Proposal: Digital Fabrication

As with our original Personal Manufacturing beta, our more recent Digital Fabrication beta failed to generate enough activity during private beta, so we need to go through the Area 51 process again, using the lessons we learned in the previous two attempts.

I believe that we can make a viable site based around Digital Fabrication technology.

I believe that we have the basis for fantastic community, which will eventually be a valuable resource to the Maker community and the Digital Fabrication industry, complementing existing wiki and forum resources.

Finally, I believe that if we can keep up the momentum, then just as Digital Fabrication made it through both definition and commitment faster than Personal Manufacturing, the Digital Fabrication Reboot can get into beta sooner rather than later.

After two attempts we have a pretty clear idea what the scope of this proposal is, but clarifying and honing the scope will be the aim of the new definition phase.

What do we need to do now?

The first step is to generate enough support from followers and committers of the previous proposals, which is why I link to these proposals here.

Initially that means following the proposal, and encouraging people to come and lend their support too.

Next we need people to vote. Following the proposal easy an easy thing to do to show your support, but it isn't much more effort to read through the example questions and vote up the five questions you think help define the site in your eyes.

Then we need people to provide example questions which probe difficult areas of Digital Fabrication. The way we will attract experts to the site will be to ask complex, difficult and challenging questions on the site and that should be reflected in our example questions. Remember, everyone can propose up to 5 questions.

Finally, during the definition phase, we need to keep coming back, shifting our votes to better questions, commenting on how example questions can be improved, explaining how Stack Exchange works to people who haven't used Stack exchange much and encouraging everyone to gain experience of how Stack Exchange works by getting involved with other professional sites such as Electrical Engineering, Robotics or Stack Overflow, or hobby sites such as Science Fiction & Fantasy or Arqade.


If you were disappointed that Digital Fabrication failed then please:

  • Follow the new Digital Fabrication proposal.
  • Vote on questions on this proposal.
  • Propose interesting, expert level example questions.
  • Gain experience with the Stack Exchange system by joining existing sites.
  • Encourage others to join us here.

Let's see if we can make this third time's the charm.

Where do you see that the proposal failed? –  Cody Guldner Sep 11 '13 at 21:58
Essentially @CodyGuldner, commitment to a proposal here on Area 51 is a promise to sign up to the beta site, ask and/or answer questions, vote and participate in shaping the site. In this case not enough people fulfilled that promise, or even seemed to understand that it was a promise. In many ways, committing and then not signing up for the beta is actually worse than not committing at all, since it pushes a site into beta before it is ready, and I think that's what happened here. I wish I could have been more active myself, but sadly the past two weeks have been hectic at work. –  Mark Booth Sep 11 '13 at 22:22
The proposal hasn't failed. It is still going –  Cody Guldner Sep 12 '13 at 2:01
@CodyGuldner - Sadly it has failed, but has been given a few days to put its affairs in order before the content is made available as a data dump and the site deleted. If you signed up to the private beta see the meta post Digital Fabrication will close on September 17th. Can this subject still work?. –  Mark Booth Sep 12 '13 at 6:30
A.) What are the lessons learned from the previous two attempts? –  TJ_B Sep 13 '13 at 2:09
B.) How is this digital fabrication/stack exchange site supposed to be any different/complement from the myriad of other sites and forums out on the interwebz? –  TJ_B Sep 13 '13 at 2:12
I'm very sad that the site failed. I'm amazed that it wasn't more popular considering the current explosion in this sort of thing. –  Rocketmagnet Sep 18 '13 at 10:47
Thanks @TJ_B I have just asked How can we help the new Digital Fabrication proposal succeed?, but it would be great if you were to ask your second question, so that I can answer it more comprehensively than can be done in comments. –  Mark Booth Sep 19 '13 at 11:28
Well, speaking just for myself: the change of the site name to "Professional Makers" simply threw me off; I withdrew my commitment and ceased to watch its fate for a time. I remember I saw it last with some 180+ committed and still "Makers...". Then one day I see "Digital Manufacturing" in private beta. Oh well, I'd join when private beta ends. Didn't happen, site never exited private beta. Bottom line: DON'T MESS WITH SITE NAME, especially days before it enters beta. –  SF. Sep 20 '13 at 15:51
At least you withdrew your commitment @SF. rather than leaving yourself committed but not contributing. If we'd had the 60+% conversion rate we had first time around, we might have been able to make a go of it, but with barely 100 people signing up to the private beta, we were a bit stuffed from the get go. –  Mark Booth Sep 20 '13 at 17:23
i wasn't able to edit my comment above, but I have posted this as follow-up question –  TJ_B Sep 21 '13 at 0:00
A pity that it was closed. I just wanted to ask a question. On the northern hemisphere, its getting winter now, maker time. –  feklee Oct 24 '13 at 7:39
Thanks @feklee, if it is a good question, you might want to suggest it as a possible question that would help to define the scope of this proposed site. You should be able to find the "Propose an example question:" at the bottom of the Digital Fabrication proposal page. –  Mark Booth Oct 24 '13 at 21:45

2 Answers 2

As far as I can tell this is a chicken and egg problem.

