I’m pretty active on Unity Answers. I have been for a long time, and I’d like to continue that. It’s clear, though, that the site isn’t doing very well. The moderation system is lacking, thousands of unanswered duplicate questions pollute search results, many newcomers are unable to find help, and many experienced developers are unable to find fruitful discussion.
How do we fix it? This isn’t a new conversation, but it’s hard to have because there’s no obvious place to have it.
Last week, one user suggested merging Unity Answers into the Stack Exchange network. I posted a bit of an essay in response, and I’m copying that essay here for posterity.
Unity Answers actually used to be hosted via Stack Exchange, back when they had a monthly subscription model. They changed to the current community-driven process in 2010, which ultimately led to the shutdown of the old UA in 2011.
You can find Unity questions on Stack Exchange, but it’s a mess. Some people post to the unity3d tag on Stack Overflow; others post to the Unity tag on GameDev SE.
You can sometimes find threads discussing Unity Answers on various parts of SE meta sites:
The community regulars here are well aware of the content problem on this site, but it’s not a simple problem:
Anyone who hits some karma threshold on here becomes a moderator. There’s no discussion, no election, no record of your moderation activity, and — as far as I can tell — no accountability. Every now and then, we get a new mod who robo-approves every question. Can we stop them? Nope! Can we even tell who it is? Nope! The site continues to limp along as well as it has because some of us try very hard to keep it running, and because UT’s paying the bills.
One problem with Unity is that it attracts a lot of extreme newcomers precisely because it’s so accessible. It’s a little bit like PHP in that regard: it has a bad rep because of the extremely messy projects that beginners tend to create with it, and it’s very easy to find tutorials and articles targeting absolute neophytes, but sometimes very difficult to find anything beyond that.
When people think we’re being “strict” here, they have no idea what it would be like to migrate to Stack Exchange question guidelines. At present, I would estimate the moderators are rejecting 50-75% of incoming questions. SE norms would probably be rejecting well over 90%.
That’s part of what makes SE sites so useful. Because they’ve rejected so much crap, the content that actually makes it to search engines is usually pretty good.
If the newcomers were both willing and able to follow existing documentation, the vast majority of questions on this site could vanish… but that’s the thing: an awful lot of them either can’t, or won’t. More often than not, we serve as human guides to the instruction manual. If we don’t, hundreds of people will walk away from Unity, frustrated because they couldn’t find what they need. Can that be fixed? I don’t know. Part of me thinks it can’t, not with the number of inexperienced people who come through. It’s like fighting the tide.
Newer tutorials seem to have helped. I’ve thought about going through and deleting a few hundred (thousand?) old, useless questions. Without some community mandate, though, I feel a bit uncomfortable with that.
I do wish there were a better place for expert discussion of Unity, though.
My impression is that there isn’t critical mass to get a Unity-specific site through SE’s Area51 process. The GameDev SE is my current port of call, but even that’s just a trickle. Blogs and books are a nice respite, sometimes.