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Update: a blog post based on feedback here and elsewhere:

Respect the community – your own, and others’


The history of migration

Stack Exchange has grown considerably over the past few years... When Server Fault first launched, it was an attempt to replicate the formula that had worked so well on Stack Overflow for an audience whose questions... weren't especially welcomed by the majority of programmers. When Super User launched, it was the catch-all anything about computers that isn't about servers or programming site.

Life was simple. Finally, there was a place for everything. And everything could be put in its place: a tool was created to migrate questions asked on Stack Overflow that weren't related to programming to a more welcoming community. At long last, those of us tackling the unpleasant task of turning away good questions simply because they were off-topic could kick off the jackboots and hand these poor folks a welcome basket.

Fast-forward three years...

Forget The Trilogy - Stack Exchange spans 84 sites, covering topics as diverse as gardening and quantitative finance. And forget programming/servers/computery-stuff - there are specialty sites for Drupal coders, CS researchers, and Apple fanboys.

Oh yeah... And then there's DBAs...

Life ain't so simple anymore, eh? Forget about a place for everything; there might be three places for everything. Or a dozen. Shucks... I know someone out there right now is trying to compose a question that can be copied, verbatim, to every site on the network without being inappropriate on any of them.

And DBAs is one of a growing handful of sites where literally everything that can be reasonably asked was already on-topic somewhere else first.

The reasons why scope overlaps

This has created a bit of confusion... Especially with regard to how the Migrate tool should be used. So I think it's worth pointing out a couple of facts:

  • Sites are created based on audience, not topic. This is key to understanding why overlapping scopes are allowed at all: CMS users aren't limited to programmers, DBAs aren't just server admins and SQL coders. When a field of expertise isn't wholly contained by the audience of an existing site, there's room for the establishment of another that better represents it.

  • Migration is intended to help users who don't realize their question is off-topic, not enforce some abstract organizational scheme. Just because a topic can be on-topic in multiple places doesn't mean it must be tossed around like a hot potato until someone finally gets stuck with it.

None of this is new; even in the original trilogy, there were some who found the divisions arbitrary, and questioned the need for three separate sites. Jeff wrote about the idea of a site as a gathering place for domain experts back in '09:

Is it really so hard to figure out which community you belong to, and thus, where your question belongs? Ask yourself this:

  • what is your job title?
  • which community do you consider yourself a part of?
  • what are you trying to accomplish?

You can use the same mountain to go downhill really fast on snow — but it’s plainly evident to the participant which culture they consider themselves a part of, “skiers” or “snowboarders”.

That's why this site is named Database Administrators and not, say, "Databases". Without first defining who you are, there's no good way to determine who should be asking questions here. The absence of some other language, or the perceived "difficulty level" of a question are poor metrics for determining the ideal place to ask - the second question isn't "what are you asking", but "who do you want to ask"? Topic comes into play last...

Be jealous of your own site

As members of a community, your loyalty should be first to your community. When evaluating a question, you shouldn't be looking for somewhere else to dump it, but rather asking if it could possibly be appropriate and on-topic for you, the experts who the author decided to ask. Be a bit jealous of your community - don't blithely turn askers away simply because their question could be asked somewhere else.

Obviously, there are questions you'll have to turn away, either because their only connection to your site is via the audience ("How do I make bread as a programmer?") or because they're simply poorly-asked. But that should be your last resort. Close with an eye toward improvement and re-opening, not voting users off the island.

Welcome questions from other sites... But don't drag them in kicking and screaming

Along the same lines, don't attempt to "scavenge" on-topic questions from other sites by asking the moderators there to migrate them to yours. I've encountered entirely too much frustration from users on both Stack Overflow and Server Fault who've seen questions snatched away, their authors left confused as to what they did wrong... This is the opposite of what migration was intended to do! It's one thing to suggest in a comment that a question might be better answered somewhere else, or flag one already closed as off-topic, but migrating a question from a user who thought - and rightly so - that he was in the right place just because he could also have been right in another place... Is a rude slap in the face, and a disservice to both sites.

Finally, be extremely reluctant to migrate old, answered, popular questions, especially from older sites to newer ones. The votes and answers on these reflect the opinions and work of their specific community, and in most cases will be somewhat out of place elsewhere. And again, the migration can come across as rude - if someone has invested serious effort into an answer on Stack Overflow, linked to it on their blog or from their résumé, snatching it from them without due consideration won't endear them to you.

