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.