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I wonder how a big web site like Stack Exchange that covers vast intellectual topic areas could operate without having a significant revenue source such as advertising (as Google and Yahoo do) and who are running it. Who are the owners of this site, and running for what purpose? Who are overseeing operation of individual specialty area (e.g. languages, science, finance, etc.) and its rules?

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Who owns Stack Exchange?

http://stackexchange.com/about/management

For what purpose?

Well, you can read the fluffy blurb at the top of http://stackexchange.com/, but it boils down to this: a few years back, Jeff Atwood and Joel Spolsky identified a set of problems with existing communities set up to serve computer programmers. And set out to solve them:

And those are the two things we want to serve basically is the posting to the discussion group and typing things into Google. Our longer term goal, if we’re successful, is that you're trying to figure out how to do something in Python like how to merge two arrays in Python and you go to Google and you type "merge two arrays python" and submit that, and our goal is to be the number one hit that comes up with a really good edited answer to that question that some individual has contributed and maybe other individuals have edited.

This worked really well. They called it "Stack Overflow", which is sort of an in-joke that I won't explain because that makes it not funny and is explicitly disallowed in the FAQ. It worked so well that they launched some more sites on the same model, but for other (related) topics.

But folks wanted more sites. They wanted sites on cooking, and decorating your house, and managing your money, and math. So they launched a separate company, Stack Exchange, to offer the software as a product or service to whoever wanted it.

This ended up working really badly. Turns out, the success of a Q&A site is as much due to its philosophy as it is the software. Oh, and it needs an audience. Trying to run a site about a hobby of yours on evenings and weekends with you and your friends tends to fizzle. And out of the hundreds of sites created, most of them did fizzle.

So our dynamic duo doubled down and Stack Exchange 2.0 - The Platform was born. Out of the chaotic cauldron of Area 51 arose a multitude of sites, including the one you're on right now.

Who oversees the operation of these sites, and determines the rules?

You do! A major part of the SE philosophy is self-governance: participating in a positive way on the site will net you reputation, which in turn grants you privileges - including quite a bit of meta-moderation. Moderators - those members with the little diamonds next to their names - are elected by you, and handle the tasks that slip through the cracks. This gray-looking area known as Meta is where y'all hash out the rules.

...And we do - in particular, those busybodies like myself who are labelled "community manager" on that page.

And who pays for it all?

Well, the original "trilogy" paid for itself with a combination of advertising and various schemes to help experts on the site find jobs. The expanded network relies on a combination of this and venture capital funding, with the end-goal being to develop more services like Careers that produce funding in a symbiotic relationship with the membership of the sites themselves (rather than paywalls or ever more intrusive advertising).

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