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Given the recent change of policy about domain naming, finally explained here after much turmoil and even some very heated opinions elsewhere, I want to propose that SO Inc commits to the following

  • Big policy changes should be announced beforehand, letting the community at least have a voice before acting on changes, you know, they might actually offer some insight you could have overlooked.

This is not to mean that you will actually change your mind, but you'll make the community a part of your decision process, while making it feel appreciated, not dismissed.

Personally, I don't find the naming change awful, but the way it was handled was far beyond awful, even worse than most suggested domain names. Or, in Atwoodian terms, beyond unspeakably horrible.

Ideally, you should create a code of conduct regarding the communities and stand by it. You should never forget that ultimately you own your existence to the communities that have formed.

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You may think this is a democracy, but it's not. This is at best a benevolent dictatorship. Using SO and it's cousins is a privilege not a right. –  Nifle Oct 4 '10 at 22:13
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@Nifle: I don't think at all this is a democracy (in fact, if you read my question there's not even the word vote in it). It's just that people feel they belong to a community, and rule changing without prior notice feels like betrayal. When you tell people in advance about your motivations and reasons, and (pretend to) listen to them, everything is better. And finally, just like it's a privilege to use SO, for SO is a privilege to have the community it has. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 22:30
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You wanted to have a say in the decision. This (IMO) implies that you expected some kind of democracy. And I think it's more honest to change things and listen to the complaints than to have a lengthy discussion and then do as you please anyway. But perhaps I'm jaded IMO "the wisdom of the crowds does not exist" –  Nifle Oct 4 '10 at 22:52
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@Nifle: I'm not expecting any kind of democracy. I'm saying that people who belongs to a community will feel more commited to it if the changes are discussed beforehand, or even just told in advance. In your benevolent dictator analogy, most of the times they actually discuss issues and even have processes to discuss and create changes (PEPs in Python-land, for example). Guido does not go rampant changing the whole CPython engine without telling anyone and announcing it after the fact. On some particular cases he might be forced to, but it's not the regular occurrence. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 22:57
    
And regarding "wisdom of the crowds", again I'm not asking for voting. Crowds are composed by many people, and there are lots of brilliant persons in this community. Wisdom of brilliant persons is worth listening to. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 22:58
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I think the problem is that in the past the SE-team has discussed things with the community and sometimes it has gone well and sometimes they perhaps wished they hadn't. In this case (webapps) there had been quite an effort to decide the new name and I doubt that anything the SE-team could have said would have made a difference (and there would have been lot's of opinions). Sometimes you have to decide what's going to generate the least friction. –  Nifle Oct 4 '10 at 23:05
    
BTW. It's one in the morning here in Sweden so I have to call it a night now (not avoiding the discussion). –  Nifle Oct 4 '10 at 23:05
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@Nifle It's 1 in the morning here too :-). My opinion is that if something will be controversial, it will be controversial whether you discuss it in advance or not. Not discussing it in advance generates anger among the most committed (most valuable) members of the community who feel affected by the change. Discussing it in advance will at least show that you care, even if you won't budge and do it anyway. People will surely complain anyway (and they'll say, why do you announce the change if you will not listen to us!) but it shows respect for the community. That's important. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 23:12
    
I don't think you are wrong per se, we just have different opinions on how to herd the flock of cats that makes up the SE community. –  Nifle Oct 5 '10 at 10:19

2 Answers 2

up vote 11 down vote accepted

This seems like it would just set them up for even more grief the next time something like this goes down... I'd like to propose the reverse: a big banner in each site FAQ:

Major policy changes may come upon you like a thief in the night. Be ever-vigilant, checking this page often, for the site you know today may not exist come the morrow.

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Even more grief? I think that if it had been handled in an inclusive manner, explaining reasons, engaging the community instead of hiding from it the process would have been a lot less painful. Of course that some people would have been pissed off, but they are now even more pissed off. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 20:59
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@John: sure, but that assumes this was even a possibility. Let's face it - we don't know the full story here, and details aren't exactly forthcoming even given the controversy... I think it's safe to say this is something that, for whatever reason, they just can't talk about openly, at least not yet. And if that's a problem now, it's likely to be a problem in the future - so why set them up for failure? Better be honest now ("there are and will be critical changes that we can't talk about") than hypocritical. –  Shog9 Oct 4 '10 at 21:02
    
A community based company that has to be secretive will very likely go down the drain sooner or later. If they really couldn't do it now, they can start changing processes so they will be able to next time. And they should. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 21:04
    
On the other hand, if they can't and will never commit to doing so, what you suggest is better than nothing. Not by much, sadly. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 21:05

We generally like to make changes, gauge the feedback, and then blog about it -- so we can incorporate the community's feedback with perhaps even more changes.

