Jeff Atwood has done it again, folks. I have a new favourite MMORPG (replacing Stack Overflow as my previous favourite) called Area 51 (which is currently in password-protected beta, but if you ask me nicely I might be persuaded to give you the secret password to get you in).

Let me try to explain Area 51, at least insofar as I understand it. That vampire and Joel had originally released a version of Stack Overflow's backend software called Stack Exchange that would be sold as a service to anyone who wanted to create his own Q&A site. That had been going on for a little while and created a few successful sites, notably Math Overflow. The basic idea was that people with good enough ideas could attract a lot of experts to their Q&A sites and be able to make a profit from ad revenue.

Unfortunately for those who had opted into this scheme, the Stack Overflow team decided to scrap that idea in favour of an even stranger idea: a site dedicated to proposing new Q&A-site ideas coupled with a system to see these proposals from their initial stages all the way through to a fully operational semi-independent Q&A site. The basic idea here is that the sites will have a following from inception instead of being created first and gathering support second. A much more complicated explanation as written by Joel is available on the Stack Overflow blog if you feel like reading a lot of words (but then again this blog is a lot of words so you must be in that mood by definition already). This staging area where new site ideas are proposed is called Area 51.

However reasonable you might think that idea sounds, it has an inherent quirk: Atwood's vampiric minions remain in control of the entire process. So in typical nosferatu fashion, Jeff claims that everything is community driven one moment while exacting heavy-handed moderation upon the site the next. He does the same thing on a regular basis on Stack Overflow, so I can't say that I'm at all surprised. I'm not sure what Jeff thinks "community-driven" means, but it certainly isn't in any dictionary I've ever eaten.

That means that his band of living undead ultimately has the ability to remove suggestions that they deem inappropriate even though the community itself supports them. For example, the day that I started using Area 51 I created a proposal that is very near to my heart: Internet trolling. Within a couple of hours I had gathered a few followers and they had provided some helpful input. I was hoping to create a site where people who appreciate good trolling could share ideas. Somewhere in hour three of its lifetime my proposal was deleted without explanation. Fucking great.

I can make but one new proposal a day, so the next day I suggested Apocalyptic defense, for people who enjoy being prepared for anything and everything, especially raptors, zombies and raptor zombies. Someone claimed that "This looks like spam or not a real proposal", but that person is just an idiot. People do prepare for the absolute worst and those people would probably like to talk about it. In fact, in the event of the end of days, an Armageddon Q&A could mean the difference between humanity surviving and going extinct. My point was that this community is legitimate and deserves to exist. So far this one hasn't been deleted, and therefore has managed to gain a great deal of support very quickly.

That same day someone else suggested we create a Jon Skeet Q&A site. Seeing this as a perfect example of something the community would like that the moderators would not, I joined it immediately and started supplying content to help define its scope. Today, I awoke to find that it, too, had been deleted.

Today I proposed that we make a Q&A site dedicated to unanswerable questions, with the addition that any answers given to questions automatically count as negative votes for their respective questions (since, if you can answer it, it obviously doesn't belong). Support seems to be moderate so far, but it's been up only a few hours now. I'm guessing it will be deleted, but you never know.

Our bloodsucking benefactors are trying to create communities of people who have questions to ask, but they're imposing their own ideas against those communities. Therefore they are going against precisely what it is that they're trying to create with their software. Jeff and co are assuming that everyone has the same idea of what communities need to thrive. Part of that idea, it seems, is that silliness is not welcome. That, to me, is the silliest idea of all: without fun communities become terribly boring and do not gather new people very well. So I say that in Jeff's attempts to quash silliness he has revealed himself as the very source of all silliness on Stack Overflow and its related sites. My hat goes off to you, Jeff.