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I'm not quite clear on this line from the "How to Ask in the Private Beta" page:

Stick to actual, real, objective questions with concrete answers that a working professional or expert in this field might encounter as a part of their actual, real, job.

Does this mean that the site should actively discourage Econ 101-types of questions? Because, to me at least, it seems like those kinds of questions should be a staple of this site.

For example, what if someone asks about the equation of exchange? Sure, there's not a single professional economist out there that doesn't have the formula etched into their brain but, on the other hand, what sort of Economics resource would this be if there wasn't at least a single, definitive answer describing the equation of exchange?!

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    $\begingroup$ I think a lot of Econ 101 question do qualify as "actual, real, objective questions with concrete answers that a working professional or expert in this field might encounter as a part of their actual, real, job." I share your confusion about the "How to Ask in the Private Beta" statement though. I think adding "student" to "professional or expert" would be much welcome. $\endgroup$ – Martin Van der Linden Nov 19 '14 at 5:52
  • $\begingroup$ Perhaps it would be worth calling out to the SE staff directly for clarification on whether non-expert questions are currently welcome? $\endgroup$ – curiousdannii Nov 19 '14 at 10:05
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    $\begingroup$ I have a meta answer below, but here is my take on why non-expert level questions are not only okay, but possibly even desired. This is one of my first StackOverflow questions while learning R. Poorly written, posed from a decided lack of knowledge- yet answered professionally. It resulted in me being confident in the site, the langauage, and the process, and led directly to deeper knowledge and a desire to beta an economics site. $\endgroup$ – datahappy Nov 20 '14 at 5:34
  • $\begingroup$ @datahappy that question of yours was not while stackoverflow was in beta though - we aren't trying to attract ourselves to the site! If you are in the private beta then it can be presumed that you don't need that experience that you had with StackOverflow. Let other people ask those sort of questions for themselves after the private beta, and that will attract them to join. We should just be going for the high end stuff for now. $\endgroup$ – Corone Nov 20 '14 at 22:58
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During the private beta. the rules are slightly different to during the public beta. And no, absolutely no Econ-101 style questions during the private beta. They can wait until the beta is well established, and we've already got a decent body of expert content.

My thanks to Steve S. for stating this (in the comments) better than I could:

the "Beta" period of this site is split into the "Private Beta" and "Public Beta" and it's only during the private beta that we should be limiting ourselves to expert-level questions only? After that it's fair game? And, though the "Beta" phase generally lasts a few months, the private part is only a couple of weeks

All being well, the private beta is only 1-2 weeks long, and then we go public, and the rules change a little, with more scope for below-expert questions; but we'll still be craving expert answers.

The first time you posted a question, you agreed to a message, which included this:

If the private beta doesn't produce enough high quality expert level questions, it won’t proceed onward to the public beta. To help ensure your site makes it out of private beta, here are some tips: Avoid “easy” questions ...

This is explained further in the invitation email you received:

The first questions set the tone for the site. If you ask high quality, expert-level questions, you'll build a site that attracts the experts and pros who will make it really successful. But if you ask beginner questions, survey questions, or social-conversation questions, experts and pros will not be interested.

The private beta gives you the opportunity to get the site off to a great start with expert questions and answers. When we open to the public, new users will look at your questions to get an idea of what they should ask. ...

Remember, you get the site you build! Ask difficult, specific questions — the kind of questions pros and experts ask each other, not the kind of questions novices ask pros, because a site full of pros and experts will attract everybody, but a site full of novices rapidly becomes boring. No easy questions, no survey questions, no polls, no intro-level/basic questions, no unanswerable hypothetical questions.

These guidelines were based on the experience of launching over 100 sites. In every private beta, there are some posters that think "this time it's different", and that it will be ok to ask simplistic questions in the private beta, and somehow the experts will arrive later. They're wrong. We want a site that experts are attracted to contribute to. That means building a body of expert content first. There'll be years and years of time, if we're successful, to ask the simple questions. But we've just got a couple of weeks to ask purely expert questions. Let's not squander it.

