YES. Not doing so would be a huge disservice to the folks on these sites. We learned this lesson the hard way, long ago: trying to do anything for the benefit of a community without encouraging feedback from that community always ends badly.
This is literally why Meta sites exist - to bring us and you together, to give everyone a place where they can be heard, to prevent decisions from being made secretly and enacted with no opportunity for discussion or dissent. The fact that you're even raising this discussion probably means we've done a bad job of educating the newer folks here about meta's reason for existing, what's allowable, etc. I'm sorry - and I pledge to do better in the future, starting right here...
A bit of meta-history
In case you missed the link above, this is the blog post where Jeff outlined the reasons for creating meta sites, and why providing a venue for feedback and discussion is so critical:
But take heart: this means 10% of the community feedback you'll get is awesome! I guarantee you'll find ten posts that are pure gold, that have the potential to make the site clearly better for everyone … provided you have the intestinal fortitude to look at a hundred posts to get there. Be prepared to spend a lot of time, and I mean a whole freaking lot of time, mining through community feedback to extract those rare gems. I believe every community has users savvy enough to produce them in some quantity, and they're often startlingly wonderful.
He's not kidding. If you've ever wondered why Stack Exchange needs 9 Community Managers, it's because 18 ears and 22 eyes is barely enough to take in all of the feedback, much less respond to it as often as we ought. When Jeff told me he wanted me to just answer meta posts full-time, I thought he was full of it - there's no way it takes that much time, right? Ah, the price of naivete...
Speaking of naivete, that's what trying to run a juggernaut like SO without a place for meta discussion amounted to. In the days before MSO was created, there were at least 5 different places where issues related to SO - the site, the software, the company, the community - were being discussed:
UserVoice was for bug reports and feature requests. Of course, a lot of discussion related to the problems that inspired those feature requests happened there as well. Given it wasn't really built for that, such discussions quickly became painful.
The Blog was for announcements and musings on what was happening with the software, the company and to some extent the community. There is a comment system there (still is), but if you've ever tried using it then you know how useful that is for constructive discussion (somewhere between "not at all" and "actively harmful"). There's a reason more and more blogs are moving to embedding full-on forums rather than trying to use the half-baked built-in systems.
IRC was used for more informal discussion and socialization. Effectively useless unless you wanted to hang out there all day and all night.
There were one or more third party forums set up by dedicated community members to address the need for non-real-time discussion.
Finally, Stack Overflow itself was used for some of the most productive policy discussions, as well as for things like the FAQ and other support questions. Even though Stack Overflow was not built to be a discussion forum, this ended up working better than the rest of the systems in most cases because it was both familiar and accessible to the folks who most needed it!
Meta was created to supplant all of these, with the exception of those rare announcements that absolutely don't require feedback, for which we still use the blog (and even then, generally encourage readers to go to meta with their concerns). Eventually, we built our own chat system for socialization, but meta still serves that role to some extent, as not everyone has the time or inclination to lounge.
It's easy to forget some of this, as meta (built as it is on the same Q&A engine as the rest of the sites) does not clearly encourage some of these uses. Questions are not always questions, answers are not always answers; although free-form discussion is clearly not well-supported, it can be done and occasionally must be done - we've been abusing this system for that purpose for 5 years now, and despite the rough edges the proof is in the pudding: the fact that you're even asking this question here speaks to an abundance - perhaps even an over-abundance of enthusiasm for this system.
It is worth remembering this history - and the compromises it implies - when considering whether or not a topic is appropriate for Meta...
So... Now that you know which uses should be considered appropriate, which topics should be allowed?
Well... Let's look at the documentation:
If your question is about:
- Stack Exchange
- Stack Overflow Careers
- Promotions & Advertising
- Support, feature requests, or bug reports for the core Stack Exchange engine that powers all Stack Exchange websites
… it is welcome here.
That's pretty open-ended, in that any question about Stack Exchange fits. Considering the term "Stack Exchange" covers 120+ sites, the company that operates them, the software they run on and the membership of those sites, we're talking a pretty broad set of topics here. And for per-site metas, including Meta Stack Overflow? There's a charter there too:
Meta is for:
- asking questions about how the websites work
- asking questions of the community
- posting bugs
- suggesting improvements
- proposing new features
Those are the rules that are linked to in the default Off Topic reason, and should be considered canonical - while it's possible for anyone with close privileges to type any reason they choose into the "other" field, that doesn't actually mean anything if what they type conflicts with the site's charter*.
*Believe it or not, that "other" option exists purely so others can recognize when someone's just being an ass and stop wondering if perhaps there's a problem with the question that they're overlooking.
I believe it's worth being fairly lenient toward meta discussions that are somehow connected to Stack Exchange - as long as they're asked in good faith. Remember the history here: we're abusing a tool for a purpose it wasn't originally intended to serve; are you really gonna be the one to assert that hammering nails with a shoe is ok, but cracking nuts is forbidden? And speaking of...
...folks keep trying to make the point that Stack Exchange employees shouldn't be able to use meta for purposes that others would be disallowed from doing. That's... a really noble sentiment, I guess. It's also completely divorced from reality. Consider:
You can't use Stack Exchange's meta sites to track bugs in your company's software. I can, have, and will.
You can't use Stack Exchange's meta sites to solicit feature requests for your company's software. I can, have, and will.
You can't use Stack Exchange's meta sites to provide users of your software with a place to discuss and debate their use of the software. I can, have, and will.
...get the idea? It's a double standard in the same way that not allowing random people to walk into my house and cook meals in my kitchen is a double standard, which is to say it is an explicit, designed-in double standard. If you don't like something we're doing, then tell us - that's why we're here, to listen to you. But if you don't like that we're here, asking you... Well, tough cookies - that's why meta exists. If you're upset that you can't do the same thing, well... You can: just go build your own meta site.
What you can't do is tell anyone that Stack Exchange can't use the sites that Stack Exchange built for Stack Exchange users to discuss Stack Exchange to discuss the things that Stack Exchange is doing. Because that's silly and, quite frankly, rude. And it brings me to...
The last concern here is the reopening of these meta discussions by moderators and employees after they were closed by vote. It should be clear by now why this was done, given the above information on what should be considered on-topic here. But I suspect some of the distaste for this comes from the power imbalance: moderators can reopen any question with a single vote, and do so as many times as they like; normal voters are limited to one vote that requires the collaboration of others to have any influence. And it's somewhat natural to see this use of power as unfair.
But, this is why moderators have that ability. Using it thusly isn't just in their job description, it's their title: "make or become less extreme, intense, rigorous, or violent" - they're trusted with the ability to override normal community decisions when necessary to handle extreme - exceptional - situations. To allow the community to operate effectively by retarding mob mentality, to provide clear decisions when controversy arises.
Which they did.
I'd like to thank you for bringing this up here, politely, without the hyperbole that has been the hallmark of these discussions thus far. This is an excellent example of how meta works well for discussion: when folks can be respectful and honest even when they disagree, much can be accomplished.
We knew these ideas would be controversial to some degree; any time you try to do something a bit different, there'll be folks ready to object. Sometimes, those objections have merit, which is when it is worth discussing them - I sincerely hope that both the folks here on Meta and the folks here working at Stack Exchange are able to look past the heat and the noise, to see the value that this brings.
Any good that I've been privileged to do as an employee of Stack Exchange has been something that I learned here, from you folks. I firmly believe Stack Exchange - the company - would be a poor place indeed if it weren't for you. If you'll permit us to keep learning from you, we invite you to keep teaching.