Please don't exploit the memory of the deceased to promote the network.

That's really all I have.

The following is a description of what happens a week ago.

Steve Jobs died in October. He would have turned 57 a week ago.

A few CHAOS members used this opportunity to promote Ask Different and the network without consulting the community or the Ask Different moderators.

They organized a "party" at the NYC Apple store "to honor Steve Jobs on his birthday" and announced it on the same day just 5 hours before the event on the pretty inactive Meta.Apple.SE site.

NYC area users - join us to celebrate Steve Jobs' Birthday!

Come join Ask Different and Dr. Brendan for a party to honor Steve Jobs on his birthday. The party will start around 3 pm EST, and will take place outside the flagship Apple Store in NYC (59th Street and Fifth Avenue).

There will be black turtlenecks, cupcakes, and dancers. For more information, see this New York Post article covering the event. This event was also covered by CNBC this morning, so we're hoping for a great turnout!

If you can't make it to the event, we will be live tweeting it from @StackApple, so follow along!

This was originally tagged , but that was removed later.

The mentioned Twitter coverage at @StackApple looks like this:

Announcement, links to media coverage, and ad for Dr Brendan disguised as #FF recommendation, a single tweet and two retweets

The images referenced look like this, and unfortunately don't show the crowd at the event:

Picture of balloons

Another picture of balloons

...and a picture of a balloon with the references to @dr_brendan and @StackApple

The CNBC announcer mentions that the Dr Brendan guy and the SE "community development manager" were "two of his biggest fans". Unfortunately, the two CHAOS members involved in the announcement haven't bothered to participate on the site they're apparently trying to be promoting so far (1, 2), which doesn't exactly help their credibility in doing something like this.

Given that they apparently aren't that big fans (based on the contributions and interview), and didn't care at all whether any active users of Apple.SE actually showed up (given the late, relatively hidden announcement), all that's left is a PR stunt using the birthday of a dead person to promote two businesses (which that person wasn't even involved it).

Please don't do that.

  • 13
    It's like site-wide obituary banners, but in real life. Mar 1 '12 at 9:37
  • 14
    And should we not use Robert Burns or the great bard himself to promote the literature SE site, or Richard P. Feynman to promote the physics SE site? They're dead people too. Is there any evidence that this was done in bad taste or offensive? Seems more like a celebration of his life to me. So the point here is lost on me a bit.
    – Kev
    Mar 1 '12 at 13:10
  • 10
    I can't imagine Steve Jobs would be upset that we are celebrating his life AND promoting a website dedicated to helping people use his products at the same time...
    – JNK
    Mar 1 '12 at 13:39
  • 17
    I'm not going to make a joke about the Apple user base and the fondness for drama. Honestly, I'm not.
    – user1228
    Mar 1 '12 at 14:43
  • 1
    @Kev: I think the difference is that it's still "too soon". It's only a few months since he passed away. If he had died 10 years ago, I doubt people would be as upset about this.
    – hammar
    Mar 1 '12 at 16:02
  • 6
    One method to determine the difference between "exploit" and "celebrate" is to consider whether the same use would have been ok prior to the person's death. Did Stack Exchange celebrate Steve Job's birthday prior to his death? If they did, or if they would have, would there have been any question as to the ethical or legal implications of this particular use? Would Apple and/or Steve have complained, or pursued legal action against Stack Exchange for using his name in this manner prior to his death? I don't know the answers to these questions, but perhaps they might lend perspective.
    – Pollyanna
    Mar 1 '12 at 16:22
  • 2
    The things that catch you off guard
    – random
    Mar 1 '12 at 17:39
  • 11
    Wow, this is totally unacceptable. Not the event necessarily, but the way in which it was handled. Completely unprofessional. I was unconvinced when CHAOS was announced that it was really a good idea, and everything I've seen since (literally, everything) has served to convince me that it's not. Hire a bunch of random people that have no ties or experience with the community, and then have them do a bunch of random stuff without any interaction with the community? No thanks.
    – Cody Gray
    Mar 1 '12 at 19:16

Nobody disagrees that the Ask Different moderators should have been contacted prior to the event, and Seth or Lauren will continue this conversation with those mods directly. This event was a strange situation because it was canceled originally, but then un-canceled at the very last moment. As such the channels of communication got all thrown off. This is totally our fault.