The other users of your sites depend on you - all of you - to behave responsibly with the tools you've been given. Please focus on them, the actual humans who make up these communities, and not some arbitrary definition of scope.

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    This is a great notice to have here on the record, but I will point out that we as a community can obviously migrate nothing to our site, only away from it. It is only with the agreement of SO's and SF's mods that we've inappropriately migrated some questions that were fine on the originating site. As I did earlier today, I will continue to point out questions to you that should be migrated from here back to their source site. – Nick Chammas Mar 20 '12 at 22:36
  • @Nick: absolutely. The situation here is a bit odd, in that there are quite a few folks here that are also respected users on Stack Overflow - obviously the moderators should still be somewhat skeptical, but they do depend on other users to let them know when a question should be relocated. – Shog9 Mar 20 '12 at 22:42
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    "Sites are created based on audience, not topic." This may be true, but that is decidedly not how the sites are named. Of the 84 sites in the Stack Exchange network, I can count only 6 that are named after a group of people rather than a topic of focus: Skeptics, Writers, Android Enthusiasts, Programmers, Webmasters, and Database Administrators. In this regard, our name is quite curious and, as you are aware, has caused us much headache. – Nick Chammas Mar 21 '12 at 15:15
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    I agree with everything here except the statement "And DBAs is one of a growing handful of sites where literally everything that can be reasonably asked was already on-topic somewhere else first." There are many questions here that would require quite a stretch to fit in another site. If DBA activities could be classified as either System Administration or Programming, then DBA would not exist as a site or a title. – Leigh Riffel Mar 22 '12 at 19:20
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    @LeighRiffel - also, despite the 'DBA' name, the scope of the site explicitly includes advanced database development topics. – ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Mar 23 '12 at 15:51
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    @ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells - Apparently your definition of DBA differs from mine as I see myself as needing to know advanced database development in order to be an effective DBA. – Leigh Riffel Mar 23 '12 at 15:56
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    @LeighRiffel - the point is, that some development questions are definitely on-topic here, but we have a recurring problem with SO users equating the term 'DBA' with ops work. – ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells Mar 23 '12 at 16:21
  • @Leigh: to clarify, I mean there was a place where these questions could be asked and not be considered off-topic. Not all of them together, but some on SF and some on SO, with SO extending to cover most. The idea behind the creation of this site is specifically a place for database professionals - in other words, not some sort of "SQL.SE" or "DBServers.SE". In particular, you want to avoid the trap where folks see this as a place to dump all their SQL questions - which you may or may not realize is a real possibility if the folks on SO get the idea that sql == migrate to DBAs. – Shog9 Mar 23 '12 at 16:27
  • @ConcernedOfTunbridgeWells, Shog9 Thanks for the clarifications. – Leigh Riffel Mar 23 '12 at 17:12
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It is very useful to have some specific guidelines about migration, so thanks @Shog9 for providing us with them, both here and now on your blog post.

It seems clear to me that we should not any longer be seeing migration as a way to build the site (and it has proved a very effective tool in the past, we have many satisfied customers who started off complaining loudly about a migration - and I don't think it is coincidence that growth has slowed dramatically in the last few weeks). I've tried your suggestion to:

suggest in a comment that a question might be better answered somewhere else

and found myself getting completely ignored, but perhaps it does serve to raise awareness of the site in a small way among SO users. Either way, we are going to have to stand on our own two feet from now on, and I believe the very best way to do that is to patiently and consistently go on providing questions with great quality answers. Most days I see an answer from one or other of our regulars that astonishes me with it's depth and attention to detail, which is surely a sign that we are here to stay as a community - if you are one of those people then thank you very much for what you are doing, and please keep doing it!

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    Your last paragraph sums up the right attitude, IMHO. We could carve any number of sites off of SO and fill them with questions - but this sort of fragmentation wouldn't be good for anyone. Your goal should be to project the sort of expertise that isn't found elsewhere, and to attract the sort of users who want that community. – Shog9 Mar 23 '12 at 16:31
  • hear, hear! I applaud your answer. The reason I love SO and DBA is that you get a community of passionate people who love to identify issues and answer them. I don't get that on other forums (especially vendor forums for products). The exchange network is the only place I've found this. I think the rep/badge/voting system really goes a long way toward building this. But the other part is exactly what is mentioned here and in the question. The more we build helpful, quality questions and answers and treat users with respect, the more this site will grow to become what we want it to be. – Chris Aldrich Mar 23 '12 at 17:50

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