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Background

Recently the close vote reasons were changed, with the loss of “demonstrate a minimal understanding” and "include valid code to reproduce the problem". In general terms, after thinking about it for a while, I support those changes in general; a question that is useful to everyone probably should be answered, whether the specific person who asked it made an attempt or not. (Although I might have made small adjustments).

However, the only warning that this change was coming was the discussion regarding improving the “demonstrate a minimal understanding” reason which is more about an incremental improvement than a full fledged removal, although some answers propose a change to "too broad".

I'm fully prepared to admit that I spend too much time on meta and I was still surprised when this happened; I can only imagine other members were even less aware. Had this been proposed in the usual way, less of this surprise would have occurred and it would have been easier to point users to the discussion, leading to a rather than an announcement of an alternative solution posted as an answer to a somewhat different discussion.

Request

Where a change to the site is within the 'community’s’ domain', can a change always come through the following workflow, even if the change is proposed by Stack Exchange itself:

(Optional)Discussion regarding a general problem
--> Concrete feature request (gaining community consensus)
--> Implementation only if community consensus reached.

Obviously I wouldn't propose this for things which are within Stack Exchange's domain (for example; the top bar design, how adverts work etc). Listening to the community on those issues is clearly good, but ultimately those decisions belong to Stack Exchange. On the other hand, questions of what is on topic on a particular site belong to the community of that site.

This would mean an almost democratic process for these community domain decisions. Stack exchange is considered semi-democratic and I have always considered the definition of the community as being the part that gives it its democratic half.

  • True. I had a hard time figuring out why this has changed. – Mathias Müller Jan 17 '14 at 13:48
  • 4
    I strongly agree with this proposal. We recently had a similar thing happen over on Arqade, where there was some sign that the community disagreed with a close reason, and a SE community team member simply up and changed them that day, without letting the community come to a new consensus, essentially because he found the wording we were using to be more vague than what he had created. – Billy Mailman Jan 17 '14 at 14:11
  • I'm slightly confused by your proposal, specifically what are you asking. For decisions "within the community's domain", are you looking for a system that says the community's input is taken into account, or one that the community's decision should be final (i.e. are we providing input, or are we the decision makers). – psubsee2003 Jan 17 '14 at 17:30
  • @RichardTingle but I'm wondering about after the proposal is made. Ultimately just because a feature request is made and a consensus is found doesn't mean something is implemented based on exactly how the voting turned out. – psubsee2003 Jan 17 '14 at 17:35
  • @RichardTingle ok, that's what I was trying to understand. Effectively you want an (almost) completely democratic process for these types of community domain decisions. – psubsee2003 Jan 17 '14 at 17:40
  • @psubsee2003 yes, but only for these types of decisions – Richard Tingle Jan 17 '14 at 17:40
9

You're being rather unfair here; I didn't drop these changes in out of the blue - they were discussed extensively for weeks preceding their actual implementation. Indeed, I quite suspect the real problem with this set of changes was that there was so much discussion preceding their implementation that it's been hard for those not deeply embedded in Meta Stack Overflow to follow...

I've attempted to remedy this now with... An Announcement that rolls up all the changes and provides links to background info.

This is absolutely something I could have - and should have - done sooner, and it would likely have reduced the amount of confusion considerably. In the future, I'll try to do a better job of creating such a "roll up" post for wide-ranging discussions at the time they're completed rather than waiting.

5

There is little that I have to disagree with this specific feature request. Stack Exchange identifies itself as community moderated, so ultimately, it means the community should be heavily involved in many aspects of the decisions when it comes to what kinds of questions are on or off-topic, and how questions should get moderated (closed, edited, etc). Where my disagreement starts though is your last couple of sentences.

...On the other hand, questions of what is on topic on a particular site belong to the community of that site.

This would mean an almost democratic process for these community domain decisions. Stack exchange is considered semi-democratic and I have always considered the definition of the community as being the part that gives it its democratic half.

I think there are several flaws in the logic of this part of the proposal that make it impractical (or impossible) to implement and at the same time, assure the long term health of the site.

  • The participants in a community's meta, especially the regulars, represent a tiny fraction of the overall community, so regardless of the decisions made by that group, it will not be a community consensus. This is particularly true of Stack Overflow when you have millions of users and only dozens of meta regulars.
  • Specifically for Stack Overflow, the MSO participants also include participants who are more heavily invested in other Stack Exchange sites and may be less familiar with Stack Overflow. Obviously this issue goes away in 6-to-8 weeks when MSO and MSE final split.
  • Even if you could get the community's full (or majority) participation, democracy (with a little "d"), in its purest form, simply is unsustainable when you have a large community.
    • In a small community, a 4-to-3 vote on a specific proposal can be seen as somewhat of a consensus, or at least enough of one that the dissenters will likely agree to abide by the majority.
    • However a 19,465-to-19,464 vote is clearly not a consensus, and will be virtually impossible to get a majority of the dissenters to agree to abide by the "decision". So you'll end up with in-fighting and disagreement over the long term.
    • In large groups, especially when there are 3 or more different ideas, often only end up with a plurality of votes winning, not a majority, which ends up being even less of a consensus, and you end up with even more in-fighting and disagreement.

Because of this, I think decisions such as this need to be discussed in an open fashion, and input from the community needs to be heavily considered, but the decision should not rest with the consensus, but rather what is in the best interest of the community (those may not always be the same).

In the end, all anyone wants is a healthy site that will be around for the long term. That's why we are all here, because Stack Overflow (and the other SE sites) have given developers so much and we are trying to return the favor.

Similarly, the employees of SE, Inc want the same as that is what puts food on the table, so we need to trust that they actually do have the best interest of the community in mind when making decisions.

  • I can see your position, there can also be issues with simultaneously popular mutually exclusive proposals. I suppose I want to move it closer to the ideal without ever expecting to actually reach it – Richard Tingle Jan 17 '14 at 18:02
1

I partially agree with the suggestion.

Things like the close reason change need to have a bit more warning, at least. Just, bam, changing it without any warning is bad for several reasons:

  • It leaves us with no time to think about how to handle it before the fact - so, in the case of the close reason change, it was changed before we could spend enough time understanding what is 'unclear' and what is 'broad'.
  • It means you may have unexpected consequences. The staff are not infinite; you won't anticipate all of the potential objections, and while I'm not suggesting making decisions in public entirely based on the public's opinion, at minimum it can help you sell it better to have the possibility out there.
  • It surprises us. People hate surprises, mostly, and automatically resist surprise changes.

I don't agree, however, that the community should be making these decisions. Things like the close reasons are as far as I'm concerned entirely in the staff's domain as far as deciding what to change them to. There's no way we'd remotely agree on a set of close votes, and as a part of the overall environment, they need to be correct for the site's working. Things like "what questions are acceptable for this site" are in the community's domain, as that's really up to us generally; but not meta-site actions or the structure of the site.

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