We need to talk.
We need to talk about StackExchange sites: about their autonomy, about governance.
We need to sift through all the analogies that have been thrown around (democracy, policemen, administrators, overlords, etc.) and decide which ones are useful and truthful.
Is StackExchange the United Sites of StackExchange? Or is each site a completely autonomous republic?
Is each site self determining and free to set it's own ethos? Or is their an overriding 'culture' which is enforced?
Is each meta the capital of an independent country, or the council of a city? Is
meta.stackoverflow just about the framework and bugs, or is it the real 'one capital to rule them all'?
There is a lot of talk about community, but I wonder if the Big Revolts1 would ever have happened if it had been clearly stated from the start: "this is a benevolent dictatorship, with a fair amount of autonomy".
The furor on
meta.math.se at the end of last year was an example (in my opinion) of a culture clash which was not helped by this ambiguity: those coming over from MathOverflow were used to 'robust discussion' and couldn't see why they shouldn't carry that over to their new house; whereas StackExchangers looked on horrified at their new brawling neighbours.
I think the frontiers of the dictatorship/autonomy divide need to be discussed and drawn out clearly for all to see.
1Revolts? a) The StackExchange 1.0->2.0 'transition'. b) The domain name/no domain name change.