When BioStar moved from Stack Exchange v1 and we were assessing the options, I was strongly in favour of migration to Stack Exchange v2. Several months later, my opinion has not altered: indeed, I feel more strongly that this would have been the better decision.
My opinion is based around 4 ideas.
- The best applications do one thing and do it well
- How effectively a site is used is strongly dependent on its design principles
- Websites are best implemented by professionals who have given a lot of time and thought to design
- Sometimes pragmatism is better than principles
First, the one thing that Stack Exchange sites do well? They provide answers to questions. However, BioStar is now trying to provide news, tutorials, videos, jobs, feed aggregation...it's too much and distracts from the major focus of the site.
Second: I strongly believe that site design can be used to encourage better usage and behaviour. To take some specific examples:
- Auto-suggest for tags encourages users to reuse existing tags. This leads to better classification of questions and more effective search. The lack of this feature at BioStar has rendered tagging useless.
- Prominent display of previous questions that are similar to the one being asked. At Stack Exchange, this is again achieved using auto-suggest. Clearly BioStar is not effective in this regard, since the same questions come up over and over again.
- Effective preview of questions to encourage better formatting, along with prominent links to editing help. Again, BioStar is not effective in this regard since it seems almost no-one can format their code properly, leading to unreadable questions.
- The effect of sorting/ordering on the ability to detect recent activity (addressed in Should A New Question And A Question With A New Answer Always Be Placed On The Top?).
- Appropriate increments (and decreases) in score reward performance and encourage participation. Currently at BioStar the scoring system is obtuse, my progress feels glacial and I do not feel encouraged to answer questions. This was not the case with Stack Exchange.
And my last example: strong moderation is essential for site quality. Downvotes are a signal from the community that your question requires serious attention before it can be taken seriously. Duplicates need to be closed. Moderators need a form element where they can (or even must) explain their actions, not an optional comment.
My (subjective, anecdotal) impression is that question quality has substantially declined since moving off Stack Exchange and I'm tempted to blame some of the design decisions for this. Another factor, of course, may be an influx of new users who are ignorant of (or simply don't care about) site standards.
Third: the Stack Exchange team are professionals, with a lot of experience and ideas about what works well and what does not. I believe that people like them think about these issues so that we do not have to do so and can just get on with business. As an example, compare the top of a Stack Exchange page:
with that of BioStar:
Which provides a clearer picture of what the site does and what a user is supposed to do?
As another example, I'm sure this makes sense in the mind of a Python programmer:
C: C: C: C: QUESTION TITLE
but is it good design, obvious to a new user?
I think the BioStar developer team do an excellent job but the fact is: they are amateur web programmers, working on the site in their spare time. Inevitably, some important issues with major effects on site functionality go unaddressed for too long.
Fourth: to explain "pragmatism over principles." It seems to me that there were many factors favouring Stack Exchange and only one against - data licensing. Whilst I agree that this is an important issue (being very much an "open" guy), it just seems to me that it was outweighed by the other factors. In other words: was it important enough to sacrifice site functionality? I don't believe so.
Anyway - here we are and there is no going back. I do very much appreciate the hard work that has gone into developing BioStar. However, I also believe strongly that the site would be substantially improved if not by migrating to Stack Exchange than at least by applying their design and usage principles. I hope the team will think about these points and view them as constructive criticism.
This post made me look up some numbers - we have very similar number of contributions in the months before the switch as in the months after.So the assumption that the SE was somehow better is not supported by the evidence.
Biostar content cannot be moved to SE neither today nor in the future. The reason for this is that the licensing on Biostar is far more permissive than SE (before anyone wants to disagree please make sure you understand what the SE "share alike" statement actually covers).
In fact the SE licensing is the primary reason of why Biostar exists as a stand alone site.
Edit in response to Neil's post, I would rather put it here than into a new answer or comment
You are correct in that if all Biostar wanted to be is a Q&A a simpler interface would suffice. But I don't think it should stay just Q&A because I don't think the bioinformatics of the future will be as easily "condensable" to simple Q&A tidbits as a typical programming/computer science related issue.
Bioinformatics on a StackExchange platform would never turn a destination where one could also learn how to be a good bioinformatician - but I am hoping that Biostar could become that - and we are trying out different avenues to getting there. This is why we are not running a Q&A clone either - those too are too rigidly focused on just one use case.
We've switched over about seven months ago and as you point out there are flaws in the user experience - and those are all my fault. At the same time I think that we have also managed to improve on their experience: for example I would dare to say that our threaded commenting is better then theirs and I am sure there are new features that other people enjoy.
I would urge everyone to have faith - we have options and we can create any type of environment.
And perhaps threads like this should be created every six months to get to know what the community thinks of the state of BioStar and its direction. While implementing features in reasonably complex program it is not always easy to understand what the relative importance of various features are.
- The software is better there
- They are also starting this career thing, which could help people get jobs or find interesting candidates.
- voting morale is better there
- the name would have to change and biostars is not so good
- Software is good enough (and can be improved, because its open source I read)
- Its under community control, so sections e.g forums, jobs, journal club etc.. can be - and were - added. SE does not have these options.
- I am missing the stats for your claim that there are less visitors here
edit: I forgot my own summary judgment: No I don't think a change is necessary
Perhaps nobody else feels this way, but as dumb as it sounds, the fact that the Stack Exchange 'points' system has values that are about ten times larger seems more encouraging to me and perhaps helps their 'voting morale'.