I think SE may be a new experience to some of my readers, so I’m going to try and explain it here the way I see it. Corrections welcome. Someone else wrote this about SE with regard to his proposed community for Building Performance Simulation & Analysis.
SE jargon (words that you think you may know what they mean, but that have a slightly—and importantly—different meaning in the context of SE than you may be accustomed to) words are in bold below.
Not a Discussion Forum
First, it would be a big mistake to think of SE as a discussion forum. The designers and users of SE have gone to great lengths over 5+ years to intentionally stifle discussion per se, and if you post something on pretty much any part of SE that seems “discussion-y,” then you will probably find someone coming along and reminding you not to do that and maybe even editing your post. It may come as a surprise to learn that other SE users are able to edit some of the things you post there, but it’s true and I think it’s a good thing in the long-term even if it feels wrong initially.
SE literally and strictly “…has eschewed social networking conventions like letting users follow each other, the way Quora does. It also lets people sign in with fake names. ‘It all comes down to: Do you know the answer?’ Spolsky said.” (pardon the forward reference)
Strictly Questions & Answers
So if it’s not a discussion forum, then what is SE? It’s strictly a Q&A network. In the words of the SE CEO Joel Spolsky, “the goal of the company is to make The Internet a better place to get expert answers to your questions.” He goes on to say, “If you go to ask a question about physics, you don’t go out to a football stadium and shout out ‘Who can answer my question about physics?’ What you’re going to do is go to a university physics department and try and find someone to help you there, and our idea is to build those [university] departments [in the form of SE communities].”
So if you’re interested in this new CopyrightX community proposal on SE then that’s a really important thing to constantly keep in the back of your mind. We are trying to build a kind-of university department full of experts where people from all over the world who have questions about copyright can just come and ask in our community and get expert answers. That said, however, CopyrightX is not yet that entity. Our community is in its infancy, in a phase called Definition (note well the words, “This proposal is in: Definition. The topic and audience are still being decided.” in the upper right of the proposal page). More on this below.
If you’re one of my fellow students in HLS1x then you may already be an attorney practicing in intellectual property law in your country, and as such you are of course already truly an expert in the sense I mean for CopyrightX (and in every other sense too).
If you’re in HLS1x but you’re not an attorney (like me), then you really should start thinking of yourself as a kind-of expert on copyright already, even though we’ve only been in the class for 3-4 weeks.
If you’re neither an attorney nor in HLS1x but are nonetheless interested enough in CopyrightX to have followed the proposal, then welcome! and please send me an email and introduce yourself (actually I’d appreciate it if all CopyrightX followers sent me an email). In this case, it would be fine to think of yourself as something other than an expert, and non-experts are certainly welcome in CopyrightX. Non-experts on a topic have a very important role in SE communities, and that is asking detailed, concrete, answerable questions. I’ll elaborate on what I mean here in a later post, maybe this weekend.
In all three cases above, if you have followed or intend to follow CopyrightX on SE then you should think of yourself as being part of “…an enthusiastic, committed group of expert users who check in [at SE] regularly, asking and answering questions.” However, we’re not yet in the phase of answering questions because CopyrightX is still in the Definition phase. I’ll explain that below.
The Evolution of a SE Community Proposal
What I’ve done here is to propose a new community on SE. The first thing you need to know about this word propose on SE is that newly proposed communities are pre-programmed to close if they don’t get adequate attention. It is up to the followers and committers of a community proposal on SE to try and ensure that the proposal gets enough attention to survive this pre-programmed closure. CopyrightX has already been closed once by one of the executives at StackExchange, Inc. through what I’m pretty sure was a misunderstanding, and in trying to get it reopened quickly (I had just announced it to something like 1,000 people only hours before he closed it), I unfortunately annoyed several SE members who demonstrated their disapproval by down-voting my question. More on up-voting and down-voting in a later post.