There are, however, a few points about CHAOS in general that I think need to be made very clear, in response to the original question and to phwd's answer:

  1. CHAOS agents don't have nine kazillion reps like many of the other Stack Exchange employees do. We were hired from outside of the communities and we became Stack Exchange users on the day we joined the company. CHAOS is appointed to work with many of the sites across the network, and we rotate between sites with some frequency. Sometimes someone will work with a site on a topic that's new to them. They start out with 101 rep. Sometimes they know a little something about the topic and can earn some rep. Sometimes they don't. The amount of rep they have does not prohibit them from doing their job. The help of the moderators and the communities is always appreciated regardless of whether or not CHAOS agents have a bunch of rep on the site.

  2. The goals and functions of CHAOS are different from those of the moderators, so the tools we use will not be identical. Moderators and users will not automatically have access to the same things CHAOS has access to. CHAOS has access to certain very specific site twitter accounts, and we are working out a strategy for how best to use them. It's not clear whether or not site moderators will ever have access to their sites' twitter accounts, but if that happens, it won't be for quite a while. Until then, CHAOS will be using some of the twitter accounts. If members of the community feel that there is a problem with what's being tweeted, the solution is to take it up with the CHAOS team member directly, either in the site's meta, in chat, or via email. We are very accessible and we want to work with you on making our sites more awesome.

All that notwithstanding, the most important point to take away here is that it is our policy to discuss things we do that affect the community with moderators in meta or chat. This particular event fell under the radar, but it will be followed up on with the Ask Different mods.

An update wherein I'll actually address Daniel's original question...

Seth, Lauren and I have had a chat conversation with Daniel and the Ask Different moderators. We understand that a large part of the community feels that this event was in poor taste and we recognize that one of the reasons it seemed that way was because there was very little public communication about it in advance. This was not our intention and it is not something we intend to repeat. The point is taken and the lesson is learned.

We cannot undo the event or go back and change the way it was handled, but we can learn from the mistakes that were made and make sure they don't happen again.

