See Jeff Atwood's blog post: The Great Edit Wars.
As well as the usual close wars we're all familiar with I'm aware that there have been several edit / rollback and tag wars recently, some have been over whether or not "Google it yourself" answers were acceptable, others over issues of formatting, and a great many over what tags should be called.
Wikipedia also arms its users with ways to help enforce the bargains that make the site work. Wikipedia lists a number of rules for the site, including writing from a neutral point of view and assuming good faith during disagreements. No direct enforcement mechanism is attached to these rules, but users periodically invoke them when they are arguing about the content of an article. This invocation has no formal effect, but it arms the user with a kind of moral suasion that is often enough to settle an argument.
I think if we had rules for how to manage disagreements on Stack Overflow it might help to resolve them and could at least better define what is expected of participants in terms of justification of edits and behaviour which may make them more civil.
The closest we have to Wikipedia's rules are the following from the site FAQ written by Jeff Atwood:
Treat others with the same respect you'd want them to treat you. We're all here to learn together. Be tolerant of others who may not know everything you know. Bring your sense of humor.
We do have these sofaq questions which deal with how and when to close, edit or retag:
- How does Editing work in Stackoverflow?
- What is the etiquette for modifying posts?
- Tips for effectively tagging questions.
- What is a “closed” question in Stackoverflow? How do they work?
The FAQ also has a lot to say about expected behaviour on the site, but neither the FAQ nor the above questions deal with how to resolve disputes. As far as I can recall there hasn't been any discussion followed by consensus of what to do when there is disagreement over edits or tagging.
I'm not just looking for answers prescribing conventions on specific issues of style, formatting or tagging but how to resolve any disagreement that may arise.
Issues to Address
- Should we even be discussing this?
- Is there a downside to locking this down too early?
- Are there rules that have to be followed?
- Are they absolute or just guidelines?
- Who decides what they are?
- Should everything Jeff Atwood says be taken as authoritative or can the SO community decide to deviate from the FAQ?
- What constitutes community consensus?
- How should both parties proceed once it is clear there is a difference of opinion?
- Do we need a formal (technical) and/or informal (social) process for resolving disputes?
- What examples of community consensus on matters of style or tagging could be invoked?
- How should both parties behave towards one another?
- What can people do to show good faith on both sides?
- What if the other party isn't following expected behaviour?
- Should any party have to defer to the other?
- Does the OP have more rights?
- Should the OP defer to community consensus?
- Does it depend at all on the situation?
Each answer doesn't have to cover every issue, it may be helpful to tackle them separately so that consensus can be reached on each independently.
Now it may be that eventually more moderation features are added to the site to help resolve such disputes, but since both sides may have access to such features we may never be able to solve such disputes by purely technical means. As Clay Shirky says in his essay A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy: "technical and social issues are deeply intertwined. There's no way to completely separate them."