You'll notice this is a standard pattern in a lot of stuff we do. Consider the /questions/ask-advice change as an example. That was talked about here on meta for quite a while, both as a proposal, then as an implemented feature -- before we blogged it.

It's really the same pattern with the naming change, so stay tuned.

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That's not really answering the question though. –  Ether Oct 4 '10 at 21:29
    
@ether I guess I don't understand the question, then? –  Jeff Atwood Oct 4 '10 at 21:32
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i think part of what ticks people off is that robert posted on a per-site meta "hey guys what do you think about switching back to webapps.se" as if there were going to be a discussion and then within hours it was done. –  Kip Oct 4 '10 at 21:46
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@Ether: In a roundabout way it answers it this way: "No, we won't commit to announce changes beforehand", "No, we won't create a code of conduct" and "We will do even big changes without asking for feedback in advance". –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 22:09
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@Jeff And in what way the domain name policy change was talked about for quite a while before implementing it? –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 22:12
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@john to me, the incredibly terrible domain names being produced by "come up with your own domain" (and the many per-site meta threads containing them) were self-evident. Should we have figured this out sooner? Sure. But to argue that there was "no discussion" is to ignore all the utterly failed domain name work done to that point -- multiple blog posts, many meta questions, etc. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 4 '10 at 22:19
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@Jeff Again, I'm not arguing the decision, just the methodology. There were lots of arguments about how to choose the domain name, but never "let's get back to stackexchange and forget about domain names". Now, I don't pretend to have followed them all, so if you have a link to share where exactly this was discussed I'd be grateful. –  John the Seagull Oct 4 '10 at 22:35
    
@john see here: meta.webmasters.stackexchange.com/questions/18/… "we need to come up with something, or SE will come up with something for us if and when we reach that point." I consider every domain name picked (with the possible exception of seasoned advice, and even that is just "decent") to be so profoundly bad that indeed, we are forced to decide for the community. –  Jeff Atwood Oct 5 '10 at 9:46
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@Jeff That link only shows that Tim Post had foresight. It's always very hard for me to get my point across to you. I'm not discussing if it was or not a good idea, in fact I agree with the change. I don't agree with how the change was performed. In my opinion there should have been a global meta post explaining the reasons before acting. And it really seems strange that it was so urgent to make the change, you could have waited a bit to get more input. Unless what's really important here is the mentioned in passing "negative feedback about splitting the network" ... –  John the Seagull Oct 5 '10 at 10:16
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... instead of "sucky naming". I fail to see what harm could a sucky name make for 2 or 3 more days. –  John the Seagull Oct 5 '10 at 10:16
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@Jeff Okay, you just won't do it the way I suggest and will sometimes do changes without announcing them. I hope you see that it might have some costs (trust) and that you've weighed them against the benefits (flexibility). You can go to sleep now :-) –  John the Seagull Oct 5 '10 at 10:39
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@Jeff I agree, I've even said respect somewhere in a comment around here. Bottomline to me is that repeating "we hear you, we listen" is the opposite to "we do what we want when we want without advance notice". So that is disrespectful. Even if you don't always do that, just once is enough. –  John the Seagull Oct 5 '10 at 11:11
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I absolutely agree that the Facebook model of rapid changes works for systems like Stack Overflow. However, a distinction needs to be made between system changes and policy changes. System changes affect, well, the system, and at most have a minor impact on the user experience. Policy changes affect people directly, and no matter how Web 2.0 you are, people do not bend like code. With Stack Overflow, the community already exists, you're just building a system around it. With SE, you are building the communities and trust, and Agile does not work when those are your products. –  Aarobot Oct 5 '10 at 14:29
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And please don't make us keep reminding you that it was Joel who came up with the NothingToInstall domain name. I honestly agree that it's a poor name but I have a real problem with the blame being placed squarely on the communities and the naming process. –  Aarobot Oct 5 '10 at 14:33
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I'm genuinely curious now as to what you think is a good name... considering that the start button of the internet is a misspelling of an obscure number. (And what the hell is a "wikipedia?") Meanwhile primetime domains like about.com compete for rankings below xhamster.com. A lot of names are downright stupid; they don't have to be clever, they just have to be easy to pronounce and remember. Amazon. eBay. Flickr. "Seasoned Advice" doesn't make me wet myself but it is just as credible as "Stack Overflow" and far more so than "Stack Exchange" or "Super User." –  Aarobot Oct 5 '10 at 21:39

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