  • 6
    I agree that SE employees can't be expected to be as deeply entrenched in each site's topic as the top users of the respective community are. The employees' mission is to develop SE as a whole
    – Pekka
    Mar 1 '12 at 15:48
  • 5
    Continue what conversation? I have received zero contact from any SE employee other than the "welcome email". I personally feel that promoting the site and one business isn't something that reflects well upon the user base at Ask Different. I found out about the promotion like the rest of the site users when it showed up in our blog as a published entry.
    – bmike
    Mar 1 '12 at 17:22
  • 1
    @bmike: You will. Never fear.
    – hairboat
    Mar 1 '12 at 17:25
  • 6
    Excelellent. The chaos team sprung the iPod raffle on us with no warning, this event with no warning, so it feels a little like we're totally in the dark about what the SE plans are for the Ask Different site.
    – bmike
    Mar 1 '12 at 17:31
  • 3
    This is totally in line with how Ask Different can catch people off guard or make them smile @bmi
    – random
    Mar 1 '12 at 17:39
  • 4
    I'm never going to live that one down, am I?
    – bmike
    Mar 1 '12 at 17:42
  • 5
    I know that CHAOS implies an element of randomness, and their purpose is to help with promotion, often in new and possibly unusual ways. I have no problem with that. However, they should always be professional, and in my opinion, I feel there was a severe lack of professionalism with this, not only in how Ask Different's moderators were left in the dark, but more so over the choice of event and the actions chosen.
    – casperOne
    Mar 1 '12 at 18:12
  • 4
    Additionally, the points you make, #1 and #2, are not relevant to the discussion. There is no mention by Daniel Beck about what you can and cannot do on Stack Exchange sites, the amount of reputation you have (BTW "nine kazillion reps" smacks of snark, IMO, something not appropriate in this instance) or what the goals of CHAOS are vs that of moderators. These points seem like they are responses to phwd's response in which case, you should have left comments about those points there. This is not a forum, even in meta, please don't treat it as such.
    – casperOne
    Mar 1 '12 at 18:17
  • 5
    It's totally OK if you're not active on all the sites, or any site really. It's also cool if you're promoting the sites and the network. That's your job. But you should be upfront and honest about it, like when sponsoring Gruber or 52 Tiger. You don't go around buying positive "reviews" of SE sites (I hope) on popular sites. Don't pretend it's just a "birthday party" and you're not taking advantage of the huge media presence Steve Jobs still has. I mean seriously, just look at Seth's comments on Meta.Apple.SE and what they say in the interview. That's just plain dishonest. Mar 1 '12 at 18:17
  • 5
    @casper: if it's snark, it's snark against those of us who work for SE and do have a few rep points here and there. I think we can take it. She did mention she was responding in part to phwd's answer, but I've added a link to make that explicit.
    – Shog9
    Mar 1 '12 at 19:18
  • 6
    "...but we can learn from the mistakes that were made and make sure they don't happen again." - very nicely said. Mar 1 '12 at 20:03

Mmm this isn't the first time this (the act of not giving adequate notice to at least the moderators) was done.

See http://meta.math.stackexchange.com/questions/3212/battle-of-the-sites-cancelled

Putting aside the Steve Jobs comment, what I see here is misrepresentation of the Ask Different Community. Here is what I think should be done for next time

For example, this should have appeared on the balloons and notices,

Happy Birthday Steve,
Love @dr_brendan

Moderators have been told more than once that they are not allowed to utilize the Twitter accounts ( Would allowing moderators to update their Stack Exchange sites' Twitter accounts improve visibility and offer more value? ) yet we see it done here instead of it coming from @stackexchange or @stackhq where CHAOS normally operates from.

I have not read the entire CNBC interview because to be honest it felt like a plug for Stack Exchange, though based on what @Lauren said here,

The CNBC interview is all about what big fans Seth and Brendan are of Steve Jobs - they only mention Ask Different to say where Seth is from. I think it's a very tasteful interview, and we don't intend for this to be an excuse for a promotion.

Without going for pitchforks and inspecting Seth's profile


There are +4 points gained, two suggested edits.
0 answers.
0 questions.
No enthusiast badge (assuming he just reads all the posts)
Total reputation: 105.

Not to call out Seth he may have good intentions when saying he was from Ask Different but his public face on the site does not count for much and it just looks bad. This gets back to the whole getting notice to moderators in advance so they can step in the interview or at least be mentioned by Seth.

Who is @dr_brendan and why is there a promoted tweet for him, this looks like conflict of interest from the outside. Sure, have an interview, say you are best of friends but the moment you mention

FF @dr_brendan...

You are going down slippery slopes. You have officially endorsed @dr_brendan on behalf of Ask Different that's a no-non seeing that most of Ask Different doesn't even know who he is. (This goes back to informing mods in advance)

So in summary for next time I suggest,

  • pinging in advance when working on a SE project (this should have been learned from the Battle of Sites incident)
  • don't use the Twitter accounts if you tell the moderators not to do the same
  • don't say you belong to a specific site, especially when the stats say otherwise. You belong to Stack Exchange.

Other than that I think it was a good opportunity to promote Stack Exchange not an exploit on Steve and CHAOS is still learning, so no pitchforks this time.

Oh, one more thing

Contact Moderators in advance! All of this would have been averted if you did.
Why is it so hard for you do that?