The topic and audience of the community proposal are still being decided in this phase. Brand newly proposed communities all need a total of 60 followers and 40 questions with a score of 10 or more in order to move beyond this phase into the next phase. Here are three examples of community proposals in Definition: Medicine (with 40 followers and 27 Example Questions as I write, only 1 of which currently holds a score of 10 or more) and Mechanical Engineering (with 51 followers and 23 Example Questions as I write, 7 questions of which currently hold a score of 10 or more) and Feminism (with 27 followers and 33 Example Questions as I write, only 1 question of which currently holds a score of 10 or more).
This is where things start to get serious. Your SE reputation (a numerical score by which other SE users can judge you at a glance; more on this in another post) is not really at stake if you’re merely following a community proposal. But if you commit and don’t follow through, then your reputation score will probably suffer (not sure exactly how yet).
By commit, SE means something akin to the following (copied from SE on the day this post was published when I committed to participate in the Space Exploration community): “I commit to participate actively in Space Exploration for at least three months, especially during the private beta, and to ask or answer at least ten questions.” It also means filling in a form with your “Full Name” (though the CEO is on the record in the video above that we’re welcome to use fake names on SE and other users acknowledge having done this for commit phase) and your Primary Role/Interest in the community you are committing to participate in. SE says (somewhere) that your full name does not appear publicly but your Primary Role in the community will be public. My advice is that if you’re the least bit uncomfortable making your full legal name a part of your SE user profile (as I am), then you either use a fake name or something similar but not exactly your full legal name (as I did). The SE software also enforces a limit of either 3 or 4 communities that you’re allowed to commit to participating in. And at this phase in the development of a community proposal, the Example Questions become locked.
A proposed community requires at least 200 people to commit to actively participating in it before it moves to the next phase. Actually it’s more complicated than that. The exact requirements depend on a community commitment score that is the minimum of three scores computed by the SE software using community member reputation scores and number of committed members as inputs. Aside from Space Exploration, another example of a proposed SE community in the Commit phase is Network Engineering.
Private Beta Phase
I’ll write more about this in a later post. CopyrightX is a long way from being here. Reverse Engineering is a SE community proposal that has only just today (edited on 20 March 2013) entered Private Beta Phase. This question and answer may also enlighten.
Public Beta Phase
I’ll write more about this in a later post. CopyrightX is a long way from being here and I still have to study for HLS1x, but two examples are: Biology where I am most active within the SE network and Philosophy where I just joined yesterday and haven’t yet really participated by either asking or answering any questions though I have enjoyed reading some of them.
I’ve been a member of the Biology community on SE since December 2012, so I’m still learning about SE networks, but it’s clear to me after participating fairly actively since then that it will serve my best interests here to adopt a long-term (years) perspective within this network of communities. It’s quite clear to me after 20+ years of very active Internet-use that SE is totally new to The Internet and a very positive contribution to it thus far. I hope that it will not eventually become more focused on profit than improving The Internet, but who knows what will happen in the future. This much is clear to me though: in it’s 5-year history (starting with StackOverflow), SE is very quickly becoming the most important and most popular replacement for mailing lists and bulletin boards and discussion forums and the whole previous generation of tools through which Internet users found answers to hard questions. I really think that SE has a long-term future. I wouldn’t even be surprised if the SE software eventually becomes a full-blown Internet protocol like smtp or imap or any of the myriad other Internet protocols that are now invisible to most of us because we use them so often.
Reiterating a part of my last post, one community leader of the Geographic Information Systems (which successfully completed its public beta phase a year ago, thereby escaping pre-programmed closure of the proposal) site summarized the impact on that community:
I’ve been working in the GIS field for almost 15 years and been active on every applicable BBS, mailing list, online forum and wiki for that time. I can honestly state that GIS SE has something that all those others didn’t, and that something is valuable and worth nurturing.
Because of how SE communities are implemented in software (and I’ve really only scratched the surface in explaining that here) I really think that CopyrightX has the potential to become a very powerful and positive influence for everyone in the world with regard to the reform of copyright legislation both nationally and internationally. It may take years to get there, but I think this community will be so important to so many people (because after all, copyright influences all of our lives to a very great degree) that it will be around for many years to come.