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    $\begingroup$ I could de-construct the flawed premises about how the Network Effect works implied this attitude or why small-seed narrow-scope networks like Citizendium fail; but honestly I'm not that motivated. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ Ok, just to clarify: the "Beta" period of this site is split into the "Private Beta" and "Public Beta" and it's only during the private beta that we should be limiting ourselves to expert-level questions only? After that it's fair game? And, though the "Beta" phase generally lasts a few months, the private part is only a couple of weeks--is this accurate? #LookingForwardToYearsAndYearsOfAskingSimpleQuestions $\endgroup$ – Steve S Nov 19 '14 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ #LookingForwardToStressTestingMainstreamEconomicsWithCrossDisplinaryScience $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 9:09
  • $\begingroup$ @SteveS exactly that $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 9:25
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    $\begingroup$ I often encounter stale "hidden iceburg" paradigms in stack exchange that derive from the state of the internet 6 years ago. If you were a fan of Coding Horror back around 2007/2008 you'd notice that the seed that drove the creation of Stack Overflow was the dreadful cesspit known as Experts Exchange. Put simply the first priority of Stack Overflow in the early days was to differentiate against Experts Exchange. But now we've won - we are top dog on Google (check the spider re-indexing speed if you don't believe me) - so growing communities in non-programming arenas is the bigger issue now. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 9:40
  • $\begingroup$ Hi @SteveS and EnergyNumbers. I've put my concerns across as best as I can; I'll toe the company line from here on out. :-) After all, my focus on the community rather than the content would be rather counter-productive if I entrenched scope partisanship into the stack community. Please understand that I value and have always valued expert input into the economics beta; if my defence of the 50% prosumer / general public cohort came across as a 10-tonne sledgehammer, it was for a good cause. Now I just need to think up 10 expert mainstream questions... ;-) $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 21 '14 at 2:04
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I believe as long newbies and experts can stomach being together - each will enrich the other! As we go along I imagine we'll establish a minimum triviality floor relative to previously asked and answered questions.

In my mind, experts should feel free to answer novice questions with their expert depth and nuance. Answers to entry-level questions that "ramp up" over a few paragraphs can provide quality and utility to both audiences.

For instance:

Q: Why is the sky blue?

A: [Paragraph 1: Simple] Because the air spreads blue light around more whilst other colours stay mostly in the visual line of sight with the sun.

[Paragraph 2: Moderate]: Rayleigh scattering of photons passing in close proximity to gas particles (the air) distorts the direction of these photons to an extent inversely proportional to length of the photon's wavelength (colour). As blue is the lowest visible wavelength for the human eye of any especial retinal sensitivity, blue light instead of a black sky will be apparent for every direction other than the sun.

[Paragraph 3: Expert]: Summation of particle physics, polarisation, Earth's atmospheric composition, etc. [ I'm not a physicist so this example peters out at this level ;-) ]

Scaling answers of this sort for novice questions will I think be of high utility to the site (i.e. Making the Internet a Better Place); and supplement expert-to-expert Q&As that won't need this type of scaling.

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    $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers A boilerplate email is not a substitute for the discussions about balance that we had during the commit phase. Whilst we could extrapolate your attitudes towards content diversity to all other subject matter experts - I believe this belittles the mental flexibility of community participants. Dismissing this scaling approach out of hand and suggesting illiteracy in other people is simply disrespectful. I've mentioned this before on the Area 51, but a purely academic boys-club will fare no better than a novice free-for-all. Balance is the key; please remember that going forward. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 7:59
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    $\begingroup$ this is specifically about the private beta. The rules are different during the private beta. We are currently in the private beta. Those different rules apply. Those rules come from a lot of experience, of succcesses and failures, and from learning about what makes the difference. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 8:08
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    $\begingroup$ You haven't actually justified this position; nor is there a binary dichotomy between Econ-101 and orthodox PhDs questions. The spectrum should be supported from the onset; unless we truly believe no wants to answer any non-orthodox non-academic questions. The grand-daddy Stack Overflow would have died before it even began if people were actually that picky about what they answer. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:17
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If we want to attract a strong expert audience which, for example, contains a strong showing of PhD-level researchers, the specific questions should be at a research level. I imagine these being the kinds of questions that a graduate student and his/her adviser discuss, or researchers working on a potential working paper topic discuss.

These types of questions will have very specific, precise answers.

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    $\begingroup$ I do not believe them to be mutually exclusive. Say you go into a state library - you will find people researching Whig historiographic interpretation of the Peloponnesian War; and others looking up when did John Lennon die. I find myself unconvinced that novice questions can't be given expert answers and that expert-to-expert questions can't co-exist on the same site. I don't go into a frothing rage when I see the 200th instance of "How do I check disk quota in Solaris?". $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 6:05
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Cross-post from another meta question that deals with this since it appears the discussions may stay split and would like to hear feedback from both groups. ...Will not do this outside of meta in beta (I'm a poet and I know it!)

"Well, what constitutes an "expert-level question"? Clearly, that definition is a bit of a moving target.

The beautiful thing about most major Stack sites is that you can show up with any level of proficiency and receive expert-level feeedback and information.

For instance, when I was learning R (right out of school and an expert at SAS), I could go to StackOverflow and say, 'How in the world do I aggregate on multiple conditions?' and I would get a concise, expert answer that never exceeded the bounds of my limited knowledge.