In response to point 1 Abby T Miller raised she is missing the point of what I said.

*Don't say you belong to Ask Different and you are an Apple fan in same sentence. I don't care that you don't have time but it's a lie to say you are from Ask Different. You may have an account there. I have an account on Cooking you don't see me running around saying I am from Cooking. Because I am not, I just have an account there. This is about representation and you don't represent Ask Different to put bluntly. If you were an actual fan you would have the decency to inform your fellow Appleboys about it. This isn't about deeply being involved but shoot at least something... and if not get advice. To me it looks wrong in every way possible, you say you are big Apple fan you work for Stack Exchange know about Ask Different yet you don't contribute. And you cannot count those meta posts, that's your job*

I sat down and listened to the interview now. How can you think up an idea,

well, seth and i got together and just -- you know, we were brainstorming ideas for a fun event to have for steve jobs' birthday. and, you know, we just kind of came up with the idea of, you know, handing out black turtlenecks.

And have Ask Different fall under the radar in notice. That just doesn't make sense. Don't play with words, you are leaving out the community and moderators out of these brainstorming session for reasons unknown to me and it's not by accident.

... Something at Stack Exchange and Ask Different we take that inquisitiveness ... it's really part of our culture

So Seth didn't explicitly say he was from Ask Different but the "we" instead of "the community" goes along way. Nevertheless I will play down the contribution issue.

Near the end you hear Brendan say we are just going to "wing it"

So I guess that's how the whole cancelled/not cancelled problem appeared.

So this event should have never been un-cancelled. You make moderators jump through hoops to get their promotion proposals to SE Inc. yet SE employees can wing it??!!!? Screw that.

In response to point 2 you fall in your own trap.

The goals of CHAOS per-each-site are a subset of each moderator. Moderators are unpaid evangelists for Stack Exchange because they invest heavily in their site to make sure it is seen and is high quality. The only difference here is that CHAOS has tools and resources readily available to accomplish the task, moderators do not.

There have been numerous occasions where moderators would become confused as to who promotes their site only to be redirected to some template answer by Comm Team about "Moderators can promote if they wish and get the community to help out, if they need more help they can ping CHAOS to see what they can do" The thing is you never know when CHAOS is assigned to your site, so you cannot depend on them unless you are booming with traffic or reaching critical mass.

In terms of Twitter/Social Networks

If something actually occurred on Twitter that a moderator/community member did not like, the solution occurs after the damage. So I don't see how it helps anyone.

There have been instances where the community did indeed try to make their presence known outside of SE via Twitter/Google+/Facebook only to be asked to slap unofficial

So you want us to promote but unofficial so it does not tarnish the name of SE. Ok get it, thus we end up as second rate versions of the Official ones where most users think the official accounts are where it's at only to see walls of bot text instead and the occasional once in a lifetime real person update

The point here is CHAOS is failing hard at communication with moderators, this is not the first time, it's not the second time, this has happened multiple times and the community would like to help out but you are not making that very easy to do


  • 8
    Why would @stackexchange be used instead of @stackapple? Instead of promoting a site that helps Apple users you promote a meta site that doesn't make much sense out of context.
    – Ben Brocka
    Mar 1 '12 at 16:06
  • 4
    @Ben Umm... hmm.... I dunno Twitter users actually know people are behind stackexchange. Everyone knows the stack SE twitter accounts are useless bots. So why use stackapple out of the blue one day after months of it looking like a bot? Ask any Apple user if they seriously follow stackapple religiously for updated news. Come on. Let's be serious now.
    – phwd
    Mar 1 '12 at 16:53
  • 4
    I think this is a separate thread. This doesn't seem to be about the Steve Jobs event any longer. (I recognize that my original answer was also guilty of this, and as such I have edited it to address Daniel's original concern.) If you have concerns about what CHAOS is doing, please ask a separate question on MSO.
    – hairboat
    Mar 1 '12 at 20:06

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