I'm nearing completion (I'm actually technically done I think, and I don't understand why my Area 51 profile does not yet reflect a fulfilled commitment there) with my commitment for another beta site, and one of my biggest disappointments about it is that the majority of the community seemed to decide very early (even on Day 1 of private beta) that the scope of what kinds of questions were topical was so narrow that although when I committed I had anticipated being able to easily contribute with thoughtful questions, I ultimately was unable to post a question that the majority deemed topical.

I had one question (that I spent >1 hour composing) down-voted 5 or 6 times and having earned 3 or 4 votes to close within 60 minutes of posting before I voluntarily deleted it (which I was surprised to learn earned me a "Peer Pressure" badge; as if caving in to peer pressure was a praise-worthy character trait). And another question I posted was closed within 24 hours. At that point it became overwhelmingly clear to me that I would not be able to post questions that the majority deemed on-topic, and I stopped trying to think of thoughtful questions. I suspect that many other members in this community where 512 people committed went through a very similar thought process, and I suspect that the long-term survival prospects for that community are poor as a result of this rather intolerant mindset on the part of what was apparently a majority within that community.

I even had a few members who (it seemed to me) followed me around the community down-voting every possible post I made. Comments can only be up-voted, so my participation quickly became limited to comments after I contributed my bare minimum necessary to fulfill my commitment. If there had been an uncommit option available to me, I would most definitely have used it because it felt like I was trying to get into a private club that clearly wanted no part of my contributions. This was a rather bizarre feeling given that I had started all starry-eyed and idealistic about helping to found the new community and my idealism quickly turned to cynicism. This also happened to another SE user awhile ago with another beta community, and it resulted in him wanting to uncommit from his beta as well. Looking at the number of up-votes on his question, it seems that there are a goodly number of people who end up feeling this way.

There is apparently no "uncommit" option currently available in the SE software, but I don't think that any new beta community is likely to want to instill the feeling in any of its members that they want to uncommit, for it's not too hard to do the bare minimum required to fulfill one's commitment and then stop contributing (which is, in essence, uncommitting). If many people do that in any new beta then the beta is not likely to survive for long.

NE.SE had 512 committers. If all of them had posted 10 questions, they'd have 5,120 questions in their community. Yet on Day 14 of their beta, they actually have <200 questions. Although I was not in on the private beta for Reverse Engineering, I watched their public beta question-per-day ratio fall steadily down to ~1 question per day on Day 63 of their beta which I feel certain is bound to doom that community. I think these are all very telling details and cautionary developments to nota bene for every new beta which is why I'm posting so much detail in this question about what should be off-topic here.

I think this is a general problem that all new betas are susceptible to. The potential exists for little cliques to form where minority opinions are quickly drummed out of the community by gang-like majorities who are rather intolerant of minority opinions. When that happens, many community members quickly become intimidated and reluctant to contribute, and the long-term effect is that the number of thoughtful questions getting posted to the site begins to fall off rapidly. This naturally leads to an early death for the beta community. So I think it's something that every new beta needs to be especially careful about.

  • 1
    Hi Copyright, I'm sorry your experience has been a bit rocky. Can you post a link to the question you're referring to? Meta is the place for constructive feedback about how to define the site topic, and without context, all we can really do is speculate. Hope this helps!
    – jmort253
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 1:55
  • @jmort253 I'm totally over it. I don't feel a need to link to any particular question. The one question that I posted and did not delete from that community still stands (as closed), and I think it speaks for itself. I do hope NE.SE survives, but I want nothing from there now except for my commitment to be marked as fulfilled on my Area51 profile. I wish them all the best, but without me. :) Commented May 22, 2013 at 2:05
  • I'd retitle your question 'How to prevent excessively heavy-handed off-topic voting killing this beta'
    – smci
    Commented Jun 5, 2013 at 7:41

4 Answers 4


I would like to see this Freelancing community survive for the long-term, for I think I'd be very likely to benefit in many ways if it does so. Therefore (and especially with my previous private beta in recent memory), I'm strongly in favor of this new community adopting a very tolerant approach, especially while in private beta, towards minority opinions regarding what should be off-topic.

And for anyone who down-votes a question, I think it should be an informal rule (though obviously unenforceable through anything but peer pressure) that they must explain their down-vote with a thoughtful comment about why they are down-voting the question. Nothing kills a person's desire to contribute like seeing their thoughtful question down-voted repeatedly with no explanation for why it was down-voted.

Plus I think that a community very similar to this one made a test-flight (beta run) not so long ago and ended up getting closed due to inadequate interest. So we may already have a strike against us here I think.

  • While downvoting is anonymous by design, I do like the idea of leaving comments; however, I propose a slightly different approach: Instead of simply explaining what is wrong or why they downvoted, let's instead explain how the person might fix whatever might need improvement. This will help improve the content while also building a stronger community. We can also leave comments on posts we didn't downvote but just happen to see why others may have downvoted. It's not always important to know who downvoted, but it is important to know how to fix the problems.
    – jmort253
    Commented May 22, 2013 at 6:14
  • Who better to justify a down-vote than the originator? Anything else is likely to be speculation. Yes, down-votes are anonymous by design, but I think there should be some serious internal dialogue of at least 15-30 seconds before a person just willy-nilly down-votes a question. Without that, I think the relationships that are the real essence of any community have little chance of thriving. Many become intimidated and reluctant to ask a question for fear of anonymous down-vote storms that occur all too frequently on SE; so frequently that I think a sociologist would love to study this data. Commented May 22, 2013 at 14:09
  • If someone downvotes, I always prefer feedback over no feedback. But this is a two way street that we have to tackle on both sides. Some folks choose not to leave comments because they've faced retribution from the post author. Getting people used to just taking feedback for the sake of the feedback, regardless of who downvoted, can indeed get folks to the point where there's a healthy dialogue and condition users not to respond harshly to folks who do leave feedback, which may actually lead to more downvoters dropping their fear of leaving comments.
    – jmort253
    Commented May 23, 2013 at 4:02

The "informal rule" is already an informal rule across SE sites that newer users explain their downvotes (the "nag tag" after downvoting asking you to explain).

Gang downvoting information (users, etc) in general is something that moderators likely have access to, and this can be reversed in due course. Don't feel put off; the site is a day old, and doesn't even have a (non-default) FAQ. This is something we'll need to address in the coming weeks.

The Stack Exchange model is a very strict, no-noise (high signal) Q&A model. However, subjective questions are sometimes great, in moderation (See Good Subjective, Bad Subjective), and because of this we can be lenient with closing as off-topic/not constructive. However, as the private beta emails say, you should really be focusing on very good, expert-level questions, in order to advance to public beta.

For as to what exactly is off-topic here, we may solve that immediately (after all, we only really need to review the Area51 criteria), or we may solve that completely after entering public beta (fingers crossed).


You can fulfill your commitment only when you get the site running, so you (as we all) still have a lot to do to achieve that.

The problem that I see is that some community members have the vision of that site being something like workspace for non-employees, so the scope would be too narrow. They tend to accept only questions that would be 'universal', which is not possible. We should accept the questions, that could be not valid after a few years, because of fact, that all questions could expire in a few years. The world is changing constantly, and that's the only constant here.

I would like to have topic defined, as everything which is connected with working as freelancer on contractor. So the question should be on-topic if it is about the theme that results from working as freelancer or contractor, and is specific to that type of working.

I see as on-topic:

  • legal questions (how to register as self-employeed/one-person-company etc.)
  • money question (rates as contractor/freelancer, costs in given region)
  • formal and informal requirements for given type of activity (licences, portfolios etc.)
  • learning paths, gaining experience to become a freelancer/contractor

I see as off-topic

  • general workspace questions, that apply also to employees (Workspace.SE)
  • general expatriation questions
  • start-up questions that are more appropriate for entrepreneurs planning to hire people in future (business plans etc)

The simple rules for what is on-topic or off-topic IMO should be a three-prong approach:

  1. Is the question generally relevant to freelancers?

  2. Is it asked in a way which is directed at this audience?

  3. Can it reasonably be answered in the Q&A format.

I am in favor of a very tolerant approach to what is off-topic but that doesn't mean no limits.

If I understand the question you deleted correctly, it was very vaguely worded and not really a good candidate for Q&A format. Different business organizational structures have different benefits. A sole proprietorship is fine for many freelancers, as is an S-corp, an LLC, or even a C-corp. Even getting into how to decide between these 4 options is something books can and have been written about and no simple summary is possible. At the same time, the questions were written to specific localities, so were both too broad and too narrow.

If I could make some suggestions, I would suggest framing similar questions more narrowly. Something like:

"How do I decide if I should form an LLC?"

"How do I decide if I should incorporate? Is a sub-S designation worth it for a freelancer?"

"What sort of tax breaks may I be giving up if I seek sub-S tax status as a corporation where I am sole owner and employee?"

"How do I decide if I should stay as a sole proprietor?"

These would be good questions and cover what I think were the topics you were trying to address. So I dont think the subject matter has been seen to be off-topic. I think the questions were poorly formulated and should be broken down differently.

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