  1. Stack Exchange is unwilling to launch a site with a less than stellar beta.
  2. Digital Fabrication experts are unwilling to spend time on a new knowledge base - they'd rather be making.

Neither side is wrong to hold their view. Stack Exchange has been burned - badly - by communities that months and months after public beta were still not succeeding. When shut down they've angered people to the point where valuable members of multiple sites have left the entire network. They no longer want to let a site get into public beta if they have any reason to doubt its immediate success.

The reprap and maker community is fragmented across dozens of major forums, and hundreds of smaller forums. Most of these, individually, get little traffic but they are very important and useful for those that use them.

Further a lot of the traffic is essentially show-n-tell discussions. Not strictly problem solving but, "Here's my new twist on an old extruder, what do you think?" Stack Exchange does NOT support that type of community interaction. A Stack Exchange site is going to be mostly beneficial to people new to making, or to specific making techniques. The experts have little reason to be there, since research and design have little place there.

Lastly, now that this proposal has failed twice, I'm not going to follow or participate in the next one. If it works then I'll show up at the public beta, but I've already thrown too much time into a pit. I wouldn't be surprised if others felt the same. As far as I can tell this isn't the only area51 proposal with this type of problem, and it appears to me that Area51 suffers from a severe constipation issue. The only solutions Stack Exchange will consider are those that benefit Stack Exchange - they are no longer interesting in building communities, merely monetizing them, and that only if the community bends over backwards in order to prove their worth to Stack Exchange.

Note that I'm not saying Stack Exchange doesn't provide value to the communities it does (eventually) serve. The main problem is that they've placed "saving face" above "building communities" and are unwilling to publicly allow sites go through the hard months and years long community building process some communities will need before they are successful according to SE metrics. Yes, Yahoo answers and knowledge-base ghost towns are scary, but does that really trump the opportunity present for the even 10% of sites that will become wildly popular if given some time?

Apparently it does.

Thanks for the feedback Adam, and I'm sorry that you won't be participating more in this proposal. I believe that Stack Exchange is the best place for Q&A on the web and the previous proposal was closed for the good of the community, not as a face saving exercise. Last time was definitely a false start, and I would rather see this go through definition, commitment and beta again, with a stronger start, than struggle on with a failing beta suffering from broken window syndrome. –  Mark Booth Sep 19 '13 at 11:38

Adam Davis hits the nail on the head. There is no more point trying to get our community to jump through the hoops necessary to fit the SE business model. I think effort would be best spent setting up a community somewhere else, I don't think SE is the right place.

I guess that having an "official" SE site could be seen as lending some kudos to a field, but really it is not needed.

I admit previously I was ambivalent to the SE idea, but now having been more closely involved I dislike the whole SE concept.

Thanks @bobc however it looks like you've only really seen stack overflow & electronics. The first is so big that it's difficult to get started on, and the other isn't the most welcoming place for newcomers. You might like to see some of the good work we are doing on Raspberry Pi & Robotics. These are much smaller, friendlier beta sites, but we still try to hold questions to a standard which will mean that they are useful to future visitors to the site. If you haven't already read my answer here please do, before you give up on SE. –  Mark Booth Oct 14 '13 at 22:18
When I tried to participate on SE sites I usually get told I don't have enough points. Sorry but I have better things to do than play at winning points just so I can help someone out. The "only answers, no discussions" might work on some topics, but many questions there is no clear answer, and discussion is required. For example the question "Is there any alternative to Teflon [in hotends]?" wouldn't be allowed, but it's a key research area. Given the the tortuous path of the betas so far, I'd be quite surprised if anything gets off the ground. –  bobc Nov 3 '13 at 18:16
You are right, that probably wouldn't be acceptable, but "I am having problem X with Teflon hotends, how can I solve it?" would be perfectly valid, and would need different answers to "I am having problem Y with Teflon hotends, how can I solve it?". The important thing is that X and Y are different problems, and it is problems that we are trying to provide solutions for. If you want to discuss the relative merits of teflon vs. something else, there are plenty of discussion forums you can go to. –  Mark Booth Nov 4 '13 at 10:48
Also, reputation is not about winning points, it is about demonstrating that you understand how SE works. That is why, once you have 200 reputation on any SE site, you automatically get 100 rep in any new site you sign up to. All of the most important privileges are gained by the time you get to just 125 rep, so it doesn't take too many question/answer votes or suggested edit approvals to gain them. –  Mark Booth Nov 4 '13 at 11:00

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