example questions
50 Leave comments on example questions
150 Vote question down
150 Vote to close or reopen questions
1000 Edit other people's proposals and example questions
1000 View vote counts
10000 Delete questions and closed proposals; access to moderation tools

You can always comment on your own posts, even with 1 rep.

At the high end of this reputation spectrum there is little difference between users with high reputation and moderators. That is very much intentional. We don't run Area 51. The community does.

What about my reputation on other Stack Exchange Network sites?

If you have more than 200 reputation on an associated account on another site, you'll earn a one-time bonus of 100 reputation, and we'll show your total reputation in your user flair. This is an easy way for others to see at-a-glance your achievements across the entire network!

Your effort on proposed sites earns you reputation on Area 51. When those proposals go into beta, your Area 51 reputation stays on Area 51.

How do I refer users?

If you invite a friend, be sure to use the special referral link in the Share It popup. If the user commits to the site after using your link, we'll record you as the referrer. Make sure they verify their email address, otherwise their commitment won't count.

Why do you call it Area 51?

We like the little aliens.

Who did the artwork?

All illustrations on Area 51 are the work of Terry Colon. Site layout and visual design is by Jin Yang.

I still have more questions!

If they're about Area 51, please ask in the Area 51 Discussion Zone. If they're about Stack Exchange in general, though, they're welcome at meta.stackoverflow.com, the Stack Exchange site about Stack Exchange. Either way, somebody may have already asked your question.