Now, I can go there and ask, 'Is aggregating a dataset larger than 6 GB using 'Obscure Package B' more or less resource intensive than using data.table, and why?' and I get a much more technical answer that understands my current level of knowledge and answers accordingly.

That, to me, is the power of these sites- accessible, concise, and in-depth. A college freshman, senior, grad student, doctoral candidate, and 45 year professional can all walk away with actionable, professional answers to their queries, without fear that they will be chased off-site with torches and pitchforks because their question failed to meet some esoteric, ego-inflating idea of "expert-level".

I say, bring it on- nearly all of it. The beauty of these sites, at the core, is the idea that experts enjoy sharing knowledge and helping folks solve the very same problems that once stumped us- let's continue that tradition."

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    $\begingroup$ Indeed, my fear is that argumentum ab auctoritate and argumentum ad antiquitatem fallacies are being used in the private beta stage by a few vocal academics to squish anything other than post-grad expert-to-expert content and participants; and to make sure these other participants and content types stay under the boot as second class citizens for the public beta. Or put another way, you can't screw for virginity, and you can't veer sharply away from the commit-phase scope and expect to restore non-mainstream non-post-grad content as first class citizens later. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 5:09
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    $\begingroup$ I've never told someone on another stack that they can't ask "How did PHP change in version 5?" (novice) or "What languages explicitly support self-modifying code?" (hetrodox). A private beta supporting your volleyball team only (EnergyNumbers) seems more than a little convenient and suspicious; conflating 2008 SEO requirements with 2014 community diversity. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 20 '14 at 5:16
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I support an inclusive site, and have stated such since the beginning of our Area 51 engagement.

We need users, and users need to be interested, and as much as I love esoterica, there needs to be some practical value to the content we produce.

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    $\begingroup$ I totally agree. In fact, although I agree with the SE position that "a site full of novices rapidly becomes boring", I also think that a site full of only esoteric technical questions runs an even greater risk of failure since it will inevitably be both boring and less helpful (since novice-level questions will most likely attract higher traffic and actually get answered). Anyway, just my thoughts... $\endgroup$ – Steve S Nov 18 '14 at 23:00
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    $\begingroup$ @Steve S , Jason, please do re-read the invitation email you received from Stack Exchange Area 51 inviting you to this private beta. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 7:47
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    $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers If you keep saying this to other people participating in this private beta in good faith, I will sanction you. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:03
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal thanks for the threat, but really, the guidlines are there for a really good reason. I care about getting out of private beta, and I take it on good faith that everyone else here does too. Those guidelines are our best bet for getting out of private beta. So reading and following them is crucial. What I've seen so far is evidence that a few people either haven't read them, haven't understood them, or think they're exempt. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 8:10
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    $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Alternately, they see further ahead. The idea that simple questions can only have simple answers is an misapprehension about how knowledge bases develop and grow. I'm not saying we shouldn't have expert-to-expert question but there is no reason actually provided and justified why novice-to-expert questions are undesirable. Just a lot of FUD. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:20
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal I agree that novice-to-expert questions are desirable. We just disagree about when they should and should not be posted. The owners of this site have made it very clear about when they should not be posted: that's during the private beta, which is now. It's their property we're on, and so we play by their rules. Additionally, those rules are there for the benefit of the site's longevity - and that's for our benefit too. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 8:23
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    $\begingroup$ @EnergyNumbers Then please provide the appropriately up-to-date meta stack exchange links, because the email did not. A non-trivial concern is that 50% of the committers to this beta did not commit to an academic-only economics stack exchange; and it beggers belief to think that alienating half the original scope participants helps the health of site or actually aligns with the intent of the Stack Exchange staff. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:27
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    $\begingroup$ I'm sorry to be hammering this home now, but we need to get an early understanding of what exactly half the committers actually commited to before we get further into this beta. If they were tricked into bootstrapping someone else's idea of the future stack, then that isn't pretty. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:31
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    $\begingroup$ @LateralFractal How can you get more authoritative than an explicit statement from the site's owners? That's what was contained in the invitation email; and it's in the message that's shown the first time one asks a question on meta, and the first time one asks a question on the main site. That's three explicit messages from the site owner, about the house rules for their house. I agree that Area51 committers who've never been through a private beta before won't have known in advance. That is a shame. I gather than fixing the Area51 process is not the top priority. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 8:36
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    $\begingroup$ Funny enough I don't roll around in the mud in real life, but on the interwebs I'll fight tooth and nail for the newbie underdogs. Especially as I see economics.se as being excellent resource for general and oddball economics questions - much like Seasoned Advice isn't limited to professional chefs. $\endgroup$ – LateralFractal Nov 19 '14 at 8:36
  • $\begingroup$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. $\endgroup$ – EnergyNumbers Nov 19 '14 at 8:37

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