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  advantages of self-hosted q&a site?

+ 3 like - 0 dislike

I'm a programmer with physics background working in a macromolecular crystallography group. I thought with my colleagues that it would be fantastic to have a Q&A site for crystallography. Since SE is a well-established place for such sites and we don't have resources to host it ourselves, we've added a proposal there. But seeing scientific communities like this one or biostars.org (bioinformatics) that chose to host their own sites got me wondering:

What are advantages of self-hosting? Have you considered moving to SE?

Can you estimate how much time it takes to maintain this site (in addition to the moderation that would be necessary also on SE)?


(and if by chance you are into crystallography, have a look at the the Crystallography proposal)

asked Nov 5, 2015 in Discussion by marcin (0 points) [ revision history ]
retagged Nov 5, 2015 by dimension10

1 Answer

+ 2 like - 0 dislike

In particular narrower topic research-level communities, that have a limited targetted audience and longer turning times for posts getting created than Q&A sites about less serious topics, have a hard time to successfully make it through the Area51 to graduation at StackExchange. This kind of high-level academic communities naturally does not provide the high amount of activity and traffic the StackExchange company considers to be a prerequisit for being continuously hosted. As a consequence, in the past a number of research-level science SE sites got closed either in public beta or after only a few days in private beta. The only still alive research-level science communities in the StackExchange network are MathOverflow (which was born self-hosted) and Theoretical Computer Science. So as I see it, the most important advantage of self-hosting (in particular high-level science) Q&A sites is that in this case, the community does not need to fullfill any by a commercial company externally prescribed activity and mass visibility criteria (compare Area 51 statistics).

Some additional advantages of self-hosting are

  • Choosing an appropriate software and hosting, a basic rudimentary version of a Q&A site can be started much faster than going through the Area51 process and reach private beta.
  • The community is free to determine its purpose, goals, rules, and policies and define its culture on its own, there are no externally prescribed guidelines, policies, rules, etc that need to be adhered to.
  • Complete control over the (settings of the) software and features that get implemented. The StackExchange software gets continuously modified without any of the sites being able to reject new features or changes they dont consider to be useful for their local community.

Of course, depending on the ambitions self-hosting can mean in particular initially (much) more work than starting on Area51, the software choosen needs to be customised and maybe extended, the whole site description needs to be drafted and written, an appropriate styling must get developped and implemented, etc.
And most important: a self-hosted Q&A site needs its own technical administrators  and system development team in the long run.

As soon as the site is more or less developped to the satisfaction of the community living on it and runs in a technically stable state, the time and effort needed to maintain it is not that big anymore.

answered Nov 5, 2015 by Dilaton (6,240 points) [ revision history ]
edited Nov 5, 2015 by Dilaton

Thanks for the answer. It's a shame that many SE site got closed because of low traffic, but apparently they've recently changed attitude toward smaller sites and those in public beta are safe now.

@marcin A good sign from their side, but their post reminds me of how individual SE sites have pretty little freedom in choosing their own policies. For instance, PO maintains a "User Rights" document which would be impossible for any SE site. I think that a high-level site targetted towards academics cannot be expected to follow SE-style rules and regulations that were developed based on their observations at only one of their Q&A sites.

@marcin yes, initially I was positively impressed by that seemingly positive change of attitude towards smaller communities too. But while it is true that already existing public beta sites that have about the same level of activity and traffic Theoretical Physics SE had seem to be fine now, SE seems to have just shifted its strategy to closing potentially smaller communites early in private beta without truely changing their attitude concerning new sites. Exactly this happend to OpenScience well after StackExchange posted the link you gave in the above comment. Happily, with some help to get started from Polarkernel (our system developper), it has been possible to successfully revive the closed OpenScience SE site outside the SE network at the German University of Bielefeld.

To illustrate the point that on StackEchange, local communities (other than maybe the 3 largest closely related sites) generally have no control about the settings and features of the software, see for example the discussions about the Association Bonus on MathOverflow.

I didn't know about the case of OpenScience. It seems that I've been wasting my time on the crystallography proposal.

@marcin maybe you crystallography folks could try to persue both approaches at the same time: keep gathering momentum for the Area51 proposal and at the same time already start a self-hosted Q&A site somewhere. In case the SE site does get closed at some point, if you use the free Q2A software as we do on PO, it would then in principle be possible to rescue the content (including the user accounts) from the SE data dump by importing it into the to SE external Q&A site. This is what we did with the TP.SE data dump and Polarkernel helped the OpenScience community doing the same ...

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