The elevator pitch discussion died down, but I’ve been thinking about this over the last few weeks. As I noted earlier, I’m not a great pitcher, but perhaps I can get something good enough together that others can then work on.
DVD extras meets user generated content.
I like the idea of starting the pitch with a mashup of something that the pitchee is likely to be familar with (harking back to Donaldson’s thought that all good ideas come from the collision of two separate ideas). In addition, “user generated content” is fairly buzzword-y, which I generally dislike, but is probably appropriate for a pitch. I’m referring only to the best DVD extras, of course, but I think that is implied (also the best of user generated content), and “Book extras” if there was such a thing, as well.
Imagine if you could set the questions on the DVD extras for your favourite TV show or movie – or if you had extras for your favourite book. You get answers about what, how and why things happened both in-universe, and in reality, from people who are intimately familiar with not just that one work, but the entire science fiction and fantasy genres – people that can pull together expert and interesting answers about how this work relates to other genre fiction and to the world. They’ll even explain what stories you should move to next if you loved particular aspects of this one.
This doesn’t include story identification – but the pitch doesn’t need to include every topic, and it doesn’t fit with the “DVD extras” analogy. It hits some marks that I think are particularly important:
- It’s not just about focusing in on one universe – it’s about having knowledge across the entire genre/genres.
- It’s about the in-universe world, but also about how the fiction impacts reality.
- It punches the question words “what”, “how”, and “why” (“who” is probably better answered by IMDB, “where” probably by Wikipedia, and “which” could cover too many things). This emphases (subtlety) that this is a Q&A site (as does “answers” later on), but also what sort of questions are most appropriate: especially “why”.
- DVD extras are generally narrated by experts (cast, crew, authors). The site isn’t necessarily going to have the foremost expert (e.g. the author) for every question, but it is about getting expert opinion.
It does include recommendations (although I try to make it clear that they need to be very specific). My opinion follows the original meta discussion: as long as they are specific enough to invite good (subjective) answers, then they’re ok. Actually, they’re not just ok, but the type of question that users will really love the site for. I’m sure many people will add books to their reading lists by reading interesting, detailed, answers on the site – not just these ones, but certainly including them.
The scifi.stackexchange.com community (or more accurately, the meta.scifi.stackexchange.com community) is still trying to figure out what’s on-topic, even though it doesn’t appear that the meta consensus directly influences the actual reality of the site.
When I last left the search for an elevator pitch, I wondered whether the FAQs of the other (launched) sites would be a fertile ground for inspiration. So, here goes – this is the same list of sites as last time:
Web apps is fairly straightforward (although they interestingly single out “adult content” sites as off-topic). Gaming is nice and short, with an all-inclusive policy (with two exceptions: recommendations and shopping). Ubuntu’s FAQ barely says anything about what’s ok – I guess the implication is that anything related to Ubuntu is on-topic. Webmasters is similarly short, with no exclusions. Game development has a brief list of sub-topics that are considered acceptable, and an explanation of how to choose between StackOverflow and that site.
The three that I think do the best job (in terms of something that scifi.stackexchange.com can emulate) are photography, cooking, and mathematics.
Photography is an interesting case – they link to a few meta discussions, and they have some off-topic examples that seem obvious (programming, website development, graphic design) but must have caused problems at some point.
Cooking reads very nicely – there are clear examples of what’s on-topic, and some examples of what’s not on topic. There’s a link to questions tagged “faq” on meta (scifi.stackexchange.com has used “on-topic-discussion” for the same purposes I think).
Mathematics doesn’t just have on-topic and off-topic suggestions, but also suggestions for topics that are on-topic but might get better answers elsewhere. I think this is a great addition. The off-topic examples are quite limited, but it’s probably quite obvious what’s ok on the site.
Does this help with figuring things out for scifi.stackexchange.com? Not as much as I hoped. The results of the ‘on topic – off-topic’ meta-meta discussion can probably be turned into the on/off topic bullet points that are common; we should try and include a link to an appropriate meta tag as well, and links to other sites (like writers.stackexchange.com) for some examples would be great too.
There are currently 15 StackExchange sites that have launched (i.e. made it past beta), excluding the original trilogy. The “elevator pitch” questions on their meta sites are:
I hoped to find some inspiration for the scifi.stackexchange.com elevator pitch by examining these successful sites. Unfortunately (or perhaps not?) the majority of these questions focus on “taglines” rather than pitches – i.e. single sentences or sentence fragments that would take under a second to “pitch” (perhaps elevators are much faster in the US! – the blog post does say single-sentence).
It seems like this is mostly because of the history of StackExchange around this time – a decision was made to change from unique domains for each site (e.g. seasonedadvice.com) to generic subdomains of stackexchange.com (e.g. cooking.stackexchange.com) with unique branding. As a result, the focus is typically on the branding – and in some cases is filled with complaints about that decision (maths, for some reason, has a bunch of answers concerned about commercialisation of the site in their elevator pitch question).
So Apple, Unix/Linux, CS-theory, English, TeX/LaTeX, photography, game development, webmasters, Ubuntu, and web applications aren’t really of any inspirational use. There are some short pitches at gaming.stackexchange.com, but not very many.
I’m guessing that another reason that the pitches are so short is that it’s more clear what the site is. If you’re familiar with StackOverflow, then it seems reasonably obvious what apple.stackexchange.com is. This isn’t always the case – for example, is cooking.stackexchange.com only for professionals? (No).
So my hunt must continue. In the meantime, interest in this question on scifi.stackexchange.com has died down a little – which is probably bad, not good. I’m thinking now that the best way to get this resolved is to indeed answer it myself (but community wiki, so that others can improve and especially shorten!), with perhaps one sentence and one paragraph versions.
Perhaps the FAQ’s of the launched sites will be more inspiring – that’s where I’m heading next (I’m also reading through several of the other meta sites, so that might also offer